Monday april 21st, 1989.
Clara is 12 years old.
Right now, she’s starting her first day at her new school. She sits attentively at her desk, all ears as she takes notes on the metamorphosis of butterflies. She wishes she was a butterfly, because it sounds fun being able to turn from a furry caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, with big bright wings. A beautiful creature with the ultimate free will.
Clara wants to be a photographer, because she likes taking pictures and putting them on her wall.
Dan is 13 years old.
Right now, he’s skipping class in the parking lot at kmart, watching his friends smoke. He uses football as an excuse for not smoking too, but really he just doesn’t want his friends to think less of him. A hawk circles the parking lot three times and vanishes: Dan wishes he could spontaneously grow wings and fly to football training in two hours time. Maybe even fly ahead 5 years.
Dan wants to be a footballer, because it’s all he’s good at.
Friday September 13, 1991
Clara is 14 years old.
She wanders aimlessly through The Traveller, her favourite second hand bookstore. Clara matured fast, her mind is sharper than the average 14 year old. Maybe it was at this point she began to let herself dream of something more than a mediocre small town suburban life, she thinks to herself as she browses through the classics, selecting The Tempest and adding it to her growing pile of books. She spots a familiar face: Dan, a year ahead of her in school. They talk. They both like John Green novels.
Dan is 15 years old.
He is annoyed at the fact that a girl named Clara, the one with the pretty eyes, finds it hard to believe he reads something other than footy weekly. He knows he doesn’t seem smart, but really he is. He tells her about his favourite book, Looking For Alaska. Dan and Clara have more in common than meets the eye; both unsatisfied with life, both with problems deeper than either can possibly imagine. Each with the potential to be so much more than they allow themselves. They agree to meet at a party a boy named Scott is holding that night.
Saturday, march 1st, 1997
Fast forward six years.
Clara is 20, Dan is 21.
The ultimate high school sweet hearts cliché. Clara wakes every morning at 6 to make the seven o’clock bus to her job as a journalist for a top magazine in the city. Each morning as she stands for the old lady who smells like cats she wonders if there’s more to life than dirty public transport and early morning starts.
Dan wakes at 5 every morning to begin taking apart cars, scrutinising their parts, constructing, deconstructing, covered in grease. Dan is content. Though his football career never really took off, Clara has been more than worth it. He stayed for her, when he was offered to play for a prestigious team interstate. Faced with the pressure of making his father proud, he threw himself into training and backed out when his hard work paid off, making the tough decision of what meant more to him. He bought a house for Clara and himself. He hasn’t spoken to his father in two years, four months and 25 days.
Clara sustains herself on coffee to make her deadlines: it’s her secret weapon. She loves her job as a journalist, but is disappointed for reasons she can’t quite figure out. She’s called into the head office. She sighs. Her passion for writing led her to her career, which led her to her boss’s office. She wished it’d led her to Japan, London, Rome.
It did however; lead her home, with her jacket unusually heavy from the weight of a one way ticket.
Clara arrives home to a rich smell wafting through the hall of her beautifully furnished home. She smiles to herself, pleased with her joke. One can only describe Clara and Dan’s home with the phrase “it’s not much, but it’s home.” A mechanic’s wage doesn’t bring in a lot of money. She puts her jacket in on the table, and is reminded again of the impending ticket. Her smile fades.
Dan stomach explodes with butterflies. He and Clara have just finished the elaborate meal he spent all afternoon making. She seems nervous- can she tell? His palms are sweaty, the ring in his pocket now feeling as though it were made of lead rather than gold. Almost three months pay, minus the rent. He’s worried- is it too early? He can’t think of any other way to spend his life. He’s not sure it’d even be a life without his Clara. It’s now or never. Before he can open his mouth, Clara pushes a slip of paper towards him.
September 16, 1997.
Clara stands in Times Square, feeling the exhilarating rush of commuters pass her by. Her new job is strenuous, exciting- but is it everything it’s cracked up to be? New York is a young girls dream, but Clara hardly has time to sleep. She feels a sudden pang of homesickness, of longing for stability and coffee and the slower traffic of home. Of longing for Dan. She pushes the thought away. This is everything she wanted.
Dan sits on an overturned paint bucket and pulls a mouldy banana from his lunch box. When was the last time he ate a proper meal? His work mates stare. Usually now would be when the jokes began, but after what happened with Clara no one says a word. Feeling very much like a small child in a room full of scrutinizing, judgmental older kids, he retreats from the lunch room and sits in the bathroom, his head propped up by one hand and a photo of his Clara in the other.
June 7, 1998.
Clara is 21, Dan is 21.
Clara is woken from her light slumber by a loud, persistent buzzing on her cheek. She lifts her head, and her phone drops to the desk and continues to buzz. Her heart stops a little; something lifts her it into her throat, taking away her breath. Hope. She answers the phone. Ten minutes later she’s packing her bags, a one way ticket with a familiar destination printed in big bold letters.
Dan sits in his darkened lounge room, the football on television only a distraction in the background. He shakes the last few drops of beer into his mouth and stumbles to the fridge for more. It’s empty. He sinks to the floor and throws the bottle which explodes into a thousand tiny green shimmering fragments. Tears leak from somewhere deep inside him. He gives himself a last look at the picture of his Clara, the one where she wasn’t ready for the flash and he caught her mid laugh, and a slash on each wrist. He watches his life spill, bright crimson on the kitchen floor.
June 8, midnight, 1998
Clara emerges from the intensive care unit of Royal Perth Hospital. She makes her way to the hospital cafeteria, drinking less than average coffee that goes down like cement. She sits. It’s now one o’clock. She goes to check on her father once more before she leaves, walking slowly through the corridors as if browsing bookshelves, and taking in the titles one by one. A particular book catches her eye.
Daniel sleeps peacefully.
He wakes up, the vision of a red headed angel still vivid on the back of his eyes. He’s over come with the heavy leaden feeling of failure once he realises he’s awake, forcing his eyes shut, and the harsh tug on his heartstrings that he’s begun to associate with despair when he allows himself to imagine her calling his name. It’s so beautifully lucid. He opens his eyes. She’s there, his Clara.
Don’t you have a plane to catch, he asks her.
A single tear slides down his cheek as she tells him there’s nowhere else she needs to be.
Time seems to stand still.
Neither Dan nor Clara feels that there is more to life anymore.
Maybe they weren’t grateful, maybe they were greedy.
They are grateful now.
Grateful for the second chance, for the misshapen way their lives have always been inexplicably intertwined
And the fact
That neither ever has to search