The Dishwasher

Chemical steam poured from the Hobart industrial dishwasher into my face. My nose dripped onto my chest hairs. A rash peeled the skin from my left hand. I rattled a crate of teapots and knives that the dishwasher refused to release. The door bit my spine when I stuck my head in the mouth. The cook pounded his bell and drawled about Thai chicken salad and tofu soup. Staggering against a trolley of Cajun risotto and Chinese pork, I rubbed my eyeballs on the blue seersucker dishrag that protected my right hand. This precaution was necessary because the right did most of the work on stage, playing time on the hi-hats, ride cymbal, or floor tom, while the left clobbered the snare and came along on fills. I drained the dessertspoons from a pink ice-cream bucket onto the bowls stacked up on the next crate, but the dishwasher kept its mouth half shut, so I jiggled the crate until the bowls caved in, and when I slammed the door the engine backfired.

All through Christmas and the New Year, I strained my back washing dishes at Kay’s Place. I never talked to her at work. I didn’t want to disturb her. I stayed behind the kitchen’s saloon door and peeked through the wooden slats to discover what was going on in the restaurant. The floorboards were warped and unvarnished. There were nine round tables and 21 hard chairs. All industrial steel. Designed to look spare and futuristic and feel uncomfortable enough to keep the customers moving. The scrubbed back, ready-to-renovate look of the place attracted the rich professionals who had infested Kings Cross. They sat there, or stood there, chattering about renovating their own places. An ancient cash register squatted on the counter, and behind that was a flame grill, where the cook perched on a stool all night playing with the food and adding up the hours it would take him to get out. He was from New Zealand and he wore a blue bandana on his head. He told me that he sprung a leak in Botany Bay on route to Edinburgh in a ship that he built in Wellington. He drank Bundaberg Rum.

After closing time, Kay and I would enact this hitchhiking rendezvous scenario. She stuck out her thumb as she walked up Darlinghurst Road, a high-class prostitute abandoned to the street by her pimp, and I cruised by in the Valiant, a mute interstate drifter. She climbed into the passenger side, without making a sound, and we cruised out along the Princes Highway until we got to this dump called the Rainbow Motel. Our silence broke into moans during sex and later into words as we lay on the white sheets and watched the bushfires glowing through the curtains. She could have afforded a better place than the Rainbow Motel but she said the seedy image turned her on. She agreed too strongly with my hypothesis that our relationship only existed because Thomas Pitman had shattered her confidence and ruined her acting career. She told me that he bought her the restaurant, a converted Victorian terrace, as a consolation prize for not giving her a baby. I was too addicted to her beauty to worry about the implications of how I fitted into the psychology beneath that flesh.

Everything was fine until the waiter walked out and Kay hired this new guy called Jimmy Smith. I was peeking through the slats when he turned up. He stood erect outside the restaurant’s front window, looking like the kind of guy that straight guys say they’d get with if they had to get with a guy. He had a scraggly chin-beard and a nest of golden hair. Over his eyes there sat a pair of silver-framed pilot sunglasses. He came inside the restaurant and asked Kay for a free meal. He was about my height but suntanned. He wore an off-white T-shirt, dirty blue jeans that pushed his genitals into his pelvis, and giant, mushroom-coloured hiking boots. I thought he must have recently come back from a long walk in the desert, but his boots were new, so maybe he exhausted the other pair or went barefoot like a religious lunatics. I figured he was from somewhere in Eastern Europe because he didn’t wear a belt. When I spoke to him later, he used an American accent.

The sound of the yellow telephone clanking on the wall next to the door brought me back to the present. I flung the dishrag over my shoulder and snatched up the receiver. After angling the speaker beside my right ear, and twisting my left middle finger into my other ear, I rested the mouthpiece against my throat.

“The guitar player says you’re late for practice. You have to work on new songs for some competition. And those video detectives came snooping around last Tuesday. I won’t let them in. I’m not your manager.”

“I told you, Ma. Only call in an emergency.”

“This is an emergency.”

“I’m not looking for a manager.”

