Toongabbie House

* Warning: This short piece is about domestic violence. While it does not depict graphic violence, the feelings conveyed may be difficult for readers who have been in or are still in an abusive relationship.

In the small TV room one entire wall is covered with wallpaper featuring a river, mill and forest scene. The image doesn’t create an air of tranquility as one may expect. The picture of flowing water does nothing to reduce the stifling heat, and in some ways, makes the experience of being in that room more unbearable. The TV room is his domain and the tacky, fake forest doesn’t make it a place my little sister or I want to be.

The afternoon sun is unrelenting and the heat rising off Old Toongabbie Road radiates across dry, bindi infested lawns into flimsy, squat houses. It beats through worn fibro walls and makes you hate the season. The blinds are drawn shut but the intended shade brings no relief. Inside is just hot gloom.

There are blow flies buzzing up against the panes and some laying dead on the sills. Maggots make some of the dead ones move slightly, like their tiny ghosts are clinging on, resisting fate.

I am visiting my aunt and uncle in Toongabbie. Inside their house it smells like sweat socks, dog and grease.

My little sister and I while away the afternoon sitting on an old couch in the TV room, with fans on, sipping Fanta. I stare at the river, mill, forest scene a lot. I notice that it is starting to peel off the wall on one corner.

The TV is on. The cricket commentator’s nasal tone drones in the background. We don’t pay attention to it. We play with our dolls and look at books we brought with us for the visit. We occasionally venture to the front porch and sit on the faded, red concrete steps until the heat becomes too much and then we retreat back to the couch.

Time passes and it is evening now.  My parents, sister and I are sitting at the laminate kitchen table. I can see the golden street light glow dimly outside the kitchen window. I can smell the road wafting in with dry night air.

Moths thrash themselves against the back screen door. My mum, little sister and I are working on a puzzle. My mum and aunt are quietly chatting.

I hear the truck pull into the drive way. The front screen door swings open and bangs sharply shut. The huge, hulking bulk of man enters the sweltering house. It is my uncle. 

Muscle, fat and a dirty Bonds singlet. 

His entry marks a shift in our mood. Our bodies stiffen. The air suddenly thickens and becomes heavy.

My aunt is standing at the sink with her back to us and the door that leads into the kitchen. She is washing dishes. She uses a steel wool soap pad on the meat burnt pan. She is wearing a sleeveless summer dress and I watch the muscles in her arm work as she scrubs.

It’s almost 8pm and we have already eaten. When she hears him enter the house she quickly places a plate of oven warmed food on the table and returns to the sink.

He walks in. He doesn’t acknowledge we are there. His face is like pale brick. He is sweating profusely. He is slick and I see the sweat stains around his armpits.

He mutters “What’s this shit?” as he peers down sideways at his meal.

I can feel my aunt’s body cave inward slightly. She keeps washing dishes and doesn’t turn around.

With disgust in his voice he says  “I’m not eating this shit”.

I feel scared. The tension makes my stomach hurt. I look down at my hands resting on my small knees. I raise my eyes just enough to see my parents look acoss at my aunt. 

My mum twitches and fidgets in her seat. Her brother is behaving badly again. I can feel her tense up. She lights a cigarette. I see my dad start to mutter something under his breath.

I feel like my back has something heavy pushing down on it. Something is gripping my heart. I look down again.

Slowly, without uttering any other words, he picks up the plate of meat, veg and gravy with one of his beefy hands. He walks to the screen door which leads to the back yard and without warning hurls the plate out into the darkness.

I hear the plate shatter on the hard baked earth and the dogs’ chains rattle as they bolt toward the food.

My uncle lets the door go and it slams against the frame, bouncing several times until it settles.

He walks to the fridge and takes a bottle of beer for himself and one for my dad.

My aunt never moves from her place at the sink. She isn’t washing dishes now. She is frozen.

I feel sick. I look down.

Without looking at her he says “git Chinese”.

