Category Archives: Marriage

Don’t talk

As they get nearer, the mountain that emerges from the surrounding bushland reveals itself to be a cluster of tightly grouped stony hills. There is no apparent entrance but he has been here before and pulls off the dirt road that has taken them about two hundred kilometres from the coast.  Soon a rough track shows itself as two faint wheel ruts that appear and disappear up the side of the hills.  Large stones and ditches cause the vehicle to sway and dip as it climbs slowly upwards.

This is their first trip together and she has never been here before.  She doesn’t say anything but he senses her excitement.  The Toyota reaches a gap between two hills and they begin a steep decline through thick bushes and washed out waterways.  The spring sky is clear and the air already warm but in a thickly aromatic way that makes his head swim.  Gradually they emerge into a small valley nestled and hidden between the hills.  A fading bed of green cloaks the valley floor and gum trees grow out of empty creek beds.

“Oh God,” she says.  They park at the foot of a trickling waterfall and he takes her hand and helps her up the ragged red rocks towards the top.  “Look,” he says and there on a rock beside her she can make out a faded Aboriginal etching.  Then she notices that they are all around her. The two of them sit down on a boulder and the valley stretches east and west below them.  She doesn’t say anything and he is glad.  He hates the banality of language and how it pollutes beauty, how inadequate words hang over the indescribable and tarnish it with the prosaic.  He feels her hand on the small of his back.

Later they make their way back to the homestead. “You love all this, don’t you?” she says.

He nods.  “I do, I always have.” Then he adds, “It’s my country.” And she knows he doesn’t mean Australia, only this small part of it where he grew up and where she met him when they were still teenagers.  When the next question comes, he is not even surprised. “Did you used to bring your wife here?” she asks. It has become important to her this knowledge.  It insinuates itself into everything that is important to her and him; into everything that she wants to make her own.  She has a need for a new history with him, not one that is shared. He understands this even though they don’t talk about it.

“No,” he answers. There is a silence and he can feel her longing to know more but also that she is slightly afraid of spoiling this moment. “My wife loved beautiful things,” he says, “but she didn’t have time for beauty.”  He reaches out and touches her hand.  “You’re different.” She clasps his hand and looks out the window and says, “Don’t talk” and he senses emotion coursing through her like a tide that stops her speech.

He remembers that there is a flat ground in some low hills not far away where you can still make out the outline of strange lines of gathered stones.  A black stockman told him once that the Aboriginal people around here used to spend weeks making the intricate patterns and colours and then one day they would just dance all over them. He will take her there tomorrow.  She will understand how beauty is not always for keeping and how you can dance it away and how not holding it makes it grow more beautiful still.

He suddenly wants to tell her that he loves her but then he realises that he loves everything.

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Filed under australia, life, Love, Marriage

Sunday afternoon in Nebraska

On a late Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska, I emerged from a movie theatre feeling like someone had just put a skewer through my life and slowly barbecued it for three hours. I was alone in this big, flat, corn-fielded state; there was a slight coolness in the air and colour was leeching from the denim fabric of the sky. The movie I’d just seen was American Beauty and I’d spent time in the darkness wincing at the truth about myself and my marriage that I had somehow submerged beneath the surface of work and achievement and dutifulness.

I stood uncertain in the street feeling a long way from home and with the need to do something welling in me like panic. And then it struck me that I didn’t know what to do or even what home was anymore.  Not really.  I could see the kids playing on the floor in front of the television, the furniture, the garden; the comfort of known things spread before me like a gift to which I could always return.  But then there was my wife with her sad eyes and observations stained with disappointment, her angry accumulation of lists and things and places for everything.   I remembered that before I came here I would escape from her and plan the study tour of America in fine detail so I could fee l some control over my life, so I could apply order to growing uncertainty of where I fit.

Now I was where I had planned to be and the only place that was left to go was home.  There were to be no more easy decisions about airline schedules or early morning pickups; no more hotel beds turned back at night or the respectful handshake of strangers. I was in the movie, I was returning to a place where there was no time to watch the miracle of leaves dancing.

Some Nebraskan college students walked ahead of me up the street.  They were laughing about something. Their heads were full of themselves and their cleverness and they had an air of immortality.  They were full of fries and philosophy and Friday nights and they thought that death comes only once.

I looked at my watch and made the now automatic calculation of Australian time. They are all still asleep, I thought, but in a few hours they will wake up.  It comforted me, the thought of my children dreaming.  And then I realised that I had just woken up too but that I could not go to sleep again.

