Wednesday, 26th December 2007
He surfaces around mid-morning, joins me for coffee on the decking. After his first cup, he tells me he owes me an explanation. I tell him he doesn’t, he goes ahead anyway. He speaks matter-of-factly but I can see how hard it is for him to talk about this. His face shows no emotion, his voice is quiet and controlled, his gaze is fixed on the sea. Not once does he look at me, like he knows his eyes will him give away .
He’s married. Beautiful wife and beautiful kids. I know this because he shows me the photos he keeps in his wallet. On the morning of the 24th his wife tells him their marriage is over. She’s fallen in love with someone she met on the internet. Been having an on-line affair for months and while Jim’s been in Mundoo the affair shifted into the real world of hotel rooms. That’s why Jim was in Mundoo on the evening of the 24th, why he didn’t feel like engaging in pleasantries with the locals, why he spent the night and most of Christmas Day on the beach, drinking.
He shakes his head. “Crazy thing is, I still love her. You know?”
I nod dumbly.
“I guess that’s the price you pay for falling in love,” he shrugs.
I wonder if it’s worth it. Look at Dan, still pining for his lost love ten years on. Look at me, pining for a man who’s in love with his wife who doesn’t love him. So many of us out there, pining away. Why this flaw in the genetic code of our attraction? It’s like we’re programmed to suffer, like there really is a juvenile God out there that Jung was hinting at, a nasty, sadistic kid of a God who enjoys pulling the fragile little wings off our hopes and dreams and desires. I just don’t understand it, I really don’t. Finding someone to fall in love with is hard enough; finding someone who loves you back is almost impossible. I’m not talking about sexual attraction. I’m talking about love. If sex was all I wanted I’d have tumbled Jim into my bed long ago.
The day is warm and sunny. Inside me a sad chill has settled on my heart.
I ask him why he came to Mundoo. He tells me that they were going through a ‘rough patch’ – being a cop’s wife isn’t easy, he explains, still making excuses for her! – and she said she needed some space. The vacancy at Mundoo came up and he decided to fill it for a couple of months to give her the space she needed. He didn’t realize at the time that there was someone waiting in the wings, ready to hop in.
* * *
“Smells good.” Jim looks adorably tousled after a couple of hours of snoozing. The smell of the roasting chicken must have woken him.
“What do you think?” I ask him. I’m crouched in front of the open oven, poking a wooden spoon at at the poor bird, trying to see if it’s done or not.
He crouches down beside me. I can feel the warmth from his body. “Do you think it’s okay?” I mumble.
“Well …..” says Jim, leaning in as if for a closer look. “I’m afraid it’s well and truly dead, Lucy. Ow!” he laughs as I jab him in the side. “Assaulting a police officer now, Ms Teal?”
I’m glad to see the old Jim back. “Do you think it’s cooked enough?”
“Looks done to me. Got a skewer?”
“What do you need a skewer for?”
“To test if it’s done.”
“Use this.” I offer him the wooden spoon.
“Lucy!” He shakes his head in disbelief.
“You’ve really not done much cooking, have you?”
“What’s makes you say that?” I pout, poking at the chicken again. A drumstick falls off.
“Okay. We don’t need a skewer. It’s definitely done.”
I stare unhappily at the dismembered bird. “Not overdone, is it?”
“It’ll be fine, Lucy,” he assures me, then reaches across to brush something off my cheek. Flour, probably, from when I was seasoning the bird. And then the weirdest thing happens. I start to cry. There’s no warning, nothing I can do to stop it, the tears just roll down my face and I have no idea why.
“Hey! hey!” He’s got an arm around me, cuddling me to him like I’m a little kid. He sounds amused and concerned at the same time. It’s so nice I wish I was a little kid, being comforted by him, not a grown woman, embarrassing herself. “Oh, Lucy! I was just kidding. Didn’t mean it.”
“No, no,” I sniffle, “you’re right. I know I’m a rotten cook.”
“Oh, you are not! You’ve cooked up some wonderful meals in the weeks I’ve been here.”
“No, Jim. That was you. I was just the kitchen help.”
“But you ….. “ he taps my nose lightly with his finger, “…. make the best coffee I’ve had bar none.” He squeezes me gently. “And that chicken, Luce … ( ‘Luce?’ ) ……smells delicious.”
I don’t want to spoil this by telling him my tears have nothing to do with the chicken. I don’t know what they’re about. Maybe it’s the onset of the dreaded menopause Melva’s been warning me about.
* * *
from Mundoo ….. contemporary fiction set in a small country town in coastal South Australia