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I hate the way you laugh, Eric. I hate the way your lips pull back from yellow, even teeth. The way your eyes contract and secrete water like some insignificant marine life. An octopus, perhaps, or a squid.
Go on, what a laugh, you’d say. Get away. Leave off. Give over.
I can see you in your boots, Eric, the boots our dog loves. Polished mulberry leather. Jack boots, flying boots, Nazi boots. Sieg heil, Eric. Verboten. Schnell.
Little boots for your little feet. They don’t even fit me since, according to you, Eric, I’m a big foot, a philistine.
Do you remember watching Charade round on place on the telly? How you said I looked like Audrey Hepburn with my nose and everything and, when I ignored you, you got mad? Do you remember, Eric? You got so mad you went outside and started pulling up the bricks that line the driveway, threw them on the roof.
Give it a rest, I hear you say.
Growing tired of my story, Eric?
I don’t know what’s gone wrong, you told my husband. Can’t understand what’s got into her.
Russell shook his head. Good old Russ. You’re none the wiser are you, Eric? Neither is Russ – he wouldn’t know his clavicle from carpal tunnel syndrome. Gone to live with the bimbo in a townhouse in Leederville while I stay here with the kids.
Antoinette’s her name. Netti for short. Netti – what a joke. Sounds like a monster; something oversized from a cartoon show the kids might watch.
I shall conjure snakes for her head instead of permed hair, and a straggly moustache for Russ to kiss. Bent toes, knock knees. Warts.
I don’t know why I let you in my house, Eric. Of course I was in shock, but was it really that bad?
You put your shoes in my bedroom, unlaced those boots and tucked black socks inside. We had to shut the door in case the dog got at them.
Boots of dark mulberry leather.
The smell stays with me, Eric. Ripe and overblown. Spicy, even.
In the morning we drank instant coffee from mugs printed Russ and Jane. Gifts from the kids, long ago.
I could see you watching me, Eric. Saw those eyes smear over me in my dressing gown, carry on to the kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, dresser.
I was in a hurry, getting sorted. I knew Russ would have the kids back by nine at the latest so his Sunday could be spent with the Netti monster. Cappuccino and newspapers on some Northbridge pavement. And, later, a gallery or two. Shopping for vegies at the markets.
That’s when it hit me. I knew in the time it took you to look me over that I was jealous of Russ. Jealous of his bimbo, his townhouse, the Sunday they’d have all to themselves. Russ had got away. I could see that. Russ had found himself another life.
And there was me with you, Eric.
Go on with you, you’d say. Leave it out.
Have I ever said how much I hate your motorbike? Well, it’s true, Eric. I know the kids make a fuss, but I hate the way it leans into bends and the way you yell when I don’t lean the way I should, with the bike.
Blimey, Charley. That’s what you yell at me, stopping at each corner. Flaming heck. You daft pillock. Silly cow.
Sometimes I wish you a mishap on your bike. Nothing too serious, just a minor skittle. A bit of a roll, some grazes to show for it.
What do you think of that, then, Eric?
I love her, you wailed at Russ the night of the barbie. Looking up to big Russ like he was John Wayne, the only one who could save you.
Russ was stuck nodding while the Netti monster tried bonding with one of the twins.
You’d had too much to drink, Eric. Full to your boots, you were.
I love her, I do, you said. But she won’t let me make an honest woman of her.
Russ looked at me with eyebrows raised as if to ask that right, Jane?
Bugger you, I thought. Bugger the lot of you. I carried on slicing cabbage for the coleslaw.
I don’t see how, Russ was saying, when Jane’s still married to me.
That fixed you didn’t it? What could you reply to that, Eric? Not a word did we hear from you all through dinner and, after they’d gone, you crashed on a child’s bed while the kids piled in with me.
I worry about your friends, Eric. I worry about Howard, the Mormon, and the time he lavishes on his Sunbeam Rapier. Washing and polishing, spraying and buffing like the car’s a jewel, his prize, some giant marrow. Howard keeps well back in traffic. He’s wary of other drivers around him and honks to remind them he’s there.
Honking for Jesus, Howard? you say. Your little joke it is.
Give over, Eric, is Howard’s line. Cracks you both up.
Howard is someone mothers and older women adore. He doesn’t speak a young person’s language, even calls me ma’am.
Frank’s another one who’s not all there. (A few snags short of the barbie, not the full quid. Yes, yes, I know, Eric: His driveway doesn’t go all the way to the street).
Though he’s young and good looking, Frank prefers them even younger still and he’s got a record for his troubles. Married at eighteen to a childhood sweetheart, he spends most nights escaping her and their kid.
Frank is always pea-breathed, has chips and mashed potatoes of the mind.
Frank and Howard.
Where did you meet them, Eric? How do you come to own such friends as these?
Do you remember the time we four went out for Mexican? Howard honking all the way to Acapulco Annie’s with BYO Coronas warm from the boot.
Howard pulled out a chair for me and Frank eyed off the waitress.
Everything on the menu came stuffed with cheese and sour cream, and food arrived exploded onto plates. Frank tucked in as I picked over glued nachos, oily with molten cheese.
Love Mexican, said Frank, his mouth a clothes dryer twirling yellow, white.
Anything else you’d like, ma’am? asked Howard, handing me the dessert list.
Apple pie and ice cream. Fruit salad, pear compote, chocolate cheesecake.
Mexican? I squawked. Beneath the red plastic tablecloth, you kept a tight hold on my hand. The waitress waited. Perhaps Frank stopped eating, but only briefly. It was too much for me. I drank another Corona while you boys cleaned up dessert.
Hold my hand, Eric. Stroke each finger the way you do, one by one and finish with those circles on my palm.
Round and round the garden
like a teddy bear.
I love the way you touch me, Eric. I love the way you treat me like I’m easily broken, precious, smaller even than you.
What do you see in him? Russ whispered to me. The kids were running harem scarem from his car, up the driveway, around your bike and into the house. I could see the Netti monster stiff-shouldered in the passenger seat, glad to be done with them again, I’ll bet.
I said, what do you see in her, Russ? It was lost on him. Big dumb lug. Of course Antoinette’s pretty, but Russ doesn’t see beyond the obvious.
What do you see in him really means he’s so little and ugly and strange with that hair and the Harley and (this came later on the phone since Netti had caught sight of the damage) Forchrissakes, Jane, he threw what on the roof of our house?
Bricks, Russ, I told him. You know the ones that line the driveway? And what was that about our house?
Poor Russ; he’ll never understand.
How many roof tiles got broken? he asked.
Just a couple, Russ, not many –
Exactly how many, Jane?
Forty-seven, Russ, but –
What? You call forty-seven –
… that’s not counting the ones on the ridge capping –
You mean to tell me, that cretinous dwarf –
I hung up. I really did, Eric. I imagined him raving at the bimbo, going on and on like his brakes were off. The way he used to with me and the kids. Going mauve, one of the twins used to call it, pronouncing the e as in movie.
Look at Dad, he’s going mauve, she used to say.
I stared at the telephone and took a measure of my own breathing. Silence. Felt good. I said, Give over, Russ.