“Why didn’t you slip the rent in my purse? I know you’ve been in here. Somebody’s been here. And it wasn’t those detectives. I would have smelled them. And it wasn’t those kids. The only thing missing is your drums. And they’re no good to no one.”

“The drums are in the Valiant.”

“I know the drums are in the Valiant. That’s how I know you’ve been here. I’m worried about you, Henry. You don’t know what you’re getting involved with. If you love me, you’ll come home after practice and end this femme fatale nonsense.”

I hung up on Ma’s jealousy rant, slugged a Corona masked by a group of empties on the loading bench, and went back to work on the uncontrollable dishwasher.

Machines need to know who the boss is or they get you down and start telling you what to do and before you know it they’re in control. They ignore your commands even when you give them a chance, or bribe them, or threaten them with violence. It takes brains to figure them out.

I pulled the cook’s best fish knife from the pink bucket, gripped the blade between my teeth, and crawled under the dishwasher. Water trickled down the corroded legs, forming a pool of dust, bread, and hair. I yanked out the plug, jiggled the lead to expose the wires, and dug the blade into the unhinged wall socket.

Jimmy Smith banged through the saloon door. His mushroom boots slurped the tiles and kicked my Levis. “What bullshit have you been spreading, Hayes? You’re not even allowed out there. Where’s the power-hose? What have you done to the nozzle?”

I resurfaced, scratching my head.

Jimmy Smith raised his hands past his chin-beard. His mouth was smirking, pleading innocence for kicking me, and his eyes were closed. When he opened his eyes, I looked down because I couldn’t handle how his left eye throbbed from its socket, darting all over the place, unable to settle on one object for more than a few seconds, as if it wanted to make sure the world was still there, and his right eye was a frozen ball with a violet band around a black pupil that looked as if it could see through objects and read people’s thoughts and memories.

I glanced up, after he turned around to test the power-hose, and noticed a pawnshop label stapled where his belt should have gone. He was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and a pair of faded, black nylon trousers with iron-patched thighs and razor-sharp creases. I sat up and squinted at the pawnshop label. It said $5.

“If you want to sleep,” Jimmy Smith suggested. “Do it in the cold room.”

Jimmy Smith was always going on about the cold room, trying to get me in there, for some reason or other. He probably wanted to mess around because he’d never been with a real drummer. Every time I glanced at the cold room door, it reminded me of Leatherface’s entrance in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where he tumbles out, grabs that skinny hippy girl, and dumps her on a meat hook.

The phone was ringing again.

We both stared at it for a while.

Then I got up.

“Run along now, drummer boy.” Jimmy Smith pushed me against the dishwasher, so I shoved him into the draining rack, and the dishwasher started.

When I got to the phone, and picked it up, the other end was silent. I scratched the mouthpiece. Jimmy Smith admired his reflection in the dishwasher’s steel body. Jimmy Smith was always admiring his reflection. But it wasn’t a vain kind of admiration. He seemed suspired that he could look that good, and he appeared worried that at any moment the looks might disappear, as if they belonged to someone else and he was seeing them for the first time, a stranger in the role assigned to him.

The smell of Chivas Regal came down the line. “What the hell’s going on over there? Where’s the boss of that asylum?” Thomas Pitman never called the restaurant.

I cradled the receiver with my shoulder. One eye focused on Jimmy Smith, lurking by the draining rack, and the other peeked through the saloon door at Kay twirling her folk, lowering her fruit juice, and backing away from the window. She brushed her white collar, glanced at her golden watch, and stood up. She draped her pinstripe Gucci jacket over her shoulder and aimed a kiss at the young lawyer couple at her table. They drooped into a huddle and polished their wine glasses with their thumbs.

The cook slapped a National Geographic over the calculator on the chopping board. A doctor in a sky-blue suit stubbed a cigar into his risotto. A magazine editor with stringy brown hair and matching rectangular glasses slipped a Perth travel brochure under her lettuce. Kay had banned music, phones, laptops, and printed literature from the restaurant. She said they destroyed real communication and human interaction.

“I think she went out,” I explained to the voice of Thomas Pitman. “She was here before but now she’s somewhere else.”

