I’ve made plenty of mistakes.
I sent a text to my brother-in-law.
It wasn’t meant for him. There were no words – just a picture. A photo. Clear as anything. I’d just got a new phone, and the camera was deadset incredible. Somehow the lighting was amazing, too – that was just a fluke.
It was a selfie. I was in the bath. A tasteful nude, you might say. Still. A nude. To my brother-in-law. Bubbles around the crotch area, fortunately, but both tits right out – because I can’t help it, they’re naturally floaty. I was doing my best sexy face, too – squinty eyes and the tip of my tongue sitting on my top teeth.
I sent it in the group chat my husband had started the day before, for Christmas-organisation purposes. I was in a hurry I guess, or just wasn’t thinking – saw Marcus’s name and replied. He realised straightaway, of course. Nothing gets past him.
You just sent that to Declan
He added that drunk winking emoji.
I wasn’t embarrassed – I mean it was a pretty great photo – but I did feel dumb.
Declan didn’t message back.
I pocket-dialed my ex.
I was having an after-work drink with Lucia. I want to make this clear – we were not at after-work-drinks. No. We would never do such a thing. After-work-drinks are always held at the pub down the road from our building, which is a very bad, stinky, gross place where nothing good ever happens. At half-past four on Friday afternoons, Lucia and I say loudly to no one and anyone, ‘Oh goodness, I am so, so busy tonight with that hens/baby shower/Christmas shopping/cake baking/fingernail appointment’, and then we get an Uber to a very nice, airy pub in a different suburb so we can sit on clean chairs at a clean table and talk about the people who went to the other pub.
I don’t usually pocket-dial people because I am not a man, so I don’t keep my phone in my back pocket. I’m not sure how it happened. I just know that two (or five) espresso martinis in, I heard a tiny voice coming out of my handbag – ‘Hello? Hello?’ – and I said to Lucia, ‘An elf!’ Then I found the source of the voice – my phone – and Lucia said, ‘Why is an elf ringing you?’ and I pointed a finger high in the air and said, in a British accent, ‘I shall find out!’
It turned out to be Potsy – AKA Gareth Potts – not an elf.
‘Who’s this?’ he asked. I mean. Seriously? This question is always a lie because no one ever deletes any of their contacts. And it is a lie said only by dumpees to pretend that they’re over you and don’t care and whatevs.
So, I put him on speaker and said, ‘Scarlett Johansson’ because he was always into her.
‘Wow. The Scarlett Johansson?’ he said.
Lucia pressed a hand against her mouth to supress a giggle.
‘Of course’, I said. I put the phone near my lips and whispered ‘and I’ve been thinking about you, Potsy. Like, in a sexy way. You should come directly to my hotel room tonight and do that thing you’re very good at. And then we’ll order room service fried chicken, and we’ll also fill the bath with expensive champagne because I’m incredibly rich, and also, I’d just like to add that I’m wearing those underpants from that movie I did – the, that Japanese movie about Japan. Those undies.’
Before Potsy could answer, I hung up.
I replied all.
I’ve always been a big supporter of capital punishment for office dickheads who reply all. It’s such a blatant show-off move. Look at me, actioning tasks with incredible efficiency! On top of it! More like annoying the shit out of everyone on the list and being a general suck.
Anyway, I got this email from my boss about an upcoming conference: BESQA Multi-Disciplinary Future Planning for Business Resilience. In other words, three days of pole-up-arse keynote speakers, awkward group discussions involving post-it notes and triangle sandwiches with too much mayonnaise. Also: an opportunity for some good, old-fashioned adultery. There was a rumour that Trevor, one of the department managers, took his bit-on-the-side with him to the last conference and – despite the luxurious hotel beds – did not get much sleep. I knew Lucia would be thinking the same thing, so I immediately sent her this gem:
Bet Trevor can’t wait to future plan his cock!
I know – it didn’t even make sense, but my phone rang just as I’d finished typing, so I pressed send without thinking. Yes – send all.
Trevor was on the list.
I put a typo in an Instagram post.
I know what you’re thinking – every Instagram post contains a typo. That’s true. But my typo wasn’t just ‘wot’ instead of ‘what’ or ‘desert’ instead of ‘dessert’.
