Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Real Oil by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's story about three wealthy car dealers and their wives on a caravan holiday.

I stretch out my legs, let them float on the frothing surface and stare at my toes. I count them, one to ten. Then backwards: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Six, plus five on the other foot, equals eleven. I laugh. My little toes curve over the toes beside them. They desperately need painting. I should write an article for a women's magazine. 'Toes, a major female problem zone.'

I am trying to distract myself from the real female problem zone: men.

I move a little to the side and catch a hot jet of water that pulsates against my back.

Yesterday we returned from our cut-short summer holiday. Even a car dealer's twelve metre caravan doesn't have a spa bath.

I close my eyes.



During the barbecue on the first night, a storm broke. Torrential rain and hail started to pelt down so we made a mad dash for the nearest awning, which happened to be ours. The men had grabbed the chilly bins and left everything else, which they thought was a huge joke, so we all settled into our comfy caravan and carried on drinking. I didn't feel like more than the one wine I'd already had, so I took a bottle of chilled tomato juice out of the fridge, offering it to the other women first. They shook their heads, giggling and holding up bottles of champagne rescued in the downpour.

There were three of us couples camping together: Tony Quignall, the owner of Meteor Motors, a self-made middle-aged man who worships his creator; and his busty, blonde partner, Sheila, whom he'd recently separated from after she drove a nearly new Range Rover off the side of a boat ramp into the sea - and then took back after shacking up with a woman who couldn't cook. And there was Doug Bernhart, a thirty year old with 'more money than a bull can shit,' as they say in the used car business, owner of a string of rental properties and car yards; and his new partner Marissa, a redhead in a leather mini skirt and fishnet stockings who was curiously reticent about where they'd met. Then there was Josh Simpson, managing director of Elite Cars; and myself, Mary, his wife of eight months.

It was hot and stuffy in the caravan. Rain pounded on the aluminium roof and as it grew darker with the storm clouds, flashes of lightning, followed by hideous thunder, lit up our faces like Halloween masks. You couldn't hear yourself think, let alone talk, so the women whispered behind cupped hands into each other's ears and the men drank until the storm died and then started their drunken prattle.

"Hey, mate," said Doug Bernhart, a tall chap with hairy hands, a red face and a bulbous nose, "don't you reckon all this crap about climate change is a load of old cobblers?"

"Like the bullshit about peak oil! They're trying to get us to drive bloody hybrids," shouted Tony Quignall over the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. "It's just another politically correct load of twaddle!" He was a podgy little man with piggy eyes and a prominent chin that seemed to jut out at the end of each sentence, like an exclamation mark.

I leaned on the mahogany veneer table, fingers webbed across my forehead like duck's feet, and looking up through them, I said: "With all these wars breaking out in the Middle East, anything could happen to the oil supply!"

I'd just about had enough of their stupid palaver, not to mention the humidity with so many people in a confined space. The stench of booze was making my stomach churn. I had a crazy urge to lean my forehead against the condensation trickling down the windows, maybe even start licking it like a dog.

Josh spoke up. He'd been drinking less than the others.

"The crap started when Bush invaded Iraq after 9/11. The Yanks knew damn well there were no nukes in Iraq... that was just an excuse to invade. What they didn't tell us was the real reason, whatever it was. Didn't want the public to know. They're not stupid."

"They're not very smart, either, mate," Doug retorted.

"Bloody Yanks wouldn't know shit from clay," Tony sneered.

"Make bloody good vehicles, though," said Doug, his face now a brighter shade of red. He started talking about a low mileage Humvee in mint condition he'd traded on a Merc and made a fast twenty grand on. "Bloody Humvee did about 2 miles to the gallon, but boy, what a machine, you should've seen the women looking when I went out cruising."

"Brainless bloody women if they were interested in you, mate," Tony interjected.

"Sexist pig," Marissa said, playfully smacking him on the behind, then examining her crimson fingernails to make sure she hadn't broken one.

"Made round to go around!" said Sheila. She twirled her pony-tail, then looked up wide-eyed, as if wondering what she'd said and why she'd said it.

