I like darkness more than light. Fiction. Drama. I like mystery. I also like to make up stories.
She was in her thirties when I met her. She answered my advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald for:
$120 p/w, ASAP,
old stone cottage,
She was perfect (is perfect). It was her eyes that gave her away; they were troubled – velvet brown, plush with sadness. I wasn’t exactly her ideal. She was actually wanting a man, at the very least a baby. She wanted to feel love.
As for me, I was twenty-three, quite lost. But things changed when she came along. The more time I spent with her, the more I felt I was becoming her.
‘This is it,’ she said as they slowed to an idle in the sedan. Beyond the ‘For Sale’ sign she could see a small fibro cottage peeping through the bushes, grey with white window frames. Around the letterbox sprouted orange and yellow flowers, and strange-looking weeds that reminded her of the plants in The Day of the Triffids.
‘Don’t get your hopes up,’ he said.
‘Trust me, this is it. I’ll bet money on it.’ His lips protruded in response, plump and rubbery, and a loud breath shot from his nostrils.
‘They’ll want plenty for it,’ he said.
She looked at him. Bulky. Fit. She could picture his lungs: two big rugby balls beneath a firm breast plate. Reaching across the seats, she shimmied her hand up the back of his head. ‘You, my dear boy, can get whatever you want.’
It was three days later when he put the phone back on the hook.
‘They took the offer.’
‘You see, I was right.’ She was running on the spot, beating her fists in the air. ‘Yipeeee! I was right. I was right. I was right.’
‘Sure. You were right. But I have to get rid of my unit, first. Then we have to work out how we’re going to pay for it.’ His voice called after her as she spun across the wholemeal carpet and into the kitchen. She opened the fridge, singing falsetto, the hills are alive with the sound of music, kicked the fridge door shut, then swung round, hair flying, hip out, a bottle in each hand, remaining fingers fanned in the air.
‘Which would Monsieur prefer? Champagne? VB? Come on. Let’s drink.’
Oh, one of the things I loved about this crazy girlfriend of mine was her voices. She was English so there was the imperious and nasal: wan this and wan that, when she was annoyed. A good dollop of cockney slipped in when she was relaxed. And there was the nutty little chipmunk voice when she wanted something.
Later that night, at the unit, she hugged him.
‘We’re going to have a home, a real home,’ she said, and she squeezed him to her, so close, he yelped.
‘Steady on, you’ll have one of my ribs broken in a minute,’ he said.
‘As if. Don’t be such a girl.’ She put her arms around his neck. Then she lifted a leg to his waist, and with a jig he helped her wrap herself around him. And then: ‘I just love you. I love you like a house on fire, I love you ten feet under the sea. I could drown in you.’
She really was beautiful, this girlfriend of mine. I suppose if I’d been an optimistic young man I’d have done something as reckless as marry her. But I must say, one day during a long car journey, she rather alarmed me when she said in a very taut voice, ‘Do you realise only five per cent of the world’s population is considered beautiful? I am one of those in the five per cent.’ Her eyes were still on the road as she drove. She didn’t see my heart sinking.
‘Oh,’ I said, quietly. And I remember a feeling of being overwhelmed by my ordinariness. Up until then in our relationship I had been, albeit vicariously, quite stunning.
He’d hired a truck for the move. Apart from the few wedding presents that belonged to them both, her possessions filled two suitcases and a black rubbish bag, neatly fitting into the boot of the Fairlane. The entire contents signified the last five years of her past life as a pharmaceutical rep.
She detested that word – rep. It brought to mind horny-skinned creatures with scales. Subterranean. Her calling card read Executive, but she was nevertheless incensed every time she passed a fleabag motel en route with the pitiful sign, ‘Reps Welcome’. That seemed a lifetime away, although only six months had passed.
The black rubbish bag contained eight half-heartedly folded suits, ten silky blouson tops, six high-percale cotton business shirts. The stilettos were in the suitcases with her current wardrobe. They looked good with jeans.