I was dealing with unemployment grief at the time. There were three stages. The first I like to call lying-in-bed-all-day. That went on for a week, at which point Marcus told me to get up and do something useful. The second was all about my new-found freedom – I didn’t even like the job! Fuck them! I can do whatever I want now! Which only lasted two days because it involved spending heaps of money – I went to a day spa, had my hair done, bought a treadmill – and when Marcus found out, he cut up my credit card. Next was the reinvention stage – where I looked inside myself and asked the hard questions: Who are you? Where do you see yourself in ten years? What is your purpose in life? Only joking – I just made myself a new Instagram account and decided to become a full-time influencer. The way I saw it, I could go one of two ways: fitspo (already had the treadmill) or cleanfluencer (already owned a sponge). I decided cleaning was less effort overall. Also, that I didn’t necessarily have to clean. I could just rearrange.
@MightyTidy’s first Insta post was before and after shots of my pantry shelves. Before: A total mess. After: Things in matching plastic containers. And the caption: That clean panty feeling! I also added #cleanpanties. Just to really get the message across.
So. On the upside, I got heaps of followers really quickly. On the downside, they weren’t ones I wanted. Jesus, the DMs! Plus, Marcus came home and said, ‘Where the fuck’s the Nutri-grain?’
I let the cat out of the bag.
It was the sherry in the trifle. I’m sure. Marcus didn’t believe me – he said it was more likely the three sherries I had while making the trifle. Look – he might be right. Who knows.
‘Oh, what about that time you got it on with Marcus?’ That’s what I said. It was a response to Savannah – Declan’s wife – talking about her regrets. She’d already listed a few – getting a pixie cut, eating a whole packet of Tim Tams the day before her first marathon, spending five grand on her wedding dress – so it just seemed natural to follow up with another. Except I forgot that Declan didn’t know.
Marcus gave me one of his delightful death stares. Which might have been because of the secret being out but was more likely because of my insinuation that rooting him was something regrettable. Either way, it made me realise what I’d done.
‘Before you two were together, obviously’, I added, waving my hand at Savannah and Declan. This was a lie. It happened before I was with Marcus, but Savannah and Declan were very much definitely absolutely together – in fact, engaged.
‘Anyway, who wants to hear my list of regrets?’ I said, straightening my Christmas cracker tissue paper hat.
‘Here we go’, said Marcus. ‘Get comfy, everyone.’
I farted in a job interview.
I didn’t exactly want the job. That’s why I farted, I guess. Because I didn’t care enough to keep my sphincter squeezed shut.
Declan set it up. Well – Marcus told Declan to set it up. Declan’s a big retail manager, in charge of a whole heap of Quick Breaks. And Marcus thought I’d make an amazing cappuccino-making, muffin-warming, floor-mopping Quick Break store assistant. Although I think his exact words were ‘She’s desperate and will do anything.’
Anyway, Declan pulled strings or blackmailed someone or whatever, and suddenly I had an interview for a position at a Quick Break in a shopping centre across the other side of the city.
I washed my hair, at least – I’m not a total psycho.
The interview panel consisted of the store manager and the assistant store manager. I can’t remember their names. They looked like siblings – the kind that never move out, and then their elderly parents die, and they keep living together forever.
The first fifteen minutes or so was like every other interview I’ve ever had. I had to tell them my life story and list all the things I’m good at and why I would make a great Quick Break employee. I cooperated by avoiding euphemisms and including words like facilitate, journey and pivot.
Then one of the managers – the taller one – said, ‘Can you describe an error you have made – and how you overcame it.’
And that’s when the fart came out. Just as he finished his sentence and paused for me to answer.
Instead of using the moment as a segue to my beans-for-breakfast error, I told the managerial twins about the time I left a Stanley knife lying on a table when I was doing Year 10 work experience at my local kindergarten. I ended the anecdote with ‘And I overcame it with Mercurochrome and Band-Aids.’
The interview pretty much wrapped up after that.
Declan dropped in a couple of hours later. I was in the middle of making a cheese toastie.
‘To be honest, they weren’t completely sold’, he said, rubbing the back of his head and staring mainly at the sink.
I opened the lid of the sandwich press to check on the progress. ‘Did they mention the fart?’
The cheese was oozing out, but I preferred it crispy and brown. I closed the lid.
Declan looked straight at me. His eyes weren’t like Marcus’s at all. His whole face, actually. Marcus had big features – nice and symmetrical, but oversized. And hairy. Whereas Declan was smoother, more delicate. ‘Anyway, I sorted it. I told them you’d just had some bad news and that you were normally pretty switched on.’
