Lording it over the eastern side of the table, Dillon was getting worked up again. Running his fork around the well of his plate had finally produced a clump of pasta meeting with his approval. Suddenly, jarringly, raising the morsel to his mouth, he froze – glared. Tentacles of spaghetti unfurled in the air. “What I can’t understand is why prices go up at all. Why there’s even such a thing as inflation. Why can’t everything just stay the same forever?”
Across from Dillon to the west, over the table, Marcus twirled the thin stem of his wine glass between finger and thumb, as if it were a dart. The piercing part, the point. “You’re joking, right? No! You’re serious!”
Loris knew Dillon’s ways from their working together at the university. They were in the same department but different disciplines. She put her hand on Marcus’s, her husband’s – disarmed him with her touch … soft, velvety. “From a Feminist perspective, I’d say that inflation represents the desire of the economy. You might as well ask why our love doesn’t stay the same forever. Everything has to change and grow. Why not the economy as well?”
With his wife and daughter absent, Dillon’s best ally the whole evening had been Loris. Even so…. It was a line he’d been saving up – vilely, bloodily – ever since the entrée: “Where did you read that, Loris? On the back of a Routledge book?”
Another sort of husband might have stood up to leave then. Marcus didn’t twitch. Once more spinning the stem of his wine glass (only this time, as if to coax flame from betwixt fingers) he turned to his wife: “Hasn’t our love stayed the same all these years? I don’t see you running into someone else’s arms lately.”
Dillon had taken a bite at the worst possible moment. Out he spluttered, through a mouthful of half-chewed food: “So that’s your definition of…”
It was the seeming to rise from her chair without actually doing so that did it. Dillon halted mid-mouthful. Barely recovered herself from the Routledge gibe, Loris saved him once more (again, touched) with “love” left hanging, unspoken.
Ever so slightly alighting, re-settling herself now, she turned to her husband: “Darling, it’s not a matter of people leaving each other or not leaving each other. Love grows within love.” She pursed Marcus’s lips with one finger – shush, hush.
Open-mouthed, gaping, suffocating, all the while, Dillon sat before them – slowly unfreezing: “Love grows within love… I’ll have to think about that one.” When he spoke, Dillon spoke with a shocking, horrible serenity.
Bread rolls were scattered about like shotgun slugs. Candles bled whitely. Patches of red wine glowered between.
Tonight, as usual, he’d over catered, overburdening the occasion. To Italian music he’d cooked, fussed, sprinkled seasonings. To the tunes of the “boot of the north”, eternally punting Sicily into the depths of the Mediterranean. To the cacophony of the country to which, last week, Dillon’s wife and daughter had fled.
Or so it felt to him. And the more it felt that way, the more Dillon went too far, toppling over the edge of the world, the music of himself running to seed.
The Wednesday before, he’d invited Loris over for dinner; and through her, more distantly, Marcus. He’d been photocopying Proust at the time. He’d been lonely.
All four of them, the three at the table and the one in Italy – Dillon’s wife, Miriam – were in their upper forties. They could feel the future staring them down.
All four of them, also, had children: Loris and Marcus, two younger ones; Dillon and Miriam, just the one – a daughter, 18 – destination of all love. The trip to Italy was Helene’s reward for completing year 12 at her Selective High School.
They were something, these people, and knew it. As a real-estate agent, Marcus understood the value of the right question, timely asked. With midnight ticking over, he cleared his throat. “Loris tells me you hate journalists Dillon, why?”
“Yes, why do you hate journalists, Dillon? Why Dillon why?” Flippancy was still possible for Loris, preferring to sip at her wine as if it were a sacrament (one drink to every three of the men’s) even as midnight and yesterday slipped away.
“I don’t hate them individually. I might even say that some of my best friends…” He broke off, went another way: “It’s when they mass together that journalists become pests.”
“Maybe it’s the same with people. Individually we’re all all right. Collectively we can be monsters. Did you hear about what happened in Ireland this morning?”
“That’s the north, Loris. My girls are only going to the south, after Rome.”
Sighing, Dillon poured some more Primitivo all round. Gone forever, midnight.
“How much would this place be worth, Marcus?”
“You’re joking again, right? I can’t just give you a figure off the top of my head. I’m not even sure… Are you in Fitzroy here? Or Clifton Hill?”
“We’re borderline here.”
Loris heard Dillon’s reply over again in her head. She didn’t even have to think the thought forming there to take delight in it.
“Dillon, what are you working on at the moment?” she asked.
“This and that. I need to take a slash, sorry.” He stared at Marcus while getting up, daring him to glance at his watch.
On Dillon’s way down the corridor, he ducked into the small home gym he’d recently had installed in the spare room. He shaped up to the punching bag. The “Leslie Odell Memorial Punching Bag,” as he’d christened it. Swinging at it once, twice, he feinted left and right, paused for a moment. “Damn establishment poet,” he whispered, embracing the bag breathlessly. One final jab and he was done.
“What’s he doing in there?” Marcus wailed at Loris. “‘Taking a slash’ my arse.” For the third time, he looked at his watch.
