Women seem to share secrets more readily than men do, but any Australian will probably recognise the characters in my fun yarn about two oldie mates. Other cultures will probably still share the laugh.
There was something wrong. Something different. And Velma was sniffing the breeze.
Theirs was a long term ritual. Every week day Monica and Velma watched Days of Our Lives while curled up on Monica’s sagging two seater lounge, and sucking cups of Bushells tea. One sugar and a splash of milk for Mon, and for Velma, three sugars and black.
The machinations of the Salem crew always played out in total silence, but Mon and Vel’s post mortem was fierce, and punctuated by a second cuppa and some peanut butter sandwiches.
There was rarely a break in the routine. They’d watched daytime tele together since 1985 when Velma and her Fred moved into the fibro triple front next door. Mon lost Wilbur early in 1980 and had lived alone in their two bedroom brick ever since.
On week-ends when Fred was home Mon kept herself to herself except for a trip to the local club on Saturday nights to play Bingo. But of late, things had been different. Mon had been doing things she wouldn’t talk about.
Velma reached for her third sandwich and broke the triangle of white bread in two. She licked her finger and trawled the plate with it to collect crumbs. She sucked at them and prepared to attack the sandwich itself.
‘Mon … Are you ready to tell me? Come on, spill the beans. It’s a fella isn’t it?’
Monica looked sideways at her friend, and then pushed back a lock of silver grey hair from her face. About six weeks ago she’d had it permed for the first time Velma could remember, and now it was getting too long.
‘Come on Mon. You don’t keep things from me!’
Thoughtful, Mon rose from her lumpy seat and limped over to the kitchen to refill the teapot.
The bright purple flowers on her shift clashed awfully with the bright orange of the bench top.
‘Well, I suppose.’
Velma settled her bulk more comfortably, in anticipation.
‘We met at Bingo.’
‘He was across from me and we were both going really well with our cards, chalking up numbers like mad. I had only legs eleven to go and it stayed there for about three numbers and I was sweating. I hadn’t won for weeks.’
‘One number for three turns!’
‘Mmmm. Anyway, it came up. Legs eleven. And I yelled “Bingo” as loud as I could, real excited.
Then I realised he’d yelled too. The man across the table. At the same time. And we looked over at each other. And I saw his eyes. And he was as excited as I was.’
Mon had forgotten to put the lid on the teapot, and the window glass was becoming opaque with rising steam.
“So we had to share the fifty dollars, and when we came back to our seats after collecting it, he ushered me into my chair in such a posh way.’
‘It was nice to be treated special again. By a man. Before I knew it my heart was saying “Bingo” too.’
Velma waddled over and gathered her friend in a bear hug.
‘Oooh. How lovely!’ She had tears in her eyes.
Mon broke away from the hug, still miles away. Then, as though on automatic, she took the teapot and a second plate of sandwiches waiting ready on the bench top and placed them on the coffee table next to the lounge. She sat down again.
‘ We used to sit on the cliff at dusk, eating ice cream.’
‘We had some really nice times ...’
Velma was tucking in, although intrigued.
‘So what’s happenin now? Is it still on?’ An oily glob of peanut butter dropped to her lap, unnoticed.
‘Well, not at the moment …’
‘Oh! Oh well … ‘
‘No. No, it’s not on now.’
‘No. It was good while it lasted. In some ways. But … ‘
‘Yeah. I suppose. I s’pose there’s two ways of lookin’ at these things. I s’pose.’
Monica shrugged, and gazed out of the window at a magpie pecking for grubs in her lawn.
‘Yes. There’s different ways of looking at things …’
Velma plumped herself around on one hip so she could look straight at her friend, sitting there on the lounge.
’You know, I s’pose if you look at it fair and square, you’ve probly had a bit of a lucky escape.’
‘Yeah. I reckon.’
Mon was grinning from ear to ear. Suddenly.
‘Yes. I reckon too.’
This was more like her Mon. Velma swirled the tea in her cup to make sure of the last grain of sugar.
‘A bloke’s good for a bit of company. Yeah. But once they get long in the tooth things change.
Then they just want a cook. A servant.’
They shared a long silence. Then Mon said: ‘Men are scared to be by themselves you know.’
‘Yeah ... but it’s more than that. They’ve got egos. Egos are what gets them in knots.’
‘I agree with that!’
‘Yeah, they like a woman around to make ‘em look good, but you try and contradict ‘em or want your own way and you’ve had it. They can’t cope. Nope. They just want a cook.’
