YouTube clip via Klaus Rassimov

Rijn Collins
Northcote, 2007

The key felt good in my hand as Shelley popped the cork on the champagne. The boxes were piled high, but I knew where the glasses were. Well, and the stereo. With Ike and Tina Turner serenading us, we toasted my new flat, and my first time living alone.

Like any inner Melburnian, I’d done my time in sharehouses: fifteen years of picking foreign hair from drains, communal meals of brown rice and soggy tofu, and listening to housemates practise the guitar solo from Sweet Child Of Mine over and over until they got it right.

They never did.

One housemate would only pay his rent when his ‘angel guides’ told him the time was right. Another had trained his pet rat, Rufus, to relieve himself in the feminist theory section of my bookshelf; I once caught him trying to give Rufus’ tiny pink foot a high five when he ruined yet another copy of The Female Eunuch.

I was often the token female in a house full of men, boyfriends included: it took me years to stop retching at the memory of Blue Stratos and bong water. One watched in bewilderment as I showed him how to operate a potato peeler, while another refused to treat his head lice because ‘If they’ve chosen to live on my body, who am I to deny them?’.

Yes, my time had come.

My new flat was small and unheated, but it was all mine. Shelley gave me one last hug before I closed the door behind her, Tina Turner purring out of the speakers. I barely had time to do a few gleeful Nutbush moves before they knocked on the door.

The tall one said nothing. The one with sideburns held up a bottle, and smiled with greying teeth.

‘Hey neighbour! Fancy a welcome whiskey?

It was 9pm on a Friday night. I was tired and dishevelled, but thought, well, mustn’t be rude.

I stepped aside, and let them in.

They took the chairs closest to the door, leaving me the couch. I realised too late that this blocked my exit. The tall one stared at me, his mouth slightly open. Sideburns grinned. And then the CD player whirred into action and gave me an omen, straight from 1971: the bluesy wail of I Smell Trouble.

And I did.

Fuck, did I ever.

I smell trouble
Lord, I smell trouble ahead of me
Yes, worries and trouble
No they just won’t let me be


Sideburns spoke.

‘Are you wearing lipstick?’

My eyes widened. I shook my head.

‘Cos you got a real pretty mouth.’

Slowly, gently, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.

‘I like watching it when you talk.’

His eyes never left mine, and I waited for them to blink.

‘I like watching you.’

Nausea rose up my throat. The tall one spoke, his voice quiet.

‘Pour her more whiskey.’

I wondered who else lived in this block. I wondered if they’d hear me.

I smell trouble
Lord, I smell trouble ahead of me
Yes, worries and trouble
No they just won’t let me be

Sideburns let his gaze slide down my body, tracing his eyes over my tattoos. I wished my Medusa could uncoil herself from my flesh and unleash her venomous stare. I pictured her blue black snakes rearing, poised to strike.

‘You got real pretty skin too. Why would you pollute it with all those tattoos?’

Sideburns put his glass down, and stood up.

‘I need a closer look at that beautiful skin of yours.’

He started walking towards me as the tall one watched.

‘I need a closer look at you.’

Somewhere in the Dandenongs, fifty kilometres away, my father sat up straight in his chair. We’ve spoken about it since, and he still doesn’t know why he reached for his phone, and punched in my number.

We all jumped when it rang, high on Northcote hill. I grabbed my phone and ducked between their chairs in one quick move. I told my dad of my neighbours, how they were just leaving, isn’t that right, guys? How you were just leaving?

I wrenched open the front door and stepped into the cool night air.

‘Are you ok, darling?’

Panic fluttered in my chest as I gave him the answer no father wants to hear: ‘No, Dad, I don’t think I am.’

But with my front door open, the spell was broken, and my fear was starting to be replaced by blind fury.

This was my first night in my new flat. This was my first night living alone. This visit was OVER.

I don’t remember the words I used. I remember pointing out the door, rage making my finger shake. They sauntered past, bottle in hand. Just as I slammed the door, the tall one turned, and smirked.

My dad’s voice came out of the phone, clutched against my chest. Tina Turner’s silken tones came from the stereo, into the sudden stillness of the room.

Both voices joined together into a chorus of solace, wrapping themselves around me in comfort as I stood, alone, in my beautiful new home.

© Rijn Collins.

Rijn Collins at the Newstead Short Story Tattoo, May 2015.

Rijn Collins at the Newstead Short Story Tattoo, May 2015.



Rijn is an Australian writer whose work has been published in numerous anthologies and literary journals, presented at festivals, and adapted for performance on Australian and American radio. In April 2016 she won the inaugural Sara Award For Audio Fiction. Rijn is part of Stereo Stories In Concert.