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Verge 2017 – Chimera

25

Lori’s Holiday

Sivashneel Sanjappa

Lori was turning thirty in a month and she needed a break. The coming year would be worse than this one.

She must have looked up flights to Fiji about a thousand times in the last two years. At last, she had saved enough money to book the flight and have enough left to enjoy her six days there. She was going, nothing would stop her.

It had been a quiet day at the hair salon where she dressed rich ladies’ hair, so she had finished work early. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the traffic was light. She threw her bag on the sofa when she got home and opened the windows. The kitchen in her small, one bedroom house smelled of rotting banana peel. She took the bins out. All the while, she hummed an old Island song her grandmother had taught her. After pouring herself a glass of iced tea, she nestled down on the sofa with her laptop.

Once again, she compared the flights across all major airlines. She picked the cheapest one.

Her best friend Sam had already transferred her the money for her own ticket. She, too, had been saving up for months. Her waitress job didn’t pay all that much.

Lori had almost clicked ‘pay now’ when her phone rang.

It was Janine, her sister.

Oh no, oh God no.

‘Hello?’ Lori answered.

‘Lori hey, oh how you darling?’ Janine asked.

‘Are you drunk?’

‘No …’

‘Oh my god.’

Janine giggled, and hiccupped.

‘What do you need?’ Lori asked.

‘Can you, uhh, can you pick up Mickey from, uh, from school, please Lori?’

‘Oh,’ Lori let her breath out, ‘uh, yes.’

‘Thanks sis.’

‘For god’s sake Jan, it’s 2pm on a Thursday.’

Janine was gone.

Lori put her phone down and quickly processed the payment.

A month later, Lori was parked outside her nephew’s public school once again. She closed her eyes and tapped the steering wheel, humming her grandma’s song.

The school gates opened. Kids spilled out like a broken dam. She spotted her beloved nephew, Mickey, and waved to him.

Mickey got into the car with the familiarity of a joey climbing into its mother’s pouch. Without speaking, they decided that a McDonald’s run was the right thing for the afternoon.

‘Where’s Mum?’ He asked.

‘She’s sick, lovely. She’ll come get you later.’

‘Ok.’ Mickey looked away at the other kids playing on the slide.

Mickey fell asleep on the floor of her living room that night, the X-Box controller clenched in his little fists. She tucked him in on her sofa.

Her wild afro sprang back into its usual position when she took the hair-tie off. She pulled out some buds from the top drawer and chucked them into the coffee grinder. Best way to do it. The smell of good weed filled the kitchen. Sam’s boyfriend grew them, and she loved Sam even more for it.

She opened her itinerary again and read through the details. Her fingers clutched the phone tightly, as though the itinerary might run away.

It rained the next morning. Lori knelt in front of Mickey, so that her head was sheltered under his umbrella.

‘I’m going away in a couple of days honey,’ she said to him.

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘For a little holiday.’

‘Where?’

‘Fiji.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘Not too far from here.’

‘You’ll come back?’

‘I’ll be back in no time, because I’ll miss you too much.’

She gave her Mickey a squeeze and sent him off. He didn’t ask who was picking him up after school.

It would be no use knocking. She unlocked the front door with her spare key and went right into Janine’s one bedroom flat. A pair of track pants was strewn on the floor. Thick grey curtains held the daylight at bay.

Even the sound of her barging in didn’t wake her sister up. The smell of stale wine seeped out of Janine’s bedroom. Along the windows, the thick curtains battled with daylight and banished it to a distant land.

Lori flicked the light switch on.

Janine snored under the quilt. An empty wine glass rose and fell with her breaths. Her wispy hair spilled out from under the covers.

Lori flung the quilt off her sister. It revealed skinny legs and a pair of small breasts. Obtuse angled shoulders and a nose ring that gleamed in the artificial light. Janine opened her panicked eyes.

‘Oh, Lori, it’s you.’

‘Morning.’

‘Where’s Mickey?’

‘School.’

‘Fuck, what’s the time?’

‘10.30.’

The clock on Janine’s wall displayed 1:42. All three of its arms were immobile, stuck.

‘Got a trial shift tonight at Riversweep.’

‘Why? What happened to Black Truffle?’

‘Left it. That asshole lost it at me last week. I was, like, ten minutes late. I told him to get fucked and walked out.’

‘Great, another job you walked out of.’

‘Well, what was I supposed to do? I don’t want that negative shit in my life anymore.’

‘Right.’ She forced Janine’s black curtains apart. She beckoned the daylight in. ‘Get up, I’ll put coffee on.’

Janine sat up, her back facing Lori. Thin streaks of caked blood stretched with her back as she bent down to pick up her panties.

Steam rose up between the two sisters, from their coffee cups towards the dirty ceiling. Janine watched the raindrops, a red cushion clutched on her lap. Legs tucked under her body. Lori scrolled down her Instagram feed.

‘What kind of dumb name is Riversweep?’ She broke the silence after finding nothing interesting on Instagram. Janine broke her examination of the raindrops.

‘Oh it’s lovely, all girl crew. No bastard men on sight.’

Lori laughed.

‘Men are just the worst.’

‘You always say that. Surely you’ve met at least one good male recently?’ ‘No such thing.’

‘Our Mickey’s going to be a good man.’

‘I try my best. But sometimes he looks at me so sad, I can’t even deal.’ ‘He’ll be ok.’ Lori put her phone down and picked up her coffee. ‘I’m going to Fiji for my birthday.’

‘Oh. Amazing. When?’

‘Friday. Me and Sam.’

‘Wish I could go on a holiday.’ Janine turned back to the raindrops. ‘I haven’t even been able to pay last month’s rent. Can you help me out? I’ll pay you back as soon as I get paid.’

‘Are you kidding me? You don’t even have a fucking job!’

‘I’ll get kicked out, it was due last week.’ Janine’s voice grew softer.

‘Did he pay you maintenance last month?’ She asked.

‘He hasn’t paid in months. He has no job. I don’t even know where he is.’

‘How do you think Mickey feels? His dad’s a criminal. Mum’s got no job.’

The rain turned torrential.

‘I always told you he was useless. Mum told you. Dad told you.’

‘Your dad, not mine. He locked me up in the house, remember?’

‘He was right. Still you went and got knocked up by that piece of shit.’

The coffee was cold.

‘You’re the responsible one. I’m just a dumb bitch.’

‘I’m off.’ Janine picked Mickey up after her trial at Riversweep. The rain had stopped. Lori didn’t invite her in.

‘Bye Lori,’ Mickey said, with sad, wilting edges on his voice.

‘Bye lovely.’

‘Got the job, I’ll pay you back soon,’ Janine said, and scooted off.

Lori lit a joint. Her mind was full of thoughts of a sister who scratched her back till it bled. Who dealt with life by drowning herself in wine. And a nephew who always spoke with a sad voice.

Her grandma’s words came to her, spoken so long ago, when Janine had returned home pregnant and sick. Lori had called her a dumb bitch. She’d said that she didn’t want Janine in the same house as her. Grandma had told her to shut up.

‘Family is who we go to when we have no one else to go to, that bond runs deeper than any other,’ she had told Lori.

She logged into her bank account and transferred a grand and a half to Janine’s name.

Available Funds: $83.72

She didn’t do it for Janine. She did it for her Mickey. She couldn’t bear the thought of him going to live with his wretched father.

She had come so close to her piña colada dreams.

‘Finished packing yet, Lori?’ her boss Sally asked over their late lunch the next day.

‘Still a bit left.’

She hadn’t packed anything. She hadn’t even told Sam she didn’t have enough money to go any more.

Every client that day had asked her how long she was going for. Or if she had been before. Or they reminisced about their own holidays.

‘Well, go and finish it after lunch. No more appointments, I can finish early too. Just need to go to the bank.’ She took some sachets out of the safe and placed it in a tote bag.

‘I’m parked near the plaza,’ Lori said.

‘Me too, I’ll walk with you.’

Sally’s keys jingled with each footstep as they walked down the main street.

‘We went to Fiji, it was ’97, I think. Brett and me, when we were married. It was beautiful. Ten days we were there, no, thirteen, because of the cyclone. But that was February. It’s not cyclone season now?’

‘No.’

‘Is everything OK?’

‘Just worried about Janine.’

‘She’ll be fine. You deserve a break.’

Sally’s phone rang, quite loudly.

‘Hi Sally speaking … oh Mrs Johnston … oh my god, yes, yes, of course, I’ll be there in five minutes, so sorry … yes see you there.’

She turned to Lori.

‘Oh my god, I forgot Mrs Johnston moved her appointment! Can you drop this off?’

‘Of course, go!’

‘Sorry honey, see you in a week, be safe!’

The street was deserted. Through some damned coincidence, she found herself outside a travel agency. The poster on the display window told her to get her holiday off to a flying start!

The sun in Fiji wasn’t as Lori had imagined it to be. It was hot and sticky. Uncomfortable. And there were mosquitoes—everywhere. She did get her piña coladas though. Served in green coconuts. Sam lay in the hammock next to hers, one sun-screened arm dangling loose, the other holding her own green coconut.

‘Did your boss freak out about you going away?’ Sam asked.

‘She was a bit nervous. The temp seemed OK, though.’

‘It’s only six days. She’ll be fine, right?’

‘Yeah, she’s had the salon for sixteen years.’

‘Damn we’re talking about work again.’

‘I’m going to quit.’

‘What? Lori?’

‘Yep.’

‘Why?’

‘I wanna get away from Melbourne.’

‘Where to?’

‘My aunty has a salon in Morwell.’

Sam had hopped off her hammock and was standing next to Lori.

‘But, it’s such a good job, isn’t it?’ She said.

‘Yeah, but time for a change I think.’

Lori’s phone buzzed incessantly under her thigh. She knew it was her mum, she already had three missed calls from her.

‘Well … cheers babe.’

They bumped their green coconuts together, and drank the last bits of their piña coladas.

‘Another one?’ Sam asked.

‘Of course.’

She pulled out her phone after Sam went to the bar.

MUM

Missed Call!

1:23 PM

Missed Call!

1:25 PM

Missed Call!

2:05 PM

Missed Call!

3:20 PM

Janine in hosp. Call me asap, Mum

3:21 PM

She tucked her wild hair back in place. A mosquito landed on her arm and dug its proboscis in. It stabilised its skinny legs between her arm hairs and started sucking. So focused, it became oblivious to everything around it. Lori watched it fill up with her blood for a few seconds. Then she killed it with one swift strike and flicked it off.

Her phone buzzed again. “For fuck’s sake,” she muttered.

It wasn’t from Mum.

SALLY WORK

Lori, hun, bank saying last wks takings not deposited. U dropped it off on thurs? Sorry to bother u on your hol. Sal

3:22 PM

She closed the message and leaned back into the hammock. The sun burned her eyelids.

‘There you go hun,’ Sam said, returning with two new coconuts. She took her fresh piña colada. Sam started telling her about a friend of a friend who worked at a salon in the city …

Lori stared at the waves, slowly rolling onto the beach and dissipating.

Verge 2017 – Chimera

   by Bonnie Reid, Aisling Smith and Gavin Yates