Instalment 14: pages 57-61 [Elliot has offended Marina's colleague Jenny at a houseparty]
“Well, if anyone should have intelligent answers, it’s her. But you’re right, I should go apologise,” I answered. My amateurish detective efforts certainly weren’t going to get far without it.
“Don’t rush off just yet,” said Danielle, brushing her fingers over my forearm. For a long moment later, burning nerves recorded their track across my skin.
“You’re right, though,” she said. “It wasn’t polite. What do you expect her to do about it? I agree with you though, there’s something a bit off-putting about jailing the criminals, and just sending these women home.”
I glanced away, a little ashamed, and she leaned in again, head quizzically to one side, forcing me to catch her eye once more.
“You could try smiling, it won’t hurt. Promise.”
I tried. She was right.
“So,” she said impishly, “You were going to call me later.”
“You said to call this week. That gives me some space.”
“Ah, I see. Wouldn’t want to look keen.”
“Definitely not, bad move. Tomorrow at the earliest.”
“So,” she asked, “when you called me tomorrow, how were you going to suggest we catch up? Invite me to something casual, maybe with a group of your friends?”
“That’s pretty much it. You know low pressure, room to breathe,” I said, still smiling. “I was thinking you’d have fun at one of our Sunday brunches. A bit like this, everyone turns up with food and we sit around over coffee for hours.”
“Fantastic, what do you contribute?”
“Background music and pancakes.”
“You don’t play piano while you’re cooking?”
“I’d sooner drink and drive. It’s bad form to get batter on the ivory.”
“What time Sunday?” she asked.
“We always say ten,” I said ruefully, “but most people arrive between half-past and eleven.”
I couldn’t believe how smoothly this was going. It was time to get us into someone else’s conversational circle before I managed to put my foot in it.
“Time to show our faces outside?” I suggested.
Danielle wrinkled her nose prettily and nodded. Her nods came in sharp clusters, almost a spasm. “Sure,” she said, offering me a hand so I could help raise her; assistance I knew she didn’t need.
We headed outside, plunging into the cold air, ears burning, breath drawn forth in long plumes. Eva and Sarah stood with Jenny, enthralled, laughing. Jenny was speaking with sinuous, exaggerated gestures, her two long hands darting in the stuttering street light. I was reminded, for some reason, of passing under the Sydney harbour bridge once on a night ferry, looking up to see a constellation of seagulls in motion about the bridge lights, as we passed into darkness beneath.
Eva caught my eye, waving. Jenny was still holding forth: “… so there we were, butt naked, tearing down the beach and we almost ran over this local walking his dog.”
Eva and Sarah were chortling.
“No, it gets better. It was the old guy from the video store, and he was walking his dog with this torch that was about as subtle as a small spotlight. There we were, lit up for the world to see. Marina froze up completely – so clearly I had to say something.”
“What the hell do you say in that situation?” asked Eva.
Eva exploded with laughter.
“Well,” said Jenny. “I don’t think we’d outraged his morals. Probably made his evening. It’s not like the dog minded.”
“What did Marina do?” I asked, having some trouble picturing the scene. It didn’t sound like her kind of escapade at all.
“I just grabbed her hand and dragged her off quick smart. We had to circle back to our clothes though. She nearly had kittens when we couldn’t find them straight off. She thought the dog-walker had taken them!”
“I hate missing the start of a good story,” said Danielle.
“Happens to me all the time,” I concurred.
“Hello again,” said Jenny, with what seemed a genuine smile. “I didn’t get a chance before to ask what you guys do to fill in the days?”
Touche, I thought. Thrown the focus off her job, and associated dangerous topics, and straight back onto us.
Danielle answered first: “Just finished my PhD. I’ve swung a part-time teaching position at the uni, I’m still pretty stoked about it really.”
Her smile was small, and a little thin.
“I’ve heard people more elated,” said Jenny. “I mean, if you’re starting out with a doctorate, that’s going to affect all kinds of perks and pay, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Getting it was just a little traumatic. By the end, my supervisor … well, we saw things rather differently. He was pretty harsh about my final draft and … it got messy. Really, I just thought about chucking it in. But I got there.”
“Good on you!” said Jenny, rallying to a sister’s struggle. “What department are you in?”
“Um, English. But my thesis was on post-colonial narratives that try and reclaim the idea of miscegenation - you know, fear of the Empire being diluted by intermarriage with the natives. Responses to that by current writers in English. People tend to glaze over when I start talking about it.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “Lawyers get used to friends with glazed faces when they talk about work. I did some English. Only to honours, nothing like a PhD. Who was your supervisor?”
“Monty,” she answered.
Fuck, I though, Monty bloody Brackenridge. As in Brackenridge, author of “Too Solid Flesh: The Homoerotic Hamlet”. No wonder she’d nearly chucked the whole thing in. He was a charismatic enough teacher, but could turn vicious. I’d always been suspicious of his attachment to the word “perverse”. Every relationship in Hamlet was “perverse”, every irony “perverse”, every desire “perverse”. As a party piece, I’d once memorised one of his worst offending paragraphs: The play is riddled with perversity - beginning with the “incestuous” union of the King and Queen. Claudius had perverse desires for Getrude; Laertes may have such feelings for his sister (he obsesses over the idea that she might lose her virginity, her “chaste treasure”, to Hamlet); and does Hamlet desire Ophelia - or her brother? When Hamlet says “by the image of my cause, I see / The portraiture of his”, he is brought to the perverse realisation that in killing Polonius he has created another son seeking vengeance for a father’s death. Narcissistically, Hamlet makes Laertes over in Hamlet’s own “image”: and does Hamlet then see something desirable in him? Above all, Hamlet seeks union with the male principle - represented by joining his father in death. And with which male would he have joined in life?
“Oh,” I said, “didn’t know he did a lot of postcolonial stuff.”
“It was more the miscegenation,” replied Danielle.
“Well,” said Jenny, smiling at Danielle, “so long as it’s about sex and power you’ll get by in academia. Always good to have a crowd-pleasing tewist for publication.” I found myself liking Jenny. Her practical approach, mixed with a certain sexiness. She turned her even smile on me next, “ So you’re a lawyer too, Elliot?”