In November of that year, as I started to grow small hairs on my chin and steal money out of my father’s wallet beside his bed, a girl by the name of Emily moved into the low set brick house next door. She was the same age as me, and her mother and father, the first Indians in our street, had moved from the small South Australian town of Maitland for work. Her large hips, ripening with the summer heat, would sit and swallow the seat of her green low bike as she rode past my bedroom window each day after school.
For the first few weeks after she and her family moved in, I’d go straight to my room when I got home from school, lock my door behind me and watch her in the small gap between the heavy blue curtains and the wall. The beautiful lines in her skin ripped apart my groin as I rubbed up against the wall.
Near the end of the month, as the ritual of watching Emily behind my curtains began to dull, I saw my mother leaning up over our back fence and talking with Emily’s father. My mother’s calves, a deep brown from her backyard sunbathing, stretched up as she talked with him about the smells of strong curries coming from his kitchen. Later that day, as I sat with my mother in our kitchen doing my science homework at the high bench, Emily appeared at our screen door with a plate covered with a red and white tea towel and her small smile. My mother cautiously welcomed her in and sighed heavily at the sky as Emily passed her the freshly made dahl. Her face frowning, she took it from Emily and placed it on the small table next to the bin. Dear, I know you’re only trying to be neighbourly. I’m sure this is delicious. I told your father. I don’t want this smell in my home. I’ll wash the bowl and let Max bring it over to you in the morning. And she scowled at Emily, her eyes falling to rest on her small rounded stomach, as she walked out and into the bathroom up the hall, slamming the door as I sat there looking at Emily in the middle of our cold and bare kitchen. Her tall long legs reaching up to her plump arse and the thick black hair on her skin making my face redden with thoughts of the way that, not an hour earlier, I’d rubbed myself up against my bedroom wall watching her ride her bike, pretending that the hard wall that my cock pressed itself up on was the flank of her wide thighs. And as she turned to leave, her young body awkward in front of me, I asked her if she wanted to come BMX riding in the forest behind our house the next day. And she smiled and said she would.
The next day after school, I rode my bike around the side of our house and saw her sitting there, legs open out across the seat of her bike, her hair hanging down towards the ground all greasy and knotted, with one arm on her handlebars and the other holding a brown paper bag. She smiled at me as she saw me and I took my hands off the handlebars and rode towards her. Stopping just near her, she held her hand towards me and offered me the paper bag. I opened it and saw a bottle of red wine. I took it out, opened it and took a swig as she told me her father had devoted a whole room in their new home to his passion for collecting wine. Mostly in racks, some of the wine (the cheaper by the carton buys) was in boxes all over the house. She told me that she stole the bottles that she knew he wouldn’t remember and drank them at night when she was supposed to be doing her homework in her room, or rode with a bottle in her backpack to school and drank it in the girls’ toilets at lunchtime.
That afternoon, Emily and I rode our bikes over all the jumps made by other neighbourhood kids and stopped every few minutes to take a swig of the wine. I told her that from now on she would be my girl, and that when I wanted to kiss her she would let me.
She giggled as we stood behind the trunk of the eucalyptus tree and I grabbed at her breast from behind. My erection, as strong as the handle of my hairbrush at home, sat in the crack of her arse, the large cheeks on either side cradling my cock like a hotdog in a bun. That night, no nightmares came and the small numb ache and dry gutter mouth from the wine was worth not having them.
Every day of our school holidays that summer I would meet Emily after lunch beside the eucalyptus trees. We would drink her father’s wine, talk about the other kids in the street and I would read Hemingway books to her. Asking her if she would come to Pamplona with me one day to watch the bulls. Watch men cry at the brilliance and control of a beautiful matador in the ring. Emily would let me look up her skirt to her pastel-coloured underwear, and on days where she brought us two bottles of her father’s red wine to drink, we would sit out among the trees until the sun set and she’d open up her legs, pull her panties to the side and slowly guide my fingers into her wet and heated cunt. We’d never look at each other, too scared that we’d be caught at dusk by her father taking their dogs for a walk or my mother coming out to find me for my simple dinner. Instead, as she guided my fingers into her firm dishwashing cloth feel, she would whisper in my ear about the colour of the moon, the brightness of the stars above us. The curves and ridges within her hardened and clicked at me like a tongue as her whispering was broken up by the silver-tipped stretched groans in my ear telling me to go just a little faster, until she grabbed at the back of my hair, grinding her teeth until she came. Her wetness would drip all over my fingers and a thick white paste would grab under my fingernails as I pulled out of her and rose to leave. Leaving her motionless and wilting like a fresh leaf fallen from a tree in the Brisbane summer heat. Her eyes looking up at the lights in her kitchen and her mouth loose, telling me that she would see me tomorrow. Each time, I’d leave her there in the dark, with the smell of red wine on her breath and her skirt up near her stomach. In this moment. Perfect. Still.
