The kettle is still boiling when they tell me. I am holding a mug with a cartoon of a fat goat, jiggling a peppermint teabag and enjoying a rare moment of glee – post-assignment, lack-of-sleep glee. For a moment I don’t hear them; I’m inspecting the flat once more. Scanning over the changes, judging the thousand-and-one new cushions with bold geometric shapes now nestling on a couch I once knew intimately. Intimate because it was my companion for watching and enjoying the depressing nature of the 6 o’clock news with a bag of corn chips. Gone are my scatter of op shop vases and homemade sculptures, no doubt binned months before after I left in a trail of slammed doors and made-up swear words. Now on the kitchen bench sit three new mason jars like those the Egyptians used to preserve organs.
‘We’re pregnant,’ Ryan says again, clearing his throat. Anna smiles and rests her head on his shoulder.
I prepared for burning my tongue on tea, choking down a biscuit and grabbing the next rattling tram far, far away. I practised the answers I would give to their small talk. Yes I am good, yes the study is going fine. No, of course there’s no hard feelings, life totally just happens. I get that. Yes, of course you can have the key back because why would I need it? It’s not like I’d like to watch you both sleeping. And I’m fine. I’m really fine.
And Anna – no of course I don’t want to kill you, anymore. Although if you did happen to die – freakishly unexpectedly and tragically – I’d make sure to follow the wishes you shared with me years back on our Girl Guide camping trip. In the early hours of the morning while cocooned in our sleeping bags, you had told me, in the event of death, to please donate your organs to a person who needs them. A Girl Guide has her duty to uphold, to serve her Queen and her country.
Or maybe you want to have them stored in mason jars?
Brains, they fail but thank god for greeting card companies, right?
‘Congratulations on the new addition to your family,’ I say.
She laughs and they clutch each other’s hands. Ryan strokes her thumb. I’m looking for a ring but of course there isn’t one. Silly me, this is the new age and we don’t need to follow the school yard rhyme, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… spawn? Their outfits are unintentionally (or intentionally?) matching, him and her grey jumpers. They say couples look alike, which makes sense after twenty years. Not two months.
The kettle boils over, I watch the steam swirl out and the light click off. The goat grins, the teabag waits.
‘We shouldn’t be telling anyone yet,’ Anna says. ‘You know the 12-week rule and that.’
I nod but I have no idea what she’s on about. Is it some form of fitness regime? A new way to lose cellulite with shots of wheatgrass?
Ryan prattles on about how I am the first to know and they are so excited. When he speaks his mouth opens so wide that his teeth look like the keys of a piano. I want to reach in and play them.
‘It was impossible to keep this from you,’ he continues. ‘You’re our closest friend and it makes sense to tell you.’
I swallow the urge to burst into Queen’s song, You’re my best friend, and dance to the nearest exit.
‘I’ve been so sick too,’ Anna shrugs. ‘First trimester stuff, fairly standard.’
‘Her new nickname is pukey-Anna,’ he laughs.
Ryan looks at her in the way that I can only hope to one day be looked at when discussing vomit. Who knew that so many things would make her throw up, he says. Water has a scent. He can’t wear his aftershave. She has to carry a sick bag with her every day and when at the markets she nearly vomited into an old man’s pumpkin seed stall.
‘Only nearly,’ Anna says, lightly punching him on the shoulder.
I’m still nodding, and I can feel a crink in my neck from the repetitive movement. It’s hard being so agreeable. I’m smiling and I know my snaggle tooth is showing. Any moment now they’ll ask me to be the foetus’s fucking godmother. Anna, may I have a sick bag?
‘Sorry, I think I need to-’ Anna bolts to the loo gracefully, how I would imagine a nauseated gazelle would move in the wild. A nauseated gazelle with flowing long blond hair.
Everything about Anna has always been gracious, which is why I had found being friends so easy. Even though she had the largest beanie baby collection at school she was never arrogant about it – she happily shared her beanie baby popularity.
