THE CLEANEST AIR IN THE WORLD by BEN WALTER
ISSUE ONE: March, 2019
THE CLEANEST AIR IN THE WORLD
by BEN WALTER
Only the most pristine raindrops make it into our bottles. We balance craftsmanship, science and patience when harvesting the elements, and only when the cleanest air on Earth is at its purest.
Her name, what is her name? All of this bright air has been scrubbing such matters from my memory. After our meeting in the rolling market crowds, I tried many doors in my mind, but it is not clear whether they have opened on her room. And now, at this table, as I drink the bare water, there are vowels and mouths suggesting; is it just the tendons of this clear air flexing?
She has smiled and said hello and she is sitting down to dinner.
The unusual combination of cooler temperatures in winter and longer sunlight hours in summer is enhanced by access to some of the cleanest water and freshest air in the world.
Suggestions, opinions. These whispers are excellent theories of what she may be called, but the gap between them and the woman bearing blue eyes is a gulf I am unwilling to clamber over with the commitment of speech.
Thus we pick at appetisers, small, salty, sour. Oil.
“How is Melanie?” she enquires.
My daughter? Or someone with whom we've worked, idled, some other past participle long deleted by all this atmospheric blankness?
“Melanie?” I venture. “She's good. She's well?”
The wind has slipped the letters from my mind.
It’s hardly surprising that the British breeds of Cape Grim Beef, lungs full of clean air and bellies busy digesting the superior pastures on offer, have earned themselves a reputation for providing premium-grade beef.
Don't think this some trivial lapse; in the city where I loved my first thirty-eight years, I was a model acquaintance, courteous with whole albums of personal details.
But when I travelled to this southerly isosceles, I found the brushed air in every garden severed my memory; just names to begin with, split from their heads, then whole relationships fading in the clean air. I do not know what to do. Close the doors, keep the atmosphere stuffy and stale?
We have moved to mains and their fulsome fat has let our conversation cruise; we are tacking between polite enquiry and vague response. “I always thought she would get into medicine,” says my companion.
And so it is my daughter.
I nod. “She could have done, she would have done. She will.”
The woman flashes her eyes against me.
Tasmanian Honey is one of the purest honeys available - between the purity of the pollen and the cleanest air in the world, Tasmanian honey is full honey flavour.
These are no conventional maladies: dementia, or worse, prosopagnosia – only a text could recall such a word. No, this is a syndrome of my own, peculiar to this harbour sunk below stones.
But do I assume too much? Perhaps many citizens are careful not to breathe too loud.
The restaurant is quiet.
“How much?” she asks as I look for the dessert menu. “For Melanie,” she clarifies.
“For who?” I spurt.
“How much for Melanie?” she repeats. “I think that I could do a better job. She'd re-enrol.”
We sit at the table. I debate with the draft that is creeping in below the door, searching in the emptiness for leatherwood or eucalyptus blossom – as though with one sweet note all those names I have lost might find themselves christened once more, making what is unclear full and comprehensible.
Here we have some of the world’s cleanest air…For visitors attracted to the outdoors, especially bushwalkers, Tasmania is without peer.
We have left the relative safety of the table but are still occupying ritual as I accompany her to the hotel. There is nothing between the sea and the sky. Streetlights are dallying with shadows.
“We can have the papers drawn up,” she says. “I've already spoken to my lawyer.” The stone buildings climbing above the river like a filthy gorge. “We just need to think about a price.”
“Melanie is not mine to...” I want to say, but our footsteps are too loud and I feel that there is nothing to press myself against to make a stand. I can smell the salty, seasoned water as it pokes its fingers in worn holes and basks in puddles on the piers; the loose traffic throttling in the late streets, the park with its flat grass oozing. I can smell the kindness and cruelty in the no-faces we pass and time reaching up in the clock towards the night. I can smell my hands, my feet and my heart.
But beneath it all, the air; the sneaking, snatching air.
The woman smiles grimly in the dark.
You will breathe the cleanest air in the world, while staying in comfortable accommodation, enjoying quality Tasmanian food and wine.
We are breathing in and out; hers is the steady, patient rhythm of dreaming sleep, mine the quantum breathing altered by awareness.
My eyes are angled from the pillow. A quiet hotel built against the water. I search within its stability for the swells swimming up the river like new whales.
When we wake in the morning, will she remember my name or the name of my daughter? Will she pull fistfuls of money from her purse, order and arrange it on the table; a game where I turn over banknotes, only to find they hold the same face? Will this set of cards explain the game we are playing?
Or will we both have cracked as the forceful change flows up from the south, spilling our memories into the tremendous labyrinth of sea?
BEN WALTER's poetry, essays and experimental short stories have been widely published in Australian journals, including Meanjin, Griffith Review, Southerly, Overland and The Lifted Brow. His debut novel manuscript won the people’s choice component of the 2017 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes. His latest book is Conglomerate, published as part of the Lost Rocks series..