Authors: Nicki Reed
Nicki Reed was born in 1968 and lives in Melbourne with her husband and three sons.
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright © Nicki Reed 2012
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published by The Text Publishing Company 2012
Design by WH Chong
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Reed, Nicole M.
Title: Unzipped / Nicki Reed.
ISBN: 9781921922459 (pbk.)
ISBN: 9781921921353 (ebook)
Dewey Number: A823.4
For Sam, who believed.
Top Ten Reasons Why That Wasn’t Sex:
Did we have sex? Is that what happened?
Last night, I tiptoed in at 12.30. Avoided the creaking floorboard in the hallway, had a quick and quiet shower, crept into bed next to Mark. I didn’t sleep. I kept thinking about her.
When you drive into town for an 8 a.m. start it’s as if the day is still rolling out of bed and it’ll walk to work the long way. I’m late, aiming for nine o’clock, and Whitehorse Road is cactus.
A car is parked in my lane.
I change lanes and change my approach.
Mark. His smile, his hands, how he never asks a rhetorical question. He wants a baby. My stomach churns Weet-Bix and cold milk.
Raindrops slap the windscreen, bursting into thousands of little bubbles, like the bubbles on my champagne glass. The glass glistened, BJ’s lips glistened, the wet tip of her tongue glistened. Everything glistened and shone.
A car horn.
Snap out of it.
Green light and I join the procession.
Think about work.
My library and its relocation. Books loaded unloaded loaded into shelves, the dust, the barcodes, the catalogue. Love it. Mark says I should stop referring to the library as mine—it belongs to the law firm—but he didn’t develop the collection and its good reputation. It is my library.
Stopped at the top of a hill, in the shadow of a tram, I’m back to last night. Red lights are good for reminiscing even if you don’t want to.
Our glasses empty on the coffee table, the TV turned down, BJ’s lounge room strobing another world. I didn’t know I had it in me.
It wasn’t me.
It was her.
Am I still the same?
I flick down the visor and check my reflection in the little rectangular mirror. Light brown eyes, almost hazel, big dark curls, bright white collar. Mark says I’m an Aussie Catherine Zeta-Jones. He’s being generous. He’s a generous guy.
A cyclist rolls to a stop in front of me. And another one. Cyclists take up too much space and they look ridiculous. This isn’t the Tour de France, it’s peak hour.
The lights change to green and the cyclists take off. I pass them knowing I’ll be held up by them at the next red. You can never get rid of them. Top Ten Reasons Why Cyclists Are Like Flies.
Five kilometres down the road a white one-tonne van is parked in a clearway and the traffic has stopped. Horns. The van’s owner runs out of a shop, protecting his clipboard from the rain. More horns.
Her hair, her face. Leather jacket. Attitude. Her grin when I asked her if she wanted a ride home. She was at the pub where I’d had my birthday drinks. At the table next to mine, laughing with her friends. She said motherfucker when she missed a taxi. Made me smile.
The high-heeled clunk of my shoes hitting the floor. The couch her accomplice. Her hands sliding along my legs, pushing my dress up, the fabric pooling on my stomach.
‘Christ,’ I twist in my seat, glance in the side mirror.
‘The body does remember.’
I try to focus on the radio discussion about social media and the latest celebrity implosion. Outside: a noise, snick. In the rear-view mirror there’s nothing.
Pedestrians cross the road with their heads bowed. I turn my windscreen wipers up, the rubber scrapes across the windscreen. The tram tracks shine cold steel.
The cold steel bite of BJ’s belt buckle on my thigh.
Concentrate on the road.
Another cyclist. His clothes are dripping, his bike is dripping. Brake lights are reflected in the black lacquer gloss of the wet bitumen.
Her hand between my legs.
I’d struggled, but not much. Pushed against this kid showing me I wasn’t who I thought I was. BJ had spunk. She knew she could do whatever she liked. She had me with a
God, you’re wet, bitch.
Ten minutes to nine and twenty minutes late, a new list forms.
Top Ten Reasons To Forget That Ever Happened.
Buses sluice through the junction of Hoddle and Johnston streets. On my left are the blue-red-blue lights of police attending a bingle. An accident is practically a requirement in all this rain.
A cyclist beside me, one hand holding on to the roof of my car, the other on the handlebar. I turn the radio off, open the window and look into the blue and bent reflection of rain-spattered glasses.
You meet someone and there’s something in her eye, the clearness of her skin, her freckles. She’s a problem-solver. A hardy, upright, can-do type.
