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"I had to pretend to feel but I didn't mind, it was beautiful to be watched by someone so much more important than me, so much dumber, his flat and expressionless lips and his eyes so soft, almost teary, wet suns...."

twenty dollars
fiction by misha cahill


Balloons seemed to have become more difficult to blow up since I was a kid. I'd done one and a half and had to lie back and stare up at the roof and let the half filled balloon in my hand deflate. I had a packet of twenty balloons. Perhaps I should have used a bicycle pump, but where would that come from?

In the other room, Tristan still snored. I was glad he wasn't awake and I could prepare for the garage sale on my own. The cars on Stuart Street passed by outside, ready for the 3 p.m. deadline when they could start turning in to buy our old electric knife. People in Dunedin had nothing to do-that would increase the garage sale's chances of success. What were we competing with, a morning at the supermarket?

I tied the single inflated balloon to the macrocarpa at the bottom of the driveway and climbed back up to spread out our household goods in front of the garage. The electric knife went in front, on the edge of the checked rug. I put Tristan's stupid box of tapes at the back: it annoyed me that all he'd contributed were these somehow-muddy copies of tapes like 'War of the Worlds' and 'Count Basie's Greatest Hits'. On the other corner of the rug, in the second best spot, I put the oil heater. My old dresses went at the back: no-one would buy them.

Tristan wandered out. He wore leather pants, undone at the top button, and a see-through chiffon paisley shirt of mine. He was like a doll. He grinned in the sun and said, come inside, honey. Dutifully, I followed him in and lay on my back on the bed. He started kissing my neck in this very predictable way and I didn't bother to pretend to respond, just lay flat and relaxed and looked at the aluminium window frame for a few minutes until I decided to get into it, or we'd have been there all afternoon. It was strange how much my body felt like wood: not in a bad way, I was just surprised at my disinterest, every time. Tristan got the condom out and rolled it on and I was pleased it didn't hurt me when he started. I loved the way he looked down at me the whole time, watching me as if I was the one telling him how and when to feel, so I had to pretend to feel but I didn't mind, it was beautiful to be watched by someone so much more important than me, so much dumber, his flat and expressionless lips and his eyes so soft, almost teary, wet suns.

The shadows of two people's necks and heads appeared against the net curtains. I said, fuck, and pushed Tristan off. He unrolled the condom and squirmed to get into his pants, laughing. One of the people knocked at the window: visitors for the garage sale. Our bedroom sat to the left of the driveway. Just a minute, I shouted, pulled my skirt down and my knickers up, and ran out of the room, without looking out the window. My mood didn't change. I pretended to be annoyed, though, for Tristan's sake. Had he wanted this to happen?

The two customers were a couple. The guy was tall with a shaved head, a mild Eastern European accent, and glasses. The kiwi girl wore a polar fleece jacket. Both wore light blue jeans and some sort of tramping boot. They stood hesitantly in front of the rug, looking at the oil heater. The boy fiddled with the temperature dial. It works, I said. Tristan came out to look at the customers and stood slouched on one hip, in the chiffon shirt and leather pants. I wanted to say, He's in JVC, the band, you know? but of course I couldn't say that. Even though he was famous. Front page of the NME. Once, two years ago. The two customers probably thought we were hippies. How much, Eastern European boy said, and I said, forty dollars, and he sucked in his breath and said, that's a little high. He seemed nice, though, and I wished for a second I could spend my time with him instead of Tristan because he looked right into my face when he talked to me, as if he was interested to hear what I said next, and I could tell by his smirk he thought Tristan's leather pants were stupid, just like I did, and in one second all this flashed between us and we grinned without saying anything, but the thing was, this Eastern European boy would never be famous, he wouldn't even try. Twenty dollars, I said.

(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)


Misha Cahill hails from New Zealand and is currently completing a degree in English poetry. She has been published or has work forthcoming in Thieve’s Jargon, Skive, and Long Story Short. More of Misha's stories can be found in the Smokebox Archives.

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©2006 Misha Cahill • Smokebox
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