‘You really didn’t have to—’
‘Forget about it.’ He waved a hand at me. ‘You could do the job with your eyes closed.’
He was right – which was exactly why I didn’t want it. Also – interacting with the general public: yuck and no thank-you.
Smoke started rising from the sandwich press.
Declan reached out and touched my arm with the tips his fingers. ‘So, welcome to Quick Break.’ He smiled.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. Plus, it’s not like I was in hot demand or even luke-warm demand elsewhere. There were no head-hunters knocking at my door.
‘We should celebrate’, I said. ‘With beer.’
I could see Declan mentally weighing up the options.
‘I really should…get back to work’, he said.
The hesitation between ‘should’ and ‘get’ was a massive giveaway. He totally wanted to stay for a beer.
‘But work will be so much more fun if you’re just the teensiest bit tipsy, don’t you think? Also, I have a spare toastie’ – I opened the sandwich maker – ‘and look at how crispy that cheese is.’
I lost a kid.
It’s bad form to lose your own kid, but losing someone else’s is even worse.
Lucia and her husband had a wedding to attend, and I was appointed babysitter. This had never happened before, but Nan and Gran and the teenage neighbour were all busy, so I got the call. Plan D.
Anyway, Lucia gave me the run-down when I arrived. And by run-down, I mean basically an entire manual. There were so many instructions. How to make plain noodles, which bowl and fork to use, how to lock the back door, where the EpiPen was. As soon as they left, the kid – whose name was Roy – took my hand and dragged me around the house to show me everything he thought was great, like his collection of plastic dinosaurs and the cupcake in the fridge that was apparently for me.
The childminding started off well. I cooked the plain noodles without any smoke alarm incidents, and Roy ate them without any choking incidents. We played hide-and-seek and discussed the pros and cons of being a firefighter. I read several books about dinosaurs. I won’t lie – I was checking the time every seven minutes. Roy was fine – he didn’t kick me or throw cutlery on the floor or anything – but he also didn’t understand sarcasm and had never heard of Lizzo or TikTok or Nailed It.
‘I just have to go to the toilet’, I said as Roy dragged a tub of wooden blocks out from under his bed.
‘Number ones or number twos?’ he asked politely.
‘Number twos’, I said. ‘So I might be a while.’
I snuck into the kitchen and opened the cupboard above the sink.
‘Ah, sweet, sweet babysitter-helper’, I whispered as I unscrewed the lid of the port. I sloshed some into a plastic Spiderman cup and knocked it back. Then I looked at my watch and thought I might just need one more.
When we were midway through a game of memory (which I was losing), I put forward an idea to Roy: that we go out.
‘Where to?’ he asked. ‘The playground? I can swing all by myself.’
There was a park at the end of the street – Roy showed me the way. The playground was covered in children. I watched Roy go down the slide and crawl through a ‘scary’ tunnel and swing on the swing (all by himself if you don’t count the generous initial push). Then I said, to a woman standing nearby, ‘Where did you get that coffee?’ Nearly all the parents were holding takeaway coffees. Seasoned playground watchers, clearly.
She pointed to a mobile coffee van parked across the road.
I looked at Roy. He was bouncing sedately on some kind of overly safe seesaw. I had plenty of time! (Honestly – Plan D babysitters.)
I dashed across the road. I could still see Roy from my position at the van window. I ordered a non-specific latte. The barista – a woman with strong arms and wild hair – asked me a lot of questions:
‘Almond milk or soy milk or cows’ milk?’
‘Skinny or full fat?’
‘Regular or large?’
‘Cash or card?’
I kept glancing at the playground, but at some point – I think between ‘large’ and ‘card’ – I lost sight of the kid. I didn’t panic – he was probably hanging out in the scary tunnel.
I grabbed my latte, walked back to the playground and scanned the scene for red t-shirts. There were five (five!), but none had Roy’s head on top. I asked one of the larger children if she’d seen any lost-looking kids. She hadn’t. ‘If you were at the park and you couldn’t see your mum anywhere’, I said, ‘what would you do?’
She frowned at me. ‘Run home and cuddle my guinea pig.’
I didn’t think Roy owned a guinea pig, but he did know the way home.
