Full house at the Animal Bar. Bodies thrash. The mosh pit peaks. Acacia feels the throb of drums, the electric pulse of guitars. The lead singer screams into her mike. Acacia’s favourite song. Lilliput Drive, named after the street they live on. Pretty lazy name.
‘I’m a few screws short…’
Acacia’s elbow jabs someone. She doesn’t apologise. The guy’s already gone, lost to the throng. She struggles against the shifting crowd. A knee thumps her hip. A fist whacks into her arm. Jake grips her hand as they force their way forward to taste a better view. Sweat seeps into her bra. Music beats through her. She loves this sea of people. The thrashing music, the heat of bodies. She grinds her hips against a leg. Fingers squeeze her flesh.
Then the drums intensify. Adrenaline rush. She jumps, thrusting her fist into the air. Something cracks against her temple. Numb silence. The room brightens. She falls against someone and is pushed away. The roar of the band returns, the crunch of glass beneath her boots. Warm juice drips down her face. She can taste sweat, blood, rum. A small broken bottle rocks against the floor. Jake drags her towards him. His spiked hair has gone limp in the heat. She rubs her fingers through it, laughs, flicks her tongue across his cold lips. Her head throbs to the drum beat. She wants to dance. Jake pulls her through the horde. Not yet, she wants to shout, one more song, but Jake keeps pulling, leading her away from the stage.
On the way out, they find the rest of the group and Michael, thrown out for fighting. On the concrete sidewalk they laugh, examine themselves. Thursday night. The city is pulsing with people, full of voices. Cool air amplifies damage: bumps, bruises, scratches. Martina looks at Acacia, raises her eyebrows. Blood stains Acacia’s cheek.
‘I’m fine,’ Acacia murmurs.
She stumbles, sits, rests her head on her knees. A car pauses on the other side of the street, honks, someone yells ‘taxi’. Jake’s hands, like gravel, lift her. Acacia shuts her eyes. He carries her the two blocks to the Hospital, sits her in the waiting room, then leaves. Some of her friends follow. A few of them hang around just outside the door, smoke, joke, shout. Their presence causes the door to shuffle open, closed, open. Voices enter. Bang. Her friends are muted. Over and over. Other patients glare from the seats in front of her. Acacia watches Martina through the window. She’s in the garden, bumming a joint off a man with a drip in his arm. Michael is next to her, telling her about a girl who put her stiletto through his toe. Then a security chick walks in, sticks her pointy fuckin’ nose out the door and says:
‘If you continue to disturb the other patients I’ll have to ask you to go.’
What a bitch. Michael says he has to get out of here. He means he feels like punching someone. Michael and the rest of their friends leave. Off to the pub. No big deal. She’ll catch up with them later.
She lies across two seats. Emergency. Friday night. Could be a long wait. The man opposite frowns at her. Fragments of leaves, chunks of glass, stuck to her boots and on the seat beside her. She grins. He shakes his head. Three hours later a doctor can see her. A small Indian woman in a blue shirt and white coat. Acacia is taken out the back to sit on a bed.
‘So what happened?’ The doctor asks.
‘Bad luck I guess. Rum bottle. You know the ones. Pocket sized. Perfect for concerts. When you’re done you throw them into the crowd right?’
The doctor washes her hands in a nearby sink, puts on rubber gloves and wheels over a metal trolley. She examines the cut, removes a shard of glass with tweezers.
‘And the scar?’
The doctor pats the wound with a cotton ball. Acacia winces. The cut stings.
‘Car accident. Got a plate in there,’ she smirks. ‘I’m a real metal-head,’
The doctor gives a brief smile but continues wiping her forehead.
‘You’re lucky the bottle didn’t hit the plate or you might have a permanent dent. Just a butterfly stitch for this one, I think. Did you lose consciousness?’
‘Nope. Just a cut.’
Acacia is stitched up and sent off. She takes a bus to the pub. Head on top of her arms and resting on the seat in front, lips against the metal frame. The smell of oxidising steel: like water, chlorophyll, blood. She’s starving. Her mouth salivates. She can’t help herself. Steel tastes like a car crash – that moment when the crunch of another motor vehicle eats into your spacious interior, the connection of flesh and tin, the awareness of every second, the pulse of blood, breath forced from lungs, an explosion of pain up your thigh. Fear. Excitement.
Acacia leans over and presses the stop button.
Acacia enters The Rabbit Hole: apartment building and mid-city labyrinth. Lost in the maze, her room. Studios painted in the seventies. The landlord gave her the choice, red and orange walls, or pink and purple. A red room has more energy. Acacia bites into an apple. Frees a hand. Manoeuvres around her shopping. Finds her keys. Inside, she drops an armful onto a chair, adding to the pile. She crunches her apple. The air is thick with the stink of musty furniture; seventies décor, remnants. She opens the window, lets in the noise of the city: pigeons coo, traffic toots, squeals, thumps with music. A child cries, a neighbour shouts, ‘Shut up or I’ll smack you again.’
She checks her new hair cut in the mirror, short, longer on the right, red as the walls. Her fingers prod beneath the strands. A bump behind her right ear, the scar well hidden, beneath, metal. She wonders where the hospital gets the steel from. Blacksmiths or scrap yards? Maybe she’s rocking a piece of Porsche, or the drum of a washing machine. She begins the daily drudge: washing, dressing, painting her eyes kohl, her lips red, filling the scratches in her black nail polish, the scars on her face. When she’s done she goes out into the dusk, night creature of punk. Headphones in. Music screaming.
