‘Good for you Dad. Go for it and don’t care what anybody else thinks. It’s your life and she’s cool. She’s sorta like a second gran to me anyway. Who cares that she’s older than you? It’s none of their beeswax. Mr Fank’s gone, hasn’t he? There’s nothing stoppin’ ya now. After Mum and all that, you deserve some happiness. That’s what I say.’
That his daughter Shayla was okay about it meant the world to him. He had no notion what he’d have done had it been otherwise. And his own Mum – well she couldn’t be happier for him, even if she was more than a bit bemused by the fact that her only son was ‘doing it’ with her best mate. She thought it was all terrific, considering what they’d both been through. She told him that – told him he had her blessing. She reckoned her friend was coping so much better in recent weeks. She’d innocently put that down to the husband’s sudden departure, she had informed him with a raised eyebrow and a silly grin. He owed her for so much, his old dear. He knew his mum was the same age as his new love, but he tried not to dwell too much on that. He felt like it was all a fresh start, particularly after that game-breaking letter in the mail informing him that Bunnings, about to open up shop in his battered community, was prepared to take him on as a mature-aged nurseryman’s assistant. This was under some government scheme to get employment going again in Burnie. The town had taken so many hits in recent times. He hadn’t had a sniff of work since the richest man in the district had laid him off, as well as dozens of others, a couple of Christmases ago. He was feeling very frisky these days, making love at the drop of a hat – something that had also been missing in his life – not that it had been all that earth shattering during those years he was with Firecracker. With this vibrant lady he felt warm and fuzzy – to be having sex again – real loving, gentle, mutually satisfying sex – what a beautiful thing that was. He hadn’t felt like a proper man for so long – now he was fit to burst with the wonder of it all. When he thought back to where he was only eighteen months ago to now – well maybe he could even move out from his mum’s, not that living with her was all that bad. He sort of thought that his wonderful woman might invite him to come live with her down the track, but he wasn’t about to rush it. It was all still fairly tentative – they were still getting used to each other. It seemed he spent half his life nowadays around at hers in any case. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to ‘officially’ move in, but he had time – plenty of time. And to think, he had known her since he was knee high.
It didn’t last beyond that Christmas Day back in ’12 – his marriage, that is. A couple of mornings beforehand he’d found out that he’d lost his job. It was always at the back of his mind that he would, such was the economy in his part of the world. It was always his default position – that his luck couldn’t last forever. After all, that’d been the pattern of his life to date. Even though, in his more optimistic moments, he thought things had turned for the better, he could never really rid himself of the dread of another failure being just up ahead. He knew what was coming, that morning, when the ‘suits’ called the workforce together on the last working day of the year. They were duly and perfunctorily informed that a sizeable number would not becoming back in the new year. He knew he’d be tapped on the shoulder – and sure enough, he was told to clear out his locker at the end of the day. He foolishly stayed on for break-up drinks. He wished he hadn’t. He’d been off the grog for a while trying to tidy up his act for Shayla. He stayed because the worst bit was still to come – facing her with the news. Not Shayla – but his wife. A sick dread enveloped him back then. The telling still haunted him, in light of what happened afterwards, to this day. He never wanted that feeling again. Now, though, he could finally put all of it behind him.
He remembered looking out the window later that same morning, watching her depart, Shayla being dragged in her wake, howling. She hadn’t yet finished screaming and shouting at him in that foul language she used when matters didn’t go her way. His mates had labelled her a firecracker because of her vicious temper. Many of them had witnessed her volcanic eruptions first hand. She had browbeaten him for most of his time with her – she emasculated him. He loved that word – emasculated. Had to look it up in the dictionary when he’d first come across it after the split. It was the perfect word for what she’d done to him. Her tirade was going on, he knew, even as she opened the car door, even though he couldn’t really hear her now. He saw some bearded guy at the house opposite turn and stare as he was about to knock on the door. He didn’t know him, nor the couple that lived there in his Shorewell street. He’d watched the latter, seen the consideration towards each other in the way that they lived – knew that what they experienced was nothing like the relationship he shared with Firecracker. He envied them. He saw the guy shake his head, turn, ring the doorbell and be let in. He looked back to see his wife roar off down the street. He couldn’t really give a hoot about her – but Shayla? That was another matter. He spent the rest of the afternoon on mowing and tidying up around the garden to take his mind off it.
