Unmarry Me, page 16
I cut two giant slices and turn the kettle on.
‘The first couple, well, they come into the shop. They’re a standard married couple, whatever that means; they have adult children, and they want to do their bit. Said they’d been thinking about it since you took Charlene down.’
Charlene Hunter seems forever ago but it’s only been three weeks. Now I feel a bit odd about this recruitment, happy but sorry. Like when I was thirteen and I threw a stone at a kid and it got him on the back of the head. He hit the ground like the lights had gone out. I remember thinking, wow, great shot, what amazing line and length, and boy, am I in trouble. I was thrilled and worried at the same time—that’s how it feels when people follow you into a divorce they don’t need.
‘Do they know what they’re doing?’
‘They’re adults, Ruby.’ He says it with a mouthful of cake. At least he’s sitting down now. All the moving about was making me seasick.
‘Okay. Who else?’
‘The second couple is BJ’s parents.’
I swallow my cake. Shock makes it hard to get down, especially when it’s too big a piece and I haven’t actually chewed. ‘Aren’t they divorced already?’
‘BJ thought they were. She said her mum always referred to the break-up as a divorce, but it turns out they split their property legally and hadn’t got around to divorcing.Apparently lots of people do that.’
‘Okay, well, I’ll take it, but it’s not really the same. Not that much of a sacrifice, not the model we’re after, really.’
Sometimes beggars can be choosers, above all when their slow, occasionally embarrassing, take-down of the government is on the line.
‘They’ve got back together. Sam’s coming back from Bangkok next month. They were going to move in with each other and pick up where they left off. Now they’re divorcing officially for unmarryme.’
‘People are freaking weird.’ I want another piece of cake but I don’t want Todd to think I’m a pig so I leave it. Men never care if people think they’re pigs. Stuff it; I’m having more cake. I cut another slice for Todd and a slice for me.
Todd takes a big breath, his chest rises and his back straightens. ‘And the last couple is my parents.’
‘They don’t want to be married while their son can’t be.’
It takes me a long moment to understand what he’s saying. Todd doesn’t have a brother; he’s an only child. The gay son his parents have must be him.
‘Have you just come out to me, Todd?’
‘Yes, I’m gay. That’s the first time I’ve said it to someone other than my parents.’ He’s crying. ‘I couldn’t have done it without you.’
I’m gay. Such a small, weighty sentence.
‘What do you mean?’ I say.
‘You giving a shit. Putting yourself and Mark through this.’
I wipe my eyes on Mark’s pyjama sleeve.
‘Ruby, the fact that somebody I didn’t know cared for people she didn’t know made me feel better about being myself.’
‘You? You felt bad? You seem so self-aware, in a good way. I’m not saying it right. You seem so together.’
The confidence to wear a dirty rag in his back pocket. His ease with the customers. And he’s so cool about that scar. It’s a scar and a half but he wears it like it’s not there.
‘I was pretending,’ Todd says, and then he’s crying into his hands.
It’s too much seeing this beautiful young man bawl.
‘You know,’ I say. ‘I wanted to call the whole thing off this morning. I’m tired and I look like hell. I miss Mark terribly. I’ve put on weight because I eat crap when I worry. And to top it all off, I have a dead rat in my freezer.’
When Todd is freaked out he doesn’t look anything like Mark. His hazel eyes are saucer-wide and the skin around his mouth has turned white. ‘You’re not going to stop, are you?’
How things change.
Todd is gay.
We have followers.
Unmarryme is making a difference.
Prank phone calls, a black eye, Charlene Hunter—they are now simply interesting features on the road to success. Missing Mark is not easy to flick to the side but freedom fighters don’t have time for moping.
‘Hell, no. Like you said, we can’t stop now.’ I go to the kitchen and circle today’s date on the calendar. This is what success feels like: as if your skin is made of jelly and your head is fizzing. I keep opening and closing my fists; I don’t know what to do with my hands. If Mark were here we’d have wild sex, just because it comes naturally to a body that doesn’t know what to do with itself.
