I couldn’t believe it when he took his clothes off and roller-bladed bare-arsed around the living room. It struck me that I had found out the truth about Tom.
He talked about his deceased wife, how they married on a beach in full fancy dress costume. The wind blew her wig off, he said, as the celebrant asked, “Will you take this man?” and they cackled at the sweaty blonde hair stuck to her scalp.
She was a genius, he said, before she had Alex. Alex of limited attention. Alex who screamed loud animal moans in the middle of the night. Alex, who died aged 4, justification unknown.
When he talked of her his eyes were alive like goldfish swimming in a murky pond, flashes of colour and excitement meeting the surface in flickering spurts. His voice recounted how tantalising she had been, in her silk nightgown, how tender with Alex, in spite of his problems. Their problems. When questioned, he defended her fiercely.
Tom quivered when I asked about that night. His eyes staring ahead, not at me, but behind me at the white wall, like it was a screen for a horror movie visible only to him. She was angry, he said, as she tucked Alex up safe and warm in his bed, fluffy teddy by his ear, whispering goodnight. She may have gripped too hard, he said, as she contained him under the fluffy comforter.
I remember the coffin was white and small, he said. A silver crucifix on the lid flashed against the black gauze covering her eyes as she stretched her body over his small one at the front of the chapel. She was moaning and screeching Alex’s name over and over until the preacher came and led her like a lamb to a cushioned pew.
She never forgot, he said. She was a genius before she lost Alex, but that was her downfall.
I watched as he tortured himself, shoulders hunched, twisted hands clenched on his forehead, beating a drum of frustration. I wish I could have saved her, he said.
He crumpled on the floor, a wastepaper man. I tried to reach him with my arm, to offer comfort, but I could not move. I’m here, he said, but the genius is gone.
I was watching silently, lost in my own thoughts. I saw him spring out in front of me, a panther alive, and hurl his body through the doorway leading to the recreation room. I heard noises — equipment being shifted, instruments falling to the floor, bats and balls dropping and bouncing. I sat picking at the fibres of my white cotton gown counting the beats of time like a dripping tap at midnight.
I saw his naked testicles swaying between his hairy legs, a pair of ripe tamarillos hanging from a branch. He was on roller blades and beckoned me to join him. Come on, he said, for Alex.
I stepped out of my gown and danced on the linoleum for Tom, for Alex, for his wife and for me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tania Brady lives in a weatherboard cottage in Auckland with her electrician husband and two delightful daughters. She has recently allowed herself to embark on a childhood fantasy of pursuing a writing career, which has so far resulted in a couple of published short stories and a small piece in an anthology of true stories about clever animals.