Have a read of my short story, Around Midnight, first published in Quadrant Magazine. The story is part of my short fiction collection Stories From Bondi published by Ginninderra Press (2019).
I hope you enjoy it.
‘When are you open?’ Anny asks the woman on the telephone.
‘We have a party twice a day. Every day. Twelve thirty to four thirty and seven thirty to midnight.’
‘Oh. Every day? I thought it was Saturday nights only.’
‘No darling. Every day.’
‘So what’s the setup?’
‘$120 for a couple. Nothing if you come on your own. What’s your position. How would you come along?’
‘On my own.’
‘It would cost you nothing then.’
‘But what do you do? I mean, I know what goes on there.’
‘You’ve been here before?’
‘No. A friend told me about it. What do you wear? What’s the setup?’
‘It’s all up to you love. If you fancy a gentleman you invite him into one of the rooms.’
‘What do you wear though? My friend said something about robes.’
‘Towels. They’re towels love. You wear whatever you like. Normal clothes.’
Anny is sitting at a café at North Bondi having breakfast with her friend Dita telling her about it. Anny has ordered the scrambled tofu and Dita is having fried eggs and bacon.
I’m dying to know how you went, Dita says, pulling her chair closer to the table.
Well, Anny says, this is what happened.
It’s eight thirty on Saturday night when I approach a big steel gate with a street number in bold letters. I open the gate and go up the lane way beside the Thai restaurant and follow the fairy lights upstairs. There’s nothing else to indicate what goes on inside this three-bedroom apartment on a busy road in Bondi. I follow the fairy lights along a corridor until I come to a wooden front door with no number on it. I hesitate not knowing whether to knock or just walk in. I open the door.
Inside, draped around the room, are about ten men and women in various stages of undress sitting on stools beside small bar tables – the men bare-chested, the women topless or wearing bras. Some of them are giving each other neck and shoulder massages. And they’re all wearing towels. Not a very attractive sight in my opinion – a man in a towel.
It’s a large room with a pretend-bar, a kitchen on the right and sliding glass doors that lead to a covered balcony with an above-the-ground spa pool. Standing by the door are two Japanese men in black jeans and black tee-shirts. I walk over to the kitchen which acts as the Reception area.
The only other fully dressed people in the room are the man and the woman who run the place. She’s Czech, young and very attractive in a green lace figure-revealing dress. Her blonde hair cascades down her back. She’s in the kitchen and doesn’t exactly greet me but asks me what I’d like to drink. A glass of wine would be nice, I say. She goes to the fridge and from a cask on the bottom shelf pours me a glass. With drink in hand I stand near the door and look around.
And wonder what I’ll do next.
The two Japanese men avoid eye contact with me. They obviously want to keep to themselves. I don’t particularly want to join the group of men and women on the stools as I don’t intend to take any of my clothes off.
I ask the woman who runs the place to show me around. She shrugs without much enthusiasm then leads the way along a narrow hallway. The first bedroom on the right has a double bed with a bedside light on a table and white lace curtains on the window. She looks out between the lace peering around outside before pulling them closed. She shows me another bedroom at the end of the corridor with an en-suite bathroom. We stand at the door looking in to the empty bed but she doesn’t show me in. And then she leads the way to the third bedroom back along the corridor towards the front door.
This is the Orgy Room, she says from the open doorway.
I avert my eyes but I can see from the corner of one eye a double bed and several naked bodies doing things to each other. Backs and thighs and bums exposed. Not very becoming. It all seems tacky and I begin to doubt my wisdom in coming to a place like this. I clutch my handbag across my body and find myself a seat in the front room with my back to the wall.
There are corn chips and an onion dip on a platter that the women in the group hand around. I decline the chips and the dip. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the smell of onion breathe. A woman in a white lace bra and a towel around her waist stubs out her cigarette in the ashtray in front of me and asks if I’ve been here before.
No, I say. And you?
I come here all the time. What do you do for a living? She continues.
A bit of this and that.
She nods knowingly.
What do you do? I ask.
