Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Cock and the Bull

Jack catches Thomas again in the crowd, where sharp empty syllables beat and thud and stink of grubby fingerprints and flickering sunlight turn them through the cotton and silks in a volley of unheard sentences. It is only men down here, where light is slit and the racetrack exists only in the daydreams expelled from each man’s mouth, pulsing around their ears. Against the swing door and across the tiles they convene at matching urinals.
“So how did you bet?” asks Thomas. But his eyes are fixed ahead on the unexpectedly white porcelain.
“I’ve got the winner,” says Jack. He grins to himself. “$1.22 on Happiness. It’s a dead certainty.”
“Bullshit. Happiness is the favourite. The favourite never wins.”
“Then how are they the favourite?”
Thomas waves the last droplets onto the bowl. There is a cue forming behind him, watching the curl in his spine and his fingers in his crutch and the chunky outline of his wallet in his jeans pocket.
“So what did you bet then?” He presses.
Jack twists his neck, grinning simply on the white and black edge of Thomas’s eyes. Thomas keeps his head down and fumbles his fist back into his fly.
“That wasn’t good enough for me,” says Jack. He is grinning. He can’t help himself. “The odds of winning by more than a head are $5.32. But then the odds of winning by more than a length are $10.95.”
“You didn’t.”
“I did.”
“How much?”
“It’s a dead certainty.”
The two men zip up their flies. Their eyes don’t meet until they have washed and dried their hands, fended the crowd and convened high on the bleachers with beers sweating and slipping inside their fists. Thomas shakes his head.
“Drinks are a rip-off here.”
“Then why are we drinking?”
“Because it is about the experience,” says Thomas. He takes a sip to push his point.
“And I can’t have this experience without a drink?”
“Jesus;” Thomas is shaking his head again. “Can’t you just take things for how they are?”
Luckily for the two old friends, the silence can be filled by the race announcer, singing to the beat of hoofs. The crowd is spattered with dresses of all different colours and the ark of tanned shoulder-blades; the fabric falling perpetually from their backs into the cheap plastic seats. Each man can’t help but watch. But why not? They are men after all.
“So what did you bet?” Jack asks at last.
“I’ve got the sweep.”
“My money is on I Told You So. The odds aren’t good, but that is how it always is.”
Jack could not know any better; not like I can, with the gift of hindsight. He will win the sweep and bring his wife a fat envelope stuffed with creased bills. He will not let it out of his fist on the train home.
“No-one ever wins the sweep.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
It is easy to forgive Thomas for his naivety if you know him like I do. He is simple and jovial. You may not be able to read that from this situation but in his head (and in the little silences between sentences) he is happy in his daydreams. Here he is buying a round for the bar (a gesture his stinginess would never allow in any other reality) and taking the blonde in the blue fascinator home in his pocket. He buys a nice car to park in his nice house. He drives the car over to Jack’s house. “I told you so,” he says; but of course this is a lie. Again, hindsight aligns me with the tragedy of this story. Thomas is deceased at the time of writing. I have his eulogy in front of me. It is really quite nice.
Thomas Franklin died far too young. He was a kindly friend and a hard worker at the ammunitions factory that he loved and dedicated himself so dearly towards. He will be sorely missed by his wife of three months: Clarissa Franklin.
I know; it is rather brief. Thrity-eight years and that is his noteworthy achievements. But then, why do we feel that it is necessary to catalogue someone’s achievements at all? For the convenience of the priest? In the sunlight, coloured and bursting like streamers through the tinted glass, the dark tinge of his underwear could be made out through his gown. I couldn’t help but laugh.
The two men are silent, watching the frenetic tangle of horses and silks and whips drifting in orbit around the grass. They do not feel any need to talk. They know each other too well to bother with the trivialities of conversation. So when Thomas finally speaks, it comes as a surprise to me too.
“I was at the bus stop the other day, actually it was Tuesday. And it was just me and this girl waiting there in the chill. She was wearing a scarf tight around her neck, pink, like skin. She had dark gloves and a short skirt and high heels and she was standing with the backs of her knees conked into the bench, just watching the traffic go past. She was gorgeous. Beautiful. So I had to talk to her. I mean, I didn’t know her from a bar of soap. So I asked her how she was on this morning, Tuesday. And then she said, she said…”
“What? What did she say?”
