The Day I Skipped School
by Michael Botur
Tsuru the Japanese girl is sitting at the front of the class and I totally want to throw darts at her back, or a knife, blades, needles. Just something to ruin her perfect posture. So uppity and foreign and goody-good, her white polo shirt sitting perfectly on her statue body. Her ponytail is shinier than mine; her bra is newer and sturdier, her tits harder than everyone’s. This school is a write-off and we all wish we could stay away and it’s frustrating that Tsuru seems oblivious to the shithole her parents have dumped her in.
The mean girls from my class throw a Green Rocket which crumples as it hits her back. It’s a paper dart with boogers in it. Tsuru feels the snotty plane tap her spine, shivers once, adjusts her shoulder blades, continues to absorb the lesson, acting oblivious.
Bitch. Fuckwit. Dumbass moron. Girls High sucks balls, Tsuru. The least you could do to, like, raise the level of dignity is give us some push-back by reacting when we hassle you, girl… Jesus. Things are different where she comes from, I spose. Tsuru is from Japan. Her mum is a grumpy lawyer and her dad is an accountant for the Japanese embassy downtown. I saw them once and they looked frightened of the world, walking in front and behind her, protective of Tsuru like she was a little baby bird. It just made it worse, at school. Kids still call her Slanty or say ‘Love you long time’ or hiff condoms at her.
Our class right now is geography. It’s boring as hell. Mz Bowker is tapping the whiteboard where she has projected a map of the world, showing all these exotic locations, Morocco and Easter Island and Patagonia and shit, talking about human migration and blah blah blah Koreans have more Neanderthal DNA than the rest of us and the land bridge from Asia to Alaska and how the Japanese Crane Wife fairy tale was transported to the Aleut native American people through continental drift or some shit, island dimorphism or whatever, and the Kamchatka people and the Kodiaks and…
I’ve tuned out, hunched in my corner hiding my manga comic under my geo book hoping Connie and Francine and Hannah don’t fuck with me and steal it again. Uzumaki is this super-violent seinen comic about a curse that’s taken over a Japanese town in the form of a spiral. It pulls people’s heads into vortexes, curls people’s spines into ropes, bends people like a cinnamon rolls… it’d be super-awesome if the Uzumaki curse hoovered up the Bitch Trio and contorted their faces with agony, let them know what it’s like to suffer. The bitches are planning a keg party and they’re discussing the invite list loud enough for Pops and Losers to hear if they’ve made the cut. I know I’ll be on the Pop list because I play my way through the ranks, I put in my time to survive, throwing out strategic compliments and lending the bitches money and giving them cans of Monster energy drink but I honestly hate parties. My idea of a good time is sneaking out of school to rob a bank or write some gonzo journalism about an exclusive cult, something that’ll really give my parents reasons to fret over me. Or maybe finding a swimming pool of rubies and diamonds in the basement of Mr English’s big white house. He’s the saggy-necked 56 year old gold silk dressing gown creep with the Jaguar draped in a tarpaulin who hits on me every time I accept one of his cigarettes when I’m dawdling in the alleyway to get to school slower. Al English stains my day every time his yellow alcoholic eyes touch me. I’ll be kicking through drifts of leaves in the alleyway then find myself accepting a cigarette while he rests his fat frog-throat on the fence, breakfast cocktail in his right hand, stroking the cord of his dressing down, and prattles on about how his property management business has like a thousand clients, how he gets to spend all day in his slippers, how many kids he’s put into this world, how dating is better than ever in his 50s, how his “pescatarian” diet gives him increased “virility,” whatever the fuck that means. The gross old paedo just starts my day dirty, that’s the point.
Mz Bowker says since we’re talking about cultural traditions in Japan, does anyone in the class know the tale of the Crane Wife? No one puts her hand up so Mz Bowker claps her hands together and goes ‘Alrighty then!’ with her big dumb lesbo enthusiasm and begins explaining.
There was once a man who randomly stumbled into a relationship with a woman – it could’ve been any one of you girls! – and she was in fact a crane disguised as a human. He didn’t know this at the time, bear in mind. To help her man make money and keep him happy, the crane wife plucked her own feathers to weave a silk brocade which the man sold. Their lives increased in affluence, kids, and d’you know what? Everything was going swimmingly…. Swimmingly that is until one fateful day.
‘Excuse me, miss?’
Hannah has her hand in the air. ‘Just wanted to say: Connie looks a crane with her bony white ass.’
‘Oh shut the LITERAL fuck up,’ Connie responds, and the girls start laughing and fighting.
Tsuru swivels her head just a little bit to study the Pop girls. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Tsuru study us, like she’s from another world or something. As she turns, her skirt rides up her thigh. I can see etched lines, like a barcode of scar tissue. Places where she’s – holy shit, she’s a cutter. Damn, I never thought Tsuru would be the type. My eyes are fixed on the notches in her thigh. I can picture the right hand slicing into the pure, soft bulge of flesh. Two inch slices at a time. Consistent, even cuts so a girl knows she’s got control over something in this shitty world.
