Despite the cliché, it was the summer of ’69 when it happened. It really was. We were at Gardiner Point, south of the Arthur River. Nowadays this place goes by a different label – the ‘Edge of the World’, and there’s a plaque there saying so! It’s a sort of tourist attraction these days, but back then it was a fairly isolated spot. From the little viewing platform, if you stand facing the ocean, there is not the slightest land mass between you and Patagonia, and this area boasts the globe’s most untainted air. I have no idea what Paul was up to, but he had disappeared for a time – probably in the scrub behind us answering a call to nature. He was usually joined at the hip to her, but he gave us time – just enough time to have my life turned upside down.
We’d had an early pre-dawn start to get there and back in a single day. We were in Paul’s EJ Holden, better than my Fiat – with the suicide doors – for that sort of distance, so I was relegated to the back seat. She shared the front one with Paul – and back in those prior to compulsory seat-belt days it was of the bench variety. In truth I was a little pissed off and was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it. I was besotted with her, but whatever her relationship with Paul was; it was a seemingly ever increasing impediment to me advancing my cause. I didn’t know then what I was to discover not much further down the track. Whilst she and Paul rabbited on up front, as was the norm on such excursions, I had no enthusiasm to make a contribution. I was becoming drawn to the conclusion that my chances with her were zilch. I had a decision to make and it was weighing on my mind as the old EJ powered towards our destination. Having completed my matriculation, to continue on in education would mean a move down south – to Hobart. It was looking that she was not going to be a factor in that decision. A move to university would take me away from Raissa, her constant companion and Burnie. I wonder now how my life would have panned out if that briefest of situations at Gardiner Point had not occurred – had he not left her to me for those oh so significant moments. Thinking back, it may have been because Raissa had picked up on my state of mind, spurring her on to take some action – to also make her decision.
I had asked her on several occasions, since first laying eyes on her back in the early winter, when he was out of earshot, just what was her relationship with Paul? Was it more than just friendship? She always gave the same enigmatic and infuriating reply – that I didn’t need to worry about him. The hours I’d spent ruminating and dwelling on those words! Could they truly mean that she regarded me as something ‘more’ than my presumed competitor?
Paul all too soon emerged from the bush and rejoined us looking out to sea. What had transpired in the short time he was absent meant he was coming back to a young man still inwardly reeling and spinning from her few sweetly whispered words.
Burnie, back in ’69, had not yet devolved into the largely service centre it is now. It was very industrial, with the Pulp (paper products), Titan (paint pigments) and acid plant (god knows what) pouring out vile smoke into the atmosphere, as well as red gunk into a discoloured sea. It had plenty of work available for someone starting out, like myself, unlike current times. What it lacked was some sort of entertainment for those not into doing interminable ‘blockies, or gyrating at the disco above the betting shop. That is why I took to spending Friday nights at a non-denominational church fellowship group – I wasn’t then, or now, religious; it was just something to do. But as soon as I joined there quickly became another attraction. Whereas I was completing my Burnie education, Judy was still in B class – year 10. She was cute, bubbly and always smiling. But I felt she had a special twinkle in her eyes just for me. I expect I thought she was a tad young for me and we certainly weren’t an ‘item’, but there was enough happening to keep me coming along. She was the daughter of the pastor running the show, so I suspect she had no choice. During in the various activities and Bible studies we always seemed to find ourselves together; this gorgeous freckled-faced, curly haired brunette and I. Thoughts of her back in the early months of ’69 warmed my solitary nights and gave my life an extra spark.
Then one Friday eve there were two new faces at the gathering – Raissa and Paul. I knew of them both. Paul was in my same year at school. Raissa was, up until then, the nameless girl often at the counter of the Greek take away across the road from the church buildings she had recently entered for the first time. In those days, prior to golden arches and secret chook recipes, the chicko rolls, dim sims and fish ‘n’ chips from across the way were recognised as the best in town. The pastor assigned his daughter to take the new comers under her wing with the result they quickly came into my orbit. Paul and I had something in common through our attendance at Burnie High even if he, unlike me, moved in cooler circles. He was tanned, blonde and sporty – what the Yanks would term a ‘jock’. I was very surprised to find him gracing us with his presence. I found out later that he was attempting to date Raissa and, although hers were not stereotypically strict parents, this was all they would allow her to attend with a boy. As Raissa was unsure of Paul’s motives, it also gave her some ‘neutral’ territory where she could feel more comfortable.
