Unmarry Me, page 14
‘That was incredible,’ I say. I’m out of breath and my face hurts from smiling. ‘The best thing I’ve seen, and done, in ages. And the new T-shirts looked great, Todd. Really great.’
He nods. ‘Did you see any news cameras? We tipped them off.’
‘No, I didn’t. Too busy having fun, I guess.’
‘Look out for it tonight. Probably in the local colour segment, before the weather. One day unmarryme might make the political news section, but for now we take what we can get.’
‘I’m going to tape it so Celeste can see it,’ Peta says, ‘I better get back. Thanks, Todd. And Rube, thanks, I mean it.’
She hugs me and when I kiss her cheek, happy tears wet my lips. Peta is still smiling as she walks away and she’s still smiling as she crosses the road. If unmarryme stopped right now, this minute, I’d almost be happy.
‘Todd, that was terrific. Thank you for getting it all together.’ Mark slaps Todd on the back, friendly.
‘It was easy, Mark.’
‘It can’t have been that simple,’ Justine says. She has her notebook out again. Justine Roper-Daily, roving reporter.
‘They were mostly uni students, friends of friends, drama students, and a couple of Diamond Lou’s customers. A mate of mine is in the brass section. They’re part of a band and they didn’t mind a bit of extra practice.’
‘They looked good, sounded excellent. Loud.’
The brass was my favourite part except for the whole unmarryme flash mob part. I want them to come back and do it all over again. But I don’t see any of them. Covered up with jackets, coats, scarves, the pink T-shirts have disappeared into the mix.
‘And my parents were there,’ Todd says.
‘They were? You should have introduced them,’ I say.
‘No, they had to go. I didn’t want anyone hanging around. The brief was: turn up quick, do your thing, get on your way. It worked like a charm, and the only costs we had were the T-shirts. And a little bit of practice. Cheap for what could be national attention.’
Mark lets go of my hand. ‘Rube, I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll speak to you tonight.’ This time he shakes Todd’s hand like he likes him. ‘And thanks again, Todd. I can’t tell you what that meant to me and Ruby.’
I give Mark a quick hug before he goes. In public, we’re all still smiling, the vibe is good, so hugs are appropriate.
‘Jus, are you writing another article?’
‘My editor wants me to follow you. See what happens with unmarryme. If anyone else gets on board, for instance, or if you are noticed politically.’
‘That’s great.’ After today, we can’t fail.
‘Don’t forget, Rube, my editor likes unmarryme, and if you offered her a T-shirt she’d take it. But if someone happened along with some dirt on you two, she’d wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t explore it.’
What’s the worst thing I’ve done? Shagging someone else’s husband is hardly news, surely. And it was years ago. And I wasn’t the one who’d made wedding vows, that was Robert’s marriage not mine. Plus, how times did we do it? Twice in his marital bed—disgusting—twice in a hotel room, but both times they were decent hotels, not those pay-by-the-hour places, and once in his car because no affair can happen without a vehicle.
‘Okay, I’ll come clean. Five years ago I had sex with a married man. But other than that, I don’t steal, not even office supplies, and I don’t lie.’
A tram bell dinged just as I finished. Like punctuation, full stop. It’s uplifting to make a public inventory of your sins.
‘Relax, Ruby. I was just informing you. Keep your nose clean from now on. So clean I could live in it.’
‘Nice,’ Todd says.
I don’t say anything because I’m thinking about life inside a nose—darkish, moist, hairy; some days there is a lot of room and some days there isn’t.
‘That’s my tram.’ Justine nods at the City Circle tram, ‘I’ve got to go, Rube. I’ll call you.’
‘I have to get back, too,’ I say. ‘Thanks, Todd, that was inspirational, incredible, fantastic. I’m running out of superlatives. It was ace.’
‘I told you you’d love it,’ he says.
‘I did love it.’ I hug Todd. He’s strong, his chest is wide like a door, and even under a couple of layers of clothing his body feels firm. ‘Okay, I better go, Maria will be wondering if I’m dead.’