I’m a psychologist at a clinic at St Leonards.
I’m very surprised. For some reason I thought women with important jobs wouldn’t come to a place like this.
A man edges over towards me and tries to get in on our conversation. He asks the same things as she does. Do you come here often? What do you do for a living? In the old days, or, rather, in the olden days, as my children like to say, when I used to frequent bars from time to time, I’d answer the first question with “only in the mating season” and the second question with “I live off the income from my investments”. Both replies would be met with a stunned silence or an impressed “ah” or, sometimes, “is this the mating season?”
The man keeps smiling at me and I avert my eyes but somehow he is able to maneuver himself around so he’s constantly in my line of vision. It gives me the shits.
Not your type? Dita puts in.
No. Absolutely not.
What did you wear in the end? Dita asks.
Only four items of clothing.
Something you could take off quickly?
Yes. And no jewelry. Apparently the men have to shower and put on a towel as soon as they arrive. Although one woman kept saying to me, where’s your towel? She wanted me to get undressed and hang about in a towel like everyone else.
Another woman tells me I should leave my bag locked up in the kitchen with the man and woman who own the place.
You don’t know these men, cautions the woman. Lock up your bag.
I decide to keep my bag with me although I’ve left my umbrella beside the door. Another man edges his stool over towards me and we have a conversation. At least he’s got a brain in his head and got something to say for himself. He tells me he’s Dutch and he’s here in Sydney on business.
It’s my first time to this place, he says. But I’ve been to others in other cities in the world. I travel a lot for business.
We talk a little about travel and countries we’ve visited.
He lets me know in a non-threatening way that he’d be willing to go into one of the bedrooms with me. I feel embarrassed knocking him back seeing as we’ve had such a nice conversation and I don’t want him to be wasting time with me if he wants to be chatting up some other woman.
I’m not ready, I say politely. Maybe later.
The other man who’s been trying to catch my eye, the pain-in-the-bum-persistent-dag who listens in to my every word, leans over towards me and says, When you’re ready would you go into one of the rooms with me?
No thanks, I say. Sorry, I smile at him hoping all the same that I haven’t hurt his feelings.
The Dutch man tells me there’s no need to apologise.
A few new people wander in. A man and a woman, a couple, a few single men of various ages and shapes and a fat girl draped in layers of chiffon. Then two very well-proportioned young men. I remind myself that I’m the one meant to be doing the choosing here. One of the very well-proportioned young men is quite cute actually. The other young man is not very tall, a bit too muscle-bound for my taste, and has that short spiky hair almost- shaved-at-the-side that I find most unattractive. The two of them are younger than both my son – but that’s nothing new.
One of the women ushers them out into the back bedroom to shower and put on a towel. They don’t return to the main room where I’m sitting jammed up between various men and in front of me a blank video screen high up on the wall. The fat girl does some sort of disco dance in front of the wall under the video screen. She dances in time to the music but nothing special. Then the woman who owns the place uses her remote to turn on a video.
I’ve never seen such an explicit porn video before, Dita. I can’t watch but I glimpse the extreme closeups of women’s genitalia and pierced intimate body parts and things being stuck in and up and it’s all too horrible.
Why didn’t you go home then? Asks Dita.
I thought I’d wait just a bit longer. It had taken such an enormous effort of will to get there.
The Czech blonde who runs the place with her Indian husband enjoys the video immensely.
Look at that, she keeps saying.
I have nowhere to turn my head. In front of me the video, to my left the persistent dag. To my right is the smaller young muscley man who now also keeps trying to attract my attention but I’m claustrophobic and I just want out of there but for some reason I’m stuck to my seat. I don’t want to stand up and have everyone look at me – anything that moves is closely observed in this room. I look at the floor, at the space between my stool and the spa area, and the floor towards the front door. I’m willing myself to stand up, to walk into the spa room away from these men, or straight out the front door.
So that’s how come I end up talking to the young Italian muscley bloke. He reaches his hand out to me and invites me to sit in the spa room with him away from the noise of the video. I use his hand to stand up but then remove it from his grasp before walking outside to the balcony. I don’t want to look as if I’ve been claimed.