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Filed under australia, life, loss, Marriage, USA

To a game

I didn’t know my neighbours well so I was kind of surprised when they offered to give me a lift to the garage where my car was waiting to be picked up.  This was on a Saturday morning and they could do it after dropping their son off at his hockey game.  I climbed in the back with him, a 13 year old kid called Luke.  His dad, Neil, was already in the car and he had his ipod running through the speakers.  It was Wilco singing Heavy Metal Drummer.  They were talking about the song when I climbed in and Neil introduced us.  “Hi,” said Luke but he seemed pretty shy and a little anxious.

 

Then the door was opening and his mum, Paula, was getting in.  She smelled nice and her hair was still a bit wet from washing.  She said, “Oh, I see everyone is waiting for me, as usual.” But it wasn’t quite light-hearted and no one said anything.  Neil put the car in reverse but his wife, looking over her shoulder down both sides of the street said, “Wait, there’s something coming.” A car passed and then she said, “OK, you can go now.” And then she got some lipstick out of her bag just after she reached over and turned down the music.

 

There was silence for a while and then she said over her shoulder to Luke, “Have you got everything, Lukey?” 

 

“Yep,” he said but she went through a list of stuff anyway; shin pads, mouth guard, water. Then she said to Neil, “Why are you going this way?” There was a pause and I heard her husband say, “Because it will take longer” but he said it more like a question.  If she noticed this, his wife didn’t acknowledge it.  “It’s just that there is a quicker way,” she said.

 

“Well, this is the way we usually go, isn’t it, Luke?” Luke nodded but he didn’t say anything.  We drove on for a few minutes and then I asked, “Do you like Hockey, Luke?”  He nodded again and his mother said “He loves it, don’t you, Lukey?” but before he could answer she went on, “The coach says he has to concentrate staying forward of the ball.” She turned again to Neil.  “Do you help him out with this stuff?”

 

“Sure,” Neil answered.

 

Then Paula turned to me as if I had asked a question, “Neil objects to all this sport on Saturday.  He thinks the kids are organised enough during the week. But I think it’s good for Luke; that’s what I did every weekend with my parents.”  Then she turned back adding, “Netball.”

 

Neil said over his shoulder, “I grew up in the country and lived out of town.  No organised sports there; we just played all day and swam and stuff.”

 

“It’s just what you’re used to, I suppose,” Paula said. “Being organised never hurt me.”

“And being free never hurt me,” I heard Neil say but this went unremarked and soon we were pulling into the hockey field. There were parents and kids everywhere. Neil pulled up near the change rooms and Paula said, “Are we parking here?”

 

There was another pause and Neil said, “Why?”

 

“Nothing, it’s just not very close to the game.” But she opened the door saying, “Not to worry.  Dad always parks in funny places, doesn’t he, Lukey.” Luke climbed out and Paula said, “I love you, darling.  Have a great game.” And she kissed him on the forehead.

 

Neil called out, “See you soon, Luke.”

 

I watched Luke run across the field that was split down the middle by a big white line. I could see his coach waiting to tell him what to do.

 

 

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Filed under boys, life, Marriage, Men, youth

Snake

unhappy.jpgHave you noticed how, even in marriage, love sometimes appears?

I was standing in my shed one day (this was years ago now) and thinking how different it was to other men’s sheds.  No well organised pursuits of the masculine type here; just junk and memories and boxes for both.  I was disappointed in myself like my wife had become disappointed in me.  This is an emotion more killing than hate. But that is another story.

So anyway, my wife comes out and I hear her calling to the cat.  “Here, Beautiful.  Come to mummy.”  I hated her doing that, talking to the cat like it was a child.  Or the child we had decided not to have.  Maybe it was guilt. Even though we had both decided not to have children, more and more often I felt I was depriving her of something.  Now that something was mutating into a grotesque imitation of motherhood with the cat as its object.

The cat comes half way across the yard then stops, looks at her, sits and licks its tail like it will not play this game.  My wife notices me in the doorway and says. “In your shed, eh?” I feel like the cat; I don’t comment.

“Better watch where you walk today,” I say. “I think I saw a snake in the grass by the fence.”  She doesn’t even look in that direction but bends to straighten a pot plant.  “Well, did you actually see one or did you just think you saw one?”

Suddenly I’m not sure.  I wish I hadn’t said anything. And I know there will be a supplementary question just to confirm my unreliability.  Sure enough, she adds quickly, “I mean, what colour was it? How long?”

“I don’t know,” I answer, “ I just got a glimpse.”  I sound stupid even to myself. She has already moved on though.  “Did you remember Roger and Jan are coming over for a drink tonight?”