Ryan must be lying. Anna throwing up is impossible –she doesn’t have the capacity to be unwell. I’m also fairly certain she can’t give birth either. She’ll simply unwrap her squeaky clean babe, already wearing a pink knitted beanie. It will have matching crystal blue eyes. I’ve suspected for some time that Anna has smooth bits like Barbie.
‘I’m so glad this isn’t weird,’ he breathes.
‘Why would it be weird?’
When Ryan, Anna and I lived together waking up on a Sunday morning was painful. Not just because I could feel my brain pulsating through my eyeballs like a techno track on repeat, but because Anna would float out of her room, no hangover, all silky and glowing, wearing a Japanese kimono. She never has a stray eyelash let alone make-up panda eyes like mine.
It was no wonder that while I was working night shift at Coles that Ryan eventually found his way to her room.
I wish there was a greeting card for this moment. Could glossy text, glitter and a cutesy illustration save the day again? Best wishes to my ex and former best-friend and their new baby!
That bun could’ve been in my oven!
And there could’ve been so many buns. Ms Lars, my high school sex ed teacher would have scolded Ryan and I for our disinterest in the ‘protection of one’s bodily fluids’ – eloquent words from a lady with a moustache. Of course now she needn’t worry, that ship has sailed.
But back then, after hours of $2 cocktails at the uni bar, with our syrupy tongues and stained mouths, Ryan and I would fall through the front door and stumble into our room.
He’d pull my dress over my head, fumbling onto the double-bed with his proud doona cover of ACDC. He’d turn on his iPod if Anna was home, standard housemate courtesy for those with paper-thin walls. The bedroom windows would be open and the street-lights would turn our naked skin blue. Sometimes we’d see cars and buses go past and we’d wave at them. Their headlights would illuminate the birthmark on his chest.
Did he pull the curtains shut with Anna, or just whisper into her ear, ‘let them watch’?
‘We’re moving out soon,’ he says now. I notice he is re-growing his beard, and it has reached a soft fuzzy stage like a soft moss. I wonder if she likes it, if she likes the feeling of it rubbing against her jaw when she kisses him. Does she buy him lip balm for his cracked lips? The pawpaw ointment in the red tube?
‘It’s best to move. For the baby and that,’ he adds.
I say yeah, but nothing else. I see them packing up boxes, all their new shiny things into a new shiny house in the suburbs where the air is better for Anna and the baby. Why stay when there’s so much worth leaving behind? Leaving behind the low hanging ceiling light in the lounge that we banged our heads on every day, the shower with the dodgy hot water system that would turn from hot to freezing cold in a matter of seconds. The paper thin walls. The wide open windows into the street. The couch will go to the Salvos, corn chip crumbs included.
Maybe they can leave behind the feeling that still lingers in the air for the new tenants. It’s like a bad smell that can’t be located, like a decomposing potato that rolled behind the fridge. Drifting and pungent.
Anna emerges from the bathroom. Gracefully. Face clean, eyes shining. No speck of vomit to be seen. I can smell toothpaste on her breath, soap on her hands.
‘How about that tea then?’ she says.
The goat mug is singing, Fill me up buttercup (clever), but the tea bag sings nothing because it is clenched tight in my sweaty fist.
‘I’m going to have to go,’ I say placing the goat on the bench. ‘I just remembered something…’
The couple in the matching grey jumpers are disappointed. The newly bought packet of supermarket biscuits will have to wait for another guest. They say goodbye, and there are hugs and come back soon.
I welcome the cold air as it stings my face. I stand at the tram stop trying not to remember. But all of the free boxes at Bunnings couldn’t pack away this feeling that keeps expanding. That no greeting card or clichéd phrase can explain.
Life just happens, they said to me one morning two months ago. They weren’t going to keep secrets, they weren’t going to tip-toe behind my back or lie to me. You’re our closest friend, they said. We weren’t expecting this to happen.
Image: Daniel Go (Creative Commons, via Flickr)
Shannon McKeogh is a freelance writer and works in marketing and communications. @shannylm