How was my night out? Well, it began well with a 4pm chardy. Felt like I was back in the day, preparing to party. That could be due to determinedly reprising my own now vintage clothes. Unfortunately, I don't look funky, I look like an old woman playing dress ups. Damn you, Craig Reucassel. It's his fault I'm digging through my wardrobe. His War On Waste really got to me. Thing is, I'm already frugal. and a borderline hoarder, inclined to put a new zip in an old pair of jeans if necessary.You know how hard that is. Okay, so I was saving money rather than the planet.
Sorry. What was I saying?
I wore my orange-is-the-new-black turn of the millennium top. You know the one. Bought it for some long ago school deb ball - jeeze, those kids will be in their thirties now - looked a bit blingy but passable and am pleased to say, it still fit. Sort of. Contacts in; bit of make up. Well, quite a lot. You know how it is when you get to a certain age?
Trev and I set off arm in arm down the road to catch a bus. Felt nice and crisp in the night air. Moon and stars out; breath steaming. But somehow we'd missed the 6.05, which had either dropped off the grid or gone by earlier than our arrival at the bus stop at five to six. Told you we were excited to be going out. We walked a couple of stops to pass the time and avoid hypothermia. Remembered to 'touch off' on the bus this time so we didn't get blocked at the turnstiles at Parliament station like last time we did public transport, thrilled to bits with our new Seniors' Mykis. We had to suffer a lecture on the minutiae of PTV before being released like a couple of errant school kids. Promise not to do it again. No, you have a nice day.
So did I have a good time? Well, there was the thrill of anticipation; the buzz of people in the city streets; excited families out seeing Aladdin; girls in tight skirts and six inch heels gripping the hands of their pimply boyfriends. We were eating at an up-market Chinese restaurant with a great bunch of people. Well, Trevor's friends anyway.
Hmm. Good time would be stretching it. Let's say it was interesting, but in an ironic way. Soon as we walked into the restaurant, my third eye was watching. I don't know why I have this irrepressible urge to write it all down. I've just read Atonement* too. You'd think I'd have learned something.
Ah, who cares? Here's a tip. Don't waste your breath trying to make conversation with contrary people. You know the type. They can't keep the wheels of civil human intercourse humming along. So, this is Trevor. He says, to his friend, Susan on the other side of our for table for ten, 'Jill and I saw this wonderful film last week. At the Nova. It's only seven dollars on Mondays. Great value. You know, the Nova in Carlton?'
So Susan says, 'We don't go there, do we Greg? We go to The Sun in Yarraville.' Greg nodded, staring into the middle distance.
I piped in here, oiling the wheels, I thought. 'I haven't been there but I've heard it's very good.'
'It's too hard to get parking at the Nova,' Susan was on a roll and she sounded a bit put out.
'There's an underground...' I began. I was going to tell her about the car park but she cut me off.
'I know, near Woolworths, but it's always packed. We prefer The Sun.' Did I just imagine she folded her arms at me, blocking further conversation? Whatever, I thought. But Trevor, bless, kept trying.
'A great French film,' he said. 'Things to Come.'
'Why? What was it about?' The set on her face suggested Susan thought Trevor should shove it and focus on his spring roll. But he continued, pushing his voice valiantly through the ambient sound and across the table, to Susan, with her arms crossed over her ample chest.
'Well, it's about life,' he said.'A philosophy teacher who lives in Paris is just going through life's events; the changes that happen in time. Things to come,' he said. 'The title says it all really.'
'But do you have to like Paris to enjoy it?' asked Susan, belligerently.
Trevor winced a little at the question. 'Mm, no. It's just a really good film. We really loved it.'
'Well, that might be all right for you. You go to France. But what if you'd rather go to the Dalmation Coast? Would you still like it? Would just anyone like it?' Susan's voice was rising.
I was experiencing a little tachycardia by then. 'You know what, Susan?' I was smiling so much that my face hurt. 'Don't go and see it. It's not for you. Forget Trevor even mentioned it.' Trevor put a firm hand on my knee at that stage. You know how he does? 'Jill,' he warned. Yeah, I stopped and had another swill of that Chardonnay I wasn't paying for. Hang on. I think I was paying for it in one way or another.
Susan's Greg was on my left. He's very groomed. Bristly.Trimmed to within an inch of his life. He clearly spends a lot of time contemplating his face in the mirror each morning; checking for regrowth of his sheared white hair. He's got this neat triangle of moustache, sort of sergeant major meets prison warden. Somehow we got on to the subject of aged parents, a topic close to the hearts of many of my generation. Greg's mother, well into her nineties, had died some years earlier from complications after minor surgery. Well Greg's bristly lip wobbled a bit as he berated the hospital over his mother's passing. If only she hadn't had that surgery she'd still be alive today - aged 100. Like you want to be.
'Oh well, she had a good innings,' I cliched. He didn't say anything but a couple of minutes later he left and sat at the other table. Something I'd said? Perhaps. But my punishment was waiting in the wings. Another dinner guest, the one who likes to take those group shots for posterity, slid into Greg's place and teased me by flicking through pictures on her point and shoot. Making conversation, I asked her what had her so absorbed. Well, she wasn't really. She was waiting to be asked. Thus I climbed into the centre of her web.
'These are my teenage children,' said Gilda, handing me the camera for a closer look.
'Nice kids,' I said, handing her camera back. They were all right, if a little random.
'And these are the kids in my parents' group. We all met fifteen years ago at a parents' group for new parents and we still meet monthly.' Gilda showed me several photos of several middle aged women and more photos of even more random groups of teenage kids in various locations and poses. Hovering over individual photos she provided the whole ancestry.com of the numerous members of her group: who'd married whom, who'd divorced; who'd died, when and what from in livid detail. Then she arrived at her last trip to Scandinavia where she'd visited her grandmother's house. Well, not exactly her grandmother's house. It was the house next door she was now showing me. Her grandmother's house had been turned into offices and they weren't open but no matter they got into the house next door, of which she took many photos which she described to me down to the hardwood floorboards.
'Scuse me, Gilda,' I interrupted, one hand raised signalling a passing waiter. 'Could you get me a Chardonnay?' I asked. Stat. I'd already desperately spun the Lazy Suzy vainly searching for dregs in the bottom of a bottle. Red. White. I didn't care.
I returned to Gilda. 'Sorry? Go on." Gilda is a bit stick insect-y, but with high cheekbones and this swathe of long brown hair. She sat sort of folded into herself and continued to click through her photos. And there were her school friends back in Scandinavia who'd all been together in the top English grade. Where had they been all my life? Gilda's voice was a croaky low drone. I nodded, ooh-ed and aah-ed my appreciation of particular names on the school honour boards she'd photographed. In an effort to change the tenor, I pulled my phone out of my bag and asked if she wanted to see photos of my adult kids. She gave a cursory glance at my two then invited me to look at her grandmother's garden in Scandinavia.
You know what? You can only take so much. I shouldered her out of my peripheral vision. My glass was empty.
But it was a night out. Five degrees by the time we were out on the street. And we only had a twenty minute wait underground for our City Loop train. And train travel's free on weekends for us seniors. Didn't mind walking that last kilometre back home. And despite my war on waste I'd accidentally, but happily left the heater on while we were out. Was quite cosy.
Hey, Jane. Same again next Friday night. A fiftieth this time.
*Bored, neglected self-absorbed budding writer misinterprets what she sees, sticks her nose in and ruins others' lives. Sorry, Ian McEwan. Atonement is one of the best books I've ever read. Bothers me, though, how much I identified with the priggish deluded Briony.