44. Blankets and Coats

THERE WAS A CONVENT at the end of our street that had been abandoned for years. It was fenced in with barbed wire but there were parts of the fence you could crawl through without doing yourself too much damage. We shared the place with possums and cats and a few loiterers squeezing through the fence in both directions during the day. There were signs warning of the presence of a security company all over the place, but we never saw a single security guard. The place had a magical, labyrinthine quality to it. There must have been twenty buildings in the complex, all boarded up and locked, although getting in through holes in the fence was easy. There were schoolrooms and dormitories and work rooms. There was a laundry and a sick bay and at least two chapels. There was a theatre with an old piano so out of tune it was unplayable. We'd spent the better part of our adolescence there, on weekends and holidays, although never at night. After skyfall, the bats from the nearby river would fly overhead and the whole place quivered with ghostly energies that none of us had the courage to face. But we'd promised each other - James, Maddy, Laurel, Charlie and I - that we would one day stay there overnight and now it was November and school was over forever and the following year we would all be splitting up and going in different directions. What's more the convent itself was due to be demolished in the new year to make way for designer apartments. The time had come to make good on our promise. It was Charlie that suggested it, I recall, but we all agreed. So we took some coats and blankets, some bread and processed cheese and wine, some of our favourite tapes and a tape player, and we gathered at James' house and walked there together, squeezing through the fence and setting up camp in the main quadrangle. It was nearing evening already and we roamed the grounds for stray tree branches with which to make a fire, but the only wood we could find was wet. Eventually we were forced inside the rooms, reeking of the ammoniac odour of bats, to prise apart desks and wooden chairs, which were bone dry and burned hot and clean. Once the fire was lit, Laurel made us sandwiches with baked beans and we listened to the Triffids. Maddy was being very funny, doing her impersonations of birds. As usual, I had to stop myself from staring overly long at her. At dusk the bats flew overhead on schedule, we could hear them waking from their perches inside the buildings and then setting off in their thousands, all headed towards suburban fruit gardens across the city. There was something majestic and sad about it. No matter how surreptitiously I tried to get close to Maddy, she ignored me and lavished her attentions on James. James had been cold to her in turn since forever, but evidently tonight even he was susceptible to the import of the occasion, and I watched him soften and begin to yield to Maddy's charms, and I could see how happy this was making her, which filled me with all kinds of pain I can hardly begin to describe. At intervals through the night we had to look in every more obscure places for wood to burn. The fire grew and became a great bonfire - you could feel its heat from some distance, the front half of you all toast-warm and the back half chilled. There was something consoling enough about the fire and the wine to dispel the ghostliness of the place. Some time after midnight it began to rain slightly and we barely felt it. At some point I went to gather more wood and when I returned James and Maddy had disappeared without explanation. Seeing, perhaps, the disappointment written on my face, Laurel came over with a blanket and wrapped it around us. We both sat by the fire and she put her arm around me and kissed me, and we kept on kissing like that for God knows how long, and then she stood up and took me by the hand and in her other hand took an armful of coats and blankets and led me over to the main building. We hoisted ourselves over an open window ledge and into what must once have been a nun's room. It was narrow and high-ceilinged and bone cold, but we could see the night sky through the window and we made ourselves a bed with one of the blankets and we settled down to lie side by side and warmed each other under all those blankets and coats. I can’t remember having slept at all, and yet I must have, because I dreamed obscure dreams of happiness and sadness and I woke up and the night was only just beginning to morph into morning, my breath was misting in the predawn cold and our bodies were fused together. I lay there in that position for hours, just thinking about how things had turned out, and how things were going to turn out. Occasionally I heard the rustling outside of something alive, but I figured it must be a possum or a cat or even a rat, and I felt somehow, although I had no reason to, that inside this room we were safe. My dick had been hard practically all night and my balls were beginning to ache. When Laurel finally woke, we kissed again and later we fucked a couple of times in the morning chill, and then we went back to sleep. By the time we woke up it was warmer and my breath was no longer misting. The embers of the bonfire were still cracking and spitting occasionally with heat but there was no sign of the others, so we left the blankets and coats under a tree and we squeezed through the fence back into a world where everything was always in a state of flux, and we walked off together hand in hand to have coffee somewhere, trying to keep in the sun, just like at the end of just about every music video ever made.