“He’s a bloody wimp,” said my wife to my lawyer.
“It’s so nice to deal with a person of class,” he said.
She sneered. “I once had oodles of class but living with him for twenty-three years drained me of it.”
“Perhaps,” my lawyer said, “if you had added the occasional plumber to the parade of construction workers you admit passed through your bedroom, the drain might have been plugged.”
Thankfully, I paid my man with dollars and got a barracuda who ensured I kept all the income from my practice. Sheryl, who probably paid hers in kind, got herself another wimp and half our house.
She was right though; I was a wimp. After the divorce I lived a quiet, independent life. Independent sounds good: (Malcolm’s an independent man) but what it really meant was lonely. I went to my surgery every day – I’m a dentist – and watched movie reruns every night. I went to the occasional cricket game and attended dental functions. I even hired escorts to accompany me to dinner dances and other social gatherings. By the time we left an event, the canny women had usually learned enough about me to withhold their ‘extra services’.
I decided to look for a companion through an on-line dating site and, after some embarrassing encounters, found Caroline. It took us a while, for there was a lot for us both to learn, but we persevered. She understands me. She used to be a call girl (that did give me pause but I leaned hopefully on the adage that opposites attract). She had, she said, grown weary of men full of vim and vigour. It’s men like me she prefers and so she reckons that, after all the instruction she’s put me through, she’s created, for her, the perfect man. Me! I’m her perfect man. I say that to myself throughout the day – I’m Caroline’s perfect man. I’m a sexual professional’s perfect man. I bask in my state of perfection.
My life has changed. We dine out, go to the cinema and the theatre and even attend selected Carlton games. Cricket is still a favourite. We don’t follow rugby because it’s an East Coast game. We don’t watch Carlton play The Sydney Swans or the Gold Coast Suns because East Coast people support those teams. We have nothing against East Coasters but Caroline plied her trade in Sydney and we have no wish to encounter punters from the past. I asked her if she ever ran into clients accidentally and she confessed she did.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Most men don’t admit they employ prostitutes.” She had used the professional name of Candy and Candy was someone else; someone entirely different. But roses remain roses and this rose still has a fantastic body and a beautiful face. There are lines around eyes that twinkle and make me smile just to see them. She has no fear of the grey in her hair that looks so good I wondered if it was artificial. Caroline is my age; fifty-two. That’s how long it’s taken me to find happiness – fifty-two fucking years. Well, fucking years for Caroline, not for me. Thank God she arrived in my life. Listen to me using the word fucking. I would never have done that in my pre-Caroline days. She, and the new person I’ve sculpted at the local gym, have given me the confidence to expand my vulgar vocabulary. I no longer pass up a healthy curse – or a healthy fuck.
There’s conceit now. Females often want to show their smaller dresses and different hairstyles to their exes but I wanted Sheryl to see the new me. I’ve gone up three jacket sizes, have a new personality and a buzz cut. And I have Caroline on my arm. I knew Sheryl would be sleeping with someone who could provide invitations to a marquee or two at the Flemington Racecourse for the Melbourne Cup. Doubtless she would be in what she considered the very latest fashion, trying to suck up to the movers and shakers of the entertainment world. If she could squirm into a paparazzi shot of Kylie Minogue or Victoria Beckham without looking like a caterpillar on a leaf, her life would be complete.
Caroline called an old client (she refused to divulge his name) who was well connected and able to provide us with invitations to half-a-dozen hospitality marquees. It was a cringing moment of self-awareness, but I said nothing – she was doing it for me. She also splurged for a chauffeured Bentley for the day.
We found Sheryl in the first tent. I honed in on the squawking voice she raised a hundred decibels whenever people weren’t giving her enough attention. Her date was a large man with a misshapen nose. He looked like he thought Hungary was an empty stomach and that gourmet sausages from Woolworths defined fine dining.
“Hello, Sheryl,” I said. She stared at me. Eyes in a turbulent sea of long black lashes and blue make-up took in the new me and the gorgeous woman at my side. She shifted her body slightly, her creased yellow dress straining against the move. Was she embarrassed? I smiled. She cleared an obstruction that had materialised in her throat. “This is Caroline,” I said. “Caroline, this is Sheryl, my ex-wife.”
Sheryl stretched out her hand. Her arm jerked once before it reached full extension. “Pleased to meet you,” Sheryl said. But, oh, the look on her face.
I recognised the hulk onto whose arm she hung but I didn’t know from where. I offered him my hand. “Malcolm,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
That was useful. “You are?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m Brad. Hi.”
“Lovely dress,” Sheryl said to Caroline, her eyes having taken on a green hue.
“Isn’t it! Malcolm bought it for me while we were in Paris.”
