Short story by Michael Botur
It’s 3am when the banging wakes you.
WAMP. Ha ha, zseshty na provnm! THUBthubthub. DOOFT. Aiiie. Grezy prinkfift?
Goddamn this noisy YMCA scumbucket hostel Marlena put you in. God damn having to go to a new job in a few hours and pretend you fit into the straighto world. God damn the laws that say you’re not allowed to kill one man for fucking up the other man’s sleep.
You’re wearing boxer shorts and skin, but that’s enough. When you were Inside, cats sometimes wasted each other naked. You can complete the mish in boxers. You can do anything if you’re mad enough, and these noisy cunts are about to find that out.
You creep on the balls of your feet like the lifers taught you. Dim bulbs over every door are the brightest things in the city right now. Silent hallway. Tinny treble from distant clubs. Your legs freeze and shatter. Your arsehole knots. Your dick hides inside its sheath. Sneaking, creeping, fists curling into bludgeons.
You go up a floor on cold concrete fire stairs, find room 307, no that’s not it… 309… 311. There are feathers peeking out the bottom of the door. That Aiiie squeal again. You tap softly on the wood with two fingernails. Since you came out of jail, you’ve done everything softly. Talking slow. Never swearing. Holding your fists like icicles that’ll break if you use them.
You tap more firmly, suck a sore knuckle. Looks like you’ve popped a blister, gnashing Miss Fist in your sleep.
You hear voices whispering some gibberish behind the door, then a slice of wall appears, then a portion of a painting, then a human face. ‘What this is you want, is mornink time?’ The accent is a bit like Borat, the last movie you saw before the ninjas snuck silently into your house and pointed rifles at your head and cuffed you. The face this accent belongs to is whiter than the whitest paedo in the Buttercup unit. The face moves and the drunk eyes follow a second later. A good face to smash. ‘Who you are, you come to my room, you fuck with my party?’
The noisemaker is some kind of Eastern European prince. He’s put his champagne on the radiator and it’s tipped over and spilled and bubbles are popping and steaming. The room has a sticky, fruity, brewery stench like when the boys Inside used to brew hooch on the heaters. There are feathers stuck to the wall, sticky liquor dribbling down. A woman comes up behind the Party Prince, tits wobbling, huge and free. She slides a bottle of Jose Cuervo out of the way with her lime-painted toes and drapes herself on her hero’s shoulders. They’ve cranked the heating way up but the curtains are flapping out the window.
‘I say, who are these guy?’ the Party Prince reminds you, ‘You fuck weeth party, I keel you.’ He has gold rings through both nipples and bloodshot blue eyes
A feather settles on his shoulder. These arseholes have been having a fucking pillowfight. You take one of the breaths Loftus taught you about in the Bougainvillea Room. Loftus was a South African with a thick neck and hair as yellow as a little kid, a total hardarse who loved behind-the-scenes punch-ups with inmates in corners where the CCTV couldn’t see. You disagreed with Loftus plenty, but the man was always wise. Loftus stopped a crew from chucking hot sugar in your eye. Loftus let you get in the ring with Horse – a small fulla who’d put a hit on you– and box it out. The beef was squashed and you held your sore head in your hands for a week then swore no more latenight cruising with the boys, no more dairies, no more chopping bikes or shotties or rolling dealers. Computers would be the future, Loftus convinced you. Do an IT course with those Jehovah’s Witnesses that come in every Tuesday. Last time you saw Loftus, he was squatting beside you during transcendental meditation in Meadow Unit, telling you you had to get the Tide-Fills-Lagoon breathing technique right else you wouldn’t be able to handle the aggravation of the outside.
‘So speak, zgendarya provotznye, mother farker. Hm?’ The Party Prince hefts a chunky green bottle, folds his arms over his champagne-sticky chest, squits through his teeth.
You smack your lips, pick salt out of your eyes. Anything to delay killing this guy. ‘You understand I’m in the room under you, bro? You understand I’m trying to sleep?’
‘So you are puttink pillow over your ear. Anya, kommt!’ His bitch brings him a pillow. He shoves the pillow into your face hard enough to rock you. Instead of falling over, you keep your left foot where it is, swing your right leg back and get into the Orthodox Stance.
Through a drizzle of feathers, the Party Prince begins to look worried. Between four bottles of cognac on the coffee table, there is a laptop screen with a puzzled-looking person on it. Whoever is on Skype falls silent and watches the fight.
‘Listen real good, neighbour. You been makin some real dumb decisions and I’d hate you to make another.’ Your fingers are fern fronds, and you are in a dark, quiet forest in the mountains of China with pandas and a cool breeze. ‘I come from a place called Hafta. Ever heard of it?’
The Party Prince retreats a little into his room, worried. His woman is reaching for the landline. Might be a murder to report.
‘Hafta is a place where a lotta cats hafta do a lotta shit. Why? Someone disses your arse from their window as they’re driving past? You hafta get the rego, go to the post shop, track ’em down, put a cocktail through his window, burn his family up so there’s just their teeth left. Now, us peeps in Hafta-land haven’t really dealt with FUCKING MIDNIGHT PILLOWFIGHTS BEFORE. Know why I’m not used to midnight pillowfights? Cause I’VE BEEN FUCKING SLEEPING CAUSE toMORROW is my only chance to work a OFFICE job and I HAFTA be FUCKING fresh when I go in cause I’m a bit FUCKING nervous about goin straighto and if you FUCK UP MY SLEEP ANY MORE, IF, IF ….IF! IIIIIIFFFFF!’ Your fingertip settles on his nose.
