What if they hadn’t slowed on a whim
for that gently lifting exit ramp
and then for the ferny hairpin bends
of the road down to the deep-set bay?
When they pulled up and broke the door-seal
their private hit of spring on repeat
laying the groundwork for nostalgia
was swallowed by a great wall of sound:
the ten-bel din of massed cicadas.
A dune had spilt into the carpark.
The mustard façade of the hotel
was peeling around a FOR SALE sign.
Out the back, jacarandas billowed.
They might have been drawn to the café
with its tall windows standing open
and never set foot in that dim bar
where the long conversation began,
no rush to lay out the conditions.
When the sun fell behind the charred head
and the double drummers quit popping
they came out to sit on cooling sand
and pioneering stems of pigface.
Lengthening bars of foam gathered up
what was left of light below. Above,
a buff tower of cloud was topping out.
Behind them, in town, gardenias
were mounting a blossom offensive.
A new kind of night was opening:
neither casino nor museum
of morbid reconstructions. The life
spread before them like green mustard fields
over the great divide would begin
with a room at the Criterion
that time had ignored: doilies, valet,
tallboy, jug cover, lush ceiling rose.
Moments before the bottom dropped out
of the storm, a soft bluish crackle
between microfibre and gooseflesh.
They woke to the flavour of a dream
gone except that all was forgiven
and looked down at the rented sedan
carpeted with Tyrian purple.
The exoskeleton of a nymph
exploded but clinging emptily
was there to tell them: No going back.
What if they hadn’t enquired within
and opened the box of the question:
If this is happiness, what was that?
They might have been spared a phantom ache
but it was still better to have known
the original Criterion.