Me? I cut, too. I make a notch recording every cold criticism from my mum. I’ll show her someday, too. Look what all your rules and critiques made me do, mum.
‘GIRLS.’ Mz Bowker claps two rulers together. ‘Seriously, now, girls, I haven’t finished: you need to know the ending.’
BLIIIIIIIIIIIING. The bell is ringing above Mz Bowker’s head, making her hair shake. We are a tsunami of green skirts and white shirts, crimson ties, swinging bags. Tsuru is sucked into the hall as the class files out. Francine pulls the bag off Tsuru’s back and rifles through it, helping herself to exotic Japanese perfume, and Tsuru’s panda pencils, plus her calculator, which looks like it’s worth money.
‘Thank YOU!’ Hannah pips, as if it’s been a fair exchange.
‘Pleasure, anytime,’ Connie adds, lifting a bank note out of Tsuru’s purse.
‘Konnichiwa, skank,’ Francine goes.
The bitches dissolve into the river of dark green skirts flowing out to lunch. I want to catch Tsuru’s eye and let her know that I don’t approve, this isn’t right, the girls in her seinen comics would fight back, surely, but Tsuru’s eyes will probably ask me why I didn’t stick up for her, and I don’t have an answer, so I melt into the river myself, flow into another depressing day, wishing I’d had the guts to not to come in the first place.
I’m skipping school today. It’s foggy and probably going to rain and my skin is wet and my breath is white and I don’t know where I’ll go. I just know school is a miserable place and it’s safer to stop midway up my street and not take another step closer.
At the end of my street, where my street’s slow trickle pours into the torrent, I can see rush hour rat race of people in their cars, bumper to bumper, glinting in the morning moisture, colourful as a train of M&Ms. They don’t notice me. I’m just some skinny 16 year old nobody who secretly cuts herself, thin enough to disappear behind the cherry trees and the autumn mist. I could’ve crossed the road, could’ve hovered on an island then proceeded to school to wince my way through the day, hoping Connie and Co don’t interrupt my lunch with some diss or confronting question about how much of my mum’s Vicodin I’m bringing to the party.
But nah, I’m not doing all that. I’m not doing geography today, or ethnic folklore or wading through a choked hall of bitches. I’m walking a mile up my posh leafy street. Where? God knows. All I know is I’m definitely skipping school.
Yup. Yeah. That’s me. a fucking rebel. Princess Leia, Joan of Arc, Joan Jett, fucking… Beyoncé. I’m turning firmly around and making a plan to go back to my parents’ house. If mum’s car is unlocked I can steal some of her parking money and go buy cigarettes and candy and maybe a bottle of cooking wine if I show the guy at the shop my pierced nipple.
All I need is to zig from tree to tree, zag between a couple of parked SUVs, and duck down outside number 1807 so Michael Betts’ security camera doesn’t record me and tell my dad.
I start doing it with a few steps. Them I’m fully in it. After five minutes, I’m a full-on ninja.
I waddle under the cameras and flagpoles and high gates of 1753, 1619, make it as far as 1609 when I realise the white shirt/green skirt uniform that looks like a mirage is actually…. Oh please God no.
It’s her. The last company I need.
Tsuru the Exchange Weirdo.
And she just waved at me. Fuck.
I know next to nothing about this goth bitch except she is probably a snitch and I’m going to get found out.
I press my back against the fence of a property called Silver Lining Lodge, melt into the privet hedge and try catch my breath. Tsuru should literally not be here. Last thing I need right now is witnesses.
I hear the hoof of her black leather boots clocking up the street like a damn Clydesdale.
The clocks stop and she’s there, in front of my hedge, wavering like a video game character waiting for you to hit the Start button.
I move forward out of my leafy hovel.
‘Fuck are you doing here?’
‘Hey,’ she says, shyly moving her hair behind one ear.
‘I’m not… really, I don’t… .’ I have no idea how to end the sentence. I don’t live here? I’m not really cutting class? I gulp, push my own hair back and go, ‘So you going to school, or… ?’
Tsuru blushes, pours her face into her hands. Suppresses a snicker, a giggle. I can tell she’s struggling to formulate an explanation. Damn deceitful bitch has got a naughty streak.
‘You’re cutting class, right?’ I continue, painting over her nervous silence, making things less awkward. ‘It’s cool. Me too. I mean- unless you’re just late, or… ?’
Tsuru is nodding like a woodpecker.
‘So we can hang, I mean if you’re not, like, getting a ride or … .’
Our bodies clearly want to walk somewhere, it’s just that one direction would take us to school, the other direction would take us to my place. We hover on the lip of the alleyway. We have a cloak of mist, for now.
‘You guys are at number 1400, right – the place with the little checkpoint control box guard-thing? Your family, um, fuck, what’s the word… I don’t speak your… listen, is your people’s place safe to hang out at, or…?’
