The Second Person Project (*working title*) is a series of unnerving stories written in the second person narrative. Ultimately, as well as publishing these works in a single volume, I have several other ideas up my sleeve… watch this space!
For your reading pleasure, here is one of the stories.
Your staple trick is gingering. Usually you’re on top, grinding and screaming like a Tom cat in winter. You’d always thought it a repulsive noise. Your client doesn’t seem to notice as he attempts to thrust his over-sexed cock deeper. It’s still inches from your cervix. Beads of his sweat roll onto your pillow and you remind yourself to change the sheets before washing day.
The bedroom door rattles and there’s shouting outside. You gasp and roll to one side.
“The police-my husband….”
He pants as he pulls on his clothes, accidentally catching his left foot as he attempts to put it into the right trouser leg. You chew on your fingernails and frown, pointedly eyeing the door. His braces are undone and his jacket dangles over one arm as he backs out. Replacing his fedora he shoots you a last sidelong glance which accentuates his drooping jowls. He’s probably anticipating you’ll receive a terrible beating from some violent criminal spouse. Perhaps the idea turns him on.
You wait until the lock clicks on the door behind him before retrieving his wallet from beneath the bed. You slip an extra fifty pounds for yourself under the pillow. When Norman enters you palm several notes across the bed to him. He raises an eyebrow.
You nod curtly and smile. You know Norman has his eye on you. He reaches across the bed and for a moment you think he’s going to touch you but instead he grabs the wallet and examines the cards.
“Fella like him, woulda thought he’d carry more. Dirty bastard. Old enough to be your father.”
“Did you think much about John’s age when you married him? You told me before you’d only go for older men. ”
You take out your phone and scroll through your latest Facebook updates. You’re sure this must annoy her yet her face is unchanged.
“Why do you think you have these dreams?”
You replace the phone in your bag and unpeel one bare leg from the chair, crossing it over the other. It’s a stifling summer’s day in the city and the fan whirring overhead serves only to disperse more warm air. A copy of the Sydney Morning Herald sits in the window. The front page contains a headline about violence in the Cross. You make a mental note to steal it later. Your gaze returns to the woman in front of you. Her clipped voice and French manicured hands play on your nerves like a tuneless violin. She reminds you of the head girl in the overpriced North Shore school your parents insisted you attend. You shrug. The clock reads two pm.
You exit the building on Liverpool Street and turn right on Riley. A buck’s party is in full swing outside the Irish bar. One of the men wolf whistles and roars an obscenity about your short skirt. You thought it matched your hair which you’d dyed red the other day to match Nellie’s. You shuffle past office workers and lost tourists until you reach the corner of Ann Street where you stop and inhale. The scent of depravity lingers in the air. With your eyes closed you can see things as they were. To your right, a warehouse looks onto a sheer cliff face once overrun with frogs. Across the street, a newly built apartment complex stands ugly as a stack of shoeboxes. A terrier nips at your legs as he passes and you imagine him as a mangy, flea-ridden mutt. Turning to walk back you’re sure you spot Kate emerging from a unit with her newest lover. You’d heard he was an armed robber who beat senseless the local gang members. Jewey, that was his name. You rub your eyes. When you look back the doorway is empty. The vibration of your phone reminds you you’re needed in the hospital. You signal a passing taxi.
“St. Vincents please.”
You’re walking along Burton Street when a piercing pain shoots through your shoulder. You press your hand to it and continue. A black Model T overtakes the tram in front of you and you mount the footpath. A gentleman in a suit sidesteps to avoid you; his lady friend points to the road behind you. You scream as you see the trail of blood, snaking some fifteen metres long now.
You wake in a hospital bed with several detectives around you. You refuse to look at them. You don’t know who shot you, or why. You were just on your way home from visiting your husband in hospital when you were hit from behind. That’s your story and you won’t say anything more.
Three days later you read you weren’t the intended target.
“I don’t think it was meant for me.”
Your therapist maintains her faceless look and you sigh inwardly at her stupidity.
“This life I mean. I was supposed to have another one. The one in the book.”
She clasps her hands together and fixes her eyes on you. You look away.
“How do you feel about your husband’s illness now?”
Your gaze moves to the damp patch on her ceiling as you recline on the chaise longue. Today you feel like talking.
“It’s been tough. But he’s getting better, thankfully. I’m hopeful they’ll let him out of Vinnies at the weekend.”
You notice the flicker of a frown on her face, or perhaps it’s sympathy. You can never tell.
“Yeah. You know, St. Vincents. Famous hospital in Darlinghurst where Frank Green was admitted, his wife Nellie Cameron was shot walking out of it. You’ve seen the television show?”