‘God, Mars, it was awesome, amazing.’ I’m still out of breath. I gulp in some air. ‘I wish you could have been there. And Mark loved it. Yes, I’m talking to him again. I reckon it’s the first time since we took our rings off that he felt our separation might actually achieve something good. Unmarryme really kicked goals today. That Todd is impressive. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.’
Mars doesn’t look as excited as she should.
‘Ruby, I’m glad it went so well. It looked great on your phone, but Damian is looking for you. I told him you’d be back around one.’ Mars looks at her watch. Half past. ‘Sorry.’
Your boss should never have to look for you. I’m a boss and I always want to know where my team is, and the thing is, I do. We work for each other.
‘How did he seem?’
‘Stressed. He kept clicking his pen. I nearly took it and threw it in the bin. I had to remind myself he wasn’t you.’
Mars hates fidgeting. That’s why she doesn’t take public transport: she can’t stand the chewing and scratching. Sometimes I fiddle with stuff just to wind her up. I’ve lost a couple of pens and pencils that way.
‘I’ll go and see him. If I’m not back in ten minutes, go to Plan B.’
‘Plan B being?’
‘Pack your things, pack mine, meet me out the back and we’ll take it from there.’ I dump my bag and coat and get going.
Damian’s office is twice as big as mine; the windows seem taller, though they can’t be. The desk is definitely bigger, and he has a sofa.
‘Good flash mob?’ he says.
I keep meaning to ask if he buffs his scalp, but I decide that’s not a query for this afternoon. ‘Good news travels fast, eh? Did you hear about it from Mars? Damian, I don’t suppose Poverty Project wants to go halves in, or sponsor, a hot air balloon? Unmarryme on one side and us on the other?’
He’s wearing new glasses. Again. Big, blue, owl-shaped ones that make his hairless head seem taller. Someone has got to tell Damian to stop taking his girlfriend’s fashion advice; she’s obviously out to get him.
‘Ruby, now isn’t when you want to be asking.’
‘Fair enough,’ I say. I’ll ask some other time.
He pats the sofa. ‘Sit with me.’
Nobody has a good time on that sofa.
‘Okay.’ I sit and pretend I love the idea.
It’s like sharing space with the rich uncle, who laughs at your jokes and compliments your outfits, but who can at any moment withdraw his support and leave you standing in your undies. Not that Damian’s like that with me; we’re usually fine. Still, I am on the sofa.
‘Ruby, we had a development while you were out.’ He peers over the top of his glasses and I worry about my underwear.
‘Yes?’ This sofa sucks. It’s ergonomic and I hate that. Sofas are for slouching. And what fabric is this? Dark grey, textured, stiff, itchy. Only a trouser-wearing man would choose this fabric.
‘Ruby, it’s about your gala.’
‘It’s about your gala’ are four words the mother of a gala never wants to hear. ‘What about it?’
‘It’s over, kaput. She pulled out.’
‘She can’t have,’ I say. My face has gone cold.
‘Maya has a health issue, Elizabeth didn’t say what exactly, but she won’t have recovered in time. We were informed about an hour ago. I think it will be easier if we drop it and concentrate our energies somewhere more traditional.’ Damian seems as shot down as I feel.
‘She must be pretty bad, I hope she’ll be all right.’ M
‘It was a risk, anyway. Up here.’ He means level thirteen, where imagination dries up the minute you step off the lift. ‘We always thought it was a fifty-fifty thing, closer to seventy-thirty.’
‘That is bloody bullshit, Damian.’
‘Do I need to remind you who you’re talking to?’
Yes, remind me. Because the Damian on the sofa—doubting, corporate stooge—is not the Damian I met and bonded with on our first day. I say all that in my head because he’s not a stooge.
The purse strings are on level thirteen, and the purse is on my level. In his two-heads-on-one-set-of-shoulders role, Damian normally does well (meaning he normally sides with me). He let me run with the gala from the moment I thought of it and stood by me when we struck opposition from the corner offices.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I’m just so disappointed.’
