Authors: Dorothy Johnston,Port Campbell Press
Tags: #Short Stories
Of course, he could go to the police and tell them what he'd seen; but where was the fun in that? No, Bernie would rather find them and exact his own form of revenge.
Sue told herself, returning to her car, that they would give Bernie the slip. She relished the challenge in advance. She would take charge again. Camilla and Laura would do what she told them to.
Turning her back on the camels, starting up her car, Sue thought of the three of them flouncing out of the travel centre, Laura dressed in red. Sometimes the best defence was to seize the initiative. That young man with dreadlocks in the phone booth would remember Laura. Men did that; they remembered Laura and came back for more.
Laura had been laughing, bright and generous, and would be so again.
Waiting was Bernie's element; he swam in it, while she and Camilla and Laura had been clinging to the sides of a sinking boat.
, thought Sue, turning into Grimwade Street.
They would rent a three bedroomed flat in Sydney or Melbourne, maybe even Adelaide or Perth - a real city, anyway, a city big enough to find themselves in. The flat would be in a concrete block, but that would be the sole point of comparison. There would be no wedge of yellow paddock through the window of the smallest room.
They would map out â together they would do this â how to put behind them the events of a hot night in Canberra, in January, at the turning of a new millennium. They would come to an understanding, and then they would let it go. They would find work, simple, undemanding, as checkout chicks, or some such. Laura might find a sugar daddy. That would please Laura; she would be good at it. They would not take Laura's money, though. The money Laura earnt would be hers alone.
Sue's was the only car in the carpark. She had not passed or seen another car on the whole of the drive back. Clouds grew lower, thicker. The moon and stars would be obscured tonight.
Two headlights, big as searchlights and as unforgiving, framed and fixed her. Sue swayed, staring, blinded, her hands shaking on the steering wheel. They weren't car headlights, not the police lights she had feared they were, but the lights from Bernie's shop.
Sue steadied herself. She realized that she was shivering and that her face ached, as though she'd plunged it into icy water.
Darkness grew, stretching and arching its back across the suburb. Regret was immense that she could not save the camels from the butcher's knife.
A man had come to the door just as Sue was re-entering the city. Since Camilla was busy with another customer, Laura had answered the man's ring and invited him in. She'd been told not to, but for once she disobeyed.
Laura had recognized the cargo pants and green shirt. âHello Bernie,' she had said.
Laura drew the blinds in her room, and sat on the end of the bed.
When Bernie smiled - âYou've been holding out on me,' â Laura replied, âNo, I haven't.'
âThose other two got in our way,' Bernie said.
When Bernie wanted to know how it had been with Josef Kafer, Laura told him, right from the beginning, when Josef had appeared at the door with a wallet full of notes.
âI thought he was Father Christmas.'
Laura pantomimed the business with the tie. Bernie laughed and Laura registered the sound of it. She hoped Camilla would not come running in.
Bernie sat down and took off his running shoes. He placed them underneath the chair. He folded his cargo pants neatly, and his pale green shirt.
When Laura asked him who mowed
lawn, Bernie laughed again, with intense excitement.
Laura took him through the steps. He'd brought his own tie.
âIt's a nice one,' she told him.
Laura thought of the shadow on the walls that would soon be gone. The girls' room might become an office, or an old lady's sewing room. The old lady would look up, thinking she'd caught sight of a brown shadow, but there'd be nothing there.
Bernie lay down naked on the bed with his hands behind his head.
Laura handed him the tie. âHere, you do it,' she said.
âI'll need your help.'
âWhen it comes time, I'll help you.'
âIs this how what's-his-name did it?'
Laura nodded, beginning to sway to and fro.
Bernie looked as neat as a Christmas parcel with the tie around his neck; oh, but he was neatly packaged! His clothes on the chair lay waiting for a bigger man to fill them out. A more solid man might step into Bernie's clothes and walk out the door, while Bernie lay on the bed wrapped up like a Christmas parcel.
Laura knew exactly what was coming, and this gave their performance a shape, an order that was neat. She hadn't thought about the order since that hot night with Josef, since she'd taken Josef's fifty dollar notes and put them in her purse.
Bernie looked peaceful and content. Laura felt she could lick a stamp and put it on him and send him away.
Shadows yawned and stretched, and then moved on to another place.
Bernie had been clever in his choice of timing. He'd watched Sue leave and Camilla's client climb the stairs. His green tie matched his shirt; it might have been new life that he was celebrating, the turning over, not of one year, but a thousand years.
Laura had answered all their questions to the best of her ability. Sue had not believed her. Now Sue would see that she was right.
Camilla came to the door of Laura's room.
She grabbed Laura by the shoulders and pulled her away from the body on the bed.
Laura looked up into Camilla's face with a happy smile. âLook, Cam,' she said. âIt's over now. Tell Susie.'
âThe Man Who Liked To Come With The News' first appeared in
The State of the Art,
âCommuting' first appeared in
issue 52, Spring 1992 and as âA Christmas Story' in
Motherlove, Stories about Birth, Babies and Beyond
âThe Studio' first appeared in
, Winter 1996
âMrs B' first appeared in
Copyright Dorothy Johnston
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced, by any process without written permission. Enquiries should be made to the author.
Eight Pieces on Prostitution
is distributed by the Australian Society of Authors and Port Campbell Press
Cover design by Scarlett Rugers
Cover photograph: âTwo Women at a Window' 1655/1660 by Bartolome Esteban
Murillo; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Johnston, Dorothy, 1948 â author
Eight Pieces on Prostitution / Dorothy Johnston
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