Angus and Rose Squatter sit at their kitchen table. The table is theirs; she bought it with her first pay-slip after wiping dinner plates in a sheep's trough. Every night she watched her reflection in the soupy water, working steadily through each course on the bistro’s menu. Each plate, she thought; told a narrative; a story in blots of thick lamb gravy, fiercely torn chicken scraps, broccoli heads sprayed across the patterns of small white scars carved subconsciously into the ceramic. In each portrait she read the stories of business meetings, of breakups, reunions of forgotten friendships, and lonely dates shared with paperback napkins. After each story was read, she drowned their evening beneath her reflection and read another. It was years of removing the unwanted excess of other people’s meals that bought her that wooden dinner table.
But he contributed too. How could the table be afforded without the money and care he put into operating his household? From his work notes, sprawled across its timber, he bought the food to give the table purpose. His pen tickled the table surface. "When I am successful," he scrawled, "I will buy a different table."
They sit opposite each other, Rose and Angus, allowing themselves the space to spread wide their bowls and coasters. In between they face each other and the other’s meal. The grains of timber run horizontally between them. Sometimes Rose worries that there is a tangible distance between them; that it is written in the face of the table; in each contortion of her arm towards the condiments. She is conscious to replace the semi depleted salt shaker exactly as before. She wonders if he notices. She sees him perform the same ritual too.
And then they engage in the mutual pastime of eating. They scrape each mouthful from their plates and lift it (carefully as they dare) to the point where the cargo can no longer be guided by the eye. Then routine, practice, the complex mathematics and geometry of the subconscious, moves it into the waiting mouth. Maybe, thought Rose, I can only get this right, this whole eating business, by watching him, and he watching me? What a challenge - an experience - it must be to eat alone.
At his end of the table, Angus Squatter leans back into his chair. His shoulders rest between the wooden slats. The chairs are theirs, but one among the identical set is his. He bought the set from his first pay-slip as a ghost-writer for ambiguously gifted sportspersons. When he etches his shoulders into the chair's wooden spine, he recollects the modern tragedies of those lonely love letters wretched from convulsions of gin; each tale clinging tenderly to the moral that one's fate can be altered by a single blade of grass. Angus purchased the chairs deep in cynicism when his shoulders ached from arching over unsatisfying epitaphs. At his most depressed, he allowed smoke to filter through his mind and embraced the manufactured reality of each page. Now he writes columns for the Financial Review.
While they face each other across the table-top, every mouthful is contrasted and compared, judged and critiqued. They eat different meals - he, veal; her, chicken - with differing drinks - he, pinot noir; her, sauvignon blanc - in different orders at naturally different rates. Yet their consumption is such so that at the meal’s conclusion they orgasm as one, across the table, and drop their cutlery in contentment. They are in love.
They stack their plates together and the dishwasher wipes each anecdote clean.
On this tepid evening; they eat their supper and converse subconsciously in the comments and retorts of each knife gash against the ceramic, in the inflections and of each sip from their goblets, and in the humdrum mutterings of their shoes beneath the timber. Through the open window, the galahs scream in love, or pain (she has no idea which, except that their emotion is beautiful). The galahs could be swerving and diving overhead, or aligned haphazardly along the branches of the Stringybark. Cars shout indignantly over each other on some nearby road (It feels odd to Rose that there could be so many places people might want to be). The air hangs in the small room with the odour of cooling pie and the fermentation of dusk.
"I have poisoned your supper."
Angus Squatter stares at his wife, aiming, as best he can, for her eyes. He allows the sentence to drift through the summer with a relaxed self-confidence he did not intend but finds himself proud of.
"Did you really?"
"Yes," he says. "I sifted it into the stewing apple between the caster sugar and the grated nutmeg. I stirred it through until it diffused into the sweating, melting apple flesh and the room took up its aroma and the apples freckled nutmeg in the electric sun until the bubbling juices thickened into a sun-stained caramel; hidden within the ingredients, but always within, only to be released through a logical but naturally unlikely series of coincidences."
"And you watched it boil?"
"No. I prepared the roast chicken."
"But you inhaled the aroma? The twisting clouds of caramel? The threat of death? Were you enticed by its sweet perfume? Was the serpent himself powerless to resist the caramelizing odour of his forbidden apple as he lingered long among
's brambles? Does its residue now linger within your lungs and settle a gentle sediment of self affliction?... Or possibly self-doubt?" Eden
"I did indeed waltz amongst the silhouettes of seething aromas. But you do not understand your affliction like I do. I am the architect of your demise and can help you through this. Remember Rose, this is only a phase and you will soon pass through to some new truth or unquestionable lie."
"How do I die?"
"Why would you want to know that?"
"I feel you owe me this decency to entice my fears."
“I have already done you a great courtesy. Not many know when they are going to die."
"Do you consider this a privilege?"
"It is really just an occurrence. I did not intend to mention it, but excitement slid the words from my subconcious to weigh down my jaw. I surprised myself really."
"You do not own my death. I could take this knife to my wrist, sever my arteries and empty your sweetened caramel into my saucer. If I choose then I will know when and how I die."
"So how will it be?"
Rose places the breadknife delicately between her fingers. Then she retrieves her fork and resumes her meal.
"It really is the most exquisite pie," she says.
"I prepared extra."
"That is very generous of you."
"Yes, but I'm afraid it doesn't keep very well."
"No matter." She reaches her knife deep within the pie's flesh and splits open its chest. She can feel her face redden: she presumes it is red - a royal crimson which sprouts from her eyes and unfurls down her cheeks - but it could be any hue, any colour at all. She hopes he sees it. She hopes he is looking. She hopes it is red.
"I have poisoned your wine," she says.
She hears his goblet clunk perfectly into the loop of spill upon its coaster.
"Did you really?"
"Am I really in the position to bother with lies?"
"And yet I don't believe you," he says.
"Then pass me your goblet and I will drink from it."
"But you are to die regardless."
"And yet I don't believe you,” she says.
"You don't drink red wine."
He clasps each finger around the spine of the glass as he has in each meal before. Then he lifts it gently, using his other arm to position the coaster below. He stretches the assembly away from his authority, across each grain in the timber, and places it at his arm's full reach in the centre of the table. He then retracts to his chair.
"So do you care to die by your poison or mine?" he asks.
Rose Squatter reaches one arm (it was to be her right, but became her left with one last-second impulse). She watches her hand reach long over each notch in the timber until she too can wrap her fingers around the warm and clammy neck of the glass. She lifts her grasp up its throat until she feels the weight of the glass rest on the brim of her hand and the coaster fall away. Then she retracts her arm over each grain in the timber until the glass is in front of her; his glass: clutter in the wide expanse between her supper and her sauvignon blanc; a gift from him: his prized article and companion, the elixir of his rudimentary routine evening. And it is in front of her. She notices that a crimson stain has dribbled unevenly from the glass's rim and has run down its crystal chin. It is a lipstick engrained onto the glass from the endless celebration of identical nights, taking years of labour to form. She becomes suddenly aware that she can swipe the half-full goblet through the air and stain the shag pile red in only an instant.
Instead, she takes the glass in her hand and stares towards him (but does not see him). She lifts the glass to the edge of perception and from there she relies on all twelve years of routine and emulation. When the crimson stain rests between her lips in a passionless kiss, she tips the glass into her dry mouth. In the darkness she can see the swill of red and backwash.
"How does it taste?"
"You get used to that."
"Would you like it back?"
"Yes. Thank you."
She places the glass on the coaster and he returns it to his lips. They finish their meals simultaneously, rise from their chairs and place their dishes into the dishwasher. Through the open kitchen window the galahs continue to call.