Unmarry me, p.2

Unmarry Me, page 2


Unmarry Me

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  He understands. I’m a bloody genius. And it doesn’t sound that bad out of the mouth of a lawyer. ‘Yeah, you get it.’

  ‘And you think if we divorce for marriage equality, other people, not idiots, but regular, everyday people, might do the same?’

  ‘Yeah! People really care about this.’ I lean across and pull the curtain open a crack. It’s bright and quiet out there, not many cars on the street. The lady across the road is bent over, picking up her poodle’s poo.

  ‘Ruby, this is ridiculous,’ he says. He’s staring at a spot on the wall, and his lips are in a thin line; words will have a hard time squeezing out.

  ‘Come on,’ I say, all enthusiasm and irresponsibility. ‘We’ll share our lives, eat, work, love, and we’ll stay divorced until Pete and BJ can marry. Then we’ll get married again.’

  ‘You are nuts.’ His neck veins are sticking out. He’s clenching and unclenching his fists. He does that when he watches the football and he’s half a minute away from yelling and throwing something at the TV. ‘Are we in a movie? Somebody’s going to say, “Cut” any second, right? This is just too stupid. Oh shit.’


  He throws the blankets off and leans across me. ‘Shit!’ His legs are in the air; it’s not a good look without underpants, as he clambers over me and off the bed. ‘Shit!’ He plants a foot into the eggs I couldn’t finish and hops to the bathroom, with his eggy foot in the air, and a hand over his mouth.

  Mark steps out of the steam, still wet and in his running gear: black singlet, tiny shorts and fluorescent socks and shoes. He has a thick stripe of zinc across his nose and he’s wearing his belt with the three little water bottles.

  ‘You’ll be gone for a while, then?’

  ‘Coupla hours. I need to think.’

  ‘I love you,’ I say, feeling it.

  ‘Rube, I love you, too, but you’re really throwing down the gauntlet here.’

  The image of me in mediaeval chain mail armour is not pretty but does seem right.

  He heads out the door without kissing me goodbye and does a good job of ignoring me watching him from the balcony. He stretches this way that way, lunging and squatting. He flexes his arms.

  ‘Show us your tits!’ I yell and blow him kisses.

  He shakes his head and runs off.

  When Mark worries, he runs. When Peta worries, she cleans. When I worry, I cook. I’m going to make a week’s worth of meals and freeze them for The Girls and us. Not that I’m worried.

  Two hours later, he’s back. He looks wrecked but he doesn’t look unhappy, so I’m hopeful. I want to ask straightaway but I let him shower first. When the taps go off, I knock and go in.

  ‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ he says. ‘Let’s get a divorce.’

  I knew he’d fold like an engineer at a paper-plane factory. Mark likes peace and quiet and a done deal. Suits me.


  ‘I have a condition.’ He wraps the towel around his waist and tucks it in at the top. When I try to do that it never works, the towel slides off and rumples around my ankles before my second step. It must be a man thing. ‘I want to find out if we can have a baby,’ Mark says. ‘We haven’t even had any tests but you seem to have decided we can’t.’

  Huh, not so folded.

  We’re speaking to each other through the vanity mirror, which is good, because I have trouble with this topic face to face. He takes my hand, holds it to his cheek. His skin is still hot. ‘What do you think? I will, if you will.’

  ‘What if I find out that it’s my fault?’ I sound pathetic but this isn’t easy.

  ‘Ruby, I’m not changing my mind. It’s important to me. Just like this,’ he has a reaching hand in the air as he tries to find the words, ‘like this,’ he drops his hand, ‘like this thing is to you. I’m not budging. We’ll get a divorce but only if we can find out what’s going on.’

  ‘Mark, we know what’s going on.’ Crying is such bullshit. I hate it.

  He kisses my forehead. ‘I can’t believe you’d fight like hell for the rights of people you don’t know but when it comes to having a baby you’d let it slide. They can do all kinds of things now.’

  What’s with crying anyway? I’m not in pain, nothing’s happened, the man I love is going to do what I want, and here I am, bawling. ‘It’s still a miracle when it works. Fewer than one in four first attempts at IVF make it, and it’s a few thousand dollars every time. Some people have eight goes before they get pregnant. Imagine the stress and the money.’

