Speak, cousin; or, if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss, and let not him speak neither. Much Ado About Nothing, II,i
We had known each other years ago. A small, trendy school nestled in the bush at Terry Hills. That had ended in 1975 and we had not met, bar once, for almost twenty years. We had both moved out of the cradle of the North Shore, she was in Neutral Bay, not a thousand metres from my parent’s home, I was in a house in the inner west where I had scurried as my marriage fell apart. Back then she was good looking, that hadn’t changed and it was a shock to meet her in the parking garage of a shopping centre. I was with my father, he couldn’t drive on the morphine he was taking and I was acting as chauffer. So I introduced them.
“Dad, do you remember Elizabeth from West Head? Lil, my father, Eric Williams.”
Hope springs eternal as the rituals and small talk cover the exchange of information and interest that starts towards our joining in that kiss.
I remembered the last time we had met. That one brief meeting in twenty years. A party to show a years worth of painting and sell off some, thrown by two friends. There with my wife, we had bought one of the paintings and I had shaken her loose so I could gossip and flirt. “You don’t remember me?”, came the question. I did, she somehow looked just the same and more mature at the same time. “Of course I do, Lil, how could I forget.” I felt uncomfortable knowing that any second my wife would appear and I imagined my admiration was visible like a tattoo.
So we had met again, in this parking garage. A utilitarian, concrete cave seems a strange place to meet a lover. She invited me to a cocktail party she was having for Xmas. I enjoyed her company and her friends. I called her up and we went out. Then again. And again. We went to the ballet, out to dinner.
At the Opera House I was standing at the top of the steps when she walked up. It was the first time I had been there with a woman who had looked so perfectly in place; the noise and bustle of well dressed people, she fitted the scene and it made me happy to see her.
It got better, I enjoyed it all. The talking, the comfort of her. Then I wrote her a note. I have to say that I’m good at putting words on paper, terrible at saying them off the cuff. This note had a whole chunk of happiness poured into it.
She invited me to dinner at her apartment. Flowers I had given her in a vase. Table laid with candles ready to be lit.
I was sitting on the couch as she fussed at dinner, I remember we both had a glass in one hand. I was almost basking in the care and warmth. She told me she loved the note, but was wondering at it’s ‘meaning’.
“It’s just my way of saying I care about you, I wonder if you care about me.” Conventions and cliches again, covering the moment where companionship shifts up a gear.
That’s where the kiss comes in. “Is that enough answer?” she said as she turned back to finishing dinner.
It filled me with so much warmth and comfort that I could have burst. Rendered speechless for a moment. The warm glow stayed as we sat at the candlelit table, stayed as we sat drinking coffee, stayed as we held each other on the couch.
The warmth stayed for weeks. I found myself working better, smiling constantly, exercising more. My house was tidier, my life was more organized; energy was everywhere. I left flowers on her doorstep. A handkerchief left at her house came back framed.
Trying not to scream on the Big Dipper as the adrenalin kicks in and she holds her hands over her eyes with a death-like grip. Lying together listening to the night and the darkness as sleep takes over. Cold winter mornings waking with a warm person under a white floral doona in a bright coloured room with dark furniture. Stretching and yawning in shared spirit as we let the day take over. Companionship turns into tenderness, turns into love and then deepens, widens until it encompasses life.
It broke. I broke it! I pushed it. A dark, angry mood came in from out the back of my psyche and I had to push. It broke, I tried to blame somebody else but I did it.
As it broke we thrashed in anger and pain. Gone. Cold. I tried to stay close, a few awkward phone calls and dinners but it was gone.
Was it wrong? Was I using someone? Did someone, somewhere, say it wasn’t meant to be?
Time passed and wounds that should have healed stayed raw and open to the travails of life. Slowly I adjusted.
Then my father left. Slowly, quietly, death crept closer and he was gone. The last time I saw her was his funeral. Beautiful, distant, but there. Did she care? Did she know that pain needed her warmth but couldn’t cross the gap?
Now, as the cold, dark demons come out, I wonder where the warmth is?