They therefore became regulars and ‘adopted’ me – having me tagging along ‘protected’ her from Paul – but, again, I didn’t know that then. There was so much I didn’t know leading up to that summer of ’69.
Gradually we started to spend time together away from the church, and after another month or so we found the drive-in on the outskirts of town a more enjoyable way of whiling away the lead in to the weekend. Soon I had forgotten all about Judy, but she, as it turned out, was definitely not finished with me!
We soon had a routine as a threesome – Somerset drive-in, the footy at West Park of a Saturday arvo and usually, a Sunday drive. As the temperatures began to rise West Beach (despite the state of the water) also attracted our patronage. Less popular than Hilder Parade fronting the surf club further along the strand, it was still more populated than these days – the message has largely cut through now it seems. We would spread our towels on the sand, Raissa’s always in the middle with us two lads as outriders. Up until this stage I saw her as ‘belonging’ to Paul, but the first time I saw her in a bikini that spring it felt that the earth shifted beneath that towel. She looked incredible – a raven haired Ursula Andress emerging from the briny – and to think, we actually swam in all that pollution back in those innocent times. My muted pleasure in her company now turned to pure lust, and I re-evaluated very quick smart how I felt about matters pertaining to her. On the other hand Paul displayed no animosity to me and my constant attendance. He was always ‘up’ – he was that sort of guy – and in my sight never lay a finger on Raissa’s honey-hued anatomy. As a pair, and that’s how I thought of them, they were hard to read. So between this vibrant young woman and her bikini my tentative plans of a move down south were pushed to the background. Now, if only I could extract her away from Paul.
As summer approached and I said my goodbyes to school, I worked the ‘shut-down’ at the Pulp, cleaning machinery and sweeping floors. Raissa worked week days at the family business, but her folks were savvy enough to know that, as the Seventies approached, a young, vibrant seventeen year old woman-to-be such as their daughter needed her weekends. She remained free to accompany Paul and I about town and beyond.
It took her a few seconds to realise Paul’s absence – I in contrast was electrifyingly aware. She looked around and quickly took my hand. Up on tip-toes she stood and placed her lips close to my ear and breathily said the words that are now etched into my very being – ‘You know you are the one, don’t you? I am yours, if you’ll have me.’ With that she placed her hands on either side of my face and gave me the most delicate of pecks on my lips.
I had no time to respond before we heard the sounds of Paul forcing his way back through the scrub, so we quickly disengaged. To me it all seemed over in a flash. For me the trip back was almost insufferable as Raissa and her ‘constant companion’ shared that EJ Holden’s front pew, but I noticed that Paul was casting more glances than usual at a much more subdued Raissa. I was dropped off first, and I was beside myself calculating sufficient time for the girl I desired more that anything in the world to reach home, assuming there was no sidetracking involved en route. There wasn’t, and as soon as I responded to the question of ‘having her’ the joy on the other end of the line was palpable. She laughed in that deep throaty way I adored and stated, ‘I’m so pleased Jim.’ I couldn’t believe my luck.
Paul hung around us for a while, but he soon deduced that the dynamics had changed. If he was put out about it in any way he didn’t let on, but a month or so later he informed us that he would be the one heading off to Hobart, escaping Burnie. Of course, I soon discovered that leaving Burnie for Raissa was not negotiable, but I had no qualms about knowing that. It was in this town that my future would be mapped out.
My Raissa – my beautiful, beautiful Raissa. Short cropped silky black hair to run my fingers through; deep hazel eyes to drown in; sleek, spice-tinged olive skin to caress; voluptuous soft breasts to rest my head against forever and a day – she was to be my Burnie Greek angel for life – and so it turned out.
After Gardiner Point, naturally it all heated up somewhat. With us both living with our parents, it was difficult to find places to be alone. Our nights at the drive-in continued, remembering little of the B-grade movies involved. Now our summer drives in the little Fiat were more about espying secluded spots than the scenery. As the weeks rolled by we stopped short of ‘going all the way’. Her virginity was important to her. She wanted to be absolutely sure and I respected that. But what fun we had exploring each others bodies; discovering what we liked, what was a place too far. As the summer of ’69 became a new decade I settled into my new position as a cadet accountant at the Pulp. I knew my feelings for Raissa were as deep as Bass Strait was wide. I was positive she was ‘the one’ so I visited that well known jewellers in Wilson Street, Burnie’s main drag.
