This week I went to a storytelling night as part of my friend R.’s week-long, annual celebration of her birthday. We’d booked in a while ago but it turned out to be just the event to soothe my soul at the end of a tricky week.
Archie Roach was one of the storytellers featured in the ‘gala night of storytelling’. Archie had lost his life partner, Ruby Hunter, this time last year. I had also heard that he’d had a stroke. I get teary when I see an old woman and an old man holding hands and Ruby and Archie had been inseparable since meeting at the age of 16. So I was bracing myself. Archie talked about Ruby, about her spirit returning to the Coorong, which in the language of her people, the Ngarrindjeri, means ‘to the river’. Archie had written a song about it, with the lyrics in first-person, as if it was she, Ruby, who was singing about going home. It was the strangest thing. I could hear Ruby Hunter’s voice beneath Archie’s and then instead of Archie’s. As the song went on, her voice got stronger and stronger. I saw how it made him smile. I saw how it comforted him. I didn’t cry.
Writers told more stories – about a Rabbi and his wife whose sons died; about the moral dilemmas of French grandparents during the Second World War; about a man whose martial arts training saved him from a plane crash; about a man wooing a woman during a famine by making mice pies; about a mother stabbing a man in the leg with a hat pin…each story enthralling and intimate, despite being told to an audience of hundreds in the cavernous expanse of Melbourne Town Hall. As we were walking there, my friend had told me another story, an uplifting tale of fisticuffs between her and her sister at their Dad’s 60th birthday party.
It seems only fair that having received all these story gifts, I give you one of my own. It’s coming up to Valentine’s Day and my life lately has had a theme of not-romance. But I’ve also been thinking about how blessed I’ve been in the romance department. My friend R., the friend who has just had her birthday festival, is one of four people I know who are born on February 2. Another one of this group is D. a lovely guy I used to go out with, who is still a friend. This Valentine’s Day story is the story of the epic date that preceded our relationship, a date that neither of us knew was a date.
I remember walking on a full moon night towards the Yarra River. I was going to meet a friend at a party. It was a circus party and there would be performances. The night was warm and the air had a shimmering edge of magic to it. I remember I was wearing a hat from Laos that a friend had given me. Sewn into this hat, on a string, was the serrated tooth of some kind of animal. You couldn’t see the tooth from the outside. You had to know where to look for it. It was freakish and lucky, this hat.
At the party, I saw D. who I had met at a music festival years before. He was playing guitar, accompanying a couple who were doing an acrobatic performance. Afterwards, we chatted. He had moved to Melbourne, he said. He was in love. ‘That’s fantastic,’ I said, lying through my lucky tooth. ‘Where is she?’ ‘Oh, she couldn’t come tonight.’ The next week, I bumped into D. again. Again, there was no sign of the girlfriend. Another week goes by and I run into him again. Still no girlfriend. ‘Hey, we meet again. How are you?’ I asked. ‘I got dumped,’ he said. ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’ I said, wondering if I ever spoke the truth. I had noticed that it was the third time I had bumped into him in three weeks. The ‘three times’ of fairy tales. Who doesn’t want fairy dust in their eyes?
So I am going out with friends to see a band and I ask him if he would like to come along. I am not thinking of this as a ‘date’ so much as an ‘exploration’ of this thing that has the three times air of fate about it. I had my friend’s car, an old Peugeot 504 and with my friends in the car, I picked him up at his house. We all went to the gig, then the others left and D. and I went to another bar. Then we drove to the beach to watch the sun rise.
As we were driving back from the beach along Punt Road, D. played a tune on a recorder that one of my friend’s kids had left on the floor of the car. We stopped off at a cafe for breakfast. Then we went to his house and sat in the garden, playing guitars and making up silly songs. One of them had the chorus: ‘You can’t get into heaven with those shoes on’. Don’t ask me what that was about. Then we watched a movie, Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Mystery Train’, which has a cameo by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who we both loved (Hello!). Finally at about 3pm, on the day after our ‘not-date’ had begun, I remembered that we didn’t know each other very well and I didn’t live at his house. So I said ‘I should probably go now’. He was lying on the couch and I held out my hand as a wave goodbye and he met my fingertips with his in a gesture that was both intimate and perplexing. I think I blew him a kiss.
The next day, I was thinking about our marathon ‘not-date’, wondering ‘What was that? Does he like me? I mean, like that, like me?’ (I should point out in case it’s not obvious that I am a complete nonce when it comes to love.) As I did the dishes, I started humming the tune D. had played on the recorder that he’d picked up off the floor of my friend’s car. In my mind’s eye I could see the grotesque tongue of Gene Simmons from KISS. I started to smile. Then I started to laugh.
‘Tonight I wanna give it all to you. In the darkness, there’s so much I wanna do. And tonight, I wanna lay it at your feet. Cos girl I was made for you. And girl, you were made for me.’
Sing it with me!
‘I was made for loving you, baby. You were made for loving me. And I can’t get enough of you, baby. Can you get enough of me?’
Oh my God, the sweetness!
Happy Valentine’s Day.