She held my hand. Or at least she held on to the first three fingers of the right hand that had been offered palm up by way of introduction. I’d agreed to meet a friend, Sharon, at a pub to tell her about my recent trip overseas. Sharon also wanted to buy a book I’d written, and I wanted to tell her about my response to a delightful sensitive novel she’d lent me (in a brown paper bag), Alain de Botton’s first book, On Love.
Because she and Sharon were sitting together at the bar I imagined they were friends. It turned out they’d only met a moment before. Sharon and I angled our bodies towards one another. She was put out. Excluded. We – the three of us – thus took a table in the dining room. She asked – no, strike that out – demanded that I look her straight in the eye. Look at me, look at me she seemed to be saying but not in the Kath n’Kim manner. Much more menacing.
I said I’d looked a woman straight in the eye once in London in 1973. She was bewildered. I said that I’d gone to some Eastern mystical outfit advertised in Time Out magazine when that magazine was half-way radical. It was the sort of thing people did in those days, especially those who indulged in mind-altering substances (which I didn’t). Everyone was invited to dance and chant. I enjoyed the dancing but not the chanting. People were also asked to sit on the floor in two concentric circles and those in the inner (or the outer I forget which) were to make strong eye contact with the person opposite and then keep rotating. I looked into the eyes of one beautiful woman and have never forgotten the experience. But I moved on. Everyone else I forgot immediately. The only other thing I remembered was the sales pitch at the end to sign up for a six week course. There was a slide show with before and after shots of people who’d done the awareness training or whatever it was that was being offered. A lot of the group said, ‘Wow!’ and ‘Incredible!’ I thought those who’d taken the course looked like they’d had shock treatment. I was out of there.
Thirty-five years later I was ready to be out of wherever I was. Especially when she had the nerve to ask me when I’d last made love, to accuse me of having my head tied up in books, and not being interested in real people. It was quite a serve, volley and smash. I said I couldn’t remember when it came to the love business. It had been a while. I was run ragged in the back court. I said love wasn’t the only thing that made the world go round. God, I’d only met this woman five minutes before. I changed sports and said something about the experience of a sweetly struck five iron which lands six feet from a pin and bites being far better than sex. If I was going to look into anyone’s eyes and make a connection it wasn’t going to be with this vixen.
She appeared to lose interest. She said something about me being seventy. Who’s so vain? Only last weekend a thirtyish woman at my tennis club asked a fortyish woman at the same club whether I’d yet turned fifty. I won’t go there. I’m not into disclosure. It must be admitted that She didn’t look bad at first sight, a touch of elegance, hair swept up and pinned, slim figure, maybe suggesting a retired ballet dancer. But now, the cow was a tarted-up sixty-five if she was a day.
Wednesday nights are music nights at the Napoleon. Leo Kottke, Chic Corea sort of stuff and the pub owner, Paul, plays a mean slide guitar. Patrons drift in to settle at tables. The dining area begins to resemble a club. She swivelled on her chair and joined a group at the next table. The band struck up and Barry was standing by the door. A gregarious bloke, a bit loud when pissed but a lot of fun, good company, I know him from another pub, the PA. I wave him over. He sits where She was. Are we trying to exclude anyone? Yes.
She and Barry are sitting back to back. She turns abruptly and pashes him. Not kisses him, pashes him, then turns back to her new group. He shakes his head and loosens his shoulders. Sharon and I wonder what the fuck is going on. Barry heads for the bar. I follow. He tells me the crazy bitch cut him once and I know he means physically. They have form.
The band plays. She dances with an impish little fellow, mate of Bazz’s, Trotsky beard, more a poet than a revolutionary, neither actually. They make formal moves but she is really dancing alone. Trot quits. She is left to herself, absorbed in a solitary world, tracing her own concentric circles. Objectively She has style. Narcissistic style. I leave.
A week rolls by. As they do. Bazz and Trot are propped at the bar. So is Sharon and she’s pouring French champagne. Good X-ray results. I look to order a meal but there’s not much on the menu. Last week Paul announced that his chef was twenty-three and a coming man, five jobs already. Last week I’d had the roo which was OK. Tonight it’s steaks, flathead and parmies. He could have ten jobs by the time he’s twenty-four. Cherie, the barmaid, recommends the rump. A lion might have liked it but the salt content was high. Lot’s wife had spread herself on top.
The music crowd starts to roll in. Derrin, a gently spoken but powerfully built young fella with a pony tail, has had his share of drug issues, and is now in some sort of rehab. He’s back and there’s a sprinkling of the regulars from the local community. I exchange some banter with the lead guitarist. Tables fill. Sharon says, ‘Thank heavens she’s not here.’
And then. She is. Making an entrance. Her henna’d hair is down, her skirt is tighter and shorter, she’s wearing black stockings and a fake leopard-skin coat. I hope it’s a fake. She strides directly between the tables casting a slur at me as she goes. ‘Writer!’, she spits. I say nothing, make no eye contact.
I don’t stay long. I have things to do, not making love or hitting golf balls. Just a good time to go.
Sharon emails next morning. Asks me to call. She’d turned her radio on early and a man had been stabbed over the road from the pub at 11 p.m. A fifty-seven year-old woman had been charged with attempted murder and was helping police with their enquiries. The man was in a serious but stable condition in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Sharon said the music had been terrific. A female vocalist had brilliant range from country rock to jazz and blues, the party broke up in great spirits, and musos and patrons gathered on the footpath for a chat and wind-down. She was hanging around on the fringe. A presence.
Derrin invited Bazz, Trot and Sharon back to his nearby flat for a few more drinks. Sharon declined. It’d been a long night.
She hung around, she who had been spurned, excluded, followed the male trio. Then in a flash, a blade and slash, and Bazz was falling to the ground screaming and holding his neck. She’d cut him again. Luckily a vein, luckily Derrin grabbed the knife and pinioned her, luckily within seconds a cop patrol car cruised by and told Bazz to maintain pressure on his vein, luckily the ambulance were on the scene in five minutes. Bazz was operated on the next day, stitched up and was back on the streets two days later.
A happy ending? More a relief. There but for the grace of …
Sharon was all shook up, so was I, but not in the way Elvis intended. She. Was she on medication, off medication or just a vicious bitch with a nasty streak? She who must be avoided.