freshly squeezed pulp noir
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Instalment 12: pages 48-51 [Elliot drives back to Canberra, and attends dinner with Marina's flatmates]
TND was traditionally a late-starting event, and by the time we arrived it was only in mid-swing. Plates of cheeses, bread and crackers lay half-demolished about the lounge-room, and most of the dozen-odd guests were already balancing on their knees chipped share-house crockery bearing rice and a thick vegetarian curry. A patina of steam hung in the air, spreading the lingering scent of spices.
“Hi guys,” called Sarah, congenially waving her beer in our direction.
I waved back with my free hand, the other clutching a bottle of the Tradies second-least expensive red. I scanned the room and noted Jenny and, with a slight shock, Danielle. She smiled at me broadly, and raised her wine glass just a fraction. I didn’t have time to replace the idiotic stunned expression on my face with something more cogent before Eva bundled me into the kitchen.
“Come on,” she said. “Time to say our hellos and get that bottle opened.”
Ted and Trish, the couple that had first leased the house, were doling out the last of their curry from a veritable vat on the stove to the last of the guests, standing utterly swathed in steam. Between them and us were a few gangly, shaggy-haired men in skivvies and women without make-up in cardigans. A typical Canberra house party.
“Hi guys,” called Ted. “Let’s get that wine open, give its lungs a chance!”
“Good to see you,” cried Trish, barrelling at Eva.
The two were soon entangled in conspiratorial feminine snatches of half-whispered conversation and punctuating shrieks of laughter. Rather than stand about like a useless lump I soldiered on towards Ted with the wine, to attend to the manful business of corkscrews. A desire to open the wine, though, was about the sum of what we had in common.
I can’t say I’ve ever much liked Ted. I’d always thought he regarded girlfriends as an accessory as easily acquired and disposed of as his ludicrous Hawaiian shirts. The lurid shirts, I always suspected, were chosen to emphasise his gym-hewn muscles and mocha-coloured skin. In pallid Canberra the exotic makes a splash, and after a shy adolescence Ted had turned to weight-training to capitalise on his Sri Lankan Indian genes. His looks and muscle tone drew a lot of attention, particularly in comfortably daggy government town where few outside the military tried that hard. He knew it, and with his laid-back mateyness, he knew how to use it. He’d hit his party years late, but had worked hard to cover ground quickly. My view of him was probably jaded a little further by the fact that several of his short-term serial girlfriends had been women I’d liked, but made only tentative moves towards, in the immediate aftermath of Marina. In my more generous moments I might even have conceded my attitude was one part jealousy to three parts concern for how he treated the women in question. Trish, small, cute and feisty was the first woman to hold him in line for terribly long – if she had. I liked Trish, but had a horrible feeling that one day her sharehouse would implode along with her relationship to Ted, the most likely cause being a taller, blonder woman making him an offer he was too vain to refuse. If Ted knew how I felt about him, he did a good job of ignoring it, treating me with the cheerful condescension he reserved for less well-built males. Still, he was one of Marina’s flatmates, and a talker, so I hoped to make something of the opportunity.