She remains in what you call her Kinsey position, so you continue.
“It was about Razorhurst. The gang wars in the early twentieth century. There was a woman, Kate Leigh, who sold illegal alcohol and made a fortune selling drugs. Then Tilly Devine; that’s not her real name; who found out there was a loophole in the system and she could run brothels legally as a woman. My mother knew them all.”
“Didn’t your mother grow up on the Northern beaches?”
Bile rises in your stomach. You’re surprised she remembers something, yet annoyed at the same time. You purse your lips. The yellowing patch appears to be expanding above you, threatening to swallow you up. She doesn’t appear to notice.
“Look, Janet. Frankly I’m quite concerned that you’re still having these delusions. Didn’t you tell me you went up to the Frog Hollow site last week and imagined you saw Kate Leigh? You’ve been under a lot of stress recently, with John’s diagnosis. It’s only natural this should exacerbate your condition. I feel it would be beneficial for you to consider a period of hospitalisation, some extended treatment where the psychiatrists could look at balancing your medications and giving you the best care. You can’t be of proper help to John at the moment.”
You know the end of the speech means the clock in her office reads 1.58. There’s no point in arguing after 1.58, the insurance company won’t fund it. You rise and shake hands with your therapist, lingering over your goodbye for a millisecond longer.
At home you pause over a sepia photograph of your first husband. Guido was a handsome man, dangerous as all such men are. In this photograph he looks as if he could be a banker or lawyer, dapper in his black pinstripe suit and carrying a top hat. It was that face, that trustworthy, almost boyish look that made him friends easily in the bars around Darlinghurst. Guido could sit and have a joke with anybody and a few whiskies later that man would be willing to walk around the most debase areas of Sydney with him in search of more drink, drugs or prostitutes. His new friends wouldn’t suspect, not until they were in the darkest hole of an alley, that he was the sort who’d rob them at the point of a razor. His deeds were always going to catch up with him.
On the table beside it is another letter from your mother begging you to come home to Waterloo.
Usually you don’t answer your mother’s calls, but today is different. You hear the constant longing in her voice, her wish life had been different, you’d been different.
You tell her the truth. Terminal cancer, non-responsive to treatment. Requiring sufficient pain relief to ensure he stays in hospital until he dies. You both know the other reason he’s still there; the doctors wouldn’t trust you, an ex heroin addict and schizophrenic in a house full of morphine. Your mother emits a strange sobbing sound.
“Was it the drugs, you know, when you first got together? Did he take them as well?”
You ignore her and turn to look at the clock, as if somehow that will convey to her that you’re in a hurry. She mashes her words together as she continues.
“I’m sorry, I just wish things had been different for you two. I wanted it to be over; all the psychiatrists and … You could have had a family”
Her words pass through the air like snowflakes. You catch the last one and let it melt on your tongue.
“We couldn’t have brought a child up here Mum. It’s too dangerous.”
There’s a bang on the other end and you’re sure she’s hung up, until her voice pierces the air around you.
“Stop all this! It’s not you Janet! You’re not a madam in the Razor Wars, you’re just sick.”
You drop the receiver and it clangs against the table leg. In the windowsill is a tax return for 2012 addressed to Janet and John Winston. You rip it into a million pieces and scatter them across the table. You tear apart your handbag, removing your driving licence, credit cards and other evidence of your identity. Then you take the keys to John’s vintage Porsche and drive.
You spot the envious looks from the suits in Darlinghurst as you snake along the narrow streets, past bustling cafes and wine bars. You feel like a gangster’s moll. You remember the book you were reading about Nellie Cameron, the ‘Kiss of Death girl.’ Her old haunts were along this road. You turn onto Burton Street and park across the road from Saint Vincent’s.
John has been moved from the main oncology ward to palliative care. You learned that palliative care is where the staff look at you differently, almost as if you too are dying. You meet several of them on the way to John’s room. You ignore their greetings but a hand holds you back.
Her voice sounds as if it’s coming from a vacuum. You can make out some of the words. Passed away..peaceful..comfortable. You shake free of the nurse and stride towards the exit.
Two prostitutes are coming out of the back door into an alleyway off Liverpool Street. You nod at one and she looks away quickly. Then you hear the shouts as a burly man appears behind them. She clings tight to her purse and he grabs at it. She owes him money; his fist is raised. You move to your left, reaching into your own bag. Your fingers clasp around an object; the pimp falls to the ground.
The bruised face of one of the girls glances up from the pavement. You wipe the razor on your shirt and extend a blood-stained hand to her.