Chapter 4

Imogen and Me

And it wasn’t just any lottery – it was the green card lottery, which is organized by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States. Curiously, I did not submit my winning ticket – my girlfriend Imogen did that on my behalf, and submitted one for herself for good measure. If either of us won we would marry and then move to the United States together. Because it would be beneficial to her career or something. I don’t know. There was some particular advantage to her being located in a country of three hundred million people instead of Australia’s paltry twenty million, I think. My place was at her side in the Americas, or so she kept insisting to everybody.

If I don’t remember all the details clearly it might be because Imogen had a tendency to say a great deal in any given day. I couldn’t always keep it all in my head. I remember one day wanting to suggest that, rather than hurling great gobs of raw data at me all day, she issue daily reports that summarized the major themes in short sentences.

I might not have actually suggested that, however. I often abstained from expressing my thoughts too explicitly around Imogen because, as she often told me, my thoughts were usually wrong. Instead, I staggered about in her wake. The full scope of her intentions and plans for both our lives was, for me, a slightly unnerving mystery.

That is why I wasn’t so surprised when she came in one day waving about an opened letter, addressed to me and stamped with some sort of eagle insignia, advising that I had won the green card lottery. I remember it because it was also the day I learned what a green card was and that the United States held lotteries for them. Imogen had probably explained it all to me in the past. I was probably doing something tricky with my computer at the time.

And now Imogen was spinning and spinning, in a rotational axis that was wobbling unevenly, like a badly tossed gyroscope, between wedding plans and a list of things to do before emigrating. I had no idea what was happening.

Where did I want to live? Whom did I want to marry? These were questions that nobody – not even Imogen – had ever asked me.

I thought about broaching the subject with her – perhaps having a frank conversation over a nice cup of tea – but grew concerned that a display of independent-thinking on my part at this juncture might antagonize her.

I didn’t plan it or anything. I was just making a sandwich one day when I somehow found myself detachedly putting a few of my things into a large duffel bag. Then I observed myself pushing that bag through the window and watched myself follow.

For the next three months, I lived in hiding, and mutual-friends assured me that my life might be in jeopardy. Imogen’s family was out looking for me. Did I mention that her brother was a police officer? If you’re reading this – please learn from my folly and never attempt to maintain a romantic relationship with a woman whose brother is a member of the Queensland Police Force.

I had to dye my hair silver. And even though I am ideologically opposed to mustaches I grew one anyway – because that is how serious the situation was! I moved into a friend’s apartment on the far side of Brisbane and there, in a dark room with drawn shades, I stayed and fretted.

The weeks, as they say, turned into moths, though I’ve never understood that saying – I’ve read numerous books on caterpillars and some of them can take days to reach pupation stage, which goes to show you how cliches can be completely unfounded in fact.

After an interminable period of anxiety in which I dropped weight and assumed a vampiric pastiness, a friend spotted Imogen’s car less than a mile from my hideout.

Two hours later I was on an overnight bus to Canberra.

I knew nobody there, so it seemed the safest course of action. In the evenings I went slinking between shadows seeking some unexposed crack in the world, some broken edge through which I might slip away. Then one night I glanced over my shoulder and there was Imogen’s brother – three meters away and aiming a taser right at my back!

It was over. Would you believe that part of me was even relieved?

I wasn’t even angry. It was nobody’s fault after all. He and I stood at a distance from one another, and quantum forces swirled around us like coils of smoke. Two timelines stretched off in different directions. Behind him I could see a whole new world taking shape, a world where I would be tasered and dragged back screaming all the way to his sister, to live out my days in servitude.

“I’m sorry!” he shouted hoarsely, grief and pain in his eyes. “You have to come with me! I’ll never hear the end of it if you don’t!”

I looked over my shoulder; across the road and beyond a ragged line of trees I could see that star-spangled banner, dancing and waving above the American embassy. I turned back to him, and the winds of causality kicked a wave of dust into my eyes. Blinking, I fell to my knees.

“Do it!” I yelled over the rising wind. My world breaking apart, I could feel it shattering into violently spinning shards. Another world – and another future – was forming around us.

“Forgive me!” he yelled over the shrieking winds.

Forgive him? How could I bear a grudge against the man? He was Imogen’s brother – wasn’t that enough of a cross to bear?

“Of course I forgive you!” I cried, and the vortex churned and twisted. Soon, I somehow knew, my world would be gone and another, darker one would be in its place. Then I sensed a sudden hush. I knew in my heart that all was lost.

The silence and stillness dragged on. Eventually, I rubbed my eyes and blinked. Imogen’s brother was nowhere to be seen – the air was still and empty. The night’s sky was clear and cloudless.

Trembling with relief, I staggered in the direction of the embassy.

chapter 5 continues …