The Burrows drove up to the Turner residence punctually at six-thirty; it was the exact time at which they had been asked to arrive. “God luv us,” thought Allan, whose anxiety levels had been increasing during the drive, and whose antipathy towards this occasion had reached its zenith. The day had been cold and now the wind whistled against the windscreen and roof of his BMW, dulling the otherwise civilising effect of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata emanating from the CD player.
As they parked in front of the Turner’s house – one of the many ‘Mansion’-style dwellings of a sprawling outer suburban estate, far larger than the occupants needed – they noticed a shimmering red Toyota Yaris parked in the driveway, where Mrs Evelyn Turner often parked her Ford.
‘Fuck, I hope there isn’t anyone else coming for dinner!’ Alison Burrows exclaimed.
‘Let’s hope not,’ said Allan, soberly, ‘Maybe when we arrive it will give them the excuse to see this other blow-in off,’ he said laughing tentatively at his own wit.
‘Could be someone from Turner’s work.’
Evelyn Burrows yawned, resigned to whatever fate awaited them. She considered that it might be appropriate to show a little sympathy for Evelyn. Good ol’ Evelyn.
The door was open, and with the lights on, they could see into the hallway. Such a mundane event as glimpsing a scene through an open doorway makes the otherwise quotidian lives of people we know appear fascinating. Such was the case as Allan and Alison Burrows approached the door and saw a woman standing in the Turners’ hallway.
‘It’s Rose Davis,’ whispered Alison giggling a little nervously.
They could see Rose, her dark black hair bouncing under the radiant passage light, folding some papers and closing her sports bag.
Allan was silent and looked intently at the figure in the hall.
‘She’s so plain,’ said Alison.
‘Yes,’ replied the husband, whose eyes did not blink.
‘She’s part of the cycling club he races in; she goes to all the events.’
‘I see,’ he replied. Rose Davis looked sprightly and efficient as she tied the sports bag together, flicked back her hair again and adjusted her jacket in front of the mirror in the hall.
‘She is quite athletic I must say,’ said Alison, trying to be magnanimous and to couch her words in such a way they did not generate too much enthusiasm in her listener.
‘She’s quite short though,’ he said, straining to find a flaw so as to deflect any criticism that might ensue from his observation.
‘Hi Rose, how are you?’ asked Alison.
‘Looks like a windy night out there’. As the Burrows stepped forward they almost stumbled into the hallway where they were immediately stunned by the bright lights overhead. The man was uncertain where to look and began to resemble a hare caught in the spotlight of the tracker. Rose looked directly at him, causing him to squirm further. The absence of any immediate response from Rose other than a too confident smile made the situation even more uneasy.
‘You look well,’ said Alison, attempting a smile and regretting the words as soon as they had come out of her mouth.
‘I can’t complain,’ she replied, that supercilious smile remaining on her lips, her eyes gently shifting across to Mrs Burrows who she had hardly acknowledged up to this point.
She zipped up her jacket fully. Underneath its puffy red fabric one could discern a well endowed chest. Her arms and legs were abundantly agile and her hips, enclosed in a type of skin-tight leggings were taut and slender. One might consider her short.
Evelyn began to fidget with her purse and Allan looked at himself a little sheepishly in the mirror. He wished he had shaved and he was unhappy about the shirt he had chosen, which made him look too ordinary.
‘See you later then,’ said Miss Davis, with a faintly ironic smile. Miss Davis left the house and nimbly made her way to her Toyota.
‘That was Miss Davis,’ said Evelyn Turner, emerging from the kitchen, ‘She’s in the cycling club.’ There was an awkward pause as she showed them through to the lounge room.
‘Rose is a nice lady,’ she added.
‘I’ll bet,’ said Alison almost in a whisper. The irony was lost on Mrs. Turner, who looked somewhat frazzled and frumpy. Alyssa wondered how they had remained friends for so long.
‘She dropped off some peaches.’
