NO SPACE FOR COMPANY
‘Do you think you could live with a man again?’
‘Is that wine all right?’
‘Fine. But could you?’
‘Could I what?’
‘Live with a man again?’
‘Don’t tell me Brucieboy’s thinking of shacking up with you Audy?’
‘Why would you say that? I asked you if you could.’ Audrey has a give-away blush.
‘Hah. So you are talking about you. You and Brucie. Boy, you’d drive each other mad in five minutes. And anyway you’ve never been married.’
By way of evasion, Audrey helps herself to a biscuit spread with cream cheese with a slice of dill pickle on top. It breaks with the first bite, shattering flakes over her brown sheer scarf and right down into the screwed up knot.
‘Darn it. Why can’t they make a biscuit that doesn’t break.’ She shakes the scarf right and left and sends at least some of the flakes down to her beige slacks and the carpet under the bar stool.
She hops down and fusses around the carpet in a futile attempt to pick up the crumbs.
‘Get up. Get up Audy. We don’t worry about the floor around here. It’s had footy boots all over it. Gave up cleaning it when there were more marks than clear places.’
Down there on her knees, Audrey’s bouncy short hair has fallen forwards giving her the appearance of a tousle-haired and slightly worried dog when she stands up. She rushes to the nearby mirror and, using her fingers like combs, runs them through her hair backwards and pats it in place, sighing. ‘I’ve just had a re-colour and it won’t stay in place.’
Audrey’s hair is a woolly helmet that never strays, at least not for long. Nothing under Audrey’s control is allowed to stray, even biscuit crumbs. Her clothes are neat and clean and matching, within a design and colour range and quality label outside which she never strays. Straying was going into a dangerous zone for Audrey.
They are having a five o’clock wine at Pamela’s kitchen bar, Audrey on a bar stool one side and Pam on one on the kitchen side. A diary, slips of paper, two bills, an invitation to a film evening, a three-pin plug, an opened pack of chewing gum, a nail file, a crumpled paper wipe, a magnifying glass, a wad of chewed gum and a collection of pens have been roughly pushed to the end of the bar to make space for Audrey’s wine glass. The kitchen bar is open to the living room, where a lounge chair seat shows a hollow of the recent sitter; six or seven books lie on a small table, one of them open beside a pair of glasses; heel depressions are visible on a footstool.
The living room Audrey has left behind in her small first floor apartment across the road contrasts starkly: a sofa and two lounge chairs, plump and re-cently recovered in a rich damask, are rigidly arranged, the sofa against the wall, a chair at the win-dow end and one backing to the other wall. Cushions are placed with mathematical precision with their peaks upward like a row of nuns doing penance. A sparklingly clean glass coffee table is lined up with the sofa, but beyond reaching distance from anyone on the sofa, and an ocean away from the chairs, so that taking five o’clocks with your knees together on sofa or chairs, required Audrey to rise and pass around the savouries, which you balance on a tiny plate while somehow controlling the glass of wine. Small crystal glasses are the go at Audy’s, which means that the hostess must rise and top up more frequently than in the case of a decent sized glass. In the corner of the room, a smallish round dining table stands with its rigid-backed and upholstered chairs awaiting rarely seen guests. Not a speck of dust. Anywhere.
Although the windows are north facing, sun and view are screened by lace curtains, a permanent fix-ture, apart from frequent brief passages when they are taken down and washed. As a consequence, the tiny balcony is seen only through a haze of lace, so that you can’t appreciate the carefully tended pots of geraniums and seasonal plants that take most of the space. A tiny white metal table and chair sit there, un-sat upon due to space; even had there been space, Audrey could never have exposed herself to the gaze of neighbouring flat dwellers.
‘Now, back to this business with Brucie.’ Pam is direct by nature. And a delver. She pours more wine in Audrey’s glass just as Audy waves her hand over the glass to say ‘No more’ and causes wine to spill on the bar. ‘Ooh, sorry.’
Ignoring and pursuing, Pam says ‘Does he want to move in, or do you want him to move in?’
‘Well - I - well - I haven’t said anything to him about it. Yet. I just think, why can’t he live with me and we could do everything together. I mean - he’s always going off with his friends, going to the races, and the football and overseas trips. If we were to-gether - living together - I would go with him.’
‘Not if I know Brucie.’
Side-stepping this observation, Audrey enlarges on the advantages she imagines come with living with Brucie. ‘When we go to things like club din-ners, the married women seat me down the end of the table with boring old dodders or just other women on their own and put him up there with them. Even if he sits next to me, he talks to the woman the other side and all I see is his back. I have to sit there just looking.’
‘Don’t you tell him about it. How you feel left out?’
‘When I say that, he says it’s no good talking to me because I don’t listen. And when I talk he says I never stop and it’s not interesting. And I say stupid things.’
‘Hmm. And you think living together all the time would work?’
‘Well ... I mean, if we got married ...’
‘Married! Ugh, really Audy.’ Pam laughs so that the wine in her glass tips side to side in merriment. ‘Come off it Audy. Do you seriously think you could - well, he could live with you. You’re a mis-match. And anyway, living full time with someone is not all it’s cracked up to be you know.’
‘You’ve been married. Twice. You must have liked it enough to do it twice.’
‘And shouldn’t have. Not the second time. Mis-take. Big mistake. I told him it wasn’t a good idea but he was so mad to get married and I got carried away with the bridal bit and all that - and how long did it last? Not much more than a couple of years. God, I must have been mad.
