Remodelling

Victoria Griffin

Leslie walks softly over the bare floor, the hardwood stripped away. Her daddy told her not to walk on it without shoes—she is going to get a splinter in her naked toes—but her dad is sleeping in the room below, and she knows every footstep sounds like a fallen tree against the thin floor.

This was once the living room, with a worn couch and ice-cream stains on the rug. Now it is a hole, barren, everything warm and good lapped out of it.

Her groan echoes through the empty room. She sticks her knuckle between her teeth and bites down to quiet herself. The pain comes in waves, now—like the worst period cramps she ever had. A sharp ache floods her stomach and makes her crouch down, silent tears slipping from her eyes and staining the light particleboard.

She can still feel the sharp metal inside her (was it a knitting needle?), reaching into her womb to burst the fluid-filled sac. She can still feel the man’s rough hands between her legs, the same ones that had snatched the money from her fingers and pushed her flat onto the rickety table.

Leslie looks down to see blood staining her pyjama shorts and the particleboard. She grabs a paper towel from the roll in the kitchen and tries to wipe it up, pressing her free hand against her stomach. A red stain is smudged along the wood grain.

She drops onto the floor, not caring if she wakes her dad, and cries. She will have to tell him, now, about her uncle. About when her mum went out for groceries. About what she has done.
Her daddy’s footsteps on the stairs are heavy. He sees her form by the pale glow of the wall plug-in and flips on the overhead light, exposing her bloody thighs and the red, wadded paper towel beside her. His back is sore from sheet rocking, but he picks her up like she’s five, instead of sixteen, and carries her to the car. He puts on the flashers, drives ninety, and calls Leslie’s mother from the ER.

She is staying with her brother during the divorce.

Leslie pulls her foot onto her lap in the hospital room. There is a splinter in her toe.

Stay Til Sunset

Mark Brandi

Collingwood.

Before sleeve tattoos and craft beer.

Before pulled pork and slaw.

When junkies died of romance. Hot shots. And broken hearts.

When Jimmy found things out the hard way.

 

Smith Street. Two-thirds to Gertrude. Just a doorway and an Islander with his own postcode.

Jimmy climbs the steep, black staircase. It reeks of dead cigarettes. Cheap bourbon. Desperation.

Control.

Joy Division.

No-one is dancing.

It’s all gloom, smoke and hard eyes.

He finds a seat at the bar.

Stuyvos. House vodka. Something else.

He’s on his second when she sits down.

Chemist-rack glasses. Cracked lips. And wings.

Dealers trade smack and ketamine.

She twirls her straw.

The DJ false starts.

They exchange glances.

Jimmy’s no good at that shit.

‘What’s with the wings?’

Soft under his fingertips, like a boa.

Thin smile. Like she’s heard it a hundred times.

Jagged, crooked teeth. Like nobody’s business.

‘Pretty aren’t they?’ she says.

Jimmy shrugs.

He buys her a Southern and Coke. He has no idea what she drinks.

She smells like bed. Like clean flannel sheets. Like sex.

And Jimmy never was good at playing it cool.

 

 

 

Priscilla.

That’s the name she tells him. She’s on the dole. And that suits Jimmy just perfect. 

She lives in a big room on Easey Street.

Best room of six.

Jimmy hasn’t seen how bad the others are.

They’re rented by the brothel over the road.

So the girls can sleep.

That’s what she tells him.

 

Their first date is at Dights Falls.

They lay on the cool, grassy bank near the weir.

They watch and listen to the birds in the trees.

Jimmy wonders why they have to be so fucking unpleasant sometimes.

As the sun sinks, the birds go quiet.

A moment when they both look up at the sky.

When the clouds go pink.

Like fairy floss.

Their thin fingers entwine.

And her drowning eyes.

Like very hard drugs.

And they still haven’t fucked.

Which somehow seems perfect.

Jimmy read something once. Inside an album cover. Memorised to impress girls. It never worked.

He only remembers half.

 

I waited all day

You waited all day

But you left before sunset

And I just wanted to tell you

The moment was beautiful

 

She pinches his arm, eyes slitted to the dead pink light.

‘That’s really … so crap.’

He pulls her in close.

‘With the other half,’ he says, ‘it’s much better.’

 

Two days later. Knocks on her door.

A waif. See-through skin. Eyes like flint.

‘I was looking for—’

‘She’s gone.’

Jimmy blinks. ‘Where?’

‘Queensland. I got her room. And her shifts.’ Shuts the door behind her. ‘I’ve gotta get to work so …’

Eyes search him.

Jimmy shakes his head.

He feels for the folded page in his pocket.

‘Can you give her this. If you see her again.’

She takes it from his hand. Unfolds it.

Chews her lip as her eyes slip back and forth.

 

Just wanted to dance to bad music

Drive bad cars

Watch bad TV

Should have stayed for the sunset

If not for me.

 

She pushes it inside her pocket. ‘Doesn’t make sense.’

‘It might have,’ he says, ‘with the other half.’