I slept late this morning after a 4.30am bedtime. Rigby took the opportunity to snuggle up close to me as odd, alcohol induced images peppered my sleeping mind and the morning sun lit up the edges of the bedroom curtains. I woke to the phone chirping at me: the woman from the night before. I felt dusty, bleary, my hair poking up in unlikely angles, my body blurred for the most part, but for the sudden cramp that gripped my left calf.
I tumbled about the house not feeling bad but not feeling good either. “Beautiful day,” I muttered with pretend cheer to the next door neighbour as I collected the weekend paper deposited on the driveway. The sun beamed down: this is Australia.
In shorts and t-shirt I left the house near lunchtime. I craved grease, as you do. It felt like a summer’s day. There was something thrilling in it. The sky wore different shades of pure blue, the most dramatic being almost indigo. How I knew that. As so often on days like this I had the impression that everything was baked in place. It was not hot – probably 26C – but there was a stillness to things. No wind stirred the trees. There seemed few people about. My thongs flip-flopped on the concrete pavement. Am I going to miss this, I wondered. I felt regret that I might, just as summer is coming, just as I re-discovered my life.
Today in fact is one of the iconic days on the Australian calendar: Derby Day. All over Melbourne women had frocked up and headed towards Flemington racecourse. The blokes followed suit. I had done it myself often enough. It seemed a typical Derby Day: fine and warm. I sipped a juice, ate a beef brisket sangar, reflected on the times.
It had started last night. I’d walked out the front door a little after 7. At the station I stood waiting for a train. It was a pretty night, fine and warm. I watched as a mynah bird skipped along one of the gleaming rails. It bent its head, poking at the ground with it’s beak, before moving on. It jumped up and then down from the rail. It looked between the rocks, its head craning, then turning, intelligence at work. I felt fondness for a bird I have seen a thousand and one times before without ever considering it. It was looking for fragments of sustenance blown from the platform or carried along by the bustling wheels of the train. Personality was revealed also. I watched that little bird like I watch Rigby as he goes about his routines, with fondness, and a sense of banal wonder.
The train came and I sat by the window. I plugged in my earphones. A couple of stops on a young man got on and sat at the seat diagonally across from me. “Do you mind if I sit here, bro?” he said. Surprised at his question, I responded. “Go for your life mate.”
I looked out the window. I minded my own business. The train rattled on, stopped, picked up passengers, then rattled on again. He began speaking to me.
I missed his first words because I was listening to my music. I pulled an earphone out, grunted some kind of acknowledgement at him. He continued speaking. It was his 21st birthday he told me. He’d been busy trying to make calls as he sat across from me. Now he said that he hadn’t had a call all day, and no-one was answering his call. He was lanky, good-hearted but with the rough edge of someone works with his hands. I felt some sympathy for him. “Maybe your friends are planning a surprise party,” I said to him. I had unplugged both earphones now to give him all my attention. He chuckled. He told me he had been saving his money since he was 15 and now he had $25,000 in the bank. “You could throw a good party for that,” I said. He chuckled amiably again, “but there’s no-one to party with.”
On the seats across from us were two girls of about the same age as him, but very different. They seemed typical products of the bayside suburbs, well-bred, private schooled, fashionable. They wouldn’t look twice at a guy like him. And in truth my own background is closer to them than to him. There was no judgement in it. People are young. They’re fussy. They change as they get older. Anyway, he wouldn’t look at them either.
Then as the train approached Flinders Street there was an eruption of voices. He had stood up at the unexpected approach of someone he knew. He laughed, they clapped hands, he explained his predicament to this friend in words sprinkled with affable f’s and c’s. I was forgotten. He had found someone to celebrate his birthday with. All was good with the world.
I walked through the streets towards my rendezvous, cutting down Flinders Lane. The setting sun sent a low light slanting across the rooftops. There was that golden illumination you have sometimes not long before sunset. The streets seemed busy, and happy. At one bar patrons spilled on to the footpath with beers clutched in their hands. At another place a crowd gathered to get in. Elsewhere patrons sat out outdoor tables with dark glasses against the blinding sunlight.
I turned up my laneway, skirted a bunch of Japanese tourists posing for a photo, and descended into Il Solito Posto, an iconic and favourite Melbourne restaurant.
The next hours went by. Lot’s of hours. I caught up with the yoga teacher I met the other week (bizarre how many yoga teachers I’ve been intimate with. Definitely over-subscribed).
We had simple and good Italian fare tucked away in a corner. We drank good Italian wine followed by an excellent Oloroso sherry. Our conversation blossomed, moving from the common-place to the intimate. We were there until closing, the last to leave, but not yet done.
We went on to one of the cocktail bars tucked away in one of the many nooks in Melbourne, New Gold City. We were there perhaps 2 hours drinking excellent cocktails as our conversation went deeper. By the time we left the last train had departed.
We walked into and out of the Carlton Club after having a few words with an over officious bouncer. We went on to the Gin Palace. We had one last indulgent drink there until that too closed. We parted then. We kissed, I put her in a cab, then turned the corner to grab some late night KFC. I had the munchies.