Maggie had sometimes wondered about Dom’s love life – as if they had ever been an item – he was always the boy next-door – the paling fence between the old Californian bungalows in Ashburton was full of gaps big enough for them to move easily back and forth. Children always on a mission to derive the most fun out of life from dawn to dusk and afterwards. Both the youngest in families where the older ones had grown up and disappeared into the adult world. They had a string rigged up between their bedrooms and sent messages and lollies down the wire. They were a scary pair of ghosts at Halloween. One Christmas they had climbed the peppercorn in Maggie’s garden and strung coloured lights connected to Maggie’s father’s shed across to the gum tree in Dom’s garden. In high summer the front gardens were a riot with purple jacaranda, scarlet flame tree, golden silkyoak and the smell of dust and hot hot sun on dry dry gum leaves. Quite often they smoked behind the cypress hedge. In the evenings the smoke and smell of barbecues – the sun goes down and the barbecue aprons come out – shouts and laughter and slabs. They rode their bikes together around the streets and down to the swimming pool – were often in the same class at school. Dom was good at Maths and Maggie was good at English – they did their homework together, working out just how much they could swap and get away with it. They always got away with it. There was a particular part of the roof at the side of Dom’s place where they would climb up and take turns in jumping off. It was called ‘catch me’ and sometimes ‘catch me if I fall’. Maggie’s mother was nervous and said she shouldn’t play it, but Maggie and Dom took no notice. They ruined a prized clematis, smashing it as they fell backwards together – and Maggie broke her arm and they were in serious trouble. The words ‘catch me if I fall’ Dom wrote on her paster in red and green pen, and these were the words they often said when they parted to go their different ways – little ways at first – then big ways in life.
Seven years before, on her twenty-first – a rowdy affair in the back garden – Dom gave Maggie a silver necklace with a pendant – a jointed fish, articulated, and a slender key that dangled and clinked against the fish. She was wearing the pendant now, slipping the fish between her thumb and forefinger, bending it slightly this way and that, as she sat at the bar of La Vache Qui Rit on John Street New York, waiting for Dom. Late breakfast at La Vache Qui Rit.
On this bright sunny morning, clean and even sparkling, Maggie was wearing a crisp white shirt and designer jeans – feeling good. Back in the hotel room was the new green dress she planned to wear later on to dinner. Dinner with Dom – nice. The dress was almost the same shade as the one she had and loved when she was ten – a fresh minty silk, dreamy, soft, low cut and clinging – extra special – Collette Dinnegan – two lls two tts two nns – with incredible silver sandals. To match the fish? Maggie’s freckles had faded as she grew up – her hair had deepened from pale carrot to a kind of caramel. Dom had never called her Carrots, but plenty of people had. And here she was now in New York Big Apple for an interview at Vogue.Imagine, me, Maggie, writing for Vogue New York. Why not imagine me? Sent Dom an email ‘catch me if I fall’. His reply ‘meet you at vache for breakfast’. He was, his mother said, currently seeing a woman in banking – Dom worked in the world of finance – lived in a brownstone in Jackson Heights. It’s a bit obvious and mad to say all this was a long way from the jacaranda-silkyoak-flametrees of Ashburton, but, well, it was, wasn’t it. A long way. That word brownstone made little shivers shiver behind Maggie’s eyes. A brownstone in Jackson Heights his mother had said. And his mother didn’t even really know exactly what that meant.
Maggie was on her second cup of coffee – the clatter and buzz of La Vache Qui Rit – wait here to be seated the waiter told her – Dom would soon be on his way – the image of the green dress in the hotel closet – once they had done that thing kids do with razor blades and wrists – tiny beads of blood mingled – murmurs beside the fish pond of forever and ever after and race you to the gate. His mother said the woman banker was called Shelagh – came from Arizona – Maggie felt old jealousy snipping through her blood – how silly – then the image of the green dress would appear in her imagination like a moth fluttering softly on the clothes line – and she was back in Ashburton and it was Dom’s sixteenth and the parents were out somewhere and all the boys were drinking beer and the girls were into crystal glasses of Midori Illusions – there were UDL cans and cans of Bourbon and Coke – many glasses were smashed, and more than one person threw up in the fish pond and yes the fish probably died as a result. It was a party that became famous all around the neighbourhood – the night the Golding boy and his friends set fire to the paling fence. Dom got with revolting Shona Jones, and Maggie was deep in misery but not supposed to show it – she was nothing to Dom he was nothing to her – except they were deep down everything and never to be separated. Blood forever. Childish pledge. It was crazy how Shelagh from Banking and Shona from Glen Iris flipped in and out of Maggie’s mind’s eye and darted up and down her heartstrings as the waiter refilled her cup for the third time with beautiful coffee – Dom was standing in the doorway of Shelagh’s office. Dom was smiling his crooked smile – he was holding out his arm and they crossed wrists, Dom and Shelagh, and big beads of bright blood mingled and a drop fell on white carpet – did they have white carpet in offices in Banking – well where was Shona Jones now – not planning to go to the office of Voguein a dark suit and Manolo Blahniks at two pm and doubtless-probably-possibly-maybe-perhaps get a job on the staff – but what did it matter where Shona was when Shelagh was in her office looking out over Manhatten mingling her horrible rich-successful blood with the sweet blood of Dominic Golding in Finance. Blood that also ran blp-blp blp-blp in Maggie’s veins. Except for all it mattered, Shona and Shelagh were one and the same – get over it, Maggie Willis, get over yourself – go and be seated like an adult and order – what – a panier pour un or a panier pour deux? Deux? Deux? Chausson aux pommes? Tears were starting to well up in her eyes. Damn. Prickle prickle stupid tears. She was lonely, she was alone in New York, she was Maggie from Ashburton and she was being stood up by bloody Dom Golden from number twelve and who did he think he was – she would have to SMS him soon – she couldn’t stand this – falling apart at the bar in La Vache Qui Rit waiting to be seated. Be seated and get a panier pour deux and eat the lot and throw up in the fishpond at Vogue. One of the fishponds at Vogue.
Come to think of it what was really holding him up – jealousfantasy aside? If he didn’t come soon the waiter was no doubt going to give up on his ‘wait here to be seated’ and Maggie was going to slink sadly off into the thrum and hype of John Street. Send him an SMS? So what was she? Tryhard? Loser? Was she going to interrupt him in the middle of a sudden early morning emergency meeting or a sudden bloodbrother ceremony or worse (worse) with Shelaghinbanking. The mintygreensilkdress was beginning to droop on its clothes line – the gentle breeze had dropped and the mothlike folds of the winglike sleeves began to resemble an old school dress scrunched in a ball and stuffed into a backpack with old banana skins and leaking felt pens. To tell the truth Maggie had always had a problem with waiting – in spite of her carefree childhood among the flame trees and the barbecues and the Midori Illusions, anxiety was actually her thing – Dom was chronically unpunctual – she knew that, didn’t she – yes but yes but. He was late. Bloody hell, he was late.
So Maggie sat there fingering the lovely little silver fish and the dear little silver key on the thin silver chain around her neck. She was starting to stress out on all the caffeine – she half composed the message in her head, half serious, half jokey “got here early – waiting to be seated – catch me if i fall” – and took out her phone.
This was at precisely eight forty-six – it said so on her phone – and that was when the first plane hit the first tower. In the riot, confusion and hysteria that broke out all around her Maggie never sent the message. And at eight fifty-six her phone rang. It was Dom, an SMS.
“its ok im in the other tower”
It was the last message Dom Golding ever sent – and the ash that went through the hotel destroyed the minty green dress too.