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.