Short story by Michael Botur
It’s 3.55pm when he comes into my world, well, I walk into HIS world. The boys let us in after I dare Danica to knock on the screen door with the big melted hole in it. The boys who live in this pig sty have never met us and we’ve only seen them from a distance but it’s obvious we wanna party so they don’t object when we tiptoe in and stand on the scummy ripped carpet in their lounge and say Hey.
I’m just in my kilt and Girls High polo shirt with the school crest embroidered on it that Ronnie Chin used to take photos of, practically drooling. Me, Danica, Talia and Crystal, we’re all 15. We’re soooooo biting-our-nails excited.
A bedsheet is tacked to the wall. Looks like they’ve built a fort. Cody’s body is splashed on the couch in his boxer shorts in the middle of the room. It takes like one second to work out that Cody is effortlessly cool. One of the main boys. If he’s chill, everyone’s chill.
They’re all playing PlayStation. They don’t get up to pour us drinks or nothing. In this pile of half-gnawed chicken bones there’s a stack of KFC cups. We take a flimsy waxed KFC cup each and Cody pours Corubas and Coke without even looking AND he gets a slam dunk in the basketball game he’s playing and says Cheers, tur hur hur, and, giggling, we drink our sour throat-burning mixes. Cody’s flatmate Grease is saying FUCK! and smashing his controller on the ground cause Cody’s just wasted him on NBA Summer Slam. We sit in the corner of the room, four of us in a single collapsed armchair, giggling in each other’s ears, elbowing, watching the zoo. Cody is the patient, cool one with the slim, easy, basic body with flexible limbs and no muscle; Grease has the flare-y temper. There are two other boys slouched in the same way. They have the same Starter caps. It takes us a while to realise they are identical twins, Diddle and Richie. Couple of drifters too, Blackie and Skittles. Both those guys have got ankle bracelets on.
We’ve only been out of school 30 minutes when the afternoon begins to melt. It’s just hit 4 o’clock when the drugs begin to dissolve my brain cause Cody’s got us coughing as we smoke spots through a funnel over the elements of the stove and he even gets his puppydog stoned and I have to make the phone call with Mum reeeeal short and Mum asks if I want her to save me one or two pieces of corn-on-the-cob for dinner and me and my girls just totally lose the plot, like fully burst out laughing, looking at each other and moaning ‘Cooorn’ like cows and cracking up, and Cody curls his warm fingers around mine and folds my phone shut, cutting Mum off. His hand is soft like baby skin. Everything about his body is plain and boyish and preserved, relaxed and rangy and casual. His stomach is flat as pavement. Nothing sticks out between his collar bone and his crotch, which keeps bumping into me as we waltz, drunk on laughter, moaning ‘Coorrn.’
We drink and smoke and feed KFC chips to Cody’s rottweiler puppy and play PlayStation til it’s midnight and the cops come into Cody’s flat without knocking and no one screams or bolts, all us girls just fall over laughing, and the cops grab Skittles and Blackie cause they’re in trouble for something and then my Mum comes marching in and grabs me by the wrist and I yank my hand back and rasp at her, Don’t you ever fucking touch me, lady.
Cody puts an arm around me and I pour myself into him. I’ve never spoken to my Mum that way and I need a supporter. Mum’s stunned. But it’s fair. It’s 1am and I’m 15 and drunk on freedom and I’ve invented a rule and I’m going to stick with it. The rule is Only Cody can touch me.
Cody is beautiful like a girl. He has these big cow eyes, real black eyelashes, plus real pouty lips the colour of blood and skin the colour of iced tea. It’s two weeks before I get off curfew and go round to his place and swim in those eyes again. Moments after I knock dorkily on the door I’m licking his neck, the scars on his jaw, sucking his earlobes. He takes me into the bathroom and, without saying anything, peels off my sticky panties like an ice block wrapper and makes love to me so hard the bathroom cabinet swings open, spilling pills on us.
