Old style desire

Was crook yesterday. Picked up a bug coming back from KL I think and have been congested/sneezing/coughing since. The cough is particularly annoying, and yesterday particularly bad. On top of that I had heartburn for most of the day for whatever reason. I took it as an excuse to take it easy. I read the paper, put a DVD on, watched a bit of the footy, took a long bath with a short book. I was due to a farewell party last night and from late in the afternoon I kept wondering at ways I could get out of it. I didn’t really feel up to it, but nor did I really feel as if I could miss it.

About 9 I dressed for the party and left. The streets were quietish, and I was able to get to Fitzroy within 15 minutes, listening to the footy as I went.

It was a farewell party held at Felice, a sort of retro, lo-fi bar just off Smith Street. They stocked Italian beer and the Negroni was the house cocktail. Strung from the ceiling was a model biplane about 4 foot long. It was full, full enough that a small crowd had spilled outside to taste the warmish night and to suck on a ciggie. Inside half were dressed in Fitzroy regulation, the other half was my lot.

I pretty well knew the one person only, the girl who had invited me, the girl who was leaving, and maybe a couple of others to nod at. There was a theme for the party, sort of art-deco-ish noir. Most of the party had dressed to the theme and it was good to see so many suits and hats and old-time frocks like it was a cast meeting from Guys and Dolls. Some looked like bootleggers, or gumshoes, one guy a mafia hitman, the girls society types from the 1940’s or else a bordello madame. I didn’t go to that trouble but wore a vest with a dark shirt, and a jacket that I quickly discarded. I looked more like a card sharp, or maybe a pool shark.

I said my hello’s and bought a mineral water and then returned to watch the tables set-up for rounds of Texas Hold ’em poker, which was the stated entertainment for the night. Most seemed novices, and it was amusing to watch as they learned and came to terms with the complexities of the game. Invited to join in I held back, not yet I told them.

I went back to bar for a real drink, already feeling better. Standing there a girl came and stood at my shoulder. I turned to her as she did me. We just looked at each other and as if it was the most natural thing in the world started talking.

She was a pretty girl with a natural femininity, her lips the shape of a heart. At first glance I thought she might be 30, just, then revised upwards, though not in any negative way. She was dressed for the occasion, which I remarked upon. She wore a lush fur around her neck. Yours? No. Didn’t borrow it from your mum? No, a friend lent it. Do you mind if I touch it? Her eyes settled on me before she answered: go on. I stroked her fur commenting that I bet you get asked that all the time. We continued to speak like that while our drinks were being mixed. I introduced myself, as she did. Our conversation was languid and stylish with a kind of old fashioned wit that went with the period. We parted.

I went back to watch the poker. I chatted to someone and thought about the girl. I liked her. She was my type. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I was pretty sure. I was pretty sure I was her type too. Girls like men who talk. More so if they have something to say and do it with style. And confidence. It had been no great challenge: the words had just flowed to me and I’d nailed it. As much as anything I knew from that she was good for me: the best women draw the best from you.

I’ve flirted with a lot of women over the journey. Most times it’s just for fun. Sometimes there’s a bit more intent than that. Rarely is there any real feeling in it. This time it felt natural. I started off with a smile on my lips, but even as I spoke I wondered if there was something different behind this door. We were strangers, but there was a surprising familiarity. Both of us were intrigued I think, and drawn in some mysterious way to each other, enough to want know more, to follow that tenuous connection.

As I stood there contemplating this and talking to someone else she returned. As she went by me she ran a finger down my arm from elbow to wrist without looking at me. It was a sort of sexy, surreptitious signal of interest. She kept walking as I watched, her tight, long dress shimmering on her toned body. She sat in the corner by a man I had not noticed before. So… I thought. I looked twice to see if they were together or not. He was not what I expected of her. I had hoped for her to be single, but if she was with a man I would have expected him to have a certain presence, if not handsome then at least to possess some charisma. That appeared not to be the case, though appearances deceive. He looked about 20 years older than her, and those years that hadn’t gone by easily. He was my size maybe, solidly built muscle once that had lost it’s spring, his hair grey, a face friendly and inoffensive but showing its age. He was dressed in character, a black suit, a white shirt, a thin tie. They were together clearly, but they seemed an odd couple, like she was out with her uncle. But that was that.

I sat down to play cards. I pondered this. I was disappointed, all my moves cancelled out. Then he joined us at the table. We talked, I made a joke of something and we laughed. He was an amiable character. He called me Mr Big and kept on calling me that for reasons I couldn’t figure out. Then he left the game and I played on.

I ended up playing for an hour or so teaching a woman to play until she had all my chips and most of the rest. I fetched myself a beer thinking I would leave soon. They had gone. What did I make of that? Another ship I thought. I sipped my beer watching the play and thinking, then put the empty bottle down on the window ledge. I left, sharing a big farewell scene with the girl who was leaving and nodding my head to my new acquaintances – all of them pleasant, interesting people. I got in the car and drove. It was about 1am I guess. I got home and looked at the TV screen for a little while and then hit the sack. Another night, good enough.

I woke and had my coffee and felt a kind of distant wistfulness. What could have been. I settled down with my newspaper and wondered if there was anything I could do, or should. When Donna rang I asked her that. “Well, you can,” she said.

I can? Why?”

“Because you do.”

Oh, I thought, as she went on to explain. She spoke with the familiar amusement in her voice she has always when talking about my amorous exploits. Boyfriends are no obstacle she seems to think, when it comes to me and my desires. Nor wives. That’s what you do she said. On reflection I understood, marginally, though did not think it as black and white as that – though perhaps because I’ve never thought of it in those terms. These are puzzles to be resolved to me, desires to be fulfilled, not moral conundrums. Even now, and even though I see many, the one girl I really figure I could be with is with someone else. That’s a condition of our times though, and of my age, and perhaps a commentary on my commitment.

In any case, I’d like to meet this girl again, though don’t know quite how to engineer it. It’s not a big deal. Not a burning desire. Just curiosity, a touch of wonder. Chances are in a fortnight she’ll be a memory. Till then I’ll put my thinking cap on.

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