Felix Garner Davis
Dusk falls at five o’clock. Pink tendrils cleave the clouds, which are dark as smog, flat and puffy with purple streaks. A golden haze is cast over the sky. It looks as though a star has plummeted to earth and exploded on the horizon.
Fin sits on his bed with his heartbeat thumping in his ears, stiff from squeezing his shoulders back. The blood has frozen in his crossed legs. He tries to close his eyes again but a pulse of static sprinkles over the black when he does. He can feel his pupils darting in jagged zigzags, drawn to every spot of noise behind his eyelids.
His room is on the second floor, an oddly shaped Tetris block dominated by an enormous chest of drawers with clawed feet. The drawers are pits of jumbled, wet-smelling clothes but Fin always makes sure that nothing hangs out. The walls are white and bare. His mother is a minimalist.
Fin gives up and lies on his back. The ceiling is spattered with peeling stars and crescent moons. They’re a sickly yellow-green and once glowed in the dark. Fin traces the stars, some of which have six points, with his eyes as he watches his room dim and blacken. When the plastic galaxy disappears he flicks on the bedside lamp and fixes his gaze on the blazing light bulb.
A dragon’s head is shimmering before him in the dark when his watch begins to beep. It’s a meek sound, and each ping comes slowly, as though his battered Casio is reluctant to bother him. He checks the glowing face. It’s seven. Fin counts back from ten and wrenches himself up. He smiles softly, then treads over to the chest of drawers and slips on a pair of jeans and a crumpled green shirt. The lamp silhouettes his slender figure in the mirror hanging off the door. He looks at himself a while before wriggling into a pair of grimy sneakers and pulling the door open. He can see the lip of the stairs just beyond the doorway. A moment passes.
The carpet is pale blue and worn, whiskery where it meets the skirting. Fin draws his arm across his chest and rubs his shoulder, pulling it in on himself. Then, he straightens, steps through the doorway and skitters down the stairs. The walls creak and the door, left open, nudges the chest of drawers.
Lucinda is puffing a cigarette at the sink, its curls of smoke illuminated by a shaft of light from the ceiling. Her hair is the colour of ash and an errant strand is stuck to her cheek. Fin walks over to the fridge behind her, glancing at the side of her face, and rummages for a moment. He clutches a pot of fruit with a plastic spoon glued to it. He sits at the table, just beyond the kitchen bench, peels the spoon off and punctures the taut lid.
‘How are you feeling, Finny?’ asks his mother gently.
Fin looks up, nods, and wipes a droplet of syrup from the corner of his mouth.
‘I’m going for a drink with some of the boys.’
An eyebrow twitches.
‘Jake and a few others.’
‘Tim told me some of those boys have been getting in a bit of trouble.’
Fin grimaces. He drops the spoon in the empty cup, stands and hands it to his mum.
‘Yeah, they have been,’ he says, conscious to look her in the eye. She looks tired and sad, the creases of her smile folding in on themselves.
‘What are they up to?’
‘Smoking ice and being idiots. It’s not too bad. Some of the guys Will knows are completely gone.’
‘Will’s a fuckwit. I’m not surprised.’
Fin recoils. His mouth gapes a little, a crack quivering between his scarlet lips. The magnetic clock on the fridge ticks sharply. He grabs his keys from the bench, rounding it to kiss his mum. She cocks her head to offer her cheek, and Fin can see her eyes glistening.
‘I’ll see you tomorrow, mumma.’
‘You shouldn’t hang out with those guys, Finny.’
She drops her cigarette, puckered and burnt at the filter, in the sink and washes it down the plughole. Fin squeezes her shoulder.
‘I barely see them any more,’ he says, feeling a ball of sludge pop in the pit of his stomach. ‘They’re not bad kids.’
‘Yeah. It makes me weep.’
‘See you tomorrow.’
It’s cold enough outside to make Fin stiffen his muscles. He draws his shoulders back and straightens his neck. Grey Street isn’t busy at seven-thirty but there are still cars prowling, dark inside, gliding past the yellow-lit corners. Fin can’t even make out any eyes in the black cabins, only shapes. He trudges up the street with his hands shoved in his high pockets, clenching his neck as breaths of wind float past his zipper. A gaunt hooker gawks at him from a few metres up. He glances blankly at her out of the sides of his eyes. Some of his mates used to think it was funny to mess around with the working girls, but Fin never did more than gaze for too long. He was always sorely aware of the crest on his blazer pocket.
