Listless post-grad millennial Tim Cahill is an underachieving telemarketer in Sydney’s western suburbs. His awkward, zealous manager, Craig Foster, has trouble justifying his obvious fondness for Tim against Tim’s poor performance. Tim’s cubicle monotony is disrupted by a random sales call to a grieving, ennui-sodden widow. Soon, he is making daily calls to the woman, enthralled in her heartbreaking memories of stasis and regret in an uninspiring marriage, and how her now-dizzying freedom has left her even more paralysed. Meanwhile, Craig Foster is quietly investigating into the anonymous writer who keeps leaving mysterious collage poems on his desk — elliptical, conceptual bricolage, composed with conversational snippets, pre-recorded telemarketing language and office chit-chat. Consumed by his hunt, Craig’s own KPIs deteriorate, and pressure from corporate means it’s either Craig’s or Tim’s head on the chopping board. Wracked with the guilt of having to fire his would-be protégé, Craig approaches Tim’s cubicle only to find it vacated except for a strangely familiar note, titled “Poem for Craig.” It’s all the fractured discussions, motivational clichés and official warnings that Craig had given Tim over the preceding months. Fighting a bittersweet cocktail of anger, surprise and relief, Craig pockets the poem, tells no one, and returns to his office. Locking the door and unplugging the phone, Craig pours himself a vodka and lemon squash, closes his eyes, and begins to type.
Hungover, hungry and ashamed, corporate cowboy Greg Norman wakes in fright and heads to the Supa Centa Moore Park for food, air-conditioning and anonymous human company. A talkative and uncannily insightful Indian-Australian boy strikes up a conversation in the food court, but it quickly becomes apparent that the boy is actually lost. Wandering the Supa Centa together, sharing a donut, Greg begins to see himself through the boy’s innocent gaze, begins recognising the person he used to be before he became a desensitised hedonist who uses sex and partying to numb his soul-crushing alienation. Busting for the bathroom, Greg instructs the boy to wait outside, but when he re-emerges the boy has disappeared. Racing through the Supa Centa, Greg startles shoppers and vendors, asking anyone who will listen: “Have you seen my son?” Finally, Greg can see from afar that the boy has found his actual parents. Keen to introduce himself, he draws closer, but upon approach can see that the boy is recounting the debacle in a disconnected, childlike manner—explaining that a white man gave him a donut and took him into the bathroom. The boy’s parents frantically scan for their son’s imagined abductor and potential violator. The boy suddenly sees and points at Greg. Paranoid and panicked, Greg flees the Supa Centre, hails a taxi, and escapes into the late-afternoon gloom. In the quiet of the taxi, Greg’s cynicism returns. “Where to?” the driver asks. Greg answers flatly: “Star casino.”
Following a manic streak, the brilliant Detective Layne Beachley is relegated to a position in a small coastal town in Western Australia. It’s the final straw for her marriage to fellow-cop Gary, who wants a divorce. A stubborn workaholic, Beachley throws herself into her work, obsessing over the drowning of a young female surfer. The incident looks to most like bad luck, but Beachley’s instincts are telling her otherwise. Suspecting foul play, she makes herself immediately unwelcome in the close-knit community, who just want to move on from the tragedy. Exhausting all leads, Beachley begins to accept that perhaps her dogged pursuance of the case points more to her own problems than any real crime. Plus, things are finally looking up. She’s met Simon, an artisanal baker and a once-promising swimmer whose bad knee forced him into retirement — but not before enduring years of painkiller abuse. Accepting each other’s baggage, they fall in love, and Beachley decides she will quit the police force, help Simon manage his flourishing business, and settle down. But before she can hand in her badge, a phone call from the coroner’s office brings new evidence that, to her horror, links the drowned surfer girl, however distantly, to her beau Simon. With her newfound redemption suddenly threatened, Detective Beachley now has to finally confront her own demons, including the red flags she willingly overlooked in the pursuit of her own happiness.
THE OCEAN SWIMMER
Successful middle-aged fashion magazine editor Ian Thorpe wakes up after a Mardi Gras beach party in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. Despite nursing a terrible hangover, he proudly declares — to no one in particular — that he is going to “swim his way home” through the various ocean-water pools and bays from Bondi to Maroubra. Along the way, Ian drinks and gossips with the myriad Sydney socialites lounging around the glittering waters. But as he swims from pool to pool, he begins to feel a growing reticence towards him, and his encounters become increasingly bizarre. Colleagues smile numbly as he blathers about the next issue. Unpaid interns recoil from his gaze after he botches a front-flip. During a mid-afternoon sunbake, an elderly woman kicks him awake and tells him to “stay away from this place.” Drunk and confused, Ian finds he can’t actually remember any details from the night before. Where had he been? Who had he been with? And wait, what day is it? Abandoning his trans-aquatic mission, Ian hails a cab and recharges his phone. Urgent messages and emails stream in with seemingly impossible time lapses. Unpaid bills. Missed meetings. Debt collectors. To his horror, months have passed. Pulling up outside his house, Ian sees another man inside with his wife and children. Continuing on to his office across town, Ian spots a “for rent” sign in the window, and his door key doesn’t work. Overwhelmingly fatigued, Ian climbs in through the back window. Disoriented and alone, he falls asleep on the floor, hoping to awaken from his life.