The silence was more comfortable this time, and Velma took over the pouring of the tea.
‘Remember, only one sugar please Vel. Trying to cut down on carbohydrates. Made myself a promise to get into a size sixteen.’
‘Don’t forget the chocolate cake I brought in. You’ll have a piece of that?’
‘Oh … Okay ...’ The magpie had caught a grub and she could see it wiggling in its death throws, trapped there in the maggie’s beak.
‘We did share a lot. Movies and books. We liked the same films you know. And books, like I said. Wilbur Smith ... Colleen McCullough.
Velma was rummaging in the fridge and came back with two plates laden with chocolate cake.
She passed Monica a pressure pack of cream, and Monica squirted a tall rosette of airy white onto her cake.
‘That’s what happens, in the beginnin. It’s amazing how many common interests they find. In the beginnin ...’ said Velma.
‘ … And music. He seemed to like everything that I did. Amazing really. The young ones’d call it synchronisity.’
‘Synchron ... What?’
‘I mean, we really got on well. And jokes! Did he have a cupboard full of jokes. Always there ready ... ‘ She smiled in her remembering, ‘Here’s one. Knock knock.’
‘Old Lady who?’
‘I didn’t know you could yodel!’
Velma began to shake in mirth, her rolls of fat a dancing bean chair.
‘Oh Mon, you are mad!
‘He was a dreadful driver though. It was like risking your life every time you got in beside him.
He didn’t ever seem to see the cars coming. And roundabouts! What a hassle! He should be dead.’
The maggie was stabbing its beak into the grass again.
‘He was nice though …’
‘Now Mon, if it’s over, it’s over. There’s nothin’ worse than a man you don’t want ruling the roost around the place. Don’t forget the bad things Mon ...’
‘Mmmm ... But I reckon you’re wrong about only wanting a cook. One night at his place he sat me down to a beautiful meal. Tablecloth, candles and all. Fillet steak and three veg ... He looked wonderful there, in the soft light. A pretty good looker. For his age.’
The cake was all gone now, and the tea leaves were showing at the bottom of the cups.
‘Do I know ‘im Mon? Come on …’
‘Well don’t go teasing me for the rest of my life if I tell you. Promise?’
Velma drew her pudgy figures over her chest.
‘Cross me heart.’
Monica’s look was meant to pierce right through to Vel’s conscience.
‘True. Honest I won’t.’
Monica looked out of the window again, then said: ‘Harry Roberts down at the post office. You know … on the counter.’
Velma was impressed.
‘Well! I say! You devil you!’
Mon’s face turned pink.
‘Now you promised.’
‘He’d be a good catch. If you wanted a man.’
‘You think so?’
‘Well … Good job … Clean. Nice smile. Funny nose though. And ‘e could have a bit more hair.’
‘Anyway, it was a lovely meal ... It was nice of him to cook for me.’
‘Well, why not? It’s about time men turned their hands to the kitchen. Did you ever have ‘im over? Here?’
‘Mmmm. You know when you and Fred went to Noosa for the week-end?’
‘Yeah? You crafty thing.’
Velma smoothed the floral arm of the lounge chair.
‘Did you ever … You know …’
Monica’s face turned from pale rose pink to a light shade of vermilion.
‘What? Oh ... Well ...’
‘Come on Mon. Did he ever kiss you?’
Mon balanced on the edge of her chair.
‘Mmmm … Well … Yes. He did.’
Now Monica looked as though she could crawl under the chair.
‘Not then … no. But we used to talk on the phone all the time. One Friday night we’d been chatting on for a full hour and he said: “Mon, I want to see you tonight; be with you. Damn this phone nonsense.” And he asked if he could come over. Right there and then. I mean what could I do?’
Velma was enjoying herself, eager for the next revelation.
‘I don’t s’pose you minded too much.’
‘He did seem sort of ... urgent. Anyway, he came. Half an hour later. In nice slacks and his dark brown shirt. I noticed he’d put on some Old Spice ... a bit too much really.’
‘Well, he came in through the door. And I could smell the after shave right off. Can I have another cup, Velma?’
Velma filled Mon’s cup from the teapot.
‘It’s probly a bit cold.’
‘By this we were standing in the middle of the lounge room when he grabbed hold of me and planted a kiss on my mouth. Hands everywhere. I must admit it made me feel pretty gooey.’
‘How about you!’
