Many years ago, I was invited by a close friend to come to Perth to do some major renovations to his house. There, I met the lady about which this story was written. I got to learn about a kind of “way of life” for seemingly many single parents there..ie ; the weekend love-tourists commuting between Fremantle and Perth. This was in the days before mobile phones and internet dating. It was a sad replacement for the permanent relationship. I wouldn’t think it even was or perhaps is now, a happy substitute for loneliness.
Memories are an irresistible song; chained to our triumphs and failings as the notes are played out on the music sheet and the song is ever played in tones of sweet delight or melancholy:
One memory always brought her back to the old water-mill they would visit as a family in her childhood. They would visit that mill in the Summer months for picnics as it was always cool under the reaching shade of that enormous building. She could see now the shadowed sloping lawn slipping away to the willows on the bank of the stream in the lee of the hill with the crumbling limestone edifice of the mill on the opposite bank. Silvered bracelets of water wept from a rusted sluice channel onto the blades of the mighty but now frozen wheel suspended from the side of the stone building. Her minds eye swept over the scene and fixed on her mother and father sitting next to each other on the red checked rug. Her mother’s head thrown back in a sudden shout of laughter so her father leant close kissing her neck in a noisy exaggerated passion so her mother squealed delightedly and they both overbalanced, falling back giggling onto the cool grass.
The memory faded and she came back to the present like a falling leaf and she waved to her children, departing excitedly in their father’s car…her ex-husband….today was Sunday, they go with the father’ every Sunday; her day off.
“Bye, bye mum.”.. “Ta! Ta!” the children cried.
The father said nothing, for the bitterness still rankled both parties so silence served for accusations.
“Behave for your father,” she called as they drove away.
Her shoulders drooped as the car disappeared around the corner, as if shedding armor and responsibility combined; the tonnage of adulthood. Marie lingered in the driveway, gazing across the road. Sunshine poured out of the morning sky and the enormous expanse of oval lapped, water like, right up to the kerb of the footpath. A gaggle of gulls frozen collage on the embankment stared patiently at a small group of children running, crying, kicking a ball in the centre of the oval.
On the closest edge of the park stood, isolated and deserted, one of those gauche spaghetti plasticised “playgrounds” that reflect the banal taste of local-govt’ and the naivety of design that would believe that children can be enticed to “have fun” on such sterile frameworks that appeal only to vandals and local government administrators. It stood out painfully yellow and red against the placid azure-blue of the western sky.
Marie turned from the oval to gaze upon a row of scraggy geraniums lined, dusty and weary along the length of the gravel driveway. There is an unfathomable insanity inherent in our society, reflected most visually, I feel, in those tawdry flower beds of the houses in the outer suburbs; earth desperately scratched and scrapped and mounded with paths of various coloured gravels or scoria, cacti and daisy bushes, hardy roses (without scent!) or other tough, dry climate vegetation and, of course, that mainstay of colourful desperation: the geranium! with its scaly stems like rooters legs and the little circlets of hue almost precocious in its attention grabbing way like a spoilt child with a new toy to show off, demanding to be seen and used by those poverty stricken gardeners to balance out against the financial unpredictability of their own existence, at least flowers are manageable!
“Oh this dry weather,” Marie sighed. “The poor garden,” she added with a “tch” and took the hose to sprinkle some water over the geraniums. She then went inside to pick up the last discarded clothes that the kids had dropped before leaving, then again fell to washing up the breakfast dishes, as she didn’t like coming home to a dirty kitchen; it was one thing she detested; the dirty sink. “If I let the little things go,” she would protest, “it soon gets to be a frightful mess!” and she would mop the floor to finish off so she could go out and know there was a clean kitchen to come home to. For today was Sunday, her day off…today she could dress up and drive to Fremantle….Freo.
She would drive to Fremantle to sit in some cafe and try to meet a man. She smiled a little smile at the thought of these strange encounters, she smiled as she remembered Ivan, the Slav who was nice but so noisy….and he laughed at his own jokes! which she found annoying! and then there was that nice Egyptian man ;..Rafaya his name was and she thought they had so much in common…almost soul-mates you could say, then she saw him that time in the city with his family and he made like he didn’t know her and she knew he saw her by the frown and the warning away with his eyes….and he too agreed they were “soul-mates” but he couldn’t risk talking to her with his family because:
“You see, my sweet….my wife she would get very jealous and maybe take a knife to you! They are like that, my people ….very jealous.”
But still he had a lovely voice and when he talked of love in the dark sanctuary of her bedroom his words were like an irresistible song, the sweetness dropping dew-like into an empty heart, and even if it was only for one night affairs they could still see each other now and then….”Eh, my darling Marie.”
Memories are like an irresistible song, only where the lyrics of the song are fixed, the memory will sometimes edit, cut, embellish, till what is left is the scattered coloured fragments of that which we desire so deeply to see. But today was Sunday, today she would dress up and go to Freo.