I meet his family soon enough. They’re all mental. We have a bonfire pissup with his Uncle John and, laughing so hard his beer can rolls off the bonnet of his truck, Uncle John tells me he used to blow weed smoke in Cody’s crib when Cody was one year old, “Cause the kid was born a party animal, tur hur hur.” Cody cracks up at that and sculls his Cody’s Bourbon & Cola, a drink which Uncle John says was named after the “partyingest cunt in town.” Every story, they clink cans.
Sometimes I stay at Cody’s uncle’s place on weeknights, out in the wops where there are no streetlights, only stars. A lot of the time Cody leaves halfway through the night and doesn’t come back. No one’s sure where anyone is. This is out in the country where they have random pets changing each month, like this llama that’s one day just randomly chained to the fence. Cody stole it from the Fieldays farm show on a dare and tried keeping it in his garage but it chewed his BMX to pieces. They’re going to fatten it up and spit roast it, apparently.
The Murphy clan live so far out in the wops it takes like 90 minutes to get back to school, and this is doing one-twenty on the motorway with the wind ripping the embers out of our ciggies.
Fuck school, anyway. It’s just a detox to make me crave my man a little bit more.
I forget about the sticker chart my parents and Mr Mohammed want me to update every day. I go a couple of weeks without getting any fresh good behaviour stickers then I just rip the chart up in front of Mr Mohammed and walk out of class halfway through first period. I want a education that’s real. I go and see my baby because I love him.
When I was like nine I dared myself to plunge down this hydroslide at WetWorld called the Skydive and it had a vertical drop and my heart honestly didn’t pump til I hit the end. This is what it’s like riding Cody at 9.48am on a Tuesday. My heart misses beats then pumps extra hard to catch up. Cody licks my stomach like a lion for a few seconds then looks away bored like he’s done this tonnes of times, has a smoke, fucks me some more then afterwards he rolls over and snores into the afternoon while I lay there holding his cum between my legs, absorbing it, staring at all the trippy stuff around his room, the Dixie flag, the Bob Marley flag, the swords, the aquarium full of locusts, the punching bag, the skull-shaped bong. I wonder what’s going on at school. I wonder what Danica and Crystal and Talia think of me. You’ve gotta be careful with your girls. I’ve been talking about Cody more than anything in this world. I know it’s bad to put my girls second, but god damn. His aroma. His aura.
When Cody wakes up, he points to the bong and I pass it to him and he doesn’t even talk until he’s lit up a cone and stroked the blue-tongued lizard living in his Converse shoebox and asked what my name is again.
‘Y’ever done rush?’ he says, picking up five different pairs of shorts and checking the pockets for drugs.
‘Course I have,’ I lie. ‘I can get some. I mean – if you can’t find yours.’
‘That’d be gangsta,’ he says, slumping against the wall, pulling a tobacco pouch out and rolling a smoke. ‘I’ll fix you up later. Go fetch.’
He nods towards the door. I put my knickers on and try think up a plan, because I love him.
I get on the wrong bus and get off too early in too wrong a street cause the bus driver is totally looking at my chest in his rearview mirror. My ravenous stomach is eating away at my body and I’m supposed to be home cause Mum will’ve carefully pushed my carrots, rice, beans, chicken drumstick and potatoes into five perfectly equal segments and plastic-wrapped the plate then stood in front of the microwave watching her phone in case I texted.
This score sooo better be worth it.
There’s this chick, Akira, who was like a total bitch to me at school when we were 13 but she dropped out not long after. I heard she had a baby when she was 14 and when I see her through the ranchslider glass at tonight’s Rubicon rehab meeting, holding part of the blanket to receive some kid as he falls backwards and all the happy-clappy kids catch him, I know it’s true. She dropped out then just kept dropping. That’s why I need her.
‘Can I score off you?’ I whisper to her when she comes out on the deck for a cigarette break.
‘Suuuuup,’ she goes, recognising me. ‘Your parents still rich and shit?’
This super-old white dude with one hairy ear picks us up after Akira texts him. He’s driving one of those Holden Barina hatchbacks and gives us a lecture as we drive towards the smoke. Akira, who’s always been pretty high-status, nods hard-out like she’s getting a lecture from an inspirational professor. I notice Akira’s hand settling in the dude’s lap.
