Sport 38: Winter 2010
You phone to tell them that you are engaged. Well, thank goodness, your mother says, that is a relief.
Twelve months earlier, when you'd phoned to tell them that you and Jack were splitting up, that Jack was getting the next plane home, she'd said to you, 'But you'll come home too, won't you?' And before you could reply: 'You can't stay there, not on your own, not without Jack.'
It is 1979 but, really, this is how she thinks.
You stayed there.
'His name is Graeme,' you now say, untwirling the cord on the phone. 'He works for himself.'
You hear her intake of breath through the telephone wires that seem to stretch like taut rubber bands from where you sit on the front steps of your flat in Sydney, to the kitchen of your home in West Auckland.
'She says his name is Graeme,' your mother says.
Your mother always does this. She relays each statement of your conversation to your father like an echo. As she pulls the telephone receiver away from her face to call to him, you visualise him, sat there on one of the chrome-legged chairs he has dragged out from the dining table to the deck, where he breaks off toast crusts for baby sparrows huddled there at his feet, wings flapping around his open toe sandals.
'Did you hear that, Alan?' your mother says, and there is an almost perceptible soft crackle; fabric, or maybe it is beads around her neck rubbing together. You feel as though you are curled into the ear piece of her telephone, cradled somewhere near the base of her throat. 'Alan,' she calls to him again, your father who has worked for himself for thirty-five years digging drains by hand with just a shovel, to feed and clothe six children. Debt free.page 178
'Mum?' he answers her, and you wonder was it ever Maureen? 'He works for himself,' she shouts. 'Liz says the fiancé works for himself!'
Graeme is twenty-eight and has never been married. Never been caught, is how he puts it. He does contract electrical work. He told you this at your first meeting, your flatmate's twenty-first. You were sitting beside a swimming pool, eating honey-glazed ham in poppy seed rolls, downing waxed Lily cups of warm Chardon. He worked seven days a week, he told you over the gurgle of the pool filter. So does my father, you heard yourself say. He watched your mouth as you spoke and you found yourself gabbling on and on about your father. And when you finished at last, he leaned towards you.
'I've got one hundred thousand dollars, saved,' he said. 'On term deposit.'
He took a hanky from his pocket and dabbed at something stuck at the corner of your mouth.
You left the party early.
'Going already?' your flatmate said.
Graeme walked you to an immaculate Mercedes coupe. On the way home he turned off the main road, wound down to a beach, drove down a boat ramp and then over what felt like rock pools.
'It's okay. Tide's well out,' he said and you believed him. The beach was lit by the moon, the surf was miles out, but it still felt dangerous. You slept with him that first night.
'Have you done this before?' he said to you the following morning.
He didn't tell you that first night that the car was his brother's— his twin—who was visiting from his place up the coast, just for the weekend. Graeme drove a beat-up Datsun utility. You discovered this on the second date when he picked you up to take you to the squash courts to watch him play.
And that he lived with his parents. He slept in a single bed in the basement, the same one he'd had since he was a child. This is how you saved one hundred thousand dollars, he told you. You lay on his page 179 mustard candlewick bedspread. You heard the soft tread, a creak of a loose floorboard every so often; his elderly parents traversed the kitchen and living room above your head. The walls in his bedroom were constructed of concrete block. Cavity brick he told you and there was something about the word cavity that made you want to click your teeth together.
The cavities formed shelves for treasures: old bottles he had dug up, a kerosene lamp, a silver christening mug filled with washers and old coins. You lay face in to the wall and he was snug in behind you. He reached across your hip for your hand, lifted it above your head, ran your fingers over the surface of two indentations in the headboard of the bed. This is where my twin brother took a shot at me when we were kids, he whispered. Just a pea gun, though. I got his possum, see.
Graeme's twin brother Kevin was married with two children. Sprogs, he called them. His wife had not made the trip down from the coast when you met him. She was up the duff again, he told you at the pub. It was a Friday night. Graeme was running late.
'He's finishing a job off,' you said. 'He's a real worker.' 'Busy, busy boy,' Kevin said and handed you another wine.
Kevin was staying at a hotel just off the southern motorway. Four star, he said and you could hear your father's voice, pictured the curl of his lip when he said it: All mouth and no trousers.
Kevin was a taller, fuller version of Graeme, his shoulders broader by a hand span at least. You looked at your watch again. He shouldn't be long now, you said. Kevin laughed. You studied the wording on the coasters, and then Kevin was pushing back from the table, standing.
'Come on in, Boob,' he shouted over the top of your head and you turned to look back over your shoulder. Graeme grinned at you from the doorway of the bar. The stained-glass window at his back gave his complexion a greenish tinge. There was no explanation offered for this nickname you had never heard before and you resisted the urge to ask.
You stood then. Waved. Kevin said something you couldn't quite hear and made a grab for you, pulled you towards him as Graeme page 180 approached the table.
