Monday, November 19, 2012

A dangerous precedent


I cut the photograph in half to delete the image of a man I once loved, or thought I loved all those years ago when I was young and impressionable. But to cut out his hand, the one that flops over the back of the chair behind the body of the young woman who once was me, would involve a total dissection of the photograph and so it rests today, torn down the middle. 


 Someone took the photo on New Years Eve and despite the smile on my face I was angry.  To this day I imagine I was angry with the man whose hand hangs over the back of my chair, his nails neatly clipped.  

In the photo you can just see the dark line of his jacket and the white edge of his shirt.  There was a time when I so longed to see this man that I could think of nothing else but the hour when we two would be together.  Such a man as to make my heart melt.
         
 I had met him on the ground floor of the book store when he called me over one day and looked at me with eyes that suggested I was more to him than just another university student working part time in the upstairs sheet music department.  

In his eyes I was special but it was a dangerous precedent   It gave him power after which as much as he could make me feel special simply by acknowledging me he could also leave me deflated like a discarded paper bag if he chose to ignore me.

The rain water pelted down from lunchtime on and we watched from the shop windows as Elizabeth Street filled with water.  Rubbish sped by as if it were motorised on streams of water that poured around the drain pipes and collected there.  With nowhere else to go the water spilled into a river that rose to door step height, floor height then up to the counters on the ground floor. 

 Six o’clock and closing time saw the senior staff busy trying to mop up the excess, once the rain had slowed and the rest of us were urged to get home as quickly and safely as we could.  I made my way back up the hill towards Spencer Street.  

I had determined I would not go straight home. I would go instead to see off my beloved, the man whose presence could set my heart racing even as I knew I did not so much matter to him as amuse him.  

He had booked a trip to Wollongong to spend the next four days with friends.  The Southern Aurora pulled into the station bound for Sydney.    
        ‘Come on board,’ he said to me.  ‘We can have a drink before the train leaves.’ 

We sat together in the long cabin decked out like a hotel bar with drinks counter at one end and chairs clustered around a series of oval tables on both sides for the length of the carriage. We sat closest to the door that led to the sleeping compartments.  Pimms and lemonade for me, beer for him.  The drink left me feeling mellow.  Undaunted by the thought that soon I would need to say goodbye and go back to my dreary life at home in a shared house with  people I did not so much care about as feel responsible for, my sister and her friend. 
            
The first call came through, visitors must depart now.  The train will be leaving in ten minutes.  I stayed put even through the second call.
            ‘I wish I could come, too’ I said.
            ‘Why don’t you?’
            ‘I don’t have a ticket.’
              ‘No matter,’ he said.  ‘I’ll hide you in my cabin.’ 

 The inside cabin of the Southern Aurora in this roomette designed for one was compact.  The sink folded in on itself to allow for the bunk that folded out, the toilet seat you pulled out from another cavity.  The bed which folded out also converted as a seat and my man and I shared this space the entire journey.  The rat-ta-tat of the train wheels over the tracks was soothing in my sleep even as I lay squished up against the wall of the carriage.  In the morning as we watched through the window and saw the outskirts of Sydney come into view I marvelled at my fortitude in being so bold as to steal onto a train un ticketed.  Not so my companion.  He seemed cool, as if he had done it before and would do it all over again. 

And so it transpired that I travelled in the Southern Aurora from Melbourne to Sydney in a first class sleeper with the man I loved.  I hid in the toilet when the ticket inspector knocked on the door and slipped out the train at the end of the journey as if I were an ordinary passenger and of no interest to anyone.

At Sydney’s central rail way station with its vaulted ceilings and broad arches we took a train to Wollongong where we met the friend, a man whose second name ‘Head’ matched his appearance, all head, no brains and not much of a body, but for some reason my beloved liked him and chose to spend time with him.  

This time I bought a ticket.  

30 comments:

Andrew said...

Great story, and if your grandchildren say to you, Gran/Nan, you are boring... well, you may choose to tell them, but you don't have to. Your eyes can raise slightly, one corner of your mouth rise in an almost unnoticeable half grin and to the grandchildren, you say, yes, Gran is boring. But when dementia sets in, you will tell them the stories.

This is Belgium said...

good thing you did not photoshop the hand away because then, you would not have had this wonderful story which I enjoyed reading for several reasons...

Jim Murdoch said...