‘First time, now that was different. I was young and in love -’
‘Weren’t you in love the second time?’
‘Don’t interrupt. First time lasted twenty years, four kids. Mostly terrific really and wouldn’t have missed it for anything.’
‘So why did you split?’
‘You know how it is. No, second thoughts, you don’t know how it is, not having married and had kids.’ Notices Audy’s blank, sad face - ‘Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.’
She sips her wine and stares into space with a dreamy look and suddenly blinks off whatever she is imagining.
‘Twenty years and you - something happens anywhere from fifteen to twenty years into it. You get restless. Kids growing up. Y’get a sort of energy. A woman does. A man’s more likely to start slowing down, semi-retire to play more golf. Wants you to join the ladies’ team, wear twin set and pearls, lock into his life, buddy up with his buddies’ wives.’
‘I think I’d have liked that.’
‘That’s because you haven’t been through the married-kids-bit - sorry Audy. See, you’ve had a man’s sort of life in a way - years at the office, legal secretary amongst all those lawyers, money to spare. You must have spent a fortune - a fortune - on clothes. No ties, social life, all that. So now it’s time to swap and you want the married bit. I mean, you didn’t ever live with someone didya, as in cohabit?’
‘No. No, no. I haven’t. Well, not with a man. Shared flats with other girls of course. Some of them had men to stay overnight. Which I thought really immoral. And embarrassing. When they’d come out in the morning you didn’t know which way to look.
And they’d use our bathroom. Yuk. I thought it was awful.’
‘There you are then! You have no idea what it would be like to have someone - a man - around the house twenty-four-seven. Nothing’s your own any more. Not the lav, not anything. And, you’d end up cleaning the lav too.’
Audrey has a doubtful look on her face, but bat-tles on. ‘But I get so lonely on my own.’
‘This wine isn’t bad at all, better’n the cleanskins I buy. Someone brought it to dinner. Monkey something label.’ Pam raises her glass. ‘This is my company. And when I finish it I wash the glass and put it on the shelf. Can’t do that with a man - shove him off when you’ve had him.’
‘Oh, that’s an awful thing to say.’
‘What? saying I’ve “had him”, C’mon Audy, you shrink like a clam when anything about sex comes up. You Roman Catholic-brought-up-girls. That’s your trouble. Brought up to think sex is evil and for-bidden. Never got to try even first base; scared of sex. A lot of the Catholic guys too. So you end up sticking together right up to old age. Hey, come to think of it, Brucieboy’s one of ‘em isn’t he? Catholic, bachelor.’
‘You could get pregnant. That’s why we didn’t.’
Pam raises her eyes ceiling-ward, closes her lids as she lowers them.
‘God. I bet you’ve never had sex, have you Audy? Go on, tell the truth.’
Audrey is picking at the quick around her nail, eyes down.
Pam looks at her, can’t quite picture Audy naked with a man on top of her, kissing, being penetrated. Thinking Audy naked in itself is a challenge - those swelling breasts - wonder why so many ‘maiden women’ have breasts as big as cow’s udders - something to do with compensation, or maybe penalty, for not having suckled babies on them. Her mind fills with suckling babies and swelling breasts.
‘On the practical side, now Audy. Having a man back in the house, for my part, brings a bag-full of problems. For instance, take a gander at all this.’ She turns her head towards the sink and stove behind her.
Audrey stands on the rung of the bar stool, sets her forearms on the bar and raises herself to look over the bar.
‘That junk over there is from breakfast yesterday right up to now. Imagine a bloke coming in from, say a game of golf, and seeing all that. He’d tell me I was a slob, that’s what. So y’see I wouldn’t be able to live as I like. I’d have to live as he liked. Get it? Everything I did around the place would be dictated by what I felt he expected. Everything. It’d be like having a shadow, or a conscience, following y’round all the time. All the time. Like the elephant in the room.’
‘Bruce isn’t that large. And he’s skinny really.’
‘Tsch. Audy. Metaphorically speaking. Never mind.’
Audrey runs her thumb and forefinger round rim of her wineglass to clear the lipstick mark; this is a habit she has, even at restaurants. ‘But my place is always clean and tidy.’
‘I’ll bet it is. And I’ll tell you something.’
‘Sure as blazes, y’d have a bloke who couldn’t stand things too tidy. Some are like that y’know. And you’d drive him mad. If he put anything an inch out of place you’d be stomping on him.
‘What if he came home and dropped his golf clubs at the door, clumped over the carpet, kicked his shoes off and stuck his smelly sweaty feet up on your glass topped coffee table.’
Audrey is looking alarmed.
‘Another wine. Yes. Come on Audy. Won’t hurt you.’ She pours more wine in both glasses.
‘But that’s nothing. What if he’d had a few too many and stretched out on that beautiful quilted satin bedspread of yours, muddy shoes’n’all.’
‘And he might throw up in the toilet and leave you to clean it.’
Audrey takes near to a gulp of wine and drops her head below hunched shoulders.
‘Then there’s the toilet in general.’
‘Very levelling places, toilets. Lavatories. Lavs. Loos. Conveniences. Pissoirs. Name it what you like, it’s still the least attractive, most destructive, least romantic, most embarrassing, smelliest, dirtiest, ugliest, most degrading room in the house. And the most essential. Major issue.
‘God’s joke I always think.’
Audrey by now is looking decidedly forlorn. Her lips have disappeared in a clamp with turned down ends, like a horizontal line with brackets.