“She said she was just waiting for the bus. So I asked her where she worked and she said she was retrenched. Then I didn’t really know what to tell her. I’m sorry? I’m not really. I don’t even know her. I mean it made me sad to hear it, but I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t say ‘That makes me sad.’ I mean, who says that? Nobody says that. I couldn’t think of a single way to tell her how I felt. But then she just comes out and fills the silence. But she doesn’t even say anything. She just hugs me. Full on. She presses her whole body against me; her chin, her breasts, her stomach, her crutch, her knees and all I can do is just take her by the small of the back. And I just feel good, like nothing can ever go wrong again because I don’t care anymore and I am happy. Then she leans back and places her palms on my shoulders and I am looking her in the eyes with my hands still around her and she says to me this thing I can’t get out of my head because she sounds so convinced, so sure. She tells me she will throw herself under the bus.”
The race is over. Men in suits are walking about the grass, patting horses on the nose and shouting at each other. The crowd murmurs a mash of syllables.
“And I don’t know what to say. What to do. So I just tell her that I won’t let her. I link my fingers around her back. I hold her there. And I tell her the truth, because I can’t think of anything else. I tell her to think of me; this stranger that she has just hugged, that she has made so happy. I tell her how inconvenient it will be for me if she does throw herself under. I tell her I have a predisposition to depression. I tell her that if I am late to work then I will lose my job and then I won’t be able to pay child support or my rent. I don’t know really what I was thinking. I guess I just thought that she was telling me a lie. Then she takes me around the shoulders and pulls me onto the pavement and there is a cigarette butt crushed against my forehead and she is laughing and I am thinking about all the people in the cars driving past, watching us and wondering what they will think. And I am holding on. Then she is on top of me and she kisses me because nothing else matters except what she is feeling inside.”
“And then what happened?”
“The bus came and I got on and went to work.”
“And that’s it?”
“And she looked at me behind the tinted window – I don’t know if she could even make me out – and then she mouths ‘See you tomorrow.’”
“And then what happened next?”
“Nothing; Nothing happened next.”
“You didn’t see her again?”
I know that the story is a lie. On Tuesday morning, Thomas Franklin waited at the bus stop with a novel bent around one hand. Then he got on the bus to work.
“I also had an unusual experience this week,” says Jack. He squeezes the form guide in his fist and stares into the pale skin of a woman’s back. “I was at the King’s Arms in Collingwood when this lady came and sat at the bar next to me. And she smiles at me and so I buy her a drink.”
“What did she look like?”
“She was stunning. She had this low-cut blue dress and dark brown hair and dark drown eyes and she said her name was Melody.”
“Like in a song?”
“This isn’t a very odd experience. It may be for you.”
“Give me a chance.”
“Ok. Go on.”
“So I buy her a drink and I don’t know what to say to her. So I decide to lie. I mean, why not? I came into this situation with nothing. So my first lie was pretty simple. I told her I was good, thanks. And then she asks me what I do and so I tell her. I say that I am a soldier fighting in Iraq. I am back in Melbourne on leave. She tells me that she doesn’t support the war. I tell her that I don’t either. But I support the army. I support defending Australia. She tells me that I am just a political tool. I tell her that I know. I don’t believe it though. I think that life and death cannot be defined so simply. She asks me why I am fighting in a war that I don’t believe in and so I tell her that I am defending my friends. You know, play the good guy act. She tells me I nee to grow up and I laugh it off. I tell her about the bravery medals I won defending my friends when we were ambushed by insurgents. She tells me that she is a ballerina. She is playing the lead in Swan Lake at the Art Centre in September. She lives in Toorak. I tell her that I won the lottery last year – Mega-draw. Then I tell her I am a published author. She says she hasn’t heard of me. And I tell her that I drive a Porsche and I was born in a slab hut in the bush. She says that she was too. I tell her that I overcame years of poverty and she says that she did too. She says that she is happily married, then we kissed.
“Then what happened?”
Jack looks sternly back at him.
“Then I got her number and went home.”
Thomas smiles but his eyes are on the stalls. Their race is about to begin. I watch the two men, with their eyes forward, completely oblivious to me; I may as well not even be here. So I speak up. I mean, how could I not?
“Do you think it is possible,” I ask;” that it was the same woman in both of your anecdotes?”
“No,” says Thomas.
“I really doubt it,” says Jack.
I lean back in my seat and shrug.
“What does it really matter anyway?” I say, but they aren’t listening.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

