Keeper

How long had they been travelling? Weeks? Maybe months? It was hard measuring time on the starship. Regular days had fallen away. They wandered the corridors of the ship, being stopped now and then by groups of C’Mell who wanted them to pose for photographs. This involved lots of standing, huddling and tentacle waving followed by bowing and hissing and dribbling. The luscious fruits and crusty breads on the table were always fresh but Jeffie ached for the burnt crunchiness of Sharon’s cooking and he missed his best dog Fender. Fender understood even when he didn’t say anything. Occasionally, Ivory would visit and ask about their comfort and bring them news from the C’Mell. Then there was the sex with the aliens, which was like a dream…

…and in the dream Glenn Ridges* is standing there in his suit and beaming. ‘What do you want to do Jeffie?’ he asks. ‘Take the cruise or come back tomorrow night for the whole thing?’ He only has a few seconds to decide but he just smiles dumbly into the bright studio lights. Then Alyce Platt* in that shimmering blue dress comes up behind him, kisses him on the ear and whispers, ‘Tell him you want everything Jeffie.’ Then there’s a chime and a hush and time’s up and he’s looking up at Glenn’s big smile and he says clear as a bell, no stutter or anything, ‘I want everything Glenn.’ Then Glenn’s beaming and saying, ‘What a champion,’ and, ‘Onya Jeffie,’ and the audience are going crazy and there are streamers falling down and models in swimsuits leaning back on the shiny cars and…

He should have said something.

He could hear Sharon in his head saying, ‘for once in your life, open your mouth and speak.’ But the words wouldn’t come. Meanwhile Dain had Ivory by the arm and was saying, ‘Just what do you mean when you say “explore the galaxy” Hewww?’

‘You have been invited,’ said Ivory smiling like poison, ‘to join the C’Mell’s mission to revitalise their civilisation, to carry the flame as it were.’ And Ivory was saying words like ‘wondrous’ and ‘thousands of planets’ and Dain was sitting back with his eyes closed and licking his lips.

Say something Jeffie, anything. He didn’t want to be a love god anymore; he wanted to be home again. He was tired of celebrity and posing and tentacles and… But there were no words, they rushed past him like leaves on a windy day. It was too late, always too late. Dain was laughing and showing Ivory out.

Jeffie sobbed out loud with frustration. ‘Buh…buh…but I…’ Then Dain came over and smiled, so he smiled back.

***

The C’Mell gathered at the portholes and waved farewell to their favourite two grrlls. Then in a blur and a pop the ship was gone and the brothers were standing in the dark and there was the ute just where they’d left it.

‘Don’t get me wrong,’ Dain explained as they drove through the night, ‘I was tempted. Those poor creatures need all the help they can get in the bedroom department. But I’ve got a plan see. Been taking photos all over the ship and I’ve got this reporter mate in Brizzie…’ Then Dain’s saying words like ‘story of the century’ and carrying on about retiring to Surfers and buying a yacht and a white linen suit and some gold jewellery.

An owl hooted and a soft breeze brought them the familiar desert smells of saltbush and peppermint and the smell of burning. The brothers followed the track down to the house. Through the windows was the blue glow of the TV. Dain sniffed. ‘Her cooking hasn’t improved.’

‘Muh…muh…missed it though,’ said Jeffie.

Then he climbed the steps up onto the verandah and Fender started carrying on like crazy and by the time he turned again his brother’s whistling was already far away in the dark.


* Glenn Ridges was host of Australia’s Sale of the Century from April 1991 for ten years. Alyce Platt was co-host of the program from 1986 to 1991.

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