I’ll tell you a story..A story of two lovers of vastly different lifestyles, of an age when one would never expect such a event to ever again enter one’s life. Our two lovers, for that is what they did become and they did forge a new life together for the rest of their lives..were in their mid fifties, neither were of what we would call ; “The beautiful people”…nor given to extravagant lifestyles…in short : Plain, everyday people.
I knew them well..I am a builder. I built the house for the people in this story a long, long time ago, and that building over several months allowed me to learn about the personalities of my customers. I lived in the district as I built the house, so I also was able to study other people and trades as they came and went on the farm site. I met and was known to the protagonists of the tale..how they fell in love is their own private concern, I can only relate what I learned from observation and what was divulged to me in quiet conversations at a later date .
Then, a couple of years ago, I was asked to attend as an observer, a workshop on alternative crops for arid area farming. It was to be held in the district where the story below is based. There, I asked a couple of local farmers if they had heard of the couple since. Well , it seems that after twenty five or so years away farming in another state, they had returned in their old age to the district..I did not enquire any deeper into their circumstance..nor health…I would wonder if they were still “of this world “ now…
The Murray Mallee is a vast area…it is sparsely populated and the farms of huge acreage. The loneliness of those places can consume a person and create a hunger for company as ravenous as the real hunger of a starving refugee! So too can the hunger for love haunt and drive a person to seek comfort in a lover’s embrace…so it was for our two lovers in this story.
It was evening, the sky had darkened to a voluminous pitch with the encroaching night. Celia strolled out to the home paddock windmill to get away from the house and her grumpy husband. She walked out over the gibbered paddock to see the approaching storm. There is a wildness within thunderstorms that both frighten and thrill, and Celia liked to feel that release of the power within the storm. The cool wind slipped about her arms as she stood at the base of the wind-pump and listened to its creaking and groaning. She climbed the ladder to the top of the frame and gazed out over the purpling endless mallee scrub.
The rumbling of thunder made her catch her breath a little and suddenly two simultaneous stabs of lightning made her heart jump! jump! with their frightening power and their following thunder thrilled her senses! She felt so helpless in the entire scheme of the world around her, so powerless, as if swept along a frightening rapid river. All her life seemed to be a series of decisions out of her control : Her education, her marriage, her domesticity and now, the farm.
Lightning struck closer now and the cracks of thunder positively scared her and she climbed back down the ladder just as the first spits of rain dappled onto the dry paddock. She shook her hair as she ran to the house. It was so refreshing, the rain, that wet-hay smell that comes with that first wash of rain after a dry spell..life reborn!
“Celia….Celia” Gilbert Adamson called impatiently from the interior of the house.
“Coming, coming” cried Celia with weary frustration.
The Exile of Celia Adamson.
“That which is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.” (NIETZCHE)
One day, many years ago, when Celia was in her late teens, nearing twenty, her mother came into the lounge-room and saw Celia reading a book. She moved over and with her index finger tilted the book back to read the title:
“Carmen and Calomba”, she read out softly, she knew the stories, she had read them herself as a young woman.
“Yes” said Celia “I found it in the bookshelf, it’s quite interesting!” she spoke enthusiastically.
Celia’s mother dropped her hands down and clasped them together in front of her skirt. She gazed down at her daughter and sighed and went over to the bookshelf. After a quick perusal she picked out a small Gideon’s Bible that had fallen into her ownership years before. She moved back over to Celia with a wry smile on her face and with index finger and thumb, as though picking fluff off some material, plucked “Carmen and Calomba” out of Celia’s hands and replaced it with the stern lessons of the Bible.
“It would do better with you, my young lady, to learn patience and fidelity through the Bible rather than whoring and conniving through literature. One will serve you well for marriage while the other.. well…it can serve you, that I won’t deny…but it can also hurt you more than you can realise.” Her mother’s eyes softened here a little, for she could already see her daughter’s weaknesses and for all their apparent simplicity to their children, a parent has had the opportunity to watch the child grow. So much did her mother presume to know of her daughter, that when told of Gilbert Adamson’s proposal of marriage, she set her lips in a determined smile and without so much as a discussion with Celia set about organizing the wedding arrangements. Celia, like it or not, was betrothed.