We talk it over and work out it’s a no to Tsuru’s house, and a no to mine, too. I can disarm the security system at my parents’ place, but the problem is I can’t erase the CCTV footage that gets fucking beamed to my parents’ goddamn mobile phones telling them I’m being naughty in coming home sneakily.
A car comes, black and shiny, a Mercedes. I find my hand crumpling Tsuru’s shoulder as I pull us into a mattress of ivy to hide.
We watch the car cruise past. Headed towards a purpose, unlike us. We haven’t even thought up something to do with our day.
Fuck. We need to think, plot, plan.
I guess we could call an Uber, except my dad pays my credit card bill so he monitors all my transactions and I totally know he’ll snoop.
Tsuru finally points to a tiny alleyway between 1599 and 1601, an alleyway I’ve dropped many a bottle and butt in, an alleyway that goes past the house of – seriously, please God no –
The house of saggy bloated property king Al English.
We don’t have a choice.
His gate opens smooth as a fridge door, closes cleanly. His yard is all paving stones and bird baths with ivy and vines crawling across it. A fountain, a pond, lily pads, sculptures, a hammock… .
Tsuru has a cute backpack of that pluffy panda-cat beast Totoro. Just past the gate she kneels, opens it, pulls out a pack of smokes, a stolen-looking bottle of brandy, some men’s razor blades.
I spot a trio of comics in there. Bio-Meat. Ichi The Killer. Uzumaki, the one about the deadly spiral. Unless Tsuru’s gone and shoplifted in my bedroom, I think this crazy bitch has got the same taste as me.
‘We fill, yes?’
‘What, fill your backpack with Mr English’s shit? Like, rip him off?’
Tsuru is nodding and about to blurt something when I spot Mr English and stick a finger against her lips. Sssh. Time to scam the old rich fuck.
He’s waiting at the top of the stone stairs. Must’ve seen us out in the alley looking directionless. He’s stirring sugar into his coffee and finishing a conversation on his Bluetooth headset. Black lizard eyes under squares of uniform skin like he’s had skin grafts or plastic surgery. The hair on top of his balding head is squelched down with some kind of sticky wax, though it springs out of his chest in fuzzy curls.
Sure I’m concerned about getting tongue-raped and manipulated with his jerkoff-y seductions, but we have to be off the street so Truancy Services doesn’t tackle us. Being in a rich guy’s house with shag carpet and a dark wood staircase and a drinks cabinet is relatively okay, I guess.
We invites us in, walking behind so he can get an eyeful of our asses. We sit on his leather couch while he puts Pop-Tarts in the toaster for us. He mixes us a drink each in a martini glass. I’m bunched up against Tsuru, sitting so close our knees touch. Her nervous puckered pinpoint lips need to be kissed, I think to myself.
While I’ve been thinking weird thoughts about kissing Tsuru, I’ve given Mr English a few words of conversation and he’s off talking smack. The ice cubes in his glass clink as he paints pictures with his hands.
‘…aaaand that’s when I realised the wisest thing to do is acquire a second tranche of properties, know what I mean?’ he says, folding one knee over the other, adjusting his dressing gown over his fat thighs. ‘But enough about my passion.’ A smile leaks across his face. His eyes crease until they’re black lines. ‘Tell me, ladies: tell me what gets you off.’
Tsuru’s eyebrows are so high up I’m worried they’re going to burst out the top of her head. She’s been given a glass of stinky schnapps but she doesn’t know where to put it. ‘I am liking… swimming in the ocean? When this is warm water, is warming?’
‘My daughter, Annika, she was swimming at Summer Bay four years ago and she… .’ Bent over, he’s melting, warbling, warping, like water is falling through his body. Pinching his nose, bottom lips shiny with moisture… Jesus. He’s crying! What the fuck! I’ve only taken one bite of my Pop-Tart and already the day’s an abortion.
I was hoping to get raped, kind of, or robbed, but here me and Tsuru are side-stepping African statuettes and Javanese idols to get to a man hunched on the floor to rub his back and cheer him up. Tsuru is murmuring soothing things to this creepy rapist. We share a gaze, then our heads turn mutually to the wine rack.
Tsuru unzips her backpack. I begin filling it.
After a minute, the drunk hairy wreck looks up from his puddle of tears on the carpet, startled, shocked, seizes Tsuru’s wrist. ‘Take me to my room. Immediately – please. You have to.’
We haul him up. The guy is shorter than me and his pale yellow throat bulges outward like a fat frog. He says ‘The Burgundy,’ turns and grabs a bottle of wine and a corkscrew and has a final sip of reeking alcohol before we let him descend to his bedroom.
Bronze wood panels. Thick carpet. Low ceiling with mirrors above the bed.