We’d saved for and planned the Strahan weekend for some time, hoping the Fiat would make it along the hilly, winding Murchison okay. It did. I had booked a small cabin for the Saturday – it was to be the first whole night we’d have had together. To say that I was in a fug of ecstatic anticipation wouldn’t be overstating it. That afternoon, on a warm day, we cruised up to view the cool, in both senses of the word, reflections on the glorious Gordon, before we settled into our accommodation. We made ready for the evening ahead, supping on a bottle of champagne out on the deck to watch the sun go down. Raissa excused herself for a short time after that. I soon realised she’d also been doing some shopping, and re-emerged wearing something flowing and diaphanous in black, setting off her colouring and spellbinding cleavage to a tantalising tee. She bent over me and whispered, ‘I’m surer of this than I’ve ever been anything, Jim.’
By morning we had both passed another milestone in our lives together. I cannot say that it was perfect. That would come with more practice – but it was bliss. We drove out to Ocean Beach, that endless stretch of snowy white sand and the detritus of a wild ocean that stretched all the way to Patagonia. It was blowing an almost-gale so it was difficult to find a spot to carry out my intention. Eventually we discovered a sheltered cranny between two dunes. I sat down and gently motioned her onto my lap. I didn’t say a word, produced the little box, placing the ring on her finger. Nor did she utter a word in response, but cried a little before she stood. She tugged me upwards and hand-in-hand we walked back to the little Fiat with the suicide doors.
We were about to commence our Burnie journey through life for, on that day, we both knew. I, however, didn’t count on Judy.
Part 2 – The Leaving
Being Burnie, they came from all directions, or so I am told. One minute I am casually perambulating down Wilson Street, intent on shopping tasks – the next I am groggily coming to, face down on the pavement. I am being comforted and supported by a bevy of concerned fellow shoppers, and I can hear the siren-call of an approaching ambulance. Something had hit me a powerful blow – not from the outside, but from the inside – there was a fleeting notion of a huge kick in my chest as if something alien was in there, attempting to get out.
Tomorrow another ambulance will ferry me down to Hobart, to the Royal for an operation – and I am scared, scared shitless. I am so restless – sleep will just not come. The doctor has informed me that there are blockages in the arteries around the heart, and I am in dire need of stents. The op is too delicate for our base hospital here, so I have a journey to make. Whilst she informed me that the procedure is generally successful, there is some chance I will not survive the trauma to my already weakened vital organ. She informed me that, had I been a smoker, my chances of succumbing would have been much greater, so I am thankful for that.
I’ve now had twenty-four hours to get used to the idea after Dr Chung stabilized me for the trip. Raissa left me a couple of hours ago. I told her. I felt I had no alternative. I told her what had been weighing on my mind ever since I read that article in the Oz a few weeks ago. I suppose in one sense she took it better than I expected. After I confessed, she initially left the room for a while, but came back, wanting to know some ‘details’. I found it difficult to elaborate – I was still zonked out from my medications, so I bet some of what I related wouldn’t have made much sense. As well there were interruptions from the nursing staff checking on me. But what made it so, so onerous was the obvious. It is so damnably hard to tell the one who loves you the most something she doesn’t want to hear. Of course, it was no trifle; it had been going on for the best part of twenty years. I’d hidden it from her, but after that article I knew she had to know – I just didn’t expect it would have to be so soon. I wanted more time – but it seems time may be taken away from me due to my dicey prognosis. I went over it all for her, and now sleep will not come this last night I might ever spend in Burnie. Despite the confidence of my physician, this dread in my gut simply will not go away.
Raissa. All these years we’d stuck at it. It has been a good marriage by anyone’s measurement; a successful one – one of the few, it seems, these days. She is still a gorgeous looking woman – that has never been it. It was through no fault of hers that I did what I did. It was a bit like that Paul Kelly song – the irony being it was an album Raissa bought me not so long ago knowing of my love for his music.
After I had proposed, well sort of, all those years ago down on Ocean Beach, we waited till Raissa turned eighteen before we made our intentions general knowledge. We were so young, but we knew. Paul was amongst the first to congratulate us, attending the wedding as one of my groomsmen – that seemed only fitting. At first Raissa’s parents were taken aback, me not being of the faith and all that. But they weren’t typical Greek parents – they were pretty open, even when I took to staying overnight in her room. I couldn’t get enough of her in those days. I had nothing to measure it by – not so much the case now – but we seemed to fit together magically and it was fun – there was always that deep, throaty laugh of hers. My parents adored Raissa, so for them it was a no-brainer.