I tell the muscley Italian man that the men here are too predatory and I’m feeling guilty because I keep knocking them back and then find myself apologising. You don’t have to apologise when you knock someone back, he assures me. But I’m finding him intimidating right now wedged up beside me and I don’t know how to get rid of him.
We sit on the black vinyl lounge, me squashed in the corner beside him. The tang of chlorine from the empty spa assaults my nostrils.
Can I kiss your cheek? he asks.
Can I hold your hand? he says.
I wedge my hand that lays beside him under my thigh making sure he can’t hold it.
His friend, the cutie, comes out through the door and sits beside us. We smile at each other.
I was very nervous before coming to this place, he says to me. I nearly didn’t come.
I look into his open face and his nice round eyes and thick head of curly hair.
It was the same for me, I say.
When I came in, he says, I saw you sitting there and that woman in the green dress and I thought this looks all right and so I came in.
She’s very attractive, I say. That woman in the green dress.
I asked her husband if she participates but he said no.
Do you think it’s good value for money here? I ask in order to keep the conversation going. I mean it’s concerning me that the men have paid $180 each to come into this place and it’s free for me.
No, he says, I don’t think I’ve got good value for money. Not so far.
His friend puts his hand on my leg. I consider removing his hand but think it may seem churlish of me so I don’t. And anyway if I’ve come to a place like this what am I doing knocking all the blokes back?
What does it cost to have sex with a hooker? I ask the cutie.
He looks at me with horrified wide eyes. I don’t know. I’ve never had sex with a hooker.
I was just trying to do a price comparison. A value for money price comparison.
How many women have you had sex with tonight? I persist.
Two. One on arrival. A woman started massaging me when I had a shower and then we had sex. And then a second one almost straight afterwards. The fat girl.
How was that? I ask. How was the sex?
She had big bruises all over her body as if she’d been bashed up or drugs or something. Her arms and legs were all bruised. It was awful. I wished I was unconscious.
I nod with sympathy.
I noticed you go into the bedroom with the fat girl, I say.
He smiles at me and extends his hands towards me, palms upturned. I could give you a great massage, he says with enthusiasm. I’ve got very strong hands. I’m trained in martial arts.
Mm, I say breathing out with a sigh.
But the problem is I can’t get rid of his bloody friend. He’s latched on to me and has territorial control with his bloody hand resting on my thigh.
There are six of us in the spa room now. The cutie, his friend, a middle-aged Maori couple and the Indian husband of the Czech woman. I’d noticed some of the girls flirting with the Indian husband and then laughing. He stays close by the side of his wife. Now though, he chats to us.
We’ve only had this business for eight weeks, he says. We took it over from the previous owner who’d been here for six and a half years. It costs us $1000 a month in rent and $1000 for advertising on the web, in the Telegraph and in the Wentworth Courier. It isn’t easy to make money.
We talk about business and making money for awhile then he leaves us to it.
Do you think some of those girls are being paid to be here? asks the Italian.
Well, why would a single woman come to a place like this? says the cutie who’s disappointed there aren’t more women here. A single woman can go out any time and pick up a bloke at a pub.
I don’t say anything. I don’t say it’s probably safer here than to take a stranger home or to go back to his place in the middle of nowhere. And what are you meant to do anyway if you don’t have a boyfriend?
He complains that when he rang up to make inquiries they told him there is a huge spa that fits twenty people. They could fit about eight people in this spa, he says. And even then it would be squashed. Twenty people – they’d all be on top of each other.
I must say that when my friend Richard, who told me about the place, mentioned that there is a large spa I did imagine a Grecian-type setting with women and men reclining and relaxing around the edges of the water.
If he was a good businessman, says the Cutie, he’d offer to give us our money back at the door. That’s how you do business. Keep the customers happy.
There’s no privacy in the rooms here, says the Italian. People walk in all the time. The Japanese men paid $50 each just to watch.