In Between

It amuses him on some intellectual level to watch the second hand on the grandfather clock rush forward and pull itself up to a sudden halt. Then repeat its haste and its doubt, exerting itself in a sound known universally as the seamless lurch of time. It can never speed up or slow down. It can never fatigue or stop.
When he draws this idea forth from the void of his unconscious memories (that never occurred and never ceased to exist), he is unable to exude the same enthusiasm that had so excited the voice in his head. They had been discussing breeds of dog.
“That’s an interesting notion, David;” says Jenson Parker while his fingers patter against his wife’s slender shoulder. “But then time can slow down and speed up. The seconds can sound further in-between. It is all just a matter of perspective.”
“And besides,” says his wife, “the ticking of a clock is a human invention. I mean time itself doesn’t lurch. It is smooth.”
He looks at her smiling at the lounge room and at the same time her lips are contorted so she is smiling back at herself. She is smiling down the windpipe from which her words emerged, tinged with red wine. There is an absence in her eyes; they are so pale against the mash of red and blue spat across her cocktail dress. He presses her.
“But time itself is a human invention.”
“Would anyone like another glass of wine?” asks his wife. She stands up and sinks David deeper into the wrinkles lining the couch. She refills Jenson and Matilda’s glasses before she turns to him. He knows what she will say. She will question him as to why he is not drinking. She will point out that everybody else is; their guests. Then she will feel a silence brood which he cannot think of any syllables to fit into the space except for the tock tocking of the second hand. Then she will finish off with some snide remark, such as “watching your weight are you?” or “worried you might let something slip,” or maybe she will just laugh through it all; little bursts of laughter.
But she does none of these things. She sits down. She does not even look at him.
“How is your mother?” she asks Matilda. Almost instantly she jams her lips shut on her tongue. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t ask questions like that. I shouldn’t pry.”
“She is fine,” says Matilda. “The doctors are surprised that someone in their eighties could be so healthy.” She takes a sip. “And so active all the time.” Both women bare their teeth.
David isn’t listening. He struggles to patch up the rabid desiccation of his idea. Jenson and Matilda are his friends. Surely it is their duty as a friend to support him. And his wife. She always acts funny around the Parkers, as if suddenly he is inferior, a joke to be laughed at in the small silences between paragraphs. Then with a sudden jolt he realises he is staring at his corneas and behind them is the arc of Matilda’s breasts pushing out the folds of her dress. Something hard is pressing against his underwear. He hurriedly looks down, at its sharp curl and the rivet at its head. He hopes no one has noticed. But how could they not. The clock is silent.
“They say she will live to a hundred or more.”
“That’s fantastic.”
“They are not sure how she does it. Must just be luck. I hope I’ve got those genes.”
“Would you really like to live that long?” he asks. “I mean, you would be in pain and constantly tired and bored. You would be useless.” The silence invites and forbids him from going on. “I mean, do you think maybe that the one worse thing than death would be to live forever?”
His wife braces her knees to pour more wine but the Parker’s glasses are already full.
“I disagree,” says Jenson. The clock’s beat falls into line with his syllables.
“Then do you think,” he begins. He can feel his cheeks raise and part his lips like theatre curtains to display the stage of all his thoughts. “Do you think then, that it is possible for me to say something or do something so emotionally wrenching that will stop time?”
“David,” says his wife. She slaps him hard against the shin. But he is smiling still.
“Only for a second,” says Matilda.
“Have you felt that?” he asks. “That for a second you will live forever.” Jenson comes forward.
“You make an interesting point, David, that in its own flawed logic is true, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work that way.”
But he is smiling, he cannot stop smiling.
“You never take me seriously,” he says. “Any of you. I am a joke with a shit job and a nice wife.” He stops. “The dinner tasted awful.” He stands up. “I have a hard-on,” he says. He looks at Matilda. “You are beautiful, has anyone told you that in a while?” His smile is retreating. Has cheeks are deflating; saggy and wrinkled and old. “I love you,” he says, but he can’t lie to himself.
“I think we better go,” says Jenson. He pulls his wife’s limp hand onto her feet and walks from the room. Some time later the couple hears the door clink shut.
His wife shads up. She raises her fists and puts them back by her side and raises them again.
“What the fuck was that about?” she shouts; but he can’t speak.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


One day I had depression
But I never really knew
If the way that I was feeling
Was analytically true

I believe that I was ‘de’
As ‘de’ denotes negativity
And once upon a time I felt better
So I guess I earn the ‘pre’

And its me alone upon this page
It’s ‘I’ and then it’s none
And this way that I am feeling
It goes ‘on’ and on and on

But despite how I am feeling
I really must confess
That I cannot have depression
For I can’t place the double ‘s’

