There's E@L sitting in the afternoon sun as the shadows retreat and allow those nasty ultraviolet rays of light to sneak under the umbrella directly onto his pinkening pate. He'd take umbrage if you thought this flush is brought on by anything other than sunburn and the mixing of drinks, and certainly not the mixed emotions he feels discussing the reasons for their failed relationship with his x-almost-girlfriend of 10 years ago.
The service at the pub is terrifically bad. It was one of those times when there are waiters galore but only a few customers. Paradoxically, service grinds to a halt as the waiters can't seem to get into a serving mood. They'd prefer to lounge about laconically, chatting and laughing with the other staff, cleaners leaning on their vacuum-cleaner's handles, bar-staff stock-taking instead of drink-making. It's as if, rather than only a few customers, there are none.
The table they are on seems always to belong to some other waiter who's not around at the moment (probably studying the racing form-guide out in the staff loo.) Perhaps after they had shifted from table to table because of wonky-leg after wonky leg, the waiters chose to ignore them and piss them off.
The wine didn't get its thrice called-for ice bucket until the bottle was 3/4 empty. The wonky table-leg could not be fixed merely by a folded napkin, but required either the entire Saturday Age (it was only Thursday) or some serious welding. The mega-sized pepper mill had to be retrieved by E@L from under the smooth-faced waiter's unconcerned nose as he pecked slowly at his order-computer.
Bad service - it's the trendy thing to do, very Hong Kong. But this is Melbourne. Port Melbourne, right on the beach. Sun strong, wind cool.
- I remember when you asked me if "You Ought To Know" made me feel angry, I thought you actually meant me. But I realize now that you were actually talking about yourself. How insensitive and selfish am I?
A ironic smile appears on her lips and she looks down as if to hide it. No doubt she had noticed but was sensitive and unselfish enough not to comment back then.
E@L's separation was ancient history even in the early '90s, although the divorce was not going to be completed until Nat turned 18, to save legal hassles. However, her abandonment (for his secretary) and divorce were still open wounds, pulsing raw and filling her with resentment for his unexpected betrayal. She had taken up with E@L "on the rebound", as a shoulder to cry on and a cock to fuck on. The shoulder part was a role he had grown accustomed to over many years of mate's girlfriends seeking him out as a caring, receptive person (Don't laugh, he was back then!) The sex part of it though was not something he was accustomed to at all, and the thrill of it had triggered the idea in his brain that this might be something meaningful. For her it wasn't anything so profound.
Sure, she liked him, but she had insisted from the word go that this was to be just a friendship, with screwing. But he was like a puppy, stroked under the chin once or twice and ready to follow her home at a moment's notice, his innocent heart completely taken. She had kept her eyes wide open and he had put his blinkers on.
- It has only been recently, with our previous conversations, that I have realized how much I hurt you.
- I'll be alright.
- Will you? I think that the women in your life have done you damage, and I certainly didn't help.
- Not all my relationships have been soured, at least not by the women. Sometimes it's been me that called it off.
- But why? Because you don't trust them anymore? Don't tell me that, that would hurt me, to think I am partly to blame for that mistrust.
- Ah no. (E@L tinkers with his warming wine glass, rotating the stem in his fingertips, like a clitoris.) After living in Asia, it's myself I don't trust. I see the married men mostly cheating on their wives and girlfriends, and I know I have no will-power. I wouldn't like to be duplicitous, cheating and lying. Not if I was really in love with someone. But I doubt that I could prevent myself, after what I've already done... The flesh is always weak and Viagra is freely available if it isn't willing.
- But would you cheat, if you were really in love? I don't think you would. You never cheated on your wife, or so you told me.
- My closest married friends in Asia don't cheat, and someone once told me that's why they're my closest friends. Was that you who said that? No, you' re right, I didn't cheat when I was married. Though my wife suggested that I find somebody at a conference once, as it might improve my technique, I might learn some new skills.
- There's nothing wrong with your skills or technique, you silly man.
- She said as much herself later. She apologised for that implication. She realized afterwards that compared to what's out there for the semi-divorced woman these days, I was pretty damn good.
- You had your moments.
She reaches across and squeezes his hand.
- Have some more wine. You're opening up a lot more than you used to. I like you even more now, and I always thought you were fantastic. The way you talk so confidently now about what you feel, they way you walked into Readings and pointed out one obscure book or movie after another: "Have you read that - you should watch this," like you are so knowledgeable, cultured and superior!
- You think me arrogant? Moi? You have to put on a show there, the staff look down their noses at you otherwise. They all act like they have PhD's in Literature and yet here they are, running your Platinum card through the machine, not the other way around.
- That's true, they can be snobby but not so much here in the Port Melbourne shop... And I know you well enough to be aware that it's just a front you put on, to mask your insecurity. And I am so sorry for the hurt I caused. I want to apologize. Please accept my apology.
- Of course. I accept. Arrogantly.
- I was very damaged at the time. I still can't get over the fact he took my vibrators for her; that's so weird it's almost disgusting. But I was the selfish one with you. I was thinking only of myself and didn't realize that you were getting in so deep. You know I really needed a man and not just someone to make love to though I need that too, but now I have come to the conclusion that I also want to have a man to look after completely, to cook and buy clothes for, that sort of stuff. It's not trendy to say it but I enjoy that part of a relationship. But silly me, I didn't realize you were falling in love deeply as well. I thought it would be only on a sexual level at the time. And then, when I met ****, I felt something special for him. Something extra.
- Your skill was making it seem to me that you were interested in me, at least before you met **** on the dance-floor. That's why I fell in love, because I thought you cared for me. I felt something special for you.
- I did care for you, and I still care for you. I know that better now of course. And now that **** has left, I can only conclude that you were the one I should have chosen at the time. This is getting to be a bad habit of mine. Choosing the wrong man.
- You can't choose who you fall in love with. You can't make yourself fall in love. Even if the other person loves you. And it's a good feeling, being in love. But such a public rejection, that was not so pleasant. I guess I made a fool of myself too, yelling and getting angry.
- It was understandable. I can't say I remember you getting angry, I never really noticed: that was my fault, my limitation at the time. And I was never ever frightened by you, you're not a violent man, not like some men. Unrequited love, unreturned love; that's not so nice.
- When does unrequited love become stalking?
- After the 2nd restraining order?
- Cheers to that!
They clunk plastic wine-glasses together in the sun.
Is all forgiven? Now that so much has been remembered, is it OK for it be forgotten?
E@L scratches his head and it hurts.
Sunburn of course.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
eh. nice. all serious and moving and *real* and stuff. very good, you.
Hmmm so is this the real E@L ?