The Cold in You

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Girl tutors boy in Melbourne suburbs for his maths class. Girl has second job which she isn't comfortable talking about. Girl leaves suburbs for second job, and as the sky darkens, as does the reality of her world.

Submitted: June 28, 2016

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Submitted: June 28, 2016

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On a gloriously sunny but cold autumn afternoon, in a little house nestled deep within Melbourne suburbia, a girl introduced a young boy to trigonometry.

“OK Aiden. So, trigonometry is all about triangles, but specifically focuses on right-angled triangles. You know what right-angled triangles are, right?”

Aiden nodded eagerly, wide-eyes glued to his tutors face. She had been tutoring him for several months now, and it was the first time that an older girl with long golden hair and warm, sympathetic eyes had paid Aiden this much attention.

“Right-angled triangles are… triangles that are ninety degrees?”

“Very good! They’re triangles with an internal angle that is ninety degrees. Here, I’ll draw one for you.” 

Aiden watched as she smoothly drew a small pointy triangle, eyebrows knitting together in concentration. She continued to elaborate on right-angled triangles, her words slowly melting into the golden sunlight pouring in through the high windows. It was that drowsy point of the evening where eyelids were at their heaviest, and Aiden struggled to concentrate on anything other than the sweet lilt in her voice. At her feet was a big canvas bag, different to the small shoulder bag she usually brought to his house. It was almost bursting at its seams, its mysterious contents managing to intrigue Aiden more than trigonometry ever could.

Every Wednesday afternoon she arrived at four o’clock, tutored him for an hour and a half, and sometimes had a quick snack in the kitchen with Aiden’s mother Emily afterwards. Then a lift to the train station before she disappeared for a week without a trace. She told Aiden she lived in the city with friends, that she had a second job that wasn’t maths tutoring. He wanted to hear more facts about her, but she only told him facts about maths.

Low in the sky now, the buttery sun enveloped the room in a soft, dusty cocoon. A melamine salad plate symmetrically arranged with water crackers and brie sat untouched on the desk, the brie slowly curling at the edges in the heavy sunlight. As the tutor paused to take a long sip from her frosted water bottle, Aiden took the opportunity to ask her why her bag was so big. A seemingly trivial question, but one in which she didn’t know how to answer. The room was silent; in the water bottle a melting ice cube crackled.

She told him that she had packed her uniform in the bag and it was taking up a lot of room. The uniform was for her second job. “I’m a waitress at a café in the city.”

Aiden imagined her wearing a frilly pink apron, walking up and down aisles of tables pouring coffee out of a grinder like the waitresses in movies. “Is it fun?” he asked curiously.

“It’s just for now,” she replied quickly. “’til something better comes along.”

 

As Aiden and his tutor cleared the desk of books and pencil shavings, the sound of Emily’s heels clipping the terracotta tiles grew louder and louder.

“Quick cuppa before you go?” Emily asked, hopeful smile enough incentive to warrant a yes.

They stood facing each other in the kitchen with their backs resting against the marble benches, both staring out the same window at the slender elms dancing in the breeze.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you how rapt I am that you’re Aiden’s tutor,” Emily said, opening a packet of butter biscuits and offering it to her.

“Oh, thank you,” the tutor said, to both the compliment and the biscuits.

“He’s been receiving consistently great marks in his Grade Six maths class since we hired you; you’re a very talented teacher.”

“Well, thanks. I’m not surprised at Aiden’s good marks; he’s been improving since day one. He’s a very quick learner.”

“Well he’s definitely taken a shine to you too – he talks about you non-stop.” Emily gave her a cheeky smile. “He’s quite smitten actually! Our last tutor was a good thirty years older than you and Aiden constantly complained that she smelt of sour milk.” She laughed and started busying herself spooning sugar into white mugs. “One sugar, right?”

The kettle roared and spluttered to life as they continued discussing Aiden. Emily asked whether she planned on expanding her tutoring network, and she admitted that she hadn’t thought about it.

“Well, I’ve raved about you to some of the other parents at Aiden’s school and they seemed very interested –”

“It’s OK, really.” She shifted awkwardly, not making eye contact. “I just don’t have the time right now.”

Every street in the neighbourhood was decorated with elm trees, all parallel to each other. The tutor gazed fixatedly out the window at them as the atmosphere in the car was coloured with the sickly sweet pop beats of a Taylor Swift album. Emily loved Taylor Swift and seemingly played this album on a loop in her car. Even though it had begun to bother her, the tutor didn’t ever protest or even question it. She liked to watch with bemusement as Emily’s red lips mouthed along effortlessly, oversized bangles jangling against the steering wheel.