He didn’t hear from Merryl for a few days, so by late on the afternoon of Christmas Eve he knew he had to make the first move. That was something else he’d learnt. Give her a few days to calm down, she’d return and it would be a little better for a while. It wasn’t the first time she’d skedaddled off to her mum’s – so he knew where to ring. She answered and he asked if she was planning a visit the next day so Shayla could receive her pressies. He did actually think, when she arrived that Christmas Day, that there was some hope. Unusually he was kissed when she came in. Together they watched as their daughter discovered that her dreams had come true – he’d been able to afford, this year, the bike Shayla’d coveted. Merryl had taken his hand as they watched her ride it up and down the street for most of the afternoon. They had an evening meal of roast chook and vegies, spending the evening in front of the tele, sharing a bottle of cheap sparkly. That night they made love for the first time in aeons. He was half pissed and he was glad. He felt quite pleased these days with how he had trimmed down as a result of his gym work. In a sober state he would have found the way she had let herself go a difficulty he may have succumbed to. Still, it felt okay after so long. Was it possible, he thought, as he drifted off into the land of nod that, just maybe, it’d all get better?
He quickly had his answer. The next day it all changed. She was back! She arrived early. They’d just emerged from under the blankets and already she was ringing the doorbell. The same routine followed. He’d had years of it. In her mother marched, plonked herself down at the table and pulled out her fags. Firecracker couldn’t get to her usual chair opposite quick enough. She took the offered cigarette, lit up and away they went at their bitchin’, as he called it. He took himself out of it, headed off with Shayla and her bike down to the park where they stayed till tea time. On their return he found her mother still there, a cask of cheap plonk between them, together with several ashtrays of butts. Both were tanked. Merryl ordered him off to get fish ‘n’ chips for the evening meal. When the mother eventually left, staggering through the front door, he knew he had to have it out with Merryl, even if he was heading for dangerous territory. He couldn’t continue to live like this any more. He politely asked if she could take the bitchin’ – although he didn’t use that word – around to her mother’s house and do their drinking and fagging there. As he half expected, she let him have it, all guns blazing. He didn’t stay to listen, didn’t want to row with her yet again. He left. He had a mother too.
And he’d been with his mum ever since. Early on Merryl would ring every few days, asking him to return for his daughter’s sake. He’d simply put to her his original proposition. She wouldn’t budge and nor would he. Despite missing his girl, he was determined to see it through. Eventually his mother brokered some weekend visits from Shayla. This, in truth, made him happy enough. He kept himself active at the gym; watched his daughter’s weekend sports; took long walks around the town. Try as his might, there were just no jobs about for someone of his limited skills. He tried to keep positive. Drink-wise, he remained off the plonk – relegating himself to only a couple of beers when the footy was on. Often his mum’s oldest friend would join them to watch whatever was the match of the day.
He’d known this person since his days as a toddler, visiting his mum at her workplace, a Greek milk bar/take away down in the town. His mother had been employed by the lovely couple that ran it from the day she left Year 10 at fifteen. She quickly became very pally with the owner’s daughter who worked there, as well, after school. They were soon melded at the hip, as his mum always reminisced; that is, until her mate met Mr Frank. The couple later wed, with his mum as chief bridesmaid – a situation that was reversed when his his own father came on the scene. His dad was now long deceased. After he and his sister were born, his mother worked with her friend in the various shops the latter managed around the place, after the demise of the family business. When Mr Frank was at the footy or away, she was a constant visitor. He had always liked her. She was bright and lively, always giving him a hug when she saw him. Without fail, she always called him Lad.
Later on, when he’d grown and had become aware of such matters, he thought, for an old dame, she was pretty sexy compared to his own mum – a thought he very much kept to himself. She was at his marriage to Firecracker, but he’d seen little of her as his years of wedded unbliss stuttered along. Once he’d moved back into his old room all that changed. His mum worked as a carer these days – a job she loved, helping the elderly and disabled around the North West Coast. Several evenings a week she and her friend would get together around a few drinks and yak away. Neither smoked and it was ‘happy talk’, in the main, whilst he was around – so different to the ‘bitchin’ of the life he’d left behind. The women were both of the ‘half full’ nature.