Charismatic real estate developer Mark Waugh has the perfect life, but his twin brother Steve battles depression and struggles to keep his landscaping business afloat. Steve has always loathed Mark’s glitz and élan — but is also envious of Mark’s apparently effortless good fortune — feelings Steve keeps suppressed. But after a humiliating family barbecue where he is the butt of every joke, and where even his wife and children seem to prefer Mark’s company, Steve, triggered and desperate, conceives an embittered revenge. Unearthing a dormant reservoir of competency, Steve plots his final act: he resolves to hurl himself from Mark’s new, nearly-finished high-rise. Teetering on the tower’s ledge, Steve’s grim serenity before leaping is broken — Mark bursts through the fire escape, sobbing and shaking, struck by an inexplicable “twin moment.” Despite feeling foiled and sceptical, Steve is nonetheless unnerved by his brother’s wretched vulnerability. Mark confesses to his own interior despair and feelings of inferiority to Steve, who he secretly looks up to. Touched, Steve steps off the ledge and embraces his brother for the first time since childhood. Later, after a drinking session at the pokies, Mark surprises Steve by urging him to attend the opening ceremony of his new building. At the event, Mark, amid a gaggle of news media, publicly asks Steve to help him cut the ribbon. Watching the sash fall away, a restlessness resurfaces in Steve as he listens to Mark spin a narrative to reporters and photographers about how he saved his brother’s life, and is proud to be a vital part of the community. Mark then announces he is running for local office, and Steve tries to hold a smile as the cameras flash, and flash, and flash.
Despite relentless pressure from her overprotective parents, Alisa Camplin defers her first year of uni and flies to Canada, where she has organised to work in a ski resort for six months with her best friend, Sally Pearson. The two young women just want to get away from the nest, let loose, and meet some fun, new people. A couple of weeks in and their working holiday is going better than expected. They’ve had some wild and memorable nights, hooked up, learned how to snowboard, and made a bunch of new friends. After an emoji-filled Tinder exchange, Alisa and Sally are introduced to an Australian guy named Andrew, a promising footy talent and amateur stand-up comic. Sally is immediately smitten by Andrew’s cheeky grin and blokey good looks, and they spend the entire night dancing and drinking together. Initially stoked for her friend, Alisa becomes worried when she realises she hasn’t seen Sally for a few hours, and she isn’t answering her phone. After a panicked search of the club, Alisa rushes out into the freezing night, where she spots Andrew in the parking lot. Eyes wide and hands trembling, Andrew is leaning over Sally’s body — she is seizuring, foam bubbling from her mouth, eyes vacant. Alisa pushes Andrew away, screaming at him to confess what happened. Too shocked to string words together, Andrew clumsily pulls a small, clear bag from his pocket and shows Alisa. Inside, there is single white pill — a vacuous smiley face imprinted on its chalky surface, staring right at her.
Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios are the top two students in a competitive acting class in Melbourne, taught by semi-globally-recognised guru, Lleyton Hewitt. Stylistically opposing yet equally precocious, Bernard considers himself a “method” actor, while Nick favours a more improvisational approach. Seemingly different in every way, the two do share one distinct similarity: both hail from migrant backgrounds. Citing his “gut instinct” — or, more likely, a questionable and misplaced sense of white-man curiosity — Hewitt pairs the two up for their end-of-year showcase where the revered talent scout Dawn Fraser will be present. Initially hostile and sceptical, Bernard and Nick’s relationship experiences an unexpected anagnorisis — their turbulent differences spark a bourgeoning bromance as they rehearse an original duologue. At the showcase, after eliciting tears, laughter and rapturous applause from a full house, Nick and Bernard confidently stroll through the theatre foyer to where Hewitt and Fraser are consulting in hushed tones. Before introducing themselves, Bernard and Nick — both swelling with pride and mutual appreciation — overhear Fraser whisper to Hewitt that while she was spellbound, she’s more interested in signing actors who don’t look “so foreign,” reinforcing that she is not being racist, just being “realistic.” Silently devastated, Bernard and Nick turn separately into the crowd, both wondering if their best efforts will ever be enough in this profession, and then concluding on a deeper and more jaded level that despite knowing they are gifted and will likely find success overseas, they will never truly love acting.
Doug Whyte is a writer and copywriter. His fiction and non-fiction has been published in places like Seizure Magazine, AWOL, Broadsheet, The Cusp and Intrepid Travel Journal.