Saturday, 10 December 2011


I. The Microphone

Timothy Johnson is fat and old. His skin ripples like freshly whipped cream across his calves and arms; it is tight across his navel and hangs loosely from his tits. It is so unfair, he bemoans to his obliging reflection in the mirror. He picks up his tits and squeezes them together. It disgusts him almost as much as his hard-on. But he can look into his eyes, naked, vulnerable, unchanging and beautiful; he stares back at himself, into the darkness that rests in his dilated pupils, filled with every colour.
It is odious, he thinks, that he spends his thoughts staring at himself, perving on himself, hating and loving and wasting any peripheral emotion on himself – that fucker, loser, deadbeat – he swells with pride and hate and satisfaction.
But his voice – as he stares at his corneas and smells the mucus lodged in his nose – his voice transcends him. It is full and free and swings up and down in perfect crescendo. It fills his mouth and lungs and ears until it chokes him and leaves him gasping for the simplicity of emptiness. “I am beautiful,” he tells the mirror and he can’t help but believe it.
He is there now. His gut is plated on the desktop and the pleats in his shirt fondling his nipples, but he can feel none of it. Nobody notices this except for you.
“Welcome back,” says his voice. In a severed moment he doubts whether anyone could feel welcomed by the simple greeting of a stranger talking to himself.
“It is a beautiful Saturday morning and you are listening to Timothy Johnson.” He wonders who you are. You, sitting or standing, caught in the same fragments of sunlight, young (still), quiet, attentive, interested, bored, naked, smooth, bald skin, soft as velveteen, big tits. He swings his voice high and low, a symphony with silence.
Give me a call and let me know what (the fuck) you are (fucking) doing on this perfect (shit fucking) weekend.”
He is encased in glass. Three glass walls look in and out at the darkness outside the studio. In the gloom, the technician’s cigarette glows, a distant astroid burning up. Closer. Summer night. In the courtyard with Angela. Two little lights drawing moths and mosquitoes and maybe fireflies if they sit here long enough talking in the darkness. About what? About nothing; of course. About hate and love and the perfect mundaneness of their lives, waiting for death or some other surprise. She is fucking beautiful, naked in darkness. Under her clothes she is invisible.
And the fourth wall? A window. The sunlight that you see now. In front of you, around you, a forest, a city, the sea.
“And on Line 1 we have Susan from Hoppers Crossing – Susan how are you on this fine morning?”
Susan. S – U – S – A – N. Su – San. Sun. Sand. A summer’s morning on the beach. St. Kilda. The sun cracking on the sharp point of the horizon over the swell. She is next to him and the sand is tipping into her cocktail dress, red and blue and yellow, yellow sand and sun and her shoes between her fingers and her tongue between his lips, salty. Salt on his skin and crackling in his hair and his eyes. Closed. Darkness. Three walls. The final star smoking in the sky. Oh, Angela.
“I am fine, Timothy. I am just fine.”
She knows his name! But who is he? A voice in her ear, in breathless whispers. But she called him. She wants him, to speak with him, to be with him and share this moment; moment of what?
“And what are you doing this morning, Susan?”
“I am having a smoke on my break from work.” But why does she call him? God bless; she needs someone to talk to. That little light in the darkness. A star millions of kilometres across.
“And where do you work?”
“At a supermarket, I’m afraid.”
“You are afraid? What are you afraid of?”
“That you will judge me.”
“I would never judge you.”
“Thankyou, Timothy; you are very kind.”
“Then where would you prefer to work?”
“I don’t know. I think radio would be fine.”
“Really? Well do you want to throw to our next song?”
He closes his eyes and she is beside him. And in a moment she will touch him, kiss, her skin is velveteen. In the darkness, beside him. Her skin is warm. A little red pinprick in the darkness.

II. The Tomatoes

I am not the loving kind of person. This does not suggest I am incapable of love. I have had love and lost love and decided that love means nothing to me but a means to make others feel happy. But then I think that maybe I am lying. I honestly doubt the worth of love but an answer in some fantastical crossword. But then I am alone now. Alone with myself, my body, head and legs and arms and cunt. Alone with a pen and a sheet of ghostly white paper. Alone in the darkness of my sitting room at nightfall. Alone with the glow of a cigarette that illuminates two of my fingers on my left hand. And that is me. And I feel fucking free.
The last man to whom I said that I am in love is John Cassidy. Hairy. Gut hanging low slung. Hung. Snake’s tongue fused in the middle. But then I know I am lying. I mean, I loved him, didn’t I?
Today he came back to me, brushing my skin, against me, hating me, but he came back. I do not know the extent to which our meeting was preconceived. But I know this much: something, at least: he saw me, and then he came back to me. I have a trolley whose metal grate is filled with soup. High in delicious, creamy, low in flavoursome, tin cans in wrapping paper. I place another can on the shelf.
“Susan?” he says. I place another can on the shelf. My back faces him.
“John,” I say. And then we have depleted our conversation. I place another can on the shelf.
“I have been meaning to catch you,” he says. His breath reeks of passive smoke and mucus. I place a can on the shelf.
“Go away, John. I am at work.”
This is where he smiles his fat teeth and I am reminded of those hot sticky nights with the blankets knotted and twisted and kinked around our wrists and waists and ankles and you as you snored your lips blew away and those teeth! Luminescent and nipped with chicken scraps and stained with gravy. I place another can on the shelf.
“No, he says. I think I will stay right here if you don’t mind.” Teeth. Long. In a perfect line. I place another can on the shelf.
“Why did you leave me?” he asks with a mouthful of teeth.
I place another can on the shelf.
“John; please.”
“It is a simple question. It is one question. You know the fucking answer.”
“Watch your language in public.”
“Why did you leave me?”
I place another can on the shelf.
“Because I didn’t love you anymore.”
I place another can on the shelf.
I place another can on the shelf.
I place another can on the shelf.
I place another can on the shelf.
I place another can on the shelf.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you fucking do.”
I feel the sweat from my palm against the tin. I turn to look at him. He is frowning his fat lips. I throw the can hard against the tiles. Right next to his fucking feet. It cracks in half right along the middle. Kinked. And the blood inside spatters against the business trousers I bought for him in New York and against my bare legs and across the cans and in a sappy pool in the tiles.
“What are you doing? Vandal!” I shout up and down and all around me, shout at his fat fucking lips.
Except that I am lying.
The can bounces off the tiles and rolls away down the aisle.
“What are you doing?” he asks. He is frowning. That part is true.
I reach right to the back of the shelf, as far back as I can reach, into the darkness, and then I run and listen to the cans on the tiles behind me. My eyes are closed. They are closed now. I do not know why.

