In Bed with Jocasta
Melbourne is flat, with the roads laid out in a grid. No wonder Melburnians have fewer relationship problems than the rest of the population. In Sydney, you can get anywhere by about fifteen different routes.
It’s a city laid out by people paid in rum and wearing leg irons. Look from the air, and it’s been designed using a SpiroGraph. And so you have the arguments. Comenarra Parkway vs the Pacific Highway. Oxford Street vs William. Mona Vale Road vs Pittwater.
Jocasta and I may have to stop attending the Broadway cinema, so intense is our argument about which way to turn when we leave the car park. To the right and up Parramatta Road? To the left and across Anzac Bridge? Before you express a preference, let me admit it: I’m passionately in favour of the Parramatta Road option.
Mostly I ignore Jocasta’s comments, but today I snap. I chuck a U-turn. Right there in the middle of the road. ‘OK, you win. You direct.’
Jocasta tells me to stop being so childish, and says she was merely expressing an opinion.
I say: ‘Well, we’re now following your opinion. So it’s your job to tell me where to go.’
Jocasta indicates she’d like to do exactly that.
In this sort of argument, it’s best to be the driver. Jocasta is directing me towards the Anzac Bridge, and so my aim is to prove this is the slowest, most foolish route imaginable.
My eyes scan the road ahead, searching out opportunities. Slow vehicles which, by clever driving, I can get stuck behind. Buses which might stop to let off passengers. Turning lanes in which I can get myself marooned. And traffic lights which, by the imperceptible slowing of our car, I can inspire to turn red.
Jocasta says: ‘You’re deliberately going slow.’
I deny it. ‘It’s just such a very difficult road.’
With a sense of triumph I spot a broken-down taxi in the kerbside lane, and allow myself a victorious glance towards Jocasta. I hope the glance will convey the message: ‘This sort of breakdown happens all the time on the Anzac Bridge, but never on Parramatta Road. Further proof that I am right once again.’
I realise this seems a lot of information to convey in a single glance, but you should have been there to see how I narrowed my eyes, glowered towards her, then sighed.
Yes! Sighed! (Although, a thought did bubble up: ‘How come we hope sighs will convey a message so obnoxious we’d never say it out loud?’)
Ahead the lights are red. This time I let loose an almost imperceptible snort. So imperceptible I may be able to deny its existence should Jocasta call me on it; but perceptible enough so she’ll be sure to hear it.
I’ve reached the stage in the argument where I’m in pretty deep. Either I find a way of escalating this thing, or I might be forced to admit I’m being a petulant pillock. I decide to escalate it.
‘It’s like your thing about King Street,’ I say. ‘You drive all over Sydney just to avoid it. What’s your problem?’
Jocasta tells me not to even talk to her about King Street, and says that my use of King Street to go west, when if you look at a map it actually goes south, is further proof of my galloping insanity. She then starts using the windscreen to draw various maps of Sydney, pointing out where we live (‘Here,’ she says, stabbing the windscreen), and how all my preferred ways home (‘There, there and there’) lead in virtually the opposite direction.
Then she sighs.
It’s a long, bleak sigh, slipping from her lips with a mixture of exhaustion and self-pity. As best I can decode it, it contains within it the narrative of how, twenty years ago, an intelligent young woman with options in life made a series of decisions which led her, in middle-age, to be driving at 30 kilometres an hour over the Anzac Bridge with a moron.
I realise this seems a lot of information to convey in a single sigh, but you should have been there to hear its length and gurgling depth.
I permit myself a secretive smile. She’s now behaving as badly as me. I think that’s some sort of victory.
Despite all my efforts, we get home in record time. She says nothing. But she does smile.
I turn to her. ‘That smile,’ I say, decoding its message, ‘that’s an I-told-you-so smile, isn’t it?’
‘No,’ she says archly, ‘just happy to be home.’
We’re in the driveway. But still, I think, some way short of being home, in any full sense of the word. Next time, I need some better directions.