The old gangsta paedo pulls in close to this three storey place with razor wire on top of the fence then he does a humongous u-turn. He goes so far away from the house to park I think he’s going to drive off. Instead he goes, ‘Rule number one, girls: plan your exit.’
Akira tilts her head like I should come with her. My thighs scrape close together as I walk behind her and my vag itches. It’s like some bug is nipping on my labia.
As we approach the house I sneak in a little scratch beneath my belt. ‘How’s your baby, anyway?’
‘Dunno, you’d have to ask her,’ she says, and types a code into the gate, trots onto the porch and pushes a buzzer.
In the grey-blue winter haze are two men in deck chairs on either side of the door, smoking ciggies. They have hoods up around their bony faces.
Akira asks the men for some “porcelain” and I interrupt, saying, ‘No! It’s gotta be rush!’ and she tells me to never use that word again, bringing her fist close enough to my face that I have to take a step back. When the door opens there is a woman with a baby in her arms who has a tool belt on, like a builder, and after Akira hands her a rolled-up $50 note, she reaches into the belt pockets and finds a little baggie and hands it over.
Just before the door shuts I get a chance to read the DO NOT SERVE posters taped to the wall inside the door. Cody’s face is right there in the middle. !!DO NOT SERVE THIS FUCK!! someone’s written in red pen. They’ve taken a picture of him with two nostrils dripping blood and his eyebrow weeping where it looks like they’ve pulled his eyebrow ring out.
At Cody’s place I step over a couple of passed-out boys on the floor, sleeping with their heads near a leaking Burger King cup and a stood-on pipe, crushed to dust. I follow a whisper of white smoke upstairs. It reeks of sweet melted plastic.
Cody’s room stinks of burning. Cody’s inside his sleeping bag, naked except for his Fubu cap. He’s doing something with two plastic bongs that he seems to have welded together with a cigarette lighter. Little blobs of molten plastic drop onto the carpet, sizzle and harden.
‘I got the stuff,’ I whisper, and stand over his sleeping bag, waiting to be invited inside. ‘What were you doing, babe?’
He sits upright instantly, lifts his cap. The lighter is so hot I can see its orange tip glowing in the dark. ‘Makin a superbong. Whatcha got for me?’
The sleeping bag falls away from his chest as he reaches out and snatches the little packet of rush from my fingers. He licks the paper for, like, three minutes before he finally slumps back and goes, ‘Ahhh. How much this cost?’
‘My friend said she’s gonna collect later or something?’
‘Awesome work, baby. C’mere.’
Cody dips his penis into the dust. With my knees pricked by the little studs of plastic on the carpet, I ride him for ages, drink him into me and it’s not long before I find Cody on Pluto and we race snowmobiles into a sun made of whipped cream then pure energy soaks through our arteries until our fingertips fizz like sherbet and even when the cops kick in Cody’s door and my hysterical mum confirms yup, it’s me, victim of a kidnapping, I don’t feel down.
I just love him.
I am banned from seeing Cody again and confined to my house – well, Mum’s house, I should say. Not that it’s even a house. It’s a prison run by parents. My dad’s alright, I guess. He’s a little man with a little face so he goes through life being double-nice to people so they’ll notice him. I’m having a super-pouty Saturday when takes me into the conservatory and, amongst the books and folders and statuettes, he scribbles on a pad a diagram of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms arranged in exquisite crystals, and starts going on about the consequences of methyl using monoamine oxidase to protect amphetamine from degradation to allow it to persist in the bloodstream. It’s pure science, it’s not you, it’s just a chemical dependency, he’s telling me, stroking my chin. This stuff you’re going through, angel – it’s not your fault. Dad ruffles my hair and asks me if I want him to bring me a box of catering from the Solstice Surgeons’ Soiree. Surgeons get to bring home fancy pieces of sashimi and scotch eggs.
I tell dad I just want a ciggy. Cigarettes smell like Cody.