What nature had denied Celia Adamson in physical beauty, she had endowed with adaptability. Celia Adamson was a very capable person , she ran “Flora Downs” station with all the expertise of a seasoned farmer and raised three children to boot! As per beauty, well, any sensible man will deny there is such a thing as a “plain woman”..there’s a certain mystique as any mature man would know ,surrounding what foolish persons call ;“plain” women, perhaps from those secluded years of bashfulness as a teenager, when a cutting remark can hurt so much, the downcast eyes in company, that shy tone of voice and the with-drawn shying away from crowds all combined, it seems to create an attractive aura of personal mystique.
Gilbert Adamson nurtured the illusion that farming was a profitable and healthy lifestyle. This illusion grew from the childhood miss-perception of a family tale of a forefather back several generations who had been a successful farmer before moving to the city to try his hand at commerce, which duly failed miserably and therefore the family belief that “he should’ve stuck to farming, he was successful at that!” So Gilbert Adamson wanted to be a farmer. After serving his apprenticeship to industry for twenty years in a cement factory, he bought a farm in the mallee district of Callaran. When the last of their children left home so did they.
He worked the farm part-time for a number of years till they set up the farmhouse, then they sold the house in the city and moved lock, stock and barrel to the mallee to run the farm full-time. There is an old Italian saying: “When you have achieved your goal in life, beware, for death is not far behind!” Gilbert had reached his goal with the farm and no sooner had he harvested his second season of grain there than he was struck down with his first heart attack…this in the days before the surgical heart “by-pass” was freely available.
Celia, after a time of adjustment to her husband’s stricken state, took over the running of the farm. Although somewhat incapacitated, Gilbert would advise on schedules of fertilizing and cropping and shearing etc. But Celia would hire the labour, arrange the servicing of the farm machinery, the care of the livestock and a hundred and one other things necessary in running the farm. It was such a necessity that brought her to meet, for the first time, the windmill mechanic ; Jean Gameau.
Jean Gameau was one of those congenial Frenchmen who appear now an then in the most remote areas of Australia with a fragile smile any an endearing personality that seems to adjust to the hardships of that area with fatalistic aplomb. As familiar with the landscape as though that desert township street was the Champs Elysee that he was strolling down!
The name “Jean” presented a bit of a problem to the townsfolk of Callaran, in that they just couldn’t seem to roll their tongues around it to pronounce it in the French manner. But then they couldn’t bring themselves to call a man by a girl’s name. So they fell to the comfortable habit of anglicizing it to “John”, “Jack” or “Gammo” or simply “The Windmill Man.” Jean Gameau came to the mallee to escape a doomed marriage. Celia Adamson, came in compliance to her husbands desires, each in their own way in exile.
Now, it happened that the windmill that served the water trough in the east paddock, two kilometers from the homestead, had it’s blade damaged by a windstorm the previous week so that Celia couldn’t move stock into that paddock for feed.
“I want you to move those wethers into the east paddock as soon a possible.” Gilbert spoke one morning as Celia was preparing breakfast.
“I’ll have to get the mill fixed first.” Celia said.
“What! When did it get broken?” Gilbert demanded.
“Oh last week.” Celia replied casually.
“Last week!” Gilbert yelled “Well why didn’t you arrange to get it fixed last week?”
“I’ve been busy and simply put it down the list.” Celia replied as she licked her fingers of a spill of marmalade. Such casual tones of voice can be very annoying to invalids whose perceptions of moods and attitudes heighten with the length of convalescence. Celia’s casual attitude at such “catastrophe” annoyed Gilbert to the point of almost curing him, and with an acid tongue he drove Celia out of the house to arrange the repair of the damaged mill “immediately”.
Jean Gameau’s farm was a “dusty little spread” three kilometers down the road from the Adamson’s. Celia drove through the permanent open gate up to a fibro “transportable” dwelling with a little porch carefully built around the front door. The porch with it’s wooden deck added a gentle charm to the otherwise plain cream house. A few well tendered pot-plants on the porch daubed it with geranium reds and pinks and greens.
Celia stepped out of the utility and with hands on hips surveyed the yard. It was untidy as mallee farms tend to be in such vast countryside. An ancient plough, seeder and harvester, were parked at various positions and angles in the yard. She didn’t take notice of these things out of any curiosity of the contents of another persons yard, for nearly all farms in the mallee have the same sweated wrecks both in the yard and in the house. She stood there looking for a sign of life. Celia heard a shriek of abuse from around the back and walked over to the corner of the house.
