Ivan’s eyes and nose were bulbous in the camcorder’s lens. A smudged fingerprint in the dead centre of the glass blurred his nostrils. The stickers on the silver video camera were fading and peeling in pieces. There was a scarlet stain that wrapped around the bottom of the lens and up to the back of the screen.
A hefty price tag for something so old, so used up, but he could fork out the cash, no problem. Anything for art. Camcorders had the best aesthetic for his project. Grainy film and distorted sounds were the perfect presentation of young adulthood, the time where things are almost clear, almost understood.
‘Need a hand?’ the shop assistant blew a bubble with her green gum.
‘I’ll just take the camcorder, thanks,’ Ivan patted his beard down.
The assistant unlocked the cabinet and took out the camcorder. She carried it in a careless way that made Ivan’s fingers tingle in preparation to catch it if it fell. At the register, she packaged the camera in a little box full of foam peanuts.
‘Do you stock the Panasonic—no—the Sony HVR—’
‘I don’t really know, dude, this is a second-hand store. Whatever is in that cabinet there is all that we’ve got.’
‘You don’t use cameras?’
‘Nah, what for? I just take snaps with my phone,’ the assistant taped the box shut.
‘Well, I’m a photographer,’ Ivan pronounced, adjusting his beanie. The assistant popped her gum. ‘I mean, you must know me. I’ve had exhibitions at the local gallery. I was in the newspaper.’
‘Nah, don’t read the paper.’
Ivan straightened his coat and stood tall. The assistant did not shrink under his stance. His top lip twitched and he sighed. She fitted the package into a plastic bag.
‘Well, I’m so lucky to have found this camcorder because I know it’ll be perfect for the aesthetic of my project,’ Ivan continued. The register beeped as the assistant struck the keys. ‘My project would appeal to you, I’m sure. It’s about how fleeting youth is. I mean, we don’t have much time to experiment and enjoy—’
‘Cool, mate. That’s a hundred and twenty-five bucks.’
‘You should see my exhibition,’ he left his payment on the counter for her to pick up and snatched the plastic bag out of her hand.
‘Oh, yeah, I’ll be sure to,’ the assistant sniggered, sliding the coins off the side of the counter and into her palm.
Ivan turned on his heel and smacked into the chest of a huge man in a suit. The man’s slick hair blocked out the fluorescent ceiling light, and the shadows fell into the smooth hollows of his eyes and cheeks. Ivan shuffled out of the way, an apology clogged in his throat.
The shop assistant swallowed her gum as the man in the suit approached the counter. His steel voice sliced through the air and for a moment there was no other sound, no other movement.
‘Hello, I’m looking for a JVC VHS-C camcorder. I was told there was one here,’ said the man in the suit.
‘I’m sorry, I just sold the only one we had,’ the assistant replied.
The man in the suit shook his head and his polite smile slipped from his face. ‘No, that can’t be right. I really need that camcorder, it was stolen from me.’
Plastic rustled as Ivan trudged out of the second-hand store. Behind him, the man in the suit interrogated the assistant about the video camera before she blubbered through another apology. The end of his sentences were punctuated with his voice dropping a level, grating like a blade being sharpened.
Ivan needed the camcorder more—he was the artist.
Glass sliding doors parted and he left the shopping complex. Autumn wind whipped his coat around his knees and ruffled the brown curls escaping out of the edge of his beanie. He wiped a cold drip of snot from his nose with the back of his hand and tweaked the corner of his moustache back into curvature.
The gold Casio at his wrist beeped at the turn of the hour. Midday, ten minutes until the train home arrived. He walked a little faster and almost tripped off the curb at the traffic lights. Cars and buses cleared the intersection and Ivan jogged across the road, traffic lights still glowing red. Tires screeched as a dusty ute broke hard at the edge of the crossing, missing Ivan by a hair.
‘Fucking deadshit!’ the driver yelled from the window.
Ivan flipped the driver off and rushed toward the train station. He trotted down the stairs to the platform as the train pulled into the station with a huff of its slowing engine. Weekend peak hour crowds lined the walkways, draped on poles and clinging to overhanging handles. Doors squeaked open and Ivan pushed past a junkie to find a seat. The junkie spat a curse and rubbed away the saliva from his own crusty face.
Ivan squeezed himself onto a free seat next to a mother with a pram and an elderly woman. The elderly woman scowled and ripped her purse out from where it was wedged between her and Ivan’s sides. Ivan’s moustache curled up when he smirked at her. She clicked her tongue and turned to watch the train station disappear out of the window frame.
A cockroach crawled over Ivan’s boot. He kicked it and watched it scurry away to hide under the opposite seat. Waking the baby in the pram when he knocked it, he wriggled around to take his phone out of his back pocket. The mother swore in Japanese and clutched the baby’s hand to soothe her.
Ivan swiped his phone screen and checked through his messages. Most of the young women he had messaged to model and act in his project had declined in some way. Some declined with a kind refusal, others were eccentric and labelled him a creep. Most read the messages and ignored them.
It was not his fault they didn’t want to be recognised for their beauty. They could keep taking half-naked photos of themselves for their fan base of a hundred followers. The only difference was that he had more followers, and therefore, he was their opportunity for fame.
Ivan pocketed his phone and took the plastic bag into his lap. He peeled off the tape on the box, flicking it to the floor. The junkie standing in the walkway watched the slivers of sticky tape flutter down onto his filthy joggers. Instead of picking a fight, the junkie picked at the needle mark on the inside of his forearm.
Ivan turned on the camcorder and flipped open the screen. There was a tape with recorded footage already in the camcorder. Ivan played the footage, squinting his eyes to make out the video on the small camcorder screen.
Open room, warehouse, top floor. Cityscape outside of wraparound windows blurred, sunlight too bright to make out definitive shapes. There are skyscrapers. Maybe Sydney, maybe Melbourne.
Scraping, metal against wood. A chair pulled into the middle of the room. Huge man. Black mask, white shirt, grey trousers, dirty ankle socks.
Rustling, heaving. Body, alive, dragged half-naked across the floor, dropped onto the chair. Black cloth bag over their head. Bag sucked in with a breath, blown out with a muffled plea. Arms wrenched back, tied back with extension cables. Panting, struggling to get out, another plea.
The huge man returned, screwdriver in hand. Other hand on the prisoner’s shoulder. Bag billowed with frantic breaths. Screwdriver plunged into the left shoulder. A shout was drawn out by the tool. Strings of blood attached to the bottom of the handle. Buried the tool to the hilt again. The howl was hollow in the warehouse.
Screwdriver clattering beside the chair. The huge man left, returned with a knife. The prisoner cried for God, for his mother. Grey underwear darkened by urine. Bag removed, flung aside by the huge man. Spittle and snot smeared across the prisoner’s pale face glistened white in the sunlight.
Knife buried into the prisoner’s belly and sliced across. Body jerking with his screams. Intestines slick red, sliding into his lap, spreading across his bare legs. Knees bouncing as he wailed, watching his bowels spilling between his thighs, over the edge of the seat.
Another cry for God, and for his mother.
Ivan snapped the camcorder screen shut. The train creaked as it came to a stop. The mother wheeled her pram onto the platform, the elderly woman waddling out after her. The cockroach under the opposite seat twitched, crawled to an abandoned chip packet.
He put the camcorder away. A chill trickled from his brain into the marrow of his bones. For a long time, he did not move, almost missed his stop. Hands shaking, he picked up the plastic bag and hurried out of the carriage. He drew his coat around him, but could not get warm.