  ‘If I’m trying to get BJ pregnant, why can’t we find out about us?’

  Every now and again, people who make perfect, logical, reliable sense give me the shits.

  One day, with any luck, Peta and BJ will have another baby and Celeste will be a big sister. So far, after two extraction attempts, nothing’s happened, but it’s early days. Extraction is what we call the process of Mark donating his sperm. Peta came up with the term because she has to make everything sound gold-plated. I would have gone for something simple like ‘spoof drop’.

  We have talked about BJ and him just plain having sex to get pregnant, and we never really finished that talk. I said, ‘If you have to, you have to, but I don’t want to know if you have to,’ and he, chewing his lip, said, ‘I don’t want to have to and I don’t want to have to keep it from you if I have to.’ Yes, we are adults and this is how we speak.

  We sit on the bathroom floor, the tiles are cool, and he folds his arms around me. He smells good. I look up at him. ‘The Girls get your babies, Boydy.’ BJ will be the biological mother this time and jealousy is a gross emotion.

  ‘We’ll see,’ he says, and kisses the tip of my nose.

  It doesn’t pay to sit on your bathroom floor. You see too much at this level. The toilet needs cleaning, there’s vomit, two types, in solid drips on the outside of the bowl. I’ll pick up his dirty clothes but I’m not cleaning his vomit.

  ‘Rube, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we’ll get divorced and then, maybe, we’ll have a baby.’


  ‘So now what?’ Mark reverses down the steep, long driveway. Our flat is the last of our block and the highest. The first flat must feel like it’s below sea level compared to us in No. 8.

  The supermarket is only minutes from home but I refuse to walk. The driveway is a killer and the two flights of stairs up to our front door aren’t optional. As I told Mark the week he moved in, carrying shopping bags up the hill is a waste of energy: I save my exercise for my mountain bike or the bedroom.

  ‘We separate. You know all the divorce stuff. You’ve done it before.’

  ‘We’re not separating for real, right?’

  ‘God, no. Boydy, you’re my guy, remember? You and me forever. Us on our His and Hers scooters zipping down to bingo. Engraving our initials on our titanium hip replacements. It’s a fake separation.’

  ‘What about Celeste?’

  Good point. There’s not a room in our place that doesn’t have traces of Celeste. From her soft toy collection to the giraffe toothbrush in the bathroom to her sticky fingerprints everywhere. How did I not factor in Celeste?

  ‘Maybe I can do the weekends you don’t have her. Or if that’s too much for The Girls, then we could be flexible, see how things are going, have her for sleepovers, take her out for the day.’

  ‘So you’ve heard of flexibility?’

  ‘Mark, there are going to be parts of this I’m not on top of until they’re on top of me. We’ll figure it out as we go.’

  ‘And what are we telling people?’

  We’re stuck at the rail crossing. Back in the day, when I smoked, and drank, and saw plenty of pink sunrises, I’d use the time to light up. These days I wait for the trains, practically smelling cigarettes.

  ‘We’re telling people that we’re getting divorced because Peta and BJ can’t marry. Because people who love each other can’t marry.’

  ‘I can’t tell my colleagues that!’ If Peta were here she
d say he looked askance. Peta and her flowery words. I say he looks like a bloody dickhead and he better catch on. ‘I’ll be laughed out of the office,’ he says. ‘I’ll be demoted. My billable hours will slide off the spreadsheet.’

  ‘They call what you did just then catastrophising, and in front of a train, too. Tell them that all the great sex doesn’t make up for how much I give you the shits. Tell them you found my secret My Little Pony collection, all seven thousand of them. Tell work whatever you want but I’ll be telling people the truth.’

  Only once have I found a spot right outside the supermarket door. Mark has his rock-star ways and doesn’t head round the back. I love how he tucks his tongue into the corner of his mouth when he parks. ‘I mean,’ he says, ‘how does a fake separation work?’

  ‘Like a real separation but with secret liaisons,’ I say. ‘It’ll be fun.’

  ‘You can separate and live in the same house, you know, because, legally, you’re allowed to share space but you can’t share it intimately. For example, you’re not meant to cook for each other, or do each other’s ironing, sleep in the same bed. I like sleeping with you, Rube. Remember that couple in New Zealand who separated and lived together? He painted a thick red line down their house; he got the shower and she got the bath and toilet.’

