All this week, Kill Your Darlings is showcasing extracts from this year’s KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award shortlist. Designed to support the development of an early-career author, the Award offer $5000 prize money and mentorship with industry professionals. The following extract comes from M.L. Siemienowicz’s shortlisted manuscript, ‘Pretty Roadkill’.
Set in rural Australia, Judy begins a secret life as a sex worker to support her 15-year-old son, Lachlan, since a road accident left her husband Dale comatose. Judy manages abusive bookings and confronting work, but finds solace in a sullen client with a terrible secret. Meanwhile Lachlan, mortified by his participation in a grim bonding activity with local misfit Hayden, falls in love with the artistic Morgan – but his overwhelming desire for a bond has devastating consequences.
Rain falls in sparse highlights across the winter dusk. It falls on a black and white spray of feathers that is a dead magpie on the road outside Mainhurst Base Hospital. Down the hill, towards the centre of town, rain pools on steel drums behind Douglas Car Services, spilling onto the rainbow slick of oil on concrete. Railway tracks stretch along the back of the shop and glisten as the evening train clatters through. Past the station, past the back street of town with the pubs and the cinema, the rain falls in afterthoughts on the roof of a station wagon parked on dead grass behind a weatherboard house with blinds down in all the windows.
The woman in that car has her head on the steering wheel. She listens to the stutter of the rain, the only shower that has fallen this winter. The drought is to pass into one last suffocation and she hears in the dying spatter on the roof something inside her also come to an end. She waits with the hard plastic pressed against her forehead for the tapping on the roof to stop. When it does, she opens the door, leans out weakly and empties her gut onto the damp dirt.
She feels better. She wipes her mouth and locks the car. Inside the house, the air has the metallic stink of fresh paint. The woman is asked for her name by a girl with a gap between her front teeth. The Doll House is a makeshift manor: peeling wallpaper, threadbare antique upholstery, a lamp-lit lounge with buttoned leather tub chairs to one side of the foyer. The girl is Veronica, manager of sorts, and she can see that this new woman is about to misunderstand. ‘I mean the name you want us to use, right?’
She listens to the stutter of the rain, the only shower that has fallen this winter. The drought is to pass into one last suffocation and she hears in the dying spatter on the roof something inside her also come to an end.
The woman blinks. She should have been prepared for this. She feels a wash of horror at her naivety and the nausea returns. The girl behind the laminate front desk leans forward between a chandelier-style desk lamp and a stack of magazines.
There is a mismatch between these two people. On the one hand is the twenty-two-year-old in tight jeans and a loose-necked polyester top, leaning past the pornography and beauty magazines, who has been learning about the best width of eyebrow and a new, bolder black mascara and, on the other hand, the forty-three-year-old holding a near-empty sports bag, wearing the leggings she used to garden in, when she still had a garden, before she lost that and everything else. One of them has stood in front of an empty kitchen cabinet holding a jar of home-brand peanut butter and made the end of a long, slow decision. The other has heard from a friend of a friend that she could stand behind the desk, feel better than both the men and the women who pass through on the other side, and make enough money for beauty school by the end of the year.
So the younger one taps the jobs book and repeats her request. The older one gives a name that feels unprepared, and not quite right, but then that is the way things have been for the last year anyway: Gina.
Gina stands with her back against the wall, palms flat against the paisley wallpaper to stop herself pulling down the hem of her lace mini-dress. In this room, the smell of paint is stronger. She wonders if this is what makes her head feel so light, or is it just the frenetic hammer of her heart in her throat. Sitting on the narrow bed in front of her is a man with grey stubble and legs pale like his Y-fronts. He wears a polo shirt with a gear and spanner logo and the initials ‘D. C. S.’ inexpertly embroidered on one breast. His eyes on Gina are self-assured; he knows the ropes, showered without being asked, presented himself perfunctorily for her to check his skin.
In this room, the smell of paint is stronger. She wonders if this is what makes her head feel so light, or is it just the frenetic hammer of her heart in her throat.
Gina’s heels are loud on the floorboards as she crosses to the bed. She had been terrified of what would be going through her mind at this moment. Worst of all, in the car with her head on the steering wheel, she had imagined that she might think of the faces of her children. That they would hang like ghosts in her mind while her shaking hands kneaded these polo-shirted shoulders, while her fingers fumbled a condom onto this short, rigid cock. That was what had emptied her stomach and gripped her as she stammered through her first introductions; that the thought of her children could be conjured here and polluted by this place. As it turns out, that is not the problem. Her teeth slip along the condom and the client’s fingers in her hair clamour so loud against her ears that it is impossible to remember a thing. Her mind is a teeming blank. She fixes her face in a smile.
He likes to be on top. It helps, he thinks, to look down along the thick hair that spills from his chest to his belly. He likes to watch himself against their crotches, this one an ashen charcoal. He imagines his own exaggerated concentration as if on screen. She doesn’t make any sound, has a face he decides shows peaceful pleasure. Of course, enthusiasm is always better, but at least he knows she enjoys it. His forearms are bronzed, even now in late winter, from working on cars outside. He focuses on his lusty tan against the taut lace across her breasts and the gleam of her gold bra pushing through. He is sure people would pay good money to see him do this. He grunts to himself.
Gina’s back aches as her hips jolt against the mattress. She manages to hold her smile for a few minutes longer before her face fades and she stares empty at the ceiling. She wonders now what she used to think of these women. It’s hard to put words to it. Lewd? Dirty? Pathetic? It’s incredible that Veronica did not demand more of her when they met. It’s incredible that the other women smiled when she introduced herself. That everyone is using this new name as if it’s real, as if she hadn’t just come to it standing in the foyer. It’s incredible that this man who is sitting astride her, pinning her thighs to the bed, took this booking as if she belongs here. She so much wants everyone to be shocked, aghast. It is incredible that the world has not come to a halt.
The winner of the 2018 KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award will be announced on 6 July.