‘I suppose sudden cessation of a substance can harm a person dependant on said substance,’ he nods, ‘A slow phased withdrawal is the safer option, I do concur.’ He has cigarettes and a tiny bottle of odour neutraliser in his drawer. He tells me they’re our daddy-daughter secret.
At the dinner table my parents argue heaps cause Mum reckons bad shit is coming my way but Dad cites all these statistics about the bell curve of normal teenage female experience. He drops the word pubescence and I take my plate away and burst out laughing over the sink.
After dinner, Dad catches up on about ten things at once, opening the credit card statements and checking voicemails on speakerphone and massaging his temples and debating with Mum while I toss parts of my dinner down the Insinkerator. It’s like they’re fighting over an heirloom, like I’ll break if somebody else touches me. Behind the breakfast bar I keep my thighs crossed, trying not to let the pee out. I always need to pee. As soon as the meds clear up whatever infection Cody’s given me, I get a fresh infection.
Mum and Dad pause their debate when we hear this creepy clacking that sounds like hail falling. Akira walks into the dining room with a pitbull on a leash. Our house is so big that anybody can walk in the main door and down three marble corridors before they bump into us. Mum and Dad are speechless.
‘Sup,’ Akira goes, ‘We got some business to talk about so, y’know… .’ Akira jerks her head and whistles to signal Mum and Dad should piss off. They’re so freaked out about the dog, slipping on the polished floor and growling that they do what she says.
‘The fuck are you doing?’ I whisper.
‘Interest on that fifty bucks your arse owes me.’
‘But I paid you!’
‘Yeah but Cody’s got real stink credit, so you’ve gotta cover him. For my friends.’
‘We’ll give you two some, er, girl time,’ Dad says. We can hear Mum calling the cops through the wall in the conservatory. Akira doesn’t get spooked. She shakes a garbage bag open and fills it with electronics – the modem, a digital clock, the cordless phone. As she’s about to leave, she tosses a couple of point bags of crack across the polished floor. They slide against my feet and my mind says YAY, DANNY’S SWEETS! and I pick them up without hesitation. ‘You ain’t reporting nothing to the cops cause I ain’t stolen shit, have I. Fair trade; you just done a deal.’ Akira whistles at her bear-dog and the beast follows her out.
‘Aw: and give the shit back if you don’t want it,’ Akira calls back down the hallway, trotting out in a pair of heels that belong to my Mum. The bag of electronics rattles against her back. I watch her leave with my dad’s Kindle, my Mum’s massager, a digital clock, our TV remotes, my iPad. She’s given me Cody’s medicine, though. You can’t put a price on that. Guess I’m in the game, too. So what if it’s drugs for love. At least I’m loved.
I spend all spring crying and fucking and smoking and smashing cellphones against the wall when my parents drive me nuts. I go to the bullshit counselling sessions and do Rubicon Rainbow Relationships with Mum and make it clear that I love her but she’s not allowed to mess with my Cody Wody. Me and my man are moving in together and if Mum wants a hope of ever speaking to me again, she needs to give us some distance, alright?
My dad drops round a banana box full of groceries and homework once a week. He keeps his feelings about the dusty factory we live in to himself. This place used to be a meatworks and there are still bones in the corner. Dad tries to yarn with Code. Dad’s so cringe. He’s got a trim little body with a big mouth that runs and runs. He blabs about the liver and about toxins and how for some of his patients if they’ve overloaded their system, the kidney and liver and spleen can’t deal with it and the skin sweats out the excess through your lymph nodes and because your hot body evaporates the water, he’s seen patients with tiny crystals forming on their skin. This is dad’s nervous, nerdy idea of man-talk cause he knows Cody’s gonna be my husband some day.
Cody just says, ‘Buzzy, bro.’ Soon as dad’s gone, he’s lighting up a cone and I’m watching Dad’s car shrink in the distance and I’m trudging round the corner to the tinny house to swap the groceries for half an ounce cause we’re finding it impossible to get crack. There’s always my Big Girl Fund that’s supposed to be for university but I refuse to touch that cause it was set up by Dad on my tenth birthday and it’s sacred.
