Another Darlinghurst Memory

I was walking that road which runs along the long west wall of the old Darlinghurst gaol, going towards Oxford Street. It was a fine afternoon, blue sky and the sandstone of the prison walls drinking the sun, when I entered one of those still and empty moments you get sometimes even in big cities. Nobody around, a hush in the traffic noise, even my footsteps faded. I looked ahead and saw two people coming toward me, a man and a girl. At first I thought it was a hippie guy with one of those fantastical kids hippies used to have, but as they came closer they looked stranger and stranger, he with his leather waistcoat, Ned Kelly hat and nineteenth century boots, she in her dress of motley and her bare feet. She was a child-woman, a sprite, and he was some kind of desperado, probably with a knife in his boot. By the time we drew abreast of each other my heart was hammering and I couldn’t look at them, though I could feel their eyes glinting at me. I let them get at least ten paces past before turning around to look after them, but – and I knew this would be as I turned – there was nobody there. Nobody in the whole wide street, nobody on the footpath, nobody crossing to the other side. They had been there but now they were gone. And there was nowhere they could have gone except into thin air. I kept on walking, no longer afraid, past the gates of that gaol, now an art school, and on into the 1990s.

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