When I get home, Dad has the car packed up and ready to go. We’re meant to be driving down the coast for a family holiday. I told him I’d be home by nine this morning.
It’s eleven, and he’s pissed off.
‘Big night, Til?’ He asks. The boot of the car gapes open, spilling out boogie boards, camping chairs, and beach towels. Dad’s sitting in an old wicker lounge on the verandah, rolling a cigarette.
He’s wearing holiday clothes – cream-coloured cargo shorts and a souvenir T-shirt from Rottnest Island, his feet clad in Superman thongs. The shirt’s ten years old and the embroidered letters have started to come off. It looks like he’s been on a trip to nest land.
‘Nice shirt,’ I say, as I pass him. I’m barefoot; shoes in my hand. Our red cement verandah is warm under my soles. I wave away the cloud of smoke that hovers around Dad, swing open the flyscreen door and head down the stairs into the living room. I open my bedroom door to throw my backpack and shoes onto my bed, take the damp towel from the hook behind the door and go for a shower.
My feet are black, the skin cracked and sore. I walked home from Peppermint Grove, mostly along the highway, and it took me nearly two hours. I sit on the floor of the shower and scrub my feet with a bar of soap.
Once, when I was little, Dad washed my mouth out with soap because I called him a dickhead. I remember that he held me up in front of the mirror so that I could see myself.
I burp and bile rises up into my mouth. I spit it out on the floor of the shower, watch it get sucked sluggishly down the drain. It’s thick and yellow, tastes like sour fruit.
Dad dropped me at Georgie’s before we went to the party. As I got out of the car, he reminded me to be home early the next day so that we could drive down to Albany for a holiday that neither of us wanted to go on. All my cousins are ten years younger than me. They were planned.
I hadn’t seen Georgie since before our exams and when she opened the front door I almost didn’t recognise her. Her hair was blonder and her skin was darker. The ridges of the bones in her face and chest were sharper, like someone had been chiselling away at her. When I hugged her I made sure that I didn’t press too hard.
Georgie’s parents were sitting in the living room, watching Grand Designs and drinking red wine out of big glasses. Her dad had his arm around her mum. When he heard us come in, he twisted around and leaned forward over the back of the couch.
‘G’day Til,’ he said.
‘Hi John, hi Louise.’
Georgie’s mum twisted around too, briefly, and said hello.
‘How did the tests go?’ Georgie’s dad asked. He drank some wine and swallowed loudly.
‘Yeah, not too bad I think. I’m just really glad it’s all done.’
‘I bet,’ he said, and smiled. His teeth were stained purple from the wine, the gaps between them dark. ‘You girls got something big planned for tonight?’
‘Just a party,’ said Georgie. She moved towards the stairs and then stopped, looked over her shoulder. ‘Can you drive us?’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Sure thing.’ He held up the wine glass. ‘Better not have any more of these then!’
I choked a laugh, and followed Georgie up the stairs to her bedroom.
Georgie’s room takes up half of the second floor. She has air conditioning, an ensuite with a spa bath, and built in cupboards with floor to ceiling mirrors. Her bed is huge and the base is made of white leather. She has a matching couch.
Georgie put a CD on, and then threw herself down on the bed. I watched her boobs bounce, and felt between my legs go tight and stiffen up.
Georgie put a CD on, and then threw herself down on the bed. I watched her boobs bounce, and felt between my legs go tight.
‘Look in the built ins,’ she said over the sound of the music, and winked. I went over and slid the mirrored door open. On the floor, half-covered up by some dirty clothes and tattered schoolbooks was a cask of goon. I held it up.
‘I hate fruity lexia,’ I said.
‘You’ll be right. Give it here,’ she said, and slid forward on the bed.
I popped the spout out of the cardboard and held it up above her head so that she could drink straight from the bag.
‘Who got it for you?’
‘Jesse.’ She took six sips, the bump in her throat moving up and down like a frog. ‘He owes me after last weekend.’