‘Do you always drive like that?’ the cyclist says.
‘Like there’s no one else on the road.’
‘Can you let go of my car?’
Her two-way radio squawks. The light changes to green but we’re not moving.
‘You know you hit me?’ She holds up her grazed hands, turns, shows me her ripped bike shorts. ‘See?’
‘You changed lanes into me. You didn’t indicate. I had nowhere to go.’
Driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription drugs. Driving when sleep-deprived. What about driving under the influence of adultery?
Nothing can surprise me this morning. I pull into the kerb, switch my hazard lights on and climb out of my car. Walk around to the passenger side. A bike-coloured scratch. The Nike swoosh. I just did it.
The cyclist is my height and lighter, fitter, her legs could be carved of blond wood. The bump on her chin is getting bluer and bluer.
‘Oh God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ I introduce myself and try to take her details, but my hands are shaking and the pen is sliding on the back of the envelope.
She stops me. ‘I’m Justine,’ she says. ‘Look, I need new bike shorts—I can’t go around with my arse hanging out all day—but I’m okay. I think I’m better off than you. You’re not going to cry, are you?’
My nose is tingling, my throat hurts. A dented cyclist and a scratch on my car. ‘No, I’m not going to cry. I just feel like it. Can I drive you some place? Give you a lift?’
I’m prepared to argue. We’re both holding the handlebar.
Another cyclist rolls up, stops, foot on the kerb. He’s wearing a jacket, leather patches on the elbows, his cord pants are secured at his calves with bicycle clips, his helmet has what looks like a dentist’s mirror taped to the side.
‘You okay?’ he says to Justine.
It’s as if I’m not here.
‘Yeah, mate, I’m fine. Thank God it’s Friday, eh?’ she says.
They share a look: drivers. He takes off with a wobble.
‘It wasn’t intentional, you know!’ I call out, and then turn to Justine. ‘Was that the oldest looking young person you ever saw? Can your bike fit in the back?’
She detaches the wheels and manages her bike into the boot.
‘That was magical. How did you do that?’
‘It’s not magic. It’s where you stand, the angle of the bike in relation to the angle of your hips, and it’s all the swearing you do under your breath.’
She’s taken off her rain jacket and spread it across the front passenger seat before sitting down. Considerate.
‘You’re used to getting your way, aren’t you?’ Justine says.
‘I couldn’t just leave you there. I’m known for my safe driving. Really. People are bored by it. At least you’ve taken my mind off my problems.’
She smiles. ‘You have greater problems than a hit and run?’
‘I’d hate you to characterise it that way,’ I say, thinking of her courier company, my insurance provider. The police. ‘It was more of a nudge and wander than a hit and run. And it’s a problem. Singular.’
‘Well, if you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.’
Outside the museum a pair of drivers has pulled over. Fighting in real-life doesn’t look like fighting in the movies. The men scrabble on their hands and knees on the footpath. Ugly, scary, human, no sound effects. Their cars are blocking Rathdowne Street and traffic is forced to a single lane.
Justine opens her window, leans out. ‘Are you guys back here tomorrow, same time? Because I missed the start.’
She’s like a sitcom hero: take a fall, get up and show the PG audience you’re okay.
‘Listen, I saw this on TV,’ she says. ‘We say our problems at the same time. You never know, it might help.’
Only Mark and my sister Ruby know my business and I’m not about to tell either of them about the couch. I
don’t know this cyclist, she doesn’t know me. She won’t be at any dinner party I’m attending.
‘Sure, why not?’
‘On three,’ she says and counts down on her fingers.
‘Last night I kissed a girl on her couch.’
‘I’m in love with my housemate.’
‘On her what?’ Justine says it with two question marks and I’m glad I’m driving. I don’t have to see her reproachful look or attempt one of my own.
‘Her couch. I kissed a girl on her couch.’
‘And you’re worried because it was girl? So, what, are you bi-curious?’
‘I’m not anything. I’m married.’
Justine looks at me. ‘And your marriage is solid?’
It takes a stranger to ask something like that.
‘We’re up to having babies.’
‘So the girl isn’t the problem, the marriage is?’
‘Yes,’ I shake my head. ‘No. I’ve never done anything like this.’
‘It was only a kiss?’
‘And some touching.’ I wince, look away.
The peak hour throng makes room for a fire drill. A supervisor in a blue construction helmet, others in red construction helmets, no fire-engines, lots of milling about and drinking coffee from tall cups. It’s never too early to fill the corner of Lonsdale and Swanston streets.