I walked briskly for the first hundred metres, then began to gallop. The latte – which, to be honest, wasn’t the best I’d ever had – became unmanageable, so I threw it into a nearby garden.
By the time I reached the front gate, I was puffing, and my eyes had turned all watery. No, of course I wasn’t crying. It was just the wind and the jogging and so on. Pollen. I don’t know. But somebody was crying – Roy.
I found him on the front porch, and I’m not Christian, but at that moment I did indeed thank the Lord, the twelve disciples and the three wise men.
When all the tears had dried up, I said, ‘You know what would make you feel better? A cupcake.’ He wiped his nose on his sleeve and nodded earnestly.
Unfortunately, it turned out that I’d forgotten the front-door key. We had to sit on the porch – cupcakeless – for over two hours. I’m not sure if you know this, but I Spy is pretty much the most boring game ever. Especially if you’re thinking a lot about special reserve port and your opponent is a despondent person who can’t spell.
When Lucia and her husband arrived home, they were happy to see us. Until Roy filled them in on the day’s events. I ruffled his hair affectionately and said, ‘Kids, eh?’ but Lucia shook her head in that same way teachers do when they’re handing your essay back.
I overheated a pie.
I was hungover. I’ll admit that. But it wasn’t the hangover that was the problem. It was the fact that I’d left my phone at home. Well, no, it was the fact that Marcus had found my phone and decided to go through my messages and call log.
I had just started my third Quick Break shift when he walked in.
‘Why the fuck did you call Potsy?’ He pressed himself up against the COVID-proof panel at the counter and put one fist through the gap at the bottom (which, excuse me, is for EFTPOS, not fists). ‘Are you fucking him?’
I was in the middle of unboxing the fresh raspberry and white chocolate muffins. I clacked my silver tongs together a few times. ‘Potsy? Of course not.’ I was puzzled. Then I remembered: that night with Lucia. Scarlett Johansson. ‘Oh – I just pocket-dialled him.’
The muffin smell was not helping with the nausea.
‘You pocket-dialled him. For three minutes and twenty-three seconds?’
He’d clearly done his research. Typical Marcus.
I looked around for the assistant manager, Tanya, who was supposed to be supervising me but was probably in the carpark, smoking.
Marcus unfurled and refurled his fist a few times. I could hear his knuckles crack.
‘You must have talked to him. So, what the fuck’s that about?’
I might have been a shit babysitter, but there was one piece of parenting wisdom from Lucia’s run-down that stuck: douse a fire with distraction. Which means if your child is having a tantrum, point to something and gasp. A bird out the window, an ant on the bench; it doesn’t really matter – just create a diversion.
‘Hey’, I said to Marcus. ‘Want a sausage roll? I get a discount.’
He immediately pulled his hand out of the gap and eyed off the selection of pastries in the display cabinet. Child, grown man: same-same.
‘Yeah, orright. Actually – give us a pie. With sauce.’
The microwave dinged just as Tanya appeared. She glanced at Marcus, then at the half-unpacked box of muffins, then at the crumbs on the preparation bench, then at me. I got confused about which task I was supposed to be doing. My head ached. I wanted to lie down on the floor and close my eyes. Instead, I pressed ‘auto reheat’ on the microwave, forgetting that I’d done that once already. ‘Won’t be long!’ I called to Marcus as though he was a real customer.
The key to successful tantrum distraction, I now know, is dynamism. Continuous movement. Warming a pie up once is risky, but warming a pie up twice is just asking for trouble. The waiting was too much. Marcus got bored and remembered why he came in.
‘Why didn’t you delete him?’
I picked up a Chux cloth and ran it under the tap. ‘Who?’
‘This dickhead.’ He held up my phone so I could see Potsy’s tiny profile pic and his contact details.
‘Excuse me’, said Tanya. ‘You’re required to wear a mask unless seated at a table, eating.’
Marcus turned to her. ‘The fuck?’
‘I’ll have to ask you to leave if you don’t comply’, she went on, unperturbed by his response.
He did not comply. In fact, he ignored the warning entirely and turned back to me.
‘Sir?’ Tanya raised her voice.
There are lots of things that Marcus doesn’t cope well with, but up there in the top five are authority and interruptions. Tanya was the perfect combo.
Marcus’s face literally changed colour in front of us à la Violet Beauregarde. Then he slapped the COVID screen and shouted, ‘I’m just trying to sort something out here!’
The microwave dinged.