Ice jiggled in a glass. “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You sound familiar.”

The dishwasher finished its wash cycle and paused before hitting rinse mode. “I’m a drummer.”

“Do something useful for once and get my wife.”

“But I have to stay in the kitchen.”

As soon as rinse mode stopped, Jimmy Smith lunged. I tried to stretch the phone lead over there, to clamp down the handle, but he was too quick for me. The receiver flew from my neck, and Jimmy Smith was gone with a bunch of hot spoons though the saloon door.

Kay's Asylum

“What am I doing in this town, Mister Evans? Doesn’t anyone know how to act convincingly? Is it my fault the insurance premiums have changed?” Kay looked up from a cordless telephone behind a glass desk in front of a wall of Venetian blinds. She seemed not to have recognized me. She might have been angry with me for coming upstairs or ashamed about me glimpsing the inside of her secret world. The office appeared unfurnished because it covered the same floor space as the restaurant. It reminded me of a private detective’s office in a Technicolor version of film noir. She flipped through a blue document tray and tapped a golden pen on her lips. “I’ll come in on Monday morning if I’m not dead from the smoke,” she told the phone.

I leaned against the door and studied a photographic painting of Bondi Beach by an artist who was probably famous somewhere. The tide was up and the sky was blue. Sunbathers with enormous white teeth patted inflatable balls, chomped sandwiches, and giggled as their bodies liquefied on pastel beach towels. After clicking off the phone, Kay unpeeled a Sony laptop and fiddled with the sides. The computer made a noise like Christ descending. “Have you learnt to read yet?” she asked the screen.

I looked at the door.

The black and white sign said PRIVATE.

“Deciding not to get a haircut or wear a uniform was one thing, but if you had to show my customers your scrawny chest you could have removed that belt.” Kay buffed a cloth over her oval-framed glasses and slid them along her nose. She wheeled her leather ergonomic throne to a steel filing cabinet. When she bent down, her shirt collar exposed her ribcage. “Stop staring at me with that stupid grin. Is your face permanently fixed that way? Does everyone from up north look like you?”

“Something’s wrong with the dishwasher.” I whipped out my T-shirt, flung it over my shoulder, and slouched across the room. Standing in the corner, I played with one of the platinum blonde wigs that hung over a chrome lamp. “I don’t like Jimmy Smith. And I don’t think he likes me. Ma said I’m missing band practice.”

“Did she really? How surprising.”

I threw the wig over my head as I approached the desk. The office smelled of fresh cream, vanilla essence, and paint stripper. Kay told her friends that she was planning to extend the restaurant upstairs, but I think she needed the sanctuary. A silver fork sat by a napkin and a white cup of espresso. Strawberry cheesecake waited in a bowl. Down Kay’s shirt, freckles rose and fell beside her bra.

A black and white wedding portrait, in a silver frame on the cabinet, collapsed when I spun out a moulded plastic chair. I straddled the chair and chewed some skin that my teeth peeled from my left hand.

After selecting a Manila file, Kay wrote some numbers in it and her voice became distracted. “This isn’t working out, Henry. You should go to band practice or home to your mum or wherever it is drummers go when they’re meant to go to band practice.”

“Real drummers don’t need to practise.” I always said things like that when I thought Kay was getting worried about how washing dishes might ruin my vocation.

She took off her glasses and massaged her nose. “You’ll get your money,” she said, “minus alcohol and damages, when you sort out the cold room.”

I rocked the chair up and down, teasing dust from the carpet until she finished writing. She slapped the glasses into their case and got up from her throne.

She parted the blinds and peered out the window.

Car lights blurred the street below.

I rested the chair against the desk, took off the wig, and spotted an eraser. I picked up the eraser and smudged Kay’s name out of the timetable for Monday night. Apart from entertaining her friends, she never did any work at the restaurant, but she always put her name down and she always looked tired whenever she saw me.

A mobile phone vibrated in the Gucci jacket, slumped across her armrest.