"Damn right, Blondie," Doug laughed, punching the air with his hairy hands. "Some women are all right, though. If you get one that knows how to back a boat trailer, you're onto a bloody good thing. Mind you, she's gotta be good in the sack."

"Bang on!" Tony said, thumping the table.

I could see Josh looking at me. He knew his mates' chauvinistic claptrap upset me and tried to change the subject.

"Who'd you reckon's going to win the election?" he asked.

"Best shagging wagon I ever had was a Buick ex-hearse," Doug continued. "Boy, could that pull the chicks, plenty of room to swing it about!"

"I drove a red Camaro ragtop for a while," Tony butted in. "You should've seen the birds line up for a ride in that little ripper!"

"Not much room in the back, though," chortled Doug.

"You don't need much," Tony grinned. "I could hang my arse outside on a fine night."

Josh looked at me, then turned to Tony. "By the way, Tony, did you get that 69 Mustang some guy wanted to trade on the 99 Impala?"

"You mean the low K Cobra Mustang with the 428 engine? Yeah, I did. Mint! Best one in captivity. Only had it in the yard two minutes, bloke wanted to buy it, but he was talking telephone numbers for his trade-in, a stuffed 2010 E30 M3."

"A blue one with ripples on the left side? The prick tried to fit me into that!"

"He's been trying to flog it off all round town."

"It's a bloody dog. Reckon it's been raced. I told the prick to piss off."

"Good on you, mate. You'd never get rid of the damn thing."

"Get off the grass! You could hock it off for good money to a boy racer with small balls."

"Or a girl racer with tiny titties!"

"Like the Aussies say, there's a galah for every car!"

"S'long as they've got the dosh, who cares who they are?"



After they left and stumbled back to their own caravans, I collected up the empties and stuck them in a crate out in the awning, at least that would keep some of the smell at bay. Then I turned to speak to my husband, who was slouched at the table. His party smile had departed. He was frowning and his lips were all tight. I suddenly felt sorry for him, and wanted to kiss him, but when he noticed me looking, the strained expression vanished from his face and he put on the same false smile he'd worn all evening.

I grabbed a torch and stepped out of the caravan, slamming the door behind me.



The road through the camping ground towards the bay had been sprayed with oil to keep dust down and its smell was nauseating. I took a short cut along a track children use. It was very dark beneath overhanging pines, and gave me a strange feeling as it narrowed towards the beach with lupins growing on both sides. I remembered the story of Noddy driving through the woods one dark night when a gang of bad golliwogs jumped out of the trees, stuffed him in a sack, then drove off in his little car.

At the beach, even though it was well after midnight, campers were strolling along the well-lit promenade arm in arm, obviously enjoying being outside after the storm, and some were gazing at a big moon rising out of the sea.

I found a seat, still damp from the rain, wiped it with my sleeve and plonked myself down.

A fluffy little cloud hung motionless beside the moon, seeming to be suspended there, waiting for something to happen. The cloud moved closer as if to whisper into the moon's ear. The moon now appeared to be staring at me. I shuddered.

Unwelcome thoughts began to fill my head and I couldn't make them go away.

A black kitten appeared out of nowhere. I picked it up and cradled it in my arms. The tiny creature snuggled into me, warm and loving.

When Josh found me an hour later, I was sitting with my face covered by my hands.

"What's up, honey?" he asked.

"Nothing," I yawned. "Just tired. Needed some fresh air."

He stared hard at me and seemed about to speak, but took my hand and we walked back to the caravan in silence.



"I'm going to have a baby," I told him the next day, without looking up from my magazine. We were sitting side by side in the shade against the side of the awning.

A badminton net had been set up on the grass. Tony was playing Marissa, a cigarette in his left hand. He stopped in mid-play and took two quick puffs. Doug yelled from the sideline: "What's that weed you're smoking? Where's the bloody referee?"

Sheila leapt out of her canvas deckchair and stood on a tube of sunscreen. "Point of order, Mr Chairman!" she shouted, skidded in the mess, and screamed as she fell backwards into the deckchair. It tore with a loud ripping noise. Sheila staggered up and tried to kick it into the bushes.

