Unmarry Me, page 10
‘Of course it will,’ she says, and I regret thinking for even a moment that she’d have an axe in her handbag.
‘Elsie, can I take your address? I’d like to send you a T-shirt. Would you like a T-shirt?’ I plug her details into my phone. We will make a difference one T-shirt at a time.
I should treat Tuesdays as Sundays and lie about in bed and eat junk food, which I am getting good at, and watch movies. Tuesdays have never been my best day.
I drove Maria crazy today, making her repeat what she was telling me, but it’s hard to concentrate on work when your mind is on your sex life. Or in my case, my no-sex life.
It’s been eleven weeks since we had it off in Mark’s dad’s bed and that was hardly world-shattering. After the car boot and the cops and the thought that Keith could walk in at any moment (yes, the itinerary said they’d be in Carnarvon, WA, but he’s a parent and they have a way of showing up when your pants are down), we weren’t at our best.
We have never done phone sex. We’ve tried a few times—What are you wearing?—but one or both of us laughed. Tonight the mood is deep and I won’t mess around.
It’s ten to ten when he calls.
‘God, Boydy,’ I say, ‘I’ve been thinking about you all day long. I’m wet. I’ve been thinking about how your stubble wrecks my thighs, thinking about grabbing your ears and pushing your face right into me.’
‘You there? Has all the blood left your head?’
‘Ah, hi Ruby, it’s me. Todd.’
I throw the phone across the room. I can hear him, ‘Ruby, Ruby, you okay?’ I bend over to pick it up and glimpse the space underneath the bed: there’s room for me under there. In the dusty dark no one can see you blush. ‘Shit, Todd, I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be. That was quite a show. Breathtaking.’
I want to run out onto the road and take a truck to the face, brush my teeth with a flamethrower, whatever it takes. ‘Can we do unmarryme business on the phone from now on? Well, not on the phone like that, but I’ll never be able to look you in the eye again.’
‘Ruby, it’s okay.’
‘If you say so,’ I say, my face hot. I’ll never live this one down. Peta will die laughing when I tell her.
‘Can you be at Channel Seven in the morning. Early? They read the article and they want to meet you. It’ll be great for unmarryme. Plenty of people watch Make My Daybreak.’
‘I’ve never heard of it.’
‘It’s the one with Tommo and Mandy. You must have seen the billboards. The huge one on Kings Way?’
‘A dark-haired bloke,’ I nearly said ‘dude’, ‘and a blonde woman leaning all over him?’
‘Yes, that’s the one. They need us there at five-thirty. I can pick you up if you like.’
Decisions, decisions. Do I let him pick me up and get stuck in a car with him, all embarrassed, even though he says it’s fine? Or do I meet him at the studio and put the shame off as long as I can? ‘Sure, pick me up,’ I say. ‘Thanks.’
I was expecting a bomb, a Datsun 180b or a Renault 10, something historic, but he turns up in a gold sedan; in the dawn light the car gleams. It’s his mum’s, and there it is: the first unmarryme sticker.
‘How lucky was I to hook up with you, Todd?’
‘Very,’ he says. ‘I’m lucky, too, Ruby. I’m convinced we’ll be part of something big.’
‘What are we expecting from Tommo and Mandy?’
‘From what Kelly, the producer, said I understand it’ll be pretty general. They want to see who you are, what you’re about. Unmarryme has novelty value. They’ll probably try to keep it light, but they may try and take the piss, they might go hard. They may have found someone for the opposite side of the story.’
An empty tram glides past. When I was a kid trams rattled; now they’re European-smooth and they glide.
‘This will be good,’ I say. ‘I haven’t had to argue my case much. Now and then I meet people who don’t want marriage equality, but I’m not going to win people over by degrading myself. Or them. Not like last night’s effort on the phone.’ I still haven’t looked Todd in the eye. Now’s the moment.
‘Ruby, forget about it. I felt a long way from degraded. Back to this morning. Just go with whatever they throw at you. People love a good sport. These shows are great for good sports.’
‘I’ll be as charming as all get out.’ I can be damn charming if the pay-off is there. National TV, unmarryme in the spotlight, plenty of pay-off.
