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Lucy Springer Gets Even
A Smart, Funny Novel About Triumphing Over Adversity
By Lisa Heidke
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2009 Lisa Heidke
All rights reserved.
Last night my husband, Max, looked at me over his half-eaten Pad Thai and, in calm, measured tones, said, 'I've had enough.'
I took him to mean he'd eaten enough dinner. He's been on a health kick recently, prompted by watching The Biggest Loser.
I was preoccupied thinking about our two children, who'd left on a school camp that afternoon, and so didn't pay much attention as he pushed his plate away, stood up and disappeared out the kitchen door. A few minutes later there was a clatter as he pulled his surfboard from its wall bracket. It's been a long time since Max has hit the waves. And besides, it was dark. I went to the window just in time to see him reversing his car down the driveway at considerable speed, his bright red board strapped to the roof-racks. Stopping briefly to check for oncoming cars, he screeched onto the road and accelerated off into the night.
It's now three o'clock the following afternoon. He's not back and I have a sneaking suspicion (well, not that sneaking really) that he's not surfing because:
1. It's a cold August afternoon.
2. Nineteen hours is a long time to stay out waiting for sets.
3. Max has been pissed off for some time now.
The cause? We're three months behind schedule in our renovation process, and said renovations are taking considerable time - and money.
Max, I hasten to add, is the one who insisted on renovations in the first place. He's also the one who decreed that we stay in the house during the demolition now complete - and construction - very much incomplete. Instead of the brand-spanking-new kitchen, family room and bathroom we envisaged, the downstairs of the house is a shell, and we spend most of our time huddled in a laundry/storeroom that's currently doubling as a kitchen and family room. Four people confined to a tiny room in the middle of winter, with a piss-weak bar heater, no hot water and no kitchen is no picnic, thank you very much. The builders haven't even poured the concrete slab for the new floor yet, there's an inconsistent flush in one of our two working toilets, and the latest hiccup - a leaking roof.
Bella and Sam, serial school-camp refuseniks in the past, fairly jumped at the opportunity to go to Bathurst and spend their nights in sleeping bags in sub-zero temperatures because the payoff was hot showers, flushing toilets and, conceivably, the absence of bickering parents.
My advice? Be very careful when choosing tradesmen. Do not, I repeat, do not under any circumstances hire someone who drops a flyer in your letterbox and answers to a name like Spud. I did, and ... well, let's just say we need to replace the sewer line and no longer have a watertight roof.
No wonder Max has bolted. It's okay. I'm not hysterical. He just needs time to unwind, to get his head around the mind-boggling cost of Carrara marble benchtops, under-floor heating and the whole ongoing fiasco. He'll be back.CHAPTER 2
There's no sign of Max. Along with a suitcase and his favourite clothes, his essential grooming items - his magic Fudge hair cream, nail clippers and Clinique Men's Moisturising Cream SPF 25 - have also disappeared.
I call his mobile. It's switched off.
I phone all the larger hospitals. Nothing.
I call the police. They make it clear they think Max has done a runner. Charming. They take down his details. And mine. 'Just in case.'
I consider phoning his secretary, Sally. But I just don't have it in me. It's not that she isn't nice; it's just that I can't face her cheery, mindless small talk at the moment - the weather, the kids, Madonna's marriage woes, the latest with TomKat's daughter, Suri. Rumours about Angelina being pregnant. Again.
I pace around the house - the bits I can get to - looking for ... What am I looking for? A note? Maybe. Something, anything, that will help me understand what's happening, why Max has walked out.
Determined to stay calm, I repeat the he's-just-stressed-and-getting-his-head-together mantra. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. But I have to admit to a troubling feeling of déjà vu.
Max had an affair a few years back. It happened at a truly awful time in our marriage, when Sam was a toddler with a serious inability to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. I admit I became hard to live with. Psychotic was the word Max used at the time. And when I found out about the affair, I seriously considered leaving. But Max was genuinely remorseful: implored me not to go, stressed how much he loved me and how our family meant everything to him. He insisted we could save our marriage if we both worked hard at it. And hey, no one's perfect, so I forgave him on the proviso we had couples counselling to get our relationship back on track. Despite our Icelandic therapist being difficult to understand - and insisting on our participation in cheery clapping songs at the end of every session - counselling brought home to both of us just how bad our communication had become. I discovered how unappreciated Max felt after slogging all day at work only to come home to a cranky wife. I came to terms with the disgruntlement I hadn't known I'd felt about giving up my career to look after the kids. We got much better at talking to one another after our counselling. We made a point of going out once a week and making the time to do things together on the weekend. Our sex life improved too. In fact, looking back, we had a good couple of years. Until talk of renovation reared its ugly head.
The truth is, things haven't been good between us for a few months - as evidenced by Max's increasingly late nights at the office, his sudden apathy regarding the renovations, and his total lack of desire for me. We used to enjoy spending time together as a couple and as a family. But I can hardly remember the last time the two of us had fun together. Not to mention the last time we had sex.
