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Parmesan Elephants

Parmesan Elephants - Chapter Four
Mark Cunliffe

Finally the heavy silence was broken as Miles raised his head and looked at his wife full and with honesty for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.

'That was a turning point. You know? Bringing kids up in this shitty world and then we saw kids die because of what I believed in, and yes, I got scared and cowardly again. I retreated and hid my past. No worse than that, I defected and turned traitor to my past, no more Sean Bourke for me, I was now George Blake' he said in reference to his novel, ' I wrote and spoke out against them not for them, never ever for them again.' Miles said with determination and looked at his wife across the room, they were out of breath and weepy eyed.
'I didn’t want to kill it' Jodie said chokingly, remembering the abortion.
'Neither did I, why do you think I hate your Dad' Miles replied and walked hesitantly towards his wife. 'I know you didn’t want to do it really, but we hardly had a choice'.
'I was so scared Miles' she said and she started to cry.
'I know, I know' Miles soothed into her ear as he embraced her.
'And then being told I couldn’t have anymore children' she said through sobs from Miles’ chest. 'It destroyed me'
'And the marriage' Miles added, for it was true that though they loved each other there relationship was never the same after the news that she was infertile. 'It wasn’t your fault Jodie. I was stupid, shagging around, it-it just became a habit.' He explained before touchingly saying, 'I’m sorry'
Jodie raised her head a little and looked Miles in the eye, 'And I became a cliché, the bisexual feminist lecturer, just to get back at you. I’m sorry too'

They hugged each other in the centre of the room, for several minutes each telling the other that it will be all right, each seeking reassurance.
'Least I bought you a dog' said Miles injecting some lightness to the tender, raw moment.
'It died' Jodie said through mock gritted teeth, and they both looked to where the urn was. As they pulled apart they saw Abbie stood in the doorway, she coughed quietly and politely.
'I think it best I leave now'

Jodie moved away from the centre towards Abbie, scratching her head in embarrassment. 'Look Abs, please stay. Ok so you’ve seen all my cards, not to mention his,' she said pointing to her husband. 'But come on we need to go through your notes'
'It’s a consolation prize for Jodie you see. First prize was to go through your knickers' Miles chuckled as he lit another cigarette. Jodie closed her eyes at the quip and the timing. 'No dear, anyway booby prize is to go through your shit stained grey undies!' She retorted, gathering the pace of the spar again. It was as if the last few minutes of heart to heart had not happened.

'STOP IT!' Abbie screamed, finding her voice at last. 'What is it with you two, I-I just heard and witnessed the most fragile of things, true love and then I come back in proper, and this pantomime start all over again. I don’t get it, it’s like you get off on these little stupid arguments?!'
'We do' Jodie replied in all honesty.
'Oh now be fair Jodes, Abs, this isn’t an argument' Miles objected, 'I mean Jodie hasn’t thrown anything at me yet'
Jodie laughed at this but stopped herself sharply as she saw Abbie’s expression was shocked and in no mood for light heartedness.
'Ah, we are sorry' She explained as if she herself were a student in front of the dean over some prank, 'Aren’t we sorry Miles?' she prompted her husband, who continued to smoke and drink on the touchlines. 'Abbie, you don’t understand, Miles and I have an interesting relationship, we have to after what we have been through and it seems you heard most of the potted history.'

'Yes, She’s right you know. We share a sense of humour' Miles remarked, 'We have to because Jodie doesn’t have one!' he began to snigger.
'I just don’t get this, your life I mean' Abbie said in awed whisper as she sat on the sofa shaking her head, dumbstruck. The social science student in her began to try and reason the methodology of their relationship but could find no solution.
'Why don’t you both split up? Or divorce? Stop this stupid merry go round and recrimination' she raised her head to look at her hosts, the not so golden couple to answer her.
'Divorce?' They both said simultaneously as if grappling with an alien term, as indeed they were.
'If we split up we’d die, we could never find someone who understood us both like we both do' Miles reasoned, 'That’s why we do quickies only I suppose'
'Abs, oh Abs, I am sorry. You shouldn’t have to put up with this today, I mean all this arguments and me coming onto you and then that' she said referring to Miles, 'attempting the same'

Miles looked up at them through a cloud of cigarette smoke, smiling innocently as if he didn’t get the gist of that and hoped someone might explain or take kindness on him.
'I thought you were you know, so great and ooh I don’t know inspirational, you know? Something I could aspire to' Abbie admitted. 'And coming here tonight, well I thought I was halfway there, in some mythical league I put you two in, and I was there! Me, a kid from nowhere with just some good grades to her name'
'Abbie, you should never put people on pedestals, especially when they can never hope to reach them' Jodie said with warmth and affectionate understanding. 'But let me say this, Miles and I are great academics, yes even Miles, he won’t admit it but one day soon the book will get finished and it will be a success, and he does get invites to lecture even now, where was the last one Miles?' She asked of him.
'Bonn, six months lectureship. But can I be arsed?' he bemoaned to no one in particular as he had done before and probably always will do when it came to ‘school’.

