I find myself studying her. I look at the way her eyebrows are carefully manicured. She is younger than me. That always hurts. She has an imperfect neck compared to mine. But a beautiful neck, what is that? She has very large brown eyes with lots of white. A vessel breaks its perfection. She has a few brown moles on either side of her nose, small. Like dabs of cocoa. She has nice hands with delicate thin fingers and practical nails. Clear varnish, another thing that shows she cares, like the eyebrows.
She went to the tsunami. In February, after the rest of the media was gone. To see what was left behind. Who was going to stay to help clean up? How do you clean up? What would it have been like to see that? She wouldn’t have been able to pluck or wax eyebrows there, in the tsunami affected land. Or could she? With tweezers and a small compact mirror? Perhaps being French you do these things wherever you are. In mud even.
I am wondering if he finds her attractive. I find her attractive, so I think he must do too. Because we are like-minded. We appreciate the same things. I find myself less and less attractive the more I speak. I find my voice grating and gnawing inside my head. Compared to her, with her rolling r’s. With that accent. Audrey Tatou. Juliet Binoche.
Her French skin holds moisture, like her voice. There is lushness to her. A field of green. There is a softness to her cheek when she brings her face to yours that is so un-Australian. There has not been sun beating down on this complexion. Not drought affected skin. Under grey sky this skin has lived its life. Has lived off Brie.
I don’t know what he thinks about her. Yes, he likes her. But I don’t know if he compares us; wishes I was her, she was me. Why am I torturing myself over her? But to pretend there is nothing is not real. Yes, there is something there. Now I have said it I feel a panic in my stomach. A million beating moths, making their home; my ribs their cage, my heart the bright filament.
More tea perhaps. Something to settle and soothe.
What does it take to feel inadequate? Is it because he sits next to her. Is it because of the way he smiles? Is it the way, when her hand is on her computer touch-pad, his hand is there too, and then there is a moment. A touch.
I imagine it happening when I am at home feeding pasta to a child and he is out entertaining the foreign photographers. Because it is his job to be out till two in the morning.
I have had a hundred dreams before I hear his key in the door. The dog acknowledges him. I hear his movements in the kitchen. I think he has been smoking dope. He is reheating food. I hear the beep of the microwave, zapping left over chops. I imagine him standing at the sink to eat. No knife, no fork, just a bone held between fingers. His lips smeary with grease.
He comes to bed. There is no smell of her. Nothing but beer and lamb fat. The child is coughing in the night. In the background to my dream, a staccato kuh kuh. As annoying as the mosquito the night before. But the boy is ill. The man gets up to him to administer the puffers. For he has had asthma. Once he nearly died in a volcanic town filled with fine dust. He lay on a hotel room floor dreaming of being able to breathe. He can relate. I only think; take a sip of water.
In the morning the boy is still coughing. He can’t finish his cereal. Rice bubbles at the back of his throat. At the chemist they ask questions when I want more Ventolin. Like I am a drug addict. Does he need it more than three times a week?
The child can’t take it without the spacer. He makes a fool of himself in the corner of the chemist shop trying to swallow a puff of spray. His shoulders are rounded, his chest a moist wheeze. I take him to the doctor’s to make an appointment. But it is after Easter and everyone must see the doctor. Just stop coughing. Don’t run. Don’t take big breaths if it hurts to breathe. Don’t laugh. Put a jumper on.
Should I buy Chesty cough or Dry cough?
Dry cough is just codeine really. It’ll make him sleep. Sleep. That’d be good.
What does the French woman think in her limestone converted stable apartment at the rear of the art gallery? With its steps and balcony that overlooks a rusted corrugated iron roof top. Does she think about him? His hairless Asian chest? Or is she interested in feral men. Ones with lots of hair. Ones that smell. Big feet, large noses. For he is not this kind. This scent-less man. With small hands. An infectious laugh. A sleepy, harmless drunk.
He is my man, I think. Claim him as mine. For he is the father of the boy I love the most. He is the man that has brought me the son. A son is the honey, the home, the hurt. He is just that – to me and not to her. Don’t fear her, I tell myself. Bred from Brie. You from Gouda. You with the blue eyes not brown, with the skin too used to the sun, with the arms strong from obsessing with the sink, with the moles that need to be checked, with the breasts that have fed the child, felt his pull.