Unmarry Me, page 6
Peta nods and picks up my hand, stares at the empty space on my finger. ‘How are you going without your ring?’
‘I’m getting used to it. I don’t even know where it is. Mark put them somewhere safe, he said. Are you going to eat that? And why is it all me today? Is something wrong?’
Peta has a problem with food at lunchtime and says half a sandwich is her limit. I’m all for helping her out. In fact, I’ve been helping myself out a lot since Mark went to his dad’s. This morning I cleaned out my bag and found seven chocolate bar wrappers. And yesterday, after everybody left, I scouted about the floor looking for chocolate and found a Bounty in Don’s desk. Not my favourite, but it did the trick and today I’ll replace it. I’m going to have to ease off on the not-midnight snacks, before my clothes start wondering what the hell is going on. But there’s no way I’m telling Mark I’ve got compensatory eating disorder because I’m missing him.
‘Nothing’s wrong. Rube, I’m sorry I made such a fuss.’
‘Don’t worry about it. I’m not. I’m just trying to miss him the right amount, enough to know I care, not so much that I have to cry myself to sleep.’
‘I bet he cries himself to sleep more than you do,’ she says, and that’s when I decide that I will tell her about the mayonnaise.
‘You think?’ I pass Peta a serviette and nod at her face.
‘He was around last night for an extraction and he spent forever in the bathroom and when he finally emerged his hair was wet.’
‘Poor guy, maybe I need to call him, give him a few sexy things to think about while he’s doing his business.’
‘Not gross. Babies.’
‘It’ll work. Relax.’
‘You telling me to relax, that’s a good one,’ Peta says. She checks the time on her phone. ‘One more minute and I’ve got to get going.’
She’s into not being late. That’s okay, neither am I. ‘Did he mention me?’ I say, knowing I sound like I’m in Year Eight with a tube of Clearasil in my pencil case. ‘How did he look?’
‘I don’t know.’ She shrugs. ‘How he looks.’ It just goes to show that when it’s gone it’s gone. She used to carry on about Mark’s eyes, and his hands, his arse, and now all I get is a shrug. If I asked Peta what BJ was wearing last Tuesday, she’d have it down to her socks. ‘You’re still talking to him every night?’
‘I couldn’t sleep without it.’
If I hold the phone really, really tight, I can almost pretend that Mark is in bed with me, and that the cramped feeling of the phone against my ear is us sharing a pillow.
‘So tell me,’ I say.
‘Nothing was doing. Just the pressure to get BJ pregnant. So I got in the shower.’
‘The usual spot, huh?’
‘Well, yeah,’ he says. ‘So I’m in there for a while, and I’m trying to get in the mood, but I keep thinking about BJ…’
‘She is gorgeous,’ I say. Yeah, she’s gorgeous, in a boyish, not-me kind of way and I don’t want him thinking about BJ.
‘She is, but she’s not my type. She’s Peta’s. So still nothing and then I get the image, you and me, our first time. Remember it?’
‘How could I forget, Boydy?’
The first time Mark and I had sex was three weeks after he found out Peta had fallen in love with BJ. I’d offered my spare room and he moved in straightaway. I suggested the room as a ‘just friends’ thing, but really I suppose I hoped he might see me, like me, if he stayed at my place. It was a Saturday and he said he was going for a run. I sleep in on Saturdays but that morning I was up.
He was sitting at the kitchen bench and I leaned over and kissed his forehead, his ear, his eyes. I got to his lips. I grabbed him by the straps of his singlet and showed him I wasn’t letting go.
‘Ruby…’ he said.
‘Shhh,’ I said. ‘Don’t say anything.’ I looked up and could see us in the shiny base of the light fitting. Madonna’s ‘Don’t Tell Me’ was on the radio. The song was loud, the chair rock-rocking on the tiles was loud, we seemed to match the beat, and Madonna was singing what I was thinking, please don’t tell me to stop. I smile every time I hear that song. I’m smiling now.
‘That’d work for me, Mark.’
‘It worked for me, too. I was off, in a manner of speaking. Have you made the doctor’s appointment, Rube?’
