Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2016 Results




Mateship

Copyright © Mike Woodhouse 2016


Friday arvo, we’re in The Imperial and a fat bloke in a dirty singlet leans in as I tell him about the woman at the gym who won’t leave me alone.

“Mate, she’s all over me like GladWrap.”

“Well give her what she’s after, gonad.”

“Couldn’t, Yab. I don’t fancy her. She’s too bloody bossy for a start, and she looks like a horse. Anyway, until the divorce is sorted, I’m wary of new relationships.”

Relationships!” Yabbie is aghast. “It’s not your brain she’s interested in.”

“Can’t,” I say. “It would be like snogging Black Caviar. I’ve got to find a way to put her off.”

Yabbie takes a swig from his schooner and gives me an odd smile. When he strokes the stubble on his chin, I know the bugger is planning something.

I cringe when I see Cassandra bounce into the gym. She’s all tits and teeth and she never shuts up. And what a voice! Part cut-glass, part cockatoo, it goes right through me. She was married to Dick Gumley, the dentist, until dirty Dick scarpered with his assistant, twenty years his junior. Something gave Cassandra the idea I might be the bloke to fill her cavity.

Usually, she wears a Lycra leotard that fitted her twenty kilos ago, but then again, it might not have. It makes her look like a kranskie that’s been stuffed into a chipolata skin. She wobbles across to where I’m working out and flashes those pearlers at me, eyes on my packet. ‘Going hard, Lance?’ she’ll say. Strange, she wouldn’t have given me the time of day when she had Dick.

It was Damian, our poncy gym instructor, in his lilac vest and skimpy shorts, who said I was single. Soon she began eyeing me off like a Krispy Kream Donut.

“So, what’s the little lady do while you’re building muscle?” She’s checking if Damian told her the truth.

“Haven’t got one,” I say, through gritted teeth. It’s not necessary to add, ‘any longer’, because she’s joined the dots. I don’t think she needs to know that Samantha left me for Harriet, it’s too raw.

I was surprised when Cassandra put the bite on me because I’m nothing to look at. I’m bald as a billiard ball with lugs that stick out like the handles of the Bledisloe Cup. Sure, I have a quid, but I’m a pauper compared to Dick. Not enough eligible, mature blokes – I’m speaking loosely - in a small town like ours.

Cassandra figured out, correctly, that the younger blokes who pump iron and orgasm at the sight of their own reflection, wouldn’t be interested in her. So, it was me or diddlysquat.

“Do you fancy a coffee when we finish our workout?” She asked. Fair Dinkum, those teeth!

I made an excuse about a doctor’s appointment. It was the first thing to pop into my head. “Some other time, maybe,” I said, knowing I’d be lucky to get off so lightly next time.

When I saw her again I was sweating buckets on the treadmill. She ran indoors from a downpour and I heard her screech before she put a foot through the door. “Let me get out of the rain!”

“Shocking weather,” I puff, making polite but banal, conversation, while cranking up the pace a bit so she’ll be less likely to chat.

She doesn’t notice. “I love the rain,” she says, closing her eyes and disappearing into a private headspace. Then she stands in front of me likes she’s expecting questions and I’m daft enough to fall for it.

“Why?” It’s all I can say, I’m blowing so hard.

“Because I spend hours in my studio.”

She won’t go now, so I slow the treadmill. “You’re a photographer, an artist?” I’m breathing a little easier.

“I paint,” she says, snootily, and I nod to show I’m impressed, but I haven’t the puff for more questions. The last thing I need is an art-appreciation class, but I fear I’m about to get one.

“I was an artists’ model,” she says. “Until I discovered Dick.” I imagine her sans leotard and almost fall from the machine. “We met in a portrait class,” she says, projecting those voluptuous boobs.

“After we married, Dick encouraged my passion for art and I took up painting.” Dick’s dental handiwork flashes before my eyes and it makes me ponder who will maintain the magnificent pearlers now he’s gone. It’s a distraction.

