It’s tropics weather. The streets are like hollow stomachs, echoing and ringing from shots. There is a scout group anthem resounding somewhere.
A woman is addicted to gardening; she sometimes tastes the flowers.
Bright-eyed kids appear in the yellow window of a house and their parents pull them back and then a curtain is closed.
Mongolian ass birth mark. Distilled vodka. The mothers at the pool parties at a nearby house in summer would talk about her mother stamping her lower back and batting her with a rod when she misbehaved. ‘They do that sort of thing, it’s normal to do that sort of thing for them.’
It stings her fingers to be in this street, to be near the houses with the gardens. She remembers her bathing suit, covering as much as it could of her back. She remembers her mother’s cherry red face. And how whenever they came over to sit by the school friend’s swimming pool, her mother would go to a Target to buy a new sunhat that’d look like the ones the other mothers wore, but she wouldn’t understand; it’s all in the material.
Blue Ass Baby dyes the fuzz on her head blue now. Twenty-five years later, in the patients’ house nearby, she’s performing a sort of therapy. A candle blows off red musk. She stares into the pupil of the camera.
The patient stands in the centre of the room. He’s a young man. The director says, ‘Now show me exactly how it happened, how did he ask you to take it.’
The young man points at the coffee table. ‘Here,’ he whispers, licks his upper lip. ‘Right here, just here on the coffee table.’
The director says, ‘Now take it.’
The red dot at the bottom of the lens, on.
The young man puts an invisible tab on his tongue.
Bluehead walks around the villa, comes back around the coffee table. The director motions for her to sit on the couch. Bluehead recites her lines, slurring them. ‘I heard there are chickens outside.’
The young man says the safe word, ‘Strawberry.’ He tells the director, pointing at her, ‘She seemed more sober than that. And she didn’t look anything like this. She had long hair and shit.’ The director motions at Bluehead, ‘You heard him.’
Bluehead rubs her eyes. She recently had them cosmetically folded, her eyelids, to make herself universally an angel. She gives the director this look; the director averts his gaze. She repeats the choreography, circling around the coffee table again, she fixes her eyes on the television, which is on, playing a laugh-track sitcom.
‘I heard there are chickens outside,’ she says sensually.
The young man says, ‘Oh word?’
Bluehead stands, and takes the young man outside with her hand. The cameraman follows close behind them. Down the hall with timber walls, opens the fly wire. Cicadas scream.
The director says, cut. They reposition around the empty chicken coops. There’s an extra lighting man who’s adjusting the boom stand. ‘Now show us what happens,’ says the director.
The young man winces a bit, ‘Strawberry.’
‘All right. Break,’ calls the director.
The young man traces his steps back inside, he lets the fly wire slam shut.
‘Jesus Christ,’ whispers the director.
The director sits on the concrete step below the door and reads the patient’s notes and referral. They’ve been working with the same patient for weeks, trying to re-create his acts of animal cruelty and illicit drug possession. This attempt at re-creating one night on camera has taken one and a half months of shooting and rehearsing. Bluehead only stepped into the job this week after the second of the two original actresses dropped out.
The director itches a spot just above his butt, just below his back. ‘You,’ says the director. He’s pointing at Bluehead. ‘Your name, again?’
‘Annie Bu,’ she says immediately. She has her hands behind her back, still standing in the position they’ve blocked out for her.
‘Get me a coffee yeah, 7/11’s fine.’
He hands her his card. As she steps away from her position, the director stands so she can open the fly wire, enter, walk down the hall. She walks by the kitchen, where the young man is punching the air. She exits the front door.
She’s on a familiar street, somewhere she remembers from age six. Walking down to Romy’s house and eating flowers in the mother’s garden. Swimming in the pool and drying off, blue ass baby wearing a one-piece. Then aged 16, no tits but trying on Romy’s bras.
The cars never park on the curb here; the driveways are large and spacious enough for a few. The houses have red gutter guards; the windows are an arch pediment.
Annie Bu and Romy are by the pool. The petals of the flowers they used to eat from the mother’s garden blow off their stems and float in the chlorine. In the house next door Annie hears a scream and turns to Romy. Romy just says, that’s normal. They both use drugs before they have an argument. The next week, they see police out the front and later the man is seen passing the cops cash in rolls. A month later the screaming starts again.
One day after school Romy had a boy over and Annie felt stones piling up in her throat. Annie sat on the silk couch watching MTV while they were out in the garden. Annie always watched Romy, noticing how her skin looked bare. How it felt like flower, how the boy looked at her like she was flowers.
Romy’s mother came in to pass her an orange juice and Annie drank away the stones. When the father came home, they would argue in the kitchen and Annie would hear the mother saying over and over again, ‘the friend is here, don’t start.’ The boy often hung around from then on. They would all sit around the pool together. Annie asked Romy to help her cover her birthmark with foundation if she wore a two-piece.
When Romy’s mother and father divorced, the mother’s face began to change. She was barely around any more to serve the orange juice. Often Annie sat on the kitchen bench for half an hour while Romy and her boy were upstairs. Annie would drink away stones in her throat and watch The Fresh Prince of Bel Air loud, the sitcom laughing-track resounding in circular bellows around the white house.
Outside the 7/11 there are forms of dust settling onto cars whose owners are never coming back. Bluehead goes through to buy herself a bar of something. She doesn’t check the packaging, she’s concerned with something else. She dispenses a straight line of coffee, milk first then the black into a takeaway cup.
The shop assistant says, ‘Be careful outside.’
Bluehead’s tongue feels itchy after the nougat bar. Walking back down the street, she notices red and blue lights simmering a block away from the therapy house. A few people are standing around them. Bluehead turns left instead of right. She walks quickly towards them, like she’s needed there. Nobody says anything when she suddenly appears, until someone suddenly turns around right beside her and asks, ‘Who are you?’
Bluehead pauses. The man checks her, ‘You’re not media?’
‘I’m an actress.’
The man begins to laugh disgustingly—like gunk coming up his throat.
There is a dead woman right in the middle of this shroud. Bluehead swallows and scuffs her heel into the tar.
‘Does it scare you?’ the man asks her.
‘Nah,’ says Bluehead. She’s not removing her eyes from the foam of blood. ‘I work in a pretty drastic industry. We deal with this kinda stuff all the time.’
The man cackles again. A few people turn in silence slightly in his direction. His laugh is ugly, he has steak in his teeth. He softens his voice a little, he has noticed he’s making a fuss.
There are just two cops now pushing some people back, but some of them refuse to move. They keep looking. It’s just that the way she’s been shot is different to how it usually looks. Bluehead thinks, though, that maybe seeing it right in front of you might always seem a little different to how it usually looks. They call the man standing with Bluehead and he mutters, ‘duty calls.’ He goes to a parked van, folds out a case, unveils a huge camera and flash. He is removing the devices from their foam cases as if they are ornaments from God. He is highly focused now, not even looking at Bluehead as he passes.
These cops don’t mind the people standing around, it’s the cameraman who tells them to stand off, aggressively; they are contaminating his portraiture. Some people take a few steps back.
Bluehead looks up and ahead of her. There is another shroud forming further up the road, probably on the next block.
That night was the first time Annie saw somebody gacked and broken in the head.
Annie and Romy got ready for the party the way they usually did. They’d been to a few before, and always wore blue shadow over their eyes. Romy helped Annie lightly spread the foundation across her cheeks. When they went to pool parties, Romy helped Annie patch her birthmark up so no-one would see it. The next step was to brush a swelling of blue over her eyelids. She used her finger to blend it in. ‘Your eyes are hard to do,’ Annie remembers Romy whispering. She rubbed it in hard, fixed it up a few times before she was finished. Blue is difficult to camouflage. Their lips are blood red. They both wore dresses that didn’t cling to their bodies, loose ones, to make it look as though they didn’t care. They borrowed everything from the mother. The mother was intoxicated, throwing petals in the pool, crying with mascara down her eyes, the grocery bags next to her. This is often how she looked these days. She didn’t notice if Romy had a friend over.
The boy took Annie and Romy down the road where he lived and the three of them swam and drank and were on white by 9.00 pm. Romy, Annie and the boy all rode their bikes down the street and a car had hit the boy, but drove off without acknowledging it. Something snapped in the boy. He took some paracetamol to cure the ache in his leg, and something snapped in him. They ended up in the middle of the street, where all the Beamers and Mercedes were parked. The boy was frothing at the mouth. All the lights were out in houses surrounding them. With big safe domes like these, it was easy for the suburb to fall into sleep. Soundproof windows through which they couldn’t hear him screaming for Jesus, candles so they couldn’t smell that he’d wet himself.
Annie and Romy are 14. In Romy’s bedroom, tucked under Romy’s white quilt. Annie has her arm around Romy while they read magazines together. Annie is grazing her fingers through Romy’s hair. ‘I sometimes think that my parents weren’t made for each other, like they weren’t supposed to be in love, but then I think that maybe they weren’t supposed to live here, in this big house with the big pool, and the big garden. Because there’s nothing else to look for, and they’re safe, and they’re bored, but they’re never tired.’
