The walls of her room were painted purple. Black blinds kept most of the daylight out. A weak glow emanated from a bedside lamp whose silk shade was the colour of rubies. Rebecca sat on her unmade bed beside a magazine about modern vampires and a thick book on astrology. She was listening to music through headphones, with a razor blade in her hand, poised to make another cut along her scarred arm when the right musical moment arrived. She knew it would hurt but that was her incentive.
The music was out of date, the singer long dead, but the lyrics suited her mood... Love will tear us apart again...She’d had sex the night before with a skinny man named Ryan, but he was not responding to her texts. Her eyes were puffy, their dark eye shadow smeared across her temples. The sex had been in a city nightclub toilet. He had said she was hot and wanted to fuck her again, properly, in a motel. But nothing. She only had his mobile number. He hadn’t invited her onto his Facebook page. She felt a sour constriction inside.
The blade pierced her skin. She hissed at the pain as she pressed on it. Within a second the first red bead appeared. As she drew the blade toward her elbow, the red followed, like ink squeezed from a broken biro....Love will tear us apart again.....She could see her face in the mirror propped against her pillow at the foot of the bed. ‘You fat, ugly bitch,’ she muttered, studying the bruises on her broad face, which appeared after a recent assault on her blackheads and pimples. Her cosmetic disguise was a failure. She dug the blade in deeper and swore.
As the first tears appeared the bedroom door opened.
Turning her head she saw her brother enter, a lean silhouette in the daylight beyond the bedroom. ‘Piss off!’ she yelled. Jake took no notice. ‘Get out and shut the fucking door!’
He remained but shut the door. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he realised what she was doing. He saw the blood trickling down his sister’s forearm and looked for the razor blade, which she held like an artist’s paint brush, ready for the next moment of inspiration.
He said nothing. Instead he headed across the room picked up the voodoo doll she kept on her dressing table. It had a grotesque head with strands of orange wool as hair. It wore a little maroon suit and white plastic stiletto shoes that had once belonged to a Barbie doll. There were several pins in its neck and one through its chest. ‘It’s you,’ she said, her eyes fixed askance on him.
He chuckled to himself as he observed the effigy. Holding it at arms’ length he began to dance, an old-fashioned waltz which became a tango, focused on its iridescent green eyes, bright even in the gloom, thinking they were luminous, his face distorted in a sour grimace.
‘You’re weird,’ she said, her voice full of bile. ‘I said get out of my room, faggot.’
She started to press the blade into her arm again, as if the sight of it might bring him to his senses. He kept ignoring her, threw the doll aside, and searched amongst the paraphernalia on her dressing table until he something else caught his attention. With his head close to the mirror he pursed his lips and applied the black lipstick, at first meticulously, until he slipped up, and then deliberately extending the application beyond his mouth, downward towards his jaw. He frowned at his reflection, pondering the outcome. Still dissatisfied he started to draw a thick line on his forehead. He swore and made some quicker marks on his temples and cheeks and then he took the lipstick to the mirror itself, scribbling over it in a frenzy, blackening it sufficiently to conceal his reflection.
‘Bastard! You know how much that costs?’ Rebecca protested. ‘You’re gonna have to pay for that.’
Jake ignored her. ‘Did you know Mum’s gonna leave Dad?’ he said, his voice devoid of emotion, as if he were merely relaying a message of no interest to him.
‘What?’ Rebecca took some tissues and began to swab the blood oozing from her cut. ‘Who told you that?’
‘Just a guess.’
‘That’s bullshit. They don’t even fight.’
‘I wish they would. I can’t stand how they put up with each other.’
The door opened again and their younger sister, Jessie, wandered in. ‘It’s dark in here.’
‘What is this? Can’t yous respect my privacy.’
Jessie was only five. She approached the bed, saw the blood stained tissues and noticed her sister’s arm. ‘What happened, Becky? You cut yourself?’
Rebecca glared at her and laughed mirthlessly.
‘Why’re you laughing?’
Rebecca studied the wound, feigning detachment. ‘Because it feels good.’
Jessie was shocked. ‘You shouldn’t do that!’She put her hands over her mouth, but she too couldn’t stop staring at the wound.
‘Why not? It’s my body. Nobody can stop me.’
‘It’s that weird music she listens to,’ said Jake, who had put his hands in his little sister’s shoulders and was observing Rebecca’s arm as well.‘It makes her cut herself.’
‘Will you two get out of my room and leave me in peace? For fuck’s sake, get out!’
‘I’m going to tell Mummy you’re cutting yourself,’said Jessie.
‘Leave me alone, you little shit.’
Jessie was hurt. ‘You said a bad word.’
Rebecca threw herself over and placed her head beneath some pillows.