In Scotland the conductors don't just check to see if you have a valid ticket, they also issue them and so it's nothing really to jump on a train unticketed. Mostly when I've travelled on trains I've had a weekly pass and so it was never an issue anyway but there have been occasions where I've got on sans ticket and left the train before the conductor reached me. Not my fault then but that's never stopped me feeling guilty about it. I guess I'm not big on adrenaline rushes. Being in a situation where I might be caught out isn't exciting; it's scary.

Photos, mmm. I have destroyed two photos in my life, they were pictures of a previous girlfriend and I did it to impress my current girlfriend and I have never regretted anything as much in my life (well, not much). What really rubbed salt in the wound was my dad noticing the shreds in the wastepaper basket and passing comment. It was more of an observation than an outright criticism but I read in between the lines. I have never destroyed or defaced a photo since. When my mother died I sat around with my siblings and between the three of us we made sure that every one of her photos found a new home even though many of them were of relatives we had never met and didn't even know the names of.

Handing over control to others is a dangerous thing especially when the other doesn't realise the degree of control they have. If I tell someone I love them then that is a big deal. If I call you my friend it's a big deal. Nowadays people make friends and defriend them with a click of the mouse and think nothing of it; the term has become devalued; it's practically worthless. When I think about the man in the photo—okay, the hand in the photo—I imagine a guy who would say, "I love you," if it got him what he wanted and think nothing of the consequences of his actions and if pressed might come back with something like, "Well, I probably loved you when I said it." I don't like people like that.

By the way your photo reminds me of 'Congratulations' by George Henry Harlow. There's a contemporary painting I've seen a couple of times, with two woman again, one looking at the other, and a mysterious arm is wrapped around the one whose back is to the viewer. If I run across it again I'll try and remember to send you the link.

sarah toa said...

So married ... such a great tale.

Joanne Noragon said...

I wonder if anyone is young and not foolish? It must be so much more interesting to look back on.

Pandora Behr said...

Love this story xx

Anthony Duce said...

Enjoyed the story.. To be young and open to such adventures…. I don’t even notice the hand…

Elisabeth said...

Perish the thought that dementia might set in, Andrew, as well it might. I hope I manage some of those stories to my grandchildren. So far they don't see me as boring but though again they're only five and one.

Thanks, Andrew.

Anonymous said...

I remember that flash flood, Elisabeth. I was at business college in Lonsdale street trying to make my way to the Collins street tram. Our paths must have crossed!
It's amazing to look back on our rebellious moments and our miraculous survival. My vice was hitch-hiking.
Then one day the secret escaped in front of my kids and I lost all credibility.
When did you 'fess this badness to your daughters?
Karen C

R.H. said...

The dirty dog!

I had a little affair too on the Aurora. A strange woman. She took off her nightie then put it on again then took it off and put it on again. She said: "You're not very romantic, are you." She complained quite a bit. In the morning we got off together at Central and she didn't want to know me. Jim would have done no better.

Elisabeth said...

I wonder about those reasons you mention, this is Belgium, the reasons for enjoying the story which would not have been possible had I photoshopped out the hand. I suspect it resonated for you in some way. Thanks, you from Belgium.

juliet said...

What a story, and it reminds me of those photos where I've cut out the other person too. I wonder how many of us have photos like that?

Elisabeth said...

I know what you mean about the horrible adrenalin rush when travelling without a ticket, Jim. Unlike you, I did it often as a child, though I don't do it now. I don't need to for one thing and for another I think it's important to improve out pubic transport system and we won't do that if they don't bring in enough revenue because people evade fares. On the other hand I'm still annoyed that at least two of my daughters have been issued fines for not having a ticket in the past when they had valid tickets but the system failed them in not interpreting their cards properly. It's all mechanized these days and sometimes machines go wrong. You have to go to such extremes affidavits at the police station etc to support the truth of having a ticket that sometimes it's almost worth paying the fine but it's unfair when people have tickets that haven't registered properly.

As for those destroyed photos, I cut up many others in order to delete the old boyfriend. Then I collected all the off cuts and burned them in my kitchen sink, all in a bid to get over him. It helped at the time and I don't regret having only one left over image of him. Maybe I should put it up too. it's the two of us in the southern Aurora.

I look forward to that link. Thanks, Jim.

Kirk said...

Kiss today goodbye,
And point me t'ward tomorrow.
We did what we had to do.
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for
Love

or, if you prefer:

Burnt once, twice shy.