‘Do you want me to call her?’
‘Mark, I’ll call my doctor. Do you want to watch TV? Maybe Dirty Harry is on.’ I have a theory that somewhere in the world Dirty Harry is getting his man.
‘Sure, I’ll have a look,’ he says.
While I wait, I pull the doona up and snuggle into Tall Guy.
‘The Gauntlet is on Chanel Nine.’ He sounds as tired as I feel. ‘If I fall asleep don’t wake me, okay.’
‘I was going to say the same to you. I love you, Boydy.’
‘I love you, too, like Clint Eastwood loved Sondra Locke.’
It’s strange watching your husband, best friend, really, come up the steps to his old house, the one he shared with your sister, to pick up his daughter, the one he made with your sister, to take her home. And not to your home, the flat that you shared with him up until three months ago, but to the place he grew up in.
For some reason I forgot Mark would be picking up Celeste today. I suppose Freud would say that I didn’t forget, that I planned it this way, that my subconscious is running the show and I wouldn’t mind blaming somebody else, but Freud can get fucked because I forgot.
I should have called ahead. If I’d called, Peta would have told me Mark was coming. I would have said, ‘All right, I’ll leave it,’ and then she would have said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I’d have to try to explain, when I don’t even know what’s wrong except that I wish I wasn’t here right now. So I’m glad I didn’t call.
‘Hi,’ Mark says. ‘You look good.’
God, we’re on ex-speak. ‘Ah, thanks.’ He likes me in my bike clothes. ‘So do you,’ I say. He’s wearing a shirt I haven’t seen. It’s tight around his biceps and cut narrow at the waist. ‘Is that new?’
‘Yeah, Ravi’s importing them. Nice, huh?’
Ravi is Mark’s best mate. Ravi and Theresa got divorced—for real—last year. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, it’s their business, but it’s taken Ravi a while to get back on his feet. That makes it seem like it was Theresa’s idea. Who knows? They have a little girl and Ravi’s arrangement is like Mark’s, every second weekend.
‘Very nice, Mark.’
We talked last night: we laughed about work, and Peta, and her ridiculous lists. Top ten ice-cream flavours, top ten ways with leftover mashed potato. Who the hell ever has leftover mashed potato? Mark said.
Still, I feel weird today. Awkward. ‘Can we have a hug at least?’ I say. ‘There’s no one around.’
He’s big, strong, his new shirt is soft and silky, and he smells good. He breathes out hard and we stay like that, holding, breathing, standing in the middle of The Girls’ lounge room.
‘Did you make the appointment?’
‘Can you do it this week? Please.’
‘Sure.’ I probably will. It feels like I might.
I love it when he asks.
We kiss. It’s been less than three months since the separation and I feel shy. What’s it going to be like next month? In six months? Will we still be talking every night?
‘Ahem.’ Peta has Celeste and her gear. Celeste loves Mark’s old aeroplane wallpaper.
‘Hi Pumpkin!’ He hauls Celeste up onto his hip. ‘Honey, how are you?’ He kisses her and then she leans across to me for a kiss.
‘Ooby!’ That is going to stick. Still, good on her, R is not the easiest letter for a little mouth to get around. ‘Ooby.’
When it’s all going to crap, it’s great to have a kid like Celeste to bring you back to what’s possible. She’s the best. I love that she looks like me, even though it’s only because her mother is my sister. I have got to make that doctor’s appointment. I want a baby. I want a baby that looks like me because of me.
Mark collects Celeste’s handbag, one of Peta’s cast-offs, and her duck, Muck. It hurts to watch him bundle her into the car. I don’t want to wave goodbye, but Celeste is waving, so I do. I turn from the window before they drive off.
Home from work, BJ dumps her bag on the kitchen table. ‘Celeste gone already?’ She looks under the table. If we were at home that’d be the first place I’d look. ‘Bugger, I missed her,’ BJ says. ‘Look what I brought her.’ She has a takeaway container holding a gingerbread pig with pink icing.
While she’s finishing uni, BJ works at a coffee shop down the road. She used to be a bike courier but the novelty rubbed off after her second broken collarbone. She still rides her bike but she figures the less time spent on bitumen the fewer car bonnets she’ll flip over.
