Megan Anning’s Dandelions is an excerpt from her first novel, Last Artist, which she is working on as part of the Masters of Professional Practice at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Last Artist was inspired by her time living in West End and follows two bohemians in their late twenties whose years of youthful rebellion are fading, though they’re still caught up in the romance of the ‘starving artist.’ The novel also plays with West End, its people and vibrant creative culture.

All of this happens during a time in the life of Elise Worth which can never be erased from memory. It is 2004 in West End, Brisbane, a bohemian part of town where artists and other outsiders hang outside cafes smoking cigarettes and watching people parade along Boundary Street.

In a gully at the base of Highgate Hill, on a street peppered with rickety fenced Queenslanders creeping with bougainvillea and wisteria vine, Elise is beginning to open her eyes. Above her she sees in the blue light of dawn, spidery cracks on the ceiling. All she can hear is the faint buzz of stillness and quiet. Even the leaves from the soaring silver gums of nearby yards, which can almost always be heard rattling, are still. It’s a stillness she savors, naked on a mattress on the floor. Beside her is Tomas. His warm body against her is reassuring. This is the first time for them to be together like this. She turns onto her side, looks him over. He could be a gypsy from Paris or Spain. His black hair shoots straight up from his head as though he’s been electrified. Chocolate skinned, finely sculpted muscles run down his arms and finish with long artist’s fingers. Elise holds one of them before she runs her hand up his thigh to his stomach, circles his belly-button, before moving on to the tuft of black hair in the middle of his chest, she strokes it, then sweeps her fingers along his neck. His lips are fat mulberries. She barely kisses them, taps them with her lips light as a butterfly so as not to wake him. Sleep, stay unconscious, be all mine a while longer. Elise admires him in the solitary silence of their first morning together, unbothered by the world beyond their mattress.

She is lost in his face when he seizes her hand. He holds it in his fingers, still with eyes closed. He holds firm though she tries to take it back. Elise hooks her thigh over his leg, pushes her body into him, meshes into him like they are two parts of a clasp hooking together. Then they begin moving as one, skin on skin, lips on lips, hands gripping hands till she’s on top, arching her back and looking down at him.

‘Hello.’ Her voice is rusty from sleep.

Tomas says nothing, puts his hands on her breasts, his reply. Elise watches his eyes flicker over her body.

Then he puts his arms behind his head. ‘Hello.’ A smile sits at the sides of his mouth. ‘Who might you be?’ Elise knows this is not an honest question but a theatrical gesture, an invitation for her to define herself afresh, because he knows some answers already. Elise is the blonde girl he met two streets up who wears pink stockings and licorice allsorts dresses with huge 1980s earrings, the girl who plays synthesizer, sips champagne at any time of the day and flits around the streets of West End, weightless and lone as a ghost.

‘I’m your new lover of course.’ She points a long finger at his nose, a pixie’s smile erupting over her face, a devilish twinkle in her eyes. ‘And who perchance. are you?’ Perchance hangs in the air between them because she can’t remember the last time she used it. It’s a word she might have heard in a play, spoken with an English accent by an actor who exaggerates every line. Suddenly she feels she is in a play with Tomas.

‘A very lucky man.’ Velvet rolls from his mouth when he says this, and he leans forward to take her in his arms, press his chest to hers so that they grip each other’s backs, Elise clawing at his with her nails, their tongues exploring lips and teeth and skin before they roll onto the mattress, a mass of fleshy clay, of arms and breasts and belly-buttons and thighs and smooth artist’s fingers.

‘But who are you really?’ Tomas asks, his eyes glinting in the rising dawn light. It’s the glint of excitement at them being together, at the fact their faces are so close as to almost not be separate faces at all. Tomas’s face seems otherworldly, too handsome, like he’s one of those bare-chested main characters in an Andy Warhol film.

‘Are you an angel? An illusion? A muse sent from a far off distant galaxy of bliss?’ It’s a gesture of affection to ask these questions, but Tomas’s eyebrows rise as the notions pour forth, like he is becoming convinced of their possibility the more they make themselves known to him.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ snaps Elise with a wave of her hand, physically dismissing the ideas from the air as she would imposters in a room of authentic ideas. But it makes her think. She sits up, climbs onto Tomas and declares: ‘I’m a bohemian.’

‘Oh,’ he says, pulling her towards him and down so that her face is level with his. ‘Then come here bohemian. Let me tell you who I am. I’m Tomas. I’m an artist. And I’m all yours baby.’ Elise’s cheeks, which are like ripe peaches even when she’s not smiling, explode upwards into a smile, squishing her eyes into small watery slits. She unfolds her arms, reaches upwards to stretch like a cat just been given a bowl of milk from heaven. She laughs feverishly as Tomas kisses her from neck to chest where his lips find her breasts.

‘What’s a bohemian?’ asks Tomas between kisses.

‘I’m not sure exactly.’ Elise’s hands search his back, over the bumps of his spine, along the knobby tops of his shoulders and down his arms.

‘It has something to do with freedom.’ She feels the corners of her mind for an answer for herself as much as for him. ‘Don’t you know that Dandy Warhols’ song ‘Bohemian like you’?’ Elise sings the lyrics to him. ‘So what do you do? Oh yeah I wait tables too, no I haven’t heard your band but you guys sound pretty cool and if you dig, vegan food well come over to my work I’ll have them cook you something that you really like, ‘cause I like you, yeah I like you and I’m feeling so bohemian like you.’ She stops to add that while she’s not a vegan, she goes through vegetarian phases because when she’s chewing steak, sometimes the thought of a cow standing helpless in a field, alive but also nearly dead, pops into her mind. The cow stares sadly from behind a fence against a green field backdrop. And then, explains Elise, the meat becomes not meat but a muscle, one that’s been… She goes on for a while explaining the ins and outs of her feelings toward chewing meat.

‘But more than that,’ she stops to say.

‘More than what?’ says Tomas, now propped up on his elbow beside her.

‘More than the song. Bohemians like art and love. They’re the most important things to a bohemian.’ When she says this, Elise lifts her chin so she is looking down her nose at Tomas, as though to emphasize her authority on the subject.

‘Well then,’ he scratches his stubble in an exaggerated way. ‘That must mean I’m a bohemian too!’ Tomas points a finger at the roof and shakes her shoulder with his other hand, ‘I’m with you Elise. Wherever you go. Whoever you are. Take me with you?’ He is trying to impress her.

‘But we’ve already arrived,’ she returns unsmiling, as if she is explaining the fact the earth is round or that gravity exists.

‘Haven’t we?’ She doesn’t look in his eyes. But Elise knows Tomas is looking at her. She lets him look. She lets herself be a picture in his museum.

‘I need you.’ He reaches his face up to hers so their eyes have nowhere to hide.

Then there are no words. The mid-week morning happens around them and they see it out secluded in each other’s arms, their first morning together as lovers. As bohemians of West End, Brisbane. And listening to the peace of dawn slowly disintegrate, to life coming alive outside, to cars growling in the distance on the way to the city to the business end of things, Tomas and Elise nestle in and are comforted by the fact they have no jobs to tend to or deadlines to meet. No buses to catch.

They are dandelions searching for a home in the wind, and they cling to each other like orphan seeds blown in from a lonely night.