Unmarry Me, page 13
‘Nope.’ I spin back to the window. Somewhere out there, not far, in that grid of streets and trams and traffic and buildings, is my doctor’s office.
Having fixed my private life, Maria stands up. ‘Listen, go for a ride over the weekend, it’ll do you good. I can’t do anything about your neck, Ruby.’
‘That’s okay,’ I say. ‘Two minutes of Mars therapy and I’m feeling much better. Before you go, tell me about your speed-dating guy.’
‘He wants to see me again. He’s such a good listener. But he must have overheard you next to me. He asked if it could be “Just us, not with your friend”. I told him you were not really my friend, but my boss, and that made him a lot happier.’
‘We are friends, though, aren’t we?’ Look at me having to check the status of my relationship with Maria. This shows what pressure can do to a person. And I like pressure. I’d eat it for breakfast only I’m too busy for that kind of thing.
‘Of course we’re friends, but no more sex stories.’ She reads from her notepad. ‘You have a meeting at eleven with Saunders. He wants to go over the guest list one more time. And you have lunch at Pascal’s. Now, I’ve got calls to make and there’s a folder of funding requests you need to double-check before we send them upstairs.’ I’m on top of the funding and I know about the lunch but I let Maria think she’s managing me for a little longer. She’s right, though. My personal life should stay personal.
It’s cool, especially down by the river, but I’m dressed for the weather and I’m warming up from the inside out. I haven’t ridden for ages and the hill sorts me out more than usual, but worse than that, my stomach flops over the top of my shorts. Not the best feeling. Still, I’m on my bike, and as the Dalai Lama always says, feel the flab and do it anyway.
When I get home Mr and Mrs P are at the bottom of the driveway and at first I think they’re gardening. But no, they’re waiting for me.
‘Ruby, we don’t know how to tell you this,’ Mrs P says. Mr P has his arm around her shoulder.
‘God, what? Who’s dead?’ I break out in a sweat on top of the sweat I already had.
‘Somebody has vandalised your car.’
‘Is that all?’ With Keith and Cath off who knows where, an outback heart attack was my first thought.
‘Ruby, dear, you don’t have to be brave all the time.’
How did I manage to ride down our steep driveway, and not notice the bright-pink capital letters, GOD HATES FAGS, on my shiny Volvo?
‘Shit!’ I lean my bike against the wall, take my helmet off and hang it on the handlebar. The paint is chalky and it comes away under my thumb.
My street is the shortcut to the shops, so plenty of locals would have seen the awful free advertising. This has to be the prank-caller, the envelope person. ‘Homosexualityis a sin’ wouldn’t fit on the windscreen; ‘God Hates Fags’ fits perfectly.
I look up and down the street: a bloke walking with his kids, a woman trying to shush her barking dog, and a woman over the road saying goodbye to a friend. Nothing out of place except GOD HATES FAGS. Why the capital letters? Do these haters think it’s not as hateful if it’s in lower case?
‘Ruby, what are you going to do? I really think Mark should know about this.’ Mr P is one of those proper, upstanding types, like Keith. He’s in protection mode. And he’s brought a bucket of water and sponge.
‘I’ll tell Mark,’ I say, ‘but I’m not dragging him back here for this. No oxygen, right?’
‘What do you mean, Ruby?’
‘I’ll wash it off and go back to normal. Ignore it and hope it goes away. Really, if these people were a proper threat, they wouldn’t waste their time on vandalism.’
Do I look like I believe that? I want to believe it.
‘You don’t think you should call the police?’ Mrs P’s crinkled face is extra crinkly and I hate worrying her. She’s tiny; she’d weigh less than my bike. She’s a total sweetheart and it bothers me that she might run into these morons. Old ladies are dead easy to push over. That’s why people do it. I’ve got Sergeant McManus’s card on the fridge, but what would I tell him?
‘I’d call the police if I had anything decent to say. But, short of having this idiot chained to a tree, I don’t have anything to give them but paperwork. I’ll clean it off and get on with my life. I’m so sorry you had to see it.’
