Australian fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews
  • Time to read 6 minutes

There are scratch marks on his arms that don’t belong to me. Bite marks and bruises, old and new, on his chest and shoulders that don’t match my dental records. There’s mud between his toes from another adventure and I can see the pressure marks from his heavy backpack on his chest. There’s a festival wristband around his arm, but it’s not the same as the one around mine.

Out here in Blacktown, four dollars sixty and sixteen stops from Kings Cross, naked and sore I take an OxyContin out of a box on my bedside table and I hold it between my fingers.

I say ten milligrams.

He opens his mouth and I put the pill on his tongue. I grasp for the floor, for something to wash it down with, for the half a bottle of Coles Fruit Punch + Vodka still down there somewhere, I’m reaching down and out but it’s just out of reach. I’m reluctant to untangle myself from him so I stretch as far as I can and will the bottle to me, that there be some earthquake or another disaster that would knock it closer, roll it towards me an inch.

Joel shifts over a bit, moving me the required two and a half centimetres, and asks what are you doing?

I grunt and say Punch

as my fingers grab the neck of the bottle, and with the other arm I push myself up and over as a long weekend of dancing and sleeping on the ground threatens to send me off the bed entirely, down onto the rug on the floor. I reach the arm out and make a sound like James Brown and Joel catches my elbow and pulls me up and over and on top of him.

I unscrew the cap and hold the bottle out, proud and smiling. And Joel is just like I swallowed it dry already. 

I take a swig and shudder and Joel says don’t you want one and I go yes and fish another oxy off the bedside table which is just a chair I broke the back off one time when I was fucked up on Smirnoff and Ketamine. I’m sitting upright now and I can see where last night’s wine has soaked into the rug, an offcut I blagged from a carpet factory store. I can see the offending bottle, rescued, finished and left, rolled against the radiator on that bit of the floor that’s not quite level. I can see the two piles of clothes - jeans inside out with socks still stuck in the legs, boxers on top and two t-shirt jumper combos in a puddle in the corner of the room, lying where they hit the floor after being flung at the wall last night. There are two pairs of muddy boots side by side and two backpacks leaning up against the door together, keeping it shut. Two empty bottles of off-brand gin from BWS and four empty plastic baggies beside them, two printed with smiley faces, those ones with crosses for eyes and the tongue hanging out. Two plain.

I take a swig and shudder and Joel says don’t you want one and I go yes and fish another oxy off the bedside table

With my hand still wrapped tight around the neck of the punch bottle, I set my jaw, look Joel in the eye and swallow the pill without taking a sip. 

He looks away, up at the ceiling, probably at the part where the last three colours the room was painted are showing under the hole in the off-white. I swallow hard again, pushing the pill down my throat and he only stares upwards and licks his lips and goes what time is it and I’m like I don’t know

daytime? And before he even reaches for his phone I go it’s dead and he nods and I say mine too. I used the last of my battery to text him last night and say

wanna come over and come down

and then I passed out until the knock at the window woke me up and got me up and off the floor.

He goes do you have any uppers left and then at the same time we both say

uppers are for kids, I’m twenty-five now

and crumble into each other, laughing. The angle of his hipbone hurts where it presses into me and I study the marks on his back, the ones that will fade quickly from his body but not from my mind, red ridges raised defensive, angry and horny against fingernails that aren’t on my hands. I can’t have an emotional response to it right now because I’m kind of numb so I just go

I’m all out and he says yeah me too and I go poor planning huh and he says it all got wet and washed away and I think yeah me too but I don’t say anything. I just rest my head on his shoulder and hook my arms under his and around his back, breathe him in. Joel used to say that laughing is transactional, that if you make someone laugh then they owe you something in return. He made me laugh once, when he was still a stranger, at Mardi Gras two years ago after I let him use my lighter.

He pulls me off him and says I need to lie down for a minute

so I lie on the double bed next to him, almost on top of him, the two of us pushed together by a valley created by a spring mattress too many people slept on and never bothered to flip. And we find ourselves again, together, naked and numbing out.

I ask Joel if he has any cigarettes left and he says no, shaking his head, and when he does it knocks a little against mine. I want to smash back in retaliation, I want to hit him so hard I break the skin so blood runs down his beautiful shaved head and through the sheets and leaves a stain, a permanent mark on the mattress, something better than the oily rings from puddles of KY or the yellow custard patches vomit leaves behind, something I know belongs just to him and just to me and I’d never change the sheets and I could write MINE in big letters on his stomach with a sharpie pen as a warning to whoever has Joel’s skin under his nails, whoever has his taste in his mouth. I want to slap him, to leave a bright pink handprint on his dry pale skin and see myself on the landscape of his body, to cover up those other marks with one of my own. But my arm and my brain are in two different time zones so by the time my body is getting around to it my mind has already thought better,

instead I lie back and let the pill wash over me.

I can see Joel’s reflection in the mirror someone else screwed into the ceiling when he leans towards me and says you know, I still love you right and despite the softness, the slowness of everything else I already know what’s coming next and I already have one hand on the back of his head and the other between his legs, I’ve already pushed my face into his, my lips onto his before he can say


but he pushes me off him and his hardness and he must be able to read the desperation on my face because I see him change his mind, shut his mouth and turn back to me and hold me close. He knows I know.

I ask him if he wants another one to keep the buzz up and he’s like will it make me ill and I tell him no so we both take another and he’s feeling anxious about feeling sick so we split a valium and lie down for what feels like an age but is probably more like an hour, tangled together and trying not to think about the fact that real life is going to start again soon. I shouldn’t have sent that message in the first place, and he shouldn’t have come. He should have stayed with his bite mark bandit, and I would have woken up alone on the floor today with clothes on and some dignity intact. He traces his fingers up my thigh and up my spine until his hand is holding the back of my neck. Two months ago I swore to myself I wouldn’t be in this position again and yet here I am, failing to keep another promise.

Joel says neither of us will feel anything right, so what’s the point when I bring up fucking again. I’m like yeah you’re right but I’m lying, I’ll feel something at least but I defer to Joel when he’s not drunk and he says it wouldn't be good and I look at him with those bruises on his body and I agree. So we’re content, at least for now just to hang on to each other and feel nothing. I wish I had some music to put on or a movie to distract us, but all I have is lying and not talking. I hear the trains rattle past outside, reminding me that time is passing, and Joel is passed out on my shoulder so I stare at the ceiling and try to think of jokes. Maybe if I can get him to laugh today, I can get him to stick around for a bit.

Share this and help promote amazing Aussie writing.

About the author:

Sam Coley

Profile picture for user email_registration_feji7Rw3D7
Sam Coley is a writer from New Zealand currently living in Australia. His debut novel, State Highway One, won the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers in 2017 and will be published by Hachette Australia in 2020