I took the spout in my mouth and pressed the button. The goon burned my throat. I took ten sips and put the box down.
‘Tonight should be good,’ she said. ‘There’s heaps of people coming.’
I turned to look at myself in the mirror. I’d gotten thinner too. Not skeletal like Georgie, but when I lifted up my shirt I could see the ridges of my hipbones.
‘Are you gonna get a rebound?’ she asked, making eye contact with my reflection.
‘Don’t think so.’
Me and Josh broke up two weeks ago. We were together for a year and a half. He was one of Georgie’s mate’s mates from Scotch. He was the only person who didn’t give a fuck that I was from the wrong side of the river, that I went to public school. We liked the same bands and he had nice eyes.
I’ve worked at Flutters in Freo every Friday afternoon since I was fourteen, and Josh used to catch the train straight from school to hang out with me until I finished. Then he’d walk me home or we’d catch the 502 together. We used to kiss on my front verandah until my lips were sore, and Dad would tap on the front window and tell us to get a room.
We broke up because he didn’t excite me and we never had sex and neither of us knew what we wanted.
‘It’ll be good for you,’ said Georgie. She rifled through her hangers, looking for something to wear. ‘Isn’t that why you broke up? So that you could hook up with whoever?’
She pulled a black dress off one of the hangers and threw it on the bed and took off her jumper. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath. Her dark nipples puckered in the cool air.
‘Wear whatever you want,’ she said.
We have to pick up my Aunty Susie from Bicton before we get going properly. Dad won’t look at me or talk to me. When Susie gets in the car she twists around in the front seat so that she can see me, and raises her sunglasses off her eyes.
‘Looking a bit worse for wear there, Miss Tilly.’
‘Graduation party,’ I say. Susie is only twelve years older than me but she’s already started having to dye her roots. She has massive varicose veins that stick out of her skin like fat green and purple worms. She’s been to hospital before to ‘get them done’, but they just keep popping up. She’s the only other single person in our family, apart from Dad.
Susie dictates what we listen to. She slides a Pretenders CD into the slot. I groan but she ignores me and hums along to ‘Talk of the Town.’ I wrap my pillow around both ears and lean against the window. I watch the houses get newer and the yards get bigger as we flick through the suburbs. We go past the turnoff to Casuarina prison. I start to get sharp needles of pain in my head and my tummy. I realise I haven’t eaten anything since lunch yesterday.
By the time we were ready to leave, we were pissed. I wore the black dress, and Georgie changed into a matching grey boob tube and skirt. Georgie’s dad drove us and I sat in the back seat. The whole way I felt his eyes on me in the rear view mirror. I stared out the window and tried to look as though I hadn’t noticed.
The house was just around the curve of the river in Dalkeith. It was massive, backing right onto the water. When we got out of the car Georgie’s dad told us to make good choices. Then he laughed and kissed Georgie and said to call if we needed a lift home. I stood unsteady on the street, and watched the blurry lights on the back of the car as it sped away.
The house was massive, backing right onto the water. When we got out of the car Georgie’s dad told us to make good choices.
‘Fucking hell,’ I said, looking up at the house. Loud music played and people yelled at each other. Someone had strung fairy lights along the second floor balcony.
Georgie adjusted her boob tube, patted her bag to make sure the goon was still there, and said, ‘Let’s go.’
We were taken through a formal downstairs kitchen and dining area by the mother of the boy whose party it was, and up to the second floor, which was crowded with girls from Georgie’s school and boys from Scotch.
The girls were all wearing Country Road or American Apparel and most of them looked just like Georgie: thin and tanned, just a shade too dark for it to be real. They wore thick winged eyeliner and bold lipstick. Some of them said hi to me but most just looked.
I got a cup from the bench and took the goon off Georgie. I filled my cup and went out to the back balcony. The house looked out over the river, almost directly across from where we’d come from in Peppy Grove. I took a big sip from my cup. I closed my eyes and let the warm breeze coming off the river lift the sweaty hair off my neck.
