Lucas fell asleep late one night and left gas burning on the kitchen range. When he realized, hotplate grates glowed red hot, and surrounding room space smelt like dead fish.
Could gas meself, he thought. Never happened if Freyda still lived here. She’d hide his drinking buddy, Jack Daniels away. As she’d done a lot lately. Plus chiding him to drink less.
What had been her problem?
He only hit her once. And apologized. After sighting those bruises which shadowed her face a few days later.
Despite a bouquet of roses, he came home from work’s Christmas party to find all her clothes, almost all their CDs, several books and sundry other items gone. Something wrong as he’d drove in. No lights on. She’d usually left at least one, typically a hall light. So no matter how drunk he was, Lucas found his way to the bedroom. Showed Freyda cared, he didn’t crash into furniture. But those big electricity bills negated any sense of kindness.
Christmas time. Good one. She’d meant to cause him angst. Never meant to hurt her. God no! He swore it wouldn’t happen again, and he meant it too. Wasn’t just saying that. If possible to find a way to switch off rages, he would do so in a heartbeat.
Freyda wouldn’t forget to turn off gas burners, too dangerous.
Lucas’s mobile crunched in restrains of …T.N.T. Dynamite! He slurred through a legible greeting.
‘Are you drunk or hung-over?’ Freyda’s voice newly sharp.
‘Well, I just woke up actually. Nice of you to call and share my mornings.’
‘Actually I pressed the wrong number; five is still speed dial for your phone. Barely recognized your voice, are you ok?’
‘Fine, thanks for worrying.’
‘Not too tough being on your own?’
‘Nothing a big, bad boy like me can’t manage.’
‘Dave said you forgot your mum’s birthday.’
‘Tough week at work, alright. Decided to celebrate Friday night instead. Anyway why is my not remembering a date, your problem?’
‘Guess it’s not. But your mum’s birthday, for God’s sake.’
At least his mum wasn’t laying a guilt trip on as much as his girlfriend. Should call her ex; its ex-girlfriend now. ‘Don’t need you to remind me when I fuck up. You want to come back and make sure I can look after myself?’
‘No THANK YOU. Actually, there is something, I’ve got your TV remote’
‘Knew it was gone. Did not miss it.’
He assumed the thing just lost, as usual, probably down one side of couch cushions. Or maybe Dave hid it for a sick joke. Lately their conversations dwelled around, ‘…serious talk’, like a girl saying…honey we should talk ….Lucas responded with, ‘Dave-o, only chicks do a - you and I need to talk… thing. You’re dick’s shrinking.’
‘You haven’t been looking for the remote?’ Freyda asked.
‘Sort of, but what is on worth watching anyway? Football or cricket means no need to channel surf.’
‘You might just buy another, or get up and change channels.’
How about a real big - why did you leave, question, Lucas longed to ask.
‘Oh, that’s not all – I went through my certificates, references and such, working on my resume and found an envelope of photographs amongst those bits and pieces, some of your family and small children, probably yourself and cousins. Sorry, didn’t mean to grab them, guess I was in a hurry.’
‘Pop around, drop them off then.’
‘Won’t Lucas. Happy to see you at my work.’
‘So judgmental crowd you work with can look down their noses at me again, not likely.’
‘Well pick somewhere else on neutral ground. But I won’t come to your house, too painful.’
What is her problem? He’d looked lately. Nothing wrong. No visible infectious diseases. Lucas felt anger bubble just below surfaces. She’d run a mile if angry creature made an entrance just now. ...too painful. Get over yourself Freyda. But Lucas sucked back those words too, and said, ‘come on things weren’t too bad.’
‘You have no idea.’
She never went to police. No even any ear-bashing words from her gal-pals.
Lucas felt deprived of a serious fight. Never known Freyda to shout anyway, cry lots, never even raised her voice. No, she’d just snuck off.
‘Will you look through everything and see what else I’ve missed. Didn’t take any of your DVDs or CDs by mistake, did I?’
See Lucas, my lad, she’s left a door open. Probably took some of his precious Fast and Furious or Metallica classics on purpose, just to keep memories alive.
