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Permanent Residence

Kathy bit into her wholewheat seaweed quiche with the malevolence of a vegetarian shark. She ground it viciously, shook it till its crumbs fell off, tugged it like toffee. The salt-laden strands, octopuslike, formed a cat’s cradle to neutralise her teeth. She went to hurl it across the room, but it hung on, fearful of the civil war that raged across the television on the cafe wall.

Kathy glared at the TV, then at the clock, then at Petra. "Where’s Emma?" she asked.

Petra stirred her frothless cappucino with a well-sucked spoon, her blue jumper blending patriotically with the red and white check tablecloth. "She said she’d be late. Something about having to see Martin."

"I thought he was Ancient History."

"He is. Very."

Petra went back to stirring her coffee. Kathy resumed her campaign against the quiche. Petra watched her, puzzled. Kathy wasn’t usually this angry, even over a beached brontosaurus.

"What’s up?" Petra asked.

"Bloody estate agents!"

"Sue said you were looking for somewhere." It was a question more than a statement.

"Since Soong pissed off on me, I’ve got no option. Can’t afford where I am. Not on my own."

"She hasn’t come back then?"

"No sign of her. Her stuff’s all there. She told me she was going down the coast for the weekend. Cops say she’s shot through with her boyfriend."

"Maybe she has."

"They haven’t even looked for her. All they’re interested in is drugs and dead police commissioners. They’re not going to bother themselves with a missing boong."

"So what sort of place are you looking for?"

"Somewhere liveable. And not too expensive. But tell that to an estate agent. Sue told me about a guy Des recommended. Talk about sleaze ..."

"What did he show you?"

"Inner suburban. Bed sit. Close to transport. So close you breathe the fumes. Monocrete. Sort of circular, with orange fittings. Similar one, with murals. Bloke sleeping there didn’t recommend it. Reckons he gets a crick in his back sleeping in a curve all the time. And they’re not warm.

"I told him I didn’t like monocrete, so he trots out this weatherboard number. Describes the decor as Minoan Palace. I’d call it Egyptian Tomb, but I suppose there’s not much in it. You know the sort of thing: words and pictures forming a frieze around the walls, laboriously inscribed in basic black, a story of blighted romance whose simplicity and power makes it stand forever among the great walls of literature."

Kathy freed the last chunk of seaweed from her teeth and assumed a declamatory posture.

"Adam is spunky
Melissa is sexy
Adam fancies Melissa
See Melissa go PANT! See Melissa’s pants.
© Melissa"

Kathy stopped, her face mournful. "But Melissa has been scored out with savage black strokes, and Jason written in instead."

She chomped for a moment on an errant piece of seaweed. "And so the story continues, dragging its participants to their inevitable doom:

Jason sucks
Jason’s a whore
Guess what Adam got from Jason
© Jason
Melissa’s a whore.
Ring Melissa, any time. 131 008. Say Adam sent you.
Tanya’s got the hots for Melissa.
© Tanya. She’s welcome to him.

"And in a circle

©             ©                                 You read
                         Jason           Tanya           —            it first
©            ©                                  on the 35

"And then, in a final triumphant assertion of humanity, in purple spray paint:


So F

"It breaks off there, suddenly, inscrutably, as if some irresistible, inconceivable event had swept them from the scene, never to return."

"Did you take it?" Petra asked.

Kathy shook her head. "It wasn’t really my style."

"What else did he show you?"

"I think he thought he’d softened me up by then, so he went up market. This totally horrendous pink marble mansion, dug into a cliff face for the views, five millimetres from a pseudo-Georgian town hall on one side and an inhabited molecular model on the other. They’d built it for some diplomat who’d forgotten he had to sleep, so it’s acres of open plan living space criss-crossed by multi-level bridges like a freeway interchange, but the only bed folds out from the broom cupboard ..."

She trailed off, staring at the television on the wall. Petra followed her gaze. The daily boat people story. A refugee camp. Strained, sad faces. A girl shouting abuse through the barbed wire at a policeman.

"It’s Soong," Kathy said, in a voice so flat as to be unrecognisable.

"It can’t be."

"It is. And the guy behind her is her boyfriend."

There was a gust of wind. The light was blotted out for a moment. Emma dumped herself down at the end of the table. "You’ve seen it," she said, glancing up at the TV, then at Kathy.

"We’ve got to get her out," Kathy said.

Emma shook her head. "It’s file footage," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"It was on one of the current affairs shows last night, so I rang up the station. It’s three weeks old. She was deported last week."

"But how come?"

Emma smiled, grimly. "That’s why I had to see Martin."

Petra’s ears pricked up. "Where’s he now?" she asked, in a "tell me the gossip" tone.

"Immigration. Director, Unauthorised Arrivals."

"And?" Kathy asked.

"She’d gone fishing, hadn’t she? So what do the cops see? Two Asians in a boat, coming ashore. No papers. No identification. Port Hedland, here you come. Then first plane out, no questions asked. You can’t waste time on them, or your processing costs go sky high. She’d got flesh on her bones, for God’s sake, and not a cigarette burn in sight. No grounds for anything there."

"But she’s a permanent resident," Kathy said.

"I know that. So does Martin — now. And so does his boss."

"What are they going to do?"

Emma smiled, sharklike. "The whole section’s off on an unscheduled Asian visit."

"Will they find her, do you think?" Petra asked.

"Maybe." The sharklike look intensified, and there was a distinct gloat in her voice. "But they’re more likely to be mistaken for peacekeepers. And you know what happens to them."


Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1992

Please note: If the symbols linking Adam, Melissa, Jason and Tanya don't appear as hearts, that's what they should be.

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