'I was here first little brother,' he said and you froze, but Graeme was all teeth and smiles.
'Hello arsehole,' Graeme said and he made a couple of shadow punches at his brother.
But it was a fact, Kevin said to you, later, when Graeme had gone to the men's, a fact that he was a full twenty-two minutes older than his brother. 'Boob didn't want to come out, that's what Mum always said. Boob's always been the slow one, bet he didn't tell you that.'
You laughed but there was an uncomfortable feeling in your chest, like a peach stone lodged there.
'Come round to the motel for a Chinese tomorrow night,' Kevin said at closing time. 'We'll get a movie.'
'I . . . I've got a job to finish off, mate,' Graeme said.
'Was I asking you, Boob?' Kevin said and he scooted his body along the bench seat towards you so that his shoulder butted up against yours.
Graeme's face reddened and his knee started a little jump-jump motion under the table and you felt you should have wanted to put your hand there to steady it, but instead you brought your glass to your mouth.
'Bloody funny ha-ha,' you heard Graeme say, but softly, so that Kevin didn't hear.
Kevin's motel room was a one-bedroom unit. There was a king-sized bed, and in the living area, an armchair and a couple of two-seater couches and a smoky-glass-topped coffee table. A stainless-steel-topped kitchenette was littered with empty beer cans. Graeme's Adam's apple bobbed when Kevin play-threw you onto the bed. The carpet was cream and soft when you took off your shoes.
In the bathroom you locked the door. Kevin's toilet bag was on a shelf above the bath. Inside, there was aftershave, miniatures like the duty-free ones you had bought for your father on your last trip home—Asprin, Mylanta tablets, a pink razor, his wife's you guessed. You opened the zipped side pocket; there were two packets in there, condoms and raspberry flavoured gel.
You looked into the mirror, brought a hand up to the back of your page 181 neck and touched the skin there. It was as if someone else looked back at you.
'Just cut it all off,' you had told them at the hairdressers that afternoon.
'Hell,' Graeme had said when he saw it. 'Not much left to hold on to.'
But it was Kevin's reaction that had you in the bathroom drinking down your rum and Coke too fast. The way he just looked at you, bit the corner of his lip and looked away. You dabbed lip gloss on the middle of your lips the way you'd seen your flatmate do.
From behind the bathroom door their voices were low.
'No. Nah. I don't think so.' Graeme gave a nervous high-pitched giggle. 'Not that. She wouldn't like those dirty movies. She wouldn't be up for that.'
'They're all up for it,' Kevin said.
He didn't laugh, and then there was music. It came on too loud; it was like a slinky version of something you'd hear in a lift well. You opened the door. Kevin squatted at the back of the television.
'God,' you said, 'glad my dinner's gone down, anyway.'
Kevin glanced back over his shoulder at you there and then he turned back, fiddled with the rabbit ears on the top of the set but you could still make out the fuzzy bodies on the screen, layered, arms and legs meshed together like fillings in club sandwiches. Graeme looked at you, hoisted the back of his trousers. His face was flushed.
'We don't have to stay. Kev won't care if we call it an early night . . .'
'She wants to stay,' Kevin said, and he came to sit beside you on the couch. 'It's you that's squirmin', Boob.'
'It doesn't bother me, Gray,' you said.
You lay on the king-sized bed in the motel bedroom. There was a House and Garden magazine in the rack by the window. You listened to Kevin's laughter coming from the lounge. You couldn't hear Graeme; was he still even watching you wondered. It didn't matter though. Tomorrow you would look at houses. Graeme had made an appointment with a real estate agent to take you around a few places you'd circled in the paper. He wanted an investment, something he page 182 could work on, improve. But you, you had already seen what you would buy, in the end. It was a two-storeyed red brick, white fretwork around the eaves, standard roses right up the front path. It was perfect. It would take time but you would talk him around.
And you could see your parents visiting you there, photographs taken back home, shared with the girls in the pharmacy up the street where you once worked after school—she's done very well—could see the yellow Kodak envelope passed back and forth over the boundary fence between neighbours—a steady bloke, not like that last one.
You linked your fingers through Graeme's as you left the motel room. Kevin kissed you hard, quick, on the mouth.
'Night night, gorgeous,' he said. 'Don't do anything old Kev wouldn't do.'
Heat rose up through your stomach. You were glad of the darkness. You waited for Graeme in the underground car park, waited while he unravelled a tangle of cabling and circuit breakers, watched him as he heaved the lot from the passenger seat into the back of the ute.
'Your chariot awaits,' he said, and he made a sweeping motion towards you with one hand. You breathed deep and slow and the night was perfumed, sweet. It was Queen of the Night. That's what it was. Your mother had it in the garden at home.
'Frangipani,' Graeme said, softly, looking across at you from the other side of the cab. 'I know my plants.'
'Just as well,' you said, and you let it go. 'Just as well.'