‘Not really checked, but I will have a quick look. Where are you living? I can meet you nearby?’
‘I am not going to say, you will suggest somewhere near you.’
Lucas’s chest hurt. Air forced out of his lungs. One little slap, and she’s ready to treat him like some sort of leper.
‘Were I really so obnoxious? You can’t trust me now?’
‘Depends on how drunk you are.’
That’s unreasonable. Little blond bomb-shell never change her spots. A man deserves a drink occasionally.
‘When do you see Dave again?’ Lucas asked.
‘I would give your things to Dave, if I thought, for one moment you wouldn’t accuse me of getting off with him, like you already did.’
Evidence pointed to one conclusion. So up-close and personal. Dave’s arm round her. Lucas wondered why Dave didn’t front up for drinks. Not like him to miss Friday nights. Even if since, one time to cop pulled him over, Dave only drank lemon squash. Got away with a warning too. But Lucas never thought for one second, his best friend would be trying to cut his grass. Seeing them together, all up close and snuggled really lit a fuse.
Freyda’s words didn’t help. ‘You ought to spend more time listening to yourself. Talk to somebody, get your shit together. Dave IS your best friend. Able to help in more ways than shared screaming for footie teams.’
‘Because you screamed for much more?’
Phone line went dead.
Maybe Lucas made a mistake about Dave. Fresh out a bad marriage break-up, tainted trust. Even now Lucas remembered one time he found Dave stood under a backyard tree, while tears streamed. How does a bloke get so down?
‘Come on mate. Pull yourself together. Get a drink to help forget her.’
‘Can’t do it’, Dave said. Lucas couldn’t help wonder why, when a couple of beers, in his thinking, were just the tonic needed.
‘Isn’t that Freyda?’ A voice asked through random pub noise; yelling, scraping of chairs, billiard balls dropping, horse races from surrounding televisions.
Sure was, he known those platinum blond curls anywhere. One initial thing Lucas scoped way back when they got together. She’d jogged along foreshore pathways with same shining halo lights. Great long legs doing those gym tights justice too.
Right now, a charity tin shook. Something about Syrian refugees, and in his local. Lucas’s first thought, this collection thing, has to be a front. But then he second guessed. She talked about school friends who migrated from one of those Arabic places. Seeing her felt good, he even forgot a newly arrived schooner. Super-chilled, creamy head, amber shadows, Goddess Beer open-legged on a bar towel, demanding his attention. A grin worked its way across his dial. His upper body leant toward familiar leggy-blond, his little Freyda, sweet-heart. Someone grabbed his sleeve, ‘What the fuck…?’ Lucas’s fist drew back before he realized the grip belonged to Dave. Those soppy puppy-dog eyes, near penetrated Lucas’s chest.
‘It’s not going to work until you stop making her wrong.’ Dave said.
‘Mate, I am just going to talk to her.’
‘You and I both know, if you do, things will end badly. A dose of Lucas charms, for all they’re worth, is not going to help right now.’
‘I need to do something mate.’ By now a cold beer glass found its way into Lucas’s slightly unsteady hand.
‘Yes you do. First you make her right. Then maybe, just maybe there is a chance to become friends again.’
Not since Lucas licked his wounds outside a deputy’s office, before getting a stern talking to about a rugby match which degraded into an all-in-all brawl could Lucas remember feeling so uncomfortable. Even now Mr. Griffin’s words still rung in his ears, ‘you ought to man up and take responsibility for your actions…’
‘Extremely fortunate you have a friend like me,’ Dave’s dulcet tones chased away school yard memories. ‘Someone who’s been in muck enough times to be able to help with choices to get things better.’
Lucas shook his head and tried to figure out what Dave just said.
‘Pal, I’m never sure how you’ll react, neither is she. Don’t know why but she still cares for you. Now I’m going to state something obvious, a lot or your problems are about drinking. It’s all swings and roundabouts, when I am drinking.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Lucas almost spit out his mouthful. ‘Plus I can’t take care of myself properly.’