Town Mouse 3
Part One | Part Two
The place stinks of weed, sweat and damp. The electric has been cut off as long as Amy has been here, and light comes from stubby candles, dotted about in saucers and the cut-off tops of beer cans. Spider is sitting on the floor, blowing into his harmonica, picking over the remnants of what might have been a tune before he got started on it, and Mairangi is singing a song that has nothing to do with Spider’s efforts. Her voice is rich and warm, and would be beautiful if it wasn’t fighting the strident sounds of the mouth organ. They are both off their heads, neither hears the other, but Amy winces at the ugly clash of voice and instrument. When she askes “Where’s Hemi?” both pairs of eyes turn on her blankly. Spider manages a shrug.
She steps over Spider’s outstretched legs and walks into the kitchen. Since Ruth came to the squat six months ago, this has been her kingdom and alone of all the rooms in the place, it is clean. There is a small camping gas stove sitting on the bench, which Ruth uses to cook tortuous meals for herself and Rick, her boyfriend, and boils kettles for hot water to wash the few dishes that ever get dirtied. Everyone else eats from cardboard, but Ruth fights an unending battle for normality. She manages to squeeze half Rick’s dole from him every fortnight, before he has had time to spend it on dope or booze, and uses it to keep the stove in gas and buy washing up liquid. The Salvation Army foodbank provides her with pasta, tinned tomatoes, and sundry other cheap, unappetising foods.
Amy doesn’t understand why Ruth is here, really. She is fifteen, a runaway, fleeing, Amy understands, from the probing and punishing hands of a domineering stepfather, and a mother who’s too scared of trying to make ends meet without his support to put a stop to his games. She should be able to find some place better than this – a foster home, maybe, she is still young enough to get some care from the government, if shed just ask. Amy supposes that Rick is all the girl has, the only person to show her any tenderness, and that she puts up with the squalor to be with him. Amy is glad she does – she likes the new hygiene of the kitchen, where the benches and floor are clean and pizza boxes and Mcdonald’s cartons are neatly stacked away in store carrier bags, rather than spread over the floor as they used to be. Ruth carries the bags along the road every Friday, when the garbos come, dropping them into the legitimate wheelie-bins of ratepayers.
Amy fills the kettle from the tap, and lights the gas. When it boils, she tips a sachet of hot chocolate she filched from the hotel room into a mug and drinks it quickly, savouring its rich creaminess in her mouth. It warms her down to her bones and she decides to go straight to bed.
Hemi is in the box room they share at the back of the house, sucking on a bottle of tequila and passing a joint to the skinny girl, Natasha, that Spider brought back last week. The girl has been trying to get close to Hemi ever since, rightly judging the tall Maori to be a better provider and protector than Spider, but Amy doesn’t fear her competition. Hemi might fuck Natasha, if Amy is out or sleeping and he’s feeling horny, but while Amy is around, it’s her bed he’ll crawl into at the end of the night. When she bales, maybe he’ll take on the skinny bitch permanently, but Amy wouldn’t bet on it. Hemi has taste, even if he is a loser.
”Where yous been, eh?” he asks.
”Makin’ a buck.” Amy digs deep into her bag, carefully separating sixty dollars from the thick roll. She passes them to him.
Hemi smiles at her. “He feed you too?”. She nods. They always feed her – the men she picks up are looking for a girlfriend experience, not a whore, a seduction, not a transaction. The money comes later, when she asks for cab fare, or out of their wallets if they’re sleeping; on the rare occasions that it turns out there isn’t much cash, at least she can be sure of eating well.
She yawns, theatrically. “I’m tired,” she says. “If yous fullas are gonna keep drinking and smoking, how ‘bout going into the other room and letting me sleep, eh?” She strips, unselfconsciously, to her panties and slides under the broken-zipped sleeping bag that serves her and Hemi as a cover whenever she is in the squat.
”We’re done, Nat’s just leavin’” Amy sees the anger on the thin girl's face, but she gets up and goes, shutting the door behind her. Hemi pulls off his jeans, and crawls under the sleeping bag with her. His hand cups her breast, but she says “I said I’m tired, Hemi. I already got fucked once tonight, and you got the cash, so let me rest, eh?” He makes a discontented sound, but satisfies himself with curling round her body, and fondling her, hoping to change her mind. When she feigns sleep, he stops, and is soon snoring loudly.
She tries to leave without waking him, in the morning, but he sees her jamming the last of her stuff into her bag. “Where you think you’re goin’?” he asks, as she begins to pull on her clothes, startling her.