‘I mean, she touched me.’
Still, you don’t take your shoes off unless you’re planning to do something. The leather suck of her couch. I didn’t resist. I can still hear the echo of her front door closing behind me.
‘Do you think you’ll see this person again?’
And I’m back in real time.
‘No. No way.’
‘Peta, it’s nothing. So you groped and kissed a girl…’
BJ’s zips stayed up. I was too scared. Too struck. My hands were in her hair, she was wearing her jacket, my hand was on her shoulder, the jacket was smooth and cool. I was following her lead. I was not myself. It was not sex.
‘Whatever,’ Justine says. ‘My point is it’s not going to become a habit.’
‘You’re right. I’m not seeing her again. I almost never go to the pub and my birthday is only once a year. It’s Mark and me all the way to the maternity ward. If he’s home long enough to impregnate me.’
‘And this was last night?
I sigh. ‘Yes, last night.’
‘The first of April.’ She cannot get the smile off her face.
‘Yes. My birthday is on April Fool’s Day. Somebody’s got to be born then.’
We’re in a multi-level garage at the King Street end of Little Bourke Street. Seven minutes of driving in seasick spirals up to the top floor. The higher you park in the garage the more it smells like a men’s toilet.
‘Okay. Doesn’t matter. Peta, worry about stuff worth worrying about.’
‘Like unrequited love?’ I put on my big-sister hat, it feels good. ‘How long has this been going on?’
‘I’ve been trying to figure it out, when I fell in love with him. What day. I think it was when he knocked on my door to rent the room.’
‘Sounds serious,’ I say. The car is fogging up. I elect to live with the smell of urine and open my window. This is important.
‘It’s doing my head in. He’s there across the table from me being gorgeous and funny and I want him so bad I can taste it. I mean it. I want him so much it’s like I’ve been there already.’
I’ve felt that desire for Mark, but the burn has been tempered by career advancement, his and mine. We used to be so proud of our separate interests, how we lived not in each other’s pockets, but a pair of jeans away. Now it wouldn’t hurt to go on a weekend antiquing in the country, sign up to a course in couples kayaking or take a term of literary criticism for lovers. Anything to keep me off the leather couches of strange women.
‘It’s not fair on either of us,’ Justine goes on. ‘I interpret and reinterpret every little thing he says.’
‘What’s the problem? Has he got a girlfriend?’
She hides an eye behind a sheepish knuckle.
‘He doesn’t know, does he?’
So, Justine is human like the rest of us. She hops out of the car and gets her bike out of the boot, magic in reverse.
I shoulder my laptop bag, grab my coat. ‘Men are not mind-readers and they don’t do hints. You have to tell him.’ I lock the car. Wet my finger and give the scratch a rub. No good.
‘That’s what my sister says. She says our house is a minefield of unresolved sexual tension and hurry up and tell him already. Peta, what if he rejects me?’
‘You? How could he reject you? Look at that hair.’ She’s pulling her hair back before putting her helmet on.
‘Nicole Kidman called, she wants her hair back. Just say it: what have you got to lose?’
Bikes aren’t allowed in the lift but that doesn’t faze Justine. She balances hers, vertical, on its rear wheel.
‘What if he doesn’t like me?’
‘What if he does? Think about that.’
The lift is the epicentre of the odour and I’m careful not to lean on the walls. I press ‘G’ with an elbow. ‘God, I feel so much better. Thanks, Justine. Now I can see the couch for what it was—curiosity, opportunity.’
Sometimes it takes a stranger to tell you what to do. They don’t know about Aunty Maudie and the apple tree and Great Uncle Donald on a Gallipoli beach, how he loved those heirloom apples, and though it was years ago, and nobody much remembers, you better not touch that tree. A stranger is in the here and now and they’ve brought an axe.
The lift doors open, we pile out, Justine first.
‘I’m telling Stu tonight. I’ll ask him if he wants to marry me, or at least go to the movies. Thanks, Peta, I feel better, too. You know, when you’re not running over cyclists you have a million dollar smile?’
I flash her another million dollars and we say goodbye.
Justine rides away, the wrong way up the one-way street. Car horns, shouting—nobody likes a cyclist. If I hadn’t told her about the couch I wouldn’t have minded a new friend.
The walk to work is quick and I’m still smiling when I enter the lift. My image is shining in the doors. The same as yesterday. The day before. Nothing has changed. I press the button for the twenty-ninth floor.