She doesn’t move. She doesn’t speak.

He stares at her with narrow eyes and asks “Are you fuckin’ deaf woman?”

She turns slightly and says in a low  tone “Aw right, I heard ya”.

He gives her a menacing glare and leaves the kitchen. He walks into the TV room. I hear him collapse his monstrous body into the leather recliner. I know he is now watching cricket, drinking beer.

My mom and Dad, little sister and I are still sitting at the table. My aunt is now in the hallway, on the phone, calling the Chinese restaurant to place his order.

Standing in the shadowy hallway, talking on the phone, she appears  as sad and defeated as the brown, sun burned turf that surrounds the house.

I am so relieved he is in another room now. I hate that man.

My mom says something about that not being right. My dad sits, legs crossed in his chair, hunched over, sipping his beer, shaking his head slowly.

She returns to the kitchen and utters something about him being tired, working hard all day. She makes excuses for him. She is unable to look at us directly. It’s as though she is ashamed but I don’t understand why.

She moves around her kitchen like a mouse in a cage.

I watch my aunt. At that moment, before my eyes she seems to become smaller in stature. She shrinks and becomes less present. It’s like a part of her just drifted away out the back door into the yard with the dogs. It’s like she is attached to one of those chains. 

Only now do I understand that she couldn’t be fully present. She had to make herself as small as possible. She had to send a part of herself away and die a little in order to remain alive. She dies a little every day.

The cricket commentator drones on in the background. Dad sips his beer, mum smokes and my aunt returns to the sink to finish the dishes.
 

February 19, 2017

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His Little Bitch

283

WARNING: Strong sexual references and explicit language.

The day after The Event, Jarred had breakfast with his roommates. He went to the gym and planned an afternoon of beer drinking and sports watching on the couch. Shortly after arriving home from his workout, he received a call from the ED. Jarred was invited to dinner with him and some of his donor ‘friends’. This wasn’t what Jarred felt like doing at all, but he never said no to the ED and always followed through on all his requests. Closed door meetings, private lunches, paid training and shockingly rapid promotions and pay increases over four years since graduating sent him a clear message that he was on a bright career path with The Agency. He felt that as long as he played by the ED’s rules, let him and the all-male Board members ogle him, make remarks of a sexual nature about him and basically be an attractive accessory for them, he would continue to do well. He had to do well, he just had to. Jarred was 29. This was his first job out of college. His working class background provided the fuel for his fire. He had to do well.

After the dinner the ED bid his friends goodbye and invited Jarred back to his place for drinks. He said he had business to discuss with him. On arrival at the unremarkable ‘Tuscany villa’ style condo, the ED immediately poured Jarred a Vodka Martini and asked him to make himself comfortable on his beige leather couch. Jarred had been to his place for drinks alone prior to attending events before. Being so inexperienced in the world of work, it never occurred to him that this practice was unprofessional and somewhat inappropriate. Jarred liked the fact that the ED favored him and didn’t think there was anything wrong with socializing with his boss. He was actually empowered by it and secretly gloated over their private chats and cocktails at his condo. Even had he felt uncomfortable about it, he would have gone along with the request because Jarred never said no to the ED. This time it felt just like all the times before. Jarred didn’t question it.

The ED started to talk about his plans to change The Agency. He bragged about how he was going the purge the individuals who were not ‘on board’ with his plan. He explained that he was going to turn the agency into a first class organization that was ‘in synch with the times’. He said that people either ‘embraced’ the changes or they would have to go. Staff was expendable to the ED…except for those that he had a particular, personal use for.

Out of the blue he offered Jarred a line of cocaine. Jarred was a little surprised. He had used coke when he was in college a few times but not since then. He wasn’t a big recreational drug user other than smoking pot with his roommates but didn’t want the ED to think he wasn’t fun to hang out with. The ED cut a line for Jarred neatly on the dark, glass coffee table and handed him a small straw to snort with. Jarred inhaled the line through one nostril and sat up straight. He could feel a tingling and slight burning in his nasal passage and down the back of his throat, followed by a warm feeling that started in his face and traveled down his neck and through his entire body. Jarred shuddered slightly and slowly tilted his head back. Then he felt a rush, euphoria … energy.