We had to jam towels up against the door to stop people walking in, says the Maori husband.
Now that the Maori couple have joined in the conversation I use the opportunity to ask them how they’re going. What they’ve experienced so far. I’d noticed them come out of the bedroom at the end of the house.
The wife tells me in a quiet voice that they went into the room with another woman to have a threesome. But it didn’t work out, she says. He couldn’t do any good, she says indicating with a nod her husband’s lap and the area between his legs. We don’t like it much here. We’ve been to other singles clubs where it’s all couples. Much better. Not with all these men hanging around staring at you.
Why did you come here? I ask.
He wants to have sex with other women. So coming to a place like this, he’s not doing it behind my back. I know what he’s up to and I’m included.
Her husband glows smugly.
Why did you come here? I ask the cutie.
Curiosity. Why did you come here? He asks me.
Curiosity. We all came here for curiosity, I say summing up the conversation.
The Italian muscle-man gets up to go to the toilet.
Save me that space beside you, he instructs me. Promise, he adds loudly.
When he leaves the room I ask the cutie if he’s been into the Orgy Room.
No, he says. What Orgy Room?
It’s up the hallway. I had a look around when I arrived. But an Orgy Room isn’t something I’m interested in trying.
Me either, he agrees.
I’m just waiting for him to finish with you, he says indicating the empty seat between us, and then I’ll be next.
I lower my eyes discretely and suppress a smirk.
The Italian returns from the toilet and takes his seat between us.
The cutie turns to me and says: You can give him a massage, indicating his friend, and I’ll give you a massage.
The Maori couple encourage me from the sidelines.
Go on, says the Maori husband. Give it a go. If you don’t like it, leave.
Sure, I think to myself. As if I’d be able to leave after going into a bedroom with two men and taking off all my clothes. Although I wouldn’t mind going in to one of the rooms with the cutie, if I could lock the door that is, and if it wasn’t so late already.
I giggle nervously. I have four people on my case now trying to pursuade me to go with the two young men, as if it’s my responsibility to keep everybody happy. Hoping they’ll understand and lay off I tell them I’m laughing because I’m nervous.
Would a drink calm you down? says the husband.
His wife smiles at me. In a gentle voice she says, Would you like me to calm you down?
Thank you very much, but no, I say, feeling guilty as usual.
Her husband makes some more noises along the lines of the two of them could help me out with my nervousness problem.
I sigh and then stand up brushing the hand off my leg. I walk over to the side of the spa where the Cutie is standing.
I ease two fingers into the water as if to test the temperature. Warm, I say.
Not warm enough, he says.
I move towards him then lift the corner of his towel to just above his knee. I dry my fingers.
His friend jumps up from the lounge and moves in front me with his bare hairy back just inches from my face.
My back is cold, he says. Warm me up, he commands.
I hold out one hand and lay it briefly on his shoulder, then take it away.
Let’s go for a walk, he whispers to me.
Give me your phone number and we’ll meet up another time then.
I don’t want to.
I laugh nervously. How I hate these situations I find myself in.
I’m now wedged into the corner of the spa room. My eyes fix on the door. I hesitate wondering whether I should be polite and say anything to the Maori couple. But I feel the need for haste. I’m worried he’ll follow me although a man in a towel isn’t going to get very far outside on the street.
Dita adds butter and a sprinkle of salt to her turkish bread and then mops up the remains of her egg yolk and the slimy gleam of the bacon fat.
That’s it. I leave.
There was a full moon. The silver glistened and vibrated on the sea as she neared the northern end of the beach on her walk back home that night. She passed the Bondi RSL club, the Bidigal reserve and the single Bondi sandhill up on her left. There weren’t many people around at that hour. Heading along Campbell Parade, it was quiet. The pub and the cafes were closed.
The surf was big, the waves crashed dramatically over the rocks, the reef and the swimming pool at the south end of the beach. In Notts Avenue she stopped at the surf viewing area just before the baths and watched the rising swell of the ocean for a few moments. She continued along Bondi Road walking fast up the hill pleased the steepness doesn’t faze her, not panting, managing it nice and easy, even in her high heels. She crossed at the lights near the pub on the corner.