‘Do you have to talk of such things?’
‘Trouble with you, you don’t face facts.’
Getting back to sex Pam loads the pistol and takes aim. ‘I’ll bet you haven’t had sex with Brucie-boy. Go on Audy, admit it. He’s just been taking you out since Helen baby dropped him seven years ago and married that Andrew Whatsit because bachelor Brucieboy was never going to ask her... don’t hunch like that Audrey, straighten your shoulders. You don’t want a widow’s hump. Sorry, widow, y’can’t be a widow.’
‘The way you talk you’d think being married was the greatest thing on earth.’ You can almost hear Audrey rattling.
‘You seem to think it is,’ quips Pam sharply. ‘And on and off, it is. I’d rather than not.’
Feeling more kindly she pushes the plate of biscuits across to Audrey. ‘Go on, have another. Let the crumbs drop where they will. Who cares, damn it, or ‘darn it’ as you Catholic girls are supposed to say ‘cause damn’s a naughty word.’ She laughs. ‘I’m going to damn well open another bottle - a clean-skin’s all I have left.’
Audrey slips off the stool to signify she’s going home, but Pam clamps her hand on the bar. ‘Hey, I haven’t finished yet.’
‘About you and Brucieboy. About shacking up.’
‘I didn’t say we were sh ...’
‘Oh that’s right. You haven’t asked him. And he hasn’t asked you.’
‘I’ve only talked about it. Said it would be nice.’
‘And he said?’
‘Said he likes his space.’
‘And you said?’
‘We get along. I could cook for him. We could travel together.’
‘And he said?’
‘Said I’d drive him out of his mind and he visits lady friends when he travels.’
‘And you said?’
‘Said why can’t be both visits his friends.’
‘And he said?’
‘Said ”are you joking”?’
‘Then there’s the bed thing?’
‘The bed thing?’
‘I’ll assume if you lived together, if you ever lived together, which is unimaginable, if you lived together you’d share your bed. Do you have any idea, Audrey, what that entails? How intimate that is? How your privacy is totally lost?’
‘I think it would be rather nice to cuddle up in bed.’
‘Cuddle up!’ Pam’s voice rises an octave.
‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘How naive you are. He won’t be after a cuddle. He’ll want a fuck.’
Audrey nearly falls off the stool, her mouth opens in shock.
‘How can you say that shocking word Pam?’
‘Is it the word or the action that shocks you Audrey?’
‘It’s the worst kind of swearing. I just couldn’t say that word. I think it’s just dreadful the way people use it all the time these days.’
Use it and do it. Pam thinks better of saying it. Instead: ‘It’s only a word, made from letters in the alphabet. Even in the dictionary. Come on now, if you said instead he lay with her, or they copulated, or they made love ...’
‘They made love. That’s all right.’
‘But it means fucking.’
Audy puts her hands over her ears and shakes her head as though she is clearing out a dustbin.
She composes herself and embarks on what she thinks is safe ground. ‘Anyway Pam, the sex thing doesn’t come into it - now’
‘How do you mean, doesn’t come into it. It always comes into it.’
‘But not when you reach a certain age.’
‘And which age would that be Audy?’ Feather’s are ruffling in Pamela’s still active mind and body.
‘Well ... you know ... after about fifty or so.’
Pam’s laugh is raucous, lasts half a minute. She has to put her glass down as her head goes back and eventually sighs forward in disbelief.
‘I’ve heard it all. Oh god, I could dine out on this for years. Codswallop Audy. You’re unbelievable. Unbelievable. Where on earth did you get that idea?’ - Again she’s taken over by laughter - ‘On second thoughts, don’t tell me.’
This is irresistible. ‘Audy, oh Audy. You read the papers, politics, gossip and all that. What d’you imagine these ageing world renowned wheeler-dealers actually do with these scantily clad under-age damsels they’re caught with. Most of the old geezers, are well over seventy. If they can get it up, they’re in for it. And even if they can’t.’
Audy is speechless. Looks down again into her glass. Pulls completely off a piece of quick from her index finger. She blots the blood with an actual real ironed hanky pulled nervously from up her sleeve.
Pamela, surrendering to her worst instinct - that of teasing a captured animal - assumes the air of a lecturer delivering The Reality of Sex to a class of kindergartens.
‘The Bible, dear Audy, makes no bones about old bones. Abraham and Sarah are still at it at age a hundred - she was ninety - ‘
‘It doesn’t really mean that, what you’re saying -’
‘You mean, when the Lord said “go in unto” and plant your seed or something like that. Of course it does. Only thing I’d question is the age. P’raps they counted differently in those times. I don’t think you went past bible studies for children. Read Genesis. It’s pretty hot stuff. The bit about Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and making him “go in unto” them to make them pregnant.’
‘That’s the Old Testament.’
‘It’s still The Bible. And there’s all that about Sodom and Gomorrah. Fancy wiping out a whole town of homosexuals.’ - Reflecting over another sip of wine - ‘Still it would have been more about increasing the tribe than about morals.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, since all humans - and animals for that matter - are potentially bi-sexual -’
‘That’s an outrageous thing to say.’
Ignoring the interruption - ‘Don’t like the idea of being potentially bi-sexual Audy?’
‘I’m absolutely not. I’ve never ever ...’ The idea chokes her, like a fish bone caught in the throat.