The ED snorted a line and then topped their glasses. Jarred had lost count of his drinks and it was straight up vodka that he was downing. The coke had woken him up and sharpened his vision. It sped up his heart rate and sobered him somewhat.

The ED turned his full focus onto Jarred now. His grey eyes were glassy and ablaze with something that made Jarred slightly uneasy. Then he relaxed when the ED told him that he was special, a future leader, a king among men. He said that Jarred was a lion, at the top of the food chain with a natural, personal power to lead and influence people. Jarred was excited to hear all this. He believed the ED.

Yes, he was a lion, a very powerful lion. He stared at the ED’s grey eyes intently while finishing another drink. He felt fully alive. He felt fantastic. Right then he felt something akin to affection for this older man, although things were moving fast and he wasn’t able to think clearly. He decided to just try to not think.

The ED reached for his cell phone and remotely connected to his sound system to play music softly in the background. It was M83’s ‘Midnight City’, a hit from a couple of years ago but one of Jarred’s favorites. The ED poured him another martini and said that Jarred was made for bigger things. Then, in a very sincere tone, started to talk about how much Jarred’s support meant to him. He said that he appreciated that Jarred had his back while he made all the necessary changes to staffing and the physical structure of The Agency. He reminded Jarred about how far he had come in his job and how his efforts had been richly rewarded to date.

He refilled Jarred’s martini glass again. Jarred was finding it harder to focus now. The initial sharpening that occurred with the cocaine was fading a little and the inebriation was taking over. He felt excited though, and restless, like he wanted to move his body. He felt light. Then he noticed he had a very firm hard on and was momentarily distracted by it.

So was the ED. Then he looked at Jarred in the eyes and said that he was like a son to him, that he trusted him and that he was very special. He moved toward Jarred on the couch and placed his trembling lined hand on Jarred’s thigh. Jarred looked at the hand on his thigh. His heart was racing. The ED’s breathing was fast and his hand moved higher landing on the bulge in Jarred’s pants. The ED’s eyes were averted while he told Jarred that he was beautiful beyond compare.

Jarred opened his eyes. He was momentarily disoriented. He must have blacked out. He was lying on the beige couch in the ED’s condo. His fly was undone. He looked at the window and noticed it was dark out. He sat up slowly. He remembered where he was now. He realized he was only out for a short while.

He had the sour taste of cock and corruption in his mouth.

His head felt like it would split open if he moved too quickly. Regret and self-loathing swept over him. He stood up and glanced at his phone that was now in his hand. The time was 3.57 am. Memories of what had just happened flooded in and he felt like he might drown. He was aware of a stickiness in his underpants and mentally recoiled from the picture flashing before his mind’s eye of that white-haired man’s mouth wrapped around his penis, his pubic hairs pushed up against his pink, blotchy face. His muffled groans. He remembered the man’s arm curled around him, kneading the firm flesh of Jarred’s buttocks, his finger buried deep inside him. Jarred felt unwell. He heard sounds coming from one of the rooms down the hall. It sounded like someone was looking for something…and muttering. It was the ED.

Jarred didn’t want to face him. There was a lamp on the side table emitting a soft glow. He felt for his keys in his pockets, tried to ignore the sounds from the other room and quietly headed for the door. He swayed as he tried to walk lightly not making any sound. He hurried out of the building and located his car a little way down the street.

The pre-dawn air was fresh and sweet which only made him feel more stale and unclean.

