Cover illustration by Dianne Gameson after The Bath by Jean Leon Genome Cover design by Doug Kirwan


A Novel by Valerie Kirwan
Published by Hornet's Nest Publishing.

COPYRIGHT. Kirwan. 2001
1589 words

All enquiries regarding this material should be made to
Valerie Kirwan:


He fell forward across the table, knocking over a bottle of wine. The wine cascaded down, staining the blue tablecloth with a dark red colour which expanded and deepened, mingling with the pool of his blood.

Thomas Coin stood in the small dirty room, watching his friend who was sprawled across the table, watching the flowing red wine, spreading with the blood, seeping into the worn cloth. Then he turned and looked from the window.

In the distance he saw a woman bending over a lion. She appeared to be painting something on its back, a deep red formless mark. It was hot and dusty out there. The light was fading and the air was murky.

Another woman, big, dark, stood for a moment in the open doorway. In spite of her large body she moved with fluidity across the room. She lifted Salvino's head from the table. His sun shades had been smashed and blood was running into his eyes.

Thomas had met Salvino late that afternoon in the street. He had seen his friend coming soundlessly toward him from a distance, through a long stretch of light, in the dull heat. Thomas didn't have a job. He just went places. He had been walking since early in the afternoon when the factory chimneys had been belching smoke. The garbage hands had been on strike for weeks and the city smelt putrid. Whenever there was a strong gust of wind the rubbish flew along the gutters and the air was filled with the smell of rotting meat.

The wind had dropped now, the shops had closed, the streets were silent and a pale light filled the sky.

Salvino's shirt clashed with the grey lifeless day, a loose sleeved green shirt patterned with roses. He wore mirrored sun glasses and yellow Italian shoes. Beside him was the white dog which followed him everywhere, snapping at people's heels and when it saw Thomas, it snarled.

There was something foolish and optimistic about Salvino's smile when he said, "I have some money. I'll take you to The Silk Palace. There's a girl called Lais..."

Salvino had long blonde hair which he continually flicked back from his face. He had a wolfish look about him, Thomas thought.

It was already dusk when they arrived; they had travelled slowly by foot. There was a laneway which ran down to the sea and they entered the house through a small door. The rooms were oppressive, dark. They stank.

Angelina Lar, a big black woman, came to meet them, her heavy hair decorated with exotic flowers. She took them to a room where there were carved wooden beds against black walls. Although the beds were absurdly small there were couples in nearly every one, whispering and fucking and tongue kissing. An almond eyed boy stared into space with a frozen smile as a fat man pawed and mounted him, almost thrusting him in his lust from the narrow mattress onto the floor.

"Can I see Lais?" Salvino asked.

"Lais is not here," answered Angelina Lar. "Besides, you know you don't have that kind of money."

A delicate blonde woman sat alone in one of the beds, leaning forward, covering her face with tiny hands. Salvino shrugged. He threw off his bright clothes and climbed into the bed with her.

Thomas was tall with a powerful jaw, his nose large, his hair thick and curly. Lar could sense a warmth in him but there was also something confused, unfathomable.

"You will have to make yourself presentable before you touch one of my girls," she told him condescendingly. "Your hair is untidy. Go brush your hair."

"The people in this room are filthy," he protested. "The room is filthy."

"If you don't like it..." Lar sang at him. Then she turned her back on him.

The young woman who was with Salvino climbed out of her bed, approached Thomas, touched him on the hand. She smiled at him with rosebud lips. "Upstairs you will find everything you want..."

"Get back on the bed," Lar ordered her.

Thomas left the room.

A woman with fiery luxuriant hair stood in front of a door. Her dress was patterned with stars and she wore a necklace of fine bones. She beckoned to Thomas. Above the door were eight flashing letters spelling out the word PARADISE...

.. She opens the door. There is a smell of mould and a stairway enclosed by water stained walls. The steps are so narrow that the only way they can ascend is in single file with their arms close by their sides. This stairway leads to a wide landing and then in turn to a wider staircase.