“I’m out of here.” She says it casually as if it the most normal thing in the world, while she shimmies the tight white T-shirt down over her naked breasts and reaches for her jeans, but her expression is guilty.
“What yous talkin’ ‘bout?” Hemi emerges from his nest under the cover. His hair sticks up hedgehog-spiny and he has five days growth of beard on his chin. He always lets it grow like fungus up till the time that Income Support call him in for status checks, then he strips it back to look like it’s possible that he might have been looking for work between the steady drip of benefit payments. The eyes that look at Amy are still bleary from last night’s Tequila, and he’s rolling a plain tobacco cigarette, because he’s out of weed.
“I’m gone, leaving, getting out and not coming back. You might be happy in this dump, eh, but I’m looking for something better.”
She’d sat down to pull the pants on, with her back to him, and quickly finds that that was a mistake. She yelps as he reaches and grabs a hank of her hair, hauling her head back. He keeps pulling, and she has to go back with her head, until she’s lying across the mattress. His face is above hers, close-close-close, and his right hand comes up under her chin, gripping her throat.
He smiles. The expression scares her.
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere unless I say so, girl. You ast me for help, when you come to the city, an’ I gave it to you, gave you a place to stay an’ food, right? I looked after you good. That means you owe me, and you don’t leave till I tell you to fuck off, you understand?”
She nods, frightened, and his smile widens into a grin. His mouth tastes like vomit to her as he forces his tongue between her lips, and shifts to kneel astride her.
When he is finished with her, he says again, “You don’t leave, right, bitch?” She is crying, and doesn’t answer.
A sack nailed over the window filters out the noon sun. He has rolled away from her now, and is sleeping, an inch or two of clear space between his body and hers. She slides out from under the cover and dresses swiftly and silently, listening all the time for a change in the heavy, measured cadence of his breathing. If he wakes now and catches her, she knows that she’s dead, or as good as.
She winces as she stands, the soreness between her legs making walking difficult, and the places where his teeth and hands have closed hard on her flesh smarting. The strap of her pack chafes at one deep bite, but she can’t leave it. She creeps out, past others either too sleepy or too stoned to take an interest, and once her feet hit the street, she runs.
Each step is pain, but worth it for the distance it puts between her and Hemi. She glances back, frequently, her vision blurry with tears, but nobody follows. There is no plan to the turns she takes, but she finds herself near a bus stop. She rides the next bus to the end of its route, and when it reaches the beach, the driver tells her “This is as far as we go, sweetheart.” He smiles at her as she climbs out.
Sits on the sea wall, looking out over the waves. Her arms curl round, so that she holds her pack in a hug, clutched tightly against her chest, and she starts to rock gently back and forth.
,” she murmurs to herself, “Shitting, vile bastard.” Tears fill her eyes, but she blinks them away, defiantly.
People glance at her as they walk past, for once not seeing her beauty, but the instead the smudges of Hemi’s ashy fingers tainting her t-shirt, the purpling mark half revealed by its plunging ‘V’. There is no admiration in these faces, though they are touched more with pity than disgust.
Amy straightens, rejecting sympathy. She looks at the people sitting at tables outside cafes on the pavements, couples and singles, laughing and talking, cool, well dressed, undamaged. Not one of the women is as half as pretty as her, she thinks, yet they sit there like they own the bay.
She ponders a while, considering Evesleigh’s money nestled snugly at the bottom of her pack. She crosses the road, enters a shop. The sales assistant gives her a suspicious look, but instead of turning away, she faces the woman down. “I need something good to wear,” she says, “I’ve got a job interview.” The woman nods, says nothing, but when Amy continues, “I’ve saved a couple of hundred,” the suspicious expression shifts smoothly into a smile.
When she comes out, a smart jacket hangs over a smart dress, hiding the bruises on arms and shoulders. Gold glints at her ears, and she has taken time in the changing room to braid her hair into a thick, honey-coloured rope. She looks older by several years than she did when she went in, and the tattered pack is stowed inside a designer duffel-bag.
Chameleon ever, Amy has shifted her colouring to match her surroundings and male eyes follow hungrily, female ones enviously, as she walks along the street, selecting a café. The one she chooses has a predominantly male clientele – male and single.
When she sits at the table, the waiter smiles in frank appreciation.
“What can I get you, ma’am?”
“A latte, and do you have a paper listing places to stay?” The sloppy, slum accent has gone, and she is speaking in brisk clear tones. As always when she wants to appear wealthy or well-educated, she imitates her best friend’s English mother; another stuck-up bitch, Amy thinks, but one with definite class. Undoubtedly, everyone in the café heard her.