We hadn’t been to Paris together, but who cares? It was the perfect situation on the perfect day for the perfect man. Maybe there is a god.
“Brad played rugby in Paris for a while, didn’t you Brad?”
Rugby! He’s an East Coaster.
“We must go, darling,” said Caroline. “We’re expected at the David Jones marquee.”
Oh yes! Lay it on, Caro.
“I know you,” Brad said to my lovely.
Of course he does; he’s an East fucking Coaster.
“Really? I don’t recall having met you,” said Caroline.
He rushed on, ignoring the opportunity to say he was mistaken. “You ever been to Sydney?” he asked.
“Not in a long while.”
He snapped a thumb on a finger. “That’s it. You’re Candy. Man, do you look different!” He was obviously one of those full of vim and vigour blokes. Having used all his faculties to recall where he’d seen Caroline, he’d forgotten he was with someone with whom he undoubtedly slept. His situation dawned on him. “Maybe not. It’s just that you look a bit like someone I used to know. Sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” asked Sheryl.
Clouds crossed the sun.
Caroline used the thumb and forefinger of her right hand to grasp her necklace, which was made of misshapen lumps of multi-hued stones. She supported her elbow in the left hand. I knew from experience it wasn’t a good sign.
“Me, um, nothing.” Brad shook his large shoulders and blushed.
Sheryl’s voice rose. “Don’t give me that. You two know each other, don’t you?”
I cupped Caroline’s other elbow. “Come on. David Jones awaits.”
Sheryl grabbed the sleeve of my jacket. “Hang on.”
Caroline looked at Sheryl and raised her eyebrows. “Do you really want to do this?”
“No, she doesn’t.” I said. “Come on.”
“Yes I do.”
“Leave it, Sher,” said Brad.
Caroline started to beat her necklace against her chest.
“So, for how long did you date her, Brad?”
Brad seemed relieved. “Uh? Oh, I dunno. A coupla times.”
“A couple of times! Is that twice, or an expression calculated to spare my feelings?” Sheryl’s feelings are easily bruised. “Well?”
Caroline no longer wanted to leave. Her expression became as stony as her necklace.
Brad blundered on. “It wasn’t like that. We didn’t see each other that often. I’ve probably seen you more in the last few weeks than I ever saw Candy. Sorry. Caroline.” He gave my woman an apologetic grin.
“So it is Candy.” Sheryl switched her attention to Caroline. “Why two names? Are they both birth names or do you have something to hide?”
“Because, you meddling bitch,” Caroline said with considerable venom, “I was a hooker and Brad was one of my steady customers. You got it now?”
Sheryl paled, which was a first for me. Mind, I might have paled too. She retrieved her arm from its link with Brad and stepped from his side. “Is that true?”
He inspected his shoes. “Yeah.”
The tempo of the banging necklace increased. The stones clicked.
“That’s disgusting!” She screamed the words and we gained an audience, which, to Sheryl, is akin to a spotlight. “Did you all hear that? My ex-husband is with a hooker and my boyfriend is one of her best customers!”
“Was,” said Brad.
Cameras and telephones chimed and clicked and flashed.
The stones thwacked, sounding like a thousand knitting needles.
“Was, is. I’m not into semantics. Brad. How could you? I should have known. Was she giving you lessons? From what I’ve experienced, you should ask for your money back.” She lunged forward to slap Caroline but only connected with a forearm raised to ward off the blow.
Electronic gizmos flared again. “This is good stuff,” someone said. “I wonder if Today Tonight will pay for it?”
When Caroline slapped Sheryl, we seemed suddenly to be amidst a firework display. “That’s how it’s done, dear!” The force of the blow caused Sheryl to stagger back two steps.
Combat concluded, Caroline linked her arm with mine. “David Jones?”
Sheryl’s fury rendered her speechless. She stood, one cheek red, the other alabaster white, fists clenched, screaming unintelligible noises at the sky.
We walked away.
“Mind if I come with you?” asked Brad.
“Probably a good idea. We all need a drink.”
Sheryl regained control over her vocabulary. “Police! Police! I’ve been physically attacked by a prostitute. Get the police.”
“Forget it, lady. I’ve got a photo of you swinging first.”
“Where are the stewards?” she shouted. “I want her evicted. She’s a prostitute. She should be thrown out.”
A man laughed. “Never happen, sweetheart. If they threw out every prostitute here, there’d only be a couple women left.”
Brad paced ahead of us, on a mission for alcohol.
“Does this have to mean we’re over?” Caroline asked me.
I might have jumped from the frying pan but the fire’s heat has steeled me. “Never.” I said. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. You’re my perfect woman.”
Peter Lingard asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work