‘Whether you like it or not - and I do say poten-tially - if it’s possible it’s possible. You can’t argue with that. Look at all the men who shack up with men; and women with women. Heaps of ‘em around these days. Kind of fashionable. Comes in and out of fashion. Back in the twenties it was quite a rage. Seventies, anything was the go.’
‘Those people are just made like that.’
‘How do you mean “made like that”. The men are made like men and the women are made like women. Didn’t you play nurses and doctors when you were a little kid?’
‘We never did anything like th ... what you’re suggesting.’
‘Nothing ever happen when you shared flats with girl friends?’
‘You’ve used that word “absolutely” again. Sounds defensive. Anyway, the way people are made they can get satisfaction, shall we say, with the same sex or the opposite. So it stands to reason that quite a few people will find that out and decide it suits them.’
Audrey’s face is by now crushed raspberry and a bit pale around the lips, which are quivering just a tiny bit. Truth be known, she is feeling faint, hangs on to the bar stool as she takes a good swallow of wine.
Clumping on in her verbal boots regardless of the effect she’s having on her drinking mate: ‘So y’see all this nonsense about being queer and can’t help being born like it and it was something that happened when I was a child and so on, well you can forget that. We’re all part of it. There but for the grace of God - oh let me rephrase that - there but for my nurturing and obedience to the procreating of the human race - go I.’
Audrey, though inclined to be submissive, finds unexpected courage in a counter argument: ‘Well, if that’s so - what you say about all being the same - how come they, I mean the homosexual couples, act so differently. Why do they look different?’
‘Because they are imitating heterosexual couples.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘It’s like this: take two male homosexuals. One of them acts the male and the other acts the female. They sort of grow into the roles. The macho one gets more macho, and the other one grows more into the female role. With two women together, you’ll see how one assumes the male role - you know cropped hair, male sort of clothes, manner, even voice; the other one remains feminine. Some of ‘em have babies from a former marriage.’
A sudden thought turns Pamela’s mind from the general to the particular: ‘You don’t suppose Brucieboy is ...’
‘Maybe he prefers men.’
Audy is speechless. She blinks nervously.
‘Well anyway, supposing he isn’t hom ... er gay. There are other things in the bed thing?’
‘What other things?’
‘People do. And don’t kid me you don’t ... let a little one off now and then. And in bed. Well, suppose you let one off in your sleep and it was awfully smelly and he was awake and heard it. Or worse, if you woke him up with a loud repeater. How would you feel about that? Or if he lets out a really stinking blaster, how would you feel about that?’
Audrey pulls out the blood-splotched hanky and blows her nose.
Like a hunter stalking, from the kitchen side: ‘And not the least romantic. He would suddenly be just a man.’
‘Just a man?’
‘Old story dear Audy. We girls - women - seek Prince Charming and when we find him we marry him if we can. Then all this stuff happens - y’know all the things I’m talking about. Then zip - Prince Charming disappears and we have this stranger messing up our home, demanding service in various ways - one of which I sense is too delicate to mention - make that ‘distasteful to mention’; complaining, arguing, finding fault. Endless. And I haven’t gone through it all yet. There’s more.’
‘Have some more wine Audy. Sustain you for the further bad news.’
Audrey has long since turned from resistance to positive indulgence of the wine, which is by this time going quite to her head.
‘Consider bed ... the bed. However wide you make it, it’s not wide enough. He doesn’t keep to his side. No. He allows his not-so-sweet-smelling body to roll to the centre, where he stays put, leaving you to cling to the edge of the mattress, which gives you an aching back. As for turning over and giving your other side a go. Not on! He’s there, in your face, breathing boozily or most likely snoring.
‘Which side of the bed do you sleep on Audy?’
‘On the right side. Um the left side facing. Well, I lie on my right side because I don’t like to hear my heart beating.’
‘What would you do if he was of the same habit? Couldn’t sleep on his beating heart? Hmm?’
‘Oh I’d have to have the right side.’
‘Have to? He might not see eye to eye with you. Ensues a perpetual insoluble argument. Enough to split a marriage in the long run.’
A short silence allows Audrey to absorb this rather trying dilemma.
‘What about the light? Reading at night?’
‘I always read for half an hour or so when I go to bed. Helps me sleep.’
‘He might not like that Audy. A few glasses of red with dinner’ll have him ready to go out like a light, as they say. He’ll scowl and ask how long you’re gonna have that bloody light on. Same goes for the wireless - sorry, radio - we of our vintage used to call a wireless. So you wouldn’t be able to have your radio on, even with the sleep button.’
Pamela slipped off her stool. ‘Half a sec. Got to have a pee.’ She goes to the bathroom and coming back starts talking in flight: ‘There’s another thing.’
‘A nother thing?’
‘Having a pee. You’ll get up like a thief in the night, try not to wake him, widdle down the side of the loo and decide not to flush in case you wake him. He, on the other hand, with snort and grunt, will throw the bedclothes back over your side ex-posing your backside to cold air, thump his way to the bathroom, pee like a ship draining bilge water, flush the toilet and thump back to bed, punch his pillow, bounce the bed as he flops in, tug the bedclothes over his side, leaving you exposed on the front side.’
Audrey pulled her Italian fine wool cardigan across her comely breasts.
‘Hey, why don’t I knock us up a quick pasta. Got some sauce made.’ Pam grabs a saucepan, fills with water and has it on in a flash.
A glass of wine later they are ploughing into a bowl of spag bol with grated parm on top, slopping somewhat due to their consumption of one and a half bottles of wine.