I'd rather believe Max is just Maxed out and has taken off for an extended surfing holiday than left me for another woman. I couldn't endure the cycle of betrayal, anger, sorrow and forgiveness again. It's just too heartbreaking.
Four hours later, I have no choice. I have to ring Sally.
'Sally, it's Lucy,' I say, my heart pounding.
'Hi Lucy, all packed and ready to fly? I'm so jealous.'
'Max told me about the holiday. I thought you might even have left the country by now.'
'Just about to,' I say, pedalling hard. 'He only told me a couple of days ago and it's been the most amazing surprise! By the way, Sally, did Max say how long he'd be taking us away for? He's trying to keep that a surprise too.'
'He's told me not to book any more clients until mid-October, so two months more or less, you lucky thing. So, did you hear about the drug scandal at that huge movie premiere last night?'
I make small talk until I can escape, then hang up and burst into tears.
Max has left me. He's really left me.
I can't believe it. We have two children. We're halfway through major renovations. We have commitments to each other, our kids, the mortgage. We're way too busy for Max to just up and leave.
Besides, we love each other. We do. I think back to when we first got together, and how we fucked like rabbits. Max even commissioned a sign-writer to paint a huge 'I love Lucy' billboard, then hired a mobile-billboard truck and driver to follow me for the week. That's love, surely? Yes, we've had some ups and downs, but we've been doing so well since the counselling. Although that was a few years ago now.
The tears dry up and anger starts to set in. 'That bastard!' I yell at the phone. 'If he thinks I'm going to sit here and sob for him, he's got another think coming.'
I storm down to the cellar - which, thankfully, has been left untouched by the renovations - choose three bottles of Grange Hermitage - the ones with neck tags that shout DO NOT TOUCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! - and carry them upstairs to our bedroom.CHAPTER 3
I'm woken by a ringing phone. Max! Rolling over to answer it, I almost gag. Big mistake trying to move so fast after my escapade with the Grange last night. You know, I don't really rate it, despite all the hype. Too woody and dense for my liking.
I bite down to quell the roiling in my stomach and reach for the phone.
It isn't Max. It's Gloria, my agent and friend - most of the time.
One of the reasons I wasn't as keen as Max on doing major renovations to our house was that, with the kids getting older, I was trying to rebuild my acting career. Ever since I played a mother on a couple of vegetable commercials a year ago, I've become a recognisable face again. Okay, not so familiar that I could jump the queue at Target or get an automatic upgrade to business class when flying, but sometimes strangers stop and stare at me. And point ... on occasion.
I used to be a soap star not too long ago: popular and hot - everyone said so. I starred in The Young Residents for a good three years as Nurse Sophia Frances, which was a huge success overseas, selling to numerous countries including the Netherlands, France, even Turkey. Prior to TYR I had a leading role in Against Time, and then after TYR, Marvels. Sure, Marvels was cancelled after half a season, but that had nothing to do with me. Last century, audiences weren't ready for a crime-fighting dog who communicated with his owner (me) telepathically. I'm sure if it was reprised now post Medium and Heroes, the public reception would be much more positive.
After Marvels, there were babies to look after and I let my career slide. Max liked the idea of me staying at home with Bella and Sam while he headed off each day to his work as a funds manager. And I convinced myself I liked the idea too. I was happy in the beginning, playing Earth Mother and cooking biscuits, muffins and apple pies. But it wasn't long before I realised the store-bought versions generally tasted ten times better than anything I could come up with. And takeaway was often cheaper than home-cooked stuff. Domesticity never really was my strong suit.
So over the last year Gloria has been putting me forward for acting jobs. And the odd reality program. We're both serious about me making a huge comeback. Last week I auditioned for a lead role as a femme fatale in a fabulously lavish new dramedy, and let's just say I'm quietly confident.
'Can't talk,' I say to Gloria. 'Need to throw up.'
'Congratulations on finally getting out and socialising,' responds Gloria in that high-pitched girlie voice that's so completely at odds with her appearance. I wouldn't call Gloria a plus-sized person (not to her face, anyway) but she has 'big bones', as my mother would say. As well as her big bones, Gloria can be ferocious. She dresses in black, has jet-black shoulder-length hair and pale skin, and only wears Paloma Picasso red lipstick. An altogether intimidating package. Put it this way: I'm always glad she's on my side.
'I wasn't out last night. I was drinking in bed, alone,' I tell her.
There's a brief silence. 'You are joking, right?'
I hang up on her and, since she hasn't called about an audition, decide to stay in bed indefinitely. Or at least for the rest of the day. Bella and Sam aren't here, and I'm long overdue for some serious 'me' time.
I drag the covers over my head and invest in nursing my hangover.
