Chapter 6:

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

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Chapter 6

The remainder of that week flew and on Sunday evening Maggie, Andy and Jack were at the airport to farewell the Scottish traveler. She looked very relaxed and happy, with Andy attached to her like a limpid. She gave much of her time to chat animatedly to Maggie.

The final boarding call came. Greer kissed Maggie and left her sister crying and smiling and waving, a multiple things to do which is not too difficult for a woman.

Greer then said goodbye to Jack, giving him an enormous hug and then he stepped back some distance with Maggie, to give the other two a little privacy for their final farewell.

"Greer's taking this very well," Jack said, not knowing what else to say, and giving Maggie a flurry of little pats between the shoulders as that seemed the right thing to do.

"Well, until meeting Andy she's never experienced a hot romance so she's still a little pumped up. It will be different when she's flying off - the reality of the ending sinking in. But she'll quickly learn."

"Learn what?"

"That every time one lover drops away, another comes forward to fill the gap, hopefully sooner rather than later. But as they say, one day her boat will come in."

"What boat is that?"

"That's not funny, Jack. You know that I am close to tears."

They watched the final smothering kiss, the breaking away and Greer walking to the exit to turn into the corridor leading to Customs. She paused, oblivious to following fellow passengers, and blew a kiss to Andy. She then returned the frantic waves from Maggie and waves in slow-mo from Jack.

Then she was gone.

Maggie decided to take control to keep her mind occupied. She took the arm of Andy, looking smart in a light mid-blue sheen suit, white shirt and orange, cherry and lime tie and hair slicked back, but with his bottom lip drooping.

"Come on, mate," she said, "Let's get you to a bar."

She hooked her other arm into Jack's and they walked across the concourse, occupying a booth well away from the window.

"No use looking, you won't see her, Andy."

He nodded and smiled gratefully. They watched Jack returning with two beers and a vodka Martini.

Attempting to avoid a conversation revolving around Greer, Maggie said brightly, "I hadn't realized until on the Stewart's farm Andy that you knew Jack well."

"Too well for my liking," grinned Andy, in rapid recovery mode. "To think of all that money of ours that was liquidated down urinals."

"I have heard that no uncommon occurrence expressed much more delicately," Maggie said, raising her glass and saying, "Cheers."

"I can imagine the likes of you two guys in Big Old London - getting drunk then trying to pick up a couple of girls with a flat to get a free meal and ‘afters'. No doubt you both have photos and souvenir panties stored away somewhere."

"We spent a lot of time actually working," Jack explained.

"Yeah, it was pretty much like what you said, Maggie. We had almost two years of it, and then one night when His Nibs here wasn't sufficiently drunk, he tried to pick up someone above his station."

Maggie leaned back, amused and careful to allow it to flow. Men usually were not as open as this to women, at least not in her experience.

"What happened?"

"I heard Jack say, "May I take you to the ball princess?' and she said, ‘No, go away and sober up'. He said ‘You can catch sobriety if you stop drinking' and she said, and I can remember her eloquence to this day - ‘Piss off!'

"Our good friend here was nonplussed, what with her using his favorite words to ward off slaggers. ‘That's no way to speak to a gentleman,' he said. A bouncer grabbed him around the arms and waist muttering, ‘Wait till I get you outside you fucking Kiwi."

"The woman reacted totally unexpectedly. She raced after the bouncer and shouted, "Put down this New Zealand gentleman this instant, and the mutton-chops on the bouncer quivered and he let go of Jack."

Maggie was laughing, and Jack had a glint in his eye.

"Good heavens, what a relief," encouraged Maggie, not wanting this story to halt uncompleted.

"Well, it was for Jack but a real bummer for me. After that night I virtually had to make an appointment to see him, such was his focus on this nurse."

"Goodness, she must have been something. A New Zealander it would seem; so who was she?"

"Alison, Alison Chambers."

Maggie felt her color drain way. It could only have been Ali. She looked at Jack, who was smiling.

"Yes, my Ali," he said. "We can talk about it. You and I have not shared much personal information like most close working colleagues do; that this is my fault, and I am sorry about that. It is time to open the blinds fully, I guess."

"Only if you wish, Jack and you should know by now that I'm really not big into gossiping."

"Just let it happen, Maggie. It's OK. Right, mate, tell her about France."