Shayla started spending more and more time with him as well. Most days she’d hop off the bus down the road and visit for an hour or so to debrief before heading for home. She reckoned ‘Moanin Annie’, as she called her grandmother, was getting worse – taking her mother with her down into the pits of self-pity and aggrievement. Soon Shayla started staying on for meals as all they ate at home were takeaways from the local shop. He shared cooking duties with his mother – he enjoyed giving his daughter nourishing meals. Shayla had always been health conscious and knew a diet of grease was of little benefit, let alone the fug of cigarette smoke that pervaded where she and her mother resided. By now it was Shayla’s first year at high school – the same one he’d attended, up on the hill, all those years ago. At the recent sports day she was under-13 track champion. His girl was also travelling very sweetly in class, according to her teachers at the parents’ meeting he’d attended alone. He was so proud of her, his Shayla. She would never be like her mother and she, as well, inspired him to improve on his new found fitness too. As for running, she outrun the wind and it was beyond him where she attained that ability from. He loved pounding the pavements with her; he loved being with her, full stop.
Six months or so into his boarding with his mother he realised that Raissa has ceased her visiting – that he and her mother hadn’t seen her for weeks. When he asked about this, he was informed by his mum of Mr Frank’s heart troubles – of how he’d collapsed down in the town and had to go to Hobart for an operation. She and her hubby were back in Burnie now, with Raissa having to spend most of her time caring for him, having given up work to do so. When she eventually turned up, he was shocked by the change in her. She was noticeably thinner but, even more worrying, seemed to have lost all her bounce – that zest for life he so admired. For the first couple of visits she spent much of her time sobbing in his mother’s bedroom. On one occasion, when he opened the door to her, Raissa had grabbed him in a bear hug and stated, ‘I know now how you felt, Lad.’
After she left his mother confided that Mr Frank had told Raissa about his affair with a woman in Melbourne, just before he went under the knife. Mr F was evidently scared he wouldn’t come out the other side and wanted to come clean about his relationship with a woman called Judy. Raissa, he was told, thought the trips were all about the footy. It seems Mr Frank had been having his liaison for a decade or more.
As the following weeks rolled on by, Raissa spent more and more time in their home – as much of the downtime she could spare from her role as her husband’s carer – even coming around when his own mum was at work. He’d make her tea and they’d chat away – about Collingwood’s progress, Shayla and her own kids – whatever entered their minds. Slowly at first, but increasingly, it seemed she was recovering her vivacity. He remembers the day she said to him, ‘You’re good for me Lad. You take my mind off it.’ She never talked about Mr Frank, but from his mother he knew that all wasn’t well on that score. He had recovered okay from his health scare, but according to what Raissa had told his source, he was a morose shell of his former self. Raissa, his mum reported, had tried to forgive him for his fling across the Strait, but she also reckoned her hubby was pining for whoever it was over there. Raissa, in her heart, knew Mr Frank just couldn’t let the other woman go.
He wasn’t sure of how it happened, or why, but one day he found himself opening up to her about how, as a teenager, he had thought that, for an older woman, he found her just so sexy – like that Sophia Loren he’d see in the magazines of the time. ‘Do you still think that now, after all these years?’ she had queried him. Well that threw him! He didn’t know what to say – she was his mother’s best friend and all that. It had never occurred to him to examine his feelings for her these days. ‘I can see that I’ve embarrassed you, Lad. Don’t worry about it. I’m just a silly old woman. I mean no harm and don’t concern yourself, I’ll never try to cotton on you. I know your mum’s told you I’ve been having a bit of a hard time of it lately. With my hubby the way he is, I guess I’m just in need of a little TLC. We get on so well – please don’t let this change anything! Okay?’ When he nodded, she carried on, ‘Now Lad, how do you reckon those Magpies are going to perform at the weekend? Can we do those Roo boys?’
From that point on, though, he did give his feelings for her some of his attention. What she said had shocked him, it’s true – but the more he examined it, the more he realised it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant shock. She was quieter now when visiting, always making sure that his mother was in residence. Sadly, he felt the dynamics between them had changed. Now, even if he had wanted to do something about what she had put into his mind, it seemed the moment had passed. A couple of times, in her presence, he took the time to look at her – really look at her. This made him realise that, by his reaction to her question, he had missed an opportunity for something. What that something was, he wasn’t quite sure.
