“I love the heat, me.” I say the words aloud, with his cadence, to the empty room. “I love the heat, me.” Something deep inside pulls at the muscles in my face. I inhale sharply to quell it and my breath shudders, making my shoulders shake. Gromit wanders in and licks my hand. Another shuddery breath. Laugh or cry?
That’s what Joey always said, that’s why he wanted to come to Australia. Me Mam’s cousin Ron who lives in Cairns warned him on Facebook, “You have no idea what heat is!” I showed Joey but he called him an old fart.
That’s another thing. When Joey insisted we come, I thought at least we’d have Ron, but there was always some excuse why we couldn’t see him.
At least the town sounded pretty. “Emerald”. Sparkly and rich. What a lie. It’s dusty and dry and there’s bugger all here. Even Joey admitted it. “It’s not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here!” he’d joke. Ha bloody ha. But it is hot. Even when we got here, in August, which is officially still winter, it were ‘otter than any summer I’d known. At least then it were still cool at night. By the time summer started proper, I thought I’d melt away like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. You can’t keep your face on!
Our Ellie said “Just tell him no”, as though it were easy, and I tried, straight up I tried, I did. But Joey told me again how good it would be for us, and how much money he’d earn and how much I’d love the heat, meaning how much he’d love the heat. And when I argued with him, after he’d been t’pub and United had lost and he’d lost a bet, he lost it and shouted and punched the wall next to my head. What could I do? He’s me ‘usband.
It’s nothing like Neighbours, nothing like Home and Away, but the house we rented is big compared to the one back home. We’ve got a big garden with a pool, and a garage big enough for two cars. We posted pictures on Facebook in our swimmers, holding icy beers and grinning like we won the lottery. They got loads of likes and envious comments. “Swap ya,” I replied, meaning it. I were miserable. Nobody took me serious. Joey went to work all day but I was alone in the house, rotting away in the heat, either terrified of the giant bugs that lurked in every dark corner or bored by the empty, alien streets and endless scorching sun. I wanted to go home. I started taking pills so I wouldn’t care so much. They worked: I were numb.
Joey got me a dog to keep me company, a wriggling mess of a puppy, a half-caste mongrel like me, bitser this and bitser that. It leapt all over me, licking my face, making me laugh more than I had in forever. I called him Gromit, like the cartoon. We were happy that night, happier than we had been since we met at college, a lifetime ago. It were grand but it didn’t last. Gromit chewed everything. Joey laughed that first morning, when it were my strappy sandals ruined by dog slobber and bite marks, but when Gromit got into his stuff, he just got mad. I told him not to leave things lying about, that the dog didn’t know what was precious, and I tried, I tried to pick things up but sometimes I’d forget, or not see, and Joey punished both of us. Gromit’s yelps of pain broke my heart.
I didn’t plan it. We were going to a party, a barbie in his workmate’s backyard. It was a big deal to Joey for reasons I didn’t understand. Gromit jumped up on him and smeared dirt and god know what all over his khaki trousers. Joey smacked him away and I winced at the yelp and then Joey saw the state of his trousers and went after him, “I’ll fucking kill you you fucking mongrel,” he snarled and I screamed no and pulled at his shirt and Joey smacked me away and then he kicked him, he kicked Gromit in the guts.
Joey made me go to the party. Made me smile and lie that I were excited to be there. I sat in the shade with women I didn’t know and let their gossip about other women I didn’t know drift over me, while I heard Gromit’s pain echo in me ‘ead and watched Joey drink in the sun and flirt with a woman half my age and half my weight. After a while I moved my chair so I didn’t have to watch, but it was burned on my brain. And the yelps echoed.
He fucked her in the toilet. What kind of scratter does that? Fuck another woman’s husband at a party at someone else’s house? And that’s what he wants? Realising he was It were like chains coming off me. I felt light, and free. I took him a beer with a sedative dissolved in it, said nothing about the slut in the dunny. Oh yeah, I’ve been learnin’ the lingo.
When he started stumbling and slurring, I got one of the other husbands to help him into his precious V8 ute, and drove him home. I parked it in the driveway in the full sun. It were after 3 but it was still 33 degrees. He’d been restless on the drive, so I went inside and poured him a long draft of whisky. I went back out the car and I pinched his nose so he’d open his mouth and poured the whisky down his throat. He spluttered a bit, but most of it went down and it had the desired effect. His chin nodded to his chest. I closed the car door, and went looking for Gromit.
I just called the ambulance, in too much shock to process the thought that his bloated corpse were well beyond their capabilities. “We had a row on the way home,” I told the operator. “I stormed out of the car, I thought he’d come in.” I can’t stop crying, I’m feeling so much right now. Sometimes I can’t help laughing. “I love the heat, me.”