I remember the first time I saw my girlfriend’s breasts, just a glimpse before looking the other way. They were long and fat and shuddered like trout on invisible hooks. I’m sure any man would have found them enormously desirable, but I have no idea why I felt such disappointment. I think I’d wanted them to be round and full, like poached eggs.
‘Of course you’ll fall pregnant…tits and arse like that.’ He was on his stomach, talking into the mattress; she, lying next to him. His hand shoved across her, smearing her breast, and she watched as he squeezed the pale fat with his fingers – an effort to reassure her?
‘Jesus. Careful,’ she said. ‘You’re pressing on my stomach.’
‘Sorry.’ He lifted his arm, but then he pressed down again.
Her brow wrinkled. She propped a pillow beneath her. Lifted her knees. She had the urge to stick her legs up the wall so that his spunk fed in, but she couldn’t imagine how her buttocks would look upside down. Split stone-fruit, bloated with ripeness. Carcass on a butcher’s hook. He was bound to roll over.
She noticed now that her forehead was aching, despite the soft nest of feather pillow beneath her head, and for a moment she wanted his hand gone from the surface of her body. She stared at it over the planes of her cheeks. Chin doubled. She turned away.
Now she was facing the back of his head; a mushroom of blackish brown hair, simple – it fitted the contours of his skull like a man who knew who he was; silken sheen of a cat that sups on fish. So many times she’d envisaged losing him, had actually tormented herself with the thought.
‘Look at me,’ she said. But he just grunted, as if he was half asleep.
‘Don’t look at me then.’
She coughed, and his spunk slid out, trickling cool and prickly like cactus juice.
Once my girlfriend came home from work, her briefcase in one hand and a little white bag in the other.
‘This is for you,’ she said with a big smile.
Inside was a chocolate éclair exploding with real cream.
Since they’d moved into the new house she dreamed, almost every night, that her stomach was a hot, steaming mound of dough. He would watch as she lowered her head and sank her hands into the warmth of her belly, and when she brought them back out, there it was, a baby, fat and moist on her palms, its feet kicking the air. It was darling, the inner pink of shells, its face squeezed tight and gurgling with life. He reached over and took it from her, and it was then she turned liquid, her organs swimming, rolling and flipping inside her. She felt like a goddess, completely full, for the first time in her life.
My girlfriend called me her little Peepee. The number plate on my limited edition Laser was PPE863 – it was the Shades series, with the vile, baked-on transfer in the rear triangle windows, a row of racy lines more like venetian blinds. She said that every time she saw little Peepee weaving down the road she’d squeal with delight and say, ‘There’s my little Peepee’. I was honoured. Despite the fact we lived under the same roof, drank together, ate together, I still inspired such a heightened response.
Sometimes we fought. Sometimes I thought she might hit me, yet strangely enough I found that quite flattering. Later she’d hug my face to hers and whisper little chipmunkish apologies. I was never slighted, I was just glad she’d gone back to loving me all over again.
He was up showering at 5.30am. Back in the bedroom, she listened to the rustle of his pants sliding over his legs, the rip of his zip, chink of his belt buckling into place, mattress springs as he sat, his breath compressing as he slid his foot into the casing of his large polished shoe. He wasn’t lean limbed, didn’t own a leather jacket; he was heavy, hard-jawed, had hairs on his back, had his head screwed on top of his feelings. Every nerve in her body had gone bing when she met him, and she’d been slightly afraid of him ever since.
She kept her eyes closed, hiding beneath the sheets, smiling at the sounds of his movements, bathing her jaw in warm exhalations, bathing smugly in the knowledge that she would go back to sleep when the door clicked, when the strip of glowing amber disappeared from the foot of the door.
Later, it seemed incredible to her that a day could start so sweetly, only to end in nightmare.
We were curled on my girlfriend’s bed one night, each with a glass of wine, relaxing before we dolled ourselves up for a night at The London Hotel.