'You see, we can do the job and do it well and we love campus life.' Jodie explained and looked thoughtful towards Abbie. 'Remember when you first came tonight and I asked if you enjoyed my classes?'
'Yes and they are great, really they are' Abbie enthused.
'Well there you are and that shouldn’t change what you see in us. It’s just that that is all we really have, that’s why lecturers all go to dinner parties by lecturers. It’s what us sociologists would call life in microcosm as we all gather around and shag each other and each others students and talk about things that don’t really matter. We are safe in our collective fake skins, our little world, without it well we just don’t live the same way. We deal in the theory, never the practical.' Jodie explained.
'Life gets hidden away. Our dreams and hopes and everything else it’s just-' Miles began to say.

'Parmesan elephants' Jodie and Miles said in conclusion and they both laughed a little at the private joke.
'So how about it hmm? Forget tonight happened, forget that I’m a closet dyke, that Miles is a lazy lothario…'
'I prefer the term happy go lucky scamp,' said Miles butting in.
'Whatever sweetie,' Jodie ploughed on, ' Forget that he was involved, rather foolishly with the IRA, forget that we are all these things that we are just lecturers to your student and we are there when you need us and that is that. We are no better or worse than you' She emphasised this point with a pat on her shoulder, once seductive, now nothing more than motherly.
'Hmm yes' Abbie sniffed collecting her things and snapping out of her shell shock. 'Ok let’s do that. I’m sorry for being so melodramatic. I guess I’m just not used to campus life yet eh?' she added with a laugh.
Jodie smiled at her sweetly, 'You will be one day soon, and believe me, if you keep up the good work like you’ve done here' she said holding the notes, 'You’ll be destined for great things, better than what we have achieved'
'And then you’ll have to go through this all over again, from our perspective!' Miles added unwisely and laughed, which thankfully Abbie politely joined in with. You’ll be destined for great things, better than what we have achieved.'

'Well good-bye, and despite all that, thanks for having me. It was weird, but kind of fun and more than a little useful for the future' she said.
'Good.' Jodie said, 'Very sociological, use and learn from all social occasions. See you tomorrow Abs'
'Good-bye Ms Schofield' Miles added taking a sip of wine once more.
Abbie made to leave, but suddenly seemed struck by a thought. She turned to her hosts once more. 'Just to let you know, that I am in fact a lesbian' A wide, genuine smile spread across her face. Jodie and Miles stared in astonishment at this revealing fact from the seemingly innocent young guest.
'Have been since I first read you at fifteen Jodie. Right now I’ve taken a shine to Natalie, you know, the sewing machinist? She left her husband to come here, like we’ve all said Jodie, she knew her old life wasn’t for her and she has been enlightened in more ways than one. So please don’t think you’ve offended me too much.' Abbie smiled again, this time it seemed more secretive, as if she had finally got her wish and joined the ranks she aspired to, 'Guess we all keep Parmesan elephants to a certain extent. Nighty night'
And with that, Abbie left, walking down the drive of the house and into the night safe in the knowledge that although she wasn’t one of them, she did not want to be either, but they all at least shared a private joke.

Miles and Jodie entered the living room with broad smiles on their faces.
'Well that went well dearest?' Miles remarked ironically.
'Went better than some dinner parties we’ve been to I suppose' Jodie offered.
'I’m sorry' Miles said as he picked up Abbie’s notes and made a show of looking at them, 'I…love…you' he said whilst pretending to look through them, keeping his eyes off Jodie.
'I know' Jodie replied. 'Me too' she said and Miles finally put the notes back on the sofa and met her gaze.
'Let’s go to bed hmm? Our bed for a change?' Jodie said and in one sentence put their marriage back on track a little.
'I’d love too.' Miles said honestly, his eyes unflinching from his wife.
'Dear me eh? A lesbian, who’d have thunk it, didn’t have her down for a sausage dodger did you?' Miles quipped. 'That’s a slang term for lesbian by the way, not for vegetarian, that being chop dodger' he added without request, Jodie wasn’t playing this time. 'Still she obviously didn’t fancy you did she dearest?' he said, taunting her one more time.
'Miles' Jodie warned.
'I mean, you must be losing your touch?' he continued.
'Don’t Miles.' She said before reminding him, 'Pas devant les enfants hmm?'
'Of course dear' Miles agreed and they began to climb the stairs. 'But what do you feed them on hmm?' he asked facetiously, gaining a giggle from his wife which he joined in with.

Downstairs the CD continued to play out to no one. It was Joni Mitchell singing ‘Clouds’. The last lines Miles and Jodie heard as they retired for the night was;

'I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down yet still some how
It’s cloud illusions that I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all'

© Mark Cunliffe April 2006

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