You sniff with laughter, change your hand back into a fern. The ripples. The shoals. The lapping lagoon. You fold your fern frond into a fist. ‘Pick one. Left or right.’
His fingers wriggle up and down the door, unsure if closing it will get him into less or more trouble.
‘Left’s for pashing, right’s for smashing. Pick one. Nah? Scared? And I ain’t threatened you, for the record, so don’t go telling the feds I did, cause y’know why? Cause if I threaten cunts, my arse goes back to jail, so if – IF – I was gonna do something to land my arse back Inside, I wouldn’t just talk. I’d hafta go all the way. So you’re gonna HAFTA ask yourself whether you want me to go apeshit on your arse or not. Cause this is on you.’
The Party Prince shakes as he tries to offer all the Euros from his rhinestone wallet. You do a thumbs-up at the security camera, trot back to bed to get some sleep. Big day tomorrow. New square job. New square you.
This 9 to 5 straighto office job is sposda be B.T.J., sposda be Better Than Jail, but god damn it makes you tense. In Educate Straight, you were trained in how to handle Microsoft Excel, 2010, 2016, Xero, MYOB, Quickbooks, Access, shit even Microsoft Dynamics, but how to shake hands like a squeaky-clean straighto? You musta missed that one.
You trail behind Prudence Flaherty-Duff, operations manager, as she gives you a tour of the office, looking down on all the peeps on Queen Street. She’s a jiggly old white lady with fake-arse dyed hair who tells you to call her Prue as if that’s any less white than fuckin Prudence. She wears about a thousand bucks worth of jewellery, strokes your desk and the water cooler and also strokes everyone’s shoulders as she introduces people. The handshakes these straighto office squares make you feel weird, suspect, too rigid and clean. They’re the type of peckerwood shakes you would see when you were kicking back in your cell watching Downton Abbey. That weird typa handshake that’s low-down and doesn’t make a pleasing SMACK as the palms whack together. How are you sposda trust a man if you don’t even press chests? That’s what this office is all about, though: people smiling with their faces instead of their hearts. BTJ? Pfft. Ain’t nothin more crooked than peeps that call themselves straight.
You’re introduced to Gee Ling in payroll and Khushi from HR and Bruce Kan The Server Man. The one single name you absolutely gots to remember is Prudence Flaherty-Duff: Operations Manager.
Prue Flaherty-Duff. Prue Flaherty-Duff. You mutter the name to yourself as she carries on with the tour. You memorise a rhyme so her name sinks in: Prue Flaherty-Duff, silvery muff, money and stuff, rich poodle goes Ruff.
There’s this black cat, Julius, one of the accountants. He pats your huge shoulders, says ‘Somebody’s been doing his push ups!’ and you flinch, ready to knock him out if there’s a diss hidden in his words. Julius takes his hands off you, laughing. ‘Sorry, sorry, workplace touching and all that. Don’t tell the boss! There’s a few snakes around here, yes-sir-ee.’
How come the homeboy’s namedropping the word snakes? He saying you’re King Cobras? He saying you’re gonna snitch on him for touching you? You gonna have to kill his arse already?
Prue interrupts with a shoulder massage, melting you down til you pour into a leather chair. It feels plain wrong. Too comfy. Undeserved. You ask her if you can shuffle your desk a bit, and you drag it so your back’s against the wall and you can see who’s coming at you across the yard – the office floor, that is. Carpet and computers. She won’t be doing your direct personal management; this Julius brother’s supervising you, it turns out. They’ve given you two monitors. God damn the machines are fast. A million times faster than the grey Stonehenge-looking fuckers in the prison library. The internet here doesn’t even have to dial and whistle to get online. There’s not even any screws standing against the wall watching. It feels cheeky, creepy.
You spend your first morning with your face almost touching the screen, trying to add a GST formula to column F – AND IT WON’T FUCKING POPULATE, GOD DAMN IT – and it’s making you fizz inside so much you don’t even notice the room emptying. When you finally push back and roll a smoke and stick it in your mouth and turn to ask Julius for a light, you realise there’s a party in the break room.
You get a fist prepped, sidle up to the gathering. You widen your chest, put your Apeshit Face on and sniff around the corner. They all have their backs to you. Everyone is laughing over steaming mugs of coffee. In the middle of the table there’s a platter of these round doughnut things with no frosting. Edging along the wall you get spotted, and they tell you to take a “bagel” about eight times before you finally snatch one and retreat.
You’ve never had a doughnut without icing before. Or a desk. You eat in a toilet cubicle with the door locked.
10.29: back to work. BTJ, BTJ. You concentrate on reconciling drawings, receiving payments, exporting worksheets to a couple of people around the corner checking on some budgeting. You don’t talk to anyone, don’t let anyone sneak up behind you, don’t take a piss until the sun has burned down low. At 5 everyone wriggles into their coats and says G’night and Prue Flaherty-Duff squeezes your forearm, leans in with her old lady alcohol-y fruit stench and says you can stay here overnight if you like, but she’s going home.
‘Right,’ you tell her, and turn back to the screen, determined to get the Charteris sheets to match the schedule of payments.
‘Dear boy,’ she says, her words heavier, ‘I’m not asking. You’ve done well. Go home.’
That’s the first 1000 words.
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