Meanwhile, Dillon inspected himself in the bathroom mirror. It was then that he saw the tear, inconclusively forming, just beneath his left eye. And in that tear, in that tear in the mirror, flashed an image of his wife. Of Miriam in Italy. Of Miriam staring back at him. The last time he’d been in Rome, as he remembered it, the sky had been a puffed-up, bloated blue, as if its colour had been poorly applied, slapdashedly, to the undersides of the real sky. A Renaissance rush job. That’s where they must be now, his wife and his daughter, in Rome. Rather, in Roma, as they’d be saying to themselves, trying to fit in. Dillon pulled a face into the glass.
He couldn’t resist detouring once more by the punching bag. Poor pathetic Leslie Odell, he thought, as he traced a single finger down its glistening black skin.
“We should be going.”
Dillon would have been surprised if she hadn’t said it. Still he froze, statue-like, pretending; tilted over his glass, the bottle he’d picked up on the way back to his chair. A single drop rolled into his goblet, a single tear of red wine, Primitivo.
“What happened to the old days, Loris, staying up all night, watching the dawn?”
“Do you know you’re sounding more and more like Warwick Stonehouse?”
Best served cold, her Routledge-crack payback.
Dillon looked at Marcus. “Say I’m joking again and I’ll flatten you.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Just let me finish doing this, then you’ll see.” Dillon followed up the tear of wine with the rest of the bottle. It made a perfect glassful.
Which he shot into the air! “To Marcus ‘How-many-people-can-I-cheat-today’ Simons-Wallace.”
“Careful, let’s not turn Irish all of a sudden.” Faintly, Loris coloured … touched.
“Don’t worry, darling, I’m going to let that go. Too much drink and too little love.”
And with that, Marcus and Loris were gone. And Dillon did get to see the dawn, amidst the stagnating pasta and Primitivo. And finally he made contact.
It was still Saturday evening in Rome.
“How’s Roma?” he’d offered, and they’d both laughed.
He’d heard them, and no more, for there was something wrong with Skype, and while they could see him, he couldn’t see them.
“Do you want to turn off the camera at your end?” his daughter had asked.
“It doesn’t seem fair that we can see you and you can’t see us,” added Miriam.
“No, it’s okay. Everything’s okay.”
“What’s wrong then? What’s happened?”
He’d opened another browser earlier. Now he typed in a Search command: “Nude live girls.” He’d forgotten for a moment that they could see him.
“Stop bothering with the Skype, Dad. Just tell us what’s wrong.”
He jumped; collected himself. “I invited Loris and Marcus over for dinner.”
“Did you tell him we’re thinking of selling?”
“He said he’ll come back during the week and do a proper inspection in the light.”
Helene yawned, as if a little bit of her father’s time zone, some flakes of early tomorrow morning, had shaken away from his Melbourne image, crawled their way across the blue-hued world, and sprinkled themselves upon her skin.
A new girl looked up, started waving, uncovering her breasts.
“Where are you?”
“Darling, we’re still in Rome.”
“I mean where in Rome are you?”
“We’re in our hotel, in the lobby. We’re going out soon.”
“Soon? So you don’t want to keep talking to me.”
“We wanted you to be here with us. You said you had work.”
“I can’t just up and leave whenever I want to.”
“Don’t worry about it. We know you’d be here if you could.”
“Dad, have you been writing any more poetry?”
“Have you read the poetry I gave you before you left?”
“You’ve studied poetry at school. Tell me who my poems remind you of.”
“They don’t remind me of anyone, Dad. They remind me of you.”
The girl on Dillon’s screen had given up by now.
The terrorist attack in Rome, the one that everyone would be talking about, would come later that night.
After it, Dillon would write no more poetry, for a while.
His daughter would come top of the state in English Literature.
“I said they don’t remind me of anyone, Dad. They remind me of you.”
“I heard you. I just didn’t know what to say.”
He told them he was tired then, and needed to sleep, and so not much more was said – that Saturday night in Rome, that Sunday morning in Melbourne.
Meanwhile, in the next suburb to the north, Marcus and Loris were already up.
“Why don’t we take the kids to Mario’s for breakfast?”
“I can’t. Don’t you remember? I have an OFI.”
“It’s in Caulfield. You know the Jews.”
She waited, knowing he’d relent. “I can be back by 11.”
And so, over a late breakfast, Loris told Marcus how her first book was almost done. “What do you think of ‘We’re borderline here’ as the title?”
“I like it.”
“Do you want to hear the sub-title?”
Marcus put down the auction results page from the newspaper.
“Critical subjects of post-modernity.”
And with that, the children got restless, and started spilling their orange juices, and so they took their little “sticky-facers” to the park to take turns on the slide. And while Loris helped them climb the metal, warm-to-the-touch ladder, Marcus crouched at the bottom, waiting to sweep his children up in his arms after their descent. He loved the electrical charge they gave off then, loved its quick sting.
They were alive.
They were dead.
200 people, perhaps more, killed in Rome.
But Loris and Marcus wouldn’t hear about it until they drove home, and one of the kids turned on the television, and there it was.
Dillon, they were sure, would still be asleep, after such a night.
They weren’t at all sure what to do.
“Do you think we should call him?”
Patrick West is a Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature in the School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Melbourne Campus. He has a PhD from The University of Melbourne on the feminist psychoanalysis of Julia Kristeva and he is a widely published creative writer primarily in the short story form. His current major research interest is in the relationships of architecture and writing.
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Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Creative Works Editor: Anthony Lawrence