Maggie looked at Jack as he spoke. Actually, he did seem to be far less uptight. That trip around the East Coast had done something for him - perhaps allowed him to find himself.

She'd never seen him looking better, and he looked very masculine and front-shelf dressed in those tan boat shoes, slightly lighter moleskins and heavy blue and white checked linen shirt with double buttoned down pockets. Very trendy indeed and even his almost black side-parted hair toned in.

"Ah, France," Andy continued. "Eight of us - two South Africans, two Aussies and four Kiwis had organized a cultural tour of France to study drinking songs, repeating a most successful five-day visit to Germany the previous year, marred only by a technical hitch that resulted in threats of us being deported. Jack had told us he would be canceling because he wanted to be near Ali. Fortunately, Ali the nurse had a week due and she and two friends went off to Scotland, organized for that very same week. A coincidence, of course, with the seven of us others in the party to France giving the girls two bottles of gin and 100 to upgrade their accommodation providing they picked a certain week in July to make sure Jack would have no Ali in London to occupy him. On the last night in France we all got plastered. We were in this pub singing with the locals when Jack took it upon himself to sing loudly, ‘I dream of Ali with the Light Brown Hair' and singing it over and over again. There was a fight because the French people wanted French songs sung in their pub."

Maggie grinned, really liking that bit.

"The police were called and there were four arrests - two Frenchmen, one of our South Africans and Jack. We were told that Jack and Clive would be sobered up and loaded on to our late-departing ferry moments before it left. We were not allowed down to the loading area so we waited anxiously, looking down on to the terminal. A police car arrived, but carrying only two policemen. We sailed, without our two missing mates and the purser's office phoned the police station at the terminal but no one knew anything about them. Ali met us on our arrival and, as you can imagine, she was not amused. Clive and Jack arrived back late morning the next day, Jack sheepish, and repentant. It seems the night shift had changed at 11:00 and were not advised of the planned transfer of two apprehended but not arrested ‘Englishmen' until the ferry was just leaving the terminal."

Maggie decided to ask about Ali. Jack was digging out his wallet to pay for another round and Andy looked to be enjoying his story telling role.

"What was she like?"

"Sweet, very pretty even in the ‘drag' called a nursing uniform and absolutely fearless. She knew how to control men because she had four older brothers; she was the darling of the family, being a bit late coming along compared with the others. After the last day debacle in France she called a meeting of the eight of us and laid down the law. Andres Goosen announced he was not going to listen to any more of that crap and stood up, all six feet seven of him. She marched up and poked her finger out, aiming just above his belly button and was saying sit down please until she'd finished speaking. He should know to be polite to women. He moved away from that advancing finger and fell back on to his chair, which collapsed under his weight. Order was restored and she issued the rules, ending up with, ‘If anyone can't abide by the rules then they don't cohabit in the playground with my Jack. So, whenever she was about we stuck to the rules. Oh - one more thing. She told us with no hint of a smile that from now on Jack would have to stay in her flat where she could keep an eye on him, that in the cupboard were a dozen bottles of beer and after they were finished would everyone leave quietly as she was going to bed. Jack, of course, elected to stay."

Jack went off to get another round of drinks, grinning.

"We were all upset when she left us, returning home for one of her brother's wedding but also deciding not to return. We were all gathered around for our kiss, and then it was Jack's turn - long and passionate. We were cheering and airport security came rushing to find what the disturbance was about, but they were OK. But here's a bit I shall always remember, being best man eighteen months later. She said, ‘Jack if you come home within the next five years I shall marry you'."

"Oh God, how romantic. And in front of those hoons," Maggie sighed, close to weeping.

"Wrong, Maggie, we had become ‘better persons' as Ali used to say by then. Two of us were engaged, four others had steady girlfriends and Alfie from Sydney had a lovely boyfriend. Ali had sorted us all out."

"Ooh, Jack. I can now understand why you became so attached to her."

Jack nodded: "Tell Maggie how it ended."

"Jeez, Jack. She doesn't have to be told."

"Yes she does, it will clear the air and bring finality.

"Geez, Jack..."

"Please mate."

Andy looked much less relaxed now.

"Just the basic facts, Maggie. There was a truck accident on bridge over a creek near Jack and Ali's home. They had been married almost a year - three days short of the first anniversary in fact. Hearing the crash, she went to investigate, grabbing her first aid kit. The truck was teetering over the side of the bridge, the driver screaming in pain as his leg was trapped. People helping him had retreated because the freight was on fire and flames were near the vehicle's fuel tank.