Together, each day, Emily and I would make plans. We’d sit low in the weeds that sat as high as my father’s waist and, with our teenage legs woven together like snakes mating, we’d talk about running away and living as artists, or how my growing passion for the man’s sport of bullfighting would make us a million dollars. How she’d open the bookstore she’d always dreamt of opening. And she’d open up her wish book and show me pictures pasted on pages of bookshelves and leadlight glass windows. Alongside them, lists of the books she would stock and the small sayings and poems from others that she would one day print out and paste in small corners for people to discover in her store. I’d pounce around her as she read me these sayings and poems, with my red jumper as a matador cape, pretending I was Hemingway in a dangerous summer.
On weekends we’d both get on the train to the city and hang around the edges of the city mall, smoking cigarettes while Emily talked to old men, charming them for booze money to rid me of my nightmares. Emily’s sweet Indian face and long dark hair made her a favourite with the dirty bastards who thought they’d get a piece of her sweet black virginal cunt by giving her $2 or buying her a tallie of beer from the bottle shop. One day she sat down beside an old Greek man eating his bread and butter lunch, reading a smutty magazine, and asked him quietly, in an innocent and hushed tone, if he’d give her $20 for her to jack him off till he came all over her short skirt, right there in the city mall. Shocked at what she had said, I sat behind them motionless as he grabbed into his pocket and put a $20 note on her thigh. My cock hard as she quickly jumped up, looked down at me and screamed at me to run. And I did, so very fast, as her full arse pounded at the air in front of me, her hair as wild as tornadoes ripping at the earth. And in that moment I became afraid of the way that I may just love her.
As our summer holidays ended, Emily and I had become each other’s skin. Dirt, and each other’s smells and sweat and noise sat under our fingernails as we’d leave each other every night to go to our homes and back to the boredom and anger of an everyday world. We were the cult of beauty, we would always say, and she’d roll her small fingers over the bones that poked out through the tops of my shoulders, telling me that I should eat more. And I’d smile at her, knowing she’d never understand. In those moments I wanted only to stay in the roaring spaces that her beauty broke into and out of.
She kissed me one afternoon as we lay on the warm dry grass under the branches of the eucalyptus trees. The creamy blue white of a perfect Brisbane afternoon sky sat beyond them as they softly released their waxy green leaves onto her dark bare legs. She lay beside me, her shirt rolled up to show her finely haired stomach, her waxy smell mixing in with the damp dirt from last night’s downpour. Her feet were bare, and her toes grabbed into the dirt with anticipation as she watched my cock grow slowly inside my linen pants. And she put my nose to her neck and held me. Held me softly at first and then hard and violent like my mother always had. Her fists pressing down into the sides of my stomach like my mother always did, and she asked me to make love to her. Asked me in the tone my mother used when asking me to put moisturising cream on the back of her shoulders after she showered at night. And her body around me becoming my mother’s. And the sounds of her breath becoming my mother’s strained breath walking up our stairs. And her wined breath my mother’s. And me loving her, embracing her, kissing her wet cloudburst lips. Me sliding into her velvet-tinged pink pussy as I suddenly grabbed at her hair and turned her onto her back, straddling her small body. The loud pounding sound inside my head matching the collective beat of anticipation from a Spanish crowd awaiting a bloodshed spectacle death as I pressed my knees to her arms to stop her from making any sudden movements. And the monstrous roaring, now in every part of my body. And her face, only moments ago staring into the side of my own as I looked up into the afternoon clouds, now stared up at me. Her mouth half-open in confusion and her legs strong and defiant as I grabbed both her hands above her head, held them there with one hand and slid down my pants, took out my cock, now as hard as concrete set, and slammed myself up into her dry and young cunt. I pulled her underwear to the side by the force of my cock, and her eyes, now wide, silently screamed at me to stop, the fear of her father finding us greater than the fear of me forcing inside of her. She lay there beneath me, the colour draining from her face, as I slammed my rhythm into her body. A white light sitting at the top of my eyes blocked out my vision to our homes in the distance and only when I’d pulled out of her and forced her head to my cock to blow my wet hot cum all over her sweet and untouched sexless face did I hear her small screams and pleading. The force of my roaring too strong to stop as her eyes closed and every last drop I had fell onto her face like the sweet custard cream falling down the sides of my mother’s uneaten Christmas cakes with coins in them each year.
