Please enjoy this second excerpt from my novel in progress, and allow me to remind you that this is a first draft. As such, expect a great deal of this to change – including the very overt and grateful nod to the great Zadie Smith.
218 The Greeks as interpreters – When we speak of the Greeks we involuntarily speak of today and yesterday: their familiar history is a polished mirror that always radiates something that is not in the mirror itself. Nietzsche F.
In a once true Italian now faux Italian neighbourhood in a rocket-to-the-moon priced piece of Sydney real estate (more than doubled its price in the last fifteen years) where money could be traded for things that meant you had a lot of money, Alex Hero second generation Greek Australian, secretly thought he was a genius.
He sat. Legs crossed, newspaper-knowledge folded over his lap like an apron, with the sun blessing its beams upon him. His right hand held a coffee and his left a sugar-doused piece of spiced bread. This was the kind of day when even ill health couldn’t touch you. The kind of day that said ‘Yes’ to you; the brightness of sunshine erasing all mistakes and their legitimising paperwork. The first day of a bachelor life, caused by a wife who wanted some time apart to see what life could offer her single and separated from him.
Not like the first separation, where he left her after she found out about his infidelity. Not like the second separation; mutual and laced with a longing that returned them to the sexually unsatisfactory bed six months later. This was the separation he’d been waiting for. This time she initiated, propagated, facilitated, and organised the entire enterprise, leaving him with the opportunity to be single and the sympathy of his children.
It couldn’t be better.
Separating from a wife you genuinely tried to love but really can’t live with is no easy trick, and Alex had tried many ways, with great authenticity, to make his marriage work. But making it work is not a thing to be done once and then it is done. And leaving isn’t a thing you can add to a ‘to do’ list and get done between washing the car and checking your emails. No matter what anyone says, leaving with integrity takes courage and Alex imagined himself to have both these traits, which contributed greatly to his willingness to practise leaving so many times. This time they’d gotten it right. Alex could feel it deep in his gut; a settled calm as if so much oil sat tight on the water this time, not even a tidal wave could displace it.
As with most issues of great intimacy in his life, he’d discussed it with everyone who came into his shop, customer, friend or fellow vendor, for many months prior to actually doing anything. However it was Daniel, a pale skinned used-to- be-handsome –and-still-sort-of-was friend of many years who dealt the crushing insight.
“Friend, I’m not sure you want to hear this, but from what you’re telling me, it’s not you looking to get out this time, it’s her.”
Daniel sat in front of him at the shop as he had so many times before, his silver hair wrapped around his whole face, forehead to chin giving him a sexy sort of wise look. Another blue-jeaned baby boomer, his slight build and empathic winning formula had always made him the only man Alex knew who had more success with the women than himself. For this and some other reasons, Alex admired Daniel as a kind of sage.
After thinking on it for several days, Alex had convinced himself the information Daniel gave him was not his friend simply telling him what he wanted to hear, and he approached his wife with a request for a deep conversation about her happiness. Three months later he sat on his plastic lawn furniture, on the cement paving at the back of his shop, in the sun; the very beams feeling like a sanction from god bouncing in heated lust upon his glowing face.
He felt young again. In the same way wearing jeans when many men his age wore canvas slacks made him feel young. Leaving his wife in such a clever way made him feel as if he’d cheated on the life deal, claimed the best of both worlds and gotten away with a big trick – but really deserved the luck. He felt the way he did at The Cross in the summer of 1978 when he woke up next to Karen Williams, the girl everyone wanted to sleep with, but who’d offered him her body in exchange for his ludes. Or the time he slept with the Townsville rep at the Telstra sales conference on The Gold Coast – everyone wanted her – even the guy with the top sales figures for the year, and the guy who’d won the ‘service with a smile’ competition. But it was Alex took her to his room that night. Yeah, who was the real winner huh?
Alex remained in his marriage, give or take a few years, because his wife Robyn, a doe eyed dreamy looking girl with a violent temper, married him when she’d gotten pregnant to their first child and despite the hippie ideals under which they’d met and had their ‘flower bonds’ consummated, you can’t raise a child in that sort of environment, so ideology be damned.
He didn’t grin at the acknowledging sun today because he hated his wife. Rather he knew he’d never really loved her and to a man with ‘integrity and courage’ this didn’t sit quite cleanly. Alex’s marriage always felt like one of those books you buy like Being and Nothingness that was intended to impress the girl at the counter into sleeping with you but when you got home you just had this huge book taunting you because it knew and you knew you were never going to read it. Over the years the torment was exacerbated, friends noticing it on the shelf and asking you what you thought of section so-and-so; you dropping it on your foot that time and breaking your big toe. You try to chuck it, in the middle of the night so no one can see you tossing out Being and Nothingness, and a neighbour appears breathlessly on your doorstep at five in the AM the next day, clutching your rescued copy of Being and Nothingness from the top of the trash pile, claiming they knew YOU, of all people, would be devastated if YOU knew someone had accidently tossed it out.
Then, miraculously, one day, Being and Nothingness just hops up, off the shelf, totters its way to the door and leaves your life forever, telling everyone in its path it’s not YOU; it just couldn’t take another day.
She wanted out. It was over.
Alex’s talent for twenty-twenty rose coloured hindsight informed him the marriage had started off in all the right ways. They were young, idealistic, and appropriately left wing.
The quote attributed to Winston Churchill (but Alex cleverly knew to not actually be WC) “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain” was not just a funny quip to Alex Hero, mobile phone salesman to the rich and famous. This was his raison d’être, his path making strategy, his essential justifying yardstick. The man weighed and measured everything by this one small saying, and he genuinely believed all of life’s problems could be solved if people only thought it through deeply. This saying, along with Nietzsche’s Human all too Human (any philosopher that divided his aphorisms up into sound bite sized chunks predicting the speed with which things needed to be read in the new millennium paid for himself) and a smattering of transmutated Christianity, (Greek Orthodox heritage meets the death of god) summed up the solid rock upon which Alex built his house of cards – the same house he shared with his wife – on and off – for the last thirty years.
Now that they’d matured into their mid fifties, given up the drugs, realised the power of flowers was only aesthetic, raised children, bought a nice house and paid for expensive private schooling, the brain took over and logic became more important than feelings. Even Australia was growing up, now moving comfortably into its sixth consecutive conservative year, while still retaining its splendid passion for universal health care and world class universities. Today, Alex trusted things could work out, and even someone like his wife, would eventually wake up and see reason.
It was a fine time to be alive.
A damn fine time to be alive.