Jolley Prize 2017 (Shortlisted): 'Butter' by Lauren Aimee Curtis

We met him in a park down by the derelict part of the harbour. It was just an oblong of yellow grass and some lopsided play equipment. We used to go there at night and drink cheap, fizzy wine we bought from the lady who owned the Chinese market nearby. This man was standing by the water taking photos of the bridge. He told us we looked mature for sixteen. We told him butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths. Later that night, after we accepted the little blue pills he gingerly placed on our tongues, we warmed to him. Arms linked, we followed him to his home.

That was fifteen, maybe eighteen years ago. This is how we remember that long summer: lying together in one of our beds, the afternoon sun making us sweat and the sour fruit smell of digested wine heavy in the room. We were thin back then – six of us could fit into the one bed if we lay on our sides. Feeling each other’s breath hot on our backs, we would laugh about our friend from the park. He was old and he was ugly. We thought his head looked like a pink fleshy prune. One of his knees turned inwards so that he walked with a slight limp. We were careful not to look directly at his face.

He lived in a studio apartment with a toilet shower and sink combination in the corner. It was dark inside with the blinds always drawn and it smelt like piss. There were photographs sticky-taped to his wall: black-and-white prints showing a beach or a sunset or a dead bird. Some of my old work, he told us. We could tell that he considered himself artistic, old school, gentlemanly. He had a picture of Frank Sinatra wedged into the corner of his mirror, and he whistled old Dean Martin songs none of us knew. His speech was peppered with words like dollface, honey, and wildcat. It was embarrassing to listen to. He owned a small collection of blues and jazz records. He wore red silk shirts and a fedora.

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Published in August 2017, no. 393

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