Jake sat on the edge of the bed and drew Jessie to him. Her fine hair partially covered her face. There was moisture along the rims of her eyelids, which made him grin.
‘Hold still for a minute,’ he said, placing a hand behind her head to steady her. ‘Want some of this?’
He held up the lipstick. Jessie, with a sullen face, nodded. Jake pressed the black cosmetic to her tightly closed mouth, applying it carefully. When he had finished he tossed the lipstick aside. ‘Come on, Jess,’ he whispered in her ear.‘Let’s go down the back and play that nice game again.’ He took her hand and lead her to the door
Rebecca pulled her head from under the pillow. ‘Keep your hands off her or I’ll kill you!’
She took her headphones off and remained still for a few moments, languishing in the silence. Jake was her twin but she felt no affinity for him. He disgusted her. At times he scared her, the weird things he did, weird fucking things that would never cross the mind of a normal person.
Her phone made a tormented sound. Ryan had finally responded. A message. FO bitch. The delay had prepared her for nastiness. Her face cranked into a jaundiced smile at the predictability of it. How many guys had sent that exact message the day after she had screwed them? Heaps. She scowled at their lack of imagination.
She switched the phone to camera mode and took a photo of the new cut on her arm and sent it to her friend, Sara, who was curious about most things morbid, although never indulging such behaviour herself. While she waited for a response, she added the photo to her Facebook page. She waited. No hits. There was no-one on Chat. She typed: Is anybody out there? No answer. Nothing. She returned to her music, switching to The Sisters of Mercy, who weren’t sisters at all, but whose haunting sound and lyrics comforted her. She waited. No calls. No texts. Nothing on Facebook.
‘Fuck you all! I’m here, you know. Don’t ignore me!’ Panic started constricting her chest. Her arm was stinging. ‘Bastards,’ she murmured and began to cry.
The house was quiet. She rushed to the bathroom and found a plastic bottle of antiseptic in the medicine cabinet, looked for any pills, but found only headache tablets. She tossed them back into the cabinet, poured the antiseptic and hissed as it seared her wound. Catching sight of her reflection in the mirror, lit by an unflattering fluorescent tube, she scowled. ‘You are so ugly,’ she wailed. ‘Any wonder they hate you.’
She took some deep breaths, trying for composure, wiped off the makeup smeared by tears and returned to her room to apply some more. She had stopped crying and now felt angry. Someone should pay for her misery. She thrust her feet into her lace-up boots, grabbed her full-length coat from a hook on the back of her bedroom door and headed out. She saw nobody as she left.
Burning something down – her school, perhaps – or smashing a shop window crossed her mind, but she settled for evading a tram fare, easy enough with the do-it-yourself system, choosing a seat at the rear and ignoring the driver who was aware of her transgression, but too apathetic to challenge her.
She took the tram across the Maribyrnong River to Moonee Ponds, and alighted at the junction. A classmate she wanted to visit lived on the other side of Queens Park. She thought about texting him but knew there’d be no response. Instead she stopped awhile to watch a father and child throw bread to some ducks in a pond, and to have a swing in the children’s playground, enjoying the assuaging motion, emptying her mind of self-pity.
Josh lived in a magnificent Edwardian house in a quiet street with his parents, who were both lawyers, his father a solicitor, his mother an accomplished barrister who was always doing high-profile cases, always on the TV. Why they sent Josh to a state school rather than some elite private school had more to do with their politics than their desire to see their son follow them into law. They had been radicals at university, had lived together for years without marrying until their first child was planned, when they were well into their thirties. Their politics were tempered by their careers, but they still paid lip service to some of their youthful causes, which had segued fairly smoothly into civil liberty issues. Elite schools, for example, offended their sense of social equity. So Josh and his siblings had all attended a government school that promoted pluralism and tolerance. If their children were smart enough, which their parents never doubted, they would rise to the top and make it to law school free of the charge of success through privilege. The two older sons had prevailed. Josh was their first disappointment. He wanted to be a musician.
His mother, the barrister, answered the door. 'Oh, hi, Becky. You’re looking very Goth today.’ She gave a welcoming smile and moved aside to let the girl in. ‘How’re things?’
Rebecca shrugged. ‘Same,’ she mumbled, avoiding addressing the woman by her preferred first name, feeling uncomfortable with the familiarity it evoked.
‘Is Josh expecting you?’
‘I don’t know.’
The woman sighed, miffed by the girl’s vagueness, which she decided was a sign of social ineptitude, the curse of young people, who had lost the ability to communicate meaningfully face to face, thanks to their new technological gadgets. ‘He’s in his room.’
Rebecca followed her deeper into the house, through the kitchen, which was full of the smell of vanilla and lemon, unlike her own home with its cooked-meat odours, through a tiny room and into a spacious living area. ‘You know where it is,’ Josh’s mother said, leaving Rebecca to find her own way.
Rebecca opened the bedroom door without knocking. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. ‘Josh?’ There was no answer but she saw him lying on his bed, fully clothed except for bare feet, listening to music through his headphones, his eyes on his mobile phone, which he held at arms’ length, texting. She sat on the edge of his king-size bed and looked at the posters he had on the walls: Drake, Party Next Door, 50 Cent, 2 Chainz, even an old Eminem. There was Jackie O sitting on a couch with her legs spread. A fuck-me-fuck-you poster. They weren’t Rebecca’s type of musicians but she appreciated their attitude. And she had loved the movie, 8 Mile. Josh was into rap big time. That’s all he ever listened to, which is why they rarely hung out together. He was kind of a second tier acquaintance, but a reliable one, someone who would have what she needed now.
There were other things in the room that caught her attention. A couple of samurai swords were crossed on a small display table near the bed with a paperback propped up between them, a novel she had never heard of but whose title appealed to her: The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, by a Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima. There was a grotesque mask in clashing colours, with bulging eyes, which she suspected came from somewhere in Asia, propped against a mirror on a cluttered dressing table. And on a dark stained stool against a wall there was a barbie doll with its head missing. The room was illuminated by a series of tinted fluorescent tubes.
‘What are you doing here?’ Josh spoke, although displeased by the exertion it took.
Rebecca looked at him over her shoulder and reached for his foot, which she squeezed. He removed the headphones and tossed aside his mobile. His hands went behind his pillowed head.
‘What d’yer want?’ he added with a scowl.
She rubbed his leg. There was a moment when they held each other’s gaze, when they felt like strangers. ‘To score,’ she said.
He stayed motionless while she rubbed his leg and foot some more. He didn’t move. She reached up and squeezed his crutch. He hardly responded, didn’t remove his hands from behind his head, didn’t groan, although his dick began to swell. She rubbed some more but stopped abruptly and retrieved a fifty dollar note from her jacket and held it aloft like a betting tab, turning her head away in disdain.
Josh moved his hands and took the money, swung his legs past her, over the edge of the bed, and crossed the room to his dressing table. He opened a carved wooden box, removed a plastic sachet, approached Rebecca and tossed it to her.
‘You want it now?’ he asked. When she nodded he pointed to his en suite, which had been added to the enormous bedroom about the time he reached puberty.
The mirror over its vanity basin gave her the opportunity to study her face alone, in a cold, objective, almost scientific, manner, as if it weren’t really her own but the face of some unknown specimen of adolescent homo sapiens. She looked prematurely aged and haggard, but it was difficult to tell whether this was the result of the poorly applied cosmetics or physical degeneration. Her eyes were yellowing and there were blemishes across her chin, which was losing its definition to fat deposits in her cheeks. Her hair was stiff with dyes. Harsh unfriendly hues. She bared her teeth. At least they were white and even. But that counted for little on any beauty scale. A guy took note of lots of things before he got to the teeth. ‘Three out of ten,’ she muttered. ‘Gross!’ She looked away, depressed.
The toilet seat had the yellow stains of dried piss across it. Guys were disgusting creatures, she thought, but dropped her panties and sat down anyway. While she relieved herself, she sobbed and muttered that she hated life and wished she had the courage to end it, like Toni, her best friend had done the previous year. Toni, the bitch, had left her alone in the world. She resented that. Toni could at least have told her what she was going to do. But not a word. What was Facebook for? It felt like a betrayal.
She wiped herself dry out of habit, returned to the vanity basin where there was a glass, which she filled with water. She tore open the sachet and removed two of the pills, placed them on her tongue and washed them down, as she watched herself with contemptuous, fearful eyes.
When she returned to the bedroom, Josh was lying down again, his headphones on, his eyes closed. He would have felt her sit on the bed but didn’t look at her, even as she began to unzip his fly. She fossicked around inside his jeans. His dick was already hard. When she pulled it into view, she was repelled by its purplish colour, its ugly toadstool shape. She squeezed it for a moment, its head protruding from her fist, a ridiculous, dumb-looking thing. It turned red as she strangled it. She wanted to laugh and wondered how anyone could find it attractive or get excited about it. She glanced at Josh but he was still ignoring her. She hated his nonchalance, his assumption that she was trustworthy enough to be ignored, and she considered giving it a yank to teach him a lesson. Instead she took it in her mouth, teased it with her tongue, sucked it like a boiled lolly, until semen hit the back of her throat and she gagged.
