The Not-Scorched Dresser
"I'm in quandary", sighed an exasperated E@L as he plonked his Hugh Jarse precariously on only one bar-stool. The perpetual summer of Singapore and its whimsical tempests had thrown a silver-lined shadow over his usually bright visage. He ordered a frozen margarita and stroked a furrowed brow.
The Oldest Member, Bruce, who resided on his favorite stool directly by the 42" plasma screen behind the bar, screwed permanently to ESPN, dragged his eyes away from a Galaxy near-miss set-up by one Beckham, David, and viewed the dark mien of his erstwhile acolyte with consternation.
"Glad to see you grace us with your presence here at The Humble Gutter," said Bruce. "But to what dishonor do we owe the honour? What tragedy has trapped you in its unfolding that requires alcohol and confession? Is Church shut?"
"Funny you should say that, Bruce, about tragedy," said E@L sipping his drink, wondering if they used Farmers Pride Home-squeezed Lemonade in their margarita mix, as he did his of late. Home-squeezed, if your home is a 40,000 litre stainless steel barrel. "I feel rather Rosenkrantzish, to say nothing of going all Guildensternoid these last few days. I feel like a bit player in a great play, somehow doomed to an off-stage demise orchestrated by some inevitable deus-ex-machina, all for something I have no idea about as I patter about providing innocent comic relief."
"A love story, no doubt. Gone awry, as at best they do," mused The Oldest Member. He ordered another Speckled-Hen (an ale named after a motor-car, not a bird) and considered the last warm mouthful in his current glass. "Bitter are the dregs," he mused and swallowed it down, pulling a face.
E@L was quick to extricate himself from any suggestion of romantic involvement on his part.
"I'm just trying to help," he explained. And so he explained... Friends, couple, she leaves him, he is devastated, she needs place to crash, E@L is sort-of cornered into offering his spare room, the boyfriend might be chronically jealous, suspicious, he doesn't know...
The Oldest Member took in the details patiently, as there was a hiatus between matches. He nodded and acknowledged the horns of a two-horned problem that E@L was impaled upon. Kick her out to relieve the pressure on his friendship with the boyfriend, but cast her into the void-decks of some HDB hell-hole.
"Ah, so much more Othello than Hamlet, you poor Shakesperian." He arched back, stretching his shoulders and easing his cervical cramping, as if getting ready for a marathon effort. "This reminds me of the story of some of my old friends, back in the old country. It involves all sort of Gothic or Guy Ritchie dramatic spectacle. Priceless antiques, guns, storms, love lost, love offered, love rejected, love unrequited, naked women, suicide, retribution and some damn fine furniture. Do you mind if I relate it now? Or would you rather watch the American Premier League Soccer finals?"
E@L shrugged. He didn't mind, and he didn't give toss about soccer.
The Oldest Member asked the patron to lower the volume of the TV, a request which was easily obliged as no-one else gave a toss either, sipped on his new beer and began a story - The Tale of The Not-Scorched Dresser.
Jenny and Sue were student nurses.
Jenny was married to Eric, a house-husband looking after their young child mostly and who worked a couple of days a fortnight at the local restaurant when they needed an extra talented hand in the kitchen. A nice guy sure enough, but Jenny didn't really love him and she was still bitter about the whole 18 year-old shot-gun marriage thing, depriving her of her youthful freedom. She was 23 and she wanted out, at some stage. Soonish rather than later.
Sue was having trouble getting pregnant to her tough-guy husband David. She was fed up with the miscarriages, three now, and blamed macho David's drinking and violent tendencies. Jenny and Sue used to fantasize about being single together, parties, fun, screwing around. Sue used to fantasize about Eric too, as he was cuddly and sweet, not harsh and embittered like David. She always would say that when he was single again, she would be after him. She would be drunk after their dinner parties and say this in front her husband. David would look inscrutable for a second before smiling at her little ways. Eric would also smile, but inwardly squirm. He didn't find Sue in the least attractive. Short, wide-hipped, sweaty hands.
Jenny's mum liked Eric too, not in that way, but because he had done the right thing by her daughter.