We married at the same church where we’d had our initial introduction. The same pastor did the deed. Possibly we would have preferred a less traditional affair, like young people these days, but back then we knew what the oldies expected, so we went along with that. She wasn’t there – I hadn’t thought to invite her. I’d see her now and again about the town. We’d wave or exchange a few pleasantries. Then Judy disappeared and I didn’t give her another thought.
After a Gold Coast honeymoon we settled back into Burnie life. With her parent’s help we bought a home in a new hill sub-division – where we still live. We raised a family – two lads and a daughter, the latter an afterthought. All are doing well, with Tania now finishing off her law degree. She wanted a gap year after her school, but that went on and on till she finally decided on her present course. She looks set, as she is engaged to a Hobart lawyer some years her senior. She’ll be waiting for Raissa and me at the other end tomorrow. At least, I hope Raissa will be with me. The boys – well men – are on the Mainland. Shane manages a reef resort in Queensland and Kyle is an engineer up on the Pilbarra. They have all done well – we are so proud of them all, but it is mainly for Tania that I wanted her mother told. Tania is special – you know – dads and daughters!
Between pregnancies Raissa continued to serve behind the counter at her parent’s shop. When they retired and sold up, she kept on in various retailing positions around the town, ending up managing a woman’s wear store. As for me, I moved up the greasy pole at the Pulp while it was going well, but once the hard times bit that ended. I hung on till the writing was on the wall, then I semi-retired, doing some freelancing around the town. Money was somewhat tight for a while, but we are quite comfortable now we are empty nesters.
Then all of a sudden I was in my forties – the danger years, at least according to my mate who had some theories about men of that vintage and what he called the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’. I initially heard him out and scoffed, but it came back to me after a while that perhaps there had to be something more to life than being an accountant in a provincial town - like the one I was spending the best years of my life in. Burnie wasn’t the most exciting place going. I remember walking along the beachside boardwalk with the pooch, as was my way most mornings. The local council had worked hard in recent years to transform Burnie’s image and it was now a port of call for ocean liners – something unheard of back in the day. I paused above the spot where those three towels were laid out all those years ago. I thought of how incredibly alluring Raissa looked in that mouth watering bikini that summer of ’69. I remembered back to that number she wore on that night in Strahan. Before kids she would spend whole summer days without a stitch on in the privacy of our home and backyard, and was a frequent customer at the lingerie shop to buy the items she knew made me all hot and bothered. Where was all that magic these days? She had gone into herself – became more demure as she matured. She could still turn heads; she just didn’t seem to want to turn mine any more. Was that to be it – one woman? I didn’t know the song back then, but if I had it would have encapsulated perfectly my yearnings–
I just wanna sleep with someone new
Someone I never met
Knowing it's a foolish thing to do
And should've cause regret
There is no reason
To do our love wrong
When we're together
It's sweet and strong
It's where I belong
But I just wanna sleep with someone new
Who doesn't know my name
That comes and takes my hand out of the blue
Just like in a dream
Maybe ‘Peter Pan’ had visited me after all!
And it happened. I had been going on footy trips to Melbourne with mates for a while and enjoyed them, just as Raissa seemed to enjoy the breaks from me. They were pretty harmless – a couple of games, some bevies about the city and then gifts for loved ones back across the Strait. As it happens, I was on such a mission that Saturday morning when it occurred. I had taken the 112 Tram up from the city to Brunswick Street where there was a certain perfumery Raissa loved to visit on the few occasions she’d come along on the trips, ones where partners were welcomed. After I’d made my purchase and returned to the pavement, I spotted her coming towards me. It had been years, but I still recognised her – same lovely face, same freckles across the nose. I stopped dead, but she walked right on by – well I guess I was minus the hair I had when I first knew her, as well as now having a bit of a paunch. I called out her name and she halted and turned. For a while she seemed confused, as if searching her memory. I shouted ‘Jim’ – and her eyes lit up and she came rushing back, throwing her arms around me in greeting. At first the conversation was somewhat stilted, but when I asked what she was up to in Melbourne we soon realised we were creating a bit of a blockage, so we retired to a nearby coffee shop. She had married well. Her husband she met on a church symposium to Yarra City soon after Raissa and I were wed. He’d done well in business and she lived a comfortable existence down the Mornington Peninsula; a large modern home, two privately educated sons. The way she was kitted out, she wasn’t short of dosh! She came up to the city on shopping excursions once every couple of months, sometimes staying for a few days in a city hotel. Of course I told her my provenance, and before I knew it I was going to be late to meet the guys for the big match at the ‘G. She could have let me go then, and that would have been it. But she asked what I was doing after the game as she was spending the night in the city. We agreed to meet up for a meal. I didn’t know it then, but I sure would a few hours later. The dye was cast.