The television studio doesn’t look nearly as special as I thought it would; it’s a lot like seeing something pretty with its guts hanging out. When they say ‘television magic’ they mean it. Not to say the set doesn’t look good, because it’s beautiful. The flowers are gigantic and more colourful than Mardi Gras, and the rug is lush, but I’m standing in a corner away from the stars of the show—it’s grey back here and everything seems second-hand.
Kelly runs us through what’s going to happen. What type of man calls himself Kelly? Is it his first name or his last name? Anyway, Kelly says we have roughly five minutes and there will be someone called Charlene Hunter, who’ll have a different take on marriage equality. Apparently I’m supposed to have heard of her.
You forget that Todd has that burn until you meet someone who isn’t used to it. Kelly directs most of his instructions to the scar. In fact, he hasn’t been able to takehis eyes off Todd, who seems to have become a go-between for people who understand each other perfectly well.
After the briefing Todd pulls me aside. ‘This Charlene woman, she’s a bit of a headline. Loves to get under people’s skin. She’ll be looking to destroy unmarryme.’
‘Is she the woman who picked apart that single mother last year?’ I say. ‘Made her cry?’
‘That’s Charlene. She brings tissues so she can thrust them at her victims. She’s a blonde piranha in an Armani suit.’
I’ve got their industrial strength make-up on, my face is glued into position, so I doubt tears would be able to get out. ‘Did I read that she’s sponsored by a tissue company?’ ‘Yeah, Man-up, man-sized tissues.’
‘Don’t worry, Todd. I didn’t get this far without knowing how to stick up for myself and I’m not about to let unmarryme be brought down by some tissue-thrusting maniac.’
Tommo and Mandy sit on a huge L-shaped couch and I’m shown to a spot on the other side of it. Tommo is huge, a block of concrete in a navy suit, and Mandy looks like a doll beside him. Charlene Hunter, big-haired, and a show regular, is already on the couch.
I’m introduced on air, we shake hands and it feels like the start of battle. Tommo doesn’t say, ‘I want a good, clean fight’, but he doesn’t need to because the way he’s sitting says it for him. His legs are as wide open as he can get them.
‘You comfortable, Tommo?’ I say, ‘Do you need Mandy to move over?’
Mandy seems relaxed and actually interested, ‘Ruby, tell us about unmarryme. How did it begin?’
‘Well, Mandy, it started with my sister’s marriage being overturned by the High Court late last year.’
‘Why isn’t a commitment ceremony enough?’ I’m barely finished the sentence when she chimes in hard.
‘Thank you for asking, Charlene.’ I face her and realise her eyebrows are drawn on, an angry arch over each eye. ‘I see you’re married. And that is a gorgeous ring, by the way. Tell me, would a commitment ceremony have been enough for you, Charlene?’
‘No, but I’m not a homosexualist.’
‘Homosexualist?’ I bite my cheek to hold back a grin.
‘Homosexual,’ she says. The way some people say ‘homosexual’ you can tell they’re afraid.
‘I’m not either.’ That’s Tommo. If he puffs his chest out any further the woman operating the camera will have to take a few steps back.
‘Oh, I could be for Natalie Portman,’ Mandy says, getting the l
It’s stupid but I’ll go with it. ‘Actually, my sister’s partner looks a little like Natalie Portman, the V for Vendetta version. She has good taste, my sister. So do you, Mandy.’
‘What I was saying,’ Charlene says, ‘was that I’m not homosexual, so marriage is fine for me. A commitment ceremony really should be enough for these people.’
I love a little bit of ‘these people’ in the morning.
‘What’s the difference, Ruby?’ Tommo gets his ten cents in.
‘There is a difference. It’s called discrimination and even if it looked like Daniel Craig I still wouldn’t go for it.’
‘Well said,’ Mandy says. It’s good to have an ally.
‘Your sister could get married in another country. She could get married in, say, New Zealand, and have her honeymoon there, too.’ Charlene Hunter is a true space cadet.
‘A hobbit could give her away.’ Tommo thinks he’s hilarious.
I wait for the laughter to die down. ‘Her marriage wouldn’t be recognised by our government when she got back.’