‘Are they nice?’ she asked trying to show some interest. Evelyn was looking a little pasty and her eyes looked like extinguished stars.
‘I won’t turn the lights on if you don’t mind. It’s nice sitting here in the twilight.’
‘Whatever you say,’ thought Alison. Evelyn was looking decidedly pale. The man slumped into a chair and thumbed through a newspaper he found on the small table.
‘How are you feeling?’ asked Alison. She really looked frightful.
‘Oh not bad, not bad,’ she replied, before offering them a glass of wine. Allan anticipated the awful cheap wine the Turners served up, but was desperate enough for a drink now to be glad of the offer.
‘Sandi will be down soon. He had a look at some photos that Rose brought over. I leave them alone to talk cycling,’ she said, offering a half hearted smile, ‘Then he went for a shower,’ she added. Evelyn sat down and stared dreamily about her. She seemed happy to be in company and her features relaxed a little.
‘The wind seems to have died down a bit,’ she said.
‘How’s Sandi?” asked Allan, barely looking up from his paper. The wine tasted cheaper than usual.
‘He’s alright I suppose,’ Evelyn said, ‘he still has his asthma, even though he pushes himself so hard!’ her eyes looked away wistfully, as though to say she would rather talk about something else.
Alison wondered how she could stay with such a man, though they all get old and grey. You’d think all that cycling would make him look a little fitter. Evelyn seemed to get more out of it. She accompanied him dutifully to the track each week and went on training rides with him. She could even talk about bikes with some enthusiasm.
She and Evelyn had gone to the same high school together, an exclusive girl’s school in Brighton East. Both of them were clever, but Evelyn never seemed to have any ambitions. Alison had been top of the class and had liked to assert her intellectual dominance over her complaisant friend, though somehow the victory never seemed complete. There was something irritating about Evelyn’s blithe and innocent manner.
The iridescent glow from the twilight lit up Evelyn’s face and gave it a saintly quality. She seemed to still radiate innocence and longsuffering, her hands neatly folded in her lap. It was those hands that created oil paintings that Alison could only despise not emulate. One picture in particular, an emblematic Christ nailed to the cross, garnered the approbation and outrage of the school community, but Alison saw the fragile beauty of the piece and, incensed in a jealous impotent rage, unable to compete with this artistic vision, her scathing remarks denounced the work as puerile and pointless.
Yet somehow they had stayed friends throughout the years, Evelyn complaisant and caring, Alison requiring the stability of communion with a familiar guileless saint-like woman.
Sandi came in then with the ridiculous, impossibly thick blonde hair and that smug expression of his.
‘Good to see you starting early,’ he said with a self satisfied smile, ‘I’ll fix meself a drink then,’ he said imitating a working class pleb.
He poured himself a large glass of the cheap red.
‘Well it’s a good thing we’re not drunk by now given how long you were in the shower,’ said Allan, though it was meant as a joking retort, the sullen edge in his voice created an unwelcome silence.
‘Well I take a shower most evenings me boy,’ Sandi replied, once again imitating a working man and once again with the grating, ingratiating smirk, ‘something you should try from time ta time.’
Alan, certain that there was some sort of euphemism in the word shower, wanted to reply but couldn’t think of the words. He took another drink, this time a big gulp of the awful wine, which was now beginning to taste a little better. That surely is wig he’s wearing, he thought, or he must have had some sort of treatment.
‘How were the photos?’ asked Alison with a hint of a smile.
‘The ones Rose brought over sweetie,’ said Evelyn.
‘O those. Fine. Just the photos of the latest event. I’ll show you the DVD of the race later.’
‘Anyway, dinner’s almost ready guys,’ said Evelyn, ‘I hope you like it. I’ve made my famous Hunter’s Stew, Risotto and for dessert, baked cheesecake.
Mr Turner spoke almost continuously during dinner. He told stories of the First World War and the incapacity of Hitler, the fact there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz (‘they were only put in after the war for the sake of appearances’). He talked about the communists destroying Hungary and the Japanese Tojo plan to create a new world order in a pact with Germany.