“No,” Kay repeated, sitting back with the phone. “How many times do I have to tell you? Of course I’m not drinking or taking drugs. I’ve never heard of the place. Why would I want to go to a shitty motel?” She was squinting at the bare light bulb in the middle of the ceiling like a sullen and bored schoolgirl.

I kneeled in front of her and rubbed the eraser along a pinstripe up her left thigh.

“I really do want to get home early, honey,” she said, pushing back until her headrest spit the blinds. “But first I have to recruit some competent staff.”

I got up and juggled the eraser as far as a paint-splattered drop sheet, under a bare section of wall, before Kay quit talking and threw the phone at the lamp.

Her eyes had clouded over. They were a deeper olive. The dark rings under them were puffier. “What am I going to do? This is your fault. I’m meant to stay clean.” She swiped a mountain of outdated Louis Vuitton and Prada bags off a shelf and shook out the high heels balanced around an empty pot engraved with cave figures holding hands. She squatted beside the pot and flipped through a bunch of fashion magazines. “Why didn’t you tell me he called? He never calls. What have you been saying to him?”

The eraser skipped into a drum of beige paint. “Didn’t Jimmy Smith tell you? I knew he wouldn’t tell you. He doesn’t like me. He’s not a real mate. That’s why I came out of the kitchen.”

“What are you talking about?”

I scooped up the eraser. “You’re acting paranoid.”

“Who’s afraid of green Mitsubishi Colts?”

“Are you still coming to the band competition on Monday night?”

“Is that all you care about?”

“I thought you wanted to see me play the drums.”

“What difference does it make?”

“On the scale of difference, it makes the largest possible amount of difference.”

Kay smiled when she unearthed a white envelope.

“Lime green,” I said. “And I’m not afraid of them. They’re just bad luck.”

“Well, that phone call was a trilogy of lime green Mitsubishi Colts.”

“Come to the gig, Kay. Please, come to the gig.”

She screwed up the envelope and tossed it on the desk. “Why do you want me to see you play the drums?”

“Because I’m a drummer.”

“Why are you a drummer?”

“Because that’s what I am.”

“Who’s going to finish the dishes and lock up?”

Happy Hour

The drawstring broke off my disposable apron. I released the belt with the golden buckle, smacked it up to my kidneys, fastened it over the transparent plastic, and dug three fingers into a burnt pot on the loading bench. Sweat and chest hair fused with the apron as I dragged a cooking chocolate figure eight around my nipples. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. That coke was the best I’d ever had. All I needed to do now was convince Jimmy Smith to stay back and do my job on Monday night so Kay could come to the gig. Once she saw me play the drums, she would leave Thomas Pitman without resorting to any unnecessary clichés.

I made a central part in the blonde wig, smudged brown lipstick across my mouth, and puckered at my reflection in the dishwasher.

When I pulled out the second last trash bag of the night, the thing ripped and a pile of lasagne gushed onto the cowskin boots. I said sorry to the cowskin boots, spat on the blue dishrag, and gave them a quick polish. Then I noticed that the new trash bags weren’t under the draining rack. Jimmy Smith must have punctured my bag and hidden the new ones under the wine rack in the storeroom to get me alone. I wasn’t sure if the wine rack contained good wine, cheap shit, or throwaways, but the labels always said GREAT AUSTRALIAN WINE, and they sometimes whispered TAKE US FOR A RIDE IN THE VALIANT.

Jimmy Smith wasn’t in the storeroom, but his work clothes were hanging behind the door. I pictured him naked in the cold room and decided to take out the trash.

As I strolled down White Lane, with a super bag that I made by inflating a new bag and stuffing it inside another new bag and then slopping the ripped lump off the tiles, I thought someone was watching me from the steps leading up to Darlinghurst Road, so I turned around and walked backwards. I saw smoke gliding across the moon and two gum trees wrapped around each other. A streetlight between the branches distorted graffiti on a brick wall. Ash settled on a ledge above a water pipe. A man with a red helmet fluttered past on a blue bicycle. The cowskin boots ignored my request to slow down. I had no control over my movements. Either the cowskin boots were pissed off about the lasagne, and the tentative polish, or the coke was producing a toxic reaction in its synthesis with Ma’s anti-reality pills. Sucked backwards from receptors in the base of my skull, I staggered to the corner like videotape in rewind, trying to position a safe landing for an inevitable crash. My heels scuffed the curb. I landed on garbage bags, empty bottles, cardboard boxes, and a wooden bed frame with iron clamps.