"Ali rushed forward to help the driver, with people calling her back upon seeing her conditions: she was eight months' pregnant. As she passed the tray of the truck the fuel tank exploded and a piece of flying metal pierced her head. The unborn baby probably died without minutes of trauma. Jack was in Havelock North on business."

Maggie dabbed her eyes, and Andy placed an arm around her. Although terribly upset, she strived to contain it. "That was very tragic, a cruel, utterly cruel blow Jack, and she had a terrible decision to make - protecting herself and child or attending a victim in need which was her calling in life. I couldn't imagine what decision I would have made. Perhaps a few more steps further on and she would have been safe."

"Yep, I've ran it through my mind a thousand times. I finally worked it all out: Grief was poisoning my mind. I was thinking of the needless sacrifice of our baby and more my own sense of loss; but I was not thinking of Ali. It was her decision to make and she acted accordingly. You can't call a split-second release of a deadly piece of flying metal a valid reason for not acting in a humanitarian manner. As you have so rightly observed, Maggie, a step or two short or a step or two farther on and there would have been no fatalities. It was little more than a toss of the dice. She died heroically; the Coroner said that. Well, that's enough of that for day," Jack said. "Let's finish our drinks and go. You're a sensitive storyteller, Andy. A toast: "To absent friends and loved ones."

"To absent friends and loved ones," replied Maggie and Andy.

Heading back to the city Jack and Maggie scarcely spoke for a while, lost in their thoughts, though Jack did point out, "There goes another bit of farmland" as they saw earthmoving machinery ripping into pastureland where another ugly box-shaped warehouse would be erected. This one was for a European air freight forwarding specialist, tying in with a New Zealand shareholding component to take advantage of local knowledge and local expertise.

"The authorities should have preserved most of this roadside as farmland, giving incoming tourists from around the world an instant display of this country's so-called clean-green image," Maggie said sensibly.

"Good in concept, but the revenue-grabbing authorities feeding off land are aware more goes into their coffers under the various guises of land tax if the land is occupied by light manufacture ring, warehouses, car yards and motels and a little left to look pretty grazing a few dairy cattle and kids' ponies."

That cynicism left both Jack and Maggie in deep thought.

They waited at traffic lights at a major intersection and first vehicles to approach from the other side were two luxury buses filled with Japanese tourists obviously on their way to fly out. They, of course, would only have their bus driver and tour hostess to wave them goodbye once they and their luggage were queued up in the airline's check-in area.

"You feel a deep sense of loss when you say goodbye to a loved one flying away, such as Greer, don't you?"

Maggie sighed, beginning to wallow in it, but Jack blew apart that bout of self-pity, perhaps involuntarily by simply saying something he was thinking.

"That's only scratching the surface compared with the loss of a dear pregnant wife."

Jack immediately wished he hadn't said that. Knowing a great deal about the hidden sensitivities of his companion; he knew that inconsiderate would have sent a gush of shame through Maggie, leaving her mind spinning.

In a rare act of compassion towards her, Jack reached out to pat her hand but she caught his hand and squeezed it, softly saying, "I'm sorry."

Jack was sorry too, his head inclined towards banging itself on the steering wheel in a useless punitive gesture. He decided to not to apologize in fear of initiating a mindless exchange about being the one to blame. No one was to blame. These things just happen, and once uttered that was it! Instinctively he did the next best thing by not withdrawing his hand immediately after contact; only when Maggie released her grip did he gently return his left hand to the steering wheel to partner its mate.

As they cut across the city short of the central business district - taking the longer but less congested route with fewer delays at intersections, Jack asked Maggie was she still happy with her flat. She was.

"I've met the thin blonde woman a couple of times when I had to knock for you," he said. "Seems a nice young flatmate."

"Yes, she signed the rental agreement so that makes her Queen Bee, but she doesn't really take advantage of that. She is Carol, who had six months of post-wedding bliss until her husband decided he preferred her best friend who was chief bridesmaid. So she now has Tom, a ground engineer at the airport. He's a bachelor and worships her, which has repaired her ego and now she doesn't want him to leave. They have the master bedroom and we three others - Guy, Robyn and I have a bedroom each. Guy is a cheerful, slight bloke and looks after computers for a major accountancy firm. He doesn't bother trying to get a regular girl friend because he says he has more than he can handle at work - meaning sexed up women. Robyn is one of those lost souls on this earth, her standards are so high she drives nuts any bloke she manages to snare so none last long - I think the record is four dates. Carol and I are currently taking turns to accompany Robyn to professional counseling twice a week and she hates it, worried that the psychologist is trying to ‘deconstruct' her."

