It’s a slow violence that unfurls at twilight. The streets are meant to be mean but they look sleepy, they look blue.
Mackie said it to me through a mouthful of blood, ‘You’re not gonna tell anyone, yeah?’ He was only over because he was upset, fists urgent on the door at 2am. Took him back to my room, sat with him. Pressed with, ‘What’s going on?’ a few times.
He put his cold hands on my belly but it was false bravado. ‘I miss fucking you,’ he said, but he’d just slung a pill into his mouth so he didn’t mean it that way, we didn’t lay down.
The way he was sitting made him look like a kid, legs tucked to chest, shoulders bunched. My room hadn’t changed much since he last saw it, same white metal bed frame, same yellow light, same poster on rough rental walls, tattoo me into your life. I hadn’t forgotten how he looked. He was the kind of man who knew that keeping your hands in your pockets made you look like a threat. He was brimming with recklessness. He wasn’t sick skinny but close to it, propped against the wall, stemming the blood from his nose with his sleeve. He’d always been casually violent. It didn’t end because of that.
The fight he got into turned out worse than planned. He picked it with his new girl, shoved her, her dad got involved. Mackie never thought that kicking him so many times would make his eye come out. Kicked the guy’s teeth into the gutter. Bones cracked, heard sirens from six streets over.
‘I just wanted to make her understand that she can’t treat me like that.’
‘I mean it. She’s fuckin’ out of control most of the time. It’s all the drugs, her head’s fucked.’
‘I still don’t think that’s a reason to, you know, beat the shit out of her dad.’
‘He should have fuckin’ stayed out of it. It had nothing to do with him.’
‘But she’s his daughter, I don’t really think you could’ve expected him to –’
‘Whose side are you on? Whose fuckin’ side?’
‘You know the police are going to come looking for you?’
‘Yeah and I’ll be runnin’. I’m not going back. Have to drag me.’
‘You’re a fucking idiot then,’ I said, but he didn’t surprise me. We’d been through this before. He had his hands tucked in his armpits, he dipped his eyes away from mine when he spoke.
We went outside so he could smoke, air from his mouth turning cloudy from the cold. There was a tiny cut under his eye, a neat red mark where the blood had coagulated and become still. His face was mostly bruiseless. He kept touching at it but he wouldn’t let me come near him with ice. He said it stung.
‘Do you ever think about our kid?’ he said.
‘You’re telling me you don’t ever think about it, like, when you’re trying to sleep?’
‘Mack, don’t start.’
‘I think about him all the time.’
‘Stop. I can’t do this.’
‘I’d have stayed out of trouble if you’d kept it.’
‘You’ve got no fucking idea, do you? You don’t even know it was a boy. It was cells.’
He made my hands turn to fists.
‘I think you should go,’ I said.
‘You gotta help me.’
‘Yeah, well, I’ve tried.’
‘Cops are gonna come but they won’t come here. You’re a good girl now.’
‘You want me to let you stay?’
‘I’m not gonna beg you.’
We got into my bed and his cold arms snaked around me. I let it happen. He was the same as he used to be, parts of him were still warm. I thought I’d changed enough, that he was different enough, so it surprised me when we made the same faces, the same sounds. We left the light on.
He still had childhood scars on his face, one through the eyebrow and another under his chin. He’d tried to clean up the blood but some had dried near his hairline. I didn’t know whose it was.
He was the same as he used to be, parts of him were still warm.
We were careful with each other until he came. He pulled my hair. I made an ugly sound. I tried not to look at his jaw. I knew all of it wasn’t right but it was all familiar, so I let him fuck me. I thought of Lou. It didn’t hurt in the ways I expected.
‘I think it’d be hotter if you shaved your pussy.’
‘Are you fucking serious?’
‘It’d be sexy. Sexier.’
‘I just fucked you and that’s what you think you can say?’
‘You used to have no hair. It was sick,’ he said. He was beaming at me. ‘Hey, remember when you were so drunk you pissed yourself in the car?’
‘It’s nothing to be proud of.’
‘Pretty fuckin’ funny though.’
‘Yeah Mack, we had a real fun time then.’
I felt under the pillow for my shirt, my underwear. I didn’t want him to look at me anymore.
‘How come you’re calling me Mack now? Always used to be Julian when we were together.’
‘Isn’t it only girls who are fucking you fulltime that get to call you by your first name?’
I looked at his cut-up knuckles. I reached for his hand but he rolled over. He had always slept like that, one hand over his face like a cramped baby in the womb.
I’d first met Mackie and Lou up at the break-wall where all those boys hung out. It was their sneaky cig, sneaky blowjob-from-your-best-mate’s-girl spot. When Harper brought me out they’d all been standing on the rocks, spitting into the water. They looked at me like I’d ruined something.