Jimmy Smith was leaning in the front passenger window of the Valiant, his off-white T-shirt riding up his spine. He tilted the bass drum towards the steering wheel and checked the Ludwig brand name on the skin. He smirked when he saw me rubbing my head and approaching the side-view mirror. I swept his mushroom boots against the front hubcap and slung him away from the Valiant. He skidded to the ground, zigzagged a few crouched steps towards a semidetached cottage, and plunged into a bush fence. The hubcap flapped on the bitumen.

When Jimmy Smith got up and came at me, I stepped aside and cracked him behind the ear with the hubcap. He landed in front of the Valiant. He straightened his sunglasses and dragged his fingers down the six horizontal bars on the one-piece grill.

I drove my knuckles into his chin-beard, grabbed his collar, and polished the fender. “The only thing worse than messing with a drummer’s kit,” I said, “is messing with his vehicle.”

“Isn’t it about time you got new skins?” Jimmy Smith blew up his cheeks and kept in the oxygen until his face turned red and the veins throbbed along his neck. His legs twitched. He slapped his hands on his cheeks and dribbled blood on his T-shirt. “What about those clothes? Them boots made in southern China that your mother shipped in from central Mexico? That ridiculous belt she gave you on your eighteenth birthday with a fake death certificate from the American Civil War.”

“Who the fuck have you been talking to?”

“Get off me, Hayes.” He ripped a chunk from my apron and stuffed it between my teeth. “You smell like a caged dog waiting to be incinerated.”

I dragged the plastic out of my throat. “Can you cover for me on Monday night?”

“Stop trying to fuck me.”

“I’m not trying to fuck you.” I got off him and sat on the hood of the Valiant.

He popped up in his mushroom boots and twisted his upper body without moving his neck, scanning White Lane conspiratorially, as if he also suspected that someone might be watching from the steps. “Let me have a drive of this pile of junk,” he said.

“No chance.” I prowled around the Valiant, checking for signs of abuse.

“Just up to the Cross.”

“Piss off. Nobody but me ever drives the Valiant.”

“We’ll get a drink and talk work like regular guys.”

“I haven’t finished the dishes yet.”

“They’ll still be there tomorrow.”

“I’m already late for band practice.”

“I thought you didn’t need to practise.”

“Do you have any money?”

“Who do you think I am?” Jimmy Smith smirked and took off his sunglasses and crunched them into a heap.

I climbed into the Valiant through the driver’s side window. He opened the passenger door to ride shotgun. We crept along Hardy Street and banged onto Darlinghurst Road. The headlights woke up at St David’s Cathedral. The engine backfired over horns blasting the Kings Cross intersection. The steering wheel swung left when we got to Brougham Lane. After scraping a pedestrian signpost, the snout hit the curb and parked across a driveway with a green rollable door that said on it in blue paint NO TRASH. Jimmy Smith’s hair left a grease patch above the seat when he stepped onto the curb. The patch spread, contracted, and hung there in a single glistening drop.

The bouncer at the Kings Cross Hotel wouldn’t let me in because he still hadn’t gotten over the shock of me picking up Kay Pitman a few weeks back. When Jimmy Smith took the steps in one go with an outstretched hand, the bouncer straightened up, turned away from the crowd on the veranda, and unfolded his arms. A tentative handshake became firmer after Jimmy Smith lifted the hearing aid and said something into the bouncer’s ear. Jimmy Smith strode back to the sidewalk and untucked my T-shirt, so it covered the belt with the golden buckle. The bouncer lowered his head and opened the door.

