This story has a couple of swear words in it, and some mild references to sex. And oh, there’s a murder, but it’s not graphic. I have no idea where it came from. My life is not like that and my partner is not like that. I haven’t written anything like it before or since. ‘Just Chivas and Me’ was a short story submission. I won third prize for it (I didn’t mind, it was a prestigious competition).
I’d rather be curled up on the couch making friends with Jamie’s booze than spring-cleaning. Not that it’s spring; there’s a miserable production of alternating hail, rain and wind outside, and me with a mess that I’d rather not deal with, inside. It’s just that Jamie’s girlfriend, the other woman, had a favourite cliché about spring cleaning being the professional housewife’s lot that he passed on to me. He was always doing that; passing on her homilies, polished, perfected and garnished with greens: fat women shouldn’t wear jeans (it wasn’t attractive, it wasn’t feminine), women past their prime (my fifty to her thirty), who stayed in the workforce were selfish. They should take up flower arranging or pottery courses (and by definition become professional housewives?).
I’ve got nothing against housewives professional or otherwise. All women are one or the other, depending on whether they work or not or is that an oxymoron? I’m wearing my housewife’s hat tonight; clearing Jamie and his paraphernalia out of the house. When you catch your husband fucking the other woman in your home, you have to act immediately. There are niceties, civilized behaviours that we live by: you put down the toilet seat when finished, and you don’t leave stains on the couch for your wife to clean up; those are the rules. That’s why I’ve got green liner bags in every room. Obliterating thirty years of memories is serious business. You can’t get emotional about it. You have to have a deadline and a plan. I’m starting with the kitchen and working my way down, because I can’t cope with the Jamie’s office or his couch, just now.
I’ve had a shot or two of scotch to keep me going because I can’t be expected to go cold turkey, can I? There’s too much to do without a little comfort from my friend to help things along. And it’s only fair exchange after all because if Jamie can fuck the agile young divorcee, Mrs. Parker-call-me-Mandy, I can seduce his Chivas Regal. It’s really good stuff. I’m amazed at how much more efficient I am after a couple of belts and my legs feel springy; it’s a little like moon walking, except that the table and chairs get in the way.
There’s not much of Jamie in the kitchen: a mouldy lentil, a dish of tofu and a packet of brown rice. I’m grateful I haven’t done the shopping yet, although that’s the reason I came home early. I wish I hadn’t, but I had a migraine.
If I stick strictly to the plan, I’ll be finished with it tonight; then I won’t have to think of Jamie again, or the anaemic Mrs. P. I’ll get a slab of beef and a leg of lamb tomorrow, make gravy in the pan, the way I used to, the way Jamie liked it before she converted him to the gospel of Vegan delights. The Sunday roast. Jamie and I at the kitchen table, and he’s making appreciative sounds and cutting thin slices with that commercial carver I got him last Christmas, the pride of his collection. The Commercial was the best, he said. He loved that carver. He hacked at everything in sight Christmas Eve: the turkey, the ham, the chicken and would have had a go at the plum pudding if I’d let him. There was enough left over to invite friends for lunch next day. He hasn’t had time for friends recently.
Six months ago he came home and asked could I make something vegetarian for dinner. He wanted to invite his colleague from work, the published princess; the multi-talented Mrs. P. She was the new lecturer in English Romance. And she’s published two romance novels, said the wannabe Jamie who had been working on the great Australian novel for five years and sneered at what he called the unenlightened substitute for literature. I took the day off work to clean and to cook a vegetarian meal: sour cream mushroom pasta, cheese stuffed peppers and chocolate mousse.
The ethereal Mrs. P. drifted in an hour early wearing dreary layers of autumn colours, clinking slave bracelets and clanking hoop earrings. Her lacy dress had a satin underlay and a revealing décolletage straight out of Mills and Boon, but no floppy hat. She was saving it for other occasions. And there were plenty. She’d be in and out of the place so often I was thinking of having a spare key cut and charging her room board. She had a mass of toxic sunset coloured hair that she flicked back in a way that made me want to bring out the pinking shears.
She smiled graciously, an expression I would get to know in all its permutations, and asked me to call her Mandy. She smelled of lavender; I stank of eau de perspiration, I hadn’t had a chance to shower or change. There was dirt under my nails from cleaning the oven, which made shaking hands awkward, and my hair was a mass of dreadlocks in the last stages of decay. She couldn’t eat the meal I’d spent time and energy on. She didn’t eat pasta. Pasta was made with eggs. Vegans don’t eat cream or eggs. She enunciated slowly and carefully just in case I thought Vegans were aliens from outer space. God hadn’t created animals for us to murder or manipulate for our own use explained God’s interpreter, and Jamie, her acolyte, was so sorry, so very sorry that his wife had got it wrong. But the benevolent Mrs. P shrugged the inconvenience off and got together a nice little rice and vegetable dish for us all in no time leaving the dishes to me. They sat for hours talking about the indifference of today’s students, their mediocre submissions and the uselessness of lectures on these students. They both agreed that there was nothing like the good old days. I wondered as I cleared the table and put some coffee and biscuits out how the delightful Mrs. P had found time to lecture between mangling the rusk and teething ring in the good old days. They took their coffee to his office so he could show her his manuscript, typed, revised and edited by me.
They were still dissecting and discussing it at midnight when I went to bed.
I’m feeling quite light headed and my migraine’s gone. I’ll have to tell the doctor. Doc, I’ll say, Doc, get ready for the Nobel prize for medicine. I’ve found a cure for migraine. If only I hadn’t come home early. But migraines need to be cosseted in a quiet, dark room and I wasn’t expecting to be greeted with an orgy of flesh.
Jamie’s papers are in the lounge. He wouldn’t get rid of anything. He kept enough paper to inspire a hostile invasion from Greenpeace. Even when he’d bought a computer, Jamie insisted on keeping his notebooks; he had to write things out in longhand first. He said there was something about the umbilical connection between pen and paper. A couple of short stories and a few published articles don’t make a writer James, I told him. It was a dirty dig, but the dogma of Saint P. had it that I was a walking cliché because I work in advertising. You try it James, I’d say. It’s hard work convincing people to buy products they don’t need. And at least the ideas are mine. He didn’t like me saying that one little bit; he didn’t like my ideas making more money than his did, either, even if I did support him for two years so he could concentrate on his writing. Much good it did him. He spent his days on the office couch drinking scotch and waiting for inspiration and a home cooked meal. When the scotch ran out, Jamie decided that after all there might be some merit in drawing your inspiration from the outside world. He got a part time teaching creative writing at the local night school.
It was almost like having a child in the house, living with James, except that you can train a child to show some consideration. But we didn’t have children.
We had tests instead. Lots of tests. The doctor said there was nothing wrong with us. We had to stop trying so hard. So we stopped trying so hard. When that didn’t work, there were folk remedies, vitamin C supplements and X-rated videos: under a full moon, before a meal, after a meal and at snack-time.
I toss down a couple more shots to keep up the momentum then toss out Jamie’s offspring: the spiral notebooks, the exercise books and the note pads. They are in drawers, under the drawers, in the cupboard, on top of the cupboard and in a box that squats darkly in the corner. The writing’s a bit blurry because it’s old writing, faded writing. Thirty years of useless scribbling.
I’m closing my eyes, but it makes me dizzy. I can’t squeeze out the sight of Jamie’s rotating buttocks. Opening my eyes doesn’t help either. Jamie’s on his hands and knees swaying over the vampiric Mrs. P. They’re grunting and clutching each-other, swinging to-and-fro. The thought of all that heaving flesh makes me ill and I have to make a dash to the bathroom. But they keep at it while I’m purging myself of breakfast, lunch and betrayal.
They’re hot and sweaty, even though it’s five degrees Celsius and I’m frozen to a standstill like Lot’s wife. If they’d noticed me, I doubt if I could have moved an inch or spoken. Her legs are wrapped around his waist and her arms are around his neck. She has a pained expression, almost as if she’s not enjoying herself at all. The sweat’s running down Jamie’s back as he concentrates on the job at hand and they’re both oblivious to anything outside the world of their own creation. All I can think before I make a run for it, is how ludicrous betrayal looks. I’m having a hard time finding my way to the kitchen my eyes are blurred and my head is throbbing.
The bedroom’s not so hard. Jamie hardly spent any time in it except to change his clothes. Don’t wait up for me, I’m on a roll, he’d say. He would sleep on the office couch. I got sick of trying to outlast Mrs. Parker-call-me-Mandy who was over most nights, helping him with his novel, so after a while I’d leave them to it and sit at Mario’s all night café, drinking cappuccinos and chain smoking. I would have gone to
the pictures but all they produce these days is sex and violence; I hate sex and violence. Why don’t they make musicals anymore?
I’ve used Jamie’s toothbrush to clean the really hard areas, like the pelmet corners and around the bathroom taps. Out go Jamie’s hair colour restorer, his vitamins, his after-shave. And I’ve ripped the charts off the bathroom and toilet walls. I find that I’m ambidextrous. I never knew I was ambidextrous. I can pull the storylines off the wall with one hand and pour some Chivas down my throat with the other. And the best thing is that when I come home from work tomorrow, I can expect it to look the same. That’s probably the answer the professional housewife has been waiting for: no messy men loafing round the house; waiting for their dinner, waiting for you to iron their shirts, expecting you to be anorexic Barbie.
I’ve got to do something about the smell that’s leaking out from under the office door. It’s going to be a problem. I don’t think a bit of room deodoriser and detergent is going to fix it. Who would have thought two bodies make such a stink now that gravity isn’t holding them up? I’m going to have to bring in the Commercial; I’m not sure there’s a liner bag big enough to fit them.
Poor Jamie and Mrs. P: skewered together for all eternity. I pour some Chivas over the two of them, a sort of purifier and benediction. Mrs. P isn’t looking too romantic now. Her eyes are glazed, her mouth is gaping like a stuffed mullet, but I mustn’t say that, it’s clichéd and it isn’t at all Vegan. I hope she doesn’t mind the carving knife. It was the first thing to hand when I ran to the kitchen. Jamie though is in his element, flesh to flesh just the way he likes it. They came then went, so to speak. I got them just at the peak moment.