‘And then the Chinese. What the Americans fail to realise is the strength of the Chinese military. Given they are almost bankrupt it will be easy for the Chinese to sweep down and take over the Asian countries and to totally capture Australia…’ Given that he had worked primarily as a male nurse, he seemed to have picked up pockets of useless knowledge and had become an expert on everything.
It was difficult to understand how Sandi had become so successful. Perhaps those rides with Rose Davis were good for him. He had worked solidly all his life in a variety of professions, not distinguishing himself in any of them. He had been extremely frugal and through selective investing had managed somehow to own several properties and enough shares to keep him tied over for many years to come. The Turners had moved out to Templestowe, where they lived in a house more opulent than Evelyn had ever imagined for herself. She sometimes felt inadequate to the material prosperity she enjoyed and that was probably why she dressed in such a plain style. Still, the cycling invigorated her and she was getting quite handy with the camcorder to film Sandi when he raced.
Alison had tried to quit smoking recently but felt the need for a cigarette after dinner. She carried a pack in her handbag.
‘Mind if I go out there for a smoke?’ she asked indicating the patio.
‘Sure thing, sweet cheeks,’ replied Sandi who opened the glass door that lead to the rear yard. She grimaced at the look he gave her. Sandi brought her an ash tray and then lingered on the porch as she commenced her cigarette. Evelyn was washing up a little in the kitchen, occasionally casting a glance across at them.
‘We’ll have desert and coffee soon… when you’re ready,’ she offered feebly.
Alison waved back in acknowledgement, noticing the small diamond on Evelyn Turner’s finger. They had gotten engaged in the days before Sandi was worth anything. Sandi was leaning towards Evelyn, making her feel uncomfortable. Her arms were folded over her chest with one hand holding the cigarette. She looked bored as he spoke to her about what he got up to over the weekend.
‘I’ve got some new footage of a race. I’ll show you guys when we sit down for coffee. I raced at Albert Park on the weekend. I’ll play you the Lakes Entrance ride as well. That was a glorious day. I actually placed third in that one.’
‘Didn’t we see that one last time?’ asked Alison, as politely as she could.
‘Yes, I’m sure you can bear to watch these fine Lycra clad legs of mine. You never used to mind seeing me in the flesh,’ he whispered.
‘You’re a real charmer,’ she said, stubbing out the cigarette and making her way back inside,
‘How’s that desert coming along Evelyn?’ she said chirpily. ‘Do you need a hand?’
‘No I’m fine. Let’s all go into the lounge room she said nervously looking at Sandi, who sheepishly entered in after Alison.
She took the cheesecake and the coffee and set it up neatly in the lounge.
Sandi enthusiastically grabbed the disc and inserted in into the DVD player. Alison watched Evelyn bringing in the coffee with such tranquil grace and ease. How does she put up with this bastard? I guess it serves her right for being such a delicate saint-like creature. They always attract the most abominable types. Perhaps only a saint like Evelyn could stay with a cretin like this. And to think I…
He put on the appalling DVD of him racing in a local cycling race at the Templestowe criterium. Even Alan looked like he would jump out of his skin with boredom and reached for another swill of wine as the coffee arrived.
‘This was my great victory in B grade,’ he said.
‘Yes that was a good one,’ said Evelyn with a degree of sincerity that shocked even Alan.
‘This is where my finishing move comes in,’ said Sandi
In the dim light, his face looked tragic.
Over the sound of cyclists one could hear Evelyn cheering behind the camera and see the nervous movement of her hand as she filmed his final lap. She had become surprisingly adept at handling the technology thought Alison.
‘Darling, after the tape has finished do you mind packing the dishwasher? I have cleared out the other dishes.’
A scowl momentarily appeared on his face, to reflect the fact that she had interrupted his reverie in such a moment of triumph and that she requested such a mundane chore from him. The look suggested she had let him down.