‘Like how you don’t want your marriage recognised anymore,’ Charlene says. ‘Didn’t you marry your sister’s ex-husband?’
‘Is that right, Charlene?’ Tommo says.
She blushes. Instant. And she takes a quick look at his crotch. God, she’s fucking him or she wants to.
‘Yes, I am married to my sister’s ex-husband,’ I say. ‘And yes, we are divorcing, and have been separated for nearly five months, because I don’t want what my sister can’t have. Unmarryme hopes to bring a different type of attention to the marriage-equality discussion because the petitions don’t seem to be working.’
‘God, I know. How many of those have I signed?’
‘Me too, Mandy.’
‘I would never sign one.’
I don’t even look at her; I keep my eyes on Mandy. ‘I gathered that, Charlene.’
‘It seems to me, to most people, that you hate marriage. What is so bad about marriage, Ruby?’ Charlene gives me a patronising smirk.
Todd is standing at the side. I don’t turn to look at him but I know he’s willing me to keep it nice. He doesn’t have to worry.
‘I love my marriage. I don’t love knowing there are people who pay taxes, drive cars, wash dishes, same as all of us, who aren’t allowed to marry.’
‘I never wash the dishes.’ Tommo is a fool.
Why do they laugh? And Charlene laughs the most. She’s sweating under her make-up. She’s aroused, she keeps touching her neck. It’s sickening. ‘Maybe they’re lucky,’ she says. ‘They don’t have to be locked in and can leave when they want. They can fall for someone else and give themselves to him.’
Perhaps I can help her out. ‘Tommo, do you know Charlene is talking to you?’
‘Eh? Oh, I’ve been married three times.’
‘See, Charlene? Tommo loves marriage like I do. He keeps trying and trying again. People get married in Las Vegas at the turn of a card. Why? Because it looks so good everybody wants one.’
‘Yet you’ve separated from your husband of barely two years.’
‘Divorce is taking love seriously, too, Charlene.’
‘Hear, hear,’ Mandy says. She stands up and claps, the crew clap, the producer claps, the small audience claps, too. I look to the side of the set to see Todd pump his fist. Tommo isn’t clapping, neither is Charlene.
‘Do you really think people will get divorced just because you say so? I, for one, would never,’ says Charlene.
‘Not for me, hey? Maybe for somebody else?’ I tilt my head towards Tommo. Mandy hides her smile behind a hand.
‘I don’t believe in divorce or same-sex marriage. What about the children? What are they going to amount to when they’re raised in perversity?’
Kelly shakes his head, mouths, no, no, no.
‘I think you mean diversity, Charlene.’
‘Mandy, children need a mother and a father and they need moral guidance. Nothing could make me believe in same-sex marriage.’
Fuck it, I’ve had enough. I face her. ‘I don’t think you believe in you, Charlene.’
‘What in the fuck is that supposed to mean?’
Mandy throws her head back and laughs. Kelly makes hand gestures. Mandy stops laughing long enough to say, ‘You’re not supposed to say the F-word, Charlene.’
‘Look what you’ve done.’ She turns to me, puffed up like an angry cat or one of those fish that balloon up over your spear. ‘I have had this spot for years and never sworn.’
‘Oh, did the big bad equality advocate make little Charlene swear?’
On the monitor I see it coming but I don’t have time to react. Charlene picks up the cushion behind her and swings it at my face. My head snaps back. She has another swing. I get a button to the eye. My eye is going to be black by sunset.
‘Charlene!’ Tommo is up but he’s not fast enough.
Charlene jumps on top of me and pushes me back onto the couch. She claws my cheek. Tommo tries to get her off me. She kicks. Straight to his groin and Tommo is down. I cover my face to keep her from clawing my eyes out, but it doesn’t feel too bad: Peta and I did this twice a week for years. Charlene’s skirt is up around her hips—I have never, ever liked leopard-skin lingerie—and she is tiring. I push her off. She lands on her bum. It’s all on the monitor but I don’t know if it’s going to air. I don’t care. I stand up to smooth my skirt.
‘Bitch!’ Charlene has another try.