She carefully selected her clothes as to best show off her figure, which (she observed critically) was in need of “strenuous exercise,” she was “running to fat” and she frowned, then brightened a little as the noticed that her buttocks at least, now had a rather voluptuous curve to them, something she knew some men found irresistible in a woman, she gave herself a playful slap on the bum, “You’ll be right!” and she smiled into the mirror, giving herself a furtive wink. She finished her dressing, adjusted her sunglasses and hit the road to ‘Freo!’
Once she cleared the city traffic and made the highway, she pressed the ‘pedal to the metal’ and streaked down the road, the window down and her elbow out, with one hand on the wheel and the stereo blasting a suburban beat, her long dark hair streaming in wisps out the window from the speed of the car. Long streaks of cirrus cloud from the west pointed abstractedly to her destination and the car ate up the miles. Ah! speed, speed, that euphoria universal that swiftly carries body and soul on an ecstatic high to god knows where …where?…the same place, most usually, from whence we came!
Marie felt the cool rush of air over her face….Sunday…Freo!…she laughed…But! Oh! did she lock the house securely? She went over a check-list in her mind: Front and back doors….barrel-bolts?- Yes. Security locks? – Yes. The windows? – Yes. The kids room…the lounge? – Yes – Yes. Ah, but did she plug in the electronic security alarm?…”Yes, oh yes!…and I better be careful when I come home not to trip over the cord in the dark and pull the bloody thing off the wall!….Freo here I come!!”
Travel is like an irresistible song, escape from the dreariness of an ordered existence, even a day-trip can have the feeling of severing the ties that bind us to our duties. So the countryman goes to the city and the coastal-plainsman to the mountains. The desert appeals to the forest dweller and there must be an ache in the heart, sometime, of the Bedouin for sweet rainforests!
Marie parked the car under a large conifer tree next to the park, she locked the steering bar in place then checked all the doors were locked, “you can’t be too careful, you know.” She suddenly remembered the house. Did she lock up securely? – “Yes.” Good, with her mind comforted as regards her material security she could go forth to risk her heart!
Bells! bells, she paused as she heard the faintest tinkling of bells, no, not bells, too metallic,
“What is that? can’t see, can’t imagine, too far away.” And she stepped off the footpath.
Memory is an irresistible song. She remembered her own wedding and how her father wished to hear the peal of bells to celebrate the occasion, but there not being any bells at the church he decided to supply his own in the form of two enormous hand held bells that her younger brothers were to ring as she stepped out of the portal of the church, and how her father, on seeing the youngest boy struggling to sound his strongly, rushed up to grasp hands over hands and ring the bell furiously so it clapped out its joyous peal over the whole assembly in the churchyard and she could still see his grimacing smile and his suit coat flapping open with his strenuous efforts! Ah, what started so sweet should end so wan.
‘Francines,” the pastel coloured neon light glowed softly and the art-deco interior oozed cleanliness. Marie stepped up to the counter and ordered a coffee and cake.
“I’ll bring them to your table,” the waitress said.
Marie chose a table with only two seats near a potted palm and the full glass window. As she sat, she gazed around the cafe, there were only two other women there, seated two tables away, they were dressed as though on show. “Looking for men too,” mused Marie.
“Here Luv.” The waitress placed the coffee and a small plate with fork and cake on the table. “Oh, that’s alright,” she assured Marie with a light touch on her shoulder, “ you can pay me on your way out,” and she moved away with a soft smile.
“This looks a nice place….a clean place,” Marie thought, “I must remember to come here again,” and she sipped the coffee sweetly.
She finished her first cup and took it to the counter for another. The waitress server her and asked in a comraderie sort of way: ‘
“Nice then was it?”
“Oh…yes, very much.”
“So,” the waitress smiled as she placed another cup in front of Marie on the counter, “your day off is it’?” Marie looked at her puzzled.
“Pardon?” Marie said quizzically. The waitress placed two sachets of sugar on the saucer and leant towards Marie.
“It’s alright luv,” she spoke with a familiar confidence, “Saturday’s my day off from the kids but I live here in ‘Freo’ so I go to Perth.” And she winked at Marie as she moved down the counter. “Oh, I’ll put that on your tab….and who knows, you may not have to pay it on your way out'” and the waitress smiled knowingly.
Marie was shocked, the familiar tone of the woman’s voice and the insinuation left her speechless, was she that obvious, she had always considered these sorties into ‘Freo’ as her own private excursions, she never would have thought that her behaviour was such a public spectacle. She turned to go to her table and then stopped, for two men had approached the other women at the table near hers.
“Hello Ladies.” The taller of the two spoke in a cheerful voice. “May we join you for a coffee?” The women smiled stealthily at each other, not giving anything away, then as if coming to an agreement without spoken word or sign, one of the women said:
“Well, we don’t know you but….well…they look harmless …don’t they Marcie?” and she smiled.