The sheets we peel off his California superking waterbed are rich black silk. We urge him into the sloshing bed and he hands his bottle and corkscrew to Tsuru. She studies the objects she’s been handed. She looks like she’s never used a corkscrew before. Its point is so sharp that it twists into a needle then disappears.
‘Thanks for having us over,’ I say, asking Tsuru a question with my eyes, like Why are we still here, this fuck’s a drunken loser, what are you hoping for?
Dumped on the bed, Mr English is lying on his back, smiling, teeth sticking out over his lip like an alligator. He doesn’t look upset any more. His eyes gleam in their wet pink patches.
He grabs my wrist.
‘Nurse,’ he says, yanking, ‘I need you.’
I splat into his bed and the covers close on top of me and even though he’s shorter, Mr English is twice as heavy as me, squishing me as he rolls on top, licking and nibbling and sucking my throat, pushing my hands against the headboard.
In the mirror on the ceiling, I watch the sheets slide off his hairy back as his legs push mine out to the sides, starfish-wide, his arms mirroring mine, keeping my hands pressed away from his eyes so I don’t claw him. I don’t scratch or scream or bite. I’m still half-in the alleyway. Still thinking I can control what happens in my day.
Mr English pulls his lips off me, leans back, tugging at the elastic band of his boxer shorts, preparing to pull them over one leg. There is a pen in his neck, now, I’ve never noticed, or it’s just grown there suddenly, a pen or a torch, something with a black plastic handle, sticking somehow to his frog-throat with red glue, no, dark purple blackcurrant juice that sprays across the room and spatters the wall. Mr English falls backward off me and kicks, fingering the weapon in his neck. His crusty toes scrape my cheek. I roll out of bed, trying to find a scream. Tsuru reaches to pull the corkscrew out of the man’s neck. I slap her hand away, shove her towards the exit. We pause, turn, watch him struggle. Mr English’ legs push away from wherever he thinks the corkscrew is. He kicks himself off the bed, lands heavy. His entire side is soaked red. His dressing gown is pasted to his chest hairs. He’s showering his body in blood. I can’t even see the corkscrew handle between his sticky black fingers. It’s gone in deeper.
‘Ambulis,’ he croaks. Lying on his back in a pool of oil, pulsing so thick there are little ripples and rapids in the blood, his eyes attempt to meet ours, but they’re flicking in two separate directions.
‘You fill bag.’
While I’ve been frozen, Tsuru has gone up to the kitchen, brought down wine carriers and canvas shopping bags, as well as her fluffy Totoro backpack.
She dumps the sacks at my feet.
‘Filling bag now.’
Mr English gurgles, tries to roll towards us, his forehead pressed against the gooey red carpet, bum in the air as if he’s pretending to be a worm.
‘Everything,’ she orders me.
‘Is he – is he dead? He-he-he-he can’t be –
I flee to the kitchen. We open his liquor cabinet. I fill two sacks with Bacardi, Jim Beam, Courvoisier. I toss in a silver cheese knife, a mortar and pestle, Ginsu steak knives, a marble candlestick, think think think, girl, what’s gonna make you rich, what do you need, what will you regret not taking, thinking, grabbing, shit, um, this china plate, yeah, fuck, dropped it, pour out the parking coins from the fruit bowl, yeah, a metronome, okay, weird, car keys, a crystal ashtray, a letter opener, fuck –
I’m so busy stacking bags of loot by the ranchslider, preparing to escape into the alleyway, that I realise I haven’t seen my friend in minutes.
I freeze. Cold shiver. Fuck was that noise? A hand cracking walnuts – no – somebody ripping a fish in half – no – water balloons smacking on concrete. Wet, tearing, dripping, juicy. Splatty-crunch.
I tiptoe down the three carpeted stairs to the door and Mr English’s sunken bedroom. I peer around the corner. I see a pelican, metre-long yellow beak, too large for the room, pulling off chunks of bloody gold robe and gulping them down. An enormous seabird hunched under the ceiling, bumping its head, beak like two surfboards, eyes black frisbees. Its wings are white curtains stained grey, bunched, quivering. Its rear end spans metres, reaches into the en suite bathroom. Tail feathers like huge white palm fronds.
The giant bird twists its head to pull a chunk of flesh inside it. It has Mr English’s arm in its beak. A webbed grey foot like a rubbery stingray is clawing, holding Mr English’ body while it pulls him apart, beginning with his left arm. His free hand is trying to hold on to a bedsheet. He’s looking at me with drowning eyes. The pelican-thing makes the choking, sucking sound of a blocked vacuum cleaner then gulps the arm into its mouth, and the sheet, and Mr English’ head disappears. His shoulderblades are hunched, squashed as he trickles headfirst down its sticky throat. His shoulders are gone, now his back and belly, his peachy, exposed butt, his white thighs. I watch the shape of his body stretch the gullet of the truck-sized bird.
The cord of his dressing gown whispers, flaps as if asking us to fetch help, then the slippers fall from his toes as he disappears.