His head was pounding. He drove home listening to his car engine and the sound of the wheels on the road. He felt jittery and nauseous. He arrived home in 15 minutes and in a daze, entered his apartment quietly, went to his room, stripped and showered. He felt like he could cry but he didn’t. He let the hot water run over his face and made it hot enough to almost scald him. He wanted to wash him away. He soaped himself thoroughly, rinsed, repeated the process and dried himself vigorously. He dressed in fresh underwear and a t-shirt and lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. His bedside lamp was on and there was some shallow light tentatively entering his room from the emerging dawn outside.

What had just happened? How had he let that happen? He ran the whole scene over in his mind. He felt ice form around his intestines. He felt cold all over his body despite the scalding shower he had just taken. It wasn’t the fact that he had just had sex with a man. This was not the first time and that inherently did not both him. It was something else that troubled him.

At that moment he was gripped by the fact that now he truly was the ED’s little bitch.

He trembled and felt like he might be sick. He was now at the ED’s mercy. He would die if anyone ever found out what happened. It would be beyond humiliating and would prove them all right, all the staff in the Agency that viewed him as nothing more than a pretty boy whore that used his sex appeal to rise in his career. A “straight” boy that flirted with the Board and the ED to get what he wanted.

Then his heart skipped a beat. He held his breath and his mind opened up with all the fear dissolving, like clouds parting and the sun steaming through. He thought about the lust he saw in those grey eyes, the desperate sucking and groaning emitted by that older man and the efforts that the ED had gone to up to this point to get Jarred’s cock in his mouth. He realized that he wasn’t the ED’s little bitch. He was a fucking lion and he had nothing to fear. He knew the ED would want him again and that it wouldn’t be in his favor if anyone found out about it, so his secret was safe. Not only that, he felt a surge of power sweep over him and his dick hardened slightly.

He lay there mulling over it all and felt delirious. Vodka, cocaine, no sleep, sex, inadequate food intake, dehydration, anxiety and euphoria was taking its toll on Jarred. He couldn’t sleep now though, partly due to the coke he had a few hours ago and partly due to the alternating fear and exhilaration he subjected himself to.

Then he thought about Lara. Fuck. Lara can never know. She would be merciless. Then he thought about The Agency and Claire. He knew that Claire already thought that the ED was infatuated with him and was disgusted by it. This would rock her to the core if she ever found out. She can’t know, and he needed her help. He relied on her. He needed time to think. He couldn’t work today. He needed to text Claire and ask her for a favor. He lay there and waited till 8.43 am to text her.

August 10, 2016

What Claire Saw

298

WARNING: Some explicit language and sexual references.

Jarred sipped his coffee and casually mentions that it was at a wedding that they connected. Claire sat very still and stared straight at the middle of his face. Right at the bridge of his nose actually. She thought about his use of the word “connected”. Right then she could see how it all unfolded. She could always see how things were with him. For many years she could see and he never really understood the clarity with which she saw. It was never what he said, it was always what he left unsaid that told the full story.

He had “connected” with the blonde, Texan flight attendant at a wedding.  It was his flatmate’s wedding in steamy, sticky Houston in late May. They “connected” in the air conditioned banquet room after the sweltering service that left everyone yearning for liquid relief both for hydration and numbing inebriation.

He had known the Texan for some time, five years in fact as casual acquaintances. They had not hooked-up in the past because they were always with other people, and there was never a spark between them strong enough to override the desire for who they were with at the time.

She was his flatmate’s girlfriend’s sister, so they drank beer in the company of others in sports bars and sometimes at the apartment when she was in town visiting. Tonight the Texan is a bridesmaid. Her sister is getting married.

He catches her eye for the first time during the service. A mere second of acknowledgement but well noted by both. He thinks about the fact that he hasn’t fucked anyone in a while and feels that familiar ache in his groin as he watches the bride and groom say their vows. Then later as she sits at the head table at the reception, she gazes at him across the parquet dance floor. At that precise moment he knows this will require no effort on his part.