‘All I want in the world is a good man, someone who loves me and wants to care for me,’ she announced, her face long, her voice – flat. What was she worried about? I remember thinking. She was sleeping with her boss, in hotel rooms – he was married. I thought that was exciting. So clandestine. So well beyond the scope of me who had found her ecstasy in nachos, wedges smothered in garlic aioli. She was losing weight. I was putting it on.
‘I tried on my black pants this afternoon,’ she said. ‘The ones I just had dry cleaned, but they’re hanging off me. If you’re interested, I’ll sell them to you. In fact there are a few things you might be interested in.’
She dressed me up like a store dummy, pushing and prodding, a pad and pen to keep track of the prices. Everything, of course, looked Fabulous, Sweet, Transforming. You wouldn’t know yourself if you bumped into you.
I’d discovered style. I was indebted to her.
It was 9am before she woke. She wrenched the sheets from the bed, turned the dial on the new washing machine; they’d had to buy a new one, and logically it had to be a bigger one, in anticipation of a washing basket brimming with nappies and bibs.
She unlatched the windows and filled the house with the sea breeze that flew up the ridge. She noticed the sound of the birds. The twitter made her smile. They were part of this new world, this substratum of niceness and decency, this white glow of Spray n Wipe freshness that lay beneath the leafy canopy and hot, baked tiles.
A sharp triangle of sun cut through the window of the spare room and stretched out over the carpet. She was lying on her stomach across it, a cup of Nescafé and a Donna Hay cookbook at her elbows, flicking through the pages. Maybe she’d buy an apron today; she should really have one.
One evening, when my girlfriend was out, I picked up the phone to hear the little pips of a long distance call. There was an English voice on the other end. Male. He spoke very clearly, and slowly, as if he were talking into an ear horn.
‘No, I’m sorry,’ I replied, ‘There’s no Ann living here. You must have the wrong number.’
‘Are you sure?’ said the voice. ‘I’m quite positive I’ve dialled correctly. Her name is Ann. Ann Jardine.’
‘Jardine? Oh, I think you mean Bianca Jardine. We have a Bianca
‘Oh,’ I heard, very faintly. There was a pause, then. ‘Well, may
I speak to her.’ He sounded tired.
‘I’m sorry, she’s not here at the moment.’
‘Oh. Well, could you please tell her to call her father?’
A few days later, when she was out, I happened to be in her room – I can’t remember why I was there. I’d been raised to respect people’s privacy, but I do remember the sensation, the tremble and swell in my chest as I touched the objects on her dressing table: smooth, cool bottles, tubes, little pots of creams. I read labels, lifted lids, sniffed, poked, dabbed and rubbed. I picked up her brush and ran the bristles across my nose, they smelled sweet and waxen. My reflection in the mirror looked haughty yet mystical as I dragged her odour through my hair; earrings tinkled in porcelain dishes, dangled by fingers from my earlobes. Then there was the low yawn of wood sliding against wood, my hand sinking wrist-deep into a soufflé of soft underwear, cool and silky against my skin. At the bottom of the drawer: envelopes, plastic folder, scraps of paper, photographs – anonymous ones taken in photo booths at train stations with old friends – they all fell across my fingertips. Finally, a blue book, sandwich size, an intricate filigree of bright gold pressed onto its cover.
I went straight to the photo. She looked so bare with her hair drawn back into a ponytail, so much smaller. I shut her face between the pages – and it was at that moment I realised what I’d come for.
The typed text sealed in plastic read: English citizen. Born April
29, 1954. Yorkshire. Ann Elizabeth Jardine. She was not Bianca.
The deception, the fraud – it made me tingle all over.
Later that night they sat at the card table in the kitchen.
‘Do you like it, gorgeous boy?’
‘It’s great.’ But she was watching his jaw. His Adam’s apple. He was chewing and gulping, chewing and gulping. He wasn’t tasting.
‘It’s got something called sumac in it. Have you ever heard of that? Mmmm?’