‘Hey, BJ, I’ve got an idea,’ I say.
‘I knew this wasn’t a social visit,’ Peta says to me.
‘It was, is,’ I say. ‘I just thought of it, just then. Anyway, BJ, I’ve got a proposal for you.’
‘You’re not marrying her, she’s mine. Anyway, you’re not allowed.’
‘It’s about that.’
‘I’m listening,’ BJ says. She doesn’t look pregnant but it’s only been two weeks since the last extraction. ‘Is there money in this proposal?’
‘Maybe.’ There’s goodwill and free food. I’ll just ask, bull by the balls and all that. ‘Would you be my campaign manager?’
‘Your what?’ Peta asks, incredulous, but I ignore her because I didn’t come here to argue. I didn’t come for anything, really, except some awkward, heart-achey, surprise-not-surprise time with Mark.
‘I need help. I don’t know what I’m doing. Obviously.’
‘She doesn’t have time.’ Peta answers for BJ and gets a dark, long look for her trouble.
‘I might have time.’ BJ sits at the table with the chair facing the other way so she can lean forward on the back of it. I bet she sits that way because her mother told her not to.
‘She’s studying and she doesn’t need distractions.’
BJ is doing Honours in Ancient World Studies. I’m sure a working knowledge of Homer and his crusty old mates comes in useful at the coffee shop.
‘I’d like to be your campaign manager,’ BJ says. ‘But I don’t know shit from clay about that stuff. Todd at work is doing Communications or PR or something. He’d haveideas for us. You could ask him.’
I like that BJ says ‘us’, that’s supportive, but ‘shit from clay’? Maybe I am talking to the wrong person.
Peta unloads the dishwasher, clanging pots and slamming doors. She hurls the cutlery into the drawers.
‘What is your problem?’
‘I don’t want BJ involved. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. Don’t you remember your underpants thing?’
Well, hell. That’s a twenty-year promise broken. ‘I thought we decided to forget about that.’
‘What underpants thing?’
‘Go on, tell BJ.’ Peta’s face is red.
‘When I was at school I campaigned for condom machines in the girls’ toilets. No big deal.’ Since Celeste will be gone for a few days, I wonder if I can have her little gingerbread piggy.
‘And the underpants?’
Say underpants and people are hooked. ‘I started a thing called the Underpants Alliance because I couldn’t see why condoms would be in the boys’ toilets and not the girls’. STDs aside, unplanned pregnancy is a women’s issue, blah blah, you know the line. A whole group of us were going to head to the council offices in our undies and T-shirts—to get the issue on the agenda.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, I’ll tell it,’ Peta says. ‘The “whole group”,’ Peta does air quotation marks and I want to bend her fingers back, ‘turned out to be just Ruby. But, undeterred, she staged a one-person sit-in at the council offices. She taped herself to the door and people had to step over her to get in.’
I will never forget the looks those people gave me as they stepped over me. The only person who came over to find out what was going on was an old woman who was in to see about her meals on wheels. Get dressed and go home, dear, she said. Well, I would have got dressed but somebody had nicked off with my bag of clothes. I couldn’t stop them because I was taped to the door. The scissors were also in the bag, and my money, and my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
‘They could have cut her free anytime, but I think they left her restrained in order to teach her a lesson. The worst part was that I had to come and get her because Mum was in hospital for the first of her tests. I had to take Ruby home on the bus in her Mickey Mouse underpants and Kiss T-shirt. Everybody stared. I was already known as Ruby’s sister, I mean, that’s what everybody called me, never my name.’
‘We got the condoms, though.’
‘The whole episode was painful,’ Peta says.
Too right, but freedom fighting is not always comfy. Those tiles weren’t comfortable, the tape tore all the tiny hairs off my wrists and they haven’t grown the same way since, and getting back to school to a locker full of condoms was not as funny as it would have been if it had happened to somebody else. Peta, for instance.
‘It sounds great.’ BJ doesn’t mind a bit of acting out.
‘We made a promise never to mention it,’ I say.