As soon as I spotted her in the Southbank restaurant I knew that it was more than a meal she had on her mind. That good Christian girl – at least when I knew her – was up for an evening with a bit more spice. The question – was I? She was dressed to make her intentions clear – something green, slinky and clingy. She was displaying a fair amount of cleavage to boot. I was taken aback, but once seated and with a few wines in me, there was no doubt I was into enjoying her company, and some flirting. The prices were astronomical at the eatery compared to what I was used to, but she informed me early on that it was her shout – to have what I wanted. As the night wore on, though, it became increasingly clear that it wasn’t only the fine food I wanted, and she made it perfectly clear to me she was of the same mind. She had me hooked – what could be the harm I thought.
Her room was at the Crown and was fit for a queen. I had accepted her invitation back for a nightcap, but as soon as we arrived she disappeared and yes, it was another cliché – she changed into something more comfortable. I suspect from the almost nothing that she was attired in that she always came to city prepared. The years had been kind to her and I was soon in her bed, soon divesting her of that something; soon knowing what it was like to sleep with another woman.
Footy trips became more frequent after that. I hasten to add though that Judy wasn’t involved in all of them, and sometimes Raissa came across too. I knew Judy had other lovers, and that we were nothing more than two people who enjoyed each other’s company with a bit of love making on the side. And so it went on. As time passed Judy and I met in Melbourne three of four times a year, both being scrupulously discrete with our arrangements. It seems she was well practiced in the art of a bit on the side. As time passed the gloss wore off the sex and it became less frequent. On some assignations it did not even occur. We were just content to enjoy all Melbourne had to offer. She still retained that vivaciousness that attracted me when she was a mere student, and it felt good having her on my arm out and about the city. The way she dressed; her attention to her appearance; her ability to be able to engage on most topics in conversation were attractive in the extreme She also made sure I was pampered on every level. I looked forward to those times we spent together, and it seemed to improve things with Raissa in some ways too – I was no longer ‘disappointed’. I could never stop loving my Raissa – only now that love had changed from what it was in those early years. Judy introduced me to the burlesque scene, which was just starting to take off back then in Melbourne, and that has become another pleasure that has remained. Judy occasionally ‘performed’ for me too. There is no way I’d go to a strip club, but burlesque appealed to me and it was something that Burnie definitely did not offer.
Then came that story in the Weekend Australian – the one of newly minted widows who, on sorting through their departed husbands’ goods and chattels, found evidence that their loving partners had secret lives, in the same way as I had. Now, despite all precautions, I couldn’t be one hundred per-cent positive that I had not slipped up in some way, or perhaps an acquaintance may have spotted my lover and I out and about over the Ditch. The tale of other cuckolded women, as reported in the newspaper, often had a profound affect on their well-being after their discoveries – most felt that part of their lives had been lived a lie. I couldn’t in all conscience let that happen to my beautiful Raissa – and now my demise was a distinct possibility. It had to be done.
After Raissa heard me out; after she had no more questions; after she had no more tears to shed; she stood up and left me. I knew how I had shocked her; I knew I had cut her to the quick – but I also knew I had finally done what was right. Of course, if the outcome of the operation was in my favour, I would never see Judy again, but would I also be in that boat with my precious Raissa too? In my foggy mind, thinking back over all this, the angels of sleep simply would not visit me.
‘Mr Frank, Mr Frank – you need to wake up. Wake up please, Mr Frank. We have to get you ready for the ambulance!’
From somewhere in the depths of the morass that was my brain I heard the words; then there came a gentle shake. My eyes slowly focused and I perceived a nurse standing over me, looking down.
Then I heard another voice. ‘Darling, don’t keep these people waiting.’ I looked around to my other side. There was my Raissa. She entwined her fingers in mine, and squeezed.