He’d been watching them for a while now. Two girls, walking side by side. He liked them, liked seeing their pear-shaped bodies swaying in union. One was taller than the other. The first one, she’d let her hair down, and the shorter had hers up in a bun.
The night liberated him. And sweat he was used to. At work, he was constantly slicked in it. But this… this strain, this stealth. It was all too familiar: the first try at his job years ago. Now the same symptoms clutched at him, his limbs trembling, him torn between fleeing and securing his goods.
They strode under the lights of lamp posts while he stuck to the shadows.
He wrangled around, tossing ideas together as shops blurred by. They were already onto the next street but now, for him, the pedestrian light gleamed red. A small group of people began to accumulate at the crossing but his concentration locked on the two girls safely on the other side.
Who do I want most?
The light turned green again and he snuck forwards, ignoring side glances from boys who’d slicked their hair with gel. School kids, he scoffed. Who needs school? It doesn’t teach you how to reel in chicks!
Parked cars filed against the curb in the next street, and the two girls loitered on in a straight line. Thankfully, they seemed oblivious of him. His fingers slid across the cars’ shiny covers as he weaved between the stationary vehicles. He forgot that, just yesterday, he’d been here. Today, the hubcaps, the tires, the badges, the sparkplugs and the aerials of the cars shouted of money to him.
Not right now though – now he was upgrading his skill. You have to think of the future, Ma had said, before dumping him with Grandfather; life consists of more than money.
Lovely black hair. He imagined running his fingers through the girls’ locks, caressing something soft and alive for a change. His own hand came up and passed over his scalp. It came away greasy with sweat, grime and dust from the day before yesterday. It repulsed him, chilling him in more sweat, and he shook himself. What was he thinking about?
Nice hips. His eyes strayed down to where denim shorts showed off most of their thighs so that he didn’t notice the dairy on the corner until they’d entered it. He stilled a few feet before the entrance. The automatic doors slid open and air conditioning blasted out. He welcomed the few seconds’ relief from the humidity of the night though once the doors closed again, the heat swamped him. He squeezed between two parked cars and watched the stagecraft inside the shop. It glowed of an artificial brightness that hurt his eyes and made his head ache. Such naivity! Cocooned in neon lights they were lulled in a false sense of security. Not like him.
He neared the window. He was not seen but all seeing. And he liked what he was seeing.
His mind spoke of many things. Of the novelty of warmth melting at his side. A softer thing; a thing warmer than metal. It spoke of dimmed lights and flickering flesh.
No! He shook himself and squeezed his eyes shut against these fantasies. But…
O-oh. His fingers twitched against the glass as he watched them lean over the counter, the hems of their shorts hitching higher and higher. Oh! He wanted to rub his fingers against that pearl-white skin.
Please, please, please turn around! What harm could it be? He’d just ask one of them out, and then the other, and then that would be that.
The glass felt hard and cool against his nose.
They turned around with one vanilla sundae between them.
You like sundaes? I’ll give you sundaes, one each! His right hand strayed to his back pocket where a slim wallet lived. A pitiful sum; he deserved more.
The taller one flashed a glance over her shoulder. He lurched back, bumping into the bonnet of a car. He scanned his surroundings, searching methodically for the suspicious head-turning of anyone who was spying and had the potential to tell on him: light from streetlamps reflected off passing traffic, puppeteering shadows across looming stores.
Good, no one’s about. It was good: he was clever with the knife, though he never liked to use it. He found it easy enough to make a clean kill, the swift sliding in between the ribs (you had to keep it at an angle so it pierced the heart) and the quick jerk out was fine. It was the sucking rattle of the dying breath of Grandfather that troubled him.
A wall of chilled air announced the girls’ sudden departure of the shop. He bowed his face towards the car, faked fiddling with car keys. Then, after a moment, their giggles seemed to come from a long way off.
His head snapped up. Shit! They were almost out of sight.
No! Panic kicked his guts. Sweat crusted his back. He hounded them like shadows. Tailgating, he called it.
Under the streetlights, he pretended not to notice their arms encircling the other’s waist. That, and their almost too often glances like they shared a secret.
Girls like to hold each others’ hands, don’t they? he reassured himself, trying to remember the sparse images of young women in his childhood.
Frick. He scuttled back into the safetly of darkness. He kept them in sight. The tall girl offered the ice cream to the other girl. She licked it and her eyes narrowed to slits. It was the same expression as a kitten he’d had before, whilst testing a saucer of cream. That seemed a long time ago, before Grandfather got sick.
“This is so good,” she said; his legs went oozy and his palm slapped against a car bonnet for support. It felt real, hard, and dead.
“I know.” There was a deep purr to the taller girl’s voice. The other nodded, cheeks flushing at the coldness of the ice.
Before understanding dawned on him, before his legs found strength, a breeze rose and strands of hair streamed from the taller one’s face. She said something he didn’t catch. He watched as the other tucked flying wisps gently behind the tall girl’s ear. In return, her lips formed a soft smile and she wiped ice cream from a corner off the small girl’s mouth.
His hunger for flesh dissipated. He backed away. I guess... Stuffing his fists deep into his pockets, he stole into the night.
They looked back. A shadow was all that was left of him.
“Do you reckon we should call the police? That strange dude was following us,” murmured the taller girl.
“Aw, we nailed him. We had fun!” The other grinned, her eyebrows leaping high. When no response was given, she squeezed the former’s hand impatiently and demanded, “C’mon, admit it sis, you did have fun.”
The Australian Literature Review