‘Oh darnit. Spag sauce on my scarf. Only had it two weeks. Darnit.’
‘Why don’t you let yourself go for once and say shit or fuck. Ah there’s another thing.’
‘Well, swearing. He’s bound to swear like a trooper.’
‘Bruce doesn’t swear.’
‘Refrains no doubt when he’s with you. But I’ll bet he does at home or with buddies. If you made your place his home ... well he’d feel free.’
‘This is nice sauce. Must get the recipe. Gee, I hope I can get the red stain off my scarf.’
‘Oh, there is another thing I should mention.’
Audrey looks up from her bowl in glum anticipation.
Pam rips off a sheet of paper towel and hands it to her. ‘On your chin Audy. Good thing Brucieboy isn’t sitting opposite to see what a sight you are.’
Audrey decides she won’t ask what other thing, just as Pam starts on again: ‘The other thing Audy is health.’
‘Yes, but is he healthy? Remember he’s just reached that age - nearly seventy isn’t he? - that age when things start going wrong. And what does he need? Someone to look after him, that’s what. Oh, I know so many women who’ve been caught that way.
‘Marjorie Davidson for instance. There she was free at last of her overbearing husband - he died - natural causes, but she could have poisoned him - and she meets this seemingly hearty old boy, five years older in time but twenty in condition. So she ups and marries him. Within a year he’d had two hip replacements, which took her time entirely traipsing in and out of hospital, to and from rehab centres, nursemaiding him almost twenty-four-seven. Had to give up bridge, luncheons and everything else that makes life bearable.’
‘Poor thing. What bad luck.’
‘Bad decision I call it. Turns out his doctor told him he’d need hip replacements two years before and to boot warned him of a dicey heart problem looming. So when you get down to it, he looked around for a nice-natured lady, lonely enough to take him in and care for him. I tell you Audy, that’s what some of these decaying ol’ blokes do: calculating buggers.
‘Deprived Marjorie of those golden leisurely years at the sunset of life. Even worse for poor old Marjorie, he’s now in a wheelchair - there she is wheeling him around like a baby. Won’t hear of going into a nursing home of course. Hand and foot waiting he wants - in the comfort of his home. Correction, in the comfort of her home.
‘Now do you really think full time company of a man is worth all that?’.
Audrey’s crying in her wine.
‘Wipe you nose Audy. It’s running. God, that reminds me of another old codger. My friend - Meg Forsythe, I think you’ve met her - well Meg married this old codger when he was widowed at eighty - she was still a very active seventy-three, enjoyed im-mensely dinner parties, having an arm to walk in with, travel - loved it. All OK for three years. Then she noticed his nose dribbling, right before everyone’s eyes, at a dinner party; I saw her nudge him - he didn’t have a clue what for - so she pulled out the handkerchief in his top pocket, handed it to him and whispered to wipe his disgusting nose, which was landing drips in his soup.’
‘Next thing she noticed was a distinct smell of pee about him -’
‘ - of urine my dear. Kind of settled over him permanently, right through his clothes and eventually through the house. Beyond bearing, not to mention the deep yellow, stale-smelling stains on the seat cushions of her exquisite white Renaissance Damask sofa; to boot, the clumsy oaf knocked over her most prized possession - a Victorian table lamp - gorgeous thing it was - that’s been in the family generations - beyond repair.’
‘That must have been dreadful for her.’ Audrey hiccuped and swallowed hard.
‘With the perpetual urine aroma, the dripping nose and the destructive tendency, invitations to dinner dried up; her extended invitations to dine at her place - and I have to tell you she is a superb cook and hostess - were increasingly declined. Until -’
‘Until she sent him off to one of those care places. Not without a struggle. He fought them off for six months. Eventually, with his memory collapsing somewhat, she managed to persuade him they were going visiting for afternoon tea. Drove him out to the caring place and left without him. Took her another six months to fumigate her lovely home, wash and sanitise everything in sight, re-cover fixed fittings, throw out the mattress and all his clothes - those charity places wouldn’t have touched them with a forty foot pole. Their - clients they call them don’t they? - their clients wouldn’t have been so low on their uppers to -’
‘Now Pam, “low on their uppers” ? You can’t be low on your uppers can you? Can you?’
‘- I wish you wouldn’t interrupt with irrelevant questions Audrey - not so down and out that they’d wear even a five-thousand-pound Saville Row mohair overcoat that had been within spitting distance of the old boy.’
‘What happened to her?’
‘Right now she’s cruising in a luxury liner, flirting - yes, flirting, she’s still attractive, good figure - wearing the most divine expensive perfume in gallons and the most daring-for-her-age cocktail gowns and having a ball. A ball. Had a card from her yes-terday - she still sends cards, but she has the ultimate iphone that does everything and knows how to use it - a card hinting at several, several romances, playing one old boy against the other and I rather think a steward has his eye on her.’
‘Well, all’s well that ends well, huh?’
‘Exactly. And she’s not fool enough to tie herself up again, that’s for sure.’
‘I really must go Pamela. It’s my bed time.’
‘Mine too. Your bed time. Not his, but yours.’
They drained their glasses and slammed them down rather clumsily on the bar. Both drew breath in and out again with a sigh.
‘So - Audy - did that answer your question?’
‘About could I live with a man again.’
‘Oh. Did I ask you that?’
THE BOOBY PRIZE
JESSICA GOUGH WAS ONLY TEN WHEN SHE GOT BREASTS. From chest to breast overnight. There they were, small and round and raised. She felt a happy-frightened feeling in her stomach as far down as her hip bones.