The doctor is at the Paris end of Collins Street in one of those old buildings with the spooky lifts and dark hallways. You’d think with what they charge, they could pay for some proper lighting. And maybe get an engine for the lift to replace the hunchbacked bloke on the roof with his ropes and whirring.
Yes, I’m making stuff up but I’m nervous.
From the tram, I saw a couple wearing unmarryme T-shirts. Do they feel like separating? Does anyone?
The waiting room is full of snot-ridden corporate types who should be home in bed. Mark is already there and I have to sit next to him because all the other seats are taken. I haven’t spoken to him in nearly a week and how great it is to see him—the man is fine in jeans and fabulous in a suit. It’s hard to stay angry.
‘All good?’ he says.
‘I’m not talking to you.’ I will stay angry, I will stay angry, I will stay angry. ‘Is that a new suit?’
‘I thought you weren’t talking to me.’
‘I’m not,’ I say over my golf magazine. I hate golf but I like carbon fiber. ‘By the way, the price tag is still on.’
Mark looks left, right, over his shoulder, checks his cuffs, stands up and takes the jacket off. ‘Where?’
‘Ha,’ I say. ‘Sucked in.’ Before he puts his jacket back on, I take the opportunity to check out his arse. It’s the right thing to do.
‘For God’s sake, Ruby.’ He gets back into his jacket and sits down.
‘Ms Wheeler, Dr Himmel will see you now.’
Mark follows me in.
‘Ruby, Mark, take a seat. How are things?’
‘Busy,’ I say.
‘Splendiferous,’ Mark says, and I want to hit him.
‘And how can I help you?’
On the desk there’s a photo of Dr Himmel and her husband at the snow, pink noses, matching beanies, the white landscape reflected in their blue mirror lenses.
‘I’m pretty sure I can’t have babies. Peta can. Even BJ got pregnant by Mark recently, though she miscarried. Given how much sex we’ve had, except lately, I should have had twenty babies by now.’
‘Not that we’ve had any tests,’ Mark says, inching closer to being hit.
Dr Himmel takes off her glasses and hooks them into her collar. She has green eyes, the green of American money. When she takes off her glasses it’s as if she wants you to listen harder. ‘You know at your age it’s more difficult to become pregnant.’
‘I told her that.’
‘Mark, would you like to wait outside?’ Dr. Himmel likes unhelpful commentary as much as I do.
‘Sorry. I’ll stay quiet.’
‘But I wasn’t always thirty-seven and still hadn’t been pregnant.’ When you’re spilling your guts to your doctor because your soon-to-be-ex-husband made you, good grammar is a dead duck.
‘Well,’ Dr Himmel says, ‘we can run some tests.’
‘I don’t see the point. It’s me. My aunt couldn’t have kids and neither could my great-aunt. It’s the family curse.’
‘Probably the family coincidence,’ Dr Himmel says. ‘Sometimes, Ruby, there isn’t a reason why babies don’t happen, they just don’t. And sometimes there is. We’ll eliminate a few things and see where we are.’
‘Can we do tests today?’ That’s Mark.
‘If you go tomorrow or Friday we could have the results by Monday. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to getting pregnant is stress. How long have I known you, Ruby?’ She glances at my file. ‘Six years. Long enough to know that you run on stress and that you don’t slow down.’
‘It’s one of the best things about her.’
‘So it really is my fault.’
‘Ruby, calling it fault is extremely unhelpful. I’d like you to consider your lifestyle. I’m not expecting you to give up your job. I don’t want to get attacked.’ She smiles. ‘But good sleep, less coffee, and twenty minutes of exercise a day could help. Also, pay attention to your cycle. You will not get pregnant if you’re not ovulating when you have sex.’
I’d love to argue, but I’ve never tried any of those things, especially looking out for ovulation. I spent most of my adult life trying not to get pregnant. Believing I can’t is a pretty new concept. ‘I suppose I could dial back the coffee, go to bed earlier, it’s a start. My cycle is clockwork. It’d be easy to figure out where I’m at, ovulation wise.’
‘Yeah,’ Mark says. ‘And when you’re ovulating I can make sure I’m not in Canberra. Easy.’