The yellow glow thrown by the streetlights mixes with the winter-dark in a strange way, shadows of pitch and keenly lit sections of pathway clinging to each other like water and oil. Fin steps around a laughing huddle of backpackers, his eyes fixed on the sloping street. He wonders briefly if they noticed that he didn’t look at them. He’s at the steaming kebab shop, striding past the fluorescent window. Then, he’s at the corner.
Fin’s dad assures him they call the underground bar at the George ‘The Snakepit’, but he’s never heard anybody say that. The bouncer’s a fat bastard with jowls and a trendy haircut that doesn’t match his brutish glare. He eyes Fin’s ID and grunts, shuffling aside slightly to clear the low doorway. Fin descends the steps, brushing past a pastel-coloured event photo with a lot of teeth and makeup.
The boys are at the bar, leaning too far over the counter and spilling beer over the lips of their swollen pints. The bussie drifts past and eases a few empty tumblers out of their way. Will slaps him on the arse as he moves into the throng, then turns around and notices Fin.
‘Oi!’ he bellows, cackling as he embraces Fin. ‘Fin, you cunt, what’s up?!’
A sea of lukewarm cider lurches in Will’s plastic jug. Fin eyes its violent sloshing as he pats Will on the back. He’s wearing a long, black trench and the leather feels creased and cold.
‘Not much, homie. Just uni and that. How’s things?’
‘Good as, bruv,’ grins Will. His eyes are wide and white, and he reaches over the bar to snatch Fin a glass. He pours it full of cider and thrusts it into Fin’s hand.
‘I haven’t seen you in ages! Where’ve you been?’ he inquires.
A jolt of anger spasms in Fin’s chest.
‘Just haven’t been getting around to seeing everybody, I guess. Been busy.’
‘Uni, cuz, I’m telling you. What course you doing again?’
‘I’m just doing screenwriting at the VCA. It’s part of Melbourne.’
‘Heaps of Asians?’
Fin’s mind swims. There are heaps of Asians.
‘Nah, not really, man.’
‘Bullshit, cunt. They’re everywhere in the city. It’s fucked.’
Will swallows a gulp of cider and tips the rest of the jug into his glass. Fin fights the urge to rub his shoulder. Spots of pink flush his cheeks and his fingers tingle, vibrating mechanically. He brushes his fingertip against his belt. It feels distant and rough.
Will’s gesticulating at the bartender, twisted sideways with his arm flung out and his great coat swinging under it. His mouth is warped in a snarl.
‘I’m going to the toilet, man,’ murmurs Fin. Will doesn’t hear.
Fin turns, clinks his glass down on the end of the bar and walks slowly to the door of the men’s toilet. Its black paint, set in gobs like glistening jelly, has been kicked away at the bottom. He pushes but the bolt is slid and the flimsy thing just strains in its frame. The paint feels sticky and thick. Fin steps aside and waits, glancing across at the heaving gang of boys and their spittle-flecked lips. The bartender is shaking his head at Will, telling him something with enough vehemence to put a vein in his neck.
The toilet bangs and Fin’s gaze snaps to a dead-eyed junkie who’s hobbling around to close the door behind him. He’s bald on top with slick, grey ringlets spilling over his ears. His hands judder at the handle and his sleeves are pinched and crusted together in places, rubbed with fingers of grease. He lets the door rest, and his eyes roll up to meet Fin’s, half-closed by their drooping lids and glazed with smack. There’s acid in his veins.
The junkie winds his stooped body away and Fin pushes through the door, sliding the bolt behind him. The toilet seat is black and splattered with piss and the basin is a hollow wedge of plastic. Fin spins the tap and washes his hands, then flicks the toilet lid down and sits on it. He looks up at the black door, dark and oily in the angry lighting. He closes his eyes, tightly, watching the speckles of static frolic inside his trembling eyelids. Against the garbled noise of the bar, he can hear the boys hooting and slopping over one another, foaming and writhing in a tentacled mass of beer and hot curses.