  Our place is so small that if we painted a thick red line down the middle of it we’d have to walk sideways. ‘And you reckon I’m crazy.’

  ‘So how, Ruby?’ He yanks the keys out of the ignition and I lean across to get our green bags.

  ‘You move into your dad’s.’


  ‘It’s perfect. The week after next, he and Catherine take off for Part Two of their trip around Australia and by the time they get back we’ll be almost ready to divorce. Plus, it’s close.’ I like the idea of visiting Mark in the middle of the night for a quickie. It’s a shame Keith and Cath don’t live in the flat downstairs.

  ‘Rube, just how Bridget Jones meets Sigmund Freud are we going to get?’

  I’m not a fan of supermarket shopping, nobody could be, but it has to be done. I grab a trolley. Where’s Mark?

  ‘What are you doing?’

  He has his own trolley. ‘I’m practising.’

  ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mark.’

  ‘This is your big idea, Ruby.’ He nudges me in the bum with his trolley. ‘You’re holding up the line. Move it.’

  The list in my head is a two-person job. Mark sails by. He tosses in jars of rollmops, pickled onions and that fish stuff you get in a toothpaste tube. He’s loving it. On the other side of the aisles, Mark’s trolley is almost full, and I’m struggling. I’ve got toilet paper, some broccoli and a bag of carrots, a six-pack of Diet Coke, maxi pads and tampons, and a mop. The trolley is like my mood.

  ‘Hey, Rube!’

  My best friend, Justine, is over at the deli. I almost didn’t recognise her husband, Stuart, without his beard. There is nowhere to hide in the sunny light and shining shelves of the supermarket. I’m not ready. I let go of my trolley, roll it away, and take Mark’s. He pushes me off.

  ‘You wanted this. Go on. Let’s see how far you can go.’

  ‘Hi guys, how’s things?’ I say.

  Mark brings my trolley back.

  ‘See my new man?’ Justine says. ‘How gorgeous is he? Like Michael Douglas with that dimple. What other secrets do you have, Roper?’

  She calls him Stuart, Stu or Roper. His mates call him The Rope, from his surname and from his job as an arborist. Justine says it was love at first sight. He knocked on her front door, she showed him the room she had for rent, and after a slow start, the rest is history.

  ‘Stu, wow, you look so different.’ I had no idea he had such a handsome chin.

  ‘Hey. Two trolleys? Are you having a party?’ Jus looks in mine. ‘Nope, not a party. Menstruation and housework. And Mark,’ she eyes his trolley, ‘a feast of bad breath and sleeping alone. What’s happening?’

  ‘We’re getting a divorce.’

  Justine looks about for somewhere to sit. There’s nowhere. She grips her trolley. Tears flow. Stuart is quick with an arm around her shoulder. It is the fastest meltdown in history.

  ‘God, Mark,’ I say. ‘You didn’t have to tell them like that.’

  ‘How else do you say it?’ He lowers his voice. ‘Look what you’ve started. This isn’t just about you. It’s going to have impact.’

  I can see that. We’re blocking access to the freezer aisle. Mark pulls the trolleys out of the way.


  It’s all one long, loud, blubbered word. Justine is getting attention. People look up from their crumpled lists and turn to see what the big deal is near the deli. I want attention, that’s the whole point, but my friend is upset. I would have liked to tell her in my own way. ‘It’s not as simple as that, Jus.’

  ‘Ruby, you and Jus should go and find somewhere to talk. We’ll look after this. You’ve got your phone?’

  ‘Since when do I go anywhere without it?’ I would kill him but I need him for the divorce.

  With an arm over Justine’s shoulder, I walk her out of the supermarket. We cross the road and I sit her at a table outside the closest coffee shop. Inside, I order two coffees and a choc-orange muffin.

  I take my seat opposite Justine. I can see the doors of the supermarket from here. ‘You okay? I’m sorry, Jus. You weren’t meant to find out like that. I’m sorry.’ I’ll say it as much as I have to.

  ‘Thank goodness for sunglasses,’ she says.

  At least she’s stopped crying.