III. The Pills

You have no reason to feel good, but you do. Maybe it is the thought of another cigarette. Maybe it is the porno mags splayed across your couch and the trousers that your girlfriend bought for you hanging off the back. Maybe it is the empty little plastic bottle caught in your fist. Maybe it is the thrill of spending an evening with the lights off. Simple. Stupid. Easy. But why? You have to know. Lonely fucker.
There is a knock at your door. Maybe. In the darkness.
“Mr. Cassidy?”
“This is Timothy Johnson, the landlord. Can I come in?”
He does not wait. He opens your door. Black grey white. Lights on. Everything is wrong. There is black gunk under your fingernails and grease perspiring from your scalp and little black hairs on the naked parts of your legs and your mouth smells like lost moments.
“Shit. It’s dark in here,” he tells you. Footsteps to the window. “And it is such a nice day outside!” He rips the tape from your curtains, outside is a red brick wall. As it always was. One day, you told yourself, you would lean across and paint something on there. But what? A forest? A park? A highway? A lady, naked changing at her bedroom window?
“Look at that. Look at that blue sky. Could you believe that it might ever rain again?”
“I don’t know,” you say. You are pulling your pants up and sweeping the magazines from your couch.
“Of course you don’t.” Of course you don’t. He lights up a cigarette. “Do you mind if I smoke in here?” And you smile back because you can’t help yourself. Slim white body, brown blob of hair, smoking from the mouth.
“So,” he says, “Show me around.”

Thursday, 8 December 2011


I live in a crayon house
With a peaked roof
And a chain smoking chimney
And square windows
On a square frame
And a door
That is big
And red
With bits of white
And a smudgy yellow handle
That doesn’t open
To let me inside
Where I have no possessions
So I sit under my tree
In the shade of its full canopy
With my stick legs crumpled
And my stick hands on my head
Falling forever towards the edge
On every side

My life is shit
But I can’t stop smiling

Saturday, 3 December 2011


She closes her eyes. The glass neck is warm and clammy against her fingertips. Its perfectly smooth skin rubs the joints in her fingers. Her grip tightens and her breath shortens into a hollow beat that heats and cools the kink in her throat. Her brow is tight and pushes her eyelids deeper into her cheeks. Greasy sweat sticks to the melting droplets forming in the corners of her eyes. Her mind feels wonderfully clear and completely empty. Her toes wrap around themselves and her nails catch against the loose stitches in her socks. Her buttocks hug tightly against each other. Her nipples dig deep into the cups. She imagines birth and the baby’s slick little body exploding out, wet and sweaty from between her pubic hairs. When it is all over her fingers smell of BO and she sighs long through her nostrils. She feels around with an outstretched hand until the wineglass sits smoothly on the sideboard.
She opens her eyes. The box has crumpled beneath her. She can see his name scrawled in thick black marker slashes, disappearing below her buttocks. She follows the goose pimples down her arm as it curls around her swollen belly. She cannot see where her fingers end at their acrylic pink tips.
She slides the ratchets of her spine up the sweaty wall. Her bra strap cuts deep into the wallpaper but she does not care anymore. Over her bulging belly, looming like the rising sun, she realises how small she really is. Boxes line the walls and carpet. She pulls a cigarette from the carton on the sideboard. It is perfectly smooth and straight and erect between her fingers. She lights the end and feels the smoke ejaculate into her lungs. She holds it there, thinking of the sweat on her brow and the saliva painted along her lips.