And she liked antiques as well. Liked them a lot. Liked to buy them. But her small home could not house all her favorite purchases, neither should her husband be necessarily told about them all straight away. Small doses, breaking it to him gently was best. Sometimes she would leave an article at Jenny and Eric's place for them to store, until a place and approval at her house had been won. The latest acquisition was an oversize 19th Century dresser, made by famished Australian convicts from the gnawed trestles of the very ships that had transported them, sanded with the shards of their exposed convict bones, waxed with that unique mixture of sweat and dead-skin you get under an unwashed beard and prepuce after several years of intractable psoriasis, and polished with their blood and other post-whipping bodily fluids to a deep-ochred sheen. Priceless. Well, about two grand actually.
There was no space in their bedroom for it in Jenny and Eric's house either, so it stayed where the delivery man had delivered it, in their entrance foyer, serving to Eric as an untouchable reminder of some Jocastian subconscious dominance of mothers-in-law. And there it sat. Nothing was allowed on its precious surface, which was dusted dutifully by Jenny most weeks, whether it needed a dusting or not, and usually redone just before a visit from her mother. Even placing things in the drawers was taboo. It was a dresser without a stain of usage. It was a holy object almost, sacred, not to be profaned by the quotidian use to which it had been so elementally designed and constructed. One day, when Jenny finished her nursing course and Eric went on to full-time employment once little Therial had reached school age and latch-key height, if they where still together, which she doubted, they too would be able to afford such magnificently decorative pieces of handcrafted cellulose. Or maybe she'd rather be saving suffering souls in Africa. She was torn.
The two couples had been socialising a bit, playing (learning) golf, going to each other's places for dinner as a semi-serious test of the ladies' cooking skills. Eric would often have to step in at the end of these fiascos and rescue the meals, but he was too timid to offer to play chef for the whole thing. Eric and David would often sit out the end of the evening awkwardly together, drinking beer, not really having much in common except some familiarity with heavy metal music, as the girls chatted conspiratorially in the kitchen doing the dishes. Sue's drunken pronouncements often hung in the air between them.
David would eye Eric as he sipped his beer. "Why is his life so good compared to mine?" he wondered.
Eric would cast a glance at David wondering how male camaraderie worked in this huband-husband context. Eric could offer no masculine assistance in any of David's activities. How could they be friends if they couldn't exchange "can-ya-give-me-a-hand-on-Thursdy-with-the wiring?-bring -a-slab"-type of the debits and credits which are the currency of male friendship in that part of Australia? It was tough work trying to get to be somebody's mate. If you wanted to be that is. Eric wasn't 100% certain he wanted to be.
David bunged his knee playing football, required an operation. The recovery was tough. He played the invalid to a tee and had Sue running after him continually.
One stormy evening, about six-months into the couple-buddy thing, about three weeks after David's knee surgery, Eric returned from one of his increasingly frequent stints at the restaurant to find a red-eyed Sue on the couch with coffee talking to Jenny, ditto. Jenny looked up guiltily when he entered, even though such a tableau was not unprecedented.
"What's up? he asked. Jenny shot him a look, stood, took his arm and ushered him out of the only warm room in the house.
"Sue's staying here for a few days. She's left David. She can sleep on the couch. We'll fix up the spare-room, get some of mum's furniture out, and she can crash there."
Eric raised his eyebrows, went to place his books on the dresser, thought the better of it and threw them into the bedroom, bouncing books on the bed. "How's David taking this?"
Jenny sighed. "He's been a prick. He's been calling and calling. I won't let him talk to her. She doesn't want to talk to him."
Just then the front door resounded with several hard knocks. It wasn't thunder, but it might have been A voice cried out, as from a well in the wilderness.
"Eric, open up. It's me. I saw you go in, I know you're home. Let me in."
Eric and Jenny looked at each other. David. Drunk. Big David, strong David, a farm-boy, tattooed (this was before it was gay to be tattooed), drunk, familiar with weaponry David. David, who knows that Sue fantasizes about having sex with Eric, David.
There was confusion. What to do? Does he have a gun? They hovered in the entrance by the antique dresser. Lead-light windows framed a silhouette outside.
"David, mate," called Eric through the mail-slot. "Don't do anything stupid. Do you have a gun?"
"Of course I haven't got a fucking gun, Eric. Don't YOU be stupid. Listen." A pause. "I Just Want To Talk To My Wife." A sound like that of a wooden stock being placed behind the edge of the concrete steps was covered by his plaintive voice. It may have been a crutch, it may have been a rifle butt. "What's wrong with that?"
