From Must Try Harder
The front door is unlocked. Anna lugs her bag down the hallway. It clunks against her thigh.
‘Hello? Hellooo?’ she calls out.
She pokes a head around his bedroom door but the room is quiet and still. Empty. The morning light spreads out across the blue duvet. The bed is made. Zoe must’ve stayed.
The door to Anna’s bedroom is wide open.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor is Bunny. Piled up around her in a circle are stacks of paper; letters, to do lists, notebooks, photos, notices from the bank, the library, ACC. The suitcase that lives under Anna’s bed stares up at her with its lid gaping.
Bunny smiles. She is cool and still like a cat. Not guilty-looking at all.
For a moment the two of them stay like that in silence. There’s the high whine of the man cutting trees outside Anna’s window. The light is shining down on Bunny’s little paper circle. She continues to smile her glossy red lipsticked smile. Her dark eyes don’t leave Anna’s.
Not today, Anna thinks, not today.
‘What are you doing?’ she says eventually.
‘Just looking for something,’ says Bunny.
‘Oh, you know? You.’
Anna takes off her coat and lays it gently on the bed with a sigh. She picks her way through the piles of letters and notebooks and goes to stand directly above Bunny. Bunny is reading a little moleskine notebook:
-pick up drycleaning
-go for a run. Loose weight.
Why has she even kept these things? Bills, lists. They’re useless; all of it rubbish. The detritus of Anna’s stupid stupid life.
‘How did you know this was my room?’ she says.
‘You said you could trace a direct line from my bed right up to yours.’ Bunny puts down the notebook and turns around to face Anna. ‘I haven’t seen you round much lately Anna.’
‘No’, says Anna, ‘I’ve been sick’.
‘I wanted to know what’s been going on so I came up here.’
‘Was it unlocked?’
‘You keep a spare key in the shed,’ says Bunny, flicking through pages. ‘In July you scheduled in sex with someone called Jeff.’
‘That notebook’s from 2014,’ says Anna.
‘Yeah, but you scheduled it in and you put a little tick box next to it.’
‘Is it ticked?’
Anna sits down in the armchair by the window. She knows she should be mad at Bunny. Should say something; lay down the law. A little ferry putters across the sea, slowing down as it eases its way into the city.
‘You know this is trespassing?’ says Anna.
‘Yeah, maybe,’ says Bunny, ‘why are you home during the day?’
‘I got fired.’
‘What do you do for a job again?’’
‘I’m a baby lawyer.’
‘A lawyer for babies?’
‘No, I mean, I’m just a junior.’
‘Oh.’ A pause. ‘Where’s your cardboard box?’
Anna looks down at the piles on the floor, confused.
‘From work? You know, when you have to leave the building?’
‘I think that’s just in movies. The pens belong to them and the computer and even Eleanor, my plant, so there wasn’t really anything to take. I’ve got a New World bag with some cans of tuna from my desk but that’s about it.’
The little ferry has docked now. Anna thinks about the people getting off the boat, swaying up the creaky gangway in their bum bags and crisp American-looking jackets, big cameras hanging off their necks. They’ll stay for a while and then they’ll go. She doesn’t want to get too mad with Bunny, knows she has to tread carefully. But something has to be said.
‘Why did they fire you?’ says Bunny.
‘Um, I didn’t turn up for a few days.’
‘Yeah. It might’ve been longer than a few days.’
Anna puts her head in her hands.
‘Oh my god, I’ve lost my job,’ she says slowly.
‘You’ll find it somewhere,’ says Bunny, laughing at her own joke. She’s holding a pair of scissors now and she slices a letter open with brisk efficiency.
‘I can’t believe this has happened,’ says Anna.
‘You need to start keeping track of when your books are due back from the library. Write it down in your diary. You’ll save heaps that way.’
The people down by the sea are just little black ants moving backwards and forwards. From one fixed point in their life to another. She’ll have to tell her parents. Her parents love telling their friends that Anna is a lawyer.
‘Can they fire you just like that?’
‘Yeah, they can.’