"Good heavens, you ought to be writing a book, ‘My Flatmates & Me'. Flat dwellers and ex-flat dwellers would stampede to buy such a book."

"I've actually started a writer's diary on that very topic but I'm sure that many others have tried to get such a book published and failed - usually you only read about flat life as a incidental to some other main theme such as "I Married Prince Charming' or ‘Finally, the Penthouse'. You'll know the kind of thing.

"I do, but what I'm getting at is to skip autobiography and jump straight into fiction. You have one sweetie like Carol - though she'll need her name upgraded - struggling to restore her faith in men. She's already known to you as a central character - and then you have a procession of people coming through the flat with all kinds of weaknesses and habits from oddball to depraved. You already have the excellent example of...what was her name?"

"Robyn."

"Yes, Robyn, also in need of a name upgrade. If you wrote it well - and knowing you I have no doubt of your ability - people would rush to buy a book about the dysfunctional people in a flat just like they imagined the one they once lived in."

"I've been trained to write facts, not lies."

"Oh, come on Maggie! You are a creative writer but your greatest edge on the field is that you have your dog."

"What are you talking about?"

"The Rottweiler."

"You bastard!"

"Steady on, allow it to sleep."

"Jack, this is me we've talking about."

"I know, calm down. Let's get back to your book."

"I not writing any fucking book."

"Oh Maggie, high color doesn't really suit you with that flaming hair. Princess Grace Kelly would never have approved."

"I think she was a little ahead of your time, Jack," Maggie said, unable to suppress a thin smile.

"I know, but my beautiful Aunt Ruth used to be always saying that when my mother was looking a touch dowdy - meaning she was wearing casual clothes and was without her face plastered in make-up, that Princess Grace would not be amused."

"Perhaps it's you who should be writing a book. But why would I want to fill my fictitious flat with a flow-through of oddball characters?"

"Because readers live their lives surrounded by cardboard cut-outs. By grabbing the right book they escape into a world they wish they lived in. So they don't want to read about a flat filled with cardboard cutouts. You used the word yourself - they want a Queen Bee - the one person who stands aloof and represents everything that is good. Then they want the rest of the flat to be a writhing, glutinous and dysfunctional family of misfits."

"Sorta like the flat from hell."

"Yes, but watch your language - ‘sorta' is a word according to Greer that you mother would not approved."

They were nearing the flat in an inner-city area, in fact within longish walking distance of their workplace.

"Why do you think I will start a book?"

"You're that sort of person, with time on your hands and possessing the skills to do it."

"Oh, that's very supportive."

"Actually, you told me."

"I did not!"

"You did, saying you've started a writer's diary."

"Oh."

"Exactly."

Maggie rubbed a finger down her nose. "What did you mean that names like Carol and Robyn would have to be, what did you call it - oh, yes - upgraded?"

"Everyone calls their daughters a name like Carol or Robyn. Readers expect more from an author than a lazy selection of name like that. Would you have read Tom Hardy's book if it had been called Carol of the Smiths? Of course not, she had to have an appealing name and be a tragic figure linking to a dying family - so you devoured Tess of the D'Urbervilles, didn't you?"

Maggie, wide-eyed with memories, nodded.

"Would you have waded though the book ‘Gone with the Wind' and remembered it evermore had the indomitable Scarlett O'Hara been named Robyn James? Of course not and so it goes. The famous British car racing driver was a great driver but Britain and the motor racing world became attracted to him from the times of his first big win because he was called Stirling Moss, not Samuel Jenks or some other name like that. Heroes and heroines are expected to have memorable names."

"Like Jane Eyre?"

"Oh, very clever, Maggie. There are exceptions to every rule, but in the case of that book remember the writer was not hidden under a so-so name like Ann Thomas. Oh no, she had the grand name of Charlotte Bronte which is why most readers of English literature invariably can recall who wrote ‘plain Jane Eyre'."