Sue came to the lounge-room door.
"I'll talk to him," she whimpered, such a small woman. So vulnerable.
"Are you sure?" asked Jenny. "You don't have to talk to him. Eric, take him away, take him to the pub or something. Do what boys do..."
Eric, raised entirely by women in a lesbian kibbutz near Boggy Creek [The Otways, Victoria, Australia] had no idea what boys, let alone men, do in such situations.
He opened the door to find out.
David was leaning unsteadily against the door jamb. He had no crutches, though technically at this stage, he should have had them... He had a cigarette in his mouth (this is before it was gay to smoke). "Where's Sue?" He saw her by the lounge-room door, blinked and then pushed past Eric. "You're coming home with me! We just need a talk."
Sue, changing her mind about the benefits of dialogue retreated into the lounge. "Not when you're drunk. I'm not going to live with a drunken bastard."
Eric, feeling the need to do something decisive, interposed himself between her and the looming David. David, backed away and took the smoldering cigarette from his mouth.
"What, are you going to fight me? I'm her FUCKING HUSBAND! What are you? Are you shagging her? Is that what this is?"
Jenny was frightened at David's hostility. Sue was scared shitless, as if she knew this mood and guessed where it might go. Eric was almost on the point of laughing, it was so ridiculous. He had no idea where it might go. The threat of violence, the potential for swinging fists, bones and cartilage crunching, blood, never entered his thoughts. This requires rationality. We are not animals, not prisoners of our limbic system.
"I'm going to fucking do you cunt," smirked a lurching David.
He lifted his cigarette. He moved to place it on a safe spot prior to the fight he was about to start. You don't need a cigarette in your hand when you are punching the fuck of some cunt who is balling your wife. He reached across to rest the cigarette on the... SACRED DRESSER OF ERIC'S MOTHER-IN-LAW!
Jenny lurched forward...screaming ... "NNNNOOOOOooooooo"
Eric lurched forward...screaming... "NNNNOOOOooooooo"
David froze. He still held the cigarette aloft. What the fuck?
"David, mate," pleaded Eric, "don't put your cigarette on the dresser! It's an antique!"
"Please, mate be careful, that really expensive. Made by convicts."
"The dresser, made by convicts, their teeth, blood, ear-wax..."
"What, this dresser?"
"Yeah, be careful mate, don't put a cigarette on it. Jenny's mum'ld kill me. Kill you too, for sport... It's REALLY expensive..."
David was stunned. He shook himself. Took a puff of the cigarette. He looked at Sue who also seemed concerned for the integrity of the expensive joinery.
"Please, David, let me stay here tonight. We'll talk tomorrow. I just need some space, some time. It's not that I don't love you. I just want to think, to have a place where I can think by myself..."
David dropped his arms, stood quietly.
"Let's call it quits till tomorrow, mate," said Eric. "We'll have a beer tomorrow night, just you and me."
David looked at him. Looked at Sue, at Jenny, at the sacred dresser. He nodded slowly. He limped to the door, retrieved his crutches from the steps outside. Shook some rain from them before placing the axillary pads under his axillae.
"Tomorrow," he said softly. Warned. Threatened. Pleaded.
Just as he moved to the driveway, he looked back and saw Eric's shadow coming towards him against the light. What? The fucking prick! "Does he pity me?" thought David. He instinctively lifted one of his crutches and swung it awkwardly half-off balance. He caught Eric a glancing blow above the eyebrow.
"Ow," cried Eric. "What the fuck did you do that for?" He looked at the hand he had raised to the head. He turned it to the light, saw some blood, not much.
"I was just going to get the gate for you! That fucking hurt!"
David began to cry. Eric helped him to his car. He shouldn't be driving (this was back when driving whilst sober was considered gay) but what the fuck?
"Get some sleep, mate. Get some sleep."
Blood trickled into his eye. He began to cry as well.
The Oldest Member called for another Speckled Hen. Thirsty work, all this talking.
E@L picked some lime chunks from his teeth. They put lime chunks in margaritas these days? Since when? He considered Bruce's story. "So", he pondered, "my antiques will protect an innocent man from a jealous boyfriend?"