“Grab the bastard!” She was ordered as soon as she turned the corner. But too late, she was bowled over by a rollicking great wooly, black sheep that careered around the house straight into her, sending them both sprawling onto the dusty yard.
“Shit”, cried Celia as she realized the inevitable.
“Oh bloody hell”, cried Jean as he saw the sheep regain its pace and disappear out of the front gate and head down the road.
Jean “galloped” up on his long striding legs and stopped next to the sprawled Celia. He didn’t look at her so much as gaze after the disappearing sheep. He dusted his hat against his trouser leg.
“Hello,” he offered his hand to Celia to help her up. “Sorry about that,” he spoke as he dusted her off. Celia saw a slim,strong looking man, in his mid fifties, going toward bald in a tidy balanced way. He was tallish but not over height. There was a casual gentleness in his nature that took trouble to dust Celia down as she stood in front of him. He held her left arm while with his hat dusted her off like one would dust a small rug or an article of clothing. He moved her this way and that and, when satisfied that the article before him was restored to its former cleanliness, let her go and stepped back.
“Hello”, he said again “I’m Jean Gameau, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“No,” Celia shook his hand mannishly. “I’m Celia Adamson…from Flora Downs ” she added as if to put an identification onto her name Jean motioned after the lost sheep.
“I was cleaning it of a bit of strike and it got the jump on me.” he spoke as if apologising.
Jean was one of those people who can gaze straight into ones’ eyes and seem to see into the bottom of your soul. Such people can be uncomfortable, but strangely, it made Celia smile.
“It’s black,” she teased. “Is it the family pet?”
Jean laughed softly.
“No….But I might have to make a meal out of it one day.” They both smiled.
When compatible souls meet there is no need for idle chatter, the eyes do the talking, indeed, perhaps we only talk at such moments to hide or distract ourselves from too close a contact, for the world of humanity can be a lonely place, a world of fear, fear most of all of an intimate contact of touch for, I’m sure, all of us have met some-one, strangers, that at the very first introduction we would like to, if not embrace, at least hold gently, for they are what could best be described as soul-mates, but such is the life of a structured society that we cannot, dare not become so familiar with that other stranger in our world…a human!
Celia and Jean looked into each others eyes and simultaneously turned their glance away and talked of the business at hand. Jean would go and look at the mill the morrow. Over the following couple of months a friendship grew between the windmill man and Celia Adamson, a platonic friendship that drew him to the farmhouse of the Adamson’s for lunch some days. After Gilberts initial suspicions had been overcome by the enjoyment of the company, Jean became a familiar face at the dinner table. He would gladly do some small jobs about the farm that were beyond Celia’s strength, and he had no ulterior motive in mind. Although he enjoyed Celia’s company immensely, his person had not yet awakened to the reason of his delight at her voice in greeting, or farewell of an evening after dinner as he climbed into his truck and swept out of the Adamson’s gate into the pencil brush landscape of the mallee.
Let us reflect that we are talking about two people in their fifties. No great beauties either, as I have described before, but what can you say..for surely, one person will see as much beauty in the petals of a sour-sob as another will in a rose….for it is certain that as we all grow from the child to the adult, do we not seek that love most denied? Here were two souls anchored in a vast landscape, of no significance and of little interest to any but each other. Yet in their private lives there grew a common bond.
Quite often when meeting on the road they’d discuss affairs of the district or farming problems each while leaning out of the windows of their parked vehicles opposite each other on a sandy back-road, or if in no hurry and in need of deeper discussion, would stand outside the car, on the road, and talk in attentive tones while sweeping the blowflies away with a grimace and wave of the hand. The jokes and chiacking would fly on parting never realising they were each other peeling off layer upon layer of social protocol that was holding them aloof from their true desires.. each talk, each meet, was bringing them toward the start of their journey into exile. An exile from social correctness into an exile of love.