“Yep,” I lie.  I have already stopped listening to her plans; it is my quiet revolt against my lack of involvement in them.  But I am glad that people are coming over, and not even worried that I am happy that it will give me a chance to get drunk.

Roger and Jan arrive at around six.  I worked with him ten years before up North but I don’t know her so well.  It doesn’t matter; it’s easy company and there is plenty of wine.  We sit in the back yard and their two kids watch a video inside.

About ten o’clock we are all drunk and Jan says, “How come you guys didn’t have kids?” Roger groans, “Shit, Jan, none of your business.”

My wife looks at me and for a fraction of a second I see panic in her eyes.  “We decided to be happy instead, didn’t we, Kid?” I laugh.  I put my hand on her knee.  “Oh yeah,” she says, “You know, travel, stay in expensive hotels, wipe our own bums.”

Roger sits hunched over in his seat stroking the cat. He snorts. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”  The conversation moves on and the kids come out and say they have nothing to do. They start to explore the barely lit edges of the lawn and garden.  My wife says, “Tell them to be careful, we saw a snake in the grass today, didn’t we, Hon.” I nod and Jan calls the kids back.

And that’s when it hits me that I love my wife.  Later, while she is saying goodbye to Roger and Jan, I have one more glass of wine and a cigarette.  I watch moths banging at the yellow light bulb.

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Filed under australia, drinking, friends, life, Love, Marriage, snakes

Miss Wheelock began playing O Love Divine and Tender

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“But soon we shall die and all memory (of others) will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning”Thornton Wilder, The Bridge at San Luis Rey 

And there always was love. Even behind the serious faces of the black and white photographs that we call the past.

So.

There was once a beautiful, dark haired lady named Kate Campbell and, in 1910, she came from Scotland to this windswept, lonesome town clinging to the western edge of a great, dry island continent.  She was my great aunt. At the end of the first decade of the 20th Century my little town boasted a population of less than seven hundred people.  That is, if you didn’t count the local Ingaada people, and no one did.

Kate had come half way around the world to be with her sister, Georgina, who was left with a baby girl to raise after the drowning of her husband in 1907. And as one sister fought to survive the loss of love, the other found it.  In July 1911, on the afternoon of a mild winter’s Wednesday, Kate married a young blue-eyed, brown haired shire clerk who was a popular player in the local football team. He had flat feet and a scar on his left hand. His name was Charlie Lee and he loved her.

The little Congregational church was full and above the door the boys from the footy club had created a banner that read “God bless our comrade Charlie Lee and his bride.”  The organist, Miss Wheelock, began playing O Love Divine and Tender as the bride and groom entered the church.  Outside a quiet breeze blew off the Indian Ocean; there was a faint smell of salt and dust and camel dung in the dirt streets.  Kate held onto a piece of white heather, a token of her homeland, and a spray of fresh orange blossom.   She wore a gown of cream crepe de chine.

Miss Wheelock’s sister, Jessie, walked behind as bridesmaid and Kate’s little niece, my grandmother, stood close by with mauve ribbons in her hair.  She was four and her name was Sheila.

Afterwards everyone returned to Georgina’s house and danced to the music of the local band of which Charlie was also a performer.  Later, he presented his wife with a gold bangle.  It was early morning on Thursday before the crowd dispersed to lives now unknown and gone and dust.

But we do know this: that Charlie and Kate moved to the city 600 miles south and in 1914 she died giving birth to stillborn twins.  Where does love go and where is the bridge to love when love is gone?

A few months later, in March 1915 Charlie, by now a stockman, signed up for World War One. War is a good place to be when you have nothing else to lose. Charlie carried Kate’s memory to Alexandria and then to Marseilles and that bloody battle for Ypres in Belgium. Does the loss of love make us fearless or does it make us reckless? It earned Charlie Lee the Military Medal for bravery. Did he care too much or care too little as he drove his truck through a hail of enemy shells over and over again until the road became impassable?

Then he came home.  He never remarried and like so many of his fellow soldiers he lived out a life of silent dignity.  He left no child to remember him. But I will.

When the little girl with the mauve ribbons grew up and married, Charlie was there to give her away.  So perhaps it is true, that the bridge really is love, the only survival and the only meaning.

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Filed under australia, death, fear, life, loss, Love, Marriage, memory, war

Lunch

japanese-food.jpgThere is so much I could tell you but I will only tell you the end. Or, as Mr Greene might say, “The end of the affair.”  So, to begin (or to finish?): 

It is Melbourne and winter.  Rain clouds bustle importantly across a grave skyline.  I am dressed in a suit for some conference or other although it is just a pretext to be with this girl beside me.  She is buried in a long woollen coat; she looks at the pavement in front of us as we walk; looks at me sideways and smiles.  She is taking me to lunch. 