The bird swallows, and when it has finished swallowing, it turns to me. Its eyes are my equal. It knows me.
Big Bird. Big Bird from Sesame Street. Big Bird with terrifying shiny eyes. Big Bird with a mouth of stiff plastic. That’s what its beak looks like as it talks.
‘Now you’ve seen.’
The giant bird’s cheeks flex. As it swallows, its eyes blink, huge and slow. Eyelids of skin from elsewhere. From a dimension I was never meant to see.
My scream tears the air in two.
The bird stomps, revolves, grunts. Its head smacks the lampshade. How-how-how did it even get in – pelican, yes. No? Heron. Stork. Swamp-bird. Eater of snakes and tadpoles and s-sad – sadlonelydesperatedeserve-
‘Susan. Promise you’ll keep me secret.’
I back up the stairs, leave my bag of alcohol and coins, rattle the ranchslider til I’m screaming and throttling and urging and the lock breaks and I sprint down Mr English’s garden stairs, slipping on expensive white stones, gasping as I bump over an expensive-looking white statuette, making my shin throb.
Tsuru appears from somewhere, dropping a computer monitor in the goldfish pond, her fingers tense like claws as she catches up and grasps my shoulder, bags of loot rattling at her side.
We sprint to my house, shower together, put our clothes in the washing machine and set the cycle for 8 hours, hide under my bed, cry and bite our knuckles, weep into my mum’s belly, watch my dad thump the wall and turn away, wait for detectives who never come, watch the news for reports of Mr English missing, read his obituary in my dad’s Property Investors Federation newsletter, slowly return to school, sit beside Tsuru and let her lean on my shoulder, tell Mz Bowker to go fuck herself, push Connie into a pile of desks, hold a sharp pencil against Francine’s eye, crush Hannah’s scalp in front of 50 girls in the hall and scream in her terrified face I’m not scared of anything in this world anymore and especially not you, you fucking bully-bitch-cunt-FUCK, laugh and pash, sip vodka from our school drink bottles in the toilets, accept a bundle of correspondence school papers, scrape through my exams lying on my bedroom floor sipping alcohol and popping Prozac and listening to Baroque and studying, sending secret forbidden texts to my BFF, and I realise, opening my university results one drunken yawning morning two years later, that I’ve drifted down a river of time far from where I used to be and my counsellor has taught me how to ground myself, how to stop letting my parents and bully-bitches and cat-calling old perverts rock me off my perch and it’s safe, now, no more cognitive distortions, no more hallucinations, there is no monster chasing me and there probably never was.
I can stop running.
College is fucking lit. On our first night, the Engineering Society puts on a Straw Man party. They light the thing up and we pull off our clothes and dance in our bras and undies, playing beer pong and chanting songs and throwing footballs soaked in beer, tearing up our student loan contracts, pashing strangers, climbing the registry building, pissing off roofs. We party and study and read text books and don’t worry about the future.
Summer, we get a break, which is cool. A lot of the girls are off getting with boys, but I’m not really focused on cock, nor is my best friend. Out at the beach me and Tsuru toss our clothes into the wind and fall into bitter white waves, shrieking, nipples hard as marbles. She’s still shy, still perpetually running away, hiding, retreating, and I tackle her from behind, force her into the dark sand, hold her down as an icy wave tosses pebbles over us.
In autumn there’s Pumpkin Fest and we dance on the stone bridge in the middle of campus til our feet ache. At night we watch speech bubbles of white emerge from our mouths, linger in the black frosty twinkling sky. There’s a party in Hamilton Hall I tell Tsuru ‘Wait-wait-wait!’ and pull a mouthful of orange juice from her backpack and a mouthful of vodka and tell Tsuru that she is one Ooooooooorganised Bitch, Organ, Tee Hee Hee, Orgasm, Huge Throbbing Organs, and Tsuru rolls her eyes and marches up the stairs and she’s so pissed off at my rude Western whitegirl ways she tries to get away from me, but the bitch is polite, silly Tsuru, so she’s knocking patiently and tapping her foot until I catch up and begin massaging her shoulders, and I smell her shampoo, it’s coconutty, and sneak a little drunken nibble of her earlobe, and she tilts her head left, inviting me to nibble again. The hall is ours, the hall is OURS, WORLD, SO FUCK YOU and I don’t want any passengers sharing my drunken ship but the door’s open and the hallway is spinning and we fall inside and there’s a good gathering of bitches, yeah, Thing the Reporter from the …paper… thing and, and-and-and Kate, oh, Kaaaate, Kate Smirnoff.
Connie – we’re friends now – is whispering in Tsuru’s ear. Bitches are obviously talking about babysitting me til I’m sober, like as if I need their pejorative fucking….