It happened one morning while Jean was repairing the gearbox of the mill in the “home paddock” only a couple of hundred yards from the farmhouse. Celia had watched Jean wrestle with the blade of the mill and hoist it with pulley and rope toward the top of the mill frame. He looked so small and pitiful against a backdrop so vast of parched plain and black-line mallee bush. The frame of the mill like a child’s toy and Jean a foolish ant fussing around a hopelessly impossible task, both of them jellying in the rising waves of heated air. Celia left the breakfast dishes for a moment and with the tea-towel dangling from her left hand at rest on the sink, gazed hypnotically out at the scurrying figure of Jean. A fleeting wave of loneliness for them both swept through her.
“Celia”, Gilbert called.
She was wrenched back into her world. Gilbert wanted his smokes and a light. Celia tended to his needs and fussed over his side-table then announced:
“I’ll go down and see how Jean’s getting on with the mill.”
“Tell him to finish it by this weekend or we’ll die of thirst!” Gilbert grumbled as he snapped the pages of a stock journal. Celia felt her world shrinking smaller and smaller.
She walked past the grove of mallee gums toward the windmill where Jean was working. The bent and twisted trunks of the trees threw crooked shadows over the rubbled ground.
“Hello Jean”, she said slowly “How’s it goin’?”
Jean glanced over his shoulder, he was holding a rope with both hands that stretched to the top of the windmill frame.
“Oh Celia, just the person…give us a hand could you?” Celia start clapping “Don’t be silly” he laughed.
He was bathed alternately in sunshine and shadow as he moved and turned while he held the taut cord and glanced around looking for something. His workman’s shirt was streaked with sweat at the chest line. He attempted to wipe the sweat off his brow with his forearm. His hat fell off. Celia bent down, picked it up and scrunched it back on his head.
“There,” she teased as she fashioned it onto a different slant than he usually wore. “That makes you look sort of rakish like those young bucks at the stockyards.” she giggled.
“Knock it off Celia…and give us a hand with this rope.”
“What do you want me to do?” She queried as she held her hands ready.
“Just help me here…I’ve got the blade balancing up there on the end of the rope here so if you can hold it so’s I can get my spanners it’d save me a lot of trouble…”
“Is it heavy?” Celia asked.
“My oath,” Jean replied “for a fragile girl.” He smiled teasingly “But you’ll be right.”
Celia slapped him playfully on his bicep, she felt it hard and moist with a film of sweat under her palm.
“Get on with you” she laughed “Give it here,” she took the rope.
“Now it’s balanced up there on that lug so it won’t go anywhere… so just steady it…keep the rope tight an it’ll be right…ta.”
He lifted one arm and she slipped coyishly under and with cautious maneuvering they exchanged places.
“You right?” Jean asked.
“As rain” Celia replied with a grimace.
Jean moved to his truck to get some spanners. Now, fate always selects it’s moments for mischief, a gust of wind snatched at the blade at the top of the mill and it twisted off the supporting lug. It jumped and slipped down the frame.
“Jean!!” Celia yelled as the rope burned through her hands. She didn’t let go though.
Jean leapt to her and reaching around her with his strong arms grabbed the rope and planted his foot against the bulwark at the base of the mill. The blade, in it’s swinging descent caught in one of the bracing bars of the frame and jammed. Jean was braced there with both arms around Celia and holding the rope. She had disappeared inside his encompassing body. The muscles on his arms and legs were solid with the tension. Celias’ face was brushing against his chest while his upper right arm pressed against her forehead. Celia let go of the rope and clasped her hands together.
“Oh bugger!” She sighed.
“What’ve you done?” Jean asked as he stood there still in his braced position. Celia looked up, she was only inches from his eyes and she saw the deep concern reflected in them. She became aware of the warmth of his body, his arms, his manliness around her, his scent, not the scent of sweat, but rather the scent of man, of work, of that unfathomable allure of man to woman.
“What have you done to your hands?” Jean repeated. Celia snapped to her senses,
“My hands,” she softly said, “they hurt so.”
Jean raised his right arm and Celia reluctantly, for all her pain, slipped out of that moment of non-conditional bond of belonging that she felt she owned of Jean’s personality. She slipped out of his “saving embrace” and edged over to the truck. Jean reached down and double looped the rope around a spike at the base of the ladder and eased the blade secure. Then he went over to help Celia attend her injury. She stood at the end of the tray of the truck with her lips pinched, holding her hands cupped and not quite knowing or daring to touch one or the other.
