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.
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.
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.
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—’
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.’