“Have a good week!” Emily called out the window cheerfully, accompanying her words with a wave. The train station was bustling with peak hour human traffic, men in suits and women in designer blouses, drinking coffee out of takeaway cups and yelling into their smartphones. The roar of life contained to just one station was so overwhelming that the tutor had to remove herself from it. Out to the platform, touching on with that horrible piece of green plastic, threading her way through bundles of uncouth people. At the far end of the platform she sat with her legs crossed and her back to the crowd, sneaking a quick cigarette before the train arrived. She had already started to feel the anxiety, the soreness in her body. Darting glances at strangers, she felt irrationally self-conscious that someone would recognise what was wrong.

The train to Flinders wasn’t milling with as many people as she had assumed. She caught her reflection in the glass and almost laughed. It didn’t look anything like her. Across the train a young woman was cackling unreservedly with laughter, holding her iPhone to her ear and fiddling with the split ends of her dip-dyed hair. A few seats away from her a man with dreadlocks drummed his nicotine-stained fingers soundlessly against the bottom of the skateboard resting on his lap. Across the aisle the head of an Asian man in a business suit kept drooping down as he dozed in and out of sleep. So many different people going to so many different places, as she peered at them anxiously the tutor wondered if there was a single chance just one of them were going where she was.

A tram from Flinders took her to St Kilda, and as she stood clutching the grubby metal pole to keep her from falling at every jerky stop, she watched the sun finally set over the city. The amber sky languidly dripped away into inky darkness, and the bite of the cold night air was prevalent as she jumped out of the tram. Her bones ached, her organs tender and unfamiliar in her body. An impending sense of doom consumed her thoughts, but she was already well-acquainted with this paranoia.

The fur coat in her bag was the most expensive item she owned, and the warmest. She put it on and nuzzled her face into its collar, head down, eyes on the ground, taking long purposeful strides. As routine, she entered the bar around the corner from her work and ordered two shots of Wild Turkey. One after the other, she coughed briefly, avoiding eye contact with everyone around her. Deep blue florescent lighting illuminated the stage as an amateur grunge band assaulted their instruments.

In the bathroom the lights were so bright that the air shimmered. She sat atop a toilet seat lid and watched the crystals crackle and melt above her lighter flame; like the ice melting in her water bottle earlier. Holding the pipe gently to her lips, she inhaled until she couldn’t anymore. The white smoke swirled through the shimmering air around her and she smiled, complacent.

 

The place the tutor worked at was called The California Club, and all the girls who worked there called themselves the California Girls. It wasn’t your typical café. In fact, it wasn’t a café at all.

The dressing room stunk of fake tan and cheap perfume.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Brandy demanded, eying the tutor up and down, pupils fat and juicy. The other girls glanced up at her listlessly. “And what the motherfuck are you wearing? You look like someone’s nanny!”

“Close,” she smirked. “I’m someone’s tutor, remember? I just got back then… I have to look the part.”

“You’re wearing stockings without rips. And what are those, T-bars? Mate, you look ridiculous.”

The tutor sat in front of the mirror with Brandy as they painted their greasy-white faces. Smokey eyeshadow, false eyelashes, deep red lipstick. Reaching into her canvas bag she pulled out a black dress; short, tight and with a neckline plunging down to somewhere above her navel. At the bottom of the bag was a pair of black thigh high leather boots.

“Jesus Christ, did you bring your hooker clothes with you to your tutoring session?”

“I told him I was a waitress and that the clothes were my uniform.”

Brandy roared and roared with laughter.

Out in the introduction lounge the tutor did her usual round, sauntering in and then walking in a slow circle, hips bouncing as she turned, cheeky little smirk tugging at her lips.

“Hi.” She spoke in a breathy whisper. “I’m Tara.”

 There was a raucous group of men in from a Bucks night, faces covered in a thin sheen of sweat and beer and stinking of cigars. As they whistled and leered at her approvingly she wondered whose idea it was to plan a Bucks night for a Wednesday night. The fattest, lewdest of the group picked her, and they proceeded into the back room that was painted light pink. Management claimed they had painted it pink as it was a neutral, gentle colour, in the hope that it would evoke that vibe within the room. A week earlier one of the girls had been viciously strangled in the pink room, so Tara assumed the gentle vibe hadn’t quite leaked through yet.

Even after showering, the man continued to stink of hard liquor and smoke. As he clumsily fucked her she tried hard to hold her breath whilst still omitting the token moans of pleasure. He struggled to keep his dick hard, cursing angrily at himself before finally offering to go down on her. Within a minute he had passed out between her legs.

