Originally published in Voiceworks, ISSUE #103 ‘BANG’ (page 89-91).
I’m a yellow bitch who paints their skin white. At dawn, I move through the streets like a zipper lining. At dusk, I piss blood. The magazines tell me gasoline wrecks the liver, but I suck it up through a hose anyway. There’s old newspapers on the floor when I trample in—dog shit on the soles again—and when I call for X, I remember she’s not here (she used to sit on the ground, bare ass sticking to the tiles, reading the paper with a fag between her teeth).
There’s a deadline at six. It’s the lack of weight in my shoes that makes it hard to breathe. I’m leather stretched over blood sanded to the splint. I drink bleach every morning with rice, till there’s nothing left but splintered organs, and there’s a hollow where my stomach should be. When I strip the paint off my skin, there’s nothing left. Just a sharp tasting space and maybe a cunt or a hollow dick, but mostly a space. Inverted. Nothing.
It’s five oh five and if I make this deadline I can pay the rent. I work in grooves for god particles—show them white smiles, bullet holes in black, freaks selling sodomy—I am the horn to their gramophone. But the mandible hangs loose, muscles dither, torn. Work my jaw or never work it again. I go for a fag anyway, stick my neck out the window, forehead resting on the glass angled away from the sill. Half in, half out. Cigarette smoke curling from my pores.
Five floors down isn’t much of a jump, but it’s what separates the sugar cubes from the ants. There’s a stretched disturbance underfoot. Shrieking, sometimes warbling. Black men jaundiced through the throat. Yellow girls validated with their baby bald cunts. Brown queers, dirty queers, shit-strewn queers in stockades down Swanston. And when it rains, it rains white. Pressure cooker slants in the East have cracked, laughed, run, till there’s nothing but white and coloured bodies crushed between gears. In the West, whites are taken hostage and browns are shot down. Five floors down isn’t much of a jump, but it’s a shock to the boys skidding along tram lines in skate shoes. I see X through the ember—great stone face, grateful hate—as I tumble, spin, down, down, down. And as I crack the concrete, snap my neck, there’s an ember of white-fanged spite. It’s raining.
Five fifteen and a knock at the door. I’m certain it’s the police. But it’s the black kid, errand boy, down from the newsroom. There’s a riot down at the junkyard and won’t I come and check the scene for tomorrow’s deadline? I don’t tell him I’ll be five floors down at six. But it’s what I do—paint the whites as heroes, paint them god. It’s liquid propaganda to bolster the gears. I colour myself white, grab my notepad, and follow him out the door. There’s a noose around his neck whenever he passes a white man, but the kid doesn’t seem to notice. A chink in my paint is a chink for the rape—for a moment I stop, hand out, steady, breath, waver. Down the lift and the kid’s already outside, watching skate shoes yelp against the slick lines. A car is waiting, door open, and the kid wants me to go in first. The junkyard is down the road, to the left, not ten steps away. But it’s raining.
Five thirty, the rain eases up, and the junkyard’s on fire. The kid’s off, sprinting into the fight. He skips along the way, grabs a broken bottle, and slides into the filth with a warbling war cry. There will be hell to pay if he ends up dead before tomorrow’s deadline. The driver turns back to the wheel and starts up the engine. I’m out, into the heat. Five mountains of shit, churning in piss and blood. There’s the smell of burning hair, not quite human—there’s more than junk melting in the fire. Fifty blacks, browns, and yellows, throwing bottles and scrap metal into the gears. Twice as many whites, oiling the cogs. Bevels groan and helicals splinter. If it goes on much longer, the earth will stop spinning.
Five thirty-five and the kid’s lost his arms—chewed up by the gears just beneath the soil. He lands against a broken washing machine. No paint could save the stain. The guns are out, both sides, blacks throwing wrenches and dogs into the gears, whites throwing girls to slicken up the spurs. Canisters explode somewhere, deep in the valley. I’m left standing in the tire tracks. The paper’s too wet to write on. The rain’s started up again.
Five fifty seven and I see X in the ember. Screaming bitch, skin on fire. She used to play dress up, drunk at three. Sock down her pants, black on her skin, heeled boots up to her thigh. X wasn’t X unless she had a second skin. To be a one, you have be consistent, she’d say, and as she swung her hips, the fag between her teeth went bobble, bobble, bobble. But I’m not one, she’d say, I’m zero and a hundred. And there’s that laugh, almost like a groan, a sad little groan, from the embers of her teeth. But when she saw the splashes of white against sidewalks in the city, the markings on the walls, the colour of salvation, her cunt cleaned from the inside out, once, twice, three times—five floors down wasn’t much of a jump. It was a cruelty. No rain that day. It was warm, beautiful and sunny.
Six oh oh comes with the most frightening kind of violence. The quiet desperation of being trapped in the bubble before death. The kid’s splashed across the washing machine, still searching for his arms. He’s breathing like a shot rabbit, impossible, stunned, but still searching. Blacks, browns, yellows. They’ve seen me now. Paint stripped. Naked space. Inverted. Nothing. Heels come down, sunk in gore. There’s wavering, an expectation, well? Well? Aren’t you coming down? The rain, the rain just keeps on coming. Oblivious. Dirty. The gears are almost dead. There’s a rise in the air as the earth slows to a stop.
They keep looking at me. Waiting. Steeped in ignorance, wrest from god like wounded animals. They have the same proud savagery in their jaws. Mute enough to burn their own homes to the ground. X would say otherwise. But she was cleaned from the inside out, once, twice, three times and every time I looked at her there was nothing but white. Dirty white. And though the window was angled that day, I ask myself if I pushed her out of jealousy or disgust. And as the kid convulses, I see X in his triumphant, ragged breaths.
It’s not until I throw a wrench into his head that I realise he’s seen god, not here on earth, but in his own blood. He’s zero and a hundred. I can never be. When I walk away, the earth slowly, slowly, begins to turn again. I follow the tracks back home.
Six oh one. I’ve missed the deadline. The rain keeps on coming.
©Yuki Iwama, 2016