By Victoria HannanUnpublished Manuscript

Kokomo

Judges' comments

Mina takes a break from her career and burgeoning romance in London after receiving some significant news about her mother. In Melbourne she finds some things have changed while some things will never change. With prose that crackles, Hannan observes the rituals of modern love with deep empathy and a keen eye.

At once genuinely funny and heartbreaking, Kokomo is a commentary on balancing family obligations with self-actualisation. This is a disarmingly profound novel about the violence and the softness of navigating the world as a young woman.

Portrait of Victoria Hannan

Victoria Hannan

Victoria Hannan is a writer, photographer and creative director living in Melbourne. Her writing has appeared on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 3:AM magazine and in her monthly TinyLetter about swimming pools.

Kokomo, her first novel, was written at artist in residence programmes in Brazil, Tasmania and Iceland. 

Extract

The green striped wallpaper, the blood-red wood, it made Elaine feel glamorous. She sat at the bar, atop a high leather stool, her legs too short to reach the floor, the low heel of her shoes clanking against the metal bar as she swung her feet nervously.

If he comes, it means something, Elaine thought. It means love or at least the promise of it. Please come, she begged silently. Please come. Please come. Please come. Please come.

She stared at the row of taps and read the names of beers she’d never heard of, some she’d seen ads for. The tall, bald bar tender pulled a pint for a man standing at the end of the bar, it looked black, thick like gutter water with an off-milk froth. Behind the bar were rows of spirits in bottles. She recognised two of them: the brandy her mum drank a small glass of every Saturday night, the whisky her dad brought out at the end of the dinner when her and Bill announced their engagement.

The barman approached her. Elaine noticed that his eyes were the same green as the wallpaper, the same green as the carpet. She wondered if they were always that colour or if they’d changed gradually since he started working there. She didn’t know if this was even a thing a body could do. She was only just learning the magic her body was capable of. At this point, it felt like anything was possible.

‘What’ll it be, love?’ He asked, an English accent buried deep in there somewhere.

‘Um,’ she said, feeling her face flush. She recognised one of the beer names from an ad she saw from the tram, she knew the suburb, her and Bill had eaten in an Italian restaurant there. ‘A small Carlton Draught,’ she said, so tentatively it was almost a whisper.

‘A pot of Carlton it is’, he pulled a glass out from under the bar, cocked it on an angle and poured the beer.

She looked around the bar. It was a festival of men in there. Men laughing, talking, their voices rumbling like far off traffic. Looking around at the type of men – bank men, insurance men, more like Bill, she knew she’d picked the wrong kind of place.

‘It’s so close to your work,’ she’d told him. ‘Just come for ten minutes.’ Just come, she’d begged him. Please come.

In the twenty four hours between her asking and her dangling her feet nervously against the metal bar of the high stool, Elaine re-wrote her whole story, a frenzied imagining of a new life. She saw beauty where previously there’d been little – the way the sun shone through the blinds in the morning, fractured light fanned in beams, the colours of the rainbow lorikeets that sang and danced in the gums.

‘That’ll be a dollar fifty,’ the barman said and Elaine found the change in her purse, her hand shaking as she passed it over.

She looked at the amber liquid. It fizzed and bubbled, the sweating glass crowned by a small white head. She took a sip and it tasted bitter but not bad. She took another and she liked it more and more each time. She waited. Every time the door opened, her heart would split wide open, a volcanic fissure, a rift valley. She’d crane her neck hoping it was him, but each time, another man in a suit. Not him. Not yet.

Please come. Please come.

Her beer was warm, almost empty by the time he slinked through the door. He wore a blue jacket over his kitchen uniform, he’d changed out of his white pants and into jeans. Her whole body stiffened at the sight of him, his black hair, high cheek bones, brown almond eyes. He saw her and walked to her with his head down, he seemed smaller in there, to shrink himself so as not to be noticed. He’d come. She couldn’t believe he’d come.

‘Thank you for coming,’ she said.

‘I haven’t got much time,’ Arthur climbed onto the stool next to her.

‘We don’t need long,’ she said and he looked at her finally, right in the eye and her stomach flipped and danced a whole routine, she was a showgirl doing the Can Can, Fred and Ginger in Swing Time. He looked past her and around the room. He was stiff and quiet.

‘I’m not sure this is a good idea’ he said and lifted a finger to get the bar man’s attention. ‘Scotch, neat,’ he said and the bar man set to work, not saying a word. Elaine watched him look around the bar at the white men in suits. She wondered if any of them knew Bill, if she’d see someone she’d met once at a barbeque or a dinner party, made small talk with around a table of nibbles. She didn’t care. She didn’t care because he came. He was here.

He handed over a five dollar bill, took his change. A wordless transaction. A measure of whisky, a short fat glass. He took a large gulp of it.

‘But you came anyway,’ Elaine said and let the corners of her mouth turn up, let herself believe in it, sink into it.

‘I did,’ he said.

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s nice to pretend sometimes.’ Arthur finished his drink. ‘My break’s almost over. I have to get back to work,’ he slid off the stool.

‘I’ll walk with you,’ Elaine said and took the last flat sip of her beer, and followed him out the door onto Spring Street.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist