‘This is a story that begins with a barbeque,’ said Clementine. The microphone amplified and smoothed her voice, making it more authoritative, as if it had been photoshopped. ‘An ordinary neighbourhood barbeque in an ordinary backyard.’
Well, not exactly an ordinary backyard, thought Erika. She crossed her legs, tucked one foot behind her ankle, and sniffed. Nobody would call Vid’s backyard ordinary.
Erika sat in the middle of the back row of the audience in the event room that adjoined this smartly renovated local library in a suburb forty-five minutes out of the city, not thirty minutes, thank you very much, as suggested by the person at the cab company, who you would think would have some sort of expertise in the matter.
There were maybe twenty people in the audience, although there were fold-out chairs available for twice that many. Most of the audience were elderly people, with lively, expectant faces. These were intelligent, informed senior citizens who had come along on this rainy (yet again, would it ever end?) morning to collect new and fascinating information at their local ‘Community Matters Meeting’. ‘I saw the most interesting woman speak today,’ they wanted to tell their children and grandchildren.
Before she came, Erika had looked up the library’s website to see how it described Clementine’s talk. The blurb was short, and not very informative: Hear Sydney mother and well-known cellist, Clementine Hart, share her story: ‘One Ordinary Day’.
Was Clementine really a ‘well-known’ cellist? That seemed a stretch.
The five-dollar fee for today’s event included two guest speakers, a delicious home-made morning tea and the chance to win a lucky door prize. The speaker after Clementine was going to talk about the council’s controversial redevelopment plan for the local pool. Erika could hear the distant gentle clatter of cups and saucers being set up for the morning tea now. She held her flimsy raffle ticket for the lucky door prize safely on her lap. She couldn’t be bothered putting it in her bag and then having to find it when they drew the raffle. Blue, E 24. It didn’t have the look of a winning ticket.
The lady who sat directly in front of Erika had her grey, curly-haired head tipped to one side in a sympathetic, engaged manner, as if she were ready to agree with everything Clementine had to say. The tag on her shirt was sticking up. Size twelve. Target. Erika reached over and slid it back down.
The lady turned her head.
‘Tag,’ whispered Erika.
The lady smiled her thanks and Erika watched the back of her neck turn pale pink. The younger man sitting next to her, her son perhaps, who looked to be in his forties, had a barcode tattooed on the back of his tanned neck, as if he were a supermarket product. Was it meant to be funny? Ironic? Symbolic? Erika wanted to tell him that it was, in point of fact, idiotic.
‘It was just an ordinary Sunday afternoon,’ said Clementine.
Noticeable repetition of the word ‘ordinary’. Clementine must have decided that it was important she appear ‘relatable’ to these ordinary people in the ordinary outer suburbs. Erika imagined Clementine sitting at her small dining room table, or maybe at Sam’s unrestored antique desk, in her shabby-chic sandstone terrace house with its ‘water glimpse’, writing her little community-minded speech while she chewed on the end of her pen and pulled all that lavish, dark hair of hers over one shoulder to caress in that sensual, slightly self-satisfied way she had, as if she were Rapunzel, thinking to herself: Ordinary.
Indeed, Clementine, how shall you make the ordinary people understand?
‘It was early winter. A cold, gloomy day,’ said Clementine.
What the …? Erika shifted in her chair. It had been a beautiful day. A ‘magnificent’ day. That was the word Vid had used.
Or possibly ‘glorious’. A word like that, anyway.
‘There was a real bite in the air,’ said Clementine, and she actually shivered theatrically, and surely unnecessarily, when it was warm in the room, so much so that a man sitting a few rows in front of Erika appeared to have nodded off. He had his legs stretched out in front of him and his hands clasped comfortably across his stomach, his head tipped back as if he were napping on an invisible pillow. Perhaps he’d died.
Maybe the day of the barbeque had been cool, but it was definitely not gloomy. Erika knew that eyewitness accounts were notoriously unreliable because people thought they just pressed ‘rewind’ on the little recorder installed in their heads, when in fact they constructed their memories. They ‘developed their own narratives’. And so, when Clementine remembered the barbeque she remembered a cold, gloomy day. But Clementine was wrong. Erika remembered (she remembered; she was absolutely not constructing) how, on the morning of the barbeque, Vid had bent down to lean into her car window. ‘Isn’t it a magnificent day!’ he’d said.
Erika knew for an absolute fact that was what he’d said.
Or it may have been ‘glorious’.
But it was a word with positive connotations. She could be sure of that.
(If only Erika had said, ‘Yes, Vid, it certainly is a magnificent/glorious day,’ and put her foot back on the accelerator.)
‘I remember I’d dressed my little girls extra warmly,’ said Clementine.
Sam probably dressed the girls, thought Erika.
Clementine cleared her throat and gripped the sides of the lectern with both hands. The microphone was angled too high for her, so it seemed as though she were on tippy-toes trying to get her mouth close enough. Her neck was elongated, emphasising the new skinniness of her face.
Erika considered the possibility of discreetly edging her way around the side of the room and zipping over to adjust the microphone. It would only take a second. She imagined Clementine shooting her a grateful smile. ‘Thank God you did that,’ she would say afterwards, while they had coffee. ‘You really saved the day.’
Except that Clementine didn’t really want Erika there today. She hadn’t missed the horrified expression that flashed across Clementine’s face when she suggested she’d like to come along to hear her speak, although Clementine had quickly recovered herself and said it was fine, lovely, how nice, they could have coffee in the local food court afterwards.