‘I know what you need,’ says Bunny. She gets up and opens the wardrobe, reaches to the back and pulls out a large glass bottle. She holds it out to Anna.
‘No thanks,’ says Anna.
‘Tea then,’ says Bunny. She slips out of the room before Anna can reply.
Anna surveys the piles, neatly stacked. She gets down on her knees and starts to sift through them herself. It really was all rubbish. Some songs she’d tried to write, bad poetry, some bills.
Bunny comes back in and sits on the bed, resting her head on the bedhead, stretching her legs out in front her. She puts two cups of tea on the bedside table and pats the side of the bed next to her invitingly.
‘I think you need to rest,’ she says. ‘But open a window first, it smells a bit in here.’
Anna pushes open the big sash window and all the pieces of paper go swirling. Bunny claps her hands in delight.
‘You’ve been in here before, haven’t you?’ says Anna sitting down on the bed.
‘Maybe’, says Bunny.
They sit for a moment. Bunny blows on the surface of the tea. Anna sips.
‘What did you mean, you wanted to find me?’
Bunny thinks for a bit. ‘Know you. From the inside,’ she says.
‘So what did you learn? Not much I bet.’
‘Enough’, says Bunny, ‘cheers,’ she says, clinking the mugs.
Anna takes another sip and thinks she should mention the missing vacuum cleaner. I must’ve lent it to a friend, she’d said to Al.
Bunny puts an arm around Anna’s shoulders. ‘It’ll be alright, eh?’ she says, ‘you’ll find another job.’
The sun is making the duvet a brilliant white. This is not okay. None of this is okay.
‘Show us your pretty feet than, eh?’ says Bunny.
Anna kicks off her heels and they both stare at her stockinged feet.
Anna decides to not to mention the vacuum cleaner. ‘What do you wanna know about me? You can just ask, you know?’
Bunny looks thoughtful.
‘You don’t have to break into my house and go through all my stuff, you know?’ says Anna.
‘Your pet peeve in July last year was people who walk around airports with those neck pillow things on their neck,’ says Bunny.
‘I was probably in an airport when I wrote that. I don’t know.’
Bunny reaches a hand out and cups Anna’s foot from underneath, squeezes hard.
‘Well, why don’t they just put them in their bag or something? Why do they have to show off like that?’ Anna says. Bunny continues to squeeze.
‘And anyway, their neck’s not sore in the airport. Their neck’s sore on the plane. I just wish people would just stop exaggerating things. Like, what’s a few days off? Voluntary termination? Job abandonment? I mean, really?’
Anna looks at Bunny, bursts out laughing. Thinks about crying.
‘Nice photos. Todd is a very handsome man”, says Bunny, moving on to the other foot now.
‘I’m fucked. I’m so fucked. I don’t have any savings. I’ve got to tell Al he needs to get someone else in instead. I don’t have $270 a week.’
‘Alastair? He’ll be gone in six months.’
‘He’s gonna buy a house with Zoe. It’s part of his plan.’
‘I didn’t even know you knew him.’
‘I don’t. He keeps a diary.’
Anna grabs the green glass bottle and starts swigging.
‘It’s weak,’ she says to Bunny, ‘Like it’s mostly water.’
‘Yeah sorry about that,’ says Bunny, ‘old trick. Givvus a go.’
‘Why are you home in the day?’
‘I work a night shift,’
‘Nowhere you’d know.’
The sun highlights the fuzzy baby hairs on the tops of their crowns. The blanket folded neatly at the bottom of the bed is starting to get toasty.
‘Must be good. Your place was going on Trademe for $375 a week.’
‘It’s $325 actually. A friend helps out. Patron of the arts.’
Anna doesn’t say anything.
‘Just until I get on my feet, you know?’
The chain saw sound starts up again outside. Bunny and Anna swig from the bottle passing it backwards and forwards between them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Antonia Bale is from Wellington. She mostly writes short stories. This extract is from a novella called Must Try Harder that she wrote this year when she was lucky enough to do the MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters.