Unmarry Me, page 7
Diamond Lou’s Latte Club, where BJ works, has a deliberate down-home look. I’m immediately suspicious. I hope they don’t do pictures in their coffee. Coffee pictures make me suspicious, too. Diamond Lou is actually a woman. I expected a retired pirate, Johnny Depp with ragged grandkids. Lou wears a scarf to control her scruff of blue-black hair, and, like security trying to restrain shoppers on Boxing Day, the scarf is not up to it.
I wave at BJ and take a corner table.
‘You must be Ruby,’ Lou says.
‘I must be.’
We shake hands.
‘We like what you’re doing, Ruby.’ She wipes my table, moves on to the next one, gives that one a wipe.
‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘Who’s we?’
‘Fred and I. We don’t mind if you want to make the cafe Mad Idea Central.’
When you let your opinion be known, people want to give you theirs. It reminds me of what Peta said when she had Celeste. Strangers came up to her: ‘Oh, poor baby’s tired’, ‘Oh, poor baby’s teething’. Suddenly Peta and her baby were public property. It gave her the shits.
Yes, divorcing a perfectly good husband is mad, but it could work. Something’s got to work soon because I’m going on adrenaline and I’m about to run out. I think it’s the empty bed.
‘Ruby, I’ll get a coffee happening for you.’
‘Thank you.’ I’m all good manners on a first date.
BJ slides a latte onto the table. ‘Todd says he’ll be with you in a minute. He’s smart, Rube, he knows his shit. Just don’t go falling in love with him.’
While Todd’s busy at the machine I check him out. PR is full of good-looking people and Todd was born for it. He’s dark blond, wears a three-day growth every day, so BJ tells me, and he looks like a nice guy. He has a tea towel hanging out of his back pocket, which, on anybody else, would be clichéd but on Todd it is Bruce Springsteen. And he has a burn scar from his left jaw down his neck, pink and shiny; it gives him an edge, makes him seem vulnerable-dangerous.
‘BJ, it’s Mark and me till the end of time.’
Todd’s customer leans all over the bench, laughing and swishing her hair. She touches his hand. No wonder most of the customers are female. You have Todd for the girls who like boys and BJ for the girls who like girls who look like boys.
‘He is nice to look at.’
BJ rolls her eyes. ‘That’s what they all say.’
I wish Todd didn’t look that good. I find it hard to take beautiful people seriously. Or maybe it’s that I can’t take myself seriously when I’m with one. Years ago I saw a physiotherapist for a knee injury and I didn’t listen to a word he said. I couldn’t, his jaw and forearms were spectacular. To this day I don’t what the knee problem was but bodacious Dr B fixed it. Anyway, here comes Todd.
‘First thing you want to do is name this thing,’ Todd says. ‘Give it a trademark and something visual. BJ tells me you’ve been calling it a citizen’s divorce. I don’t mind that, it has a sense of what you’re doing, but it’s not sexy.’
Todd would know ‘sexy’. His burn must go down across his collarbone and onto his chest because I glimpse it at the top of his left bicep. I try not to stare. Every woman in the cafe is pretending she’s not looking at Todd. Except BJ, who is pretending she’s not looking at me.
‘You know I can’t pay you much, right?’
‘I understand that,’ Todd says. ‘I’m looking at this as an opportunity to learn and be part of something. Anyway, we may figure out a way to monetise it. You never know.’
‘Sounds good to me.’ I’m not in love with the word ‘monetise’ but it sounds cool when Todd says it.
‘Anyway, I came up with this.’ He opens the folder. There’s a sticker: a yellow circle with a bright-pink love heart in the middle and the word unmarryme all in lowercase across the heart in eye-swimming blue. ‘I know I should have asked first but we can chuck them out if you don’t like it. It’s only money, right?’
I wish marriage equality was only money. I’d take out a second, third, tenth mortgage and get my husband back. I touch the sticker. It’s shiny-smooth. I trace the heart.
‘Unmarryme,’ I say. ‘I love it. Unmarryme. That’s exactly right. One of our friends said something like that on the first day. Unmarryme.’
‘Boy, what a relief,’ Todd says. He’s smiling, even blushing a little. He looks like the kid who just kicked the winning goal.
I smile, too. I’m nodding and smiling and nodding some more. ‘This is the first time in weeks I’ve felt that what I’m trying to do might make a difference. Thank you so much, Todd.’ I want to hug him but he’s an employee, sort of, and he’s too attractive to touch.
He turns the page. ‘I know I’ve jumped the gun a bit, Ruby, with the stickers, but I had such a good feeling about unmarryme and I know a dude who made them at a good price.’ Dude? BJ says dude. It must be a coffee-shop thing. ‘I stuck one on Mum’s car and she’s been driving around with it for a couple of days. I put one on my car, too. It looks less like a piece of crap now it has something shiny on it.’
‘Your car can’t be that bad. How many stickers do we have?’
‘Fifty. The same dude does badges, T-shirts, posters, mugs, bags, whatever you can dream up.’
Todd is as smart as paint. I could do with him at work. I’d offer him a job, but with people sitting around watching him come and go all day he’d wind up having to do everything himself.
‘Stickers and T-shirts are good,’ I say. ‘We definitely want T-shirts.’
‘Ruby, I reckon the best way is a slow-burn approach. You’ve got a year until the divorce, after all. We don’t want to lose momentum before you sign on the dotted line.’
‘Actually, we’re into our fourth month. Only eight long and lonely months to go. Thanks for reminding me.’
Even when he frowns, Todd’s a catch.
‘Now you’ve seen them, we can get the stickers all over town, and we can do some of those postcards.’ He points to the rack of free postcards by the front door. ‘People are always picking those up. We get the T-shirts out there, plus badges. We’ve got to have badges. We get a buzz going. I see it as, what’s unmarryme? There it is again, unmarryme? Unmarryme, what’s that about?’
I take a sip of my coffee. I’m so excited I spill some down my chin. I hope Todd didn’t see. I wipe my mouth on the back of my hand. ‘We’ll need a website,’ I say. I could look into this myself but I decided years ago that making websites was something for other people.
‘I was thinking a Facebook page. It’s free, everybody has it, and the first thing you put up is your video.’
‘Huh? What video?’
‘You diving into the bushes. It’s a classic. The dive, legs in the air, the sandal. It’s art. Well, not art.’
I’m not sure, but I think people recognise me from that thing. I get the odd sidelong glance on the train and at the supermarket. ‘Christ, really?’ I say, then, on seeing Todd’s doubtful face, ‘I mean, excellent.’
He looks at his watch; break-time must be up. ‘Everybody loved that YouTube but people didn’t know what it was about. We put it up, you tell a bit of a story and we introduce unmarryme to the world.’
It’s been half an hour since he sat down. I have to pay him because I would never have come up with unmarryme myself.
‘Todd, I’m not sure what the going rate is for a genius-uni-student-being-part-of-something but I have a hundred dollars.’ I hand it to him. ‘Is that fair until we work something out?’
‘That’s great, thank you.’ He pushes the money into his hip pocket. ‘You hold on to the folder. Get the stickers around town. Stick them anywhere. We’ll be making more, this time with the website on them. I’ve written my number on the inside sleeve.’ He has coffee in his fingernails and ground into his knuckles; it makes his hands look old, hard-bitten. ‘I’ll be in contact in a day or so to organise the shoot.’
‘The unmarryme story to go
‘Of course. Right. Good. Facebook. Good.’
At bedtime I call Mark. No answer. He’s probably in the shower. I try again fifteen minutes later. I try both the landline and his mobile. Nothing. Whatever he’s doing I hope he’s thinking about me because I think about him all the time.
I leave a message. ‘Hey Boydy, missed you, talk tomorrow.’
He must be at work and can’t pick up the phone. He’s pulled more than a few all-nighters in his time; we both have. I’m not going to think about Crazy Beautiful.
At ten past one my phone rings. Mark. He sounds drunk but says he isn’t. He’s been at a work dinner that went longer than expected.
‘I mean, way longer, baby.’
‘You are drunk.’
‘It’s not the alcohol, it’s the drinking,’ he says.
‘Let’s talk tomorrow night when you’re sober and I’ve had some sleep.’ I haven’t turned the light on and I’m looking at the ceiling I can’t see.
‘I just wanted to hear your voice,’ he says.
‘So did I, about three hours ago.’
‘I miss you, Rube.’
I hear traffic. People. It’s Monday night. They should be in bed like the rest of us, except taxi drivers and trauma surgeons.
‘You’re getting into this bachelor thing, aren’t you?’
‘Not really. Maybe bachelors stay out all night because there’s nobody to come home to. It looks like freedom but actually it’s loneliness.’
For a drunk bloke, Mark makes reassuring sense.
‘You want me to pick you up? I could tuck you in.’ I’ve got to be up early tomorrow for a breakfast meeting at the venue; we’re going to taste some food and check out the space for the gala. But I’d pick him up if he wanted.
‘No, Rube, go back to sleep. I’ll split a cab with one of the guys.’
‘All right, Boydy. I love you.’
‘Sames.’ He hangs up.
True to his word, Todd calls back and arranges the Facebook shoot. Diamond Lou lets us use the cafe and Todd makes sure to get some good food and drink shots. There’s nothing like cross-promotion for your unmarriage.
I’ve done public speaking, it’s part of my job—rooms of ten to a hundred, pitches, conferences—but today is all about me and I’m rubbish.
‘For someone so outspoken and professional, Ruby, you’re coming off a bit crap. It’s only a minute of speaking; try forget the camera is there.’
Good-looking and direct. Shut up, Todd. ‘I’m trying.’
‘It’s okay, Ruby. We don’t want you too smooth. We want you to look like you’ve got it down, but you’re just a dude in the world.’
Dude again. Yep, a coffee-shop thing. It’s a good idea to have the shoot in the cafe; I look like a normal person, surrounded by normal people, doing their normal latte things. But the audience is putting me off. ‘Okay, I’m a dude in the world. Give me a minute.’
‘Why don’t we shoot it at an angle?’ Todd says. ‘I can sit in that chair, we put the camera here.’ He sits it on the edge of the table. ‘You sit where you are and talk to me off camera. Don’t forget we can edit it.’
‘Who am I talking to? God?’
‘Let’s just try. It’s for unmarryme. Ready?’
The video turns out okay. I used my newsreader voice, tried to keep my tone sexy-confident. I talk about Peta and BJ and the High Court, I mention the bush dive, and say that my husband and I are divorcing for marriage equality. I say unmarryme at least ten times. We get good shots of the cafe, Todd making coffee, me drinking coffee, the unmarryme logo, and Diamond Lou and me in intelligent-looking conversation (we were talking about urinary tract infections, but nobody needs to know that).
Todd says he’ll run the Facebook page. I love that he thinks it will be so busy it will need administering. Maybe he’s worried about the junk people will put on it. Either way, look out world, here comes unmarryme.
The car in front of me has an unmarryme sticker. I try to get a look at the driver, but it’s too dark, and I can’t tell if it’s a woman or a man. I do a quick head-check then flick on my indicator. I follow the little white Audi across the intersection and all around the neighbourhood. Past a truckie being breath-tested, past a breakdown, a silver Mercedes with its hazards on. Why doesn’t the Audi park someplace? It swings round a corner, I trail, neither of us indicating the turn because it’s so fast. Another turn, then another. We’re almost back to where we came from. The Audi pulls into a petrol station. Finally, I see who wants marriage equality as much as I do.
It’s a woman. She doesn’t get fuel, which is weird at a petrol station. She talks to the attendant. Now they’re both looking at me. She points and he nods. The attendant makes a phone call. The woman waits inside.
The blue and red lights of the police are garish in the darkness. A man in uniform knocks on my window. I press the button.
‘Miss, we’ve received a complaint.’
Sergeant McManus. I don’t have to see his face to know it’s him. His voice is hard gravel; listening to him makes my throat sore.
‘Is that you, Ms Wheeler?’
‘Were you following that car?’
‘Sort of. I was following a sticker.’
‘The driver thought she was being stalked, as she puts it, by a maniac.’
‘She was driving like one, squealing around corners, shooting through a stop sign back there. I just wanted to talk to her and she went bananas. It was scary.’ I feel my eyes widen as I talk.
‘Wait here,’ McManus says.
His partner is inside with the woman and there’s a lot of harassed female body language going on. I speak that language and it doesn’t look like a good conversation. I hop out and hurry to catch up with Sergeant McManus.
‘Can I talk to her?’ I nearly grab his sleeve. This is my chance to make unmarryme work with a stranger, so I better settle down. ‘I need to explain myself.’
‘Yes and that.’
The woman has straight, blonde, shiny hair and her make-up and fingernails look as if they’ve been done by a professional. Her jewellery is tasteful; she is way classier than I was at her age. And she’s not so afraid when she has three men—one attendant and two policemen—on her side.
‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ She’s standing with a hand on her hip, like Peta does, and I wonder if they’re both in some club, the one that won’t accept me as a member.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I’m really sorry. I was excited to see my sticker on your car. It’s the first one I’ve seen other than the ones my friends and family have.’ Nobody has told her that leggings are not pants but now is not the time.
‘So you stalk me?’
‘It wasn’t stalking, I just wanted to see what type of person has an unmarryme sticker on their car.’
‘And what type of person am I?’ She tosses her head.
Sergeant McManus wants this finished.
‘Do you feel the need to take this further?’ he says to the woman. ‘It looks to me like a simple misunderstanding. A classic case of determination meets stupidity. Wouldn’t you say so, Ms Wheeler?’
Humble pie tastes so good that I often go back for more. I face the woman. She’s about BJ’s age, twenty-five. I hope she’s not as tough as BJ. I have a brainwave. ‘Would you accept two tickets to Springsteen as an apology?’ I fish them out of my purse and hold them up. Peta is going to kill me.
‘Really?’ The woman’s cheeks turn rosy. ‘Do you mean it?’
I would have thought she was too young for The Boss but maybe she’s going to give them to her mum. I guess there’ll be other Springsteen concerts. It’ll teach me to keep my mouth shut when I buy Peta her birthday presents. And it’ll teach me not to stalk people.
McManus wants to call it a night. ‘So, you’re okay?’
Bethany nods. ‘We’re fine. It was a misunderstanding.’
‘And you, Ms Wheeler, we’re done?’
Yep, McManus has bad guys to catch. ‘Yes, Sergeant. Sorry to see you again so soon.’
‘Me too, Ruby. You’re lucky it was us, other coppers might not be as indulgent. Let’s try to keep it to YouTube.’
‘You’ve seen it.’ I don’t make that a question anymore.
The nightly phone call starts with controversy. ‘I just had a call from Declan McManus.’
Pretending I don’t know what Mark is talking about: ‘And how is he?’
‘Well, you tell me, since you saw him only a few hours ago.’
I pull the doona over my head. Yes, Mark can’t see me, but embarrassment still happens when you’re alone. ‘It was a misunderstanding.’ That’s what Bethany said.
‘You have a lot of misunderstandings.’
Two pillows under my head, one at my side, one on the floor by the door to stop spiders coming in—I’m comfortable now. Mark used to complain that the floor wasn’t the place for pillows. I said the bedroom isn’t the place for spiders, and the pillow stayed.
‘How’s things?’ I say. ‘I miss you. I miss Celeste. How is she?’
‘Celeste is great. I took her to the Fairy Tree the other day. It was way more magical when I was a kid. She liked it, though, as well as the little village.’
‘I love that village. I always want to shrink myself and swim in that tiny little creek. Maybe I can take her to the park this weekend. How’s work?’
‘Work’s good, busy. Getting a lot done.’
That’s about all he ever says about work. Maybe my face glazes over at the mention of constitutional law. I’ll have to train myself to be interested so I can get a better idea of what he does. Or maybe he’s deliberately light on about what he does because he’s a spy and he’s always off on secret missions to hotspots, like Canberra. Or maybe it is as boring as I think it is and he’s afraid I’ll go off him. Fat chance. I guess I don’t go into the particulars about my work, either.