Shortlisted for Australia’s Stella Prize, the novel was praised by Kirkus as “hallucinatory…impressionistic…Hypnotizing and inscrutable.”
An allowance is not the same as approval. When I was nine, my dad handed me five dollars every beginning of the week and then got mad at me at the other end of the week for spending it. This happened for four years until he quit his job at the university.
Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. A beggar in front of the 7-Eleven repeats this, sitting on a cardboard mat.
Santa Coy gives me five dollars to buy some kind of drink for the party he’s taking us to later. In this shop, I buy a red sealed bottle. We’ve become princes and kings.
We take the train uptown to Santa Coy’s home and inside it’s unpigmented; smells like cotton or silk shirts. Air conditioner convention centre, black Rover Defender double garage, bedroom with ivy white walls. We don’t enter his bedroom, we go to his parents’. Big Pollock painting.
His parents’ wardrobe is ideal foot-space. He passes me his mother’s fur coat.
I’m looking at the blood stained on her surgeon’s uniform. Santa Coy watching me watch it.
It’s hard to get blood out, says Santa Coy.
Santa Coy opens a drawer, asks me to choose a lipstick colour.
I pick 466 Carmen of the Coco collection.
Behind it is black tang. Santa Coy watching me watch it.
He says this is a Glock 17 Gen 2. He pulls it out from behind the lipstick drawer. My parents get paranoid. He grins. He holds it unlike cowboys do in movies, he doesn’t touch the trigger. He puts it back quickly.
We sit on his parents’ bed, he does my make-up. I’m becoming a canvas but I want to be the body painted on top of it.
Do you know why your dad was beaten up for real? he asks.
I shake my head and tell him that I didn’t really question it for too long, that it’s not too far from making sense. Santa Coy screws his face up and says, that’s hurtful. I shrug. He draws thicker eyebrows for me.
He faked, Santa Coy murmurs.
What’d he fake?
Santa Coy concentrates on my eyebrows—he’s squinting, jelly for eyes.
I ask him again: what’d he fake?
He says: you know. The stuff we sell. He clears his throat.
I frown with new stiff eyebrows that are drying to the breath from Santa Coy’s lips.
I say: art?
Santa Coy sniffs and says: sure.
He traces my eyebrows, puts his black lint coat on.
He brings out beaten-up high-top 95s from a big cabinet of shiny fresh foot accessories, puts them on, wears a sport bag and we leave.
A red-lit home on the south side, near the docks. Where the houses are close together with green island trees outside. Apartments: building themselves to block the paradise views.
When we walk in, everything gets hotter. Everything is getting hotter, and people are cooling down.
A girl in a red one-piece swimsuit paints the walls red with a wide brush. Later she’s painting a man in coat and tails all red. Sharp rock sculptures around, which people view up close and from metres away, gathering around the artwork in snarky little clumps. An open viewing ceremony.
Around the room there are people naked and others in big coats. They are pink under the big coats and they carry paper bags of sexy bottles and glasses of champagne. Somebody’s filming this whole thing from the next floor up.
Santa Coy’s got a thousand concubines. Some of them young women, some of them young men, some of them old women, a small portion of them old men. They flood to him and he stands in the centre like a dome, and he’s got this grin on his face. He pulls me in so that I’m standing right up next to him. An archipelago. I drink my wine in four gulps and feel nothing. Then I’m in the bathroom and it slowly breaks my brain in half. It’s a slow sawing, friction strategy.
A man has turned up with a bunch of videotapes and puts one into a television in the upstairs section. There are people crowding around to see it and Santa Coy leans over to me. He whispers into my ear that this guy owns the house, that he’s known to do this every time people come over: brings out his old home videos and cries to them while everybody else stands around. And some people say that when he first started doing this he owned more furniture, but slowly got rid of it all so more people could stand inside and watch. That instead of furniture he installed all these rock sculptures, tall and thin and unable to break. That this is why it’s so hot in here: because this man spends all his electric billing on heating, so people will stay. I stare at the home video playing: it’s a video of a little boy watching television and his mother trying to get his attention. Then the scene changes to a family filming themselves singing happy birthday to some kind of grandmother. I ask Santa Coy why this man wants heaps of people watching his personal home videos. Santa Coy thinks for a bit. Somebody shrieks outside. The shrieking continues in spiky intervals. Santa Coy says: I guess it’s some kind of validation or something. That this man needs people to see that he exists, or existed, or some sad shit like that.
I ask Santa Coy: isn’t that exactly what you do? Isn’t your shit the same sad shit?
Santa Coy says, I never said it wasn’t.
Used by permission from Pink Mountain on Locust Island (Coffee House Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Jamie Marina Lau.