Claudio was woken the next morning by the laughter of several kookaburras. He tried hard not to take it personally. Beside him Cossima, zipped up securely in her sleeping bag, snorted – although whether with derision, disgust or blocked sinuses, he couldn’t tell. He tried not take it personally.
His wife, he thought tenderly but he didn’t reach out to touch her. Something about the tense crease dividing her forehead made him think that wouldn’t be a good idea. Instead, he moved slowly and carefully as though trying hard not to wake her, difficult in a small two-person hiking tent. His jeans were folded neatly under his pillow and he shook them out and then attempted to wiggle into them. He was still wearing his undies due to Cossima’s – well – attitude the previous night.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake,’ she said, as though she had heard him thinking about her, ‘can’t you do that outside the tent?’
‘Won’t be a sec, sweetheart,’ he said cheerfully, smiling at her tightly shut eyes, ‘then I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.’
‘I’d rather have a nice soft mattress,’ she said and turned awkwardly away from him, twisting the sleeping bag around her.
When he was finally outside, Claudio decided that his beloved’s – well – attitude, could probably do with more than just a cup of tea. Breakfast in bed, he thought, inspired by the sight of the toasting fork which gleamed invitingly in the early morning sunshine. Or nearly in bed, he amended, thinking about the size of the tent and the insect-attracting power of raisin toast crumbs.
Half an hour later he passed a beautifully browned piece of raisin toast over to Cossima, who perched, bleary eyed on a rather uncomfortable-looking stump next to him. Almost as soon as she took the first bite, Claudio’s vision shifted a fraction and the world seemed to come into sharper focus. He blinked rapidly but this made everything seem slightly sharper again. He saw, for example, a leech looping it’s way up Cossima’s left boot. He saw the slight speckle of sunspots on her right hand as it brought the toast up to her mouth. He noticed that her uncombed hair revealed quite a bit of grey which had defied her hairdresser’s talents and that, when she wasn’t chewing or swallowing, her face settled into slightly peevish lines.
As though she felt his scrutiny, she looked up at him and smiled for the first time that morning.
‘Oh darling,’ she said, ‘that toast was delicious. What shall we do now, my sweetheart, light of my life, my knight in shining, my, oh my, my husband!’
Claudio narrowed his eyes. Pink looked good on some women, he thought, but just didn’t suit Cossima. Which was a shame as her cheeks were flushed from sitting too close to the fire.
‘A walk,’ he suggested sternly, ‘a good long one.’
‘Darling, don’t you want to, shouldn’t we, you know. I mean we got married yesterday and we haven’t yet…’
‘Marriage,’ Claudio said, ‘yes. An interesting social custom designed foremost to protect property. Now we have DNA testing. Just as expensive but more reliable, one would think.’
Even as he said this, he wondered why he hadn’t thought like this yesterday. Yesterday had just been blurrier, he decided. He had been blurry.
‘But you wanted…you said. Claudio, I don’t understand. We love each other and we both wanted…’
‘Do stop fussing Cossima and let’s get going. Oh, and I’d look out for leeches if I were you. I’ve seen some around.’ As he said this, the leech dived under Cossima’s jeans. He counted to twenty-five before there was a small shriek and Cossima wound up her jean’s leg to expose the latched-on leech. ‘You should tuck your jeans into your socks,’ he said.
The trouble with marriage, Claudio thought as he packed up the campsite hours later while Cossima limped around, complaining of sunstroke and blisters, was that the other person never went home again. That was it. Their home was your home. Your home was their home. Their dripping taps, broken cupboards, stained carpets were yours. Your perfect couch, cherished wine collection, robo-vacuum were theirs. It was too depressing a thought.
He surveyed the site once more, stepped forward to pick up his pack and stepped on the toasting fork. The left prong went neatly through his right hiking boot, narrowly avoiding both his little and next-to-little toes and slicing up through the space between them, thanks to a vigilant mother and expensive school shoes which had allowed his toes breathing room from an early age.
‘Ow!’ Claudio shouted nonetheless and kicked out, sending the toasting fork sailing though the air, ‘bloody thing.’
‘Darling!’ Cossima limped quickly to his side, ‘are you okay? Did it get you? My god, look at this hole, right through your boot. That thing is dangerous, sweetheart.’
Claudio looked down at the top of Cossima’s head as she fussed over his boot toes. There wasn’t that much grey, he decided, no more than was sensible on a woman her age. And, although pink didn’t suit her, the chartreuse shirt she was wearing brought out the green lights in her hazel eyes.
‘I think we should go for one more walk,’ he said, ‘to celebrate my twenty toes. Just a short one. And let’s take a blanket with us.’
A very short but intense walk later, Claudio resumed packing up with enthusiasm.
‘Is that everything, do you think?’ he asked Cossima as they stood arms around each other and surveyed the camping site. ‘Oh no, look!’ he pointed across the small hollow where their tent had been, ‘what’s that?’
Something shone amongst the ferns, beckoning them.
‘It’s that toasting fork, sweetie,’ Cossima said, ‘ Do we have to take it? There’s no room anywhere, darling, we’ve packed up.’
‘It was a wedding gift,’ Claudio said, ‘of course we do.’
But when he’d retrieved it, he slid it into Cossima’s pack.
‘I’ve got the tent,’ he said, ‘and anyway, it was one of your friends who gave it to us. I’m sure.’
When Cossima began to protest he stuck his fingers in his ears and began to hum very loudly.
Meanwhile the toasting fork nestled more closely into Cossima’s pack, edging its way between yeserday’s sweaty t-shirt and jumper to snug its rounded wooden handle right at the small of Cossima’s back. Once there it stretched, cat-like, and rubbed itself thoughtfully against a couple of her vertebrae.