And sure enough, down a small lane, so appropriately hidden, so aptly furtive is a small Japanese restaurant.  And it is a strange thing but as we enter I know this affair is over as sure as I know I will get on that plane tomorrow and not return. 

O, you say, how can this be that the smell of Japanese food can kill love?  Who is this schmuck who will sunder affection on the grounds of too much sushi? 

So shoot me!  I didn’t invent the world.  I’m sorry that its great moments hinge on its great littleness.  I – who eat anything from anywhere and in situ and, yes, including in Japan, that straight jacketed incestuous land of sly grog and child porn – I lost love before the Miso soup. I’m sorry but this is just not the food of illicit love; it is the food of people with no cholesterol and gym shoes.  It is not for those feasting at the table of forbidden desire.  This thing between the girl and I is an affair, not Pilates. 

But there grows in that restaurant this emptiness so big that all the sashimi in Tokyo could not fill it.  Later, in my hotel, we try to make love like we did before but it ends in tears.  I am such a whore, always capable of sex but I cannot kiss whom I do not love.     

And, you are thinking, she sensed this and rushed crying away.  No, she wept for her husband who was at home cooking her dinner.  See how beautiful she was?  For this I should have loved her again, for this I should have risen above the teriyaki.  But I lay there while she showered and I was hungry only my old solitude. 

The next day I get home and she texts to say she loves me.  O how quickly we love what we can no longer have.  Months ago I said to her, “I think I love you.”  She looked at the wall. “Love is such a big word,” was all she said.   

Standing in the arrivals terminal I read her text message over and over.  I realise that there is a whole country between us.  Who can say where love goes? 

Well, time now for us to leave that man standing in the airport looking at his mobile phone; time for us to leave that girl in Melbourne waiting almost sick for his reply.   And let’s all be very careful about what we eat.

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Filed under affairs, australia, cheating, Food, life, Love, Marriage, sex

A lament for lost ignorance

a-woman-wishes-for-no-housework-cooking-and-cleaning.jpg

“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”Oscar Wilde 

My parents have been married for 50 years and are getting on a bit; it doesn’t take much now to knock them down when some virus or other is going around.  So when I found out Mum was laid up with the ‘flu and unable to get out of bed, I rang Dad to see how she was going. 

“Doesn’t look good,” he tells me.  “She’s been in bed now for two days and can’t eat or even stand to have the light on.” 

A day later, however, I get a call from Mum who says she’s feeling much better. “Your Dad must have been worried though,” she says.  “He came into the bedroom yesterday and asked me how the washing machine worked.  And then he took notes so he wouldn’t forget.” 

I talk to Dad.  “You are a very lucky man,” I tell him, “ to get to your age and not know how to operate a washing machine.”  He chuckles.  They say it is a wise man that knows what he doesn’t know; it’s an even wiser man who knows what he doesn’t want to know. 

It’s all a bit different to my life spent half the week as a single Dad, maintaining a demanding career and keeping a house together.  In 10 years of married life I was gradually disabused of any blissful ignorance I’d had about the “proper way to do things.”  Some lessons remain:

  1. Clothes pegs are only designed to hold one piece of underwear;
  2. Skirting boards exist and they are supposed to be cleaned; and
  3. Dusting is a weekly ritual and not an annual festival

 And the trouble with knowledge, of course, is that it’s so damn hard to unlearn it. Anyway, I thought I now owned the sum total of information least designed to make my life happier.  And then, just yesterday my ex-wife drops in.  In an act that I can only describe as mean-spirited and spiteful – and provided under the benign guise of helpfulness – she explained to me how to iron my daughter’s pleated skirt. 

Now, for those of you who know how to do this, I need do no more other than offer my profoundest sympathy.  For those of you who do not know how to perform this feat – which remains a conspicuous omission from the Geneva Convention – I will only say that the ironing of pleated skirts is tortuous, deadly, deadly dull and, in medical circles, a strongly suspected link to Tourette’s Syndrome. 

Think of watching grass grow and then imagine helping it grow by personally drawing up each blade of grass with a pair of tweezers.  A veritible smorgasboard of  intellectual delights compared to the bitter gruel of the pleated skirt!  

They say that knowledge will set you free; but some knowledge can make you a slave. They say that knowledge is power, but then, how do you explain George Bush? 

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Filed under chauvinism, housework, humour, life, Marriage, Men, Women