She remembers the night that it happened. Wispy flecks of memories get caught in her eyes. They were out to dinner and surrounded by scrappy plates and the familiar warbling of friends clogging her ears and catching in her throat. There were eight juvenile doctors and pompous lawyers and tradies and their snickering wives loudly boasting the monotony of their lives. She did not listen but stared into her contorted reflection stained with gravy and shreds of desiccated chicken. Suddenly she realised she was standing. The table had not noticed.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. She turns on her high heel before anyone can respond. She had seen enough of their flapping jaws.
The cubicle wrapped its walls around her. She leaned her forehead on the cool door with her knees against the tiles. The door was scratched full of letters. Below her eyes she read the messages scraped into the timber. “Michael loves Joanie,” floated in a heart-shaped bubble. She wondered who these people were. Michael, she pictured as a grease mop with acne and a hard on. Joanie was a girl at her table. She was beautiful and drunk with a raspy voice. She closed her eyes but the names were etched into her eyelids. She realised she was more tolerant and caring towards these characters when they are figments that she met in her corneas. She pulled a nailfile from her bag and was surprised to find how easy it is to chip scraps from the door.
“Juliet loves Peter.”
With the final gash she knew she regretted her carving. But no one could ever identify them. No one could possibly tell that she is Juliet and Peter is Peter. If she scrubs the name away then she is admitting her guilt. She felts sick, as if her stomach is full of heart shaped bubbles. Over the toilet seat she could see her face in the still water, reeking of disinfectant and piss. She picked out the split ends in her hair and the lumps beneath her eyes. This was the Juliet that she never sees from her eyes. This was the Juliet she showed to the friends and strangers around her.
“I am Juliet,” she said. Her face rippled and her cheeks expanded and contracted. There was water in her eyes and a finger down her throat, sharp and smelling of gravy.
The door knocked. She had forgotten it existed.
“Juliet. Are you in there?”
Can I come in?”
“Peter, this is the woman’s bathroom, you need to get out.”
“I’m coming in.”
He pushed the door open. She was sitting on the cold seat over her disgrace with her dress blooming around her and her frilliest nickers twisted and knotted around her ankles.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
He grinned great folds into his cheeks. It is the grin of the high school cum-puppets that wolf-whistled from across the oval as she bent over the drinking fountain. “Hey darling,” they called. “Hey honey, do you spit or swallow.” She clenched her fingers against the toilet seat until it bent in her grasp. She could not bear to look at her body. She could not bear looking at him. She closed her eyes.
“Waiting for me?” he asked.
He stepped into the cubicle and closed the door gently behind him.
“Go away, Peter.”
He gave out a double barrelled snort.
“Back out there? With the toffs garrotting themselves in their neckties while they silently wank under the table?”
“They are your friends.”
“These people don’t have friends. They have partners.”
“And you?”
He drew his lips together and kissed her. His cheeks were prepubescent in their smoothness. He weaved his tongue between her lips. His saliva tasted of gelatinous chicken gravy and he muddied her gums and teeth. He pushed deeper into her throat while his rigid fly stabbed upward into her guts, behind her ribcage into her bloodless heart.  She pulled her head backwards but he snaked forward until her head was locked against the tartar-coloured tiles. She could think only of her younger self, maybe ten or eleven, playing, stroking, touching her boarder collie on the back porch. The yard was built in the channel of a cement creek. The wind pooled at the bottom of the hills by the shopping centre and exhaled long draughts of pollen and dust into their hair. His fingers tickled and rubbed between the buttons in her shirt. Then he was unzipping her fly. The wind was stronger now, reeking of off-cuts from the dumpsters behind the supermarket. It tossed the leaves around and around and around and around and around until it rained gumnuts with sharp cracks onto the pavers. She grabbed the dog by the collar and dragged it inside.
“Juliet,” he cried.
She opened her eyes and looked past him to the wooden door falling up and down.


With the playful whispers of her second cask of goon swimming in her mouth, she decides to call him. She dabs out her cigarette on the box (almost hoping it will catch alight and burn whatever it is inside) and dials. In the gasps between the dial tone she questions what it is she is going to say. It is a Friday night and he is probably drunk or stoned or asleep. He was so confident when they first met at church. He showed no remorse or discontent for the little that he possessed. She liked this in him. It is what makes her miss him now. The little phone bleats down the line and fades out silently into the distant air. Finally his voice silences the needy lonely cries.
“Hi. You have reached Peter Johnson. Please leave a message.”
Then it is he who is waiting for her: silently and expectantly. She shoves the receiver back onto the phone. Fuck him. He was there, she was sure of it, sitting silently by the phone; leaving him with yet another crime to atone.
“Arsehole,” she tells the room and her belly. “Idiot, loser, deadbeat, dead-shit, shit-head, dickhead, failure.”
She pulls another cigarette from the carton. She has taped over the photo of rotting desiccated lungs but her mind paints its image onto the creamy surface. She does not care. She is drawn to the pleasure and release of killing herself just a little bit. She can feel the smoke fall from her oesophagus, through her stomach and guts and kidneys and emerge from her bum. She feels so simple. But the cigarette works only to refocus her anger. She cannot prevent thoughts, like splinters, digging into her forehead and scalp. He could be out with some other broad he shelled out a drink to at the Imperial, or they could be fucking on a choir of fantastical bedsprings, or he could be stoned in a park or mugged taking a slash against a wall. But then why did she bother to keep thinking of him. There were so many other people she could call who would stimulate better conversations than his awkward invisible smirk. She picks up the receiver again.