‘Todd, this is just the start.’
I imagine unmarryme couples holding up the traffic at the top of Spring Street. We’d stand on the steps of Parliament House with signs that say honk if you support unmarryme. A big citizen’s divorce ceremony. Couple after couple unhitch on the steps and unmarryme is the first item on the news. I cannot wait to tell Mark.
‘It wasn’t a car accident, Ruby.’
I don’t have to ask what wasn’t. ‘No?’
‘When I was thirteen I tried to set fire to myself. I was in love with my best friend and when he bashed up the only other gay in the town—the bravest person I knew—I couldn’t handle it. I went to the shed and poured petrol on myself. I was lucky Mum was home.’
‘Oh, Todd.’ I have no words for this. What do you say? I hold him. Touch is better than words any day of the week.
‘It was good in a way. We talked about it and Mum said that she knew and that she loved me and was proud of me.’
I hope one day to be as good a mother as Todd’s mother.
‘But you don’t come out all in one go,’ Todd says. ‘Not even to yourself. I guess I’d been waiting for someone like you to come along.’
Well, that’s it. I’m bawling again. Big sobs like that day in the cafe. I hold him, he holds me, cups of tea go unmade but the cake disappears, one huge chocolate piece at a time.
I’m out of bread so I hop into Keith’s car and go to Leo’s. Also, I’m out of chocolate and milk and milk chocolate. When I get back home there is a red envelope stuck in my screen door.
‘For fuck’s sake.’
I was gone for what, twenty minutes. I go inside and close my front door and look through the peephole. Nothing. No one. I could stand here all day, press footprints into the carpet, grease a forehead print onto the door, and not see anything.
The red envelope goes into the bag with the others. I’ll think about it later. Mark will call soon and I don’t want to let a little thing like a stalker dampen the good news.
I shower, get into bed, and find out what Elizabeth Bennett is up to while I wait.
The phone rings.
‘How are you?’
‘God, you sound electric,’ he says. ‘What happened?’
‘Mark, people are joining us. They are going to get divorced for unmarryme. It’s working.’ Honestly, if I cry every time I say it, my body’s going to run out of water. I don’t know what happens to a body after that.
‘We’re still doing it, then?’
‘Yep. And like you said, we have only six months to go.’
We spend the next five minutes catching up; his flight, work, how he left his charger at home, and then I remember today’s other news.
‘Nearly forgot, Todd’s parents are divorcing, too. He’s gay. So you can like him twice as much now because, between me being dead faithful and him being gay, you’re fine.’
‘I was never worried,’ he says, but there’s too much relief in his voice for me to believe him. ‘Okay, I was a little worried. I was garden-variety concerned, Rube. You don’t mind a handsome man.’
‘Look at us, Boydy. I get prank phone calls and hate mail, we don’t live in the same house, you wank in my sister’s bathroom.’ Mark hasn’t
After he stops laughing: ‘Have you had more hate mail?’
‘I went to Leo’s, I can’t have been more than fifteen minutes, and I came home to another envelope. I’m going to get this bastard and call the police on him. Hey, are there any handcuffs at your dad’s place?’
‘I think I saw a pair in Dad’s glove box. Who knew he was such a romantic?’
‘Who are the handcuffs for, Rube?’
‘I’m going to do a stakeout. Tomorrow, and the next day, everyday until I get this fucker.’
‘I don’t suppose you could wait until I get back?’
‘The time is now, Mark. While I have the energy. It seems to happen in the early evening and the calls are usually late at night.’
‘What happens if you get the guy? I mean it could get nasty. I’m not happy about this at all.’ Mark is often the devil to my advocate.
