Not far away, in Firefly’s penthouse, Tai’s tucked up in the spare room bed.
In their big leather armchairs, Firefly and the English guy work their way through a difficult conversation.
At last, Firefly leans back and throws his arms out: Whew.
—Could be the best thing. An ongoing GOOD DEED.
—Get him clean, back to school, take him out and about. Keep him close. But NO SEX. Too risky.
The English guy leaves. Firefly makes a call. It’s a long one. Teeters on the edge of phone sex. Totters towards an arrangement for the next day. Ends. He stretches out on his custom-made sofa, clicks towards a big screen, and settles down for the night, absorbed in life-size images and wrap-around sound.
Gracie’s in the shower. Jo feels across the lintel of her kitchen door for her hidden smokes. And again. Gone. Bugger. Tries the back of the book case. Under the bookcase. Down the back of the armchair. Increasingly desperate.
Gracie catches her.
—Deep breath. There are other solutions.
Gracie doesn’t want a fight. Not at the end of this long night. And she knows Jo wants oblivion. She beckons.
—Come with me.
Ten minutes later, Jo’s clean; some of her misery (will she ever find another girl friend?) sluiced away.
Fifteen minutes later Jo’s lying back on her bed, sipping honeyed brandied milk, Gracie massaging her feet.
Half an hour later, Jo’s out cold.
Gracie joins her. Keeps her distance on the other side of the bed. Some nights, she gets woken, tangled in the edges of Jo’s erotic dreams. Isn’t up to it tonight. Wants her own erotic dreams back, lost among the constantly erotic buzz of breastfeeding and then exhaustion.
But Jo dreams of sea creatures. She is a sea creature. A big one. A tuna. A seal. A whale. Her flesh is thick. Bloodied. Without skin. Bound in Gracie’s crimped, recycled wool, the ancient pale yellow wool with tiny brown flecks criss-crossing the bloodiness. In the deep. Swimming. One enormous eye able to see the other enormous eye. She wakes up a vegetarian (for most of the day).
Not far away, Vita wakes up crying. Again. And late. But it’s Sunday. So she gets a cup of tea and starts to drift back to sleep. Then remembers. Emails.
YES. A reply. Full of questions for her. Where is she? How is she? What’s she doing? Why did she disappear? And then, the answer. The English guy. Let’s call him Mop (he cleans up—in various ways—AND is a bit grubby). Mop’s a dead end. After Vita’s and the emailer’s heads up about him, two years ago, he dropped off the radar, with very occasional reappearances en famille for the right cameras.
Vita mumbles to herself
—OK. Yep. Were we wrong? No.
The email ends with a slew of instructions: Give yourself a pat on the back; Stay in touch; Look after yourself. Vita sighs. Sighs again. (And spends the rest of the day pottering and sighing, eating Lindt strawberry-filled chocolate, two packets, wonders whether to get a large screen, where she’d hide it, if she’d need to hide it. Ends the day at the laundromat. Again.)
Not far away, Tai sleeps on. Firefly wakes up on the couch, a crick in his neck, clicks off the big screen, and makes for his home gym as quickly as possible. (He learned long ago not to think about it. To wake up, walk to a machine and START.)
Gracie wakes up with her usual Sunday dilemma. How to study, how to see her child and her parents, AND how to get some time OFF. O O O she’s tired. And, this Sunday, she wants a cigarette and she’s sick of that fucking knitting that she’s not that good at.
And then. There’s Jo beside her. With a TRAY. With TREATS (all vego).
—Thank you for being my wonderful friend–
Gracie’s graceless. Cranky.
—No bacon for the pancakes?
—And anyway that black currant jam’ll put lead in your pencil.
—And here’s an offer. I’ll pick up Lisa and take her to mum’s? If I spend the day with all the kids, I’m less likely to smoke–
Gracie plays it cool.
—Rebecca’s not making a roast?
—I’ll think of something. If she does.
So, oh yes yes yes, Gracie goes back to sleep, with a full belly, the happiness of knowing she can rest and then do a couple of hours work. And then pick up Lisa at Rebecca’s, take her for a three-generation dinner with her own parents. And then a few more hours’ work. And an early night.