Someone came up behind me. ‘You’re Josh’s girlfriend right?’
I turned around. It was a boy I didn’t know. He was tall and skinny, with coppery red hair and wide blue eyes.
‘We broke up.’
He took out a packet of Marlboro Golds and offered me one. I took it.
‘I’m Jack,’ he said. ‘It’s my party.’
‘Nice house. I’m Tilly.’
‘Cool. Nice dress.’
He lit the cigarette for me and I took a long drag. ‘It’s not mine.’
Dad stops in Mount Barker so that Susie can use the amenities. He goes into a bakery to get us pies and I follow Susie into the toilet block. The ground is rough cement and covered in litter, mostly coffee cups and strips of old toilet paper. A yellow metal box nailed to the wall tells me to deposit my syringes responsibly.
I hang above the seat when I pee so that no part of me touches it. Susie hums the Pretenders and her stream is as rough and heavy as a horse’s. My vagina aches. When I wipe there’s milky blood on the paper.
Dad has bought me a cheese and bacon potato-top pie, which is my favourite.
We eat at a picnic table near the rest stop. Susie and Dad are talking about Uncle Ron’s new girlfriend. She’s coming on holidays with us and has two young kids. Susie’s met her already and thinks she’s a floozy.
I pick the potato off the top of my pie and eat it with my fingers. The meat inside burns my mouth.
Jack took me into his room, which was on the third level of the house. He’d left the air conditioning on and it was freezing. My teeth started to chatter, and he laughed and came over to kiss me. He didn’t open his mouth enough and it felt like he was sucking on my lips.
He pushed me back onto the bed and started to peel the black dress up over my head. I was so drunk that I forgot to tell him there was a zip at the back. I thought of someone trying to roll the plastic off a cucumber, and tried not to laugh.
When he finally got the dress off he sucked on my pale nipples like a baby and it reminded me of Josh.
He tried going down on me but he didn’t know what to do so I asked him if he could fuck me from behind.
‘Really?’ He sat up on his knees and spat on his hand and rubbed it on his dick. ‘I thought most girls didn’t like that.’
I didn’t say anything, just let him start shoving into me while I touched myself and thought of Georgie’s dark brown nipples, and what it might be like to suck on them.
I came hard, before him, my cheek pressed into one of his pillows.
After Mount Barker I fall asleep, and don’t wake up until we’re almost there.
I’ve always loved the road into Albany. The huge trees on either side of the road make it feel like driving through a shady, underwater tunnel.
I’ve always loved the road into Albany. The huge trees on either side of the road make it feel like driving through a shady, underwater tunnel.
It’s nearly five o’clock and the sun is low. The dappled shade coming through the trees wakes me up – the quick contrast of light, dark, light, dark. Susie is asleep as well, her head bumping against the passenger window, some of her hair caught in static around the seatbelt strap.
For a moment I forget about everything, and then I remember the ache in my vagina, the sickness in my stomach and the pain in my head. Dad looks at me in the rear view mirror.
‘You all right, Til?’
I nod. I want to cry but I’ll have to wait until we get there and I’m alone.
When Jack finished, I got dressed and went into his bathroom to fix myself up. My cheeks were red and underneath my hair was sweaty but my makeup was okay. I didn’t look as bad as I thought I did.
When I came out, Jack was lying naked on his back on the bed, the condom full, still wrapped around his dick.
‘Fuck. That was awesome,’ he said.
I went over to the door to his balcony and leant my forehead on the glass. The lights blinking across the river each had a blurred halo. I wanted to swim back across the river, to get clean. I wanted to go back to White Scum Valley, where I belonged; where Dad was probably having a cup of tea and a piece of fruitcake while he watched New Tricks.
‘You right?’ Jack asked. ‘I won’t tell Josh, if that’s what you’re worried about.’