The Oldest Member smirked, wiping down his beard for froth. He shook his head solemnly. "Like a busted shoelace, I am afraid not. It might take more than that in some cases."
"And so this story ended happily then?" asked E@L . "Sue and David made up, had kids? Jenny and Eric stayed together?"
The Oldest Member's demeanor soured. He looked down, saddened by the rest of the tale.
"I'm sorry to say the epilogue is not so uplifting. No Hollywood endings here." He took a long draught of the beer and sat the glass on the sodden bar matting.
"David shot himself with the rifle that was in the car all that time, two weeks later, in their bedroom, when Sue had failed to come home. They played at 'Ob-bla-di Ob-bla-da' at his funeral, no-one is certain why. Sue had to clean his brains and blood from the walls before she sold the house. Jenny left Eric and young Therial five years later, to pursue a career in NGOs, tripping land-mines in Cambodia.
"Sue and Eric did catch up much later in Hong Kong. He was there around the time you were actually. She stayed in his apartment. He was so nice, he let her stay there for free. She wanted to fuck him still, all those years later. Who knows why? As vengeance against Jenny, who she always was jealous of, for having a kid, for having a nice husband and not appreciating it, maybe. Eric was certainly not the man he was before, overweight, bald, expat selfish. She got drunk and stripped off, another stormy night it was too, lay naked on Eric's lap, lit seductively by lightning flashes through his large picture window overlooking Central and Wanchai, pleading for him to fuck her.
"Eric could only think of that antique dresser. Perfect, untouched. No scorch marks on it. Not one, all thanks to David. David. Poor, poor-music-taste, David. Each lightning flash was a suicidal gun-shot to Eric.
"He wouldn't fuck her because of David."
E@L sat in silence. The scores on the TV changed. Another multi-million dollar football match came and went and no-one gave a flying fuck.
"Is this a true story, Bruce?"
The Oldest Member smiled cryptically as he absently fingered a small scar on his forehead, just above his eyebrow. "Pretty close to true," he said. "Pretty damn close."
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
I love this post. Nice work hun!
And all totally fictional, replied E@L absently fingering a small scar on his forehead, just above the eyebrow.
It relates to you in some way, doesn't it? :)
This post just reminds me why you are one of my favourite <strike>bloggers</strike> writers.
Nuts HTML didnt work.
I give up...
I think I know who 'Sue' is - No wonder she seemed such a troubled little soul (an emotional wreck); explains lots of things! You'd never get over that sort of stuff...
A remarkable tale. I particularly enjoyed the reference to Farmer's Pride Home Squeezed Lemonade and the cameo appearance by David Beckham.
Mariah: it's all a fiction, what ARE you talking about? Icksnay noay hetay amesnay...
Dick: your enjoyment of this blog is of utmost concern, sir. Sad thing is, I am serious about that! Re: lemonde, Beckham - unfortunately in my fiction, reality has this bad habit of creeping in unannounced. The lime chunks in the margerita also have factual basis - last night's dinner at Covo in Hillcrest Rd, Singapore. WTF with the chunks of lime skin and pith!?
I hate pith in my Margaritas. Strike bloggers strike was good too. Bit like shake baby shake.
The Ex: you had to have been there...
i hate playing catch-up reading when i've been away...*sigh*...it's as if i have to re-align my brain for blog reading...literal v. non-literal though
well done, sugar...you had me going..btw, there's a geat article on singapore in the current issue of smithsonian magazine...and yes, right now, i'm too lazy to post the link to you....
when do you leave for paris?
ha ha excellent, really entertaining although I was somewhat alarmed with the parallels to my own life. I hope you don't expect me to shot myself with a rifle??
Especially enjoyed 'things previously considered gay'. It's the reason I'll never have a tattoo or start a fight with someone. Fighting and feeling sorry for yourself, that's definitely for poofs.
(Mariah....oh yes you do, you do if you want to)
Sav: please post the link if you can, because I can't find anything on-line....
Milos: do not read too deep, we have no expectations of anything dramatic from an MTV fillum producer, ho ho... (I'll have to stop using the royal plural now there is someone else here in E@L GHQ, lest our (my) opinion be seen as coincident.)
just looked...sorry, sugar, but the august issue is still up online...i'll send you the link asap via email
You &@)*%^, when are you going to write your book?!