‘As we count up from one, three is the first most interesting number.’
— Michael Cunningham
Nothing is known of Ralph’s childhood except that he once dived between the legs of a monk, trying to see if there was orange underwear under those orange robes.
The monk, laughing, had scooped the little boy up and held him to the light to see him better. The bald head of the ascetic gleamed in the morning sun.
‘Always remember,’ said the monk, ‘the fleeting nature of life. Your past is dead and your future is yet to come. There is only this moment.’
He set the boy down and continued on his way along Circular Quay. Ralph watched him shuffle past the blind bagpiper and past the docking ferry, until he disappeared from view.
‘If life is fleeting,’ Ralph said to himself, ‘then I’ll beat it.’
Tucked into bed that night, he drew up a checklist for his life, which he knew would lead him to certain triumph in this world.
From that moment on, Ralph was in a very big hurry.
When it came time to marry, Ralph advertised for a wife in the local newspaper.
There was one applicant.
She perched on Ralph’s couch wearing a brown dress covered in large black numbers. The brown was almost indistinguishable from the black and the black almost indistinguishable from the brown. Ralph thought it the ugliest colour combination known to man.
‘My name is Lola,’ said the girl. ‘I’m nineteen.’
‘A good vintage,’ said Ralph, who wanted to demonstrate his sophistication through wine-related terminology. ‘What sort of things do you like?’
‘I like chess and dresses,’ said Lola, although she had neither a strategic nor stylish bone in her body.
‘I like sports cars that are British racing green,’ said Ralph. ‘Any colour that races is a good colour.’
‘I’m flexible,’ said Lola. ‘I could like fast cars that are racing green.’
Ralph supposed Lola was physically flexible too, which could make a few items on his checklist quite enjoyable.
‘You’ll do,’ said Ralph.
At the registry, Lola wore a chequered dress. Kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns floated on it, tilted at various angles.
Ralph wore his work suit and white sneakers. He always wore sneakers, even to bed.
He had been plagued, for as long as he could remember, with a recurring nightmare in which he was being chased by faceless men. The dream never left him, even in marriage. He would toss and turn, kicking Lola in the calves while flying over back fences, swinging around Hills hoists and hurdling through low, open windows during the night as sirens wailed and helicopters swung low overhead, their searchlights flashing to and fro over garden gnomes and glassy swimming pools.
The sneakers comforted Ralph. If anything went bump in the night, he knew he had good getaway shoes.
Read the rest of this long short story in The Sleepers Almanac No. 8, Sleepers Publishing, Melbourne, 2012.