“We’ll take a chance,” the one called Marcie replied.
“I may look harmless but there’s a sting in my tail!” The man laughed as he sat down. It broke the ice.
“Your friend’s quiet, has the cat got his tongue?”
“Oh…he’s thinking,” the first man said quickly.
“What about?….no….don’t tell me, I know what all you men think about….don’t we Marcie?” and the group broke into thrills of laughter and a lively conversation ensued, punctuated by lowered voices and secret confidences then bursts of shrill laughter.
Sexual attraction is an irresistible song, like an intricate spiraling melody it encircles and entwines desires to mull, mould then meld the senses into sensuality till voice and eye become a hypnotic serenade to lure the soul to hungrily acquiesce to the body’s physical need.
Marie sat gazing into her cup, but this was terrible, she was thinking, the crass coarseness of their conversation was embarrassing….then she remembered that day with Ivan in another cafe…oh God! was she that vulgar too! Yes!…yes! she recalled their own conversations….noisy and touched with crudity….conversations of idle chatter, of subtle innuendo designed to lower the barriers of strangeness between two people, the probing into lifestyles, work, interest and leisures, all followed closely with eye contact to filter out the compatibilities of two distinct personalities. She had never thought twice about her behaviour, but today was different, the waitress’s wink had triggered off a feeling of disquiet in Marie, a feeling of commonness that she was party to, a conspiracy of seduction, a whole underclass of single parents desperate for company to hold off the loneliness of isolation from casual conversation with the opposite sex. Marie sat stunned at the table, not quite knowing what to do with this new found discovery, like a person witnessing a crime but not knowing whom to tell.
The tail end of a joke wafted over from the nearby group, the men laughed.
“Oh, that’s an old one,” Marcie moved her hand wearily. “And a dirty one, the other woman admonished playfully, the man raised his hands flat in surrender.
“You should have your mouth washed out,” the woman said chidingly.
“You’re right,” the man agreed, “and I know just the club to do it in.. Anyone for a brandy and dry?”
“Make mine a ‘Harvey-Wallbanger’ and you’ve got a deal!” and the laughter resumed gaily as they all stood from the table.
“Excuse me.” Marie turned to see a man standing at her elbow. “Excuse me,” he repeated, “I noticed you sitting alone and I wondered if I may join you?”
Marie turned to gaze up at him. But it was no good, the magician’s trick was exposed and she couldn’t now fake it. She stood up from the table and gathered her things together.
“Are you leaving?” the man asked
“Y…yes,” Marie mumbled.
Marie turned to him, trembling slightly.
“I…I’m the mother of two children…” she said weakly as if that in itself was an explanation….there was a moment’s silence between them.
“And I….I am the father of three,” he said softly.
Marie looked into the proud eyes then lowered her own, he was not to blame, there was no fault in either of them, just as there was also no common interest save their own circumstances.
“Excuse me,” Marie said quietly and the man stepped aside. But as she passed, he touched her arm.
“Then why did you come here?” he asked, for each of us recognises others of like personality and needs.
“I…I made a mistake,” was all she could say, then lowering her eyes turned away to pay her bill.
The waitress leant over closely as she tallied the account.
“He looks alright to me, luv,” she whispered secretly. Marie didn’t answer but quickly left the cafe.
The sound of bells echoed over the park as Marie sat sad faced on a bench under an elm tree, the sea breeze hissing soft admonitions through the leaves.
Love is an irresistible song, that searches the emptiness of the heart, weaving melodies of possibility within its chamber, and like an irresistible song; the more you shun it, hold it away, the more alluring it becomes and not even a cloak of bitterness will shut out its desiring warmth. The one that seems so wise can be the one most vulnerable to its passions.
“What are those bloody bells!” Marie cried in exasperation and she arose from her stupor in a determined stance to investigate. Clasping her handbag to her stomach she strode through the lawned park toward the sound of the bells. A cry of gulls permeated the air as if harking attention to the dropping sun and a sweet song of voices wafted above the chime of those “bells”…the washing of waves against the sea-wall slapped time to the dancing yachts in the marina.
The singing voices were a trio of Vietnamese women talking and laughing on the wharf of the marina and the gulls overhead argued in competition to their musical language of tone and song …and the clipping of the sail ropes ringing against the aluminium masts of the yachts swaying at their moorings in the harbour: the” bells.” Marie sighed, she had expected a more mysterious solution, not such idiotic simplicity!
“Dammit,” she hissed, “why must every avenue of retreat be just a deceitful blind alley?”
Life is an irresistible song. All its trickery!, all its joy, its fanfare, its deceit but a moment etched on us like breath on a mirror and who really has the time or wisdom to answer the whys and wherefores before that mist is evaporated forever ?