Queen of Hearts – drinks, rock and poker. Acacia’s only been around a few months but she’s already a fixture, claimed by the pub, practically peeled from the wallpaper. Friday night: a live band and a card game. She’s the only girl behind the bar and apart from a few women congealing in the corner, the only chick in the place. Men harden across the bar, flex their bodies, ask her to:
‘Give me a shot of tequila and a rum, no ice … Vodka, lemon, lime and bitters … Schooner of whatever beer you have on-tap, and have a glass on me … Screaming orgasm? Meet us in the alley.’
Lame. Acacia winks, laughs. One of her many skills: a convincing giggle. She claims her free drinks and pockets her tips. She watches a few blokes by the bar. The one with the beard and glasses, puts a mechanical spider on the counter, and the legs begin to clack across the surface, heading towards the guy at the end, in a black polo-shirt, muscular arms. He picks up his beer, leans back on the stool. The others tease him.
‘Come on, you’re not scared of spiders are you?’
The spider stops on the edge, points a leg out, tilts. Then a leap onto Tommy. He throws himself back and his beer smashes to the floor in a sticky mess. Great. The other three laugh. The owner retrieves his toy, rolls up his shirt sleeve and shows them a thin piece of tape on his forearm. The next big thing. Non-invasive chips. Telekinesis: the party trick.
‘Still a few bugs,’ he says, chuckles, ‘I wanted it to jump straight away.’
A long night. Doesn’t end until five in the morning. The boys herd the last of them to the door with the traditional ‘Mmm Bop’ farewell song. Acacia sings, shakes her hips, wipes down the bar. The boys are smiling at each other. A customer whistles. Bit of entertainment for the road. She looks up.
‘What? I love this song.’
Laughter. Time to go.
She walks along the curb through the haze of other people’s cigarettes and spirits. A kebab in hand. Music in her ears. Sauce spills down her arm and she sucks it up. When she’s done, she squeezes left over kebab-mush onto the sidewalk. A one legged pigeon and a bung-eyed crow descend. She likes these trampled and fattened city birds. They’re just like her.
Acacia enters the lobby of her building. A guy sits at one of the low tables. He’s wearing a red shirt and Tripp pants, chains and studs along the legs, his hair spiked out like a hedgehog.
‘You know there’s no breakfast here right?’ She says.
‘What? You mean this isn’t the cafe?’ He feigns shock.
Mouth open slightly, she can see his lip-ring, a curl through the skin. She invites him up to her room, for coffee. He takes her stockings off in the lift and they discard them in the hall.
Brick hits glass at 5.05pm. A crunch and thump. People crouch, scream, run. Two middle-aged women, huddle in a corner. Acacia has come to watch the CBD fill with dough-people. Most try to get away. Despite the designer shops and corporates, this street has a reputation for random gunmen, robberies, ram-raids. Easy to spot the radicals – hoodies are a bit suss for October. Sweat soaks under armpits and across lower backs. This is an act of reclamation. Some kind of Robin Hood shit. A mass of hoods fill David Jones. A mad grab for clothes, jewellery, wallets, and perfumes. Some shoppers realise, there are no guns. Looters multiply. A chick who was prepared to pay a hundred and eighty dollars for a dress fifteen minutes ago is stuffing it in a four hundred dollar handbag and walking out with it for free. A warm up.
The boys thought this would be a good time to protest. Street lights flicker on. A low whine drums along the street. Cooler air blows in from the coast. Not summer yet. Acacia meets Michael near a window full of diamante handbags and they walk to the end of the building. Jake and a couple of other guys leg it across the road in between traffic to meet them. The boys want to wreck the Meeting Spot, an outdoor garden for politicians and corporates to meet, do business, eat, while people down river live in half rotten houses with mud and sewerage in their yards. They want to pour gasoline on the garden, kill the plants. This isn’t a crude act. The boys are fully high-tech. Hackers disable the electronic gates.
‘Wanna help us?’ Michael asks.
He leans by the corner of the building, biting his tongue piercing, pulling at the metal with his teeth. Jake lights a cigarette.
‘Nah she’s a vegetarian. Aren’t you Kay?’ Jake uses her old nickname, one he knows she hates. ‘A tree hugger.’
Acacia punches his arm. He flinches, laughs.
‘Ferns are her friends.’
She kicks his shin. Too hard. The other guys are laughing and smoking. Michael is on his phone, his hood up, cigarette between his teeth.
‘Thought you chicks were supposed to be caring,’ Jake says.
‘I’m not your fucking mum.’
Michael’s phone beeps. They walk the block to the Meeting Spot. Ross is already there. He wheels three red plastic bottles to the entrance. Gas fumes in the air.
‘How can you call yourself a true anarchist?’ Ross shakes his head. Michael must have messaged him, told him she wasn’t going to help.
Acacia puts on her teen pop voice.
‘I’m like totally anti-establishment.’
Acacia leaves them. She wants to check out what else is going on. In an alley, piles of designer clothes, 3D solar TVs, unopened boxes of stock sit. Around the corner, shrieks come from the pet shop. Fuck cages. Acacia picks up a rock.
A CCTV camera whirrs above her, throwing itself around the black capsule like a trap-door spider with its prey. There will be screens in the city tomorrow, hundreds of partial faces on loop. No hood, she’s screwed.
At the end of the street, police lights. Acacia pauses, arm back, feels the weight of the rock in her hand. A van pulls up next to the cop cars, drops off police in riot gear, leaves. Batons drawn, shields up, guns holstered. Paddy wagons waiting to lock people up.
‘Fucking cages,’ Acacia shouts and throws the rock.