Unmarry Me, page 12
Todd pulls his chair up to mine and I let it out. Months of bashing my head against a wall, of explaining myself and backing myself. I used to have Mark for this, and before that Peta. Right now, I don’t care whose arms they are. I cry into his neck, proper sobbing.
‘It’s okay, Ruby,’ he talks softly into my ear. ‘It’s okay, it’ll work.’
I listen to him, try to believe, and cry. I lock the door, check the balcony door, the windows, check the front door again. I unplug the kettle and the toaster and the microwave. Mark would think I’m going overboard but the checking, double-checking, and unplugging are part of my new routine.
The clock in the hallway chimes ten o’clock. It’s time. The phone rings only once before Mark answers. I picture him tucked up in his dad’s bed: he has his own doona and pillows, he’s moved furniture around, replaced Keith’s photos with his own, but it’s still his dad’s bed.
‘Rube, why would we want to go speed-dating?’
Justine or Stu must have told him. Honestly, gone are the early days of I miss you, I love you, how was your day?
‘Speed-dating is what single people do,’ I say. I wear his socks in bed, that’s how much I miss him. Though they never stay on and look like dead navy-coloured kittens at the bottom of the bed in the morning.
‘No, they don’t, they put profiles on eHarmony, or that other one, Perfect Match, or whatever.’
‘Too right, Mark.’ I lean across and make a note. I keep pen and paper on my bedside table because, as Mark would say, you never know when the bad ideas will come. ‘We could do that, too. But really, if you come speed-dating we can hang out in public and not ring any alarm bells.’
‘I’m glad you’re worried that somebody might be watching.’
‘Somebody keeps calling the house and saying homosexuality is a sin. And a bunch of God-Hates-Fags dickheads were at work this morning with placards. People are watching.’ I sit up in bed because my anxiety needs more height. ‘I’ve become a curtain-twitcher. Every time the phone rings I try to bust somebody loitering with intent.’
‘I said I’d move back in, but you don’t want me to. It’s probably some spotty teenager.’
When men try to allay women’s fears with that never mind, honey stuff they don’t make us feel any better, they make us feel small. ‘Somebody’s watching.’
‘I suppose it could be that Smith woman, the one who yelled at Dad and Catherine that day. Still, what would she be calling you for?’
‘Mark, people are taking unmarryme seriously. People come up to me on the street. I met a lovely old woman on the train who told me to keep going.’
‘Well, that’s good.’
I forgot to brush my teeth. I taste souvlaki. That’s takeaway food three nights in a row. ‘I just want someone to join us and get a divorce. So far, no takers.’
‘It’s not that dumb an idea. You’re doing it and you’re a smart guy.’
‘If I’m so smart why am I going speed-dating with you?’
‘Of course,’ Mark says. ‘I have to be there. What if you meet someone you like? I can be separated, that’s okay, but I’m not going to be in a competition.’
‘What if you meet someone you like?’
‘I’ll worry about that if it happens,’ he says.
‘What kind of answer is that?’
‘If my wife wants to go speed-dating then that’s the answer she gets.’
‘For that, it’s Steel Magnolias tonight. Sally Field is in it and it starts in ten minutes. And you have to watch the whole thing with me. I’ll need you to help me feel better.’
Tall Guy sure as hell isn’t helping me feel better. The giraffe has lost the lovely Celeste smell and stinks of junk food and insomnia. I’ll have to trade him in for one of her other soft toys.
‘Steel Magnolias? Oh, God. Really?’
‘Yes, Mark, really. I’m very vulnerable right now.’
Maria knows everything about dating; she goes speed-dating every few months at a local hall. She says she’s met a few decent men, but if it’s only a few in a year or so, then her odds of something proper with someone normal aren’t that great. I’d put my money on something with more certainty, like climate change.
‘If you meet anyone remotely okay, you can say things like, I’m not that into you, but that gorgeous, experienced woman over there, and point to me, looks like a catch.’
