The only time Betty and I have gone out together less was before we met.
These days, we’re like superhero and nerdy cover-identity: never seen together in company. Even in our Cumbersome terrace: Betty is feeding Sam and Ellen at the table while I’m upstairs shoving badly folded clothes into badly arranged drawers; I am bathing, while Betty is laundering; I am dishing, while Betty is wishing our beautiful girls sweet dreams. Then we look at each other in our dining room as if we’ve mistakenly reached for the same suitcase at the arrivals carousel – kind of puzzled and embarrassed – before we each remember a phone call or email to follow up – and we’re gone again.
I am not a crossword. Love does not complete me. But you’d reckon it wouldn’t split you up like this.
Well, I’ve obviously not been paying attention at the gigs at the Apollo Theatre, or even the Viceroy jukebox, where the love dismemberment songs are on high rotation.
“Take these arms” “Take these lips” “If I give my heart to you…”. Butchery ballads of lift and separate: “You just keep me hanging on”.
Sophie has been absent from our Camperdown park meetings for the past few months. I tried to coax her out of retirement by organising a bush-walk through Wolli reserve – the last hunk of bush in Sydney’s inner west. But no.
Then the word came out via Sabina and Colette that Ernie and Sophie were spilt. Isn’t it strange how couples break up, but individuals break down. And, the announcement having been made, Sophie was ready to reappear.
It was the full catastrophe, she told us: Ernie having it off with a work chick definitely younger and possibly prettier. And going on long before the conception of their second child Aaron, now big beneath Sophie’s maternity track pants.
Sophie had made the jump from a Cumbersome house to a Dulwich Hill apartment, with Ruth in tow and Aaron in belly, by virtue of an exit strategy which included paying doctors’ fees from their joint account, then having the medicare rebates paid into her personal account. By buying boots and appliances on the card at DJ’s, then selling them off on EBay.
Finally she was ready.
She marched into Ernie’s open-plan office, holding Ruth’s hand in her left, and resting her right on the bump in the very oldest trackpants she could find. She screamed, she gloried. Tears fell from her cheeks and smacked onto the stylish ironbark floor like tiny chunks of meat. She tore Ernie and her cheap little slut to bits right there in front of everyone. Then she turned her back on them. And it was good.
This morning I closed the gate behind me and walked up our concrete footpath towards Cumbersome Road. And it was bad.
It had been a rough night of shit and spew with our girls. It had been a rough morning of bile and bad temper between me and Betty.
I stopped at the pedestrian lights and looked across the corner. I was dressed in work clobber – a button-up-shirt, vest and jacket – on my way to my messed-up desk at the Ministry of Truth.
Across the corner I saw a man in a maroon sweatshirt; it had a hood, but the hood was not raised. And I thought: “Why am I walking to the station that way? – that’s not the quickest way…” and “Why am I keeping to the shade when the morning air is so cold, and the sunlight is so warm?” And slowly I realised, as the lights changed and a cloud passed overhead, that he was not me, but another person: with legs, arms, and lips all of his own. “… and my heart fell at your feet.”
Leaving the abattoir of love, the suburb of slaughter, I met the train at Newtown for the Ministry of Truth and returned, nine hours later, to Cumbersome.