We smoke all the weed up in a day, and we forget the turtles in the bathtub need water and the shell of one of the turtles cracks and we have to flush it down the toilet, but them’s the breaks. We can’t NOT smoke. My baby needs his medicine.
We lie under a curtain on Cody’s couch, stoned, watching TV, Cody holding the pipe and lighting it up once an hour and kissing me, blowing smoke inside me til my pussy’s wet again and I pull his fingers into me. I stroke the ridge of hair running up and over Cody’s belly button, soft and yellow as duckling down, and squeeze him for warmth. It sucks having no curtains on the windows ’cause the moon is really invasive, scanning our bodies, and we’re fed up with feeling invaded and watched all the time, but hey. You’ve gotta have a blanket of some kind. The curtain does the trick. Cody’s last blanket caught on fire ’cause he fell asleep with a ciggy burning in his fingers.
We watch infomercials. They’re pretty gripping if you’re baked enough. There’s this blender that can peel an orange for you.
At 3.30 Cody sits up and shakes his head like he’s having a seizure. The bedsheets are soaked.
‘I can’t take it, I literally can’t take it.’ His eyes are smeared with sweat that starts up on his scalp, pools and pours down over his nose.
He hauls on the Allied Workforce overalls Work and Income force him to wear, steps over his jandals, pulls open his school yearbook and flicks through the pages til he finds the money my dad gave him to buy me something for Christmas.
He comes home two days later with his arm in a sling, grinning and clutching prescription painkillers.
‘Baby! What happened to your arm?’
He tosses a bag of smoke on his mattress, crawls under his curtain and fires up his pipe. ‘I won the lottery, babe.’
He’s brought us a gram because he loves me. That’s our Christmas.
It’s been a couple years and I’ve shown up to school for, like, one day out of every three. School lets me leave cause I’m making them look bad. I get some allowance from Mum and Dad but I still have to work at Glassons. I spend every break sitting in the food court with my back against a rubbish bin, looking out for people Cody owes money to who might fuck me up. I get pretty harsh text messages a lot of the time. People think I can make Cody pay them. There’s Akira, yeah, and that old guy who drives her, but other people too, like that dude who runs the painting business everyone said was mobbed up. Cody did a week of painting for the guy then the guy sacked Cody for falling asleep seven storeys up, but honestly, who wouldn’t fall asleep after six straight hours of standing? It was total bullshit, so Cody came back at night and took a few buckets of paint and some spray guns, plus the boys’ sound system, obviously, you have to prioritise the stuff that’s worth money. But yeah, the painters put out a hit on Cody, I read on Wassup Goss on Facebook. It’s a page where people share Wanted posters showing who’s ripped off who and who’s gonna get smashed. Pretty good page for finding hook-ups, too.
Cody’s such a prince to come home to after shitty days at work. He cooks me a dinner of real yum noodles and buys a bag of The Real Shit and takes us to this motel over the bay and I inject for the first time on a cliff-edge and it’s not bad at all, cause my flesh is hard and numb from the storm whipping me with black wind. I feel melted chocolate spread through my system and I think of Mum – I always think of Mum when I do stuff I should be guilty about. I hear Mum’s voice saying Go girl, chase ’im! which is a memory from when I was like six playing hockey, but that little soundbite has always stuck with me and I appreciate her words telling me to chase what I’m really passionate about: my boy. My baby.
We live for a bit in this derelict school that has a couple old coal sheds where we store stuff we’ve scored that we can sell. We fill it mostly with skateboards. Cody’s always boosting skateboards, they’re the easiest thing. He doesn’t know how to stand people over; he’s more into slithering between people’s legs. He visits the four skate parks at the four corners of the city on a rotating cycle and it’s always the same thing. He’ll find some wide-eyed eight year old on a $300 board their rich dad’s bought for them and he’ll say Whoa, bro, your board is meeean, mind if I give it a whirl? and the eight year old will be all flattered that he’s being invited to be cool and he’ll hand Cody the board and before the kid knows it, Cody’s sprinted away and moved a $300 board for fifty bucks on our Quick Deals page.