They are in plastic, hotel banquet room air now. It smells like after shave, carpet cleaner and beef. The three course meal has been consumed. It was like every other wedding banquet meal, utterly unremarkable but which left some guests searching for mints or Tums. He has been drinking steadily since two o’clock. The table floral arrangements are starting to look wilted at the edges but he still manages to look fresh and isn’t oblivious to the looks he receives from both men and women in the room.

He makes his way over to her and they chat about nothing. He brings her a drink and they chat more about nothing. Her long, curling wand hair spills down over her shoulders and her syrupy southern accent holds his attention. Her breasts heave slightly out the top of her bridesmaid dress in the way that breasts in bridesmaid dresses often do. Her eye liner is smudged and her lipstick faded. They dance and neither of them are very good at it. It doesn’t matter though because it’s only an excuse for him to put his hands on her.

Everyone is drunk and groping someone by now.  The DJ plays every tune he is expected to play. It could be any wedding anywhere.  The crowd could be any crowd. He is feeling the vodka martinis now and he is eager for her attention. He feels that twitch in his groin again. His vision is a little off and he concentrates on the breasts and shoulders and Barbie curls in front of him.

They decide to walk outside for air and the heat hits them as they leave the building.  The night is like a heavy, wet rag thrown over them without warning and it’s almost hard to breath. They quickly decide to go back inside. Sweat had formed on her brow and at the base of his throat. They stumble against each other slightly and laugh like they are old friends except that they are not really.  It’s like every bridesmaid at every wedding leaning on the groom’s best mate toward the end of the night.

The newlyweds left a while ago. The guests are starting to drift up to their rooms or to their cars. The scene is now set. It is a scene that has been played out thousands of times before in plastic air in gaudy reception rooms at weddings. They both know it but in that moment they are playing out the scene like they wrote it and it is original and they play it well, as though someone paid to watch.

They sit in a hallway off the main banquet room on a padded bench. A burn mark in the cheap carpet by his foot catches his eye. As he stares at it the swirling pattern on the rug around the singed fibers makes him feel a little queasy. He adjusts his posture, takes a slow breath and turns to look at the Texan. He notices that she has a slight overbite. He has his arm around her and pulls her closer toward him. He can smell her foundation, sweat and stale perfume. Her curls are slightly stiff with hairspray still. They kiss. His tongue is in her mouth and the exchange is all alcohol, garlic and desperation.

They don’t speak. They go back to his room and they “connect” as his hand reaches inside her wet polyester underwear and he makes her come quickly. They “connect” as he fucks her while she wears that bridesmaid dress, all stained and creased and used. She giggles in that way that drunk girls do in hotel rooms even though she is far from being a girl. She thinks he must really like her but he only had to like her enough to get it up.

They fall asleep after some tired, slurred conversation while laying in each other’s arms. She marvels at the miracle of their union, how it was all meant to be. She ponders how after all this time their “connection” finally happened and how sweet fate can be. She thinks this might be love. At this point he isn’t thinking at all.

The next day they say they will stay in contact and he says all the things a nice guy says to a bridesmaid he just fucked. He has a hangover but is as attentive as any man can be under the circumstances and she is all full of his words, his gaze and his cum. He fucked his best mate’s wife’s sister and he is feeling like a champion. He also vaguely wonders if this may be something real.

Later he thinks about it. He likes blondes and he enjoyed this one quite a lot. All southern syrupy sweetness. She likes sport and she will treat her man like a good southern girl should. She is an air stewardess so he thinks she will be polite, well groomed and personable. She will be good to show off to his mates. She can fly anywhere frequently so distance is not an issue.

They sext frequently using their booze soaked encounter as fuel for their imagination. She comes to visit two weeks later for a weekend and it’s all beer and sunshine, skin and sweat. He is all charm and she is all his. And now he thinks they have a “connection”.

But they don’t really. Claire knows that the Texan is not someone who can reach his inaccessible heart, just another one that can effectively stroke his ego and his cock. He really thinks she might be “the one” though because he really doesn’t know any better and all that syrup sure can make it hard for a man to think straight.

October 8, 2015