If I had to put my finger on it, on the moment when things started to come undone for Liz and me, I think it would be the summer we went camping for our fifteen-year anniversary at Mooney Beach. It was the first time we’d decided to go camping I should say, every other year we’d been to a resort, usually down the South Coast, sometimes the Sunshine Coast. Some years we didn’t go anywhere at all, maybe just a nice lunch or dinner. Fifteen years is a long time to do something every year. A couple of years we forgot, or sometimes when December came around we weren’t in the kind of state you’d want to celebrate. But, like I said, things were changing by the time we went to Mooney Beach.
She’d stewed fruit the night before. I’d watched her from the kitchen bench as she peeled the waxy, wrinkled skin from apples that had sat in the fruit bowl too long. The first couple of times I’d asked if she was making apple pie, but I’d stopped asking now. She whistled tunelessly and tended to her apples with great care.
In the morning she heaped the golden, gluggy fruit on top of her high-fibre oat bran flakes and filled it with grey-coloured soymilk. Dairy made her bloat these days. And wheat. Sugar gave her headaches, and salt made her dehydrated. She’d dis- covered a long list of allergies over that year. Halfway through the new Woody Allen film she’d discovered she was allergic to popcorn. At Mick and Shelly’s house she’d made a scene after eating nachos (she still hadn’t worked out if it was the corn chips or the salsa). Over the last few months a number of things had disappeared from our pantry. Off the top of my head: instant soup, tomato sauce, Caesar salad dressing and detergent. I’d told her to get allergy tested or to see a nutritionist. Liz said it was a waste of money and that she didn’t need to pay someone to tell her how food affected her own body.
And so things had gone on.
It was over the first two weeks in June that the pantry inci- dent happened. The month I’d kissed Sally from the office and told Liz over dinner at our second favourite Italian restaurant. I didn’t tell her that we’d slept together too.
By some cruel twist of fate the dog died in June as well – a kind, brown kelpie named Kip. Liz had cried as she cleared out the dog food from the pantry. I think it was those things, and the extra room in the pantry, that made Liz begin to arrange our foods into separate sides. A sneaky shuffling of cans and jars in the night. Foodstuffs began to gather and go their separate ways – broad beans from baked beans, salmon in spring water from spaghetti in meatball sauce. I confronted her over the breakfast table, but she just shrugged and said, ‘I just don’t like my food being near yours.’
‘Near yours,’ I said. ‘What does that mean, Liz, what the fuck does that mean?’ and she just continued with the cryptic crossword.
Well, by that point I’d already figured something was dif- ferent. She’d started doing other things too. Like yoga – every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 am she snuck off with her little blue mat. In her arms you could see the slight bulge of muscle. She started wearing a lot of different clothes too – ones with permanent creases in them and a lot of beige and burgundy.
We had known each other so long and it happened so gradually that sometimes I thought Liz had always been this way. But then some days I’d catch her out, mid-meditation or Birkenstocked and freckled with dirt, and know that she had changed.
We met in high school. We were in different groups; Liz was sporty and I was smart. She was the captain of the girl’s soccer team and she was a top swimmer too. We didn’t have much to do with each other, except when we were on the SRC together for a year. In the beginning we liked to reminisce about the people at high school; we found our old class photograph – things like that. It was after we’d graduated that we met again, at Christina’s going away dinner. We sat next to each other, and went back to my place even though there wasn’t much of a spark. We got married young. Times were different then, not many of our friends were doing it, but it was always assumed for us. It was just something we did, a garden wedding, nothing fancy. We weren’t religious – I mean, Liz’s parents were Christian – but it wasn’t expected. Although these days Liz was talking more and more about spirituality, about ‘good karma’ and ‘bad karma’ and certain ‘energies’ of one kind or another.
The morning we were meant to go to Mooney Beach, Liz got up early to start packing the esky. She put things out on the bench, a sand-coloured mound of organic muesli, unsalted rice-cakes and wholemeal couscous. I took a shower and as she walked past the bathroom she gave the door a little tap, her code to tell me I’d been in the shower too long. My muscles tensed up. I couldn’t relax in the shower anymore, waiting for that little knock. I remember thinking to myself that it could only be a year or two ago that we’d showered together. Her hair was longer then, and darker in the water. Her bum pressed flat and white against the shower screen. Some people, inexplicably, look better wet.
Instead, last summer, I’d spent the first week of my Christmas break installing a water-saver nozzle for the shower; if you turned it up really high you could stand in the middle of the thin ring of water and not get wet. It was the same with the sprinklers, she’d wanted recycled water sprinklers, so that now, at 5 pm, brown sewerage water oozed from the rubber hosing in the backyard. In the afternoons, a warm southerly would waft the smells back into the house as we were preparing dinner. Liz had already asked for a compost system for Christmas, and over the past few months had eagerly been building up a rotting tower of overripe vegetables and food scraps under the lemon tree. We now had a rat problem, which was another thing for me to deal with over the break.
I sat at the breakfast table eating multigrain toast with lots of butter and a little marmalade. I hated the birdseed bits in the bread, but that was one of those things I just let slide. Don’t forget to wash up your plate, she’d said. The rats got to anything we left out. In the depths of the sink lurked a pool of murky yellow water – our recycled washing water. Small oat flakes floated across its bottomless surface. I dipped my plate quickly in and out and wiped it off with a tea towel.
Liz was sitting on the floor by the icebox and moving brown- spotted carrots and lettuces into the esky. She said I could pack a few things if I wanted. I packed the butter. She picked up the yellow lump and handed it back.
‘Dan – you can’t pack butter.’
‘What’s the esky for then?’
‘Isn’t that what the esky is for, so it doesn’t melt?’
‘Yes, but it doesn’t have any ice in it yet.’
‘Right. What’s the point then?’
‘What’s the point of having an esky then?’
Little things had begun to nag us by then. We’d be trying to have a normal conversation and she’d get exasperated, accusing me, saying things like ‘how can you say that when you know my mother has diabetes’, or, ‘how can you use that word when you know I’m a feminist’.
Two days before, in a small café in the centre of town, Liz had said to me, ‘What do you think about having a baby?’ Just like that. She’d said it as our coffees were being put down in front of us, so for a moment I thought maybe she was talking to the waiter. I said that I thought it was a good idea, I’d always thought it was a good idea. We were trying weren’t we? Hadn’t we been trying? At the time it felt good to be saying these things, like it might fix things. She stirred her coffee and didn’t say any- thing for a long time. I touched her hand across the table and the spoon dropped from her fingers. She picked out a sachet of sweetener, poured it in, and kept stirring.
We packed the car for Mooney Beach. I was good at that kind of thing, I started with the esky at the bottom and the tent, the solid things, then slotted in fold-up chairs and clothes bags. Pillows and last minute jumpers and socks went on top.
It’s hard to say what really set Liz off. She’d found a bottle of whiskey in my bag, and I’d snuck in a few other things as well. Little treats. I’d said she couldn’t expect me to eat her organic shit the whole time.
She said, ‘Let’s not go then.’
I said, ‘No we should still go.’ It was okay. We were sitting in the front seat of the car when we had this conversation. She started to cry; she put her head in her arms on the dashboard and really let it out. I turned the car off, but the radio continued to mutter.
She said, ‘Why do you think I’m doing this? Why do you think I’m like this?’
‘Like what?’ I said. ‘I’m doing it for us,’ she said. ‘For the baby.’ For a moment, then, I thought we were having a baby and I said, ‘Honey, that’s great news.’ I went to put my hand on her back but she pulled away.
‘No, it’s gone. We’ve lost the baby already, Dan. You didn’t even know I was pregnant.’
Her shoulders moved up and down. She let out deep, dry sobs. After she’d finished, she told me to get out of the car. She moved into the front seat and drove away. I let myself into the house.
I slept alone and woke up alone. I couldn’t go anywhere; for one thing, she had the car, but I felt too lousy anyway. I called in sick to work, the first time I’d ever done that. I moped about the house, reheating coffee in the microwave and eating peanut butter on folded white bread. I messed up the pantry and show- ered for half an hour at least. I tried to sleep but couldn’t, watch- ing the words of our final conversation run through my mind in an endless loop. I thought about Sally, one moment feeling awful and the next wanting to call her. I missed our dog Kip, and thought about buying a new one for when Liz came back.
When I thought about Liz, sometimes I couldn’t even pic- ture her face. That scared me. Sometimes when I thought of her I imagined she’d gone camping without me. Some mornings I was sure she would drive by and pick me up and we would end up at Mooney Beach like nothing had ever happened. I pic- tured her on the beach, thinking things over, not just us and the baby, but all the other things in her life that had led up to that moment, sitting on the sand. Sometimes I imagined her further away. Truth was I had no idea where she’d gone. That scared me the most. For three days and four nights I watched the fruit go soft and brown in the fruit bowl.
And then I woke one Tuesday morning from a sweet dream, followed the smells of apple pie down the hallway and there she was. Peeling the soft skin from the fruit, standing over the stove. I approached her slowly, still half-asleep. The sweet, heavy smell of stewed fruit as I bent over and kissed her neck. And when I took two pieces of multigrain bread and popped them in the toaster, I was trying to show her that everything was going to be okay.