James Roy’s first collection, Almost Wednesday, was released in 1996 and was followed by the CBCA Notable Book Full Moon Racing and several other acclaimed titles. His new book, City (UQP), is a collection of connected short stories that reflect our lives and those of the people that we pass each day.
Kill Your Darlings is delighted to publish an excerpt from ‘Fliss’, a story from City.
Fliss had never been to this part of town before. She’d driven and walked past it plenty of times, along the main drag where the op shops and restaurants crowded the footpath, and had seen those lanes that led off behind the terrace houses. Down there, amongst the bins and squalling cats, lurked unseen dangers. Walk far enough along that laneway and you’d come to the main street again, or perhaps a different main street.
She read the sign again, then checked it against the flyer. Roper Lane. Unless there was another Roper Lane in this part of town, this had to be it. She glanced back toward the main street, almost wishing that it would present her with a better option. A large flashing sign, perhaps, saying, ‘In here, Fliss. This is where you need to be tonight. No need to go down that dark alley.’But there was no such sign. There were plenty of others – Bollywood Dreaming, Thai Garden, Downtown Convenience Store. But not the one she needed. No route of escape.
She sighed. ‘Why do you get yourself into these things, Fliss?’ she asked, out loud. Then, as was her way, she replied. ‘Well, no one is forcing you to do this, you know.’
From behind she heard the ring of some small bell, before a hipster on an ironically low-rent bike – no tail- light, she noted crossly – rode past her and into the lane. Ironically low-rent – I need to write that down, she thought. But not right now. Too much else to consider. Too much crowding her head like reeds around a pond.
The hipster had stopped in front of a dark terrace with a metal grille for a door, and was bending down to remove the front wheel of his bike. Then, after he’d chained the bike to a fencepost and pushed his broad- framed glasses higher on his nose, he carried the wheel through the little garden and knocked on the grille. From the long tunnel of darkness that was the lane, Fliss heard his voice, the voice of the woman who came to the door, and the metallic chink of the gate being opened. That had to be the place.
‘Excuse me.’ A woman with cropped red hair and glasses to match was behind her.
‘Can I get by?’
‘Oh. I’m sorry.’ Fliss stepped to one side, and this was when she saw the woman’s trolley, to which was tied a . . . piano? No, more like a small organ, perhaps? Some kind of box-like instrument that rattled softly as the woman pulled the trolley forward across the cracked pavement.
‘Are you . . .?’
‘Am I what?’ the woman asked, stopping and fixing Fliss with a slightly confrontational glare.
‘Oh. Right. Well then . . .’ Thus satisfied, the woman went back to negotiating her way down the lane.
‘That has to be the place,’ Fliss said, aloud this time, and, after adjusting her scarf and sweeping her curls back from her face, she followed the woman, who had now reached the dark terrace with the grille for a door and was trying to wrestle her trolley and box up the little step and through the narrow garden gate.