Before he has disappeared inside, she can feel the shadow falling over her shoulder.
“Are you new in town?” a man’s voice asks. He put’s his hand on the back of her chair. He’s wearing a Rolex. “I heard you asking about places to stay, I might be able to help. Can I join you?”
A bite! ”Feel free. Are you a real estate agent?” She thinks and hopes not, but it’s the reasonable thing to say.
”No,” he smiles, “But I have a house nearby, and, I’m looking for a flatmate.” When he sits, she sees that he is in his late twenties, already starting to go bald. He is one of the ones whose head followed her as she walked into the place – unfortunately, one of the less attractive ones, she thinks, her heart sinking a little, but it could have been worse – at least he isn’t middle-aged, or fat. He’s wearing Oakley sunglasses, and the mobile he puts on the table is a top of the range Samsung. Amy might not be able to buy designer wear, but she recognises it when she sees it – a sharp eye for detail is an asset when you live on your wits.
She smiles back at him, then glances around the bay. “If it’s close to here,” she says, with a self-deprecating gesture, “I doubt very much whether I’ll be able to afford it. I don’t even have a job yet.”
The waiter brings her coffee, and the paper. She thanks him with a smile, and turns back to the man, taking a sip from the froth-covered bowl. “I think I’d do better looking in here – my savings may have to last a while.”
He nods, but doesn’t leave. “How much can you afford?” he asks. Although Amy can’t see his eyes behind the glasses, the question tells her what she needs to know. This guy is seeing her, and liking what he sees. He probably doesn’t need help with his rent, and he probably hasn’t shared for years. He is acting on impulse, thinking with his prick.
”Seventy-five dollars a week, plus bills” It’s the lowest she can reasonably name – enough to rent her a small room in a half-way decent suburb. It’s also slightly less than half what a room around here rents for. If she has judged him wrong, he’ll bale out now, before she has wasted too much time with him.
He gives a small shrug. “I could probably settle for that. Why don’t you come along and have a look at the place, see if you like it? I’m Guy March, by the way.”
”Amy Glasson.” She smiles and holds out her hand. “How many people share the house?” She’s confident of the answer she’ll get, and gets it. He says there is just him just now, that’s why a flatmate would be so useful – added security, which is much more important than rent -- she can hear the justification in his voice. He leads her to his car, a new Toyota, and tells her about his job in advertising as they drive up the hill. Long before they reach the house, Amy has decided that wherever he takes her, she’ll stay. She intended to move up, and this is so far up that Hemi will never lift his head this high to look for her.
When he drives away an hour later, Guy leaves Amy unpacking. He’s smirking, wondering how long it’ll take him to get his new housemate into bed – he reckons two or three weeks, if he takes her out, shows her round, gives her the good time she can’t afford to give herself. He spends most of the afternoon picturing her naked.
Back in the squat, Hemi has woken to find Amy gone. He is raging at the others, who slept through her leaving, and cannot tell him which direction she took. When Natasha says, “Good riddance!” He lashes out a fist, catching the thin girl alongside the head. Her eye begins to purple, immediately, and Spider yells at Hemi, pushing him in the chest. Blows are exchanged, and Natasha doesn’t know which to encourage – she can sense that with Amy gone, she might have a chance to swap Spider’s bed for Hemi’s, but she isn’t yet sure of her ground. When Hemi knocks the smaller boy down and storms out, heading for Queen Street, where he expects to find Amy working, Natasha puts a band-aid on the cut, and brings Spider a beer. She’ll wait to make her move until she’s certain the blonde won’t be back.
Amy counts out her cash and tucks it in a drawer. At seventy-five bucks a week, it’ll last about three months – that means she can probably hold out against Guy for close on a month before she has to fuck him, and still be sure to have him completely besotted by the time her money runs out. She in glances out of her window, which overlooks the marina, and has views out to Rangitoto, then goes and starts filling the bath. As the water runs, she finds the kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee from the jug Guy put on when they arrived. There is cream in the fridge, so she pours some into the cup. She takes it back to bathroom, and lowers herself into the hot water, wincing as it touches her bruises and abrasions. She sinks down further, so that she’s covered to her neck, and sighs as the aches slowly begin to float away.
The sun begins to set, and Guy leaves his office. A guitarist is sitting on a stool outside the door, busking – he is playing a wistful, classical piece. Guy drops a coin into the open guitar case and heads for the car-park, stepping aside to let a glowering Maori boy pass him, as the Auckland streetlights turn on...