‘You are a catch,’ I say. This is the second time I’ve seen Mars with her hair down. It is amazing, big and dark, beautiful and glossy. ‘Why don’t you wear your hair like that all the time?’
‘It gets in the way.’
I’ll bet it does. If I had hair like that I’d run the world. I wouldn’t need weapons or rules, I’d just toss my head and let my hair reign. And I’d never tie it back, no chance. Plus, I’d develop a shampoo and conditioning treatment and call it Formidable. But enough about Maria’s hair.
‘Can I just fix this?’ I undo Maria’s top button, open her collar wider, and step back. I still can’t see anything and undo another button.
‘Ruby!’ She goes to button it back up.
‘Mars, leave it. I’m your boss, do what I say.’ I take off my necklace and slip it over her head. ‘There, you look brilliant.’
‘Okay, I’m brilliant. Let’s go.’
It’s hard to believe that in real life this joint is a Girl Guides hall. It’s Valentine’s Day all over again with all the sparkling, and pink, and unspent energy. I wish I were home. Or dead. Speed-dating might be the second-dumbest idea I ever had. I search the crowd of desperados for Mark. There he is, with Ravi. Mark is handsome in his jeans and shirt, and when he winks I get a warm feeling in my gut.
The MC takes the centre of the room. I hope her outfit is a dress-up and not an everyday outfit—pink dress, pink high heels, long pink gloves, pink tiara.
‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m your hostess, Miss Angelica. I hope you’ll all do your extra-special best tonight to find your Mr or Miss Right.’
Miss Angelica breaks us up into four groups. Men under thirty, men over thirty, women over thirty, women under thirty. She explains the rules. Five minutes with each date, the bell goes and the men get up and move to the next chair. There will be a break of fifteen minutes and then we’ll go again. She says that the crowd is often thinner on the second round.
‘So if you see him, snap him up first round, girls.’
I sit at a small table, next to Maria at her small table. I look at her and mouth, ‘Get me outta here!’
The bell goes and somebody sits in the chair opposite. I don’t want to look.
‘Hi, I’m Allen,’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘That’s what your name tag says.’
‘What do you do, Ruby?’
It’s a shame speed-dating isn’t the place for drafting unmarryme types because I never meet lots of people in one hit like this. Still, I am not telling this guy anything about me.
‘I run a rock band,’ I say, letting the bullshit fly. ‘You might have heard of them, Sex Onions? They’re a vegetarian Sex Pistols cover band.’
‘Um, yeah, I think so,’ he says. Allen makes a face, sneaks a look at his watch. ‘Oh, okay,’ he says. ‘I’m an accountant.’ An accountant in a dinner suit and it’s not even tax time.
‘Are you vegetarian?’
‘No,’ he says.
‘I thought I could smell meat.’
‘I had dinner…’ He peers over his shoulder. He wants out and it’s been less than a minute. Poor guy. Still, go hard or go home.
Finally I’m face to face with Mark. He’s beautiful. His eyes, his lips. I take his right hand. He rubs my empty ring finger.
‘Why do you have Enrique on your name tag?’
‘I’m mixing it up,’ he says. ‘Having fun with it.’
‘You don’t look like an Enrique, more l
‘Why, Ruby, I’m not that kind of boy.’
‘I bet you are.’ I slide my foot up and down his calf. It’s been too long since I held him. ‘My foot is having the time of its life, Mark.’
‘Tell your foot to keep its sock on, here comes Miss Angelica.’
I sense her before I see her. Bright pink, hovering in the corner of my eye. Her arms are outstretched in the over-the-top body language of pantomime.
‘You two are getting along nicely. Holding hands and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. Instant magic. That’s why I call our speed-dating nights Instant Magic. Without fail, every month a couple made for each other emerges from the crowd.’
‘Oh, I think you might be right, Miss Angelica,’ Mark says. ‘I do like Ruby. She says she can hold her breath for over a minute and I think that’s important in a life partner.’