Backpackers with chin-beards wiggled up and down with fat-ankle girls wearing baggy T-shirts in front of wall-mounted televisions playing toothpaste commercials. Standing on a burnt couch next to a pool table, a skinny girl torched 10 Marlboro Lights and passed them to a crowd sucking tequila through a gasoline funnel. A man in a floppy hat ripped the packet into strips to stoke an ashtray fire. A girl with a glass balanced in her dreadlocks lined up a shot at a full rack. As she jerked her stick at the cue ball, the man in the floppy hat nudged her elbow, and beer sprayed the girl on the couch.

“You never drum up money on street corners or park benches.” Jimmy Smith twirled a purple florescent cocktail straw in a long thin glass of orange juice. “A hustler’s home is the airport. You can give hand-jobs in bars and blowjobs in business lounges or rented BMWs to men or women on conferences anywhere. Frankfurt, New York, Karachi, Johannesburg. Other stuff is best in hotel rooms or cubicles. You get meals, flights, clothes, cruises, long afternoons in far out resorts.”

“What about cash?” I gnawed on a plastic cup of beer. It floated in suds on the thin table against the back wall in the far corner of the triangular room. The bar staff told me that they ran out of bottles and glasses even though there were plenty decorating the bar.

Jimmy Smith stood erect on the other side of the table. “These repressed people make money to build a world to protect themselves from the things they really desire. Last week a software salesman from Geneva gave me a thousand Euros and a laptop computer for biting his neck and jerking him off over a squat toilet in Jakarta international airport. He offered me his Armani jacket but I left it behind the door because he came all over it. That’s what I like about you, Hayes, you never learned to repress anything.”

“What’s a Euro?”

“It’s money from Europe.”

“What are you doing in the restaurant?”

“I’m waiting. I’m the waiter.” Jimmy Smith spat some juice back into his glass. He wiped his wrist across his chin-beard and scanned the room. “Sydney’s dead. It’s not even a real city. You need ten million to make a real city. I can’t believe you’ve never left Australia. You need a manager. Someone with your talent should be playing in Amsterdam or New Orleans.”

“Are they real cities?” I licked my cup and rested my shoulder against a smiley face on a lime green poster that said EVERY HOUR - HAPPY HOUR.

The man in the floppy hat had a go with the stick between his teeth. The girl on the couch stubbed her cigarette at his leg. He choked on the stick and potted the black. Then he spun the triangle around the couch girl’s neck and shook hands with the dreadlock girl.

“Why did we come here?” said Jimmy Smith. “It’s full of tourists congratulating themselves for looping the country without getting murdered and raped by sugarcane farmers.”

We left the Kings Cross Hotel and drove down to Campbells Cove because Jimmy Smith wanted to see the opera house and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Burnt-out cars hauled suburban bushfire refugees along Hickson Road. The cars had mattresses strapped to their roofs, and their trays were full of wide-eyed kids in pyjamas. Couples in summer fashions wandered oblivious from courtyard restaurants and lingered near replica sailing ships chained to the banks. The tide rolled onto the concrete walkway and licked Jimmy Smith’s mushroom boots. His left eye patrolled the sleeping opera house. Searchlights cut through the smoke.

I grinded popcorn and chugged wine. “Why did you come to Australia?”

He pulled a silver comb from his back pocket, smoothed his chin-beard, and bunched up his hair. “I have to find some people before they find me.”

“Where are you staying?”

“In the backpacker ghetto on Orwell Street.”

I crunched a few of Ma’s anti-reality pills because my tailbone was aching and I was thinking about the band competition. “Do you reckon it’s a sell-out to record?”

“Why do you take that rubbish and drink that shit?”

“It gives me inspiration. First prize in the band competition is a recording session. I have to come up with some knockout lyrics for my song.”

“What kind of band practises on Saturday night for a gig on Monday?”

“Do you reckon it’s a sell-out to practise?”

“Depends what you’re practising for.”

“Kay’s looking forward to the gig.”

“Don’t you know anything, Hayes? How long do you expect to creep around motel rooms with another man’s wife before it ends in violence?”

“She’s never seen me play the drums.”

