By Ed Carmine
The crunch of her palette cleansing salad was a detestably audible as well as visual experience. Her incisors ground the spines of her lightly dressed spinach leaves into a flecky green resin with mechanic precision. My salmon arrived, midway through her bouts of frontal lobe rattling chews and nauseating small talk, drenched in its own juices and lifeless in its bowl.
‘How do you know Stef?’ she queried with a feigned furrowed brow whilst licking both sides of her knife to receive her money’s worth of dressing.
‘I played racquetball with him a few times.’ My eyes lowered over my spineless fish as to not illicit a response from such an unambiguous reply.
‘Racquetball?’ This time she seemed genuinely confused. Her knife rotated cyclically through the space between us and acted as a stop gap, albeit only briefly.
I knew a return of serve conversation was going to be the order of the day, but eventually the pace and gusto wore off even Pete Sampras’ service game.
‘Two men on a court and a little rubber ball.’ A simple answer for a simple mind.
A meek retort would inevitably be heading back over the net. By way of conceding, I let my cutlery attack the crispy skin of the carcass before me. The meat stripped itself from its remaining skeletal frame and melted like it’s complimenting jus in my firmly closed mouth.
After noticing her preposterously ordered glass of Shiraz was near barren, I took the onus of ordering the two of us another round. She stuck to the red in a pathetic attempt to divert from the fact she was a philistine. I rounded the edges of my fury with another double Glenfiddich twenty-one. It was a habit I owed to my father, who had bored me senseless in my youth about the intricacies of the distilling process, before he eventually became bored of me and fled postcodes in his Mercedes. I nipped harshly at the rapidly emptying tumbler. The now sphering shape of my rage again grew at right angles as I made the ironic connection between my single malt’s birthdate and the mental age of my lunch partner. I would almost certainly need the aid of a handful more highland elixirs to see this date through.
The woman directly to my right wore large face eating sunglasses. The frames of which were several seasons out of date. The lenses stole any clear view of her eye shade, but provided a fair frame of the symmetry of her face. Middle aged, but taut. Scowling, but still social. A woman who would have undoubtedly turned heads in her youth. Her story was etched across her body for the entirety of the alfresco diners to see, but it was her sunglasses that had stolen my attention.
She had been gifted them from a not so distant relative the first Christmas we were together. A pair of Prada Sunglasses that hid her jade iris’ like earned cash in a vault. She had never initially struck me as the kind of girl who would happily flaunt designer labels, but after catching the first glimpse of herself within the gargantuan frames, it was clear a large part of her had been bought and sold for the first time.
Our afternoons had previously consisted of juvenile flirtation and boundaries being explored in each other’s bedrooms, instead of fine tuning our long division or scouring sources in the myriad of textbooks that lay dormant in our lockers. Once she had discovered the decadence of high end fashion, after school hours came to be spent on shopping centre escalators and in a plethora changing rooms. Louis Vuitton handbags, Hermes scarves and Pandora charm bracelets replaced striped blazers, T-bars and straw boaters at a blistering pace and a dizzying cost. It mattered little to either of us, as she loved the way she now portrayed herself to the world and I loved that the world saw her with me.
The waiter returned with a heavily topped tumbler and a Bordeaux glass filled, thankfully, well below the bowl. The last thing I needed was to provide this girl with any further ammunition.
Her eyes scanned the menu intently. I watched in agitation as her index finger ran across the mains, pausing on the foreign names of crucial ingredients.
‘What’s Beretta?’ She blurted ‘Like, I get everything else on this one, but what’s Beretta?’
I sighed into my scotch.
‘Burrata. It’s a complimentary cheese. Very rich.’ I curtly replied, avoiding her gaze. ‘A Beretta is a bloody hand gun.’
Her eyes had returned to the listings. My shared wisdom flying directly over her recently straightened hair. Her tongue poised loosely inside her cheeks as though her curd and sausage pizza had already been stuffed inside of her wide set mouth.
Averting my gaze across the road to repeal from the vulgarity of her table manners, I was drawn to the slender frame of a tall young woman saddled down by washing bags on either shoulder. She walked with an impossibly elegant lope, her mood unburdened by the weight of her wardrobe full of unlaundered garments. Beside her strode a partner, squalled in appearance and toking harshly on a finely rolled cigarette whilst walking a shabbily kept Irish setter. The impish nature of the leashed canine reminded me of Rufus, my own dog of the same breed, who fled our leafy eastern home one morning years ago. The girl managed to find time to pat another rogue mutt, converse jovially with its owner and peruse the several racks of clothing outside St Vincent De Paul, all within the space it took me to empty my glass hastily for the second time.