When her friends came to stay they’d gather in her bedroom and say ‘Go on, show us, show us, Jess’ and she’d pull up her singlet and stand proud and pleased ... and just a bit uncertain about it all.
Of course they all knew about breasts, boobs, but not on any one their age. Jess was one of them, but somehow just a bit apart from them. Was she already part-woman and they still children?
Bruce Gough stopped rubbing his daughter’s chest with eucalyptus oil when she had a cold coming on. It wasn’t seemly now those little breasts were there even though she was just a child.
Jess overheard her mother and Auntie Dot talk-ing about ‘the breasts’ ... they were in the front sitting room with ripple glass doors that opened to Jess’s bedroom. You could hear through them.
‘I know it’s awfully young to be so developed isn’t it Dot?’ her mother said. ‘You don’t think she’s going to have her ... you know?’
’Oh wouldn’t think so May. Could be a few years before she men ..’
Jess couldn’t catch the word but it sounded like ‘meserate’ and she wondered if it was some illness, the way they were whispering.
Jess liked her bedroom. The bed had a white broderie anglais spread, with a frill along the sides to the floor. The pillow end had a section that rested under the pillows and folded over them, right side out, with a frill around it. She made her bed every morning, put the pillow in place and smoothed the pillow section over them. Then she sat her china-faced doll with blonde hair on the pillows alongside her teddy bear, still wearing the red ribbon he had when she got him for her first birthday.
Peeking out from the bed frill were her red felt slippers with real ostrich feathers, pink (‘On red?’ Aunt Dot noted); she loved to hold the soft, soft feathers against her cheek.
Jessica lived in a nice suburb and went to a nice school. Her boobs just grew and grew and her mother was forever taking her to ‘the fitters’ for the next size up, until she was wearing 18DD. Her school uniforms and shirts had to be specially made to accommodate her breasts.
She had dark wavy hair, coarse enough to hold in place. Her eyes were dark and lively and her lips nicely formed and naturally red. Her nose was large and bumpy in the middle, but when she smiled you could only think of her happy face. For she was good-natured, cherished her friends, popular with boys and girls.
And for someone carrying those weighty boobs, she played a jolly good game of hockey and wasn’t bad at tennis. But it was at swimming that she excelled, winning for her school right up until leaving. It was a public school (in those days called a ‘private school’) and she carried away just a hint of snobbishness for school and the upper-middle class suburb where she lived.
Jessica went on to study piano at the conservatorium where she made friends for life among fellow students. A few of them became famous world-wide, others joined orchestras and travelled. But Jess wasn’t good enough. So she became a piano teacher. At first from her parents’ home, where she was given the small front sitting room for the purpose.
Her father died and later her mother became ill and Jess spent much of her time caring for her. When she died, Jess’s brother took over and sold the house and divided the rather small inheritance with her and returned to his wife and family in Sydney.
By now Jess was forty-five. All the girls she grew up with were married with children. She took a flat in a wealthy inner suburb, where she hoped to find plenty of piano students from the several public schools in the area.
By now, too, her breasts were so enormous she became known as ‘Jess, the one with the boobs’. She found it easier to make light of them than to hide them. She’d tell her new friends her favourite joke about the man who went to buy his wife a bra. ‘What size?’ the assistant asked. ‘About the size of an egg,’ he said. ‘Fried or boiled?’ she asked. And Jess would hoot with laughter, breasts quivering. ‘Good thing he wasn’t buying for me.’
She wore bright floral prints and low necklines. When she arrived at parties she’d stand at the door and call ‘Booby-doo .. I’m here-ah’ and rush in laughing and hugging.
Her flat, ‘My apart-e-mont’ she said, was crowded with left-over furniture from home, her piano and stool, bookcases filled and rarely dusted, a tapestry chair with a red rose worked into the back and which she preferred as her own because it had no arms to squeeze her arms in to her breasts.
There was a two-seat settee of a dark brocade fabric with a silky thread - rather dreary - and on it she tossed two small wine coloured cushions each end. A Gough clan tartan cloth with fringe covered an occasional table which had three thick bamboo legs drawn together halfway down and splayed out at the floor making it rather unsteady.
A sepia painting of an old Scottish castle, several flower prints and a mirror with heavy carved gilded frame were hung and taken down and hung again every time she moved.
‘I do treasure this crystal decanter,’ she said pouring a generous glass of its golden liquor. ‘In the family for generations. Came out from Scotland with my grandparents.’
Her kitchen in the last flat she lived in was small. With Jess in it, there was room for no one else, and yet it held on many occasions four or five guests, finding glasses, digging out bottles of wine from the tiny fridge, arranging sandwiches and biscuits and heating something in the little oven.
Jess loved a party and in later years, life was rather an endless party. Everyone was welcome, es-pecially if they were talented, but despite her all-embracing style, at heart she valued the ‘right kind’ of people. Talent or wisdom didn’t matter if you had the right background. Thus amongst the interesting and likeable, there gathered in her little apart-e-mont some utterly boring and arrogant people. Which at times led to some outrageous arguments, stand-offs and walkouts and occasionally fisticuffs.
Her greeting was always the same: ‘Come in darls, drinkies ready.’ And although she kissed the air she managed to plant a slab of cherry lipstick on your cheek.
Her drink was sherry. By the flagon it was cheap and its effect quick. You could have a sherry any time of day and it got earlier and earlier for Jess.