If Peta dries her hands any harder she’ll have to pick her skin out of the tea towel. ‘You are putting Mark through hell for no good reason. What if he walks? We want to have another baby with him.’
‘You are a selfish bitch, Peta.’
‘What did you say? I’m selfish? You kicked your husband out. As if the actions of one unimportant person are going to make a difference.’
That’s when I slap her in the face. And the second it takes me to feel the sting in my hand is the same second that Peta’s volcano erupts. Whoosh!
‘Stop it! Stop it!’ BJ yells.
Around and around the kitchen we go, fridge, pantry, highchair, fridge, pantry, highchair, until Peta pushes the table and I’m jammed against the wall. She’s a thinking woman’s fighter.
‘Well, Pete. Now what?’
‘I’ll show you what.’ She swings the pantry door open and throws whatever she can get her hands on. I duck, but ducking doesn’t work from the position I’m in. She hurls a packet of flour and I put out a hand to block it. The packet is partly open and flour explodes into the air like a dusty fountain. ‘Ha!’ she says, and she’s back to the pantry. Caster sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar.
BJ is in the pantry doorway. ‘Peta! Stop! Stop it!’
‘Tell her to stop!’
Peta has a plastic bottle of tomato sauce in her hand. I brace myself because it’s going to hurt. She smiles. I’ve had it. She twists the lid. Squeezes. In slow motion I see the thick, red swoosh. Tomato sauce stings your eyes and, up your nose, it burns.
‘That’s it.’ BJ reaches past Peta, grabs the mustard and throws it to me.
‘What are you doing?’ Peta turns to BJ and, in that instant, I squeeze. The side of her face, her ear, her hair, down her neck, all yellow.
Her attention back on me, Peta squeezes her tomato sauce bottle but she has shot her load. Sauce comes out in dribbles. I’m still armed and I give her another blast.
High heels and all, Peta leaps onto the table. I didn’t know she had it in her. Two steps in, she slips on a mixture of sauce and flour and mustard, and she is down. Flat on her back. Air comes out of her lungs in a gust, like a blown-out tyre, flour drifts out from underneath her, and it reminds me of the videos you see of buildings being demolished.
‘Ouch…my back. God.’
‘Here, hang on to me.’ Peta takes BJ’s hand. I’m still wedged into the wall. Peta has flour and sauce and mustard all over her back and there’s a Peta print on the table.
‘BJ, Beej,’ she moans. ‘I’ve fractured something in my back, my shoulder, my latissimus dorsi, something.’
‘You’re fine.’ BJ has perspective. She’s been hit by cars, slipped on tram tracks, been chased by an Alsatian and has hunted down a bike thief.
With Peta possibly injured, I feel safe enough not to need six feet of wood between us. I push the table away. ‘You okay, Pete?’
‘She’s fine. You two are tragic. Peta, I’ll help Ruby however I want. You have got to get your head around this. They’re doing it. And it won’t work, if it ever does, without a following. Ruby, you are not a steamroller. I’ll talk to Todd for you, but, Ruby, you do not get to slap my wife. Ever.’
‘I’m sorry, Peta. I’m sorry, BJ. I’m under pressure. I miss Mark.’
‘That’s no excuse,’ Peta says.
I stamp my foot. ‘I was about to say that.’
‘I’m sorry, too. Sorry I ran out of sauce.’ She punches me in the shoulder, but it’s an I-love-you punch. You can do anything to your sister and she’ll forgive you. Thank God.
‘I’m not sorry you ran out of sauce, it smells like McDonald’s in here.’ BJ fumbles under the sink and comes up with two pairs of rubber gloves. ‘Look, matching pairs. Get on with it. And don’t forget that.’ She points at the ceiling. Sauce and mustard. ‘I’ll be back later to check it’s all done. Now, I’m having a shower and I’m going to use all the hot water.’
We have to work from the ceiling down. I give Peta a break from the table and climb up. There is tomato sauce on the light fitting and mustard on top of the pantry.
‘And when I get back, Peta,’ BJ says. ‘We can talk about me for a change. Did you know my mother has been having it off with my father?’