"Wow," said Josh, his voice a whisper, taking my hand. "We'll have to buy a bigger house."

Tony took a swing at the shuttlecock, and fell flat on his face. He sat up, grinning stupidly.

"Hey, shagger! I think I might be a tad pissed. How about you come play with Marissa and I'll play around with your sexy missus?" he shouted to Josh.

"Filthy bastard," I hissed.

Josh sprang to his feet, ran over to Tony who was lying on the ground laughing and kicked him in the mouth.



An hour later, I visited Tony in his caravan to plead with him not to lay a complaint.

"A conviction for assault would..." I burst into tears.

"...damage Josh's precious business?" Tony said, grinning broadly through swollen, bloody lips.

"Yes," I whispered. "Please, please, don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I? Bastard kicked me in the teeth!"

"But you provoked him."

"What did I say?"

"You know what you said."

Tony's small dark eyes searched my body. "Well, I suppose I could keep silent about the whole thing," he said, coldly, jutting out his chin, "but you'd have to make it worth my while."



Josh had come into my life a year after my long-term partner Jac killed himself. Jac was the stereotypical tormented artist and I was a freelance writer, more emotionally healthy than he was, but not by much. Neither of us earned any money. Jac's life was full of dramas, and I'd kept him in one piece through all of them, except the last one.

When he died, my grief was mixed with relief, a toxic combination that tore me apart and plunged me into a deep depression that seemed to go on forever.

A newly divorced friend talked me into going to a car dealers' party. "They live it up like there's no tomorrow," she said. "Just what we girls need to get out of ourselves for a while!"

The party was held at a mansion high above the city. Champagne flowed, along with laughter and high-spirited talk about cars, money and sex.

The girls there were flashy types, dressed like film stars. They rubbed up against the men, sat on their knees while they talked business on their cell phones, laughed at their jokes, brought them drinks and walked about with plates of savouries and crackers with caviar.

I envied the way they giggled among themselves as if they didn't have a care in the world.

Afterwards Josh drove me back to his place in a black Porsche. He was a very good looking man in his late twenties, small in physique, with swept-back dark hair. He told me he'd started dealing in cars when he was eighteen and now owned Elite Motors, specialising in luxury and sports cars, with about five hundred vehicles in stock.

Next morning, he took me for a spin in a classic Jaguar he kept in his home garage for weekend use, a red 1964 S-Type with wire wheels, like the car our family doctor used to drive, when I was a sickly kid with asthma.

A week later, he took me on a buying jaunt to Japan.



Josh comes into the bathroom and stands looking at me, his eyes full of tears. I turn away, twist myself around and let the gushing jets of water play on my breasts. I do not know my husband, so do not know how to talk to him or what to talk about. I know his appearance and his wealth and his flashy friends and cars, but his feelings, his inner thoughts - these are unknown to me. But now he is crying, I have a sudden desire to know more. I imagine my baby, our baby, stirring inside me.

I turn around and lean my head back against the side of the spa, looking up at him.

"Hop in with me," I say, gently blowing the scuddering bubbles away as if to make room. "We need to talk."

4 comments:

  1. An odd valentine. Could be expanded.

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  2. Gripping - I read so intently, I was surprised to find myself at the end. The quick ending perfectly matches the quick light bulb moment when Mary realizes she really doesn't know Josh, yet will be having a baby with him. The contrast between Mary and the other women is handled nicely. Good story.

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  3. Yep first stanza hit a chord with me. Discussing Middle East conflict with other (NZ) males I'm always surprised how much they know about the weapons and vehicles the US uses - but move on to talk about sunni - shia differences and the like and they lose interest.

    A lot of good insight here and a bit of a depressing summary of NZ manhood. The dialogue and inner voice are bang on (I wish people would say 'and me' rather than 'and myself'). Well written all round...I liked that only key episodes in the relationship were presented...the narrator is sympathetic but has rather sold herself out.

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  4. very convincing depiction of blokes, Josh the sensitive one
    and quite a sad end really. but well written and food for thought

    Mike McC

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