So it was a surprise when she turned up on the doorstep on a day when his old dear wasn’t at home. She stood there, red eyed and reported to him, ‘He’s gone. Gone to her,’ and promptly burst into tears. Then, perplexingly, her sobs turned into chortles of laughter. ‘Silly old bugger. He’ll find out the grass isn’t greener over there and if he wants to come back, with his tail between his legs – if he thinks I’ll have him back then, he’s got another bloody thing coming! That strumpet over there – she’s welcome to him. She’ll find he’s pretty clapped out anyway. Ah, that feels better, getting that off my chest. Now, how the hell are you Lad?’ He gestured for her to come inside and she accepted, heading off to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
Once they settled down at the table with their cuppas, she continued on, ‘Well I guess I can get on with my own life now, see what’s around the corner. I haven’t got to pander to him any more. By the way, Lad, I am sorry about being so forward the other week. I don’t know what came over me. It was the loneliness talking, I guess.’
Lad wasn’t going to let this moment pass. He confessed to her that he had indeed been thinking about it all too and that, yes, he stated with a nervous laugh, he did still find her sexy. He told her it was perhaps in a different way – not as fervently as in his youth, but yep, to him she was still a gorgeous woman. He reached out his hand and she took it, then his mum’s bestie leaned forward to give him a gentle kiss on the lips. Speak of the devil, just as he was thinking about his next move, he heard the key in the door – his mother had returned.
The next day she was at his door again, – but this time it was a different Raissa waiting to be let in. There were no red eyes. She had obviously spent a great deal of time on her appearance – tasteful make-up, accentuating her eyes; a smart dress, accentuating an ample amount of cleavage. She was definitely sexy now. He felt all that teenage fervour return. He knew this time how this encounter was going to end. He’d make sure of that. ‘Not bad for an old bird,’ she giggled as he took her hand and led her to his bedroom.
After she’d departed he felt a combination of elation and guilt – not guilt for the act itself, but because of the relationship Raissa had with his mother. Later on, he put that to one side and took to cyberspace, googling Sophia Loren. ‘Yes’, he thought, ‘Raissa stacks up pretty well against the older version of Sophia. And gee, it felt so good with her!’
They both agreed it would be safer to conduct their tryst at her place and he took to visiting her most days. When Raissa did show up and his mother was in residence, he could see that nothing had changed as far as that relationship was concerned. But he knew keeping stum couldn’t last, so one day he took the bit between his teeth, sat his mother down and confessed. His mother was a tad stunned at first, but then said that she’d figured something was afoot – that he had a spring in his step for the first time in ages. His mum then went to the blower to ring Raissa. She stayed on the phone for quite a while – a long chat with plenty of laughter. Lad uncrossed his fingers behind his back. It’d gone well.
The job coming up was the icing on the cake. With it and Raissa, maybe, just maybe, his life would turn out okay after all. Perhaps this time it wasn’t a false dawn. He wouldn’t have his cherished daughter forever. She’d go out and make a name for herself – of that he was certain. He suspected that eventually Raissa would move on too. She kept going on about how she was too old for him – but when she wrapped her body around his – so voluptuous, caramel coloured and warm – it certainly didn’t feel that way to him. She’d put the weight back on she’d lost around the time of her husband’s illness and looked all the better, to him, for doing so. She, though, complained about becoming a contented old cow. He knew she would never let herself get to the size of his now officially former wife. Raissa was too proud for that!
And then there was the tucker – the glorious Greek food she virtually force-fed him with. He was working doubly hard at the gym so as not to go back to what he was like before – and each weekend he’d be out pounding the bitumen with Shayla. Together they’d often enter fun runs, as well as, of course, the annual Burnie Ten.
More and more he was spending nights at Raissa’s place. He loved it. After he had had his fill of her stupendous cooking and they’d shared a glass or two – no more – of red, Raissa would excuse herself, go to her bedroom and put on something satiny and slinky. They’d settle down to some tele or snuggle up to some music. When the time came she would take his hand and guide him into the bedroom and undress him. Invariably she would whisper into his ear, ‘Now Lad, tell me once again about Sophia Loren. Tell me how like her I am. Tell me how sexy I am, just one more time.’
The prequel to this tale = http://blueroomriversidedrive.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/a-fairy-tale-not-of-new-york.html