Wednesday, August 25, 2004

of marsupials and tradesmen

Men who want to have sex with you do not care about your baby, though they might pretend to. I made this observation yesterday when the man who cleans my roof gutters came around.
He cleaned the leaves off the roof and then, it being an unseasonally hot day, he sat on the deck and drank the glass of cider I offered him. I put the baby in the cot to sleep and came and joined him. We sat chatting. He’d been around once before, when the baby was only weeks old, and I hadn’t taken any notice of him, other than to note that he was a bit of a motormouth. It emerged he had grown up in Sydney near me and that we had certain things in common based on that. We talked about the pubs we used to go to in our youth, the bands that used to play there, the beaches. After a little while, he got a joint out of his shirt pocket.
"Mind if I...?" he said.
"No, but hang on," I said. I got up and shut the sliding door, locking the cat inside. It sat glowering at me, upset because half an hour earlier, I had consfiscated a small marsupial it had brought in—something between a rat and a bandicoot. I'd carefully scooped up the creature in a dustpan and set it down on a rock at the edge of the garden, where it remained, blinking, breathing in great heaving shudders. I wondered if it was mortally wounded. I saw it had a bloodied claw and that its fur was matted into several spikes around what must have been deep puncture wounds. I'd been about to call WIRES when the stomping of the roof cleaner's boots up the drive shook it out of its frightened stupor and it disappeared. Now the cat sat sulking, watching the roof cleaner blow his smoke across the deck.
The sun and the cider conspired to make me feel languid so I didn't care that the roof cleaner somehow managed to steer the conversation around to sex. I looked at his red hair and his muscular, hairy legs and decided I wasn't attracted to him. Which was lucky, because he then told me his wife works up at the local shops. “Oh, you’re married,” I said, unable to disguise the relief in my voice. The roof cleaner made a face. Then told me he had another female acquaintance down in ___ Bay with whom he sometimes had “unusual conversations”, though “nothing ever happened”. It was an erotic friendship, he explained. He asked if I would be shocked if he told me something.
"Nothing shocks me," I announced with some pride.
"Because I want to tell you something, but you might get offended."
"Well, how will I know unless you tell me?" I said.
So he told me, in great detail, what he liked to do to a woman. As he spoke I reddened and laughed and looked around in case anyone was listening. I was glad I'd seen my elderly neighbors drive off earlier. I knew the roof cleaner was telling me this in the hope it would turn me on, but it didn’t have that effect. Instead, I got the giggles.
"I really hope you're not offended by me talking like this," he said.
I said that actually it was interesting, because this situation tested the truth of my claim to be unshockable. I said perhaps I was shockable after all. Or, I mused, perhaps it was not shock but an anticipation of the awkwardness that would exist between us in the future, now that he had spoken so openly about such intimacies. I said we would probably be embarrassed if I saw him in the street now, knowing what he had told me. But, I said, it didn't really bother me, because as I was a writer, I liked to hear people's stories, even the dirty ones. I told him he reminded me of an old friend of mine who never misses an opportunity to tell me all his stories. I said in my opinion, half of it was probably pure fantasy.
I teased him that he was like the pool guy in the movies, who goes around servicing all the bored housewives. He said he wasn't that good looking. I said, “What if it isn't about being the best looking guy, but about charm and personality?” I was just teasing really, though in retrospect, that probably came across as flirting. He looked pleased, and said, "I only do one pool, actually. And the owner's a guy."
"Haha, so you swing both ways," I said, cheeky, and laughed as he protested his innocence. I told him I had to go check on the baby. When I came back he again apologised for talking to me about these things, and again I said I didn't really care. "But," I said, "I do question your motivation in telling me." And when he looked guilty, I added, "That's probably just because I've got a psych degree." He said now he was worried. The words of a lecturer floated into my mind. Exhibitionism and voyeurism are two sides of the same coin. A flasher exposes himself in the hope that you will expose yourself to him in return. However, I had no intention of telling the roof cleaner any of my own stories.
"Tell me some of your fantasies," he said, on cue.
"Oh no, they'd bore you," I said.
"Because they're only ever about one person," I said.
"Oh," he said. "So you're carrying a flame for someone."
"I guess so," I said. We went inside.
“Please don’t ask me to leave just yet, I’m still a bit stoned,” he said. So I made us some coffee to pass the time. As I pottered around the kitchen he asked if I knew I was in my peak right now. I joked, "And what about you? Don’t men peak at fifteen or something? So does that mean you’re past it?"
He said he was forty-six. He said it's different when you get older; better. He said some things do change: for example, men in their forties no longer wake up with an erection. I said I was surprised and disappointed to hear that. I wonder if it’s true. Maybe it’s only true for him.
The baby woke and I got him and placed him on the floor where he played quietly. I excused myself to use the bathroom and when I came back I caught a bored look on the roof cleaner’s face as he watched my baby, but when he saw me he replaced it with a cartoonish grin. Men who want to have sex with you don’t care about your baby, though they may pretend to. It’s not as if the baby was a turn-off, which is what I would’ve thought. It was that the baby was inevitably competition for my attention and so was an obstacle between me and the roof cleaner's obvious hopes of seducing me.
I made myself busy making the baby’s dinner and the roof cleaner hovered, repeatedly apologising for intruding, until presently I agreed that perhaps it was time for him to go. At the door, he turned and said, "Hey, don't tell my wife about this, wilya?"
"I don't even know what she looks like," I assured him. I added, "Anyway, it's not as if we have crossed the line." Though I'm sure his wife would disagree.
He said, "We could," but I said firmly, "Ah, let’s not go there, yeah?"
I edged him towards the door.
"It's something to think about, anyway", he said. "If you know what I mean."
“You’re so the pool guy,” I laughed, shaking my head.
"I'll think about it later, that’s for sure," he grinned as he walked off.
"See you in six months, pool guy," I called. And then he was gone, leaving me to ponder the ethics of our little interlude.
When I let the cat out again this morning he promptly brought me a little corpse--the marsupial rat must have died of its injuries. I laid it in the garbage bin on a bed of leaves that the roof cleaner had placed there. “Sorry, mouse,” I said mournfully. The first creature my cats have killed in ten months of living in the bush, but still, I felt awful. The cat remains under house arrest.