Jean took her arms gently and turned the palms upward and they put their heads together gazing at the injury like two children gazing open eyed at some strange object. The skin of both palms had been burnt red by the coarse rope.
“Oh dear,” Celia sighed.
“Hold on a minute, I’ve got some salve in the glove box.” Jean said. He steered her over to the truck cabin, opened the door and reaches inside rummaging around till he reappeared with a tin of golden salve He wiped his hands clean and with clumsy fingers, as gently as possible, spread a thin film of the ointment over the burns. Reaching behind the drivers seat he pulled out a bag of clean rags and tore two strips off a piece of white cotton and placed the squares over the wounds.
“That’s about all I can do here, Celia.” He spoke apologetically. Celia looked from her poor hands up to Jean’s eyes, they were looking deep into hers too, though but a moment, it seemed a long time for silence between them and they both knew then, but could not acknowledge it to themselves yet; the thrill of each others touch.
“It’s enough…Jean.” Celia softly replied. She turned her eyes away and stepped from Jean’s nearness. His hand slipped from her arm in silence. She turned back to his glance and ran her tongue over her top lip. “Ta.” She added softly and turned toward the house. Jean watched her walk away over the gibbered paddock, her feet sometimes slipped, askew as she trod on some of the many small rounded stones.
Oh how he would have loved to have carried her if she had been injured more,like some chivalrous knight in a romantic story..he was feeling, but then he chastised himself for the foolishness of his silly thoughts..what was he really, but a grubby worker..a lowly mechanic. Celia stopped by the backdoor and looked back toward Jean who was still staring after her. She bit her bottom lip and went inside.
They didn’t see each other for a few weeks after that incident; such was the mutual discomfort of their discovery toward each other. Each of them too, at this voluntary separation was surprised to learn that they were quite casual at not seeing one another. Neither was distressed at the others absence, amazing, it seemed, though in fact they each had reached that phase of longing so that denial was bonding their egos together. They each knew with joyous delight that the other was thinking of them so the physical contact was not at all necessary.
One afternoon Jean was working on a mill near the road on the McDonalds property, just south of the Adamson’s farm. Celia, on a stock check saw his silhouette at the top of the mill framed again the limitless azure sky. She decided to stop and say hello, “after all,” she told herself “I haven’t even spoken to him for weeks.”
A light breeze tossed the golden tips of the mallee trees and two corellas chortled overhead. A strange elation crept into Celia’s body. The world around her embraced them into that secret sphere of isolation where only lovers go. Of course he had seen her coming out along the plain, so had climbed to the top of the windmill and was hanging out with his right foot on the last rung of the ladder and his right hand grasping the pivot of the tail of the mill and waved with his hat in his left hand , calling out at the top of his voice so it seemed to echo back off the curve of the sky.
Celia pulled up at the gate about fifty yards from the windmill and laughed at his silly antics “what a curious feeling, that laughter” she thought, it was a young girls laughter and with it felt a softening glow sweep over her till it tingled and the cool morning breeze lifted her hair and wrapped soft sunshine around her body.
“Silly bugger!” She called back and her voice careered across the distance and bounced off the open fields up to the sky like an echo.
“It’s such a beautiful day!” He cried, like a call from some wild free bird; “Come with me to Paris and we’ll dine like royalty: a la carte!” he laughed boyishly.
“Horse and cart?” She laughed and the two corellas careered overhead screeching in symmetry to their laughter and he called to her again in a deep, deep mannish call and it swirled around her and the early morning sun glowed softly in her hair and she called back in competition with her hands cupped to her mouth and they laughed at each other for nothing but the feeling of it and he swung his hat round and round calling and singing bits of songs and she sang back to him and laughed till she felt so full and giddy like being spun around blind-folded, round and around and the corellas cried out with the wind and she laughed within and without and the feel of it all swept her away and she cried out amongst a rollicking laughter that had her hands on her knees with her bent laughing and she cried out from the bottom of her lungs as she straightened up so very happy…
“O’ I love you!…”
And the words hurled over the plains , crashing against the very perimeters of the sky, roaring in her ears in sustaining peals like the toll of some great bell and the corellas ducked and weaved overhead screaming in ecstasy silhouetted again the pristine blue sky. Celia gasped ..why did she say that?.. She flung her hand to her cheek and froze in her stance. Jean’s hand stopped waving and hung out as if frozen also in the action and they gazed at each other silently over the acres of paddock framed in an eternal frieze of mallee-bush collage.