‘I don’t care what you’re trying to do’, Tanya went on, with the calm authority of a school principal. ‘You still have to wear a mask.’ I was starting to quite like her.
‘So come out here’, said Marcus, with the swollen confidence of a Year 9 student, ‘and put one on me.’ Him, not so much.
Tanya – who perhaps dealt with this kind of thing on a weekly or even daily basis – walked around the counter, stood in front of him and put her hands on her hips. He stepped forward, dropped my phone onto the floor and curled his fingers into tight fists.
She didn’t even seem bothered, but I just wasn’t sure whether those fists were a bluff or a genuine threat. Marcus was, as a general rule, all front and no substance. But this was my assistant manager – I couldn’t just stand back and hope for the best. So I opened the microwave, grabbed the pie and hurled it over the COVID screen.
I’ll tell you what – I was not an athletic kid. I had ‘cramps’ at least three times a month to get out of PE. Team sports were not my forte, and neither were solo sports. What did the netball bib acronyms even mean, for Christ’s sake?
Somehow, though, that double-heated pie hit the side of Marcus’s face, and he definitely did not see it coming. Scorching meat and gravy burst out of the pastry and spread across his skin. I think maybe I heard an actual sizzling noise – yes, the sound of human flesh being sautéed.
And Tanya bolted back around the counter – a very wise move.
‘Good shot’, she said, placing a hand on my arm.
‘All in the pivot’, I replied. Then I threw up on her shoes.
I arrived unannounced.
Lucia did not look pleased to see me – and who can blame her – but she let me in anyway because that’s the kind of person she is. Plus, she saw the suitcase – and only someone very cold-hearted would turn away a woman with a suitcase.
‘But no alcohol’, she said, as we walked up the hallway to the spare bedroom. I didn’t mention the two bottles of cab sav I’d packed.
Lucia’s husband was away for work. Which I was quite happy about. Not because I didn’t like him – I did – I just felt a bit bad about the whole losing-Roy thing, and now here I was, a total mess, overstaying my welcome before I’d even got my toothbrush out. My metaphorical toothbrush, obviously, because I didn’t actually remember to bring one.
When Lucia left me to get settled in, I took the wine straight into the ensuite to pour it all down the drain. Except my phone rang before I managed to unscrew the first lid, and even though I knew who it was, I couldn’t help myself – I had to check.
Yes – it was Marcus. Again. I let it ring out, then I reread his latest messages:
Sorry babe pls come home
You know I love you
Come home pls
We can get through this
I can’t live without you
‘Dinner’s ready’, called Lucia from the kitchen. I turned my phone off and pushed both bottles of wine under the bed.
She’d made pasta and red sauce – our go-to meal when we shared a house in our twenties. I’m not sure if she was trying to elicit a sense of nostalgia on purpose or whether she just didn’t have anything else. I like to think nostalgia.
‘Are you working tomorrow?’ she asked.
‘I think so.’ The truth was, I had no idea. I didn’t even know what day it was.
‘At least it’ll be quicker from here. Just get on the freeway; you’re practically there.’
We watched Roy slurp a piece of plain spaghetti into his mouth.
‘I’ll start looking for a rental’, I said.
‘He should move out, not you’, said Lucia.
‘It’s fine’, I said, dripping red sauce onto my top.
‘What’s a rental?’ said Roy.
‘A house you pay money to borrow’, said Lucia.
‘Shit’, I said.
Lucia glared at me.
I pressed my fingers against my lips and glanced at Roy. ‘Sorry. I just realised – I don’t know the internet banking password.’
I lied to Lucia.
I told her that I’d found a serviced apartment that would do nicely until a rental came up when really what I was doing was going home. I didn’t want her to worry. No, that’s not true. I was just embarrassed, and I knew she’d try to stop me.
I packed the wine.
Just in case. As a last resort. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need it, but I felt better knowing it was there. Like life insurance.
The house was really clean, which was nice. Marcus took my suitcase upstairs and made me a coffee and apologised (again). I applied aloe gel to his pink splotchy face. We spent the afternoon in bed.
The next morning, I got a text from Declan:
How’s the job going?
Marcus read it over my shoulder.
‘Does he message you a lot?’
I’ve made plenty of mistakes. But no one’s perfect.
Subscribe for new writing
Sign up to receive new pieces of writing as soon as they are published as well as information on competitions, creative grants and more.