I can feel my eyes shining, like Mark’s. Could getting pregnant be that simple after all this time?
‘The unmarryme thing,’ Dr Himmel says. ‘Your campaign, that adds to your stress. How long will you keep it going for?’
‘Until it works.’ When it works nobody will feel the need to spray-paint GOD HATES FAGS on a freedom fighter’s windscreen.
‘Yep, until it works.’ Mark sounds solid. And he does look good in that new suit.
‘Have you thought about what it working would mean?’ Dr Himmel frowns. ‘Is it marriage equality? Is it a referendum? Is it everyone who wants to marry having to migrate to New Zealand?’
People who ask the good, hard questions suck. I look at Mark, and he shrugs. The skeleton in the corner of the room doesn’t shrug, but then, he never says much.
‘Dr Himmel, I have made this up as I go along, from day one. I have no idea what the end point will be.’
Her glasses are back on; she’s finished with us. ‘Ruby,’ she says. ‘When you get pregnant, try to keep the diving into the bushes to a minimum, okay?’
‘You’ve seen the YouTube.’
We’re only three floors up, so we take the stairs to the ground floor. The stairs wind around the lift cage; you can see the cables and pulleys and you can smell the oil. I half-expect Sam Spade to pop out of the dark: ‘Hey, sweetheart, have you got a torch?’ When I come here alone I freak myself out on these stairs.
‘Bugger,’ I add. ‘I forgot to give Dr Himmel her T-shirt.’
‘You can give it to her when you go back for your results.’
‘Good idea, Boydy.’
It’s nearly lunchtime. That means I’ll have lost an hour by the time I get back to my desk.
‘Have you got time for lunch?’ There’s a McDonald’s close by. I’m a little more into junk food these days and Mark has always liked junk food.
‘No, not really,’ he says.
‘Me neither, but I thought I’d ask.’
Mark’s office is up the hill from mine, about four blocks across.
‘I’ll take the long way and walk you back,’ he says. ‘It’s all I can do to walk beside you and not hold your hand.’
I know what he means. My hand is in my pocket where it is desperately trying to get a life. ‘Boydy, I’m sorry about holding in shit. That’s something Peta would do.’
Back in the day, when it was the Peta and Mark show, she expected him to know intuitively what was wrong. I am far from perfect, but that’s a mistake I don’t normally make.
‘Rube, you are not Peta. When something bothers you I know about it before you do. Well, maybe not before, but the second after.’
We’re about to cross the road when my phone rings. ‘It’s my campaign manager. I’ll answer it if you don’t mind.’
‘You mean Todd.’ Mark has an attack of the Crazy Beautifuls.
‘Hi Todd. What’s happening?’ We stop at the corner and the crowd parts around us like we’re rocks in a stream.
‘Where are you?’
Right now I’m watching Mark in a whole-body scowl. ‘I’m at work. Almost.’
‘Can you get to Federation Square?’
An announcement on the big screen? The government has seen the future and is supporting marriage equality. Thank God. I want my husband back; we could have sex in our own bed, maybe make a baby and definitely have an orgasm.
‘Can you get here?’ Todd says. ‘You’re going to love it.’
‘I’m on my way. See you in ten.’ I hang up, turn to Mark. ‘There’s something happening at Federation Square. Todd wants me to see it.’
‘I’ll come too. I want to meet him.’
‘You’ve met Todd.’
‘Yeah, when he was handing me my coffee, not when he had your number and was telling you to meet him places. I want his phone number, too, and not just because he’s Todd, but because I’m unmarryme.’
Jealousy can be flattering if you want it to be and I love that he says he’s unmarryme; he hasn’t said that before. I text him Todd’s number. ‘There. Happy?’
‘We better run,’ Mark says.
More running. I slip my shoes off and pad after Mark through the lunchtime crowd.
The grey and angled buildings look like a cross between battleships and icebergs, beautiful in an industrial, broken-kaleidoscope way. But Federation Square is the same as always: tourists, mums and dads and kids, school groups, people drinking coffee, people waiting for public transport.
I don’t see any sign of unmarryme. ‘Where is he?’
‘What’s he playing at?’ It’s not like Mark to be suspicious of people.