Jo scoops up Lisa and takes her to Rebecca’s, and knits. Makes herself an omlet. Eats a lot of bread. And while she and Rebecca put away the food and fill the dishwasher, and Lisa plays with the nieces and nephews, she tells Rebecca all about Vita’s visit to Hemingway’s. And the rest of the story (but not about her dream, Rebecca’s too sharp). And Rebecca understands that Vita’s touched Jo’s heart somehow. But Tai hasn’t.
As she gets deeper into the story, Jo cuts slices from the now-cold roast and knocks them back. Rebecca doesn’t remind her about the vego thing, just congratulates Jo on staying off the fags, congratulations from Rebecca’s heart (smoking killed Jo’s dad, and they both miss him terribly).
And Rebecca resolves to befriend Vita and give her lots of opportunities to see Jo. Because Rebecca of course really really wants her beautiful Jo to be happy, to have love in her life beyond the family she’s born to and the people she works with and all the dykes she knows and doesn’t see, who work civilised hours. An almost forty-year old needs someone special at the centre of her life. At sixty, Rebecca makes do, with family, endless family, and friends.
Sunday’s hard work for Tai and Firefly. Firefly persuades Tai to try a circuit of the home gym. Tai doesn’t get far. Firefly invites Tai to stay, and lays out the rules: Off the Hard Stuff; Off the Street: Stay in Touch; School. Tai says he’ll think about it. The high spot’s the late arvo, when Firefly’s boyfriend turns up with new clothes for Tai. Followed by a low spot when Tai offers the boyfriend payment.
—A blow job? Every day this week?
Not a joke, for any of them. Firefly gets explicit: Sex at home is OFF (for Tai) too. The boy friend raises an eyebrow. Tai’s kinda relieved. For now.
Firefly offers Tai some video games, a joint, and many snacks, shuffles him off to the spare room, and gets drunk(ish) with his boyfriend. Who gives him a very pleasing massage with extras, made especially exciting by Tai’s presence a couple of rooms away.
And for the next couple of months, life moves on for them all. Jo moves from knitting to embroidery (Rebecca’s Christmas present) and (with Norman) towards the New Year’s Eve menu, always a big deal. She reads Julia Child’s My Life in France, realises how far she is from matching Julia’s devotion to her métier, resolves to save for a working trip to France, to save her smoking money, no longer required (she hopes).
Gracie moves from knitting to smoking (various unfinished peggy squares scattered: in her locker at Hemingway’s; on a shelf at law school; at Jo’s) and finishes her thesis and stops smoking again (without the knitting) and wonders what to do next.
Vita relaxes into her bleak and simple life. Enough to go sauna-ing with Rebecca and her friends, at women’s hours in the sauna attached to the Kilbirnie Pool, among mid- and late-mid-aged women who group together according to language and interests, and where Vita can imagine that she’s back in Europe, and it’s OK.
Vita also goes to a therapist whose rooms are just down the hall, and is thinking about a support group. But she’s got so used to hiding so much, her son’s death, her living arrangements, most of her history. Is the therapy just a gesture?
Tai shapes up. He’s had a little bit of school. He likes it. Tries the counsellor there, once, but doesn’t like her. Likes going ‘home’ after school. The meals. The outings. The easy access to dope and booze and food and new clothes. The staying in touch. Even the gym, where he sometimes participates fully, and sometimes just trails after Firefly. Watching. It’s restful, all of it.
Every now and then he hooks up with Sam, his street mate. But he avoids Ivan. Goes the long way round if necessary, to avoid Ivan’s gym, and Ivan’s mates. And out of respect for Firefly, Ivan and Ivan’s mates, who see Tai in passing now and then, leave him alone. They speculate though. And everyone agrees, Tai is looking HOT. Tai thinks so too. But he’s still surprised when he meets a girl at school, Lucy– Who LIKES him!
And Firefly? Who knows–
None today. Worn out from the weekend’s rugby. A wild weekend. Started 5pm Friday when I was walking along Courtenay Place and there was a guy peeing in a doorway by the Paramount. The downhill flow onto the pavement just missed my boots.