Jimmy Smith stabbed his comb halfway down his jeans and twanged it against his gut. “I’ll cover your shift if you do me a favour.” He started to whistle some kind of hillbilly song at a renovated steamboat tugging ecstasy eaters back from a harbour night cruise. Party lights and disco muzak flooded the deck. The big paddle churned into reverse as the boat approached Circular Quay. I swung the bottle in a windmill and then looped it up towards the bridge. Jimmy Smith pulled out his comb like a gunslinger popping glass.


I wandered through the kitchen on Sunday night with my right arm hanging from my shoulder as if it had been hacked off, sown back on, and then rejected. The unwashed dishes touched the ceiling. The cook stabbed chalk at the menu behind the counter. The letters he wrote said something in French, but the sound of the chalk told me Kay needed to see me in her asylum.

The feeling returned to my hand as I dragged it up the banister. As I trudged along the hall, I heard murmurs leaking from the office door. I noticed the PRIVATE sign was hanging lopsided, so I straightened it, but it swung further down. I stood there and listened to the sound. When the murmurs became groans, I wondered if Kay had fallen off the ladder and broken her hip. She might have quit drugs and started renovating her office. She might be coked out of her brain, trying to remove bugs that her husband planted in the ceiling.

I stepped back and turned the doorknob.

The sound erupted into panting.

Light fizzed onto the scene through the wigs on the chrome lamp. At first, I thought Thomas Pitman had found out about the gig and gone on a rampage. The desk was covered in upturned coffee cups, saucers, clothes, bags, magazines, coke, and a half-eaten strawberry cheesecake. Kay was sprawled in her ergonomic throne. Her right hand was picking beige paint off the window frame. The Venetian blind cord looped her wrist. Her other hand lay clenched on the desk. The cordless phone rested between her ear and her shoulder. Her shirt collar was turned up. The buttons were undone. Her bra was pushed high above her breasts. The nipples were swollen. Her left leg was somewhere under the desk, and her right was on the filing cabinet. Blue panties dotted with red flowers hung from her ankle. A grey skirt rode up her hips. Her brown stockings had been cut. Jimmy Smith was on his knees beside the desk, head bobbing between her legs.

Kay gritted her teeth. “I told you not to come in here, Henry.”

“The cook said you needed to see me.”

“If you want me to come to your gig, you better sort out the cold room.”

I turned around and floated like a sleepwalker back to the kitchen.

The dishwasher door slammed.

The engine didn’t start.

I ripped out the crate and stacked the unwashed cups and saucers on the trolley. I slopped pumpkin and ground beef into the garbage hole in the loading bench until the black bag crumbled and the mix splattered the tiles.

When the telephone rang, I punched my reflection in the dishwasher. Scrambled through globs of candy, Ma yelled down the line, “Why didn’t you come home after practice? Did you have a date with that goddamn wannabe femme fatale? Did she let you down like I said?”

“Not now, Ma. I’m busy.”

“Where did you finger your wounds?”

“I don’t have any wounds.”

“You promised to come home.”

I peeked through the saloon door at the customers hollering at each other and drooling over their plates. The cook’s pan beating off the grill sounded like a freight train heading home. Kay had fixed herself up already and was sitting at her table. She was keeping time on the floorboards with a Cuban heel under blue denim. A splatter of paint marked the skin between a brown leather diamond-encrusted belt and a tight black T-shirt. She was pouring Australian sparkling wine for her young lawyer couple.

I wanted to believe that I hallucinated seeing Kay upstairs with Jimmy Smith, but the way she was dressed, and her cocaine eyes, told me that she was getting ready to rock and roll, and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to thank Jimmy Smith or smash up his beautiful face again.

He suddenly came through the saloon door, smacking the wood into my nose. I dropped the receiver into the pink bucket. He smirked and admired his bruises in the dishwasher, combed his hair into a heap, and rolled up his white shirtsleeves.

“Was that the favour you were talking about?” The blue dishrag sopped up the blood from my nose.

Jimmy Smith shook his head and wiped cream off his chin-beard. Then he spat into the pink bucket and flicked his comb at me. “Not bad for Sydney. Wouldn’t make it as a pavement crawler in a real city. But I bet they’d think she’s Veronica Lake up north.”