The Imitation Chinese Rug

Beating a dessertspoon double-time on the kitchen tiles, and rocking against the cold room door, I imagined sitting on a vast grill above an inferno, the throbbing light edging the unwashed dishes nearer to collapse. It wasn’t the fear of being caught that I felt from the accusing stare of the security guard’s headlights. By the time I’d gone back inside and prepared him a bowl of strawberry cheesecake, the Hyundai had driven off and I was left wondering if it was ever there. What I felt was the panic of options in a world without consequences, where the only transgression was a failure to act.

My free hand pulled at my hairline, attempting to alter my brain chemistry and make me someone who was better equipped to deal with all this. What would Jimmy Smith have done if the roles were reversed? He probably would have walked away.

Marijuana was no good for coming down from Ma’s anti-reality pills. I needed to act more professionally if I was going to help Kay. I finished off the bowl of strawberry cheesecake that had been keeping me company and skipped it over the tiles. The bowl exploded against the draining rack. Pieces ricocheted off the trashcan. I crawled through the garbage and the broken china, next to the body, peered under the dishwasher and saw, in a divot of grout, what looked like an anti-reality pill but was actually a bullet shell.

When the phone connected, I took in some fresh oxygen and pinched the shell, warm and smooth, between my fingers.

“Misses Pitman and I are either too tired to answer your call or having too much fun to care. Leave a message only if you are unable to deal with the problem yourself.”

I scraped the shell across the mouthpiece, in circles and zigzags, until the machine cut out. I listened for more messages. I stared outside and exhaled. When I lowered my arm, the receiver expanded, becoming lighter, floating to the back door. I felt like I was watching myself, separate from my actions, spilt down the middle, and other people were watching me from suburban lounge rooms and pawnshop windows, fumbling this hunk of plastic onto its cradle.

Ma said the imitation Chinese rug was 50 years old when she lugged it back to her apartment from Paddington Market after we moved to Sydney. She let me have it when a rash crawled up to her shins and she had to get her toes amputated. She said she got frostbite flying over the Himalayas. I only unrolled it to play the drums. But I dragged it out of the Valiant now, flopped it down on the kitchen tiles, and sat there thinking about her. She loved the novel Psycho but she hated the movie. She told me that at the start of the novel, Norman Bates has this book about Incas and he’s reading about how they used to do this dance accompanied by a drum made from an enemy’s corpse. They hollowed out the organs and tilted back the head so the rhythms came from the mouth. It never said what dance they performed or what music they digged. But it must have been wild. I tapped my spoon on the ribcage and the abdomen, but no tunes came from the mouth, so I rolled up the body and stashed it in the cold room.

Thomas Pitman had done me a favour getting rid of Jimmy Smith. Once I’d spoken to Kay, and knew she was alright, everything would be fine. She’d come to work in the morning and it would look as if nothing had happened. I’d ease her into the story and then show her the evidence. We could dump the body or use it for blackmail.

The dishwasher whirled into action every time I lowered the handle. I navigated trolleys of sparkling cutlery and china over the tiles, stacked everything behind the counter without dropping a thing, massaged inside the dishwasher with my T-shirt, giving extra attention to the rotating jets, slopped off the benches with my forearm, scoured the tubs with the chef’s best fish knife and buffed the steel to a mirror, stomped down trash bags, unhooked them, tied them off, dumped them in White Lane, dragged out a mop and bucket and treated the tiles near the dishwasher and the sink to such a dose of Jackson Super Industrial Strength Mopping Liquid that the patch where the body had been stood out so clear and white against the other tiles that I had to give them all a go.

When I was done, I swabbed my forehead with the mop.

The kitchen shone brighter than a 1980s television commercial.

I called Pitman House.

The answer machine clicked on.

After splashing four fingers of Jack Daniels over two dessertspoons of Nescafe and three sugars, I picked up Kay’s chair and sat by her window, scribbling half a pencil on the flipside of a receipt for café lattes and crab sandwiches. I got up, called her every 10 minutes, and then sat down with another drink. Dawn wiped the chair-leg shadows from the walls. The cowskin boots worked a slow blues on the floorboards. When I called for the eighth time, the line was busy.

I pulled the phone off the wall and fed it to the dishwasher. I couldn’t wait for Kay and I couldn’t risk someone else finding the body. Thomas Pitman might creep back and mess with it like a serial killer who can’t leave things alone. He might move it and try to convince me the whole thing was a David Lynch-induced fever dream.

I unhooked the tuning pegs and rolled the bass drum from the Valiant’s passenger door. The rain had stopped and the clouds were thinning out. The stereo hissed at the bass drum being jammed between the front seat and the dashboard. Carbon monoxide poured from the exhaust. The cymbals and the rack tom squeezed behind the driver’s seat. The road case slanted above them. I lurched into the cold room, hauled the imitation Chinese rug out to the Valiant, and slammed the trunk over the body that Jimmy Smith left behind.


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