Lou said, ‘Fuckin’ what’s this, Harp? Told you about bringing new girls out here without checking. You gotta check with Mack first. Or me.’
Harp wasn’t scared of them, she’d already seen all of their dicks.
It didn’t take much, a few fucks really, then we were living together in the flats. One time my mother waited for us to come home. She was in the car park under antitheft floodlights, came pushing into the dirty corridor, dragged me out by my hair to get me away from him.
I’d never seen her blow herself up like that. I hadn’t felt like a little girl for a long time but that did it. I guess she wanted to put me in my place. ‘Don’t you fuck with my daughter and don’t you fuck with me,’ she said.
I went back to him a few times, it was familiar and there wasn’t a lot else to do. It took months to make a clean break.
I went back to him a few times, it was familiar and there wasn’t a lot else to do.
He was impossibly unkind but it was easy to make excuses for him. His father wasn’t around. He had trouble learning. He got caught up in some bad shit. He had a good heart, that’s what his mother said to me the first time I met her.
Mackie and I were wild together and I felt the hot joy of it fully in my body. I would have cut through anything to get him to talk to me, to know everything.
There were moments of adoration, consuming devotion: his hand pulling me by the upper arm down a laneway, cutting me more coke, feeding a small pill through my lips and telling me I’d like it no matter what; bracing arms on me when I was too drunk to walk by myself, us hungover in our bed, sick smell in the air, half laughing at the television.
Mackie didn’t know that I’d once slept with Lou. It hadn’t meant anything. He was kinder than Mackie and he taught me how to make a bong. Then Lou went off and died doing burnouts on the ballast field.
His car tipped into the water and they don’t know if he hit his head or just couldn’t get at the seatbelt. He drowned upright in the front seat. They left him in the car while they pulled it out so they didn’t displace anything.
Mackie and I always fought. I got used to it. He had always said things with his hands or his shoulders, it was easy to misinterpret him. I wanted some bullshit, long-lasting thing, wanted him to be my best love, knew I could take a lot.
Then there was the worst fight and the neighbours begging us to stop before the cops came. Neither of us was going to give in.
I told him about Lou. I said I hope you fuckin’ die. I shoved my things into a garbage bag and shook his palms off my wrists. He didn’t call me again, his big bruised pride. But he talked and it got around. He wanted to make me small. I wasn’t surprised.
It was a difficult split because we were difficult people. I started studying nursing at night. I had both of our debts to pay off, all in my name. Whenever I saw him around I’d ignore the dragging in my guts. I thought I was tough enough without him.
Right before we broke up we had a big, rough night, crawled through the three local bars, won money on the pokies, fed it back in, more drinks, more smokes, more arguments. Mackie got in a fight out on the street with a guy from up the bay, about money, about another woman. It turned ugly with such speed, Mackie didn’t react fast enough. It was the only time I saw him true scared. Blood bloomed through his shirt and I called the ambulance and I ran. I couldn’t be a witness. I stopped plugging the wound with my hands and hoped I’d done enough.
There was relief for us both in green-lit hospital halls. He healed up fast. We didn’t speak about it again but I saw the scar every time I was on top of him. The knife missed everything important, it just left a line on his belly.
It was hard to sleep next to someone who was so unaware of their own violence. I told myself I’d only let him into the house because he looked afraid. I thought about how he’d just had his hands inside me, and hours before they’d been laying into someone else. Maybe I was a victory fuck to him. Maybe he’d fucked his girl that morning.
It was hard to sleep next to someone who was so unaware of their own violence.
I pressed myself to his back. Told myself I missed very few things about him. We’d had rough times. We didn’t love each other anymore, not like that at least.
There was a volt of light in the room, beamed on the ceiling. My phone doing a slow vibrate. Light on and off. I reached for it. I had to stretch from the bed to the floor. It was too late for a call. Harp’s voice was choked and I had to hold the phone away from my ear to understand her. She was frantic.
I didn’t know I’d fallen asleep. Mackie didn’t wake up. I kept looking at him, waiting for him to say don’t listen to her.
Harp told me to calm down, everything I said was knotted, unclear. I tried to talk quiet. She wanted to come over. I told her I needed some time. She said ‘You’re the first person I called,’ and that made me gag. It was horrific.
I went and sat on the floor in the kitchen. I lit one of Mackie’s cigarettes. He would have called me a dumb bitch, hated me smoking. He didn’t like how it tasted on anyone else. It was easy to go to old behaviours, cause old troubles again.
I thought the room was too warm. I picked at my body. There was salt residue on the window and it looked strange in the light. I had to open it, clean it, do something. I was reaching out, tucking my arm over the glass with the dishcloth, smoke hanging from my mouth, smoke in my eyes, but the window got clean.