Celia turned and jumped into the utility, reversed back hastily and sped off down the dusty road, a trail of smoke-like dust rising behind the utility. Jean squatted on the top rung of the ladder with only the clonking steel against steel blade of the windmill to background his thoughts. He gazed somberly after the fading ute.
“That I had the courage to say the same, Celia” he said wistfully.
The afternoon had been so hot and sticky and it carried over into the early evening. Celia had been restless all afternoon. Joy had risen in her heart only to be suffocated by the mundane repetition in her life. Gilbert called raspingly from the bedroom as she was washing the dishes.
“Celia,…Celia give us a light will you?” Celia moved to get the matches “The very things that kills him, he nurtures,” she thought. Then she reflected on her own years and the words she had just spoken sent a shiver over her. When she returned to the sink, the doleful clatter of dishes and pans seemed to drum inside her head. She could stand it no more, she threw the dishcloth into the tepid water.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache” she told Gilbert. “I’m going outside for some fresh air.”
“Count the bags of “super” while you’re about it” called Gilbert.
A cool evening zephyr lifted a sigh to her lips. She blew a long expiring breath and strolled to the gate and walked out onto the deserted sandy road. Celia gazed to the right and then turned and looked down the road in the direction of Jean’s little farm about three kilometers away. She started walking in that direction. The sunset drooled lilac over the vast expanse of the mallee, nestling birds syrupy chatter spilled into the evening air and every now and then some small creature would disturb the underbrush.
What was this affection she felt for Jean? Surely she couldn’t love another man while her own husband was so ill? What was this joy of love that she felt so keenly for the first time in her life? Do others feel love at all but just dismiss it and go about their every day jobs as though it didn’t exist? And if they can do it why can’t she dismiss her emotions like everyone else? She wasn’t a young girl any more, why should she fall for that old trickster love at her age? “You’ve turned fifty Celia, fifty.” She repeated to her self as if such words could reverse her feelings and all would go back to normal.
She thought of Jean, his manliness, his tender eyes when she had hurt her hands, his joy of song today on the windmill so bright against the blue sky. His face, his body, his strong gentleness.. but it wasn’t exactly all those…she strolled along the dusty road thinking these thoughts as the sky slowly yielded its light over the somnolent bush and over the hills away across the plains night shadows crept slowly nearer. A cool breeze lifted and curled her cotton dress about her legs and her sandals squelched in the soft dry sand edging the road.
She stopped to gather her thoughts:
“What do I see in him?” She reasoned with herself.
“I see his confidence in his work, his manliness, his strength (she smiled), his lovely eyes.”
“What do I hear with him?..His singing voice, so soft, so sure. His tenderness in his
touch . ”
“How do I feel with his presence?”
“My skin trembles at his touch. His strength of body at his age is healthy and virile. His chest is so strong I want to hold him against me,” (she blushed at the thought).
As Celia was ticking these boxes for her own assurance..for she was not going to rush into a new life without consideration..why would any grown person?..a realization came to her:
“He’s the only person I’ve never felt shy with. From the first day I’ve felt certain of myself in his presence, almost as though we have been apart all our lives and now we belong together.” She strode on purposefully, certain of her actions now. She was certain also of Jean’s love for her, for as much as any woman can read a man’s heart, Celia felt certain of Jean’s .
What would she do? There was no going back home now, she had cast her lot into exile, for exile it must be, for both of them, her children would not understand and certainly the district of Callaran would not tolerate such rebellion to duty. But what was all that opposition in the face of love and for love even death must stand aside! Celia walked on in the plumed penumbra of night.
Jean turned the truck into his farm gate and swung the steering wheel left to drive to the shed. As the headlights swept past his front porch he noticed someone sitting on the step: Celia! He stopped the truck quickly and jumped down. He walked warily over to the house. Celia rose slowly as he approached, her hand moved to straighten her dress as she rose. They gazed at each other in the pressing quiet of the night.
“Jean” Celia looked into his eyes “Jean, I can’t stay with Gilbert any longer.” Jean stepped up to her, they gently and deeply embraced.