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Hot Desk Extract: The Rooms

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship program, Lucy Robin worked on ‘The Rooms’, a novel set at West Hollywood’s erstwhile Tropicana Motel. This excerpt follows Melbourne-born June as she prepares to write an autobiography memorialising her young adulthood at the motel.

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I’ve been going to the community centre after work on Fridays. I stay at school until the cleaners come, then take the Tourist Road down the mountain. In Ferntree Gully, I drive past the arboretum and the Kmart. It’s at this point in the journey that I think of myself doing the same thing a week prior. As a small test for myself, I try to remember what I was wearing and what I ate for lunch. Often I can’t.


When I was a girl, the passage of time seized me, but only on Tuesdays. When I walked home from school, I’d cross a particular crack in the footpath between the milk bar and the upholstery place. Like a jaded bank teller, I’d think, Another week in the can. I was all but ten.


I once relayed this story to Claudia. She gave me her real laugh: a rarity. Her lungs emit low hisses that make you want to spring into action and wallop her back. She was a smoker once, long before I knew her. Mum used to say, ‘It stays in you.’


Every week, I park the car across from the creche and watch the mums and bubs spilling out. Sometimes I begin to see my breath in thick plumes, and I have to switch on the ignition again to warm up. I eat apricot delight from the packet that I keep in the glovebox: a wicked concession strictly for Fridays.


Anthony always greets me in the same way, with a sloping, rough smile: ‘Ello, Ms. Janssen,’ he says.


Anthony likes to listen. He asks questions that necessitate long answers. I tell him about my students: Mathias pissed himself twice in one day; Toby’s dad left his missus for the kinesiologist in Upwey. All the unrest and the teasing.


The room is right in the guts of the building. There are asbestos warnings on the walls, men made of hard lines with exclamation marks over their heads. There is a small window in the corner by the sink, showing the footy oval and the men’s shed. Together, Anthony and I push the tables to the walls and assemble the rusted chairs in a circle.


Sometimes the room smells like madeira cake or dahl, or there are sticky rings of tea left on the tables. I try to imagine who was in there before us. I think of a knitting group. Women crowded together like bats in a cave; bending to one another when the topics of weight or birth or finances are raised. These women are not much older than me. This is a fact that I find easy to ignore.


At 6 o’clock, the others rock up. Anthony sits by the whiteboard with his knees together. He is a fundamentally serious man. His friendliness is trained. It’s as if his wife has told him, gently, that it wouldn’t hurt to smile more.


We are a group of disparate identities. Some of the others are still in school. Their parents might have made them join in just to keep them out of the house. The class is called Professional Writing, though I got the sense early on that none of us were doing it for career advancement.



After class each week I meet Claudia for dinner at the Mount Dandy Hotel. We sit by the fireplace and position ourselves so that she can see the teevee and I can watch the bar, its meagre rotation of local men on undersized stools. Claudia has his way of eating her pie like a kid. She scoops out the innards and leaves the shell intact like a ramekin. When she’s done, she slides it across the table to me.


Most of the time, Claudia wears her hair in two ashen plaits that thump against her shoulder blades. Handlebars, she likes to say. Because of this, most of the blokes around here don’t know what to make of her. They’re used to dykes that look like k.d. lang. When she talks footy with the publican, he can’t conceal his puzzlement.


When we met, Claudia wasn’t in her right mind. She’d been dumped by Maria, a woman with thin lips who worked at a chemical plant on the other side of the city. We went to the RSL together and she emptied pints with this sheepish look on her face. Afterwards, I drove us back to her place. There was a felled tree lying on Monbulk Road, and I knew I was fond of her when she got out of the car and started directing traffic.


Sometimes on Fridays we keep at it until late and have to leave the car at the pub. We walk the two kilometres home, single file on the roadside with our down jackets zipped up to our noses. Once, she shone her torch on a dead wombat in the scrub at the end of our street. Somebody had moved it upright and painted a red ‘X’ on its flank. Claudia made a noise at it, as if to startle it awake. I keeled over laughing.


On nights like this, we get into bed and she slides her hand right into my knickers. Sometimes, all she wants is for me to tell her about Minnie.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.