On top of the skateboard stuff, my baby works real hard photocopying twenties. He double-sides them and even puts on watermarks with invisible ink made from onion juice. To celebrate his hard work, my baby keeps taking us back to Benjarong Thai and he even does gangsta handshakes with the waiters and goes out back and smokes with them. We lurch home on drunken streets, waves of tarmac lapping our feet. At least once a month some pussy will step out of the night and whack Cody in the face with an axe handle and his head will rebound off a brick wall and he’ll be out of it for a couple of days, but that’s all the more reason for him to keep taking his medicine. It’s like armour. He doesn’t feel the blows.
We’ve smoked though the whole $20,000 of my Big Girl Fund. I cry when I see my bank statement as Cody’s about to roll it up for a spliff. I wanted to go to uni but I’d have to borrow, now. We have a serious talk about money. He explains there’s simply not enough for the two of us to keep consuming as much as we do and, for the good of us both, I’m gonna have to stop.
I’m really sorry, he says while he tugs the gooey pipe out of my lips like a pacifier. It’s like I’m losing one baby for another. I guess it’s okay because I love him.
When I get my certificate at graduation it magically erases all the dirt I’ve done, in my parents’ memory at least. It’s not the honours in commerce my olds wanted, not medicine or business or nothing, just a graduation certificate from this Better Choices workshop at the Salvation Army, but I’m proud. I’ve completed my Goals Journal and done a nice new CV with a real pretty font and everything’s looking up. Far as my parents are concerned, I may have smoked away two and a half years but I’ve got sixty years of potential left.
The four of us go out to dinner at Benjarong Thai and the waiters glare hard-out at me and my baby as we walk in and a spider starts crawling around my guts. We’ve pissed off every colour in the rainbow but never Asians before, as far as I know. No reason to let them put the shits up me. Don’t be a softcock, girl. Me and Cody order up like three cocktails for Dad, three for Mum, and four for me and Cody each, with big chunks of mango in them and crazy purple Absinthe and little umbrellas. I mean, yeah we disappear to the toilets for a top-up of happiness midway through the meal, but we’re 99 per cent straight for the night, just trying to munch spring rolls while talking about Trump and TV like normal people. Cody wears his best cap with the gold sticker on it and I’ve got on like six rings with diamonds and rubies and my mum can’t stop glaring at my fingers. Mum tries to squeeze my hand and whisper maybe I should put a little stash aside. I try explain to Mum you gotta carry your bank on you cause you never know when you might need it. Like, honestly, Mum, no one writes cheques in our world. Cody struts up to the bar and slides a wad across the counter and tries to pay for the bar tab. My baby is such a generous responsible mature man, I love him so bad, but the head waiter gets a massive attitude going and tries to say the roll of twenties are fake and the waiter dude rubs a bank note and his thumb turns green with ink and Cody tries to take the money back but the Thai guy is wrestling for the notes and all these dudes in white jackets are advancing from the kitchen and there’s this Buddha statue on the counter and I pick it up and start swinging and it’s gotta weigh at least ten kilos, my skinny arms can’t hold it and I let it down on the hand of the motherfucker trying to take my baby’s money and he shrieks and Cody looks relieved, once again someone else has saved his arse, and he tucks his fake notes inside his white hoodie, staining the cotton green and as we’re wrestling with the door, pushing when we should be pulling, I hear my Mum wail and I can’t bring myself to look behind but I can see in the reflection, against the black night, that my Dad’s face is sinking towards his soup and he’s grimacing like he has trodden on a pin so I’m pretty sure he’s having a heart attack right there at the table but if I stick around one of the Thais is gonna fuck my baby up with a meat cleaver so I take Mum’s handbag and tell her Sorry as I seize the keys and haul my baby to Mum’s car and crank the engine and head anywhere.