Okay, okay. I’m going down. I’m letting them press my shoulders. Curtains drawn. Ring of candles. Dark spooky room. Buttery flame between every girl’s knees. They’re folding me into the floor and there’s a circle of people around me and Connie settles a plate of lasagne between my knees and gives me a fork and I take a bit them jam my dirty fork down her cleavage and cackle so hard I spurt up little chunks of meat and tomatoey onion and tell my friends this pasta is like seriously sooooooo goooooooood, bitches, you’ve totally gotta get some down ya.
They’re not laughing, my friends, and they’re not lit up much, either. It’s dark as a cinema in here. In front of my toes is that thing from, like, that movie… Glaswegian… Weegie… a Ouija Board, yah, that’s it.
‘What about you?’ Connie asks me. ‘You ever witnessed the paranormal?’
‘The paranormal,’ I go, and snigger, and gulp my Smirnoff and lasagne. ‘Is that what… we’re… talking?’
‘You heard her, byatch,’ one of my friends goes. ‘Slenderman? I’ve seen him. Mariam said she encountered a fucking yeti, like seriously, when she was volunteering in Nepal. Chulani got her door knocked on by a vampire. We all told our spooky stories. You don’t get to drunk your way out of this, Suze. Your turn.’
‘Yah, girlfriend,’ Grant The Fag from Accounting goes, ‘We shared. Now you fuckin share. C’mon. You must’ve, like, seen the ghost of your grandma after her funeral or something. Don’t be a hoarder. Tell us.’
I look over at Tsuru. She’s too far away for me to grab her hand and squeeze. I can see her shrinking, folding, packing up her joy, preparing to skip town.
I swallow, drain my drink, crumple the cup, play with the squashed, cracked plastic then toss it into the dark corners of the room.
‘You sure you guys wanna hear this? Cause it’ll spook the shit out of you.’
‘Just fucking tell us.’
The world is encased in ice. Our eyeballs lock for eternity.
We thaw. My throat is dry. I find some words at the bottom.
‘You can’t tell anyone this. Kay? So, when I was, like, 15… I skipped school, this one day… and I had nowhere to go, like, I couldn’t hang out at my mum and dad’s place, but, like, there was this creepy lecherous kinda dude and, I guess I went to his house and… .’
‘And you fucked him?’ Connie goes, grinning. ‘Did you suck his dick? OH. MY. GOD. You totally sucked his dick. Tell us how disgusting it was, eeeewwwww, did his foreskin have, like, that headcheese under it?’
‘No, I was with… .’ I look over at the only person in the world who shares my secret. Silent Tsuru has tilted her head so her hair has fallen around her face.
It’s not a big deal, this thing. It’s public knowledge. It was in the papers.
Bloody crime scene at landlord’s home.
Day Ten without body – Police halt search.
Property Magnate Staged Disappearance, Police Believe.
‘I-I skipped school and I was… I saw this…. .’
‘So what’d you do? What’d you see?’
‘This – I saw this guy, he was going to hurt me, then this, like, it-it came out of nowhere, it just sorta – and I promised.’
‘Promised? Promised what?’
‘Promised I wouldn’t tell.’
Time freezes again. Everyone’s eyes are paused, bodies still, ears pointed towards me. I’m watching Tsuru unfreeze, rise, stride through our circle. If I speak, I have lost her, and no story is worth losing her. I’m up, I’m drunk, I barge the hat stand over, I leave the door open, the girls complain and call me back but I’m sprinting down the fire stairs and I’m catching Tsuru just before she gets in an Uber, she’s slapping me, I’m touching my fiery cheek, she cools my burned cheek with her lips, then her lips are on mine and her knee pushes into the cleft between my thighs and we’re crotch-to-crotch glued, cold noses pressed into each other’s ears, we’re waddling into the room we share where there used to be two single beds until tonight, and I’m licking every secret scar carved into her skin, working upward from her knee to her panties til I hit the sweet spot and we’re inside each other.
Our love makes years yield and decades dissolve. Years of arms wrapped around Tsuru’s waist at the kitchen sink. Years leaning into the cleft between her shoulder blades, resting my head there. Years cooling her down when Tsuru gets flustered with her hater-parents, all anti about her having friends, anti about her coming out. I’m there when she’s had a bad day and we lie on our bellies in bed and sip sake and gasp and giggle at our seinen horror comics. I’m there when she wants to share the bathtub with the only human she trusts. I’m there to snuffle kisses from her throat down to her thighs.
When I’m not drunk on love, I’m drunk on tallying and reconciling and filing. Accounting is a sensible career for me. I’ve had more good luck than I deserve and it’s time I appreciated whichever god gave me an ally, a confidant, a co-conspirator, a secret wife at home. Well, a common-law wife, since our marriage hasn’t been planned.
Every night I start getting mad at my spreadsheets around 7pm and Tsuru walks up behind my swivel chair, lifts my hair, kisses my neck. We make love in every room of our house. We catch up on years we missed when we were too busy running, too busy shaking off all the constrictions in our life. Shrugging the python off our necks.