The air here makes things go bad, cars rust if you don’t take care of them. I tried to take care of things. My plants were lined up on the windowsill and they were all hurt from the sun.
It was difficult to go back to my bed, to speak to him. I expected the cops to come. My body tensed like an animal’s. Mackie woke when I sat on the side of the bed.
It would have been better to tell him straight up but I had to drag it out from behind my teeth. I wasn’t sure if it was unbearable or unfathomable.
His muscles flexed with panic. He put his arms over his face. It was impossible to go easy on him because it was an impossible thing to say.
‘Did you hear me, you’ve killed him. He died,’ I said. There was no gentleness in my voice.
‘He actually –’
‘He fucking died, Mack.’
It was impossible to go easy on him because it was an impossible thing to say.
‘I’m going to be sick.’
‘Harp said he died because his throat closed over. He was crumpled up. You fucking hit him so hard he had a heart attack.’
‘I don’t want you to tell me –’
‘The police are going to come looking for you, you know that, right? You need to go. You need to go to the police now. Right fucking now. Don’t do anything fucking stupid.’
‘Nah, nah. I couldn’t have.’
‘Couldn’t have? It’s done.’
‘I roughed him up, yeah but – they’re just saying this to get me to give in.’
‘You didn’t hear Harp’s voice. She’s –’
‘Harp’s a dumb cunt.’
‘Mackie, you have to listen to me. Right now. Fuck.’
‘He hit me first.’
‘It doesn’t fucking matter because you fucking killed him. Do you understand that?’ I was saying it so loud. ‘Why didn’t you stop?’
His face changed. ‘I can’t go to them now, I’m high, I’m fuckin’ high. I took that pill,’ he said.
‘You took it hours ago and you managed to sleep.’
‘Took a while. I don’t know.’
He was twitching all over.
The sun came up and made the sky flushed and warm. Mackie looked defeated. Neither of us knew what to say. He kissed me. I kept my shirt on and we fucked again, no hotness, no sounds.
There had been no other men since I left him. The guys he hung with now were worse than his old crew. They thought very little of me, it spread like sick where we lived. No man would touch me.
I pulled his head to my chest. He looked up at me, dead-eyed.
‘I should get dressed.’
‘I think I’ve still got –’
He pulled his shoulders back when he looked in the mirror. ‘There’s fuckin’ blood on everything.’
‘I’ve still got some of your old things.’
I stood in the bathroom while he showered and we talked about the people we both knew. I was sore from the sex.
He motioned for me to pass him a towel. He patted himself dry in the same order he always did; face first and then legs, arms, face again. He pulled on an all blue outfit, the colour of a new bruise. The shirt was stretched out and it had a hole right in the middle. I hadn’t slept in it for months.
Mackie rubbed at his head with both hands, ‘Do you have clippers?’ He put a wet palm on my chest. ‘I need a skinhead for when they take me in. I wanna look the part.’
He held the door for me when I carried the chair outside. I put it in the middle of the yard where the grass was struggling to grow. His elbows jutted strangely when he stretched to cut at the back. He missed patches where he couldn’t reach but the front was clean. Damp hair collected in his lap. He looked severe.
‘Let me do it now,’ I said. I touched my fingers to the side of his head where it had been newly cut. ‘It feels like a dog.’
‘It feels good,’ he said, and the razor stalled when it bumped into his skull.
I went over the back of his neck. It was a gentle task and I did it slowly.
‘Mack, I don’t, I don’t want to be in trouble for this,’ I said.
‘You won’t. You’re good.’
‘I can’t deal with that shit right now, not like last time.’
‘I won’t tell them I was here, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not a fuckin’ idiot.’
I had his hair all over my hands. I wiped them on my thighs.
‘I’m going to go buy you something for breakfast. You should eat,’ I said. I wanted to say please stay here but it felt wrong to ask.
When I got back, I called for him and there was nothing. He’d left. His name was tight and heavy in my throat.
I said it again. I heard water spilling.
I found him in the bathroom, hunched at the sink, running water over his head. His eyes were open but he was motionless. I watched him part his mouth and swallow.
‘Are you alright?’
He straightened up, left the tap running. I reached to stop it but he said, ‘Leave that.’ He sat on the lip of the bathtub with his knees touching my leg. Water had beaded in his hair, caught in the short cut. I held the newspaper out to him.
‘Mackie, it’s on the front page of the paper. There’s an article. I think you better take yourself in before they realise you’re here.’
And in the bathroom, in that dead grey morning light, the kind that’s flatness lets you see your face properly, in that light he said, ‘Read it out to me,’ and he said ‘Please,’ and so I did.