We’ve been living with the in-laws for five weeks now and not even a dollop of concrete has been laid to the foundation of our new house, and even though I have a good relationship with my in-laws and living with them so far has been easier than expected, there are elements of life that are being impacted upon.
‘I bought some stuff from the health food shop and they threw in this free bottle of pills,’ Paulette says as I finish cleaning the kitchen. ‘You think they’re any good for anything?’
It’s a bottle of tribulus – a body-building supplement. ‘This is a great product for increasing testosterone levels in men,’ I say.
She recoils. ‘I don’t need that! Why’d they give them to me?’
‘I can use them,’ I say as I read her a sentence from the label. ‘It plays an important role in the male reproductive system . . .’
‘Well, you don’t need them then,’ she replies.
A moment passes as I wonder why my own reproductive system is suddenly puckering up and tightening like it just sucked a lemon before I realise that she’s implying a level of insight into my sex life that mother-in-laws just shouldn’t have. She bids me goodnight, heads off down the hall to her bedroom and snibs the door shut.
I’m frozen to the spot, listening, breaking out in a cold sweat as it occurs to me that I can still hear her moving around all the way from the other end of the house. Footsteps, clothes falling to the floor, a doona rustling, pages turning in a book and – oh my God – I think that’s the sound of food digesting in her small intestines. I almost perform a backflip when tiny hands touch my thigh.
‘Archie!’ I say as I scoop him up and take him back to bed. Relief finds its way into every cell of my body.
There is just no possible way that Tania and I can ever have sex in this house again – even thinking sexy thoughts may prove too noisy. I will read Archie a book to help him sleep. I will centre my attention on the child-focussed narrative and keep all sexual thoughts at bay.
After ten minutes my cunning plan is working perfectly and I continue to read A Day at the Zoo – an olden-day children’s book that I randomly selected from Paulette’s bookcase – despite the fact that Archie has fallen asleep, to further focus myself. Just as I am approaching the appropriate level of calm I stumble over these lines:
I’m reading the last sentence for the ninth time, in disbelief, when my mobile phone beeps from my pocket. It’s Tania. She’s being sneaky, sending me a text from the couch in the lounge room, but because it reads, ‘We definitely have to have sex tonight,’ I do my best to ignore it.
When I tap the side of my head I imagine all sex-related knowledge, thoughts and feelings falling out of the opposite ear. I try to think of white things like rabbits and angels, because they symbolise innocence and purity, but only a millisecond passes before the rabbit sprouts an amazing set of cans and winks at me, and the angel starts gyrating around an oily pole while the devil smiles crazily and slaps her on the arse. Knowing that Paulette might decode a text message by listening to the way my fingers pad against the mobile, I finally relent and run to the lounge room.
‘Janet’s marmalade pussy?’ I say to Tania.
‘Is that how we’re going to play it tonight? Giddyup!’ She smiles, raising an eyebrow.
‘In a children’s book,’ I say, tapping the cover. ‘How is that . . . allowed?’
‘It’s an old book . . . “pussy” meant “cat” once.’
‘That doesn’t make it right,’ I say, flopping down on the couch beside her. ‘And what the hell’s going on with the marmalade reference? I almost told Archie that cousin Janet has a sweet vagina.’
Tania laughs for what seems like an hour before saying,
‘Marmalade is the colour of Janet’s cat, you freak. And now you’ve woken up the baby.’
Her tummy starts jumping and jiving like a Gremlin in a puddle, and I kneel down to place my hand on it.
‘That reminds me,’ she says. ‘When you go to the doctor with Tyson on Thursday you should ask about getting the snip.’
Fear grips me. ‘I’m not sure I can go through with that anymore. I was thinking we could try something else . . . like the experimental male contraceptive pill, or the withdrawal method . . . or having more kids.’
‘Hmmm. Nup,’ Tania says, patting her tummy, ‘I think this will be our last.’
‘I’ll ask about it but it doesn’t matter anyway – we cannot have sex in this house ever again.’ I lower my voice further.
‘In fact, we shouldn’t even be saying the word “sex”.’
‘Your mother knows too much. She can hear every sexual move we make. I’m sure of it.’
‘She cannot,’ Tania says, laughing and shaking her head, grabbing my chin and directing my gaze from the hallway back to her. ‘She didn’t even wake up last night when Tyson was screaming.’
‘You’re right . . . she didn’t.’
‘Plus, you’ll go even crazier living here if you’re not getting any action.’
A calming moment of staring into the wisdom of Tania’s deep brown eyes, and smelling her hair, and inching closer to her warm, glowing cheeks and all thoughts of self-imposed celibacy fizz away like a teenage fringe over a Bunsen burner. I shrug. And then breathe.
Just as Tania is about to make her coveted move to instigate proceedings, Paulette appears, as if by magic, from the hall and says, ‘I can’t sleep, my feet are bloody freezing.’
Thinking quickly, I say, ‘I’ll jump in bed with you and warm them up, if you’d like.’
She sucks in a breath that makes me think of a noisy wet sneaker and then scuttles back up the hallway like a startled crab.
‘Now,’ Tania says after we hear the bedroom door slam shut, the footsteps on the fl oor, the doona crinkling, the pillow releasing air under the weight of Paulette’s head. ‘Are you going to be Janet? Or am I?’