When she took the test, he was standing beside her with his hand on her shoulder and his eyes on the cubical door. He wanted her to do it at home, but it was her baby. This he was happy to accept. It denied him responsibility in the conception. So they walked across
Main Street
from the budget chemist to the public toilets by the footy oval. She told him to sit outside but he simply laughed and said that good fathers are there for all the important moments in a child’s life.
“I am not pregnant,” she said.
“Then what are we doing here? Let’s go home.”
She spat a look of disgust at his face. It caught him between the eyes and he stayed silent as she struggled with her belt and then her fly. Her stomach filled with bubbles.
“I am going to vomit,” she said before calmly upending her lunch onto his business trousers. In the next cubicle, two aggressive, acne scarred teenagers were sucking on each others faces. There was a flapping of loosened clothes and noisy moments of passionate silence. He patted down his pants with toilet paper then put his palm on her shoulder. He looked at his face in the little scratched mirror on the cubicle door and listened to the breathing grow heavier around him and fall into a singular rhythm. He can’t help but find himself falling into it too. At the point of definitive exhalation he looked down at her. He saw the fabled triangle of hair wedged between her legs and the beauty of it all. Even in this moment he wanted her. He kissed her gently on the forehead.


There is a click at the other end of the line. She jumbles her fingers, hurriedly pounding her cigarette to a premature death. The rain had steadily increased over the evening and now the downfall mutes the room in the fuzz of static on an old radio. Through the spatter she can make out the familiar voice.
“Hi. You have reached Peter Johnson. Please leave a message.”
There was a solitary beep and suddenly the mouthpiece drags her breath from her lungs and throat and then she is talking. Her mind stares into the letters of his name spat across a box in thick texta. Five letters. Suddenly he appears to be a code, so simple and translatable.
“Peter,” she says. “Peter. It is Juliet. I don’t think it is worth beginning our conversation with pleasantries. I am sitting in the old living room. You remember, right? With the shagpile that flared up under an unwanted cigarette and your favourite chair just outside the kitchen. You were such a slob, deadbeat, loser. Well now all there are is boxes. Rooms made of boxes sealed with duck-tape and labelled yours and mine or mine or yours. I sat on one of yours today and crushed it. If you want to know what is inside then you will need to come over here and take a look yourself. Actually, I am sitting on it right now. It’s a big one too.”
She stops to take a swig from her glass but finds it completely drained; the cask too. “Fuck,” she says with her palm over the phone. She retrieves her lighter and vainly flicks it below an unlit cigarette.
“If you don’t call back tonight then I will drop my lighter into the shagpile and let a million little candles shine and the ripple of flames climb into the boxes.” She clicks the lighter and realises that the sound will act as a sinister backdrop to her bitterness. Finally it ignites with great surprise in her fist. She lights the cigarette but does not know how to act next. She had anticipated that the tape would have ended by this time. The smoke collects in her lungs until each lung inflates into large balloons that escape through the gaps between her ribs and carry her high above her box and the other boxes until she looks down through the atmosphere to a shagpile forest.
“If you don’t call back tonight then first thing in the morning I will be at the abortion office. Come on Peter; remember what we have and what you wouldn’t like to lose. Is not your stamp collection from primary school in one of these boxes? Aren’t your university certificates and your photo albums and your collection of pornographic magazines? Don’t worry; I know that I haven’t crushed them.”
She is silent for a second but then realises she has nothing more to say.


            Several weeks later she had attended the same restaurant with John Turner, a colleague from work who walked on the sides of his new work shoes to prevent their squeaking. Their conversation was civil. Juliet never regarded herself as a provoker and thought herself to be open to opposing views. She enjoyed the friendly banter of a good argument. They discussed the drop in services at the hospital where they nursed, and bitterly complained about the government. Neither of them took the conversation particularly seriously and it quickly turned to a contest of wit. Soon she was laughing freely, clearing the smoke caught within the cracks in her lungs. He was several years older than her and balding. His smile came as a joyful surprise when it peeked through his cruet-cut beard. His hands were worn and wise and warm between her fingers as she led him into the bathroom. She kissed him against the basins. He recoiled at first, but she locked him to her with her tongue.
            “I have never done anything like this in a bathroom,” he stated.
            “Neither have I,” she said. She pulled him by his tongue into the cubicle and fumbled with his belt while his shoes squeaked echoes around the upturned shoebox. She pulls him onto the seat fading like old paper. The cubicle reeked of disinfectant and piss. So she held her nose against his crinkled skin and breathed in his cheap cologne.
            “I have dreamed about this for a long time,” he said. She looked at the walls blotched with clods of moist toilet paper and the multicoloured flecks collecting between the floor tiles.
            “Me too.”
            He kissed her harder with his hands out of view. Over his shoulder she can make out the words she had etched onto the door, hand carved and amended by someone with a dinner knife.
            ‘Juliet loves penis.’
            She closed her eyes and waited for it all to be over.
            “Juliet,” he whispered at some stage but she does not reply.