Miss Angelica’s hot pink smile wavers but not for long. ‘You’ve got a live one here, Ruby. Handsome, and a sense of humour. A loveable rogue for our beautiful Snow White.’
Then it’s the bell.
‘Time’s up, everyone. Stretch your legs and grab a drink from our reasonably priced bar. But before you do, let me introduce you all to Ruby and Enrique. I don’t think it’s too soon to say it was Instant Magic for this perfect couple tonight. Can we have the crowns please, Miss Sonia?’
Miss Sonia, Miss Angelica’s assistant, is a cross between Tinker Bell and Lisbeth Salander, glittery and gothic. Miss Sonia takes the money, sells the drinks, writes up the name tags, and here she is with a couple of plastic crowns. Our chairs are rolled to the centre of the room and Miss Angelica crowns us.
‘Everyone, give Ruby and Enrique a round of applause.’ There’s clapping and whistling. I catch Maria’s eye and she claps harder. Round One is finished and the bar opens.
It’s no wonder the crowd dwindles before the next round. If I wasn’t so happy to be sitting next to Mark I would be dead from humiliation and he’d be another queen’s king.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ I say.
‘But what about our loyal subjects?’
Across the road from the hall, we sit in my car, talking. Then we’re kissing, then we re-enact our second date. We learn a few things about ourselves—I’m not as flexible as I was two years ago and Mark doesn’t last as long as he did back then.
‘Probably a good thing, Boydy. There’s only so long I can stand having my head jammed against the roof of a car. I’m going to pay for this in the morning.’ I climb off him and into the driver’s seat.
‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘me too. You exhaust me, soon-tobe-ex-wife.’
I’m straightening my clothes when the speed-dating crowd piles out of the hall. Maria is talking intently to a Mr Eligible, and Ravi is exchanging numbers with a woman in a fur coat.
He wipes a smear onto the fogged windscreen. ‘Good on him. Ravi needs this.’
‘Check out Maria.’ She has the guy’s arm and they’re walking past shop windows, nothing open, just their reflections.
‘Speed-dating actually works.’
‘Do you suppose we could spend the night together? Just once. I miss you, Boydy.’
‘Same. But if we get seen I could lose my job.’
What is so interesting through the windscreen?
‘If we get seen, if there is proof, if we make it to the end of the separation, if someone objects to the divorce, actually cares enough to object on the grounds that it’s a sham separation, then you could be prosecuted for fraud. There are a lot of ifs there.’
‘An if is an if.’ Mark stares straight ahead. Nothing but tram tracks and traffic lights as far as the eye can see.
‘Nobody is going to stand up and say we can’t get divorced because I slept at your place once. Nobody cares.’
‘I care. It breaks the rules.’
Mark and his rules. Pain in the arse stickler lawyer.
‘Fine. I’m going home. Give me my undies.’
‘Right. Doesn’t matter,’ I say. ‘I have others. I’ll talk to you later.’
‘Don’t be like that, Rube.’
‘Don’t you be like that yourself. You love your career more than me.’
‘Oh, here we go again. What is it with you Wheeler sisters?’
Back in the day, Peta and Mark worked all kinds of hours building their careers. Even though the hours they worked were roughly the same, Peta wouldn’t give up on trying to make Mark work less. In the end, she used the time he was away to fall in love with BJ.
‘I’m not Peta! I get that you’ve got to work. It’s the way you talk about the Law, like it’s the only thing that’s important.’
‘What about you, Ruby?’ He’s looking at me now. ‘You love being right more than you love me. And I know you still haven’t called the doctor.’
‘Fuck you.’ And no, I haven’t.
‘No, fuck you.’ I slam the car door.
So does Mark. ‘Ruby, this is your car.’
‘I meant that! I wanted to slam something and your head is too soft. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going.’ I get back into my car, give the door another slam, indicate, and take off.