‘Jealous is not your best colour, Boydy.’
We sit on a step and wait.
‘I can’t help it,’ Mark says. ‘Todd gets to talk to you whenever he likes, I have to save it for once a day.’
‘I should be worrying about you. Since you moved out you keep buying new clothes. That’s the first sign of infidelity. That and hiring a campaign manager. Here he is.’
Todd is wearing an unmarryme T-shirt. I don’t know how we didn’t see him in all that pink. He’s holding a jacket, I suppose that’s how we missed him.
‘Todd, you remember Mark.’
They shake hands for about three hundred and fifty years.
‘Todd, what’s happening?’ Mark says. ‘We’re busy people.’ My penis is bigger than yours.
‘Oh, I think you’re going to love it.’ Mine’s pretty big, too.
‘It takes a lot to impress Ruby and me.’ My penis is WAY bigger than yours.
‘Well, then, Mark, you’re in for a show.’ As I said, mine’s pretty big.
‘Boys, can we just get this happening?’ It’s not the size, it what’s you do with it. And the size.
‘It’s started,’ Todd says. ‘Watch.’
A woman unzips her jacket: she’s wearing an unmarryme T-shirt. She shoves her jacket into her backpack and walks to the middle of the square. Other people are taking off their jackets. Now there are at least ten pink T-shirts making their way to join the first one.
A tune begins on the loud speakers. ‘Jitterbug, Jitterbug.’
All the pink T-shirts are performing an unmarryme number, Wham-style. They click their fingers, dance and sing, and the first pink T-shirts are joined by another ten. Young and older, fat and thin, coordinated and completely uncoordinated. The second lot has different T-shirts, still pink, but, instead of the love heart, they have unmarryme written in big yellow words like Wham’s Choose Life T-shirts. And they’re wearing fingerless gloves, just like George and Andy in the Wham video. Some of the pink T-shirts beckon the onlookers to join them.
Coffee cups are put aside and the dancing group swells.
Another group of pink T-shirts pours in from Flinders Street Station and troops across Swanston Street, already singing and dancing and clapping.
The traffic stops.
The horse and cart guy stands up in his cart and dances. He’s wearing the new unmarryme T-shirt. Police stand by and watch. A school excursion joins in, kids of about eleven or twelve years old; some of their teachers dance as well.
I’m smiling and crying and I squeeze Mark’s hand.
There’s a brass section! Some of the pink T-shirts break out trumpets. I don’t know where they were hiding them, but all of a sudden they’re there, shining, big noise, turning heads.
Justine and Peta show up.
‘This is amazing,’ Peta says. ‘There isn’t a person here without a smile on their face. Look.’
Justine has her notebook open. ‘Thanks for letting us know, Todd.’
People film the flash mob on their phones. Mark has his phone out. Todd has his out. Peta has hers out. I call Mars, tell her what’s happening, and hold my phone up so she can see it.
‘Oh, Ruby, it’s so good.’
It is good.
‘I’m going in,’ I say. There’s a minute or so left of the song and I’m not such a bad dancer. Eighties dancing is easy, all you have to do is keep your feet still and swing your arms like your sleeves are on fire.
‘Me too,’ Mark says.
‘And me,’ Justine pockets her notebook.
‘I wish Celeste and Beej were here for this,’ Peta says.
So do I because this is the first time I’ve seen Peta smile about unmarryme. No frowns, no second-guessing, not a prophet of doom, but a sharp-dressed businesswoman doing her best to out-Beyoncé Beyoncé.
The horse and cart guy is still going. A second school group attaches itself, older kids, Year Twelve by the looks of them. Some of the pink T-shirts dance with the schoolkids, hand in hand. Mark and I and Jus hold hands and sing. Everybody’s singing. It’s as if the whole of Melbourne knows the words to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. The song’s a joyful classic, why wouldn’t we?
Todd films the whole thing.
The song finishes, people clap, slap each other on the back, hug. The school groups reassemble and head towards the station. Coffee cups are claimed. Jackets are put back on and phones are put away. The square clears of pink T-shirts as quickly as it filled.