Australian girl struggles with her alcoholic boyfriend
I walk home from work, across the park in the shadows of the housing commission flats. It's not a park, really, more of an enlarged roundabout where junkies buy drugs and trendy interlopers read the papers on Sundays. It's almost dark and I stay close to the lamps, striding quickly through their fluorescent glow. An aboriginal woman sits with her legs flung apart on a scratched bench. She cradles a bottle in a paper bag, mumbling quietly. She looks up as I pass.
'Got a dollar lady?'
'Not tonight. Sorry,' I say quickly, pulling my bag tighter over my shoulder.
'You Paul's missus aren't you?' she calls after me. 'He's a good boy, Paul.'
I keep walking, looking down at the uneven footpath. Paul’s my boyfriend. We've been living in the neighbourhood for two years. He gives the regulars his change sometimes, a cigarette, even the odd longneck. He listens to their stories, and they know his name.
I look up ahead, towards the red door of our terrace house.
I can't wait to take my work pants off. There’s some mince in the freezer I could defrost for dinner. Make a quick spag bol.
I kick the black recycling bin on the doorstep and the tall brown bottles chink against each other. There are eighteen - four more than yesterday. I breathe out hard through my nose and push the key into the front door. The warm smell of alcohol fills the living room. I throw my bag down on the floor and put my palms over my face.
Paul is lying on his back on the couch, shoes on, head lolling on the armrest. He is snoring deeply, one arm thrown out to the side like a sleeping child. There is a Coopers Red tucked into the crook of his other arm, almost empty. I rip the bottle away from him and knock it down heavily on the wood coffee table, hoping the noise will stir him. He's out cold.
I fall on top of him, shaking his shoulders and shouting at his sleeping face, eyes puffy and shut tight, lank curls falling out of a ponytail.
'Paul! Wake up. Jesus. I can't believe this shit.'
He lets out a beery groan and rolls over onto his side, pulling a cushion over his eyes. I slide down onto the floor next to him, defeated.
'You couldn't even stick to it for one day.'
Paul sits up with effort, eyes bleary and blinking.
'I'm okay,' he says, trying to make the words sound clear and rounded. 'I just had a couple of beers after work.'
'Bullshit. You're off your face.'
He pulls his hair back into the elastic band, smoothes the fabric of his t-shirt down over his chest.
'I thought we said no drinking during the week,' I continue, aware of how high-pitched and panicky my voice sounds. 'I thought we had an agreement. That was only yesterday. Yesterday.'
Paul let's out a sigh and looks at the bottle. There is still a swallow left in the bottom and I know he wants it.
'I worked12 hours today,' I say, my pulse rising. 'And then I have to come home to this shit… your shit. I just don't know what to do anymore.'
He shrugs, almost imperceptibly, and dips his head into his chest.
I walk into the kitchen, take two pieces of frozen bread out of the freezer and throw them into the toaster, slamming the lever down. I stand in the dark, waiting, humming with anger.
Using the couch to steady himself, Paul walks to the bathroom. I follow him and watch for a moment. He rocks back and forth in front of the toilet, trying to find his balance, his pants hanging around his ankles. There will be piss all over the seat.
The toast pops up and I butter it thickly and then add a layer of peanut butter. The creamy, salty-sweet mess sticks in my throat. I force it down with a hard swallow of water straight from the tap. Paul walks down the hall to the study and slams the door. Inside, he will fall face down onto the spare bed and pass out again.
I make two more pieces of toast and eat them, too: standing up, looking numbly at the magnets and unpaid bills on the fridge. I move to the couch and flick on the TV. All the shows are halfway through and my stomach aches from eating too quickly.
I switch it off and listen to Paul's muted snores from down the hall. I think about going to him, curling up behind him, tracing the raised outline of the olive-green dragon on his back, twisting my legs around his waist. But he won’t get hard tonight. And I am so tired.
The beer bottle sits in front of me on the coffee table and I pick it up and drain its last milky dregs. I grip the slippery neck, raise it above my head and throw it forcefully against the wall. The release courses up my arms and through my shoulders. I sit for a moment, feeling strangely calmed. The wall is dusted with glass and see a dent winking at me from the white paintwork.
The sound must be enough to wake Paul, and I wait for him to come out of the study and talk to me. But the door stays closed, so I go upstairs to bed, stepping carefully over wet curls of glass.
My mobile bleats from the bedside table and I turn it off and stretch my arm onto the Paul's cold side of the bed. There is a dent on the pillow where his head should be. I shower and stand at the wardrobe in my undies and bra. I take out a good Jigsaw suit, remembering I have a lunch meeting, and put on a little lipstick and eye shadow.
I walk down the stairs and into the living room, hoping I will be the first one up, so I can clean the floors. I feel ashamed about throwing the bottle now. It is not something I have done before.
Paul is already in the kitchen, standing next to the kettle, lining up two cups on the bench.
'You want tea?' he asks, not looking at me.
My eyes fall on a broom leaning against the wall, next to a brush and pan.
‘Careful,’ he says. ‘There's still a bit of glass about.'
I move behind him and grab him around his bare belly. My chin rests on his shoulder and I whisper into the pink curve of his ear, the holes of earrings past still indented into the soft lobes.
'I'm sorry for smashing the bottle.'
He hands me the tea and I sip it. It's clean and hot.
'It's good,' I say. 'Thanks.'
Walking down the street, I feel a dull ache throbbing in my heel. Leaning on a fence for balance, I slip off my shoe and rub the skin. I look at my fingers and am surprised to find they are covered in fresh blood. A cold swell of saliva rises from the back of my jaw. I wipe my hands on a rag of tissue in my bag, put my shoe back on and limp to the bus stop where a 303 waits with its doors open. I push into the humid mass of bodies and sit down with a bump next to a polished Asian man and ask him to open the window.
At work, I kick my shoes off under my desk and take my foot up to my knee, peering at the heel. I wipe away the dried blood with spit and press on the skin, feeling a sharp pain underneath.
A tiny piece of brown glass has burrowed deep under the tough calloused flesh. I push the skin together and dig my fingernails in on either side. The glass spits out cleanly and I pick it out, holding it up to the light for a moment. The sharp sliver gleams amber, and I roll it for a moment between my thumb and forefinger, before brushing it into the rubbish bin.