‘You’ve got two choices.’ Travis said. This was in the bar, the sunlight streaming in through dust and fingerprints. Cracked leather bar stools, their foam insides spewing out. Old men staring up at the TV screen.
‘You either fuck or you get fucked.’ Travis’ beer breath breaking across my face and he pointed to me. ‘You can’t let her fuck you like this, man.’ Then he tilted back his drink, edges of the sun glinting through the golden liquid.
‘I mean you didn’t even do shit, right? She’s probably just off fucken’ some other guy. Fucken’ bitch.’ He leaned his face onto his free hand, looked up to the TV screen. It was a daytime movie with a lawyer in a court room and a woman crying in the dock, then he turned to me.
‘You’ve still got keys to her apartment, right?’
It was right off Main Street, the apartment, down this concrete driveway and then you park your car beneath the buildings, painted rectangles numbered and allocated. Travis pulled up in someone else’s car park but they weren’t home, no-one was during the day and we walked up the stairs to apartment 217 and I stopped, the memories of that red front door pulling tight my insides.
‘What is it?’ Travis said.
‘We can’t just go in.’
‘Why the fuck not?’
‘I’ve got a key, if she reports it to the cops they’ll know. They’ll come after me.’
Travis dropped his shoulders, looked up to the ceiling. ‘Hey, these shitty locks,’ he pointed at the door ‘they’re so easy to pick, they won’t fucken’ know. And the cops couldn’t give a shit about small shit like this. It’s not like fucken’ CSI, they don’t send out investigators in the black suits.’
I could feel the shiver of my hand against my leg, tried to steady it as I brought the keys out.
‘What about fingerprints?’ I asked.
‘Have you been fingerprinted before?’
‘So what are they gonna’ match them against?’ I nodded. I put the key into the lock and pushed open the door.
Travis jetted off, rushing room by room, scanning for anything of value. He brought back a hair straightening iron from the bathroom and put it beside the door.
‘What the fuck are you waiting for?’ he said.
It was strange, walking through the shell of my former life, the world from which I’d so recently been amputated. I was invading a private space that was once my own, and it felt like a great depth had formed inside of my stomach, a chasm into which I might fall and never get out. A line had been crossed, and like all those lines, they fade as soon as you’ve gone over, till eventually they don’t even exist. That’s what you’ve become.
I walked into the bedroom. You could still see the empty spaces where my things had been, now replaced by dirty clothes and old books, as if she’d tried to fill them in. I knelt down next to the bed, the blankets folded back and I sniffed at the sheets. Her perfume, the closest I’d ever be to her body again.
‘What the fuck?’ Travis said and I got to my feet. He was standing in the doorway. ‘What are you doing?’
‘You still so hung up on that pussy that you’re sniffing around after it?’ He stepped in and opened her top drawer and took out her jewellery box, the one her grandmother handed down to her. He shoved it into his pocket. It was too big, poking out at the top. ‘What else has she got?’ Travis asked.
‘I don’t know, the TV.’
‘TV’s not worth shit – hey…’ He pulled something up from inside the drawer. ‘This is you.’ It was a photo booth series of her and I, making stupid faces, smiling. In the last one, she’s leaned against my chest, her eyes closed. She looks happy. Safe. Travis flicked it away, drifting and flipping towards the carpet and he shut the drawer, assessed the rest of the room, then left to another part of the apartment. The photo landed face up, our faces looking up at me.
We stood at the front door as Travis looked through what he’d got. In one hand he carried her violin in its case (she never played it, for anyone, but one time I came home when she wasn’t expecting and I walked into these beautiful notes carrying through the building and I closed the door carefully and sat in lounge room and listened as she moved through tunes with heartbreaking perfection), and a grey plastic bag biting into his fingers. Inside the bag was a necklace I’d given her, the jewelry box from her room and the hair straightener. In his other hand, another plastic bag with a money box, a PlayStation 2 (which she bought for me but because she bought it the ownership remained in dispute and when I left I didn’t want the argument) and a black pair of heels she wore only to job interviews and on special occasions. I had her laptop computer under my arm and even that felt so fucking heavy.
‘Is that it?’ Travis asked. I nodded, kept my head down, not wanting to catch his eyes. ‘You sure you don’t want to take a pair of her underpants to keep you company?’ And again that hollowness expanded inside. I thought of her lips on my skin. Of her walking through the apartment in her underwear on those too hot nights, when the traffic sounds and voices of people passing by would float in through the open windows. How everything felt perfect in those moments.
The guy at the Cash Converters knew what was up. I could feel him scanning over us, noting any specifics for the inevitable descriptions he’d have to give. He could smell the alcohol seeping out of our pores.
He checked my ID – Travis said he couldn’t use his because he had priors and, either way, he didn’t have it with him – and he gave us the okay and offered us close to fuck all for our stolen goods. Why wouldn’t he, he knew we weren’t leaving with this shit.
Item by item I saw nails being driven into the last three years of my life. The violin hurt the most. I’d taken away a piece of her, something that she loved dearly. And the jewelry box. I knew there were things in there handed down, pieces that awakened the most vivid memories and I’d just sold them for a few hundred bucks. And worse, I knew that money would soon be gone, drunk and pissed out and vomited onto the footpath.
At that point I knew I’d have to leave town. I knew things could never be the same. And I knew she’d cry. Alone in the apartment. I’d always cave when she did.
Travis bought drinks and patted me on the back and celebrated our newfound fortune.
‘Fuck that bitch, huh?’ He said.
And around the time she’d be getting home from work I was too drunk. She’d be feeling violated and alone and betrayed and I was dizzy, staring up at the coloured bottles lined above the bar. There was a song with a violin playing and I wanted to smash everything and then I started talking to some girl who Travis had pushed in my direction and she had heavy make-up and she put a hand high up on my leg.
At some point in the night, Travis disappeared with whatever was left of the money, probably to buy drugs – he never mentioned drugs to me but months later he got locked up for beating someone’s head in with a hammer over some drug confusion. And I kept drinking till I ended up back at apartment 217, slumped up against the front door and whispering silent apologies that bounced off the paint and carried through the stairwell like ghost sounds.