Trionfo di Pesce
Helen and Marco are celebrating their second wedding anniversary with a joint outing to the new Italian fish restaurant. Marco, whose parents sailed out to Australia from Puglia, orders trionfo di pesce, an extravagant mixed platter. At fifty-four, unmarried, Marco had flown to Sydney to visit his brother, when at an inner-city bus stop he met Helen, a childless librarian. Now the couple are living in West Africa until Marco’s contract runs out. Opposite them sit their friends Megan and Geoff who have been married thirty-four years.
Helen and Marco have not yet mastered the art of being touchy in front of other people. Helen’s hands become paws and Marco’s arms feel like unbending steel girders. So they refrain from closeness in public, although Marco touches Helen’s hand when the waitress waltzes away with their order and returns with a tray of thin-stemmed glasses. Helen looks at their clutching digits.
Geoff is given the wine to taste. His quiff of ragged grey hair makes him seem head of the table.
Marco is bald.
One of Geoff and Megan’s four daughters has just been involved in a drug-related incident where she fell from a first-floor balcony onto a pool deck. Days ago Megan flew in from Brisbane, assured that there will be no long-term spinal damage. Megan apologises for being a bit teary, and Geoff’s large arm swings around her shoulders, patting her upper sleeve.
Helen looks beyond their heads to other couples, other groups of diners, then through the window with its flourished security grill, to a local man leaning on the balcony railing outside. At first it had felt extraordinary to be a man’s wife, but she found so much conversation draining.
Marco refills everyone’s glasses, remarking that the wine was a pretty good choice.
“So how does it feel then? Two years of marriage?” Megan says, nudging Greg’s round abdomen. “They’re just babes in the woods.”
Marco looks at Helen, they were still reading each other’s looks.
“Wonderful,” she replies. “He’s just short of being a saint.” Helen genuinely believes this. Marco brings her a cup of tea in bed in the morning. She doesn’t always like his nuzzling, but tries to. Helen is fierce-looking with long coarse blond-grey hair and has never much been interested in men, or women. But Marco had struck her; he was only in Sydney for two weeks.
She and Marco have a dream for when they leave West Africa. A little stone terrace in Puglia, the one he’d shown her that had belonged to his grandparents, in a village by the lapping sea. They have both saved their money. They both like to fish. Helen knows that as he ages, Marco will chatter less and he will teach her Italian. That in the afternoons, he will seep into a serene silence in the sunlight.
In the car park the couples hug goodbye and Geoff’s arm collects Megan’s shoulders. Helen and Marco stand side by side.
Inside the car Helen kisses him and kisses him.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris at twenty-one to write, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published in the U.K., Europe and the U.S.A. Catherine lives in Italy.
Also by Catherine McNamara Slaughter of the Innocents
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