‘Boydy, be cool. I’ll call Declan McManus straightaway, after I’ve applied the handcuffs. Plus, the tennis racquet packs a punch.’ Is his lip still swollen? He doesn’t sound fat-lipped. ‘If the Ps don’t mind, I plan to sit in their doorway to watch mine. I’ll take the racquet with me.’
‘Babe, I’m amazed at you. This morning you were calling the whole thing off, now you have couples getting divorced and you’re catching bad guys.’
All in a day’s work for your average freedom fighter. ‘And I made a chocolate cake. Pretty good, huh?’
‘Yep. Pretty good. Gee, you sound great, Rube.’
‘So do you, Boydy.’ I move the pillows around, get comfy, pull the doona up around my ears, ‘You sound tired but good. Did I ever tell you you have a beautiful voice on the phone?’
The Ps say they know how important my marriage is and how upsetting it must be to put it on hold. And they’re excited by the idea of a stakeout.
‘You must be eating through the pain, dear,’ Mrs P says.
True. My love handles have got so big they surprise me in the shower. The first time it happened I thought somebody else had got in with me. ‘I have been hitting the chocolate bars pretty hard.’
‘We know. That’s why we bought you these.’ She has a bowl of Fantales. ‘Mr P has you all set up.’
I love the way they call each other Mr P and Mrs P. I brought their mail in one day and found out their surname is Petrocelli, but nobody calls them anything but Mr P and Mrs P.
‘Ruby,’ Mr P says, ‘come and see. You’ve got a chair and there’s a rubbish bin for the wrappers, and a small side table for cups of tea. Mrs P has found the thermos so you don’t have to move and possibly alert the nuisance person.’
‘That’s great, thank you.’ I call the deliverer of the envelopes ‘fucker’ but I’d never say that in front of The Ps. They’re the grandparents I’d love to have and I’ve told them that if the time ever came it’d be a privilege to look after them.
‘Also, there is a pair of binoculars on the windowsill in the lounge room, in case we’re not fast enough, so we can perhaps get a registration plate.’
He’s got big knuckles, Mr P. They both have, big knuckles due to arthritis, and big ears just because. They’re around the same height but Mrs P has a stoop, so she may have been taller than him when they met. Mentally, they’re right there, but physically they’ve been going backwards for years.
‘This is terrific, thank you,’ I say. ‘But listen, not too much from you two, okay? There are hard surfaces and stairs, and doormats to trip on. If push comes to shove, I do the shoving and you call the cops.’
‘And that goes double for you, Mrs P.’ Mr P is the one with the walking frame but he’s protective of his wife. ‘Ruby, I meant to tell you: we did a test earlier. I sat in the chair with the screen door closed and the front door open and watched Mrs P pretend to deliver hate mail.’
The Ps are a classic.
‘I snuck up the stairs and tiptoed over to your door, Ruby. I peered into our doorway and I couldn’t see anyone. I gave Mr P a thumbs up and he gave me one. That was our signal. Well, he saw mine, but I didn’t see his.’
How gorgeous, Mrs P tiptoeing, and her cute thumbs up. You’ve got to be impressed by a good community effort.
‘I hope we catch them on the first try,’ Mr P says.
Me too; on TV, the novelty of stakeouts wears off fast. ‘I’m not going to do this too many times, three at the most. I’ve involved you too much already. And I have a life. I’m meant to be de-stressing and this won’t help.’
Actually, it has helped: between Todd’s news and the stakeout, I haven’t thought about my gala once.
Mrs P props a firm hand on my shoulder. ‘Well, let’s catch them tonight.’
‘Sure, let’s. I’ve got to get the handcuffs.’ I head towards the door.
‘Oh, you can use ours if you like.’
I stop mid-step. Really, my foot hangs in the air waiting for its next move.
‘Hahaha, your face, Ruby!’
‘Oh, you are a wicked woman.’
Mr P takes her in his arms. They laugh and hug. I reckon this kitchen has seen plenty of hugs like that one. There’s a lot to be said for not renovating, for letting history write itself on your outdated cabinetry and faded old curtains.