We want children and we want to get married, though we’re both not sure in what order we should get it all done. We go to see Fertility Associates. Our expert, Himesh, squirts moisturiser between his fingers then gets Tsuru to lie on her back. We hold hands with him while Dr Himesh gets us to close our eyes and envision not the sperm and egg, not the birth, but the people we want to share our blessing with. One of the people we want to bless our child’s birth is the sperm donor. This is the only thing that matters, Himesh tells us: how the description of a person makes you feel about them.
Go with your instinct, I beg you, Himesh tells us. Follow your heart.
Choosing a sperm donor from a catalogue is quickly completed in ten minutes. He’s chubby, he’s a web developer, he’s ginger, he’s South African, he’s terrible at stand-up comedy and he dresses up as Santa to make kids smile at Christmas. Within an hour we have our future planned.
Tsuru works from an office pinned to our garage. She scours the internet and auctions and old ladies’ garage sales, buys antiques for cheap, sells them online for a premium. She has an instinct for which things that should be passed on quickly and which things must be sat on for years. She has glass cabinets and in there, somewhere among the suits of armour and ebony carvings, are a crystal ashtray and a letter opener, objects with radiation on them from some horror buried at the back of my brain, sealed under years like lead plate. We put away some good savings and we can afford to meet Tsuru’s parents’ idea of an authentic Japanese wedding, even though they flat-out don’t want us to marry. We find a white uchikake kimono for meek, secretive demure Tsuru, agreeing she should be the bride. As for me, my uchikake will have a black stripe and an embroidered crane, a bird I’ve dreamed about for years. We sketch plans for our parents’ tomesode kimonos which they must wear. We source wedding cake makers, quiz, bingo, cake, karaoke. A place with a tatame room. Tsuru knows special corners of Alibaba.com where she can get nuptial silver cups for us to drink our sake in the san-san-kudo ritual. Rings, hair, makeup. All organised in a file on the computer of my bride-to-be. My fiancé. My lover. My girl who falls asleep with me at the kitchen table, our foreheads resting on fancy paper stationery.
One week to go til we tie the knot. HEN PARTY, BITCHES!!! Me and Tsuru and Connie, Francine, Hannah, Grant from accounting, plus a couple of buddies from the LGBTQ+ community who won’t out us too much, seeing as Tsuru’s family want her to keep her identity a secret.
Tsuru has a tiny shrimp-baby growing in her tummy so she doesn’t want to go clubbing. We tell her we’ll bring the party to her. Hen Night at our house. Yeah? Deal? Thanks, babycakes. Love you.
Everyone – fucking EVERYone – gives us shit for having a hen night together. You’re supposed to be apart, they tell us. There is affection in their scolding, though. Grant pulls me into the laundry and laughs under the weak light bulb. Tells me he’s honestly never met anyone in the fucking universe that’s as close as us two. How’d you get bound so tightly, anyway? Did you go through the trenches together or what?
‘We ripped off this, um, like we didn’t set out to rob… .’ I stop. ‘Nothing.’
‘Rob what now? ExCUSE me?! Sister, you got a dark side!’
‘THE DRESS!’ someone is chanting, Hannah I think, pulling us out of our laundry, ‘THE DRESS, YOUR KIMONO-THING! SHOW US!’
‘Yah bitch!’ Connie going, ‘You have to, you have to!’
They’re tipping out Tsuru’s closet full of wedding prep while she protests, wincing over her belly-bump, upending her box with her fancy hat, pulling the air bags out of her boxed hat pin. Tsuru has a whole closet packed with kimonos. Grant the Fag presses one against his body and parades like RuPaul, marching up and down the house while my flustered fiancé chases him. Francine, pouring whiskey into her mouth, pulls stacks of seinen manga from under our bed and her and Hannah and all the bitches decide they loooooove Japanese horror, that shit’s soooooo seriously gross, ewwwww, specially the tentacle porn, hee hee, plus the myths and legends, we all agree, resting our exhausted drunken chests on the breakfast bar.
We chink shotglasses, toss fire into our tummies. Everyone except Tsuru, who stands apart, hand on her pregnant stomach.
‘So that thing you were gonna tell us,’ Connie goes. ‘C’mon Suze. It’s time. Fess up.’
‘The thing that happened on the day you skipped school, dumbass. You’ve kept us waiting for, like, God, how long?’
Spear in my heart. I stagger back an inch. My alcohol tastes horrid all of a sudden.
There are eight eyes boring into me. Eight eyes across four heads.
Not my girl’s eyes. Tsuru’s head is bowed. crushed. Turned down. Ashamed. Typical Tsuru. Hiding secrets.
My friends have been waiting a decade for my story, though. They’re important to me too. I can’t let Tsuru guilt-trip me anymore.
I stare down the hydroslide then descend.
‘There was this day I skipped school, okay. It was like all misty, like pea soup. This was high school, right, I was like 16, and – sorry, Tsu – I totally hated Tsuru’s guts back then. She was like this hard-out preppy prefect.’