Thomas is feeling angry and rejected.

How dare these disgusting people refuse him.

They ascend yet another flight of stairs which is even wider than the one before. The rooms are becoming astonishingly palatial...several women strolling about, naked except for expensive antique jewellery, none of them uttering a word. One woman stands in the centre of the room, stripped to the waist, her arms across her bare breast and her head hidden by a white silk cloth. These upstairs rooms have a dignity, an opulence. One room is decorated with tall gold drinking cups and paintings on the walls. The paintings are of distant places, chateaux or large mansions, their doors and windows obscured by the heavy branches of trees.

The women in the room are alluring, graceful. Thomas hopes he will not have to make an immediate choice, although the one with the white silk covering her head has intrigued him the most. He can hear discordant cellos and flutes, sounds which set him on edge. He looks up at a clumsy painting of a red lion streaming through a field of white lilies. This painting has a primitiveness and an awkwardness, something which bothers him. There are equally inept paintings of naked lovers in chains and one of a naked hermaphrodite tied up in pearls. Thomas believes he can hear the sound of the sea, a continuous hypnotic sssshhhh....

And then another room. Dull pink lights and soft gauze drapes. Five young men are moving about in circles, moving through a mist of gauze. Four of them wear bright lipstick and long velvet cloaks flung wide open to reveal naked bodies. One wears gold rings on his fingers and gold circles flash from his ear lobes. Another boy has a thin cord around his naked waist with a knife inside a silver sheath.

The fifth young man is dressed in white and his face is also covered by a shining white cloth.

Turn around, let's look at your arse," he yells at someone. Perhaps at Thomas.

Thomas feels threatened by these petulant young men. His growing desires are mingled with a surfacing fear.

The red haired woman is still beside him. She takes him to a smaller room, a bedroom, with ornate mirrors on every wall. An engraved silver brush set is displayed with extravagant jewelry upon a dressing table. Thomas picks up a hairbrush and begins to brush his hair, but the woman takes the hairbrush from his hand.

"Sit down, it's my task to make people desirable." She has a deep sorrowful voice and speckled green eyes.

He sits in front of the mirror and she brushes his matted hair. He looks at her reflection in the glass as she brushes. Her eyes are shining, she is smiling slightly.

Then he hears a young woman's voice cry out from another part of the house. "NO...NO...PLEASE...NO." He hears loud shouts and then a muffled cry. The red haired woman puts down the hairbrush and brings him a cup of aromatic tea...

...On his way downstairs he saw a girl. Perhaps it was the girl who had cried out. She was sitting in front of a painted curtain with a tormented smile on her face, wearing a blue kimono and an anklet with a crescent moon on it. As she handed him a note which she had rolled up like a small scroll, Thomas heard a gunshot.

The girl turned pale. She drew back the curtain and took him into another bedroom.

"Help me," she said.

"How can I hel...?" he began. He heard that hypnotic sound of the sea again...Ssshhhh...He also heard footsteps on the stairs.

Then the girl laughed a false bright laugh. "I am Lais. I have traveled to the most exotic ports of the world. I've had many bizarre adventures. I have lived through lingering twilights...long silent hours broken only by ..."

Lar appeared at the bedroom door. "Don't take notice of anything this bitch tells you. And don't get too close to her. She will make you sick. You can go downstairs now, sir." It sounded like an order rather than an invitation, but he had no money, he could make no demands.

He left Lais and went downstairs. He saw that Salvino had been hurt. He went to the window, reeling from the tea. He was hallucinating, he saw a lion out there. It seemed as if he stood at the window for hours before Lar followed him into the room and slowly lifted Salvino's head from the table.

"I don't have any money," Thomas told her, still reeling.

The white dog began to howl outside the door.

1589 words.
COPYRIGHT. Kirwan. 2001.

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