Paris chic was out. Fine arts courses and ill-fitting overalls had taken the place of price tags and tailored pants. Her confidence grew steadily whilst all the while her wardrobe shrunk to only bare essentials. Her housemates giggled invariably each time I visited. First, it was my Burberry trench coat, for which I was referred to as ‘pops’ or ‘boss’. She had tethered my rage that first time by stroking my inner thigh lovingly and telling me how handsome I was. She wasn’t wrong, her plebeian housemates were simply jealous I had correctly reassured myself.
My polished loafers, topsiders, mustard suit and wayfarers all met the same derision on all subsequent visits to her rotting weatherboard shanty. The announcement of my career one afternoon was met with howls of laughter from the throng of poncho wearing deadbeats, who would no doubt one day require my professional services. In reality, I would sooner let them rot in a grimy cell before extending any form of olive branch. I wanted to bury the hatchet deep within their skulls, parting their barber college haircuts they all wore in a sickening display of ironic conformity.
It always took hours of convincing to get her to stay at my place. A well maintained and perfectly situated inner city apartment that I had the pleasure of solely owning. It was all paid for by the multitude of overtime hours spent in my office cubicle, consulting common law or statues to help line the partner’s pockets at a later date in front of a jury. Her consistent refusals, laden with patchy excuses, never made any sense. Where else would she rather fucking be?
When she did eventually visit on the off occasion she was ‘In the area’ or ‘could find the time’, she brought with her ugly objects she had found on her way over. Objects that had me questioning if she had been spending her time at the tip rather than with me. Broken toys, rusted signage & warped shrubbery in old tomato tins were her offerings. Gifts designed to supposedly ‘fight my apartments sterility head on.’ The paints she used on her cheap canvases were obviously having an adverse effect on her mental state. That and the bongs, that intruded in her day to day life. More adhered to, it seemed, than bathing twice daily.
In an attempt to stem the bleeding, I asked her to move in late one wet September evening. Away from the sordid influence of her flat mates and fellow students and back to her roots of culture and prosperity.
‘I’ll give it some thought.’ She muttered at my Italian marble tiles, before carrying herself home in paint stained sneakers.
The sell of a private car space and a shared walk in wardrobe was obviously unnecessary to somebody with a faded myki and an annual laundrette budget of under three figures.
The balls of her feet ached deeply as her ill-fitting orthotics caused more harm than they did good. Her stride was on world record pace as she patrolled through the afternoon pedestrians to her bi monthly book club. The hands on her Swatch told a sombre tale. She was late and her copy of Infinite Jest lay creaseless in her canvas shoulder bag. She pressed hastily and repetitively on the crossing light button, urging the lights to change and alleviate some of the bad luck she had been served since the days beginning. Her calves began to stiffen with lactic acids, a problem that would never had eventuated if she could have found her bike pump. Her eyes followed the movements of the opposite footpath, picking up on sounds and sights, smiles and laughter. Until she saw him. His jawline had been hidden under a returned layer of puppy fat and a patchy beard, but it was unmistakably him. The same club master sunglasses hung off the pocket of the same cotton button downs. The same smugness jutting sharply from the same jealous green eyes. Once again it appeared he was praying on the weak, his lunch partner looked as empty as her petty cash jar. He was looking through her, just as he had to her some many years prior. Every comment on deaf ears. Every laugh out of place. She had been a mere trophy on his arm, a toy to parade for the fools and fuckwits he socialised with. By turning down his ring, she avoided living out her days, amongst his assorted garish possessions, as a glass eyed trophy on his wall. She wanted to grab his date and save her. Save her from the vitriol, the pain, the loneliness and the boredom. All she could do was suppress it further. Relieved to no longer be living under the thumb of a child in a tailored suit.
The main courses had arrived by the time I had returned from the lavatory. Thankfully, the waiter had read my glass and provided me with a refill. At seventy-seven dollars a pop, he was doing his job very well.
The Burrata was weaved across her plate like the yarn of an inattentive knitter. Her diluted pupils gave evidence of her tastebuds dancing joyfully at the first real encounter with quality ingredients.
My eyes welled as the wind changed directions down the tram tracks. I turned my jacket collar up to expose the tartan print underneath. The scotch had done its job valiantly against the rapidly cooling conditions. An almost tangible barrier had been drawn between the two of us and my bones bathed warmly in familiar afterglow effects.
‘I really like you y’know. We should do this again.’ She exhaled with a heavy scent of fine dairy and early tooth decay.
‘I’ll give it some thought.’ I volleyed, before draining the final residue of scotch and signalling for the check.
Image by Jadon Barnes