She had a cardboard box of wineglasses, so small that they’d scarcely be filled before the bottle had to be brought around again. Guests were generous, always bringing champers and wine and things to eat.
At the end of her kitchen there was a bar-bench opening to the living room. It was meant to be a breakfast bar, but it was crammed below and on top with papers and magazines and boxes of photos to such an extent that you couldn’t use it at all.
Although Jess was overloaded with breasts, she had smallish hips and very thin legs, giving her a mother-hen look. She always wore dresses, stockings and little shoes with high heels so that she ‘cook-cooked’ along the pavement, the heels straining backwards under the weight.
There had been one tempestuous affair. He was Swedish and hot-tempered. One of those on-and-off relationships in which drinking brought them to-gether only to break them up in very heated fights, to the point where neighbours called the police to break it up. Jess had to get the locks changed and have him warned off.
She had plenty of love in her and gave it to her friends. If several of them fell out during drinking sessions at her flat, she’d be the one to talk them round days later.
One night Jess had a dream that stayed with her. In it she was standing in front of a long mirror naked, save for a pale green sheer silk robe falling back off her shoulders. She had on a very wide, flat, gold necklace, ancient Egyptian style, and it sat around her neck; it had a medallion with sunrays which nestled between her breasts and the remaining flat filigree section rose up and around each breast so that you could scarcely see the breasts, just the gold encasing them. On her head she wore a gold crown. Then there came a Prince of Love, solid gold and naked. He made love to her, standing there before the mirror. She watched until she closed her eyes in the last moments of ecstasy. It was so vivid and she woke feeling exquisitely erotic.
No man had ever made love to her like that.
As she grew older, Jess worked harder at being bright and happy. And to an extent she managed to convince herself. But she always needed ‘the little drinkies’ to bring on the nice feeling.
She’d never been one for housework, despite the discipline she kept under her mother’s direction. She became more careless as the years went by. Her beige slip hung way below her dress and her stockings swirled carelessly around her little legs. Shoes were shabbier, thrown out only when the heels finally collapsed with the weight.
She ate mostly nibbles with her drinks, rarely a proper dinner. She still was much loved for her warmth and carefree nature and though the friends thinned out with the years, she held fast to those still alive and was always quick to add new and younger ones.
In the end she had only one pupil, a boy of seven, just learning.
Then one day, when she had been to have her hair done, she felt a bit dizzy ‘and haven’t touched a drop yet’ she thought.
In her head she was singing the little tune she’d been teaching the boy that day ... ‘My Grandfather’s Clock ... and it stopped short, never to go again’ ... when suddenly and ferociously gravity reached up and grabbed her big breasts and yanked them, bang! smack down on the pavement with such force that people turned at the sound of her flesh hitting the ground ... ‘when the old man ...’ but the last word was lost because her golden Prince had just taken her hand and lifted her right up to the sky where her breasts became as light as a breeze and she felt a joy beyond belief.
BARBARA BENNETT'S BLISS
Barbara Bennett did something she’d never done before in her life ... she slept in the nude.
AT SIX O’CLOCK JENNY CALLED to pick her up. As Barbara Bennett got in the car her keys dropped between her legs. She felt the weight and bulk of them between her thighs. There was that feeling again. That potency.
‘Will the Arts Editor be there?’ Jenny asked.
‘I’d expect so. I’m only going because I wrote a review of the book they’re launching. Glad you could come with me.’
Half an hour in to the cocktail party Barbara Bennett was locked in a conversation with Gordon Shipman, whom she’d just met.
‘So you think it’s the press who’ve destroyed the image of the Royal Family, not themselves,’ he said.
‘Well, as the gods approach the halo disappears.’
‘You interest me Barbara Bennett. I’ve read some of your reviews and your views. Nice to meet the real woman. There are too many females with big shoulder pads acting like men and screaming for power.’
‘Women have so much natural power,’ Barbara Bennett said. ‘A little girl can get grandpa to do anything for her. Later on she can enchant a man to undertake a lifetime of work to keep her and their children.
‘It’s the thrust of life,’ she said, accepting a third glass of shiraz. ‘Nature drives young men to increase the tribe and young women lead them in to their caves.’
Gordon Shipman put his arm just over her shoulder and his hand on the pillar she was standing against. The rough tweed of his jacket sleeve against the soft skin of her neck sent a thrilling message.
She let him drive her home. He’d driven down from Sydney in his own car to do an investigative piece on a company executive who was spilling the beans on company fraud.
‘Thanks,’ she said as she reached for the car door.
‘I’ll see you to your door,’ he said.
‘No, it’s OK.’
At her gate he held her against him. ‘This is why I want to see you to the gate,’ he said and touched his lips to hers with extraordinary lightness and power. They kissed with a sweetness that ran through her like honey, slowly oozing. She could hear the buzzing of the bees that made it.
She felt the hard shaft of the iron gate pressing her back. ‘I must go in,’ she said and was annoyed that she added ‘I really must.’
Barbara Bennett undressed in front of her long mirror. Her body was in good shape: still a curve from waist to hip, legs and arms firm, breasts almost unchanged. She shaved her legs and spread a green herbal oil all over her body. She hadn’t done this in years
Although she usually slept on her side, this night Barbara Bennett lay on her back and rubbed the oil lovingly over her breasts and thighs. She dreamt that the downy duck feathers burst out of her quilt and poured around her body tickling and teasing, firm feathers flicking her nipples.