‘I wanted to make something special. Just for you.’ She put her hand over his where it rested against the side of his plate, a broad fist holding a fork. Her hand landed like a web, she thought: light and creepy. What was it about him that was making her feel this way?
‘Are you happy with me?’ And that’s when he said it. You need a job. Just like that. She let the chunk of succulent chicken resting on her tongue fall like shit; it flopped back, wet, on the piled plate. He looked at her, then sideways at the kitchen bench.
‘How can you say that to me? How? Do you know what I’m going through? Look at me. Would you please look at me. I’m your wife.’ He did look, but without turning his head away from the bench; she remained on the outskirts of his eye.
‘Look at me. Look at me front on.’
But he wasn’t playing ball, so she picked up her fork and threw it sideways, in the direction of the sink, a gleam of surprise in her eyes as his big shoulders flinched at the steel flashing through the air. She laughed, high pitched. ‘Arhaah.’
The fork missed the sink and clattered on the tiles. She picked up her plate, arched an eyebrow. Quick as a whip, he cuffed her wrist in his fingers. Now he was looking at her. His fingers squeezed tight, eyes tight, breath tight. She smiled. Licked her lips.
‘Do you really think I’d drop it? Will she? Won’t she? Will she? Won’t she?’ Her head jerked left, right, left, right, with each taunt, pupils as hard as ball bearings. He said nothing, but she saw a nerve flinch in his cheek.
‘Oh darling,’ she sighed, ‘I wouldn’t do that. Besides, if I dropped it, I’d have to clean it up.’ She smiled, so he let go of her wrist and she lowered her plate to the kitchen table.
‘God, sorry. I’m so sorry.’ And her fingers reached across and began to needle his hand, pressing and moulding it like a lump of putty.
‘I can’t go back to work. I have to go forward. Do you understand? But I’m trapped.’ She was begging.
‘Well, staying here all day is not helping you,’ he said.
She had to make him see, so she squashed the sides of her face with her palms so that her mouth and eyes became holes. But he looked back at his plate.
‘Oh God, I want a baaabeee.’ She began to cry, her lower lip rolled out and smeared across her bottom teeth. He looked up, then looked back again at his plate.
‘I don’t want a job. Everything’s changed. I’m a wife. What if it doesn’t happen? What if it doesn’t happen?’
‘I’d want to die.’
‘What’s happening to me? What am I becoming?’
My girlfriend wore liquid liner on her eyelids; the black was painted on in the shape of a fingernail clipping, an up-stroke at the outer corner in the tradition of an Egyptian queen, but there was also the red lacquer on her lips that effectively threw Hepburn or Harlow into the equation.
‘Come on, Peepee, I’ll teach you how to do it,’ she said one day as I watched her slick her tiny brush of black across her eyelid. ‘If you build it up in the centre it opens the eye right up. See?’ I watched her, marvelling at the height of her cheekbone in the mirror as she arched her neck, the plane of concentration that fell from the bone down to her chin.
‘It looks great.’
She must have seen something wistful in my expression. She turned to me and, with a chuckle, she pinched the sides of my cheeks.
‘If you hold very still, I’ll do it for you. Would you like that? Now hold perfectly still.’ I held my face out to her and closed my eyes. I think it was the microscopic movement, soft waves of breath, feathery strokes of the brush: I was in heaven.
The next day I bought my own bottle of liner. At first, she pulled me up on common errors in application; ant specks, breaks, heavy handedness, but day by day I got better and better at it, until it seemed as if I’d always worn my eyes this way.
She stroked his thigh in bed that night as he lay there with his back to her. According to the Billings Method she was ripe for fertilisation.
Her hand fell lightly onto the springs between his legs. Where was it? He had clamped it back between his legs like a girl, he was hiding it from her. Spiteful. She pretended not to care and continued gently to stroke his thighs. Then her hand flickered over his hip and onto the mound of his buttock. There, she circled, a-ringa-ringa-rosey, toiling in apparent absentmindedness.