For a few moments Tara just lay there on her back, staring up at the ceiling and breathing shallowly. The dim pink lighting made her feel warm, and she wondered for a second if it was the colour of the walls that had evoked that feeling within her.

 

It was an unmemorable night of drunks and regulars, sneaking cigarettes and fixing makeup in between. Tara stroked the rough faces of strange men and smiled lovingly at them. She pranced around for them in the introduction lounge, dressing up in different sexy outfits, almost relishing the feeling of eyes following her.

At two in the morning she stood out the back smoking a joint with Brandy and they talked about the little house in the suburbs.

“So, are they rich or what?”

“They’re seemingly well off,” Tara replied, blowing a long stream of silver smoke out into the cold, velvet night.

“Sooo if you’re so good at maths and you’re this hotshot maths tutor now, what the fuck are you still doing here?”

“It’s just some extra cash really, I hate maths. I’ve been blessed and cursed with a talent I’m not interested in.” As she passed the joint back to Brandy their fingers briefly touched. Brandy’s were ice cold. She threw Tara a cool look, scarlet lips twisting.

“Could still do somethin’ with it. Start a business or somethin’.”

“I dunno. Maybe,” Tara lied, tossing the roach into the darkness.

At three-thirty in the morning a group of California Girls left The California Club and slithered through the silent, dewy streets. Back to a dilapidated share house nestled deep within the backstreets of St Kilda.

The house loomed in front of Tara like a giant, ugly beast about to devour her. She shivered in the cold, shivered in her fur coat, feeling the wind sweep under her skin and coil itself around her bones. An icy snake constricting. The anxiety was slowly creeping back.

Inside the dank house that smelled of mould and stale cigarettes, Brandy’s boyfriend was passed out face-down at the kitchen table. He’d left the kitchen light on and a half empty bottle of Jim Beam on the table next to his head. Brandy ignored him and snatched up the bottle, eyes sparkling deviously as she turned to the rest of the girls.

“Anyone thirsty?”

The television was switched on and various female forms draped themselves across the various pieces of dingy furniture. Pipes and bags of crystals appeared and the bottle of bourbon was passed from hand to hand. Tara glanced at the pile of dirty dishes in dismay, the McDonalds wrappers littering the floor, the ugly wet stains on the walls. She could hear possums fucking loudly on the roof. Someone placed the bottle of bourbon in her hand and she started drinking it, barely registering the burning sensation in her throat. One of the girls had brought a guy back with her, and after passing a pipe back and forth for a few minutes they started openly ravishing each other.

Deep within Tara’s bag her phone suddenly buzzed to life. Puzzled, she fished it out and squinted at the caller ID. She seldom received phone calls, and the only people she could label as her friends were all currently in the same room as her. She thought perhaps she might have left something important behind at The California Club, until she finally registered that it was the Donovan home line ringing. Her tutor family.

“Hello?” she whispered, her voice peppered with anxiety, heart roaring in her ears like the overwhelming roar of a plane about to lift off.

“Nora?” a small voice responded. Tara inhaled sharply, momentarily shocked to hear her real name. It was Aiden.

“Aiden, is everything OK? It’s very, very late to be ringing me.” 

“I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.” His voice wobbled slightly, as though he were nervous. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“OK… What’s wrong? Why can’t you sleep?”

Not wanting the girls to hear her, she began walking down the dark, smoky hallway. Past her bedroom with its peeling beige wallpaper and thin, sad little mattress. The holey sarong pinned above the one filthy window as a makeshift curtain had half fallen down.

“I was, um, thinking about you. I wanted to tell you… That I really like you, Nora.”

“Aiden.” It came out like an exhale. She was in the bathroom now under the harsh lights, staring at her reflection in the mirror as she spoke. “You know I’m much older than you. I’m your tutor. You’re my student.”

“I know, but… I really, really like you.”

“I know,” she whispered. She gazed at her sallow skin, black makeup smudged around the outside of her eyes, knots scattered throughout her hair from being fucked roughly. Her clothes hung off her tiny frame; she was so skinny her cheekbones appeared sunken, her wrists knobby, skin stretched tightly over her visible collarbone. “Aiden, when you get a bit older, you’ll meet an amazing girl who will make you very happy.” She closed her eyes, feeling a lump swelling up in her throat. “You’re young; you may think I will now, but I won’t make you happy.”

There was a long pause. “What do you mean?” he asked in a small, sad voice.

“Aiden, I have to go now. It’s late, it’s a school night. You need to sleep. I’m sorry… I’ll see you next week.”

Before he could respond she hung up the phone, swallowed the lump, turned her back on her reflection and returned to the girls.

 


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