‘You and me both.’
I sigh, rub my face, and look out the office window. Patchy sky. A passenger jet appears, then disappears into the clouds, and wish I was on that plane. Yeah, get me out of here. ‘Does it have to be now? This month? Maya’s operation or rehab, whatever?’
All our figures are thousand-dollar round and it isn’t hard to work out what we’ve lost: twenty tables of twelve, plus the auction. Six weeks out from the gala, counting on an evening with her, we were already up by what most people make in a year. We could have made a huge difference in one glittering hit and would have put a lot of clothes on a lot of backs.
‘Yes,’ Damian says. ‘I asked that question, in a delicate and sensitive way, not the way you would have asked it.’ He smiles and I’d love to smile with him.
Cassandra is in her office and she’s probably trying to listen. It’s no stretch to say that she would love this. Ruby, the big winner, is now the biggest loser, and, sitting only metres away, she got to see it go down.
‘This is so depressing,’ Damian says. ‘Someone available at such short notice is probably not someone we need.’ He looks at his shiny black shoes.
‘Damian, less than an hour ago I was in a flash mob and I thought to myself, if the whole thing stopped, not just unmarryme, but the world, I wouldn’t mind. I practically floated back here. I don’t think I can take this dent.’
How many tears has this horrid sofa seen? Mine will be part of its awful collection if I’m not careful.
‘Ruby, my reputation is on the line, too.’ He stands up, walks over to his desk, leans on the edge. ‘This isn’t just about the money we won’t make; it’s also about the money we’ll lose. The venue has been booked, catering, entertainment, the MC, they’ll all get their cut.’
‘Like I don’t bloody know that!’ I can swear at the boss better if he’s not sitting next to me. And it’s not the F-word, ‘bloody’ is an all-comers, all-occasion swear word. ‘I pushed for smaller deposits, but do you think anyone would help a charity out? No way. Believe me, I know what’s at risk, since the whole time we’ve been trying to get the gala up, you people up here on precious level thirteen have been waiting for it to fall over.’
‘I’m not one of them, I always believed in you.’
‘You’re on the sofa, you’re one of them.’
‘Since you’re so upset, I’ll let that remark slide. There is a small consolation in not having to pay the appearance fee.’
I stand up. In my experience good choices are almost never made sitting down. That’s why, when I was single and going out with a man for the first time, I’d go to bars not restaurants. Am I going to fuck him? I don’t know, let’s see how he stands. Yes, that sounds weird, but I have never, ever had good sex after a restaurant meal. Statistically, it added up.
‘Damian, wait on cancelling everything until the last minute, please. If we have to pay cancellation fees, let’s give it a few weeks. You never know what might happen. I mean, we got Maya Croft, and that was miraculous. We could get somebody else.’
Do I even look like I believe it? What is my face doing other than blinking away tears and holding back bile?
‘If we can pay substantially less in cancellation fees by giving them more notice, we’ll have to cancel asap.’
He is one of those asap people, but right now I’m too upset to care. ‘Damian, I’m gutted. You wanted me to take time off, so I’m taking it. I’ll be back on Monday. Probably.’ I head to the door, slowly, waiting for a plea along the lines of We can’t afford to lose you, not even for a few days.
‘What will I tell everybody?’
No pleading. Fair enough.
‘Tell them I’ve done a hip and I’m out for the rest of the season. As soon as they know she’s not coming they’ll want to take the rest of the week off, too.’
‘They can’t. We don’t pay the electricity for nothing, they’ve got to stick around and work.’
‘Don’t worry, they will. I’ve got the best team in the business, but this is a blow and you’ll have to cut them some slack. I’ll see you Monday, I’ll probably have finished all the chocolate I’m going to eat by then.’ I get out before he can say anything else, including goodbye.
‘Okay, Mars, I’m outta here.’ I switch off my computer, shove my stapler in my bag, because it’s my bloody stapler, and grab my coat.
