Episode Four – The Enchanted Toasting Fork
‘Smell this oxygen,’ Claudio enthused as they parked the car at the Wallaroo State Park carpark, ‘this is better than champagne!’
Cossima sniffed obediently, ‘Yes, dear,’ she said, ‘beautiful.’
‘I don’t think we can camp here,’ Claudio said, surveying the camping site in front of them, ‘There are simply too many people. This is supposed to be a honeymoon. Cossima, darling, we have to find exactly the right place.’
‘Yes dear,’ Cossima shouldered the pack, wincing as its weight., ‘but not too far, this is heavy.’
‘I have the tent Cossima, you haven’t much at all.’
‘Maybe,’ Cossima said sharply, ‘but something in my not very much is digging into the small of my back.’
She knew what it was – the tin of tuna in satay peanut sauce that was the gourmet addition to an add-boiling-water meal of noodles. Every time she took a step, the tin swung against her. Strangely enough the further into the forest they walked, the more the sharp impact of the tin against her spine comforted her. It was a reminder of her sanity.
‘Claudio,’ she panted after half an hour of walking uphill, ‘just remind me why we are doing this.’
He turned and smiled the smile she knew so well - dimples, crease-lines, gold flecks in his eyes – ‘So that we have a memorable honeymoon, of course.’
‘And a weekend at the Windsor wouldn’t have been memorable? Think of the champagne on arrival, the view, dinner at some little city restaurant, cocktails even, chocolate on the pillowcases. All that sounds memorable to me, darling.’
‘Not like this,’ Claudio said bouncing ahead of her, ‘there! Look at that!’
They were on top of a hill that looked over a valley of fern trees and mountain ashes. The summit of the hill was covered with blue and yellow flowers.
‘It’s glorious,’ she said, letting the pack drop from her shoulders, ‘where do you want to set up the tent?’
‘Darling we can’t do that here!’ Claudio sounded scandalized, ‘it’s all introduced weeds. Look at this forget-me-not. No, we have to get down there, in the true forest, the way it was before we came to this country.’
They plodded another two or so kilometers until they reached a campsite that was largely neglected apart from a large tent with balloons tied to it’s poles. Cossima couldn’t help noticing that an equally large four-wheel drive was parked nearby.
‘We could have driven here,’ she hissed.
‘Maybe,’ Claudio shrugged, ‘and maybe not. They have a four wheel drive. We don’t.’
‘We’ve got a bloody big car,’ Cossima retorted, unrolling the thin piece of foam which was to be her bed, ‘and it looks like a four wheel drive, you’ve said that yourself.’
‘Judging, Cossima, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse!’
As a modern couple, Cossima and Claudio had done a ‘Get Married, Stay Married – a twelve-step programme’ with the brilliant (but unreliable) t.v. evangelical shrink, Hoover R. Jones. Hoover had a theory about the four horsemen who could ride roughshod over any marriage. Couples were advised to be alert for the sound of these hoofbeats.
‘I wasn’t judging,’ Cossima said, stung to the quick, ‘I was observing.’
‘But you were observing something detrimental to our marriage,’ Claudio said, shaking out his sleeping bag, ‘and that’s not on, Cossima. You know that.’
‘So what do you want me to do, turn a blind eye to everything?’
‘Only the things that might cause conflict.’
‘That’s not how Hoover meant it. He meant that you don’t judge willy nilly – you allow the other person a say and even then you try….’
‘Cossima, we’re on our honeymoon, I don’t think we need to worry about Hoover and his horseman on our honeymoon, darling,’ Claudio stood very still, his sleeping bag limp in his hands. He was frowning and Cossima realised that he had failed to shave that morning. Dark hairs sprouted across his chin, up his cheeks and ventured on to his nose. It could have looked swarthy and piratical but it merely looked chaotic.
‘Of course not, darling’ she answered soothingly, ‘I just thought….’
‘Well don’t think. It’s hard enough, all this marriage stuff, without you thinking as well.’
Before Cossima could begin to form a retort, her mobile phone rang.
‘Cossy,’ an urgent voice on the other end said, ‘Cossy, you have to tell Cindy to stop annoying us. She thinks she’s way cool and she’s so not. It’s just embarrassing. Cossy, are you listening?’
‘No,’ Cossima said automatically and hit the hang-up button.
‘Who was that, darling?’
‘One of the girls, darling.’
‘Good heavens, fancy them tracking you down way out here. They are persistent!’
‘One of your girls, actually,’ Cossima said.
‘Oh. Are you going to help me with this, darling, or just stand there?’