‘You again,’ I say. She throws an arm around my neck. I can’t be bothered anymore. ‘This has been fun but I’ve got to get to work,’ I say. I hold up my index finger and jab it into her side.
She screeches and hits the deck.
‘What did you do?’ Tommo says. He’s trying to pull her up but she’s milking it, playing dead, and he can’t handle the weight.
‘Nothing much,’ I say.
‘You have to show me that move. The Ruby Wheeler Put Down.’ Mandy turns to the camera. ‘And with that, I think we’ll take a break.’
Tommo and Charlene are on the floor and Kelly heads their way.
Mandy turns to me. ‘Are you all right?’ she asks. ‘Charlene had that coming. Most of our guests sit there and take it. Not you, though. And you make a terrific point. I’m not married but I tell you one thing, I’m not getting married until everyone can.’
Todd comes over, ‘You slayed the giant.’
‘Mandy, this is Todd, my campaign manager.’
‘Hi Todd.’ She shakes his hand, holds it, stares at his face, his eyes, the scar, back to his face. ‘You should be on television, Todd. You could sit in Tommo’s chair and we’d double our audience.’
Now and then I forget that he’s so good-looking; it takes someone else falling all over him to remind me.
‘Thanks, but it’s too dangerous.’ He’s looking at my face. My eye feels tight and achy.
‘Was it okay, Todd? What do you reckon the damage is, other than my face?’
‘Not much. We said from the beginning that the Charlene types wouldn’t change their minds. We’re not looking for that. We’re looking for the undecideds. I thought it was good; you took the high road, you let her have her turn and you were gracious.’
‘Yes, you were,’ Todd says with the biggest smile. ‘Right up until you laid her out.’
When I get to the office at eight-thirty somebody has taped The Champ across the nameplate on my door. Everybody keeps looking at my bashed-up face. They all want to know what Tommo is like, how tall? And what is Mandy like—is she really that beautiful? And can I show them the move, the Ruby Wheeler Put Down?
For the not-yet-notorious, let me say, fifteen minutes of fame is more than enough. Cap it at seven and a half minutes and you’ll be fine.
‘Tommo is not handsome. End of.’
‘Yes, Mandy is beautiful; she’s smart, too.’ Isn’t it funny how you consider the people who agree with you to be smart? ‘Come over here, Seamus.’ I wave him over. ‘Everyone, I’m going to do the Ruby Put Down on Seamus. Seamus, tell everyone that this is okay with you and that you volunteered. I don’t want a lawsuit.’
‘It’s fine. Go ahead, boss, finger me.’ That is the one and only time he’s going to get away with saying something like that. I hold up my finger and jam Seamus in the side. He hits the floor, laughing. ‘Fuck, that hurt!’
‘Okay, show’s over. Seamus.’ I help him up. ‘Don’t forget to throw a gold coin in the jar.’
Every year we have an office swear jar and the proceeds go to Save the Children. I tip in a fifty-dollar note on day one and hope it covers me. It doesn’t, and if Maria weren’t so good at her job I’d put a stop to her keeping a tally. Still, it goes to a good cause.
‘Mars, what’s happening today?’
‘You have a nine-thirty with Pegasus, an eleven o’clock with Phil Samuel. I know it’s tight, but that’s all we could get. You have a three-fifteen with the bank. And Damian said he’d like a word. I told him it’d be during lunch.’
‘Lunch? What’s that?’ People like me who reckon they work hard for a living never miss a chance to let everyone know. It’s in our job description.
‘Lunch is that thing you do with the sandwiches I buy you. You know, you eat them at your desk and leave crumbs in your paperwork?’ And people, like Mars, who work for people like me never let us get away with our bullshit.
‘Elizabeth wants a call this morning. They’ve got one or two questions regarding the venue.’
Elizabeth is Maya Croft’s right hand and Maria and I call her Betty Brutal. Not because she’s nasty but because she has a hundred things to do before lunchtime and two hundred after lunchtime and she ploughs through them at speed. And when I say ‘lunchtime’ I don’t mean food, I mean, the time when there could be food. Brutal Betty has no time for hellos and goodbyes and no time for sandwiches.