"Oh my, what a beautiful wriggle. For a moment I thought you were thwarted. Well, here were are. Like to come in and meet my dysfunctional flat mates?"

"A beautiful thought but tonight I feel shy. Some other time perhaps?"

"This Wednesday - it's my turn to cook dinner."

"Er..."

The green eyes upon him looked as though they were anticipating rejection.

"...of course. Thank you for the invitation. Casual?"

"Casual will be fine, remember we are dysfunctional. Six for 7:00?"

"Ah, a generous time for pre-dinner drinks, obviously. Excellent. Good night Mag, and I guess Greer will be in our minds tonight, and not doubt in the minds of your parents."

"Aye, good night Jack. Enjoy your Sunday paper in the morning. Go outdoors - it's going to be fine.

"How can you tell, you didn't spot TV weather this evening."

"The sunset, Jack. Where is your conviction! Sunsets are always followed by fine mornings provided you believe they will."

"A supposition from Victorian literature?"

"No, something much better. That I learned sitting on my maternal grandmother's knee. She painted landscapes and knew everything about the weather."

"Always retain profound memories, Maggie, as I am sure you do."

She walked off, turned and waved, and then walked through the open picket gate. Jack drove off wondering why she always wore trousers. Nursing an assumption that she must have bulky thighs, he'd been amazed to see on the East Cape trip that the first time she appeared to a bikini that her legs were quite magnificent, that only in the trunk was she more solid that her sister and her breasts were noticeably lively and substantial.

God, pay attention to your driving, you fool, he chastised, almost driving into a traffic island at the approach to an intersection.

After garaging the 4WD, Jack went inside and said to Ali's cat, "It will be fine in the morning, Maggie says so. But the cat was not listening; it was waiting to scoff its over-due dinner.

Pulling four chicken drumsticks from the fridge Jack dropped them into the heating pan on the hotplate and went into the walk-in pantry to get oil for the pan and rice. He emerged from the pantry humming and as he bent down to get a saucepan for the rice he reacted with surprise when realized the tune - ‘Maggie'. She had to find somebody to love her, so wondered how he could help. Could he come to love her?

Surprisingly, Jack felt the enormity of that thought. It hadn't just slivered through his mind, leaving a little hint in its wake. He flicked on the fan extractor and turned on the kitchen radio that had been Ali's bedside radio in London. He'd retained the radio, the cat, the paintings she'd liked but he was not fussed about and a few other things still about the house.

In bed that night, with the cat in its basket on the side that had been Ali's, Jack woke just before dawn, recalling he'd been dreaming about Ali and later on a dream formed around the nude figure of Maggie, lying in a bed of white flowers. He couldn't recall it being at all erotic - ah, yes, the faint sudden recall seemed to confirm that: she'd looked extremely arty.

It is usual for one to have arty dreams of people? Jack puzzled about that one for a second before slipping deeper into thought. Swinging out of bed he padded off to the toilet, wondering if it was acceptable to him to be dreaming of another woman other than Ali. Occasionally he'd do so, of course, but usually in re-runs of actual happenings. But totally nude? This was different. Was he despoiling the memory of dear Ali?

It was too early to fetch the Sunday newspaper, but Jack marched out to his chair carrying a mug of coffee plus a towel to put over the canvas, as it would be wet with dew, the warm summer nights still a little way off. He listened for the tui while the cat sat on its haunches, wiping its face with a paw, waiting to stare at the tui in this early morning ritual.

The tui was singing its message to sleepers farther down the street, but Jack knew it would soon be in the tree above him. This tui had a concert circuit schedule to maintain.

Well, picturing Maggie nude was not a calamity really. It was natural that Ali would have to yield space in his mind sometime.

"I shall always remember you, always," he said aloud, as he'd done when her cask containing the remains of the well-formed fetus inside her disappeared through the hatch at the crematorium. Jack remained grateful that the first doctor on to the accident scene had been Ali's own doctor who came to his own conclusion after examining her body on the roadside. Dr Seiko told Jack when he arrived home that he'd gone with Ali's body to the hospital to ensure that no attempt was made to remove the fetus after his finding was confirmed. He said that his patient would want her unborn child to go with her, that any chance of saving it had long passed. A surgeon arrived and he agreed with Dr Seiko.


Submitted: July 29, 2007

© Copyright 2022 Grigor McGregor. All rights reserved.

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