‘O well, while I’m gone, you could play the Lakes Entrance race, I suppose. Allan had almost drifted off to sleep but woke sat up dreamily in his chair at Sandi’s departure. Sandi put the DVD in the machine and a strange crackling came on the screen followed by a series of indistinct images and a lack of sound.
‘O dear,’ she said, getting up, ‘I do believe the disk is damaged. She was looking visible shaken ‘Sandi will be so upset.’
Allan and Evelyn tried not to let their relief show too evidently. Evelyn put the damaged tape aside and in a moment of indecision she said: ‘what’s this one, I wonder?’ and picking up a disk from their collection in the cabinet to the left of the plasma TV, she placed it deftly in the machine.
‘Maybe the machine’s broken,’ suggested Allan hopefully. There was no such saving grace however as the machine snapped into life and an image emerged.
They could see a crystal clear sky and a clear road with a sparkling beach in the background. The sound of seagulls could be heard and it wasn’t for a moment or two that a cyclist even came into view.
‘I don’t think I’ve seen this one before,’ said Evelyn. She had that serene expression on her face that filled Alison with contempt and wonder.
‘It must be something that Sandi arranged when I had to go into hospital. A couple of Sundays I didn’t go with him to the weekend ride. Evelyn’s longsuffering nature seemed so accustomed to punishment that she almost seemed eager to view an event the forgoing of which to any sane person would have seemed a blessing; but she was interrupted in her pleasure by a call from the kitchen.
‘Eileen, I can’t work this bloody thing, will you come in here?’
On the screen Sandi came into view and he was in his ridiculous Lycra; he rode his bike over to whoever was filming, big cheesy grin on his face and a knowing look. A high pitched chuckling could be heard presumably by the person filming.
‘Alright, I’ll come and fix it up. We can pack it together,’ she said complacently as if the denial of pleasure was customary.
‘That Sandi, useless as a stuck pig,’ said Alison.
‘We’ll get to watch the cycling without the incisive commentary,’ said Allan sardonically.
The two of them relaxed, the stupor the wine induced a pleasant release from the boredom. Meanwhile, Sandi was still riding around in circles, and the chuckling became shriller. Then the tape fractured automatically, cutting to a different scene. It was in a darkened room and Sandi was sitting on a bed without his shirt, no fluffy blonde wig on top and the camera moving as though someone were mounting it on a tripod.
‘Are you sure you want to film this you saucy man?’ the female voice asked.
‘Why not?’ replied Sandi with a lascivious twinkle of the eye.
Once again giggling could be heard and then a female form, ran out from behind the camera and jumped on the bed beside Sandi. As she was naked as the day she was born, it wasn’t evident at once that it was Rose Davis but there she was with pert breasts and a toned backside from years of cycling. As she frolicked on the best she laughed the whole time.
The Burrows sat up straight neither knowing where to look as though the machine had taken over the room. Allan squirmed, his face flushed with embarrassment. He could not look at his wife. He recalled a similar dimly lit hotel room, where Miss Davis and had shown him those same smiles, the same breasts, and the same firm buttocks. The two of them had been locked in a similar embrace two years ago.
His wife was equally sickened, remembering how as an insecure young woman she had given in to the whiles of this man, who seemed so assured, so worldly, so confident. It was in sleeping with Sandi she could erase from her mind the moral superiority of Eileen. But once she had been with the man he sickened her. She felt nothing but revulsion for herself.
Then the screen went fuzzy again and returned to the original scene. The bedroom romp presumably had been taped over unsuccessfully. They could see the beach again, the sunlight over the horizon. The rise and fall of seagulls in a gentle breeze. Periodically a cyclist came across the screen.
Sandi walked into the room, followed by his wife; the two of them looking like innocent children, almost smiling. Evelyn did always like it even if they did them most meaningless things together. Noticing the scene they were watching, which now mercifully came to a close Sandi asked,
‘Who’s for a drink?’
Allan promptly concurred.
‘Better make that two,’ Alison said.