The phone rings again some time later. My heart starts hammering. This time it has to be Max.
'Lucy, I need to talk to you. But before I do ...' It's Gloria.
'What is it?' I say grumpily. 'I'm dying here.'
'Can I just tell you you're a wonderful person, a great woman -'
I feel sick. 'Have you spoken to Max?'
'Max? Of course not. Luce, look, I'll give it to you straight. You didn't get the part in Seasons.'
I say nothing.
'Really sorry, hon. Life's a bitch. But there'll be other parts. Besides, who wants a role in an outdated soap anyway? Hey?'
'Who'd it go to?' I say.
'I don't really remember. Let me -'
'For God's sake, just tell me.'
'All right, but don't flip,' Gloria says in a tone that screams, I know you're going to flip. 'It's really no big deal.'
It's clearly a big deal. A very big deal.
I utter a strangled 'Fuck!' Gracie Gardener is my least favourite person in the world. THE WORLD. I can't believe she's still popping into my life. Gracie - or should I say, Darlene (her birth name) - and I were at NIDA together. Back then, as well as desperately searching for a more appealing moniker, she always snatched the lead roles from me. And she's still bloody winning them.
'To be honest, Luce, she's lost a heap of weight,' Gloria goes on, 'her surgery scars have healed, and her boobs are -'
I hang up again.
Seasons was supposed to be my big comeback. My break. I should have been a shoo-in. The part called for a vibrant, fiery redhead. That's me. Darlene/Gracie is talentless. And she doesn't have a single red hair on her head.CHAPTER 4
Still in bed, still wallowing in my private pit of misery, I think about the things that might have pushed Max over the edge. Forced him to abandon his Pad Thai and take off.
Could it have been the roofing disaster à la Spud?
Too much kitchen-cabinet talk?
Or maybe appliance shopping was the final straw.
A few days ago we went hunting for kitchen appliances. Max really wanted the Liebherr fridge with its bio-fresh compartment and MagicEye cooling. 'Ridiculously excessive,' I said. 'What's wrong with Westinghouse? Buy Australian.' Besides, I reminded him, Patch, our one-eyed foreman on the building job - another thing I'd recommend against - had only allowed one metre for the fridge. The Liebherr was one point two metres wide.
Then there was the stove. I liked the Ilve Majestic because, as the name implies, it's majestic. Okay, so it's not Australian. Max insisted that the Titan - 'a state-of-the-art iridium stainless-steel-finish oven with easy-to-use side opening doors and a retractable range hood with illuminating low-voltage halogen downlights' - was the way to go. I ask you, what would you prefer - Italian design or Kiwi?
We even discussed our preferences at a subsequent dinner party.
'Oh, the Titan,' one guy said, eyebrow cocked. 'We thought about getting it too, with its ten cooking modes -'
'Which no one but a professional chef would ever use, you wanker,' I muttered under my breath.
'- but in the end we went for the Ilve Majestic because, well, it craps on everything else.'
Maybe he wasn't such a wanker after all.
And I haven't even mentioned the fracas over the toilet ...
'Bathrooms aren't just about being clean,' the sales assistant told us. 'They're a whole-of-life concept.'
Max's patience was running thin by now, and his left foot tapped faster and faster on the grey vinyl floor as the sales guy went on and on and on.
'Today's up-market bathroom mimics the day spa experience, as busy people like yourselves seek pampering in the midst of their hectic schedules. The Magic Flush 4000 is unique. With its heated soft-close seat, it'll be the centrepiece of any elegant bathroom -'
'How much?' Max snapped.
'It's state -'
'I get that. How much?'
'Three thousand -'
And Max exploded and stormed out of the store.
Was that the final straw for him? How could I tell people he'd left me over a toilet?
I ring Max's phone again. Still off.
Another bottle of Grange bites the dust, but there's still plenty of great wine in the cellar. I creep down to restock, making my way silently past the builders.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Patch sitting down, drinking a cup of coffee. He's nice enough - pleasant temperament, easy laugh. Some might even call him charming. Tall and tanned, with fashionably messy caramel-coloured hair, he's easy on the eye too. Unfortunately, he's also titanically slack and his coffee breaks never seem to end.
Then there's Jamaican Joel, Patch's second-in-charge - a nuggetty fellow with long dark dreadlocks. He's always lurking in the background, tapping his safety glasses. And the twins, Tom and Ted. When I first met them I thought I was going mad, or needed glasses. 'We're not that similar,' said Tom or Ted. I beg to differ. They are identical.
'I like snakes, all reptiles, in fact. But Tom doesn't.'
'I love being in the dark,' said the other.
'And you twitch when you're angry.'
Their chat gives me headaches.
'Make it easy on yourself,' Patch advised. 'Call them both "T" and be done with it.'
Excerpted from Lucy Springer Gets Even by Lisa Heidke. Copyright © 2009 Lisa Heidke. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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