My body weakened instantly, and my lungs flooded with cool air and monstrous regret. And she lay there, her legs trembling, her arms cradling at her breast, almost religious in her beauty and great fear of me, and turned away from me cat-like and hurt. Her mouth softly touching on the leaves around her head, warm half kisses to them as she whispered at me her hate. I turned my back to her, putting my hands over my ears to stop the roaring, and I got up, didn’t say a word, and walked away from her laying there, as I had each night after my fingers were full of her over our summer. The silence of dusk became both of us as the breaking of everything we had ever known together became real in this one moment.
I made no effort to see her for weeks. I would stand at my mother’s kitchen window and watch her waiting with her brown bag of wine at the eucalyptus trees. Her body was loose and her face low to the ground. She’d stand motionless in the spot where I’d fucked her, and when the sun grew low she’d sit and drink the whole bottle in silence, her wish book between her legs and her eyes looking up into my yard, searching for my face. Her sadness. Her great loss. Four weeks later, as I got home from school, I found a note from her slipped into our letterbox. It simply told me to come straight away. And I did. I went to her house, the door slightly open and everything inside, still and grey in the afternoon shadows, and I called out her name. The silence split my skin like accidental rain does dry earth, and I walked into the family kitchen.
She lay there. Her weight heavy with death and the spill of blood still slowly coming out of her body. Her legs, one straight and the other bent all awkward behind her, reached upwards to her shoulders. Her wrists, open and facing the ceiling, lay next to her mother’s expensive kitchen knife, standing tall in the kitchen floor from where her limp hand had given up and let go. I stood large above her, focusing everything on her leg and ignoring the dark brown pool of blood grouping around her. And I slowly knelt down to her as the world began to stop, and started to move her leg. Her face, so calm and soft, looked down at me as I sat on my knees in her blood, bending the heavy weight of her leg in the late afternoon sun. And I sat like this, holding her leg for what must have been hours, for the next thing I remember is the kitchen light being turned on and her father, so strong and tanned, with his grey untamed hair falling over his eyes, looking down at us as some horror show as he, too, fell to his knees in silence, the tip of his tie starting to soak in her blood, his gasps of breath cutting out shapes in the room. The weight of his hands pressed against the floor as we sat there together both staring at her leg, now concrete-like and unyielding, while the knife stood between us as some invisible force field that wouldn’t allow our eyes to meet. Gradually, as the night changed into a thin veil, I started to shiver with the cold, her father began to make small movements and looked over at me, silently rising to his feet and sweeping me up with his arms into the warmth of their family shower.
He stripped me naked and washed me like some fast machine and held me tight as he carried me home to my parents and my bed. The sheets on my bed, fresh from my mother’s washing that morning, fell over my small body as my mother touched her head to me where science tells us our heart is. As she walked out and closed the door behind her, I quietly rose and listened with my ear out my bedroom window until the sun came up. I listened to every movement in that street, every car door that opened, every conversation the police had, every telephone call that echoed. The weight of the night’s sadness ready at my door, waiting for the morning light.
The next morning as I woke, I saw my mother standing at my bedroom door, her baggy jumpsuit damp with sweat from her early morning walk and her face pale, cold. As she saw me wake she came to me and sat beside me, her body as thin and weak as mine as she passed me a cigarette. In times like this, son, you have to be strong. You know how to be strong, son. I’ve taught you. Now with all this nonsense, it’s best to forget it. Silly girl. Silly little girl. And she sighed a small cruel sigh at my tears, my want, as her lips pursed and she took a long drag of nicotine, her legs neatly placed side by side, her knowing looks at me. And I hated that I loved her. And we both sat silent among my linen sheets, blood caking under my nails, and smoked as the sound of my father’s television playing early morning gospel music flowed through the house.
Over the years I have often sat with a glass of red wine and thought about Emily, imagining that I’ve heard from a friend that she’s now married and living in the suburbs with a husband who works in finance and drives an SUV, her bleak life playing out as everything she and I ever said we despised about this world. But I suspect the reality is that when they took her to that cold hard hospital in the middle of the town we both had wild imaginings in, they ripped her chest open to examine her heart and found it soaked in red wine with my name engraved as the deepest scar.
Winner of The Moth Short Story Prize 2014