It had to happen tonight. Although the window of opportunity spanned a week, according to the book, she was quite certain that there was something portentous about tonight. The fact she sensed his impending refusal made her even more certain of that.
He gave a jerk – she wanted to ask what that was about, but decided to remain silent.
Her hand ran back to the front again, to where it was supposed to be. He stirred, so she decided to take a chance, thrust her hand between his thighs, twisted her wrist and reached in, grabbed a handful
of soft warm sponge. Squeezed.
His voice was muffled by sheet, too thick, as if the tongue was swollen. ‘No,’ he said. That was all. Just no. Not, ‘No, I don’t really feel in the mood.’ No excuse, no apology, no opening for negotiation.
In that instant, she imagined something heavy and hard in her hand, something as leaden as a steel bar; she could see herself lifting, from the shoulder, freeing herself of sheet, reaching up into the space above him, letting her arm swing down, the weight of it rushing down to meet his head. A dead thud. The thought of it relaxed her, ever so slightly, the thought that she did have the power to do that, if she so pleased. But, of course, she wouldn’t do it. She loved him as much as she hated him.
No, she’d rather fuck him. Give it to him then and there, like a man sticks it to a woman. Shove the bones of her hips into him. Have him grunt and roar beneath her like a pig while she clamped his head back, his hair like grist beneath the butt of her palm. The look of shock on his face – and she’d just keep pounding away, until she filled the walls and the ceiling with her screams. Man, if she had the strength, she’d do it. She’d show him. She’d teach him not to treat her like this…make her desperate…make such a fool out of her.
But if she were going to be successful, it would have to be performed with cunning. Subtly and insidiously. It was going to be a long night.
I was with my girlfriend the night I met my husband. It was a Friday night coming into summer. We were at this new bar in North Sydney. The Arizona Bar. The crowd was businessy, young, arrogant.
I’d been losing weight and gaining confidence. We now shopped together. Tonight, we were dressed in Von Troska suits, silk blouses, superfine black stockings and pointy heels. Our hair was dark, coloured chocolate – burnished under down lights, chin length, lightly curled and tucked behind one ear. Our lips were tomato red and dewy. We’d retouched the breaks in our eyeliner in the ladies when we’d arrived – together.
We’d just started on our third round of Riesling, with people bumping me so it spilt between my fingers, when I became uncomfortable with my girlfriend’s lapses in concentration. She wasn’t listening properly.
‘Don’t look now,’ she said, ‘But that group of guys behind you, they keep looking over here. Cute. Nice suits. Very established-looking.’ She looked over my head, made a splendid arc with her eyebrow.
I kept my back turned; I knew she was the honeysuckle, the tantaliser. I was just the humble imitation.
Another bump? No. It was softer, it rested on my shoulder.
I turned and saw him standing there, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
‘You wouldn’t happen to have a light, would you?’
And as it so happens, I recognised him immediately, as every nerve in my body went bing. Yes it’s absolutely true – it’s far too hackneyed for fiction. We were married within a year.
She fell asleep. It was a bit after two when she woke. Her thoughts immediately picked up where she’d left them as if only a second had passed, rather than several hours.
She listened for his breath: low and laborious, the entire force of his large body whistling through the inadequate holes of his nose. He had not moved since he’d shunned her. It was not a good sign. It suggested immobility. She would have to work around him.
She slid out and made her way to his side of the bed. She felt stupid, naked, criminal, pathetic, ugly – many things as she passed the foot of the bed, but the one thing she felt above all else was ruthless.
Kneeling, she quietly undid the tucking of blankets and sheets and burrowed in, head first, up to her shoulder blades – like a small subterranean predator, she made soft long licks with her tongue before riding him back to front like a horse.
When she woke the next morning she knew that it was all going to be okay – he was still lying there. She may have lost her pride, but she was quite happy to trade that to achieve her ends.
My girlfriend didn’t come to the wedding. Her father had been unwell and she made a sudden decision to fly home. I wasn’t surprised, nor disappointed. I was too madly in love to care. I felt as though my bones were stuffed with his marrow and he was beading on the surface of my skin.
