If it’s a sieve, it can’t be leaking
Jenny Sinclair (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Aquarius: you may think your excuses hold water, but really you’re living in a goldfish bowl. Call 1900 675 325 for more details.
That was close to the bone. Louise glanced at Brian, who was chewing a mouthful of muesli with his jaw half-open between bites. But he was ignoring her, as usual. She relaxed and commenced the crossword, busily filling in squares until he applied cold lips to her cheek, muttered “bye” and slammed the door behind him.
Louise spent the afternoon in the spa at Mark’s hotel.
“Only two days this time?” she asked, rubbing the water-wrinkles out of her feet with a thick white towel.
“Which leaves us time for breakfast in the morning,” her lover said, reaching for her with both hands.
But Brian had promised his mother they’d take her to the flower show, without consulting Louise – he never consulted Louise – and even if she’d refused to go, a headache or something, he would have taken the car and then it would be too much of a risk to go out anyway, and so she rang Mark, called breakfast off and suffered through a morning of roses and petunias.
At 12, she laid a hand on the old lady’s arm and called into her ear, not loud but clear, that she had to go to work.
“Doesn’t my son earn enough money?” asked Miriam, and Louise could only look at Brian’s shoes and shrug, because it wasn’t about the money. She’d let her ticket slip once before, and it wasn’t going to happen again. Even if it was just remedial massage, it was a calling, and it was what would support her when she left Brian. She’d leave Brian, one day.
At six, after a four-hour shift at the day spa bringing relief to the shoulders of stressed businessmen, she settled down in the hotel coffee shop – the same hotel where she’d met Mark, a hotel he now avoided lest management find out about them – to read the paper.
Aquarius: Thin ice doesn’t always crack before it snaps. Be careful.
Guilty? Why should she feel guilty? 17 years of marriage and he was the one who’d started it – not just having an affair, no surprises there really – but neglecting her wholesale in the process, spending more than was fair on his mistress, cancelling plans with Louise’s family so he could go off with her – and this after Louise had left a good therapy co-op and moved clear across the country so Brian could take a better job.
And when she found out, sure, he apologised – but he also said, two days later, while driving to his mother’s house, that Louise shouldn’t think she had an excuse to fuck around on him now.
Louise hadn’t thought the thing through that far, but his words became a stone in her shoe, a seed of irritation spawning the pearly bliss she found with Mark, eight years younger, skinny, red-haired and married as all hell. Every month or so his work rounds in IT support brought him to Brisbane and Louise would wear suspenders and stockings under her tracksuit pants, and spend the afternoon in his room.
Brian bored her. Brian had cheated on her. But there was their house back in Perth, the shares, the car, all in his name. There was the annual trip to Spain, to a town she loved even more than she loved Mark’s ropy little body, the evenings on the terrace with the friends who shared the rent of their super-cheap villa. There was her mother, who loved Brian and actually believed divorcees went to hell. He bored her, but she knew him, and she wasn’t ready to move on. He was rude to her friends and unromantic, but at least since his affair had ended she got some sex between Mark’s visits to town. She had her painting trips to the country, her three yappy, gorgeous Pomeranians. And, she guessed, if he was still with her, he must love her a bit, and she wasn’t brave. The wide world scared her.
So she stayed, put dinner on the table every night, and thought her way across the freckled terrain of Mark’s naked body on a Thursday night, when Brian went out to badminton and she stayed home and masturbated.
“No excuse,” he’d said.
Brian took his mother out to dinner after the flower show and got home late. In the morning, he opened the paper and offered to read her their horoscope. Her birthday was the day after his, three years behind. He was 51, she was 48.
Aquarius: Are you drowning, treading water or holding your breath? Only you can decide.
Louise spread butter on her toast, against her doctor’s orders. She was getting fatter. She liked it. She was 48 and tired of feeling cold when she swam in the public pool on winter afternoons.
“I’m going to Adelaide next week,” Bruce said.
“OK,” she said. The woman was in Adelaide.
“Nothing will happen,” he said.
Like I care, she thought.
“OK,” she said.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” she said.
She drove him to the airport. He’d be gone four days. They had a coffee at the cafe next to the departure gate. Gate six.
“Hopefully,” she said, “I’ll get the second layer of paint on the bathroom while you’re gone.”
“You mean you hope you will…or will you be painting in great hope?”
“You know what I mean. It’s a perfectly good word.”
“But it’s not correct.”
So he left with a quick kiss and she didn’t stay to wave the plane off. She’d only come out to drop him off so she could keep the car. He didn’t believe in taxis.
The early flight meant she was stuck in the rush-hour traffic on the way home. There was a crash up ahead: an overturned fuel tanker or a semi-trailer loaded with escaping chickens or maybe a three-car pileup; anyway, the traffic was diverted off the freeway and through the suburbs that were all North of something or West of something else. The traffic jerked and crawled along like a string of worry beads. Passing a newsagent in a graveyard strip of shops, she saw a newspaper banner: “PM hopeful of recovery” and her mind flashed from Brian’s pedantry to his old job as a sub-editor on a small suburban newspaper, before he got into corporate media training, to that work-mate of his, Fox or Fix or something, who’d got sloshed at the wedding and come over all wicked fairy-godmother, predicting a sticky end to the marriage. Where was he now, Fox? Still subbing, maybe, working at the metro paper? Writing the horoscopes?
At the end of the strip of shops was a concrete-gutter laneway. Along one breezeblock-and-steel-beam wall was a flowing mural in spraypaint blues and whites, not the light sparkling colours of the bay, but deep-sea blue and silver flashes topped with dirty, creamy foam. A tiny boat pointed into the face of a wave. The Great Wave at Kanagawa. She knew the picture. And suddenly, there was something else she knew.
She pulled over, yanked the handbrake on and left the car unlocked as she walked down the alley towards a small door set into the bottom of the mural. It was labelled with a single word etched into a brass plate.
Brian didn’t notice for three months. Then one day, as she was pulling off a jumper and her shirt came up with it a little, he said: “What’s that?”
“That. Is that a tattoo?”
“I’ve always had that.”
“No you haven’t.”
“I got it before I even met you, Brian. It’s always been there.”
Her voice was mild, neutral, set at the level she used for asking him to please pass the salt; her eyes were quiet, clear and green as a small wave rising over sand; the tattoo had always been there. Brian must be mistaken. She pulled her shirt down.
That night, while Brian watched the footy replay and ate pizza, she took a bath before bed. She rose up out of the warm water, her head dizzy and fogged with steam, turned her backside to the mirror and gazed over her shoulder at the stylised wave breaking across the base of her spine. Perhaps if you stretched and pulled at its five peaks, crisscrossed with bluish currents and trailing a tail of eddying fluid, you could read a name in there, if you squinted and imagined hard. Perhaps it had always been there, a symbol on her skin, a mark.
Jenny Sinclair is a Melbourne writer. Her fiction has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Verandah and Island, among other magazines, and her creative non-fiction has been published in Griffith Review, Wet Ink and The Age. Her non-fiction book When We Think About Melbourne was published by Affirm Press in 2010. She is currently undertaking a Master of Creative Writing degree at the University of Melbourne and tutoring undergraduates at Melbourne.