Together, in a rather strained silence, they put up the tent. Claudio checked all Cossima’s pegs to make sure she’d secured them properly but she forgave him. He was a camping control freak, she was a kitchen one. It evened out.
They did what any camping honeymoon couple do – walked, took silly photos of each other, stopping often to kiss and canoodle. They congratulated each other on finding the other and spoke a little of their dreams for the future. When the sky darkened, they lit a little fire in a designated barbeque area and boiled water for their noodles. It was a spartan meal but was any other as sweet as this first meal of their married life together?
‘I’m still a bit hungry,’ Claudio said, rubbing his belly thoughtfully, ‘a pity we hadn’t thought to bring desert.’
‘We couldn’t carry it, darling, just as we couldn’t carry wine or chairs or a good blow-up mattress…but there’s some raisin bread here, why don’t we toast some of that?’
‘Oh fantastic. See, everything works out in the end. What do I always tell you, darling. This is great. I’ll have two slices thanks. Don’t worry about butter.’
Cossima pulled out the new toasting fork, a wedding gift she remembered. She hoped she had written down who gave it to them. She’d have to send a thank you card in due course. She toasted the rasin bread beautifully on both sides without one little raisin or sultana catching and burning, something she hardly managed to do in the toaster.
‘Wow,’ she said, ‘look at that. Perfectly done, darling.’
‘Mmm….delicious, darling. Aren’t you having some?’
Cossima looked at Claudio. His mouth was over-full with raisin toast. Little sultanas dripped down his chin. He looked, she decided, almost piggy. The thought unsettled her and she moved slightly, in case the flames were playing tricks on her. He shoveled another piece straight into his mouth. She shuddered.
‘Are you cold, darling?’
Why did he insist on calling her darling like that? Couldn’t he remember her name?
‘No,’ she said rather sharply, ‘of course I’m not cold. I am, however, being eaten alive by mosquitoes.’
It hadn’t exactly been true when she opened her mouth but by the time the sentence was in the air between them, there was a veritable swarm of mosquitoes hovering around her. She began slapping randomly. She was allergic to mosquitoes and, of course, they always found her extremely attractive.
‘Don’t do that, darling,’ Claudio said, ‘you’re just disturbing them. Put on some repellent.’
‘Well where is it?’ she asked irritably. Honestly, it was all right for him. He didn’t come up in unbecoming welts. And this was supposed to be a honeymoon. She narrowed her eyes at him. Typical – saving money in this ridiculous fashion. He didn’t seem to care how much petrol he poured into his beloved V8.
‘I can’t find it, darling,’ Claudio said, ‘could it be in your pack?’
‘No. First aid in your pack, remember. You suggested the system. You said it was fool proof. You said…’
‘But insect repellent isn’t First Aid, darling. It’s more preventative. That’s why I think you packed it with the kitchen items.’
‘I did not pack it. It’s clearly not a kitchen item. You don’t apply repellent before you cook. And you certainly don’t cook with it, not unless you’re up to some particularly shady business.’ At this moment, slapping mosquitoes and feeling herself welting in little bumps across her neck and shoulders, Cossima could almost imagine enjoying serving Poisson de Jour avec Rid Buerre or even Noodles ‘n Aeroguard to certain obtuse people.
‘Well it isn’t First Aid,’ Claudio said stubbornly, ‘but you’re right, you don’t seem to have packed it either.’
‘I’m turning into one giant red bite,’ Cossima said through dangerously gritted teeth, ‘I think I want to go home.’
‘Don’t be silly, darling, a few mosquitoes won’t hurt you. You’re beautiful, darling. The stars are making your hair and eyes dance. I’ve never seen you look quite so alluring. Let’s go to bed. It’s insect proof, darling, the floor’s attached. You’ll be safe in the tent, darling. Let’s go to bed, you alluring wench. I need you in my arms.’
‘In your dreams,’ Cossima said, ‘I’m covered in bites. I couldn’t feel less romantic if I tried. Don’t touch me. You’re hurting my bites.’
‘Darling, this isn’t like you. It’s our honeymoon. Darling, you are joking, aren’t you?’
‘I am not. Stay away, or I’ll, I’ll…’ Cossima looked down and, suddenly inspired, picked up the toasting fork, ‘poke you!’ She prodded at Claudio menacingly and he backed away, holding his hands up in the air in surrender. The toasting fork gleamed in the darkness, its prongs like twin, thin stiletto knives.
Hours later Cossima was still muttering darkly as she tossed and turned on her thin foam sheet. Claudio, snoring rhythmically beside her was completely oblivious of her plans to declare the marriage annulled or to file for the speediest divorce in the history of the kingdom.
Beside the last glowing embers of the fire, the toasting fork winked ominously.