It wasn’t everyday I went out for an extravagant lunch, but on this day I went with a group from my department to lift morale, and Sean came, too. Despite the call for cheer, everyone clock watched. Everyone ordered fast and ate quickly in time to get back to work within the allocated hour but Sean and I moved slowly over our meals and conversation. One by one my colleagues left and by the time they’d all gone, Sean and I were left alone.
‘How about it?’ Sean said. His eyes raised, his lips moist.
I thrilled at the thought of such unspeakable behaviour, the stuff of novels, and fell in. We booked a room in a hotel over the road from the shrine. I even paid the bill. Why should the man always pay for the woman? I reasoned.
‘Possessions,’ Sean told me, ‘weigh you down. It’s better to live with little more than the clothes in your suitcase.’
Sean and his partner lived like this he told me as we peeled off our clothes and I wondered what she might have thought about my taking possession of her man on this crisp autumn day near the shrine on St Kilda Road where the ghosts of soldiers long dead once gathered.
It was a small room in a low cost hotel with only a view of the sides of office buildings but the sheets were crisp and clean and privacy was guaranteed.
He bedded me without ceremony. In those days I operated on remote control much of the time, a woman disappointed in her relationships, and in her chosen career as a social worker; a woman who had wanted to help people but found herself in need of help instead. I did not know this at the time. At the time I thought only of how wicked I had become and what excuses I could offer back at work.
Nina, the deputy social worker, called me into her office the next day, not long after I had arrived, a little less bold than the day before when I made the decision to leave a message with the secretary to say I’d fallen ill after lunch and would not be in for the rest of the day.
‘You can’t do things like that,’ Nina said. She did not buy the line I had been ill the day before. She’d been with us at lunch. She’d seen me stay behind with Sean. He also failed to return to work, but she was too polite to put two and two together, other than to tell me, it must not happen again.
Within a week, I resigned my job at the hospital. Not because of Nina or Sean or that stolen afternoon but because I could no longer tolerate the idea of being a handmaiden to the doctors who saw social workers as their secretarial assistants in matters of health benefits and first port of call on where to go after discharge when a person is too old or frail to go home alone. This was not what I had studied for.
As for Sean, I never saw him again, but his name popped up ten years later when a Commonwealth policeman knocked on my door.
‘Do you know a Sean McCloud?’ he asked. I nodded my head and he told me the story. For the several years now, they had been investigating a certain Peter Hill, alias Sean McCloud, wanted by the Canadian police for extortion. Interpol were on the lookout and they had contacted Sean’s ex-colleagues.
‘Did you know he was not a qualified social worker?’ the policeman asked. I shook my head.
Sean was an imposter who took on professional disguises wherever he travelled as a way of funding his life style, the policeman told me. He lived off the largesse of others. He took possession of their possessions and left them wondering.