This would be a whole lot better if I left him on the pavement, a lonely tragic figure under a streetlight. Especially if it was raining. But it’s a clear night, warm enough, and he is parked right behind me. In the rear-view mirror I see him get into his car.
The morning after being crowned Queen of Instant Magic I’m leaving the flat on my way to work when I see a red envelope stuck in the screen door.
‘What’s this? Somebody having a party?’ You talk to yourself lots when you live on your own. It’s a handwritten note. Homosexuality is a sin. The prank-caller—who knows where I live. The hair on the back of my neck bristles and my eyelids sweat. I look around the stairs but I don’t see anyone and that’s good and not good.
I unlock the front door and go back inside. I almost throw the letter in the bin, but instead I date it, almost unreadable because of the shake in my hand, slip it into a paper bag and file it in the bottom drawer of my bedside table.
You don’t wait on the platform like you used to when somebody is messing about with your life. Last week the other people waiting for the train were fellow passengers but today they’re all on my list. Is it the guy in the hat? The guy with the beard? Is it the woman in red? She’s looking. I force myself to calm down when I realise she’s only checking the monitor. This morning’s train ride isn’t the relaxing trip it used to be; when I step out of the lift on level twelve I’m already done in.
‘Queen of the ball, huh?’
Maria is in a ridiculously good mood. I’ll have to see what I can do about that, because I’m in a ridiculously shit mood and it’d be a shame to waste it.
‘Miss Angelica wasn’t there for the post-car-sex round. We had a fight. I’m not talking to Mark. He can die slowly, as far as I’m concerned. Also, someone left me some hate mail in my screen door this morning.’
‘You had sex in your car?’
What’s more important? The fair-to-middling car sex, the fact that I refuse to speak to Mark, or the hate mail? ‘Yes. Apparently we’re only allowed to have sex if it’s terrible and lasts less than half a minute.’
When I find out who takes my stapler and doesn’t bring it back I’m going make sure they spend the rest of their days writing applications. I bet it’s Seamus. Seamus wouldn’t be the red envelope person, would he? Of course not. He’s a family man and he lives on the other side of town. It’s not Seamus. But he could still have my stapler.
‘You know, Ruby, since the separation you do a very good line in oversharing.’ Maria’s hair is back in work mode: a bun, high and tight. ‘When people want to talk to you they
Great. I’m being disciplined by my underling. I look out the window into my town and want to be in any building but this one. The city looks sepia this morning, not a lot of wind to thin the smog. I wish I were out there, on my bike, no red envelopes, no phones. I haven’t ridden for weeks, it’s no wonder I’m cranky. I chair-spin back to my desk.
‘Mars, I’m under a lot of pressure.’
She closes the door and sits down.
‘I’m fighting with Mark and we don’t even live with each other. Plus, somebody keeps calling and hanging up and now they’re leaving me hate mail. People are such cowards. Peta says she’s onboard with unmarryme but we don’t seem to talk anymore. I haven’t been to the doctor yet and my neck hurts from last night.’
She writes it down, point form. ‘First, Mark. Ring up and say sorry. I know you don’t want to, but do it. I held on to stuff for too long and lost my marriage. Really, say sorry.’
‘Why can’t he say sorry?’
‘Quiet.’ She consults her notepad. ‘Second, change your number or leave your phone off the hook. Or call the cops.’
I doodle circles on my desk blotter, round and round, over and over, blue and bluer. Maria coughs, and I put my pen down.
‘Peta is busy. You’re busy. Make time to grab a coffee and I’m sure you’ll see that you and Peta are fine.’
‘Okay.’ I open my drawer and check I have enough chocolate. Yes, more than enough. Smarties, Mars Bars, Freddos. Enough for now.
‘What’s the number of your doctor?’
‘It’s in my phone.’
Maria sits while I find my phone. I read the number out to her.
‘Okay, I’ll make the call.’
‘Thanks, Maria. Can you make the appointment for next week, please? Oh, and can you ring Mark and tell him what time? He’ll want to be there.’
‘You’re really not speaking to him?’