  ‘Jus, we’re getting a divorce for marriage equality. Don’t look at me like that. The petitions aren’t working,’ I say. ‘Plus, this type of action suits me. I advocate for a living and I have always done stuff like this. In Year Ten I staged a sit-in for a condom vending machine. We got our condoms and I learned that I could make a difference. I also learned that two weeks of detention is harder, and way more boring, than it sounds.’

  ‘Ever consider you were good at advocacy because you’re not personally involved? This is your relationship.’

  ‘Jus, this is so close to my heart and I’ll be even better at it.’ My wedding ring sparkles in the sunlight. It’s shining on Justine’s face, highlighting her freckles, and silver-white flecks disco-ball their way across her navy T-shirt. I’m going to miss my ring.

  Our coffees come and the muffin looks good.

  ‘And Mark agreed?’

  ‘Not without strings. He wants to find out if we can have a baby.’ I stir sugar into my coffee and think about blood tests and wee tests.

  ‘Are you prepared for that, Ruby?’

  ‘Yeah.’ I wave a casual hand like finding out I’m barren is the easiest thing on earth. My coffee is way too hot. One day I’m going to invent waterproof Band-Aids for tongue burns. People will carry them around in their handbags and I’ll be able to retire.

  ‘Sure you’re ready?’

  Less than half a minute ago I was. ‘I have to find out what’s wrong eventually.’ I’ve given up telling Mark when I get my period. Justine gets to hear it first.

  ‘It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Divorcing even though you love one another? Don’t get me wrong. I get it, you want to stick up for Peta…I’m just not sure what it’s going to achieve, you separating. I mean, you love him.’

  ‘I love him more today than on New Year’s Eve.’

  She nods her head, sits with it, seems to be getting used to the citizen’s divorce, then the tilt of her head gives her away. ‘Don’t tell me you asked him for a divorce on your wedding anniversary?’ Justine throws her head back and laughs. I see her fillings. She slaps the table and coffee splashes out of the cups.

  While she’s collapsed, laughing, I cut the muffin in half, slice off a juicy corner, and take a bite. It’s all I can do to not spit the muffin onto the tablecloth. I swallow. I swig my coffee. Nope, I can still taste it.

  ‘All right, Jus
. All right. It’s great you can see the funny side. Have some muffin before I eat it all.’

  ‘Good idea.’ Justine is not your most delicate eater, she and Stu suit each other like that, and she jams a big piece of muffin into her mouth. She chews, chews again; she’s taken such a huge mouthful she can hardly get her jaws to work. She grabs a serviette and spits out the wet brown clag.

  My turn to laugh. My stomach hurts, my face hurts.

  ‘You bloody bitch!’ She’s laughing, too.

  I stand up. ‘I’ll tell the bloke behind the counter that their muffins aren’t quite right today. I reckon they left out the sugar.’

  ‘Later,’ she says, smiling an I’m-about-to-do-something-terrible smile. ‘Here come Stu and Mark. Stuart adores muffins.’

  ‘And you say I’m a bitch.’

  Mark orders coffee and Stu drags a chair closer to Justine.

  ‘You okay, Jus?’ He holds her hand. He has massive hands; they’re blocky and freckled, and he has tan spots from the holes in his special tree-climber gloves. ‘Can I have some of your muffin?’

  ‘Certainly,’ she says and turns her head because her face will give her away. ‘You can have all of it.’

  ‘Have a look at that,’ I say. There’s a woman across the road with four Jack Russells on leads and they all have little doggie sunglasses on. She has good timing, this woman, because there’s no way I can watch Stu without giving the game away either.

  ‘Christ!’ He leans across Justine and spits chewed muffin into the gutter. ‘What the hell flavour is that?’

  Justine is crying she’s laughing so hard.

  ‘You knew!’

  ‘Have you known her to share before?’ That’s Mark.

  ‘You want a divorce, Jus? I hear they’re the new black.’ He cleans his tongue with a serviette, runs it around his teeth, screws up the serviette, grabs another serviette and goes around again.

  ‘You can’t divorce her because she let you eat a petrol-like, sugarless muffin. You need a proper reason,’ I say.

  ‘Yeah,’ Mark says, ‘like marriage equality.’

  ‘I like it, Ruby,’ Stuart says. ‘I really do.’

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