I down a shot of sambuca and everyone smiles. Connie is about to say something smart-ass, but my words come out first.
Tsuru has drifted to the edge of the room, like she’s about to leave. She won’t meet my eye. Two hands cradling her belly. She’s shuffling her feet.
‘So I’m skipping school one day, Thursday I think it was – or, Tuesday – and I’m dragging my feet, y’know how it is, like my parents were like super negative and cold and they totally wouldn’t support me to go back to bed for a day. So I’m like doing laps of my street, at a loss, y’know, trying to think up a place to go and, like, self-harm. But who do I see coming up the motherfucking street? Tsu! Cause her family lived like half a mile down from me! And she’s being a badass as well, which I didn’t know at the time.’
Connie slides another sambuca along the bar top. It’s my fifth, I think. Or fifteenth. Things aren’t adding up, my eyes are lying, cause I could swear Tsuru was against the wall ten seconds ago, looking immaculate in silver and pink, sulking, studying us, and now she’s in the next room. Gone somewhere. Vanished.
‘So Tsu drags me into this, like, creepy paedo rich guy’s house, and that’s cool, kind-of, cause we need a place to hang so truancy doesn’t get us. But then he, like, starts feeling me up and pushes me down in his bed and stuff and I’m like WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK and then he starts having a heart… .’
‘His body was, like, jiggling, like electrocution sorta thing. Convulsions, y’know. Cause he got sta- I mean, like, he fell on a knife, I mean, not even a knife, like a corkscrew, it wasn’t our fault, he… .’
‘Did you take him to the hospital?’
‘It grabbed him. This thing, this bird. Grabbed him with its, like, beak and it… I can’t even say it.’
I’m shaking so bad I splash sambuca up my wrist. The sleeve of my blouse stinks.
‘I’ll just shut up now. I wasn’t supposed to tell. I pr-promised I wouldn’t say nothing. I said I’d… I wouldn’t.’
‘But you did.’ Connie looks like a judge, like a principal, like a noise control cop. There’s no jokiness behind her eyes. ‘You told. How you gonna be faithful to your wife, Suze?’
Explosions in the whitewall. Plaster dust clouds in Grant’s eyes. Knocked bottles. Smash, tinkle. Screams. My friends duck under the table. The bird’s wide wings have crushed the edges of the hallway, burst the lightbulbs in the ceiling. Its feet make the floor crunch. The bird fills the house, shunting our dining table into the wall, pulverising potplants, scattering the bowl of cat biscuits.
Fishy rancid rotten seaweed breath melts my eyes. I’m looking into a tongue big and red as a steak, a throat as black as a cave.
Its beak is huge enough to swallow me in a single gulp.
‘YOU PROMISED YOU’D NEVER TELL.’
The crane pecks Connie first – well, gobbles. Devours. The crane vanishes Connie, seizing all of her body except for her shoes. I can make out the shape of Connie’s hands and knees and screaming mouth as she presses against the bird’s bulging throat-sack.
Grant dives into the kitchen, crawls like a cockroach, tries to escape out the cat flap. The crane steps on his left leg with its rubbery foot, big and webbed like a kite. It pulls Grant’s leg from his hips with the sound of torn paper.
While I scream and weep and shiver, the bird gobbles up my friends, snapping and swallowing, shuffling awkwardly in a room too small for its black basketball eyes, its beak as long as a coffin, its vast bunched wings which shatter the windows.
Francine has a head one moment. The next, the beak snatches it off, then tugs her arms out of her torso. She falls into a bedroom, disappears.
The bird pulls Hannah to pieces in frantic, rushed snatches. Pecking.
When there are no witnesses left to eat, the bird takes eight heavy, stomping, thudding adjustments of its feet until it is facing me. The eyes on either side of its beak revolve until they’re pointing toward me.
It presses me against the wall. I can feel the hot intimate salty fishy stinking breath puff out from its nostrils.
As the bird lowers its beak and snuffles its belly, I sink to the floor. As it rummages in its belly feathers, my eyes wince and stretch and bend. It finds the spot where our baby resides, around the belly button. I pray for death. Get me out of this.
But I live. I live and watch her peck her belly til her flesh gives way and a torrent of pink water pours out. I watch her pull a tadpole-thing from her insides, hold the twisting foetus aloft as it spatters the ceiling fan with black juice. I watch the crane bite our baby in half then suck the meat into its gullet.
The bird turns, waddles into the lounge, jams its beak into the French doors, shatters the glass and wood with a few flicks of its head, tossing the doors onto the lawn.
It moves out into the sucking cold air, the wet lawn, green below, black above, lit only by light leaking from our kitchen.
Tsuru spreads her wings, rattling the apple tree, smashing the pergola.
Each flap of the foot-long feathers sends newspapers and sticks and leaves flying.
Then she’s gone.