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?”


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