The cooing of the phone awakes her from smoky dreams. She quickly stubs the cigarette against the cardboard (now with four elliptical burns lined in a neat row) and lifts the phone to her ear. What would he possibly say? All she really sought was to talk to him but now in this moment she does not feel she has anything to say.
“Hello.” It is a good start.
“Hello.” It is a male voice on the far end, but it is deeper than she expected. Maybe he is chocked up with regret. There is sickly sticky smoky sweat forming on the handset and the chord is knotted tight around her fingers.
“Yes,” she says expectantly.
“Is this Juliet Shaw?” asks the voice.
“Um, yes.” Her mind is reeling through blinks of memories and mutated thoughts, but she cannot pick the voice.
“It’s Tom Cooper; do you remember me?” His voice carries a whisper, small and intimate, blowing hot air into her ear.
“No, I’m sorry Tom. I don’t.”
“We met at Mykonos, remember? At the bar at the hotel. At the Paradise Rest.”
“Yes.” She can see it now. A quiet bar buffered by the sand with a familiar sun blanketing the darkness behind her eyelids. He has dark brown hair, thick arms and no eyes. When he kisses her he whispers sweet nothings into her mouth. His breath tastes of coffee.
“And you were in the pool at the hotel and I taught you to dive and then we had a drink in your room and you gave me your number and said to call you when we were both back in Melbourne.”
“Yes, Tom; I’m so sorry. I remember now. I have just been so busy lately. I have been working late and I’m behind on rent payments and I’ve had a cold and then there is the baby.” She bights her tongue, suddenly.
“Baby? You never told me about that.” There is a pause which neither end of the line is willing to fill. “You aren’t married are you? Because then I can’t do this.”
“No, no, I’m not,” she says. “I’m a nanny.”
“I thought you said you were a nurse.”
She jams her teeth sharply together to prevent exclamation. How could he possibly know that?
“Yes, but I am a nanny on the weekends. I just love kids and I need a bit of extra money to help out with the rent.”
But he is no longer listening. His breath is faster and sensual.
“Oh, gosh! I can’t believe I finally found you. I was devastated when I left your hotel room without getting your phone number. And we had such an amazing time. I could not help myself but to think of you for the rest of my vacation. Your beauty and the soft patter of your voice and your laugh.” Then, as if an afterthought, he adds “And that night.”
“I’m so glad you found me too.”
“I have been calling every name in the phone book all night looking for you.” She can hear the rain behind his voice.
“I am so sorry, I would call you but I am afraid I had forgotten your surname.”
“It is Jacobs.”
“Tom Jacobs.” She works with a Jacobs at the firm. He has a worn out jaw and pulsing laugh that he let slip at any possible occasion. At the Christmas party last year, she followed him home. His breath smelt like an RSL’s carpet and his beard sliced her face. Afterwards he refused to speak and after some rushed goodbyes they had not spoken again. “What do you remember about me?” she asks.
“Oh, well. I don’t know. You have beautiful brown hair down to your shoulders and green – no, blue – eyes and you were taking your week off work and you were always sitting in the sun because you liked its warmth on your skin except that you could never tan and this made you laugh and you laughed a lot at the simple inanity of life. And you lived in a tiny apartment by yourself overlooking a brick wall and you were thinking of moving soon because your landlord was so strict and you were so grateful to be on holidays and you were so inquisitive of me.”
“That’s right.”
“Gosh, it is just so amazing to hear your voice again. I just want to kiss you down the receiver.”
“Tom, I am pregnant,” she says.
Their conversation continues in the small gaps between their breaths. Finally he speaks again.
“And do you think it is mine?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh my god. Can I come and see you?”
“No,” she says quickly. “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
“And are you going to keep the baby?”
She looks at the boxes around her. Each one looks the same. Each is generic. Each could be empty. Maybe she never actually packed them.
“Yes,” she says. “I think I will.”
She takes the receiver from her ear. She can hear his voice distant and faint and he talks in a rapid monotone which may merely be the distance between his mouth and her ear. She feels a lurch in her stomach. It may be the tiny kick of a baby’s foot. Her chest heaves and she steadies herself on her box. He can see him standing by his own window in a tidy home office painted sepia with a large bookcase filled with anonymous hard-cover spines and a large desk with a phone chord stretching to the window sill. He is happy. He will go downstairs to his kitchen and make himself a sandwich and watch it in front of the TV. Then he will sprawl across his double bed and his floor will fill with pillows like discarded thoughts waiting for the morning light. She is staring at her reflection painted onto the blacked out window. He is still talking, faster still. She pulls the phone back to her ear.
“Listen,” she says. “Do not try and contact me again. The baby is mine and mine alone. I need and want no help in raising it. I never want it to know who its father is. Nothing ever happened between us and neither of us exist.
“Juliet,” she says. “Juliet. Juliet. Juliet.” And then she is listening to the dial tone once more. She presses the keys quickly before any doubts can clip onto her subconscious. Then the phone is ringing once more.
“Hi. You have reached Peter Johnson. Please leave a message.”
“Hello Peter,” she says. “I have decided to abort the baby. There is nothing you can do to change my mind. Don’t bother trying to call.” She drops the phone back onto its holster and waits. The rain has eased into a gentle mist and somewhere nearby she can hear cars moaning along the wet streets, going somewhere. She unbuttons her fly as the phone bleats once more. She closes her eyes and lets it ring out into silence.