‘I don’t care,’ I said, and turned away from the door. My forehead left a slick mark on the glass. ‘I’m going back.’
‘Wait.’ He got up off the bed. He came over to me, put his hands on either side of my face, and gave me a long, closed mouth kiss. I pulled away, said goodbye, and went downstairs to find Georgie.
She was out on the front balcony, leaning on the wall, a cigarette clutched in her skinny fingers. She was talking to a boy, smiling and blowing smoke in his face. She turned away from him when she saw me, and reached out to grab me.
‘Hey!’ She stubbed out her cigarette and pulled me inside and sat me down on a couch. ‘What happened? Did you have sex?’
I nodded. The living room was too bright after the dull lights in Jack’s room.
‘I wanna go home,’ I said.
‘Are you sure?’ She asked. Her face swam in front of mine, and I wanted to kiss her. ‘I can call Dad.’
We’re staying, as we do every year, in a large farm homestead called Green Leaves. It’s on acreage, and it’s the only place big enough to fit the whole extended family. There are two fields behind the house. One has cows in it, and one has a large dam where you can catch small, sweet-tasting yabbies.
We have to drive up a long, gravel driveway to get to the house. When we’ve parked, I help Dad carry the gear in – he’s brought way too much as usual and it takes several trips.
The air smells sweeter, and it’s much cooler down here at the bottom of the country. The trees are taller, and everything is green and lush.
I greet everyone with kisses on the cheek and gentle half-hugs. When we’re all settled and sitting around the table having tea, Grandma tells me that I look stressed. I go to the toilet and, in the mirror above the sink, notice that my eyes are bloodshot, the bags underneath them purple and stormy.
I pull my shorts down to pee, and find a line of tiny brown bruises on each of my inner thighs.
When I press on them, they hurt.
Georgie and I waited in front of Jack’s house for her dad. I was spinning, and she held me up. When he came she loaded me into the backseat and I fell sideways. Her dad laughed. She got in the front and we took off.
I was spinning, and she held me up. When he came she loaded me into the backseat and I fell sideways. Her dad laughed.
I was too drunk to take the stairs up to Georgie’s room, so she and her dad laid me out on the couch in the living room. Georgie put a blow-up mattress on the floor next to me, and held my hand until I fell asleep. I kissed her knuckles, and passed out.
In the middle of the night I woke up because my dress was rolled up to my hips, and my undies were around my knees. The living room light was on, and I felt the weight of someone sitting on the end of the couch.
I blinked, and saw the outline of Georgie’s dad. I fluttered my eyelids and snuffled like I was still asleep. I rolled onto my side, screwed my eyes shut tight and took a breath. The inside of me felt dry and achy. I pressed my legs together and tried not to think about it.
After a while he got up, and switched the light off, and I listened to his footsteps go up the stairs. I pulled my undies back up and rolled my dress down, bit my fist and tried to make my heart slow down.
In the morning, the cousins wake me up early to go for a swim. Dad drives us down to Elephant Cove, where there’s a sheltered bay, and good rocks for jumping off.
The water is freezing. I have to help the little cousins climb out and up onto the rocks. They cling to me, the muscles in their monkey arms shivering with cold. Their lips turn blue and their teeth chatter.
I lie down on a rock to get warm, and one of the cousins tucks under my arm. I can feel her heartbeat against my side, light and fast. Dad is standing on a rock in the middle of the bay with one of the bigger boys. The two of them are milk-shaking a smaller one into the water.
When they throw him in there’s a big splash and he comes up wheezing for air and pissing himself laughing. Dad waves to me, and gives me the thumbs up. I wave back.
A woman in a bikini walks by and my eyes are sucked in to the curve of her back and the creamy wrinkles under her bum. A breeze makes goosebumps rise on her skin, and she shivers.
I imagine licking the drops of water from her body, and feel between my legs go stiff and ache. I close my eyes. I try to think about the salt water burning in my nose and the warm sun drying my skin, but my head is spinning.