He opened his eyes but she refused to give him the pleasure of seeing her revulsion. She swallowed with restraint, like an experienced woman, while she returned his gaze with a cool, contemptuous stare. She rose and left the room without a word.
Josh’s mother looked up, surprised,as she passed through the kitchen. ‘Leaving already?’
‘Yeah, he’s boring.’
The woman chuckled as she slipped a cake into the oven. ‘Okay, see ya, Becky.’
‘Bye, Mrs Larkin.’
‘Hey, what’s this Mrs Larkin business? I told you to call me Robyn, remember?’
Outside Rebecca drank some water from the garden tap. She sipped from her cupped hand, allowing the icy water to purify her throat. She was full of hatred. For Josh. And his mother...Robyn!...What a patronising bitch! She left the tap on to blow their water conservation credentials. The front gate had a Please Shut the Gate sign.She left it open.
There were a couple of clubs near the junction, but the experience of the previous night was still too raw, despite the pills she had taken. She wanted to be alone. It was dusk. The first street lights were on. The air had an insipid glow. She headed down a street that led to the Moonee Valley Creek. Engineers who designed the Tullamarine Freeway in the Sixties had had the wisdom to turn the creek into a vast concrete drain, wide enough in places to race cars along, like in her mother’s favourite movie – Grease, was it? – with that John Revolting and Olivia Neutron Bomb (as her dead friend, Toni, had once called its stars), wide and bleak enough for her to amble around without setting eyes on another soul. Despite the chill as night set in, her skin was clammy with sweat, probably due to the drugs, whatever they were; she hadn’t asked. She was alone and scared, watchful, expecting murderers, rapists, lunatics. But she needed the fear to feel something. The traffic in places was above her, omnipresent with its noise. Her heart hammered against her rib cage. Her legs felt weak. She sat cross-legged on the concrete next to a large, damaged crate, which might have fallen from a passing lorry. It offered her some sanctuary. She watched a solitary nocturnal jogger pass along the bicycle track next to the drain, unaware of her, which gave her some peace of mind. She leant against the crate, beginning to relax a little, enough at least to become conscious of the pain of her self-inflicted wounds. Pulling up the sleeve of her jacket to study her cuts, which were beginning to fester, she regretted not having the presence of mind to carry a razor blade in her bag. Nevertheless she spilled its contents onto the concrete before her, just in case. There was enough light from the freeway to search through the make-up, tissues, tweezers, cigarettes, lighters and mobile phone to verify the omission. She wanted to cut herself again and was surprised by the anger that surged through her.
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’ she shouted, but the curse was lost, absorbed by the drone of traffic.
She breathed heavily, her eyes tightly closed, trying to regain some composure. She lay back, spread-eagled on the cold concrete, and opened her eyes, focused on the sky. ‘Thank God.’ Her laughter was hollow. ‘No fucking stars.’ The city glow and smog hid the Milky Way. It was a long time since the last clear night and she was glad of that. Stars freaked her out.
Her phone rang. Startled she grabbed it. Her mother was ringing. Her impulse was to ignore it, but she wanted to hear someone else’s voice. Her mother sounded worried. ‘Are you all right?'
‘Jessie told me you’d cut yourself again.’
Rebecca shook her head. She didn’t answer.
‘You wouldn’t understand.’
‘It’s heaps of things.’
‘Is it school?’
‘That’s one of ’em.’
‘What happened at school?’
‘Where to friggin’ start?’
‘Okay, let’s start with the teachers.’
‘They’re just wankers. They do me head in’
‘They’re just trying to teach you new things. Nothing wrong with that.’
‘Like that jerk of a science teacher the other day,’ Rebecca said, not listening to her mother. ‘The earth, right? It’s huge. It takes over a day to fly to the other side of it, right? First she tells us the sun, which is our star, is a thousand times bigger than the earth. How big’s that! Then she goes there’s a thousand billion stars in the Milky Way, which is our galaxy right, half of ’em bigger than our sun. Then she goes there’s thousands of billions of galaxies out there, or something, each one with as many stars as the Milky Way, if not more. But then she goes all them stars and galaxies, billions and billions and billions of ’em, were once squeezed together to the size of a pinhead, or even smaller. Can you believe that? It’s insane, Mum. I can’t help it but I feel like I’m nothing, just nothing, not even a crappy bit of dirt. And whatever happens, shit things or fantastic things, don’t matter nothing in the end.’
‘Becky, where are you?’
‘I’m all right. I just need to cry a bit.’
‘Tell me where you are and I’ll come and pick you up.’
Rebecca started to sob.
After giving her mother directions, she tossed the phone in her bag and picked up her other bits and pieces from the concrete.
The traffic on the freeway maintained its constant drone, muffling the footsteps behind her.