Phoenix said...

It's always a tough call about destroying photographs. I'm afraid that even if I do destroy photos that have no place of usefulness in my life anymore, that I'll be destroying the memories as well, and I don't want to destroy any memories of anything. When I got divorced, I had no reason to keep my wedding photos (obviously), but it was very, very hard for me to throw them out. To simply say, "I will pretend this never happened."

As much as I've traveled on trains around Europe, I've never been bold enough to sneak onto a train without a ticket, although being in love makes you bold and reckless, and it seems like it all worked out (for that trip, at least.)

This story was so fascinating to read, Elizabeth, and I loved reading it because it's such a great adventure... with a very open ending. :)

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

I liked your post and the use of the word "deflated"...I felt like that...and very recently but had no hand behind my back and no person...

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my tale, Sarah. Thanks. So married indeed.

Elisabeth said...

Given that even us oldies can be foolish with all our wealth of experience, Joanne, it's not surprising that our young selves could also can get it so wrong at times. But hopefully we could and continue to learn from our mistakes.

Thanks, Joanne

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you liked the story, Pandora. Thanks for the thumbs up.

Elisabeth said...

Oh to be young again, Anthony and as you say to be open to such adventures whatever hands might lurk in the background.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not sure I have confessed this story to my daughters, Karen but I'm not sure they'd be so shocked. the world was different then. I'm sure they take risks unbeknown to me.

As for the idea of us crossing paths that fateful night, it's wonderful. If only we knew then what we know now.

Thanks, Karen.

Elisabeth said...

What a tease this woman, Robert. How unfair of her to draw you in and then shut you out.

On the page Jim might have fared better but then again, you never the know.

Thanks, Robert.

Elisabeth said...

I suspect many of us have such decapitated photos, Juliet, the ones through which we try to obliterate the past. Of course it never works. Like that disembodied hand, some traces invariably remain.

Thanks, Juliet.

Elisabeth said...

The words of a great song, Kirk, and thanks for bringing it back to life here.

I have no regrets, though as you say, having been burnt once, I become more wary, though not necessarily on the page.

Thanks, Kirk

Elisabeth said...

I imagine it would be terribly hard to destroy wedding photos, Tracy. I'm not sure I could do it, even if my marriage ended in divorce. Something about that event seems more lasting and profound to me than a lost boyfriend.

I'm not sure I'd destroy photos now. I did it then because I felt I needed to, but these days I'd be more inclined to file them away for later reference, if and when necessary. After all such photos can be useful prompts to writing.

Thanks, Tracy.

Elisabeth said...

Such a sad comment, Davide. It's awful to feel so deflated - no hand behind your back. Hopefully and in time the pain will pass.

Thanks, Davide.

Anonymous said...

photos lie... i´m always smiling when someone tooks photos and say: cheeeese. (bah and HA!) IRONY saves me.
i love to photograph everything... and myself (i need to see my soul through pixels, etc......) hehe... i call my pics "spontaneous photos"... ;)

my father died 2 weeks ago now... i have so many photos of him. i have them all "hidden" right now. but i do know that i´ll need them one of these days, months... and forever.

about photos of ex lovers, etc... all destroyed. fuck them all!

much love to you.
yolanda

R.H. said...

What's "on the page" mean? I guess it's some new cliche.

Well look, you haven't understood a word I said. She was an idiot; three boyfriends in two States and kids running around in the bush somewhere. It was her compartment, she booked it, I only had for a seat, but if she'd left it just one moment I'd have locked her out anyway!

And so Jim gets a 200 words from you and I get four lines. Thanks very much. He's prolific, wordier than a pimp during a police raid, but I'll tell you what, if he ever got more roots than me I'd tie a knot in my tossle. I mean it. Fact is even at my age I could still pick up a woman on a train. And the reason is I'd WANT TO!!!

You're tremendously naive; there's never a time in a man's life when he stops losing his brains over women.

And golly don't they know it.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you too love photos, Yolanda including the ones you destroy.

I'm sorry to hear about your father's death only two weeks ago now. The photos of him might help you deal with his death. I'm glad for all the photos I have and the ones I've destroyed I can always remember.

Thanks, Yolanda. It's good to hear from you again.

Elisabeth said...

Sorry to have misunderstood you, Robert.

There's a pair of us. You might also misunderstand me from time to time. At least we keep trying.

Thanks, Robert.