Cassandra fills the void in our conversation. “Would you like to see my work?” she purrs.

What do you say? “I’d love to see it sometime,” I mutter, increasing the speed of the treadmill, hoping to avoid the remainder of her life-story.

“I have some examples on my mobile phone,” she says, and with that she disappears, returning with an I-phone. Like it or not, my jogging is finished for today.

Cassandra paints in what I think is called the post-modernist tradition and I have to admit she’s quite good. She scrolls through the pictures, waiting patiently for me to shower her with praise.

“I love the richness of your compositions,” I blather. I’m waffling, trying to sound knowledgeable and point to a canvas in red and green. “I particularly like that one,” I say. She doesn’t need to know they’re the colours of my footy team.

“You have excellent taste,” she says, and I know at that moment she’s as much of a bullshit artist as I am.

“That one is on the wall of my bedroom,” she says, in a voice that has deepened all of a sudden. “I’d love you to see it.” It’s like nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

“Why not come back with me after we’ve finished our workout.”

“I have to take my car for a service,” I lie.

“Sunday, then,” she suggests.

“Can’t,” I tell her. “I watch footy with a friend.”

“Saturday then.”

“All right,” I say, regretting immediately that I’m such a pushover.

She gives me the address and winks. “Be there at two. Extra push-ups.”

Friday arvo, I catch up with Yabbie in the pub. He comes in straight from his shift at the brickworks and we sink a few beers before the game starts. He’s always dirty, dusty and thirsty.

“Me mouth’s dry as brick kiln.” He says the same thing every week.

The first one doesn’t touch the sides. Then he wipes his mouth with the back of a hairy forearm and slams the glass down on the bar.

“Same again, Juanita,” he yells to the barmaid and dries his hands on his singlet. He’s rough as hessian grundies, Yabbie, but he’s funny.

I have him doubled up when I tell him about Cassandra. “She wants deep root therapy.” I say it just as he’s taking a mouthful and it makes him splutter all over his singlet.

“Well get ‘round there and give it to her then.”

That’s when I start making excuses.

It’s not until after our fifth beer that Yab tells me he has the solution.

I rock up at two. It’s a magnificent house, the ritziest street in town, and I ring the bell. Cassandra’s there in a flash, the smell of her perfume all but overpowering me. She’s wearing an animal print top, cut low to display her best assets, and she loiters in the doorway to make sure I don’t miss ‘em. I tell you, I almost weaken at this point. I’m guessing Cassandra has just left the shower because her hair’s wet. She’s drying it with a fluffy white towel and gives me a smile of approval as she watches me ogling her boobs.

“Come in, Lance,” she growls. “Let’s see if you live can up to your name.” Dick’s dentistry reflects the sunlight and makes her look, dead-set, like she’s doing a tooth-paste commercial. I see there’s a bottle of bubbly and two glasses set up on a table in the kitchen.

“I’m looking forward to being ‘Lanced’,” she says, and saucily sticks out her tongue.

Her face changes the moment Yabbie appears around the corner.

“Cassandra,” I say, “this is my mate, Yabbie.”

He grins and offers her a hand the size of a family pizza. “Howya goin’, Cass?” he says. “Heard heaps ‘bout ya from Lance.” He coughs, “Lance is my, err,” and then he pauses for what seems like an eternity while he chooses the right words, “my partner!” You should have seen the look. Her eyes grow and her jaw drops. She tries to shield her cleavage.

‘Delighted to meet you, Yabbie,” she says. “Now, I have to make an urgent telephone call." She slams the door, leaving us chuckling on the doorstep. I never did get to see her paintings.

Cassandra ignores me at the gym these days. For some reason she’s not interested in watching my workout and I’ve Yabbie to thank for that.

“That’s what mates are for, Lance,” he says, as we chat at The Impy, and it’s a pleasure to buy him a beer.