Annie Bu was applying for jobs and directors would reply to her by email: ‘nice to meet you’. Annie didn’t know if it was more correct to say ‘nice to email meet you’ or ‘nice to meet you over the internet’, to remind them that they hadn’t really met before. She was sitting in a flat that she shared with two other aspiring actors, at a square dining table that only had two chairs as part of the set.
Whenever the directors saw Annie at auditions they’d say, ‘I thought you were brunette,’ and Annie would nod and say, ‘Yes, I have dark brunette hair.’ They would allow her nearly a page of dialogue before sending her out and never replying to her emails. Annie spent the roundness of her day in her email inbox and the edges of the day watching sitcoms in her flat. One day in her emails was Romy. Annie took three days to open the message.
Romy was engaged to be married, her second marriage now, to a film producer.
On the wedding day Romy spoke to Annie a few times in passing. Something about her job at the mobile company, something about the florist who did the wedding, Alex. Something about moving back into the old house with the garden. Then something about Annie’s eyes, they look different, had they grown an extra fold? Annie said no, an infection grew there, the surgeon said they might as well. Annie drove home without having drunk anything and got pulled over by the cops. She took a breathalyser and when she got home she looked at herself in the mirror and reminded herself a little of her mother. Her mother, who had always been too far from home.
The next day she applied for the job she’d been avoiding. It was in narrative film counselling. An actor for filmed therapy sessions, simulating real-life events for recovering patients. She’d earned a bit of money from that in the past. Annie shaved her head in mourning.
The woman who is crying doesn’t know the woman who is dead, she is crying for her own comfort.
‘Looks like she was run straight over,’ somebody says, and the woman starts to cry louder.
‘This was a shooting,’ another unofficial says.
Bluehead realises that she hasn’t deciphered the body for herself. She looks over a shoulder. The woman’s knee is backwards. Her body is melted into the tar.
A man wraps his silk robe tighter as the wind picks up.
The hair on the woman’s face seems to exhale. The cameraman flashes on her chest, up to her headshot. The empty, bemused expression on her face. Evacuated humour. The cameraman pauses, sniffs, his laugh from before still resounding. He asks if anyone’s got a cigarette. The cops don’t say anything. Bluehead shakes her head.
A few people have vacated to the curb and are crying into their palms. The cameraman goes to them and asks if anybody has a cigarette. He takes off in his van without smoking. The cops are asking the people on the curb how the woman’s knee got shoved in, and if they heard the explosion of a bullet that smattered into her chest and slugged bits of her off over the pavement. Something about a man. Something about yelling, something about windows broken, something about a bloodied street. Someone says you can still see where she was bleeding from her nose right here on the pavement. Romy’s face was not touched tonight but it has old bruises on it.
‘What took you so long?’ the director asks. They’re all smoking out the front. The young man, the patient, is watching CNN really loud in the living room. He’s clutching onto the arms of the chair.
The boom-man is trying to eat instant noodles with a silver spoon. He stirs them every time he takes a mouthful.
Bluehead says, ‘They ran out of coffee in the machine. They’re huge things, they take ages to refill.’ She passes him the takeaway cup.
‘It’s one of those days, huh?’ nods the director. Silence. And then the director says, ‘I noticed you bought something else?’ He holds his phone up with the transaction on his bank balance.
Bluehead tries to breathe silently. ‘Yeah, I got hungry waiting.’
‘That’s all right,’ laughs the director. He laughs loudly, ‘It’s the least I could offer, it’s a late shift, this one.’
Bluehead says thank you. ‘Are we waiting for the patient now?’
‘Yeah,’ says the director. ‘His psych says you’ve got to give him at least forty-five minutes before he’s mentally capable of cooperating again.’ The director turns to the boom-man, ‘Which I think is just bullshit.’ The boom-man sighs, ‘actors’, with his mouth full of noodles.
‘All right,’ says the director after laughing for a bit. ‘Go fix yourself up. But don’t distract the patient.’
Bluehead fixes blemishes from where the makeup’s rubbed off naturally, from the oil, or from accidental smudging. She brushes concealer and dabs foundation over them, blends it with her fingers. Her eyelids are folded so that there are two these days. She has blue eyeshadow faint over the lids. She doesn’t blend any over the top of it. They are two clear parts, two clear segments, like Romy’s. All made up now, she reminded herself a little of Romy, white with blue eyes. Every time she visited Romy, she became a little more like her.
Jamie Marina Lau is a writer and artist. Her first novel, Pink Mountain on Locust Island, was published in 2018 by Brow Books.