Dad specified in his will that everyone is supposed to laugh at his funeral and anyone crying should sit at the back. We’re in the chapel at the hospital with state of the art electric blinds and LED lighting. There’s a video link. People are beaming in from Kyoto, Toronto, Berne. Dad is big-time missed, there are like 200 people in the room with cameras for video conferencing and there’s a programme with the order of events neatly typed up calling it a FUN-eral. They play hilarious video clips of dad’s life, dressed up like a blonde nurse at some fundraiser party, pulling pranks on Red Nose Day, running a marathon backwards. Everybody laughs except me. I haven’t had my medicine so I’m feeling like I’m trapped under a car and being dragged across gravel and ripped into little pieces. I have to sit up front and look like Mum, in our black dresses and black gloves. Mum is so stunned she’s not even crying. She goes around and shakes at least 50 people’s hands. The only thing she says to me is ‘Where is he?’ and I shrug, but Mum doesn’t believe me, it’s obvious. We both know that I know where Cody disappeared to after the restaurant thing. It’s just that if I told Mum, she would have a heart attack too.
I watch the people watching me. There are junior doctors here who used to live on my street when I was a kid. Dad would pay them real good money to mow our lawn. The way they look me up and down as they give their sympathies and kiss my cheek, it’s obvious they want to fuck me. Ronnie Chin –who was top of our science class and now runs a blood tests lab with an eight figure turnover – gives me his card, lets me see him taking a phone call on a Samsung Snow (the see-through phone that displays holograms and hasn’t even been released yet) and shows me out the window where he has parked, which is just his way of making me glimpse his Tesla.
I keep checking my phone for messages from my boy. Cody’s doing something real bad right now.
Mum greets every new person that comes in, holding it all together, her face crimson and dry. New presenters on the stage. Photos of Dad with me on his knees.
Still no text from Cody. He’ll be finishing up, shortly. Locking the suitcase he’s undoubtedly stashed everything in.
We do not have a choice. Without his medicine, my baby gets sick.
Enough: time for action. Ronnie Chin doesn’t question me as I tug his hand. I’m his dream come true, probably. A white girl with a trail of tattoos leading into my cleavage. Come, Ronnie. I grew up – you’ve heard what I’ve become.
People squint at us as we leave. Their shaming stares are supposed to stop me with guilt. Ronnie pulls his jacket over his head. I could cost him his career, but he has to have me. I have to have something too.
I show Ronnie a place he can gently park his Tesla between the water tower and the mauseoleums, where judgemental gazes can’t spy us. Before I let him lay me in his passenger seat, I make Ronnie get the kit out of the boot of his car. He looks surprised, asks how I know about that. It’s hard to explain that I’ve got a sixth sense for getting fucked up and that I know he carries a demonstration kit for when he’s going into clinics to win new clients. I know he’s got liquid Oxycontin in his case. Most patients just get a tiny squirt to make them feel less drained after they’ve had a transfusion. ‘I’m gonna need more than a squirt,’ I tell Ronnie, ‘I’m gonna need a blast.’ He doesn’t need to know the Oxy will blast all the guilt away from my heart, pushing it down into my extremities. Ronnie doesn’t need to know I have a boy, I’m spoken for, I have the love of my life and right this very minute that boy is ripping off my parents’ home and packing all my dad’s gold watches and leather shoes into a $300 designer suitcase my dad once took to the World Health Organization. All Ronnie needs to know is I’m reclining the passenger seat until it’s flat, pulling my panties down over my knees, and lying back – but only after I’ve had my Oxy.
A smoke alarm is winking at me from the ceiling of – not a bedroom – of a chilly, stainless steel, grease-stinking… kitchen? Yeah, a kitchen.
I jerk awake.
My shoulders burn, my muscles are weeping acid. My ribs sting. I’m wearing a black dress – black? Why would I wear black, let alone a … oh. The funeral. Dad’s gone.
I can feel cold air prickling my nipples. Same with my vag. The faces who lean over me, barely interested, chewing and smoking cigarettes, must be the faces who have cut circles out of my dress over my boobs and my pussy. I would try cover myself, except they have used knotted tea towels to tie my arms to the doorhandles of big ovens on either side. Flat on my back on the tiles of the kitchen of Benjarong Thai I am splayed out like a butterfly.
A quick memory returns – three cars surrounding Ronnie’s as it tried to pull out onto the main road; Ronnie trying to speed-dial the cops, as if saving two digits would be enough time to outmanoeuvre the gangsters. I remember his car getting rammed. Me being pulled out in slow motion, zombified on Oxy.
Ronnie, who has outtalked and intimidated health departments and chief financial officers, put his shaking hands up and walked away from the car, afraid to look behind, while they took me.
‘LET ME GO. PLEASE, YOU HONESTLY HAVE TO. WE’LL GET YOUR MONEY.’
Chatter comes close. The faces of the bored Thai thugs with their wife beater singlets and goatees are distracted for a moment while some kind of boss talks. And a white girl with a husky voice.. Akira? No….
‘C̄han h̄wang ẁā p̄hū̂h̄ying khn nī̂ mī mūlkh̀ā h̄nung phan h̄erīyy, farang,’ the boss-man says. Dancing butterfly letters. New, alien. sounds.
The next words, which are in English, with an accent that’s turned me on every day since I was 15, also sound alien because I’ve never heard him say what he says now.
‘You tellin me you wouldn’t give me a thousand for a piece a that? Look at her, bro. She’s a fuckin ridiculous piece of pussy, take it from me. Akira: you’re buyin?’
‘I’m outta here,’ Akira is saying, rattling a plastic shopping bag heavy with what looks like spring rolls. There has to be money in the bag too. I’m worth money. ‘Sold my debt. Laters.’
Her fat dog lumbers across the tiles with her, panting, claws clacking. I hear the bell on the restaurant door tinkle as it shuts.
Cody deliberates with the wifebeaters for a few minutes and I scream and beg my baby to untie me. He tells me to shush, be patient, this is worth a lotta money to us, and he leans in and gets a tea towel and wraps it around my eyes so tenderly I remember why I fell in love with him in the first place. When he kisses my cheek and whispers Don’t worry we stick together for a moment and even though I can’t see him, I can feel his face is covered in dried blood. I think his lips have burst open. I taste his sweet salty blood and savour it. He tells me to Shhhhhh and just lie on the tiles for a bit as he bargains to get four, no, five thousand bucks taken off his debt. At one thousand dollars per rape, the gangsters get to rape Cody’s property five times before the debt has been raped away. Then they do it another couple of times then blast me clean with a fire hose but I’m not even there for that. I’m running my tongue around my mouth, tasting Cody’s sweet blood.
When I visit Cody in the rose garden, there is a pink stain creeping over the plaster cast around the bulge where his arm used to be.
‘Oh, that,’ Cody tells me, ‘I got a infection real bad. Like flesh-eating bacteria and shit, how buzzy is that. Might hafta do one-armed pushups like Bruce Lee now, tur-hur-hur. But guess what?’ He waggles his good hand. ‘PIGS CAN’T CUFF ME, tur hur hur!’
Cody reckons at the cop shop he sweated so much they had to give him a disposable plastic jacket to wear. But the sweat kept on coming, pouring out of his armpits like spilled paint cause his organs were sending the refuse back up the line and it had to exit somewhere, and in the bottom of the endless night he needed a fix so bad he got to licking his armpits. When you’ve got too much of the stuff in your blood and your liver can’t deal with it, your skin sweats out the excess. It comes out of your lymph nodes and because your hot body steams away the water, crystals are left in your armpit hairs. Smokeable crystals, pure enough to eat. So the pigs at remand came in to bring Cody breakfast that morning in the cells and found my baby munching his armpit with a mouthful of skin and hair and bone poking through. He got a massive infection. They still had to haul his arse to prison while they prepared charges against him, but he had his arm amputated on his second day Inside, and all he did was grin. He’d already sucked so much crack out of his pores he was buzzing for days.
Right now, across the metal table, his body’s still sweating out the sweet syrup, so I crawl close, knees on the table, extend my neck and lick the crunchy juice dribbling from Cody’s bandaged stump, because I love him.