Barbara Bennett did something she’d never done before. She made love in the back seat of a car in her own neighbourhood ... in daylight.
BARBARA BENNETT CANCELLED MINDING HER GRANDCHILDREN and took a tram to the city to have lunch with Gordon Shipman.
When he phoned to invite her she didn’t hesitate. Babysitting can be any time, this is a now-time for me, she told herself.
They lunched at a basement restaurant full of journos and legals. The tables were small, the crowd noisy and the food hearty. He had shepherd’s pie, she had fish in beer batter. His feet were between hers and she pressed against them, holding him there.
He drove her home but turned down a street two before her own.
‘Why are we going down here?’
‘Because I want to kiss you.’
‘But here ... not here. Some one who knows me could walk past.’
‘Barbara Bennett, we’re both over sixty. We haven’t time to wonder what people will think.’
She let him kiss her and returned his kiss feeling pretty carefree after all.
‘Let’s get in the back seat,’ he said. His confidence persuaded her ... would he do this in his own neighbourhood?
In the back seat, sitting over his knees with her summer dress spread out like a cloak she had a flash of uncertainty. Gordon Shipman’s car was a mess. Newspapers and magazines and note pads and crunched up paper bags over the floor and seat. The stuffing was spilling out of a rip in the back seat and ... but that was in her mind. Her body was swelling and receiving in a brief coupling that was exquisite and complete. Then she was gliding down in a lift to the sound of joyful music.
Barbara Bennett did something she’d never done before. She bought herself a black camisole trimmed with lace. It had narrow red satin ribbon threaded down each side.
BARBARA BENNETT FELT SHE COULDN’T INVITE Gordon Shipman in to her bedroom. Which was coy for someone who had made love in public.
She arranged to meet him at a corner near a flat he had borrowed for the day.
He brought a punnet of strawberries and a bottle of cream.
‘How shall we go about eating them?’ she said. The flat had nothing in the kitchen.
He squeezed a strawberry in to the neck of the cream bottle, sealing the entrance. He tipped the bottle upside down, held it for a moment and set it upright, drawing out the cream-covered strawberry. Looking in to her eyes, he pressed the strawberry to her mouth, wiping a trace of cream from her chin with his finger and allowing her to suck it clean.
They fed each other, creamed strawberry for creamed strawberry, until the fruit and cream had finished, their eyes in a loving lock all the while.
She watched him undress. His body had thickened a little, but she saw only the beauty of his form. He was a Greek god, thighs and calves of a youth, strong shoulders and arms.
She still had on her black camisole and lace knickers.
‘Don’t take them off yet,’ he said, sliding up from the foot of the bed. ‘I find you enchanting and I want to peel you naked like a banana.’
‘Look, I’m not too sure how I’m gong to be ... I mean, love in the back of your car was brief on penetration. It’s been eight years since I made love and, well, the juices mightn’t be what they used to be.’
He kissed the tip of her nose. ‘Dear delicious Barbara Bennett. It’s been six years since I divorced and I haven’t made love since then. And I’m not sure of my ability in that direction either. But we’re not doing this for procreation, we’re doing it for our pleasure. There are no rules and plenty of compromises.’
For the first time in her life Barbara Bennett felt sexually free, intoxicated with a love to which she abandoned herself.
‘You are beautiful,’ Barbara Bennett whispered.
‘You are beautiful,’ Gordon Shipman whispered.
There was no need to talk of past or consider future.
Barbara Bennett did something she’d never done before: she woke up one morning
and found a love poem was all composed inside her and urging to be born.
She went to the typewriter and let it come.
BARBARA BENNETT finished the poem, folded the sheets and posted them to Gordon Shipman in Sydney. There was no need to include a note.
THE ANATOMY OF LOVE
My eyes, close now,
to the brown and russet hair
blurred by the shining threads
that my fingers rake sweetly.
I study it
Whispering on the brow
of my love.
The brow, fine-lined
from which I seek
the course the next will run.
And there the brows
that oft grip my attention
With their several fair hairs
springing among the brown.
O the eyes
They are my sight of you
speak of mind and body
Can carry me to high places.
In a flash
Can crush me ...
Powerful eyes of my beloved
The cheek where I seek
for signs of weariness -
Where I light my gentler kisses.
And the nose,
So known, distinguished in my eye
No other like it
‘twas specially wrought for me.
like two good friends
in a deal of senses.
Beloved lips ...
The ears that know the sounds
The factory doors
for contemplation -
the magnetic hollow
at neck and shoulder crossroad
Drawing deep-meaning kisses
A string of kisses then
along the curved shoulder
Embracing and embraced.
Ah, left of my eye’s corner
a squared jaw
My hand is carried
shaped by the form’s
delicious curve to
waist and hip
And then a speeding glide
to round the buttocks
That in height of passion
lend their strength.
And there, marking you a man,
lies my gentle friend
uncoursed with Nature’s fire
I kiss his naked side
and brush the hair with my face.
Is my pleasure
Deep to me.
Thigh and leg,
Known through my hand were I
haired spare enough to please me.
The ankle of a god,
a larger twin of mine
where curved kiss of arches
Feathers Eros’ message spray
Happy message through
our mingled blood stream.
And thus I lie with all this beauty
Consequence is of no consequence
the Sirens have our ears.
No longer ourselves
Man of my golden years
Ripe’ning the corn to the full
of life’s table
Sustenance for the silos
Beyond our time.