“What’s your wife like anyway?” Marty asks one night. He’s three sheets into the wind, slumped in that crappy garden chair, slowly sliding sideways.
There’s silence, a sleepy blink, as Rust sucks on his cigarette and tilts his head back to exhale smoke.
“Honestly? A lot like me,” he finally says.
“Nobody’s like you,” Marty snorts, trying to stay in the chair instead of spilling out of it.
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, Marty. My heart’s all aflutter.”
“Only if you buy me dinner first.”
“You’re such a sick bastard,” is the reply and gets ignored.
Years later, after things went downhill, he remembers. It’s not nostalgia but reality that smacks him in the face. Marty’s in foreign city, in a room full of strangers, staring at one of Audrey’s paintings, trying to not make a fool of himself.
“There’s something attractive about the abject, isn’t there?” the woman standing next to him says, and Marty just barely manages to not eloquently reply ‘huh’. He casts a sideways glance at her. Tall and slim, fair-haired, blue eyes.
“How’s that?” Her gaze drifts from the painting to Marty and he finds himself being scrutinised by cool blue eyes that feel strangely familiar. Mere moments before her stare (because she is staring) turns rude, there’s a light shake of the head.
“Your daughter has talent,” the woman says, changing the topic smoothly. “Takes more after her mother than her father, I presume?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Am I wrong?”
Before Marty can reply, Audrey is by his side and drags him away for a picture.
“Who’s that-” bitch “-woman over there, honey?”
His daughter cranes her head to see who he’s talking about.
“Her? That’s Andrew’s girlfriend, Claire. Why?”
“She always that rude?”
“Uhm, yeah. She’s very no-nonsense.” Audrey laughs and shakes her head. “Takes some getting used to, but if you get past that, she’s not so bad. She’s got the same name as Rus- your ex-partner, you know? I thought it was funny how she’s a lot like him. Maybe it’s the name? Anyway-”
Marty doesn’t hear the rest of what Audrey says, too busy watching (staring) at the tall woman by the painting. She can’t be ‘a lot like’ Rust. There are no people like Rust. But as he keeps staring, he imagines seeing similarities. The way she carries herself, the way she’s all angles and sharp edges, the way she examines the painting (and people) as if she can see right into (and through) them, the way she manages to look so utterly alone in a room full of people.
“I know your ex-husband, Rust?” he tells her later in the evening, after a drink too many, and gets a level stare in return.
“I doubt that.”
“Bitch,” Marty spits and gets ignored.
“I met her once, your ex-wife.”
Rust is sprawled on Marty’s couch, head tilted back, eyes closed, one hand resting on the row of stitches underneath the borrowed T-shirt.
“She never changed her name, you know?”
“Why are you telling me this, Marty?” The sound of a lighter, a hiss and an exhale.
“Just thought you might want to know.”
In the silence Marty glares at the wreck taking up space in his living-room.
And gets ignored.