‘What’s going on?’ She slides the door behind her. It’s rare to see her nonplussed.
‘Maya’s out. No gala. I’ve cracked it. I’ve got a million years in annual leave so I’m off. What the hell, right? It’s only my reputation.’
‘Do you know what happened?’
‘She has a health issue, that’s all I know. Also, I asked Damian about Poverty Project sponsoring a hot air balloon for unmarryme and he made a face. Honestly, almost every other big company is sponsoring marriage equality. Coke is doing it and Ford is doing it and Nike is doing it. Unmarryme would be great for our profile.’
Tears trickle down my cheeks. I’m embarrassed, even in front of Mars.
She hands me the hankie from her skirt pocket. It’s soft, softer than any tissue, and it has posies embroidered on each corner.
‘Ruby, it will all be okay,’ she says. ‘We can get along without you. Don’t look at me like that, we can. Take the rest of the week, we’ll be fine.’
Fine is one of those nothing words.
Less than an hour ago, I was at Federation Square in a flash mob that had our name on it. Now, the project I’ve been working on for the best part of a year has hit the wall, and my pants are so tight around the waist I can feel a love handle making a break for it.
‘Mars, I can’t believe it, this is doing me in.’ It’s nearly two o’clock and I could be home in time for Judge Judy if I hurry. Last time I was sick I watched it and it was stupid fun.
‘Something will happen, Ruby. When one door shuts another opens. My dad used to say that all the time.’
It’s hard to imagine Mars had a dad. Her hair is so serious, she’s so capable. Could there ever have been a time when she didn’t know exactly what to do?
‘Did your dad say it was a trapdoor?’
‘You are a dag. Go home and get some rest. On second thoughts, go for a bike ride. It will do you good.’
‘Tell me why we’re doing all this again? Do you think it would matter if unmarryme was unfinished?’
‘Ruby,’ Maria says, as she helps me into my coat. ‘Think back to Peta and BJ’s wedding. That’s why you’re doing it. For love.’
Maria is right. For Peta and BJ making their vows and not a dry eye in the place. Galas come and go. Obviously. And a big slab of chocolate and Judge Judy will help me get over it. Because I’m doing this for love.
Julia Roberts can play Mars in the movie.
Judge Judy is an inspiration. I’m not
Marriage equality is not a small claim, though. It’s a paperwork-generator of the first order.
‘After all,’ I say to Mark, when he asks me why on earth I’d hurt my brain on Judge Judy, ‘equality is the most natural right there is.’
‘I know, Rube, I was there. That was my hand you were holding at Fed Square. Why do you sound so glum? What’s the deal, babe?’
We’ve been talking for about ten minutes and I haven’t mentioned the gala. Partly because as soon as I tell Mark that it’s over it, it will be. He’s my man, and when he knows stuff about me there’s no getting away from it. But mostly I haven’t told him because I’ll cry.
So I tell Mark and I get to say everything I wanted to say this afternoon in Damian’s office. Mark makes all the proper noises.
‘You should ask her for a donation, an amount commensurate with what you would have made. She can afford it. It’s only fair.’
‘She’s sick. It happens to the best of us.’
If I get mad at her I’ll never stop and when I get back to work on Monday I need to be productive. But wait.
‘Mark, did you just say “commensurate”?’ I might not use big, time-wasting, flashy words, but I like people who do.
‘Sure did,’ he says, and I can hear his smile. He knows where this is going.
‘Say it again.’ I get comfortable. ‘And tell me what you’re wearing.’
I’m number seven with a two-person wait at the pathology lab, but that’s okay. I don’t mind staring into space and just being, especially since I rolled out of bed this morning with nobody to hassle. I’m deep in nothing when the nurse, a woman in a white tunic, helps a stooped old man out.
‘Always lovely to see you, Mr Trumble,’ the nurse says.
‘And you, dear.’ Mr Trumble is on a walker, one with a built-in seat. His hair is white and fluffy, sticking up at the back the way a little kid’s hair does, and he has a wide Band-Aid across his nose.