The bar heaved with the heat of drinkers, talkers and hangers-on. At the far end of the space, beyond shadowed dancing hordes, a black clad band punched out a raucous teen-sour prog rock. The sound enveloped everything, and rattled along the wall lights and framed sports jerseys to the cascade of liquor bottles that were back lit in shattered tones of liquid reds, yellows and lime. Talkers had to shout, hangers-on silently hung on to drinks and dancers near the band did both.
In the midst of the throng at the bar Sal pressed herself up against the back of the man in front of her as he leaned into the bar to order drinks. She nuzzled his shoulders, smelled his presence and fingered the muscles beneath his shirt.
She thought, I’ll have my shins over these shoulders before the night is finished. Her man turned to face her, triumphantly holding a full beer glass aloft above the horde. As they threaded their way back out of the throng Sal shouted,
“You’re not drinking?”
“What?” he called back. She gripped his neck and drew close to his ear, wanting to lick it, but instead shouted back,
“What are you having, Ian?”
He handed her the beer, its outer surface wet with spillage. He bent down to the side of her face, and she bristled momentarily at his voice.
“I can’t stay!”
She took a small step back. “What’s up?” She noticed his eyes dart to the exit. He shouted,
“It’s a family thing!”
“That’s okay!” Sal yelled in reply, “we don’t have to be here!”
“No, it’s just me,” he said. Sal was about to take a sip of beer but let her arm droop slowly. He continued “My family have people coming over, I’ve got to meet. I’m sorry. I’ll call you.” And he was gone, his rounded shoulders engulfed by the mob that closed around her.
She stood with her solitary beer trying to comprehend what had just occurred. The din compressed her hearing. A nearby group of noisy drinkers sharpened her spirit. Someone bumped her as they headed towards the bar. He just left. Cut and ran. The coward. She lifted her beer to her mouth and chugged it in one long swig. Fuck! I’ve just been dumped. Like that. How did that happen? She looked at her empty glass. He’s just gone! No explanation. Why? We’d had such fun together.
What do you do when you’ve just been jettisoned? She looked up at the bar queue and decided it was too thick to penetrate. She headed down to where the band was playing, the rage beginning to broil inside her stomach. His family. Veronica and Jeffrey – mum and dad – who I’ve never met, despite the last 5 months. I wasn’t good enough for them. That was it. Not fucking good enough. I knew it.
The music was louder here. Clumps of dank youths, mainly boys, thrust themselves with wild delirium to the rhythms that crashed from the stage. A white mask screamed in her face and vanished into a sign which said ‘Battlesnake’. Two band members pranced about in lizard like jump suits. She seethed. The song swelled with a feverish rancour, guitars screaming, drums pounding, the rage in her soul now fully lit.
As the song rose to a cacophonous climax, the audience cried out in a macabre paean of adulation, arms flailing towards the dark ceiling as the lead vocalist chanted incomprehensibly into the microphone. The arms flailed until, at an appointed time known only to the fans, the crowd bowed down in unison as if in worship to the numen of noise. Sally alone stood alone above them, like a solitary prophet, panting with wrath and fury.
She forced herself though the raucous applause towards the exit, pushed the sticky metal bar across the door and lunged out into the street. The temperature had dropped and a light rain had begun. The strolling nightlife sheltered in the shadows of the strip of shops, their forms illuminated by the streetlights with each break in the awnings.
She strode up the line of parked cars to where she had left her scooter. She fumbled the keys in the security tub on the back and swore. A passing couple looked at her and turned away when she glared back at them. She retrieved her helmet, threw it on, slammed the tub shut and put key to ignition. She backed out hastily, causing a car to brake and honk. Where to? Let the scooter decide. She swayed backwards when she gunned the engine and then weaved her way haphazardly through the drab lines of traffic.
She found herself on the Harbour Bridge, heading north. Unencumbered by city traffic, her faster pace enlivened the cold and wet of the night. Heels, tights, a leather mini and a light top offered little protection from the cold that covered her path. He liked those outfits though. As did she, when she was with him. The arsehole.
The wind flapped her flimsy top and she felt the cold on her chest and inner thighs. The rain numbed her hands and bare arms, but she drove on, blind to the other cars that shared their wetness with her as they sped past her up the highway. At a set of lights, a pedestrian stepped out and she slammed on her brakes, swaying wildly to avoid contact. She stuck a foot out to stabilise herself and knocked off a heel.
Sometime later, shivering and shaking, she found herself crawling along a dark tree lined street off the highway. This was the right street, she was sure, but she didn’t know the number. She thought, this is forlorn, and was tempted to give up her search when she spotted his Audi in a driveway. She pottered past it, making sure not to let his car scratch her precious scooter.
A circular driveway centred by a fragrant rose garden fronted an old red brick house of generous proportions. Its front rose two storeys to a magnificently peaked ridgeline, and groomed ivy lapped at the sills of its white latticed windows. To the right were double garage doors, and parked in front of that, a Mercedes. She wondered whose that was; these seemed like people who would garage their cars at night.
She parked behind the merc. Carrying her helmet she tottered one-heeled and cold up the rounded front steps to the entry portico. A pair of olive doors greeted her, each with a smoked glass window at head height and one with a peep hole for security. A large and tarnished brass doorbell hung on the right.
This was it then. Should she ring it, or retreat? Or do both? Ring and run, like a kid leaving a flaming bag of dog turds for the hapless occupant.