‘Jus, I need you to come over.’
‘What for? I’m working.’
‘Working schmerking. You tell me you can work watching TV and eating dinner at the same time. Can’t you work later?’
‘I’m doing it for bloody you.’
‘It’ll only be for fifteen minutes. Not even. Please?’
I could have called BJ but she handles bedtime and Celeste can be a real pain in the arse when it’s time for sleep. Peta could have come, but she’d warn me about the ‘perils of getting involved’ and the song and dance would be hideous.
‘You mean right now, don’t you?’ Jus sounds different, her voice has changed, her phone must be tucked into her shoulder. I’m winning. ‘God, you are a pushy shithead.’
‘Thanks, Jus. I owe you one.’
‘If I had a dollar for every time you said you owe me one...’
She doesn’t finish that sentence. Nobody ever does.
Justine makes it to my place in twelve minutes; it would normally take her twenty. She must have sped the whole way. She chucks her keys on the bench.
‘Don’t be like that, Jussy.’
‘Don’t call me Jussy.’ She’s travelled light and quick and she hasn’t even brought her bag. I can’t remember the last time I saw her without her paper-boy-chic satchel slung over her shoulder.
‘So what are we doing?’ Justine doesn’t seem herself.
‘Are you okay?’
‘People annoy me, that’s all. Do you want to tell me why I’m here sitting on your couch when I could be home sitting on mine?’
‘I’m going to stake out my front door tonight. I’ll be watching from Mrs P’s place, and I want this stalker person, the fucker, to think I’ve gone out. I need you to drive me round the corner.’
‘I don’t know. I’ve got handcuffs and I’ve got a policeman’s phone number.’
‘Let’s hope this fucker, as you put it, shows up tonight, because I can’t be coming round here all the time to not drive you places. Still, are you sure you don’t want me to stay?’
The closer I get to the stakeout the more worried I am about it working. My plans are based on cop shows and the stalker had better stick to the script. I do want her to stay but I got myself into this.
‘No, it’ll be cool. If I see someone, I don’t have to do anything. I could just try to remember what he or she looks like. Then I’d have something concrete to tell the police.’
I’m sitting in a chair opposite Ju
‘Would you like a cuppa?’ I get up to turn the kettle on. ‘I’ve got gingerbread men.’
‘Are they bought or homemade?’ She doesn’t look up from the article she’s reading: ‘26, 650b, or 29er, what’s the Wheel Deal?’
After a loud Goodnight, see you tomorrow to the Ps, and Yes, Mrs P, I have my toothbrush, and I’ll be back about three o’clock, we head downstairs. I’ve got clothes on a hanger and an overnight bag to make it look real. The props were Justine’s idea; she has imagination and style and that’s why she’s my friend.
I take my time hanging the clothes and stashing the bag in the boot of her black Prius. We drive around the block and park in a street parallel to mine. There is a lane running behind the flats and all I have to do is climb over the fence without being seen.
I kiss Justine goodbye and she whispers good luck.
‘Jus, why are you whispering?’
‘I’m trying to feel stealthy. Are you feeling stealthy?’
‘Sure,’ I say, and hope a stealthy feeling takes. I want to vomit. Pre-stakeout nerves, I suppose.
‘Call me if something happens. If nothing happens, just call me.’
I close the car door and take the short walk back to my place.
When you go mountain-biking you sometimes have to tackle fences, so I’m used to them, and I don’t have any problem with ours. It’s way easier without a bike. So easy that when I drop to the ground I think I should climb fences more often, get into parkour. Mark and I could both get into it, the couple that plays together stays together and all that.
Back at home, treading quickly up the stairs, I feel less nervous, less sick. I guess that’s because I’m finally doing something.
Mr P lets me in. He’s in his dressing-gown and slippers and the light blue of his pyjama bottoms pools round his ankles. He’s a cutie.