‘Our Magic Hour’
by Jennifer Down

They’d shared friends from the beginning. They met three times without meaning to. First at the Gasometer, in the draughty space by the bandroom, for Yusra’s birthday. Audrey was a sleepy drunk sloping out of her chair and under Nick’s arm. The second time they escaped a party and ran out into the night. They shared a join lying on the dry grass of Royal Park. He told her what he knew about the stars, about ancient gods and wars; chaos, the nothingness from which all else sprang. He said, shyly, My mum made me do classics in high school. The third time was at a gig, and they were together after that. He taught her to drive, called her Spencer because Adam did. She waited a year to introduce him to her family. That first dinner he sat like a clenched fist, and nothing happened. Driving home she said You don’t believe me, do you. He was stunned. Of course I do.

Remember the pneumonia was Nick’s way of trying to convince her he was right about something. When they’d first moved into the Charles Street house together, Audrey caught a cold that got steadily worse. For weeks she shook her head blithely at Nick, a newly qualified paramedic, and coughed into her tissues. She finished her student placement at QEC. When he came home one night and found her feverish and bloody at the throat, with her jumper on inside-out, Nick bundled her into the car. She argued with him all the way to Emergency. By the time she was in a four-bed ward with a nasal cannula she’d already began to laugh at it. They laughed at most things, eventually.




The phone sounded in the middle of the night. Audrey lurched sideways.


‘What do we do?’ A throbbing, awful voice.

‘What? It’s late, Adam. Are you alright?’ Audrey sat on the floor.

‘What do we do now?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t know.’ He was crying again. ‘How do you know what to do? I can’t stand this. How are you doing it?’

Audrey scraped her fingers through her hair. Nick was awake. He switched on the bedside lamp and rolled over to watch her.

‘You just have to keep moving,’ Audrey said. ‘And try to sleep at night. It’ll get better. You have the bad days first, and then some good ones. And then one day you’ll realise you’ve had all these good days in a row, maybe a hundred.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Everything’s always worse in the middle of the night. Go to sleep, and then when you wake up everything will look better.’ She rubbed her eyes. ‘Are you safe? Do you want me to come over?’

‘It’s all right. Sorry I called.’

‘Don’t be sorry. Just get some sleep.’

‘Okay, Spence. Okay. ’Night.’


She climbed back into bed.

‘You said the right things,’ Nick said.

Audrey reached for the light. She was cold. ‘How would anybody know what to say.’ She touched his face, the plane of his cheekbone, with the flat of her hand; traced his lips with her fingers. He looked wide awake.

It had been a fortnight. Audrey was homesick for everything that had come before.




When they got together she was twenty. It was endless silly mornings in the kitchen; bike rides around the creek; kissing in the back of taxis, in cinemas, on street corners. Nick made her laugh in a new way. While at university he worked as a kitchen hand in a café in Rathdowne Village—The Toorak of the north, he said—and Audrey would meet him when he finished in the afternoons. They’d walk to the park, or back to his apartment on Blyth Street that he shared with Mark, or sit out on the pavement with expensive European beers, him in his daggy checked chef pants, not caring. If he was pissed off about something, it became funny in the retelling. So many afternoons lying on his bed waiting for him to shower, to stop smelling of mint and garlic and mushroom, or sitting on the cold tiles, talking to him while he squirted shampoo onto his head. He had a pleasant voice when he sang, or maybe she was just used to it. One Labour Day he invited her up to the Murray with his family. When he found out she couldn’t swim he spent hours at the Northcote pool, teaching her to turn her head to the side and suck in air every four strokes, to cup the water and draw it towards her, to think of her feet like flippers. A half-roll of film, left over from a disposable camera he’d taken to a music festival, he used up on her, on the ordinary. Audrey tying back her hair, Audrey in the kitchen with a book and a beer. The two of them kissing, the tops of their heads obscured by the camera’s flash in the mirror above the bathroom sink. When Audrey laughed and said Why don’t you go and take pictures of your friends, he said I don’t want pictures of them. In the mornings when she had to get up and go to work or class, he watched her dress.

‘What are you doing? Come and lie in bed with me.’

‘I already slept there,’ Audrey said. He looked up at her through boy lashes. ‘I’m going to be late. I’ve already gone. What’s the past tense of bye?’ But she lay down beside him, looked at the rooftops out the window, the flats, the trees with their timid branches. It was the first time someone had said Please stay.




It was getting so the warmth dropped out of the days quicker, and the sun was thin. Audrey supervised an access visit between a mother and fifteen-month-old boy in a playground. The baby walked around unsteadily. Every few minutes he’d find something on the ground, or start to run away, and Audrey would get up to chase after him.

Audrey sat him down across from his mother again. He watched her intently for a moment, but she could not capture him: he lost interest and turned back to Audrey. He smiled with a slack mouth and reached a hand for her hair, making the gurgling noises of a six-month-old baby.

The woman leaned forwards, trying to get his attention.

‘Brooklyn,’ she said, touching his blond crown. His eyes were swimming-pool blue. Audrey looked to the mother’s face to see if they were the same, but her pupils were stretched wide.

Audrey turned her head. It was all the privacy she could give them.




When the grief came, it was primitive and crippling. Audrey was kneecapped at the coin laundry; in her fluorescent-lit cubicle at work; sitting on the rooftop at the Labour in Vain, surrounded by friends. Minutes before, she’d been laughing so hard she thought she would vomit. Walking through the university after a conference, her head full of early intervention programs until suddenly it wasn’t. Glimpsing a thickness of hair that did not belong to Katy, hearing her dry crackle in someone else’s throat; impossible logic puzzles, a kick in the guts. She was struck crawling down Punt Road on the way home from seeing Adam, cars slowing in a stream of lights. Rolling to a stop just past Domain Road, where the hill fell away again and bared the Yarra and the silos and the football ground and the commission flats and the suburbs and trees whose leaves spilled brown and veiny. Tim Buckley on the radio and Audrey was unravelling.

When she got home Nick had left for work. Saving lives, his mother told friends. Audrey wrote another card to Katy’s parents to say she was thinking of them. She lay on Nick’s side of the bed and began to re-read L’Assommoir. She woke with a wet face, Nick’s arms around her. The room was strange and bright. The though crawled into her mind, unbidden: We won’t survive this, any of us.

‘You okay?’

‘I was dreaming.’ She’d stopped crying. She couldn’t even remember what the dream had been about. ‘What time did you get home?’

‘Just now.’ He touched her hair. His T-shirt said CODE RED! VALUE OUR AMBOS.

‘Adam called again tonight,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what to do for him.’

‘We’ve all just got to get through it. There’s no map.’




There was a bad smell in their kitchen. At first Nick didn’t notice it. Something’s died under the house, Audrey kept saying. Must be a possum or a rabbit.

‘You’d know about it if there was a dead possum under there,’ Nick said. But after a few days he could smell it, too. ‘Reckon it’s the sink,’ he said. He took the strainer out and poked around with a wooden spoon. It wasn’t a terrible odour. It didn’t really smell like a dead animal. Only a dampness, something pungent and mildewy.