And I remember distinctly that to complete my joy, I simply had to have a baby. But an entire year passed, each month a steep mountain to slide down. I was desperate.
I hadn’t seen her for a while, so I was apprehensive when making the arrangements. She was still in the east and I was in the north, amidst golden retrievers, station wagons and bobbed hairdos. But today she was taking me away from it all. We were going shopping on her side of the city.
‘I’ve got a big secret to tell you. You can’t tell anyone,’ I blurted out as we pulled away from the curb in her car.
‘Of course I won’t tell. What is it?’
‘Oh,’ she said. I wanted her to turn, look at me, squeal, laugh, something, but she just kept looking at the road, hunching too close to the wheel.
‘Did you hear what I said, I’m pregnant.’
‘How many weeks?’
‘Six,’ and there was another pause as her head tipped five degrees. Then – ‘Well, don’t get too excited. It’s quite possible you’ll lose it. You need to get to week twelve. My sister got to eleven and a half and then she miscarried. And I can tell you she was a bloody mess.’ Her voice was brusque – no, I think more than that – it was quietly furious.
We spent the day together on Oxford Street. I didn’t feel at all well. I was sad. There was too much to look at. Sale time. Trolley racks all out: hospital gurneys. Rows and rows of bargains–disasters–possibilities–disasters–possibilities. Rows and rows. Endless. I was dizzy. She was determined, grim-jawed, wanted something adorable. Would know as soon as she saw it. Would light up, squeal like a soft toy. Her hand flapped through garments, an industrial sorter, row after row, shop after shop.
I was dead inside.
Later that night I began to bleed and bleed and bleed.
It was a couple of days before she called. I’d agonised over what to say, but what came out was simply this:
‘I don’t want to speak to you.’
‘What? What have I done?’ She was incredulous.
‘It’s what you said.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Yes, you do. Goodbye,’ I said, and I put the phone down.
It may have seemed ruthless – but my emotions were strong, too close to the surface. I cried, on and off, all day.
She’d been right that night, to push it with him.
Looking into the mirror she could see that things had already be-gun to change. It was true what they said. Pregnant women have a translucency about them. Even he’d noticed, on one of their more pleasant days. She’d once heard that Parisian women fall pregnant for the sole purpose of skin rejuvenation, only to terminate in the third month. She could believe it. Her foundation glided across her skin like silk. She had come into flower, barely needed the touch of blush. But she persisted, turning her chin, right then left.
Today it mattered – it was important to look especially nice – just thinking that made her heart feel tight. It had been a while since they’d seen each other and she knew she would appraise her with a very critical eye.
The pencil strayed as she outlined her lips. Silly mistake. She had to fix it with a tissue. Red lipstick followed – less, not more. Eye liner last. She took a breath – What was the time? she wondered. Very necessary to have a steady hand for liquid liner. You simply cannot rush it.
The left eye came naturally. Thankfully. She was on to the more stubborn right eye when the doorbell rang. Damn, damn. The line was too fat.
‘Darling. Guess who’s here?’ he called.
‘I’m coming,’ she said, sing-song, as she squirted a blob of cleanser onto a tissue and slapped it on to her eye, rotated it in vigorous arcs and smeared it across the lid.
‘Come on. I thought you were desperate to get going,’ he yelled. Oh shut up, she thought – her eye was red and stinging. Water, water, she needed water. More tissue. Water and tissue. Towel. She couldn’t believe it – now the tear duct was leaking.
‘Hullo stranger.’ And there she was, standing right behind her. As tall and glamorous as ever.
‘Bianca! You scared me.’
‘What in God’s name have you done to your eye, Peepee?’
‘I was trying to hurry, I think I got a bit of liner in my eye.’ And alittle laugh came from the top of her throat, not unlike the sound of a goat bleating.
The other woman gave a motherly tut-tut. ‘Come here, my funny little Peepee. Bianca will fix it for you.’
I never saw her again.