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.”


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