She looked at the portico she was in. Above her was a concrete roof painted in a bilious lime green. At its centre dangled a pearl drop light shade, with the spiral of a compact fluorescent at its core. On the ground beside the door mat stood a wrought iron umbrella stand, an old boot brush and, for some reason, a pair of metal mice. Was there a metal cat? Sally shivered, and she thought of the bar where she had last been warm, where she had not felt bitter.
This was it.
She reached up and pressed the large brass knob on the doorbell. It gave a solid chime, an Avon chime, a real ding dong. She thought, heeere’s Sally!. She beat her nails on the hard surface of her helmet.
She heard footsteps and a safety chain being undone, and the light sprang on, making her flinch momentarily. The right door opened and a matron in her sixties appeared. Semi-formal attire, dyed hair coiffed and an oversized pair of spectacles that looked Sally up and down.
“Veronica Duffy?” A conflict of fear and charity flitted across the woman’s face.
“My name’s Sally. May I come in?”
Veronica nodded, and, with an expression that regarded Sally like a stray cat, opened the door wider. “Yes, I suppose so.”
Sally stepped into the entrance hall. Parquetry flooring, molded ceilings and a curved stairwell that no doubt led to some upper realms. She caught a glimpse of herself in a large mirror to one side. Broken shoes, laddered tights, sodden garments and helmet hair: she looked like she’d been blow-dried backwards in a car wash. Veronica’s voice,
“Do I know you?” Sally heard glasses clinking and voices from another room. A voice, no doubt Jeffrey’s, called,
“Who is it, dear?”
She dumped her helmet on a lacquered side table and lumbered into the room with the uneven gait caused by the missing heel. A group of five stood or sat around a shiny mahogany table replete with sparkling china and crystal ware, framed by high peach walls and exorbitant drapes about French windows.
To the left no doubt was Jeffrey, in suit pants and tie, silver haired and boasting a fulsome moustache. In the middle was another parent pair, bland both of them, with daughter seated in front. Bob cut, silk top and a cardie, with a brooch for god’s sake. Brown eyes, pink lips fixed in a feeble inquiring smile. She was a beauty alright, of that kind. And seated on the right, the devil himself, Ian, the son, the newly minted ex. He’d put a jacket on and run a comb through his hair, and a thick cologne to mask the smell of the bar, like air freshener in a public lavatory. He had just peeled the lead from a bottle of champagne, but hadn’t popped the cork. He stood up, a look of abject terror on his face.
“What are you doing here?” She ignored him and stared at the older folk.
“So what’s happening here? Are we presenting the debutante or sealing the deal?”
“Sal, this is Genevieve…“
So, sealing the deal it was. Sally fixed on the girl.
“Hello, Genevieve, I’m his piece on the side. I’m why he works late, his team bonding weekend up on Hamilton Island. I’m why he showers when he meets you. Did he tell you about me?”
She turned to Jeffrey. “Did he tell you about me?” To the son: “Did you tell anyone?” and to all: “How long have these two been at it?”
A soupy silence gripped the group. Sally continued,
“What’s the deal then, Genevieve? Is there a dowry? What are you worth? Just remember, if you get the Audi, they are my footprints on the ceiling.” Genevieve, bless her, coughed, and Jeffrey made a start.
“I don’t know who you are –“
“I told you, dad, I’ve been his piece of rough for the past five months. You’ve got the same no doubt. Something to occupy you outside work hours? Or does Victoria here keep your testicles in the family safe? Are you in charge Virginia? Got him gimped up in the greenhouse on bridge nights, have you? You need to know, Genevieve, what you are getting in to. What he’s like and what he likes. And here’s one thing: he’s a back-door boy. And I don’t mean giving. Once or twice a week I’d have to peg him with our Mr Dandy – wasn’t that right darling – and you know what? He couldn’t come til he started crying.”
“That’s enough!!” roared Jeffrey. “You filthy trollop!”
Sally swung towards him like a vixen on prey. “That’s what I am, Jeffrey, and I have been with your son.”
She grabbed the champagne that Ian had placed on the table. “Krug, cool. Let’s celebrate! Like they do at the speedway.” She shook it vigorously, let the cork fire and took aim and at Ian and his father with the spray of foam and fizzle. When it was almost done, she took a swig and then swung the bottle in Genevieve’s direction. “Here, catch.” Crystal shattered and the girl screamed. Sally turned, picked up her helmet as she tottered back to the front door and launched herself and scooter into the dark sustained drizzle.
She drove for an unknown amount of time, in the wet and the cold, unaware of where she was or where she was going. Car lights caught her on corners, and passing cars spat water on her whenever they were close. She was panting, and the bleak night seemed to swirl about her as she motored passed shops and street lights.
She pulled over to a high kerb adjacent to a kebab shop. The yellow shop light sprawled across the cheerless pavement and the stench of meat on the rotisserie promised a greasy warmth that her body craved. She turned off the engine, plunged her helmeted head into her hands and sobbed.
She sobbed for what she had lost.
She sobbed for what she had done.
She sobbed for her anger, and for her shame, for the things she had said, for being the fool. For being the psycho.
She sobbed for loneliness. She knew only that she was a long way from home, and even if she got there, there was no-one there to comfort her. She was soaked, cold, and shaking with grief, anger, shame and guilt.
And the rain in crystalline drops kept falling on her slight and embattled frame, clinging her flimsy top to her torso, weighing down her tights and freezing her limbs, toes and fingers. She rocked her head from side to side like a crazed black bobblehead, and then beat it with her fists, and with an anguished and wretched cry muffled by the foam in her helmet, she cried out,
“What will I become?”