‘Anyway, he was breathing deep and so was I. All tingling I was. From top to toe.’
Monica eyes were transfixed on a spot in the middle of the patterned carpet.
‘He was sweating. Then, before I knew it we were tumbling around on the spare bed. Rolling around and all hot ... Us and the Old Spice. We were there about a minute or so, just long enough for me to wonder what I was doing. I mean, it was all a bit sudden ... We’d enjoyed our talks. And our outings. But this was different. I mean. At our age.’
‘Yeah. But only a minute though?’
‘No, I mean ... We were there, on the bed. Rolling on the bed for just about a minute. Before he had my blouse off. And then my bra. And there he was with no shirt. And only his undies. And then no undies. And I had no undies.’
Velma had stopped breathing.
‘I noticed he was still limp, but he began pushin’ himself against me. I could feel the flab on me stomach. Then he sort of angled to get his paunch out of the way ... he’s got a bit of a beer gut.
He grunted and groaned, and it was as though I wasn’t there any more. He was all taken up with himself.
‘I was shy I suppose – too shy to interrupt him. I tried to help him along. Stroking and cooing.
But no go. And he kept at it. And time went on. And he kept at it. A lather of perspiration he was. By this time I was really turned off.’
Velma began breathing again.
‘I remember noticing the glow of the street light coming through the curtains, and the pattern of the bedspread. He had a small tattoo on his back too. A ship’s anchor. And then I noticed the daddy long legs spider clinging to the corner of the room. Must dust that off tomorrow, I thought to myself.’
Monica was deep in the memory and had completely forgotten her embarrassment.
‘True. Anyway, his penis was still the centre of his world. It was a real battle for him. Like forcing a wet shammy into a coke bottle. I was just the bottle.’
Velma’s rolls of fat were jitterbugging.
‘So I tried to hasten things a bit. Swinging with him, trying to get a bit of rhythm going. He grunted with each shove and sighed with each push. Occasionally he would whisper that he loved me. As though to convince himself. But you know, what I might really feel, or want, just wasn’t part of the scene at all.’
‘How amazing. The buggers are just so full of themselves.’
‘I started thinking: “I’m being used here. He’s massaging his own ego as much as anything.” I thought: “Blow this. I’m not putting up with it.” So I quietly slid off the bed and asked him if he wanted a cup of tea.’
‘Oh Mon, what a joke!’
‘Well, it might seem that way now. But it wasn’t very funny. Really. It was sad. It was a case of a man’s ego getting in the way of a perfectly good relationship.’
‘You think so?’
‘I mean, if he’d taken things more slowly you don’t know what might have happened.’ Mon sneaked a glance at her friend.
‘You know yourself Velma that a woman’s most erogenous zone is between her ears. Massage that first and there’s a chance with the rest. A woman’s got to feel good about a fella. Don’t you think?’
‘Yes, I do. ‘
‘Why don’t men learn? They need companionship too. The same as we do. A bit of caring. Sharing of hopes and dreams.’
She pulled a colourful handkerchief from a pocket and dabbed, absentminded, at the corner of an eye. Then she stuffed the handky down the front of her dress, suddenly angry.
‘They just muck things up by thinking about themselves too much. Keeping up with their own idea about themselves.’
Mon had left the lounge behind and was pacing up and down on the carpet.
‘Me, I’d probably come good in the sexual stakes if he’d only taken things easy.’
‘And he probly would of too. You’re right Mon.’
‘Anyway, next day I was a cot case. Threw my back out with all the action, and I had to go off to the chiropractor. Haven’t been quite the same since.’
‘No sooner had I got home from the chiropractor when he was on the phone again, apologising for being inept. Truly!’
‘You’re jokin. ‘
‘I didn’t give a damn whether he was inept or not. I didn’t want a rampaging bull in my bed right then anyway. I’d been there years ago.’
Outside in the garden, the magpie had flown high into a large gum tree.
‘A bit of gentle petting would have been the ticket. Build up the trust.’
‘Too right Mon.’
‘That way the flames will come.’
‘Too right Mon.’
‘The upshot of it was that he rang me again about two days later. Hadn’t even heard from him in between.’
‘Hurt ‘is ego I don’t wonder.’
‘You know what he said?’
‘You can believe this if you want to ... He said he was thinking of going to the doctor for a prescription ... for Viagra.
‘I didn’t return his calls after that.’
© June Saville 2008
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without written permission of the author.
The Last Day of March
4 hours ago