This is a sponsored post. In partnership with Affirm Press, Crikey is publishing this excerpt from Eight Lives, a new work of fiction by Susan Hurley.

It started when Dung went on TV with Charlie Cunningham. I saw them, on the news. It was a Saturday in May, and my salon was the only business in the lane still open when the news came on. I normally shut at six, but my last client had come late. I was sweeping the floor and Trà My was putting clippers in the steriliser when Wendy arrived, almost 30 minutes late. Wendy didn’t care that we were packing up. “I need a full pedi,” she said, “and a manicure too, darl.” She’d only booked a toenail file and paint, but, no problem, business is business.

Trà My started applying remover to the chipped polish on Wendy’s fingernails. Wendy wouldn’t try shellac, even though I’d told her — many times too — that it would last longer than the Big Apple Red polish she always went with. Shellac would be worth the extra money, but Wendy is cheap. I was on feet, even though I am the boss. Trà My says smelly feet make her want to puke. So I was sitting on the stool checking Wendy’s feet, which are always bad news because she squeezes them into pointy stilettos, when Wendy said, “Let’s catch the news.”

“The Trouble with Mr Bean” was playing on my new TV, a 50-inch flat screen. I got it on a plan and didn’t have to make the first payment until January. I hadn’t told Dung about the TV.

He was my partner in the salon, so I suppose I should have, but he would have said it was silly to spend money on a fancy TV. He would have been mad about the payment plan too.

Mr Bean was my favourite TV show when I was little, and Dung had given me a box set for Christmas. “The Trouble with Mr Bean” is the best episode. Even though I’ve seen it heaps of times, I still laugh out loud when Mr Bean chucks a cupcake full of wasps into the car that a thief is trying to steal. The thief squirms like a worm, but he can’t escape the wasp.

Trà My switched the TV over to the news like Wendy wanted, but I wasn’t watching or even listening when Dung came on. I was hungry. I was thinking about the canh chua Má would have waiting at home. On Saturday it was always canh chua.

Trà My saw him first. “Ly,” she shouted, “Nhìn kìa!

I looked up, pissed. I’d told her heaps of times: “Call me Natalie in front of clients, not Ly. And speak English.’ Speak Vietnamese, then clients want a cheap price. I give good prices, good Aussie prices. A mani and a pedi? Fifty dollars. But if clients hear Trà My speaking Vietnamese, they say: “Oh, it was only twenty in Phuket,” or “Really? The nice girl in Bali only charged me fifteen.” They want the same price in my salon that they got wherever they last went on holiday. No way is that happening, so speak English, I tell Trà My.

Anh của Ly trên TV kìa,” she said, pointing. I turned to look, and Trà My was right. There was my brother, on TV, on the news. I picked up Wendy’s right foot and put it in the footbath, then the left foot with the bulging bunion. “Soak for five minutes, Wendy,” I said, and stood up to see Dung better.

It looked like he was at the hospital. He had a white coat on and his stethoscope around his neck. He was talking to an old lady who was lying in bed. Sick, I suppose, but she looked okay. What was going on? Dung didn’t look after sick people any more. Now he worked in research. He did experiments, and he’d discovered a new medicine.

Wendy sighed. “I am in a bit of a hurry,” she said.

My brother often gave me advice: “Always call your clients by their name,” he said when I opened my salon. “You know how Aussies love to hear their name.” He was making a joke, but still I try to follow his advice. I make jokes too. Jokes to myself. Jokes to remember the names of clients. Sourpuss Samantha. Moustache Michelle. And Wino Wendy, who smelled of wine that night. She must have had time for drinks with friends before her appointment, then decided she needed a mani and a pedi. Now, she was in a bit of a hurry. Well, too bad. “Your callouses are hard. You have to soak,” I told her. The water in the footbath was warm and bubbly. Wendy could relax. Enjoy!

But Trà My said, “No problem, Lady, we quick.”

Lady! Trà My had already been in Australia for two years then, but she was still such a fob. I only hired her because her Auntie Kim got Má a job when we arrived here. Cleaning the houses of Aussies was the job. Má said that now it was our family’s obligation to help Kim. Má meant that it was my obligation. And it wasn’t just Kim’s family I had to help. Now I had to return all the favours that were done for Má. Otherwise she said she would feel shame. There were lots of things I had to do so that Má would not feel shame. And also lots of things I mustn’t do.

 This is an edited extract from Susan Hurley’s Eight Lives, RRP $32.99, published by Affirm Press.

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