A cold wind blew and then it began to rain.
She passed the laneway on her right and was heading for the shortcut home. She planned to cross the open car park of the block of units, and then down through the little park that leads to the hole in the fence that usually gets her home in no time. It was not until she was in the empty car park that she heard her own footsteps squelching on the wet surface and realized that there was another set of sounds behind her. Her shoes made a squench, squash noise and that’s why she didn’t realize at first what the other sound was – and that the sound has been there for some time.
“The man has a gruff, heavily accented Australian voice, his face was masked with a dark balaclava and he wore dark-coloured tracksuit pants – the same description given by his first two victims. His threats, including that he was armed with a knife, were similar to words spoken in the first two attacks and appeared well rehearsed. After each attack he casually walked away.”
Anny veered left as she changed course and retraced her steps without turning towards the footsteps. After moving some distance away and towards the safety of the lights of the units and a door that she could bang on in case of emergency she turned around to see if the person was still there. He was there all right. In joggers, tracksuit, medium height, average build. He’d stopped at the point where she veered left and was looking down into the empty park.
Sorry, she thought she heard him say as he looked over towards her.
She turned and hurried back towards the road and the street lights leaving him behind. She walked on the side of the road towards the on-coming traffic just like she does when she’s on her solitary travels in Europe and the man receded into the distance.
Dita’s plate looks so shiny clean now after her mop up with the Turkish bread it’s as if the plate has come straight out of the dishwasher. Anny tells her that before she went out that night she’d worried that she’d feel tacky when she got home.
You would have if you’d gone against your instincts and allowed those people to talk you into doing something you didn’t want to do, Dita says.
I feel bad though that this whole sex thing is such an issue for me when there’s all the killing going on in Israel and the Para Olympians in wheelchairs on the television every night.
You’re not going around complaining. You’re doing something about it. It’s better than those singles dances. I only went to a couple but I felt like a lump of meat being looked up and down.
But I’m such a wimp, Anny says.
No, you’re not. You went. You’re not a wimp if you can go.
I’m a wimp when it comes to getting rid of guys. Some boring man always latches on to me and I end up leaving just to get rid of him or some man attempts to follow me home.
Anny breathes out heavily and tells Dita that Richard was the one who’d told her about the place.
You know Richard, the one I met on the internet.
You met him in a chat room?
No not a chat room, Anny says sensing Dita’s disapproval. There are all sorts of loonies in chat rooms. No. A singles web site. Richard said the women at these clubs do the choosing and there’d be lots of young men for me to pick from and plenty who’d want to give me a massage. In fact I got so excited about the idea of me doing the choosing that I’d look at the men in the gym and sitting on the train and I’d think: would I choose you if you were there. Richard offered to come with me as my partner but why would I want to pay $120 to go as a couple when I can go for nothing. And anyway, I wouldn’t want to see Richard with another woman.
It wasn’t very complimentary to you that Richard offered to go with you, Dita says, a harsh satisfaction in her voice. Anny can see Dita is pleased somehow telling her this about Richard – as if Anny doesn’t know it already.
Dita pouts her lips to apply a tangerine lipstick to her mouth. The lipstick matches her perfectly manicured toenails that are revealed at the end of her stiletto sandals. She puts the lipstick away in her handbag, sits back and looks out to the ocean, then twists her wedding ring around her finger.
It’s a can that I’ve always wanted to open, Dita says. To see what goes on in these places.
She stands up decisively and pulls her tee-shirt down at the sides accentuating the waisteless bulge of her torso that protrudes for some distance from her body. She slides her hands up and down over her stomach like a proud pregnant woman, but Dita isn’t pregnant.
She thrusts her shoulders back and her chest out. Who cares if my gut hangs out, she says proudly. I’ve got a gorgeous husband, two mortgages, two kids and a great business. What more could a girl want?
Anny feels depressed. But she won’t tell her that. She’s said enough already.
Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer