Till Apples Grow on an Orange Tree


Extract

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It had not taken long to discover bohemia was the front bar of the Newcastle Hotel. From the moment Chloe and I pushed our way into the noisy, tobacco-saturated, overheated crush we knew that Neutral Bay could never claim us again.

Looking back, it seems laughable that the front bar of Jim Buckley's pub could have held such allure for two such sassy girls; that we could have dressed up with so much excitement every Friday evening to hang off the conversation of ageing males who talked about horseracing and other matters of utter banality.

I exaggerate.

Some men did talk of politics, but not the kind we could recognise; they talked with great seriousness about the ideas of John Anderson which we affected to understand, even though it bored us rigid. Other men, not quite so old, talked about films. American films. That was worth our attention. Wild Strawberries went out the door. We became students of the films of Jerry Lewis.

Not all the men I met in the Newcastle were old.

Duncan came to the pub with one of the Anderson disciples. He was only twenty-three. Tall and slender with skin that tanned to honey and a thatch of dark blond hair above clear blue eyes, he was wonderfully handsome. At least that is how I remember him. I have no photos of Duncan.

I'd never met his like before, an English aristocrat of sorts; an Honourable. He had a job as a postman, of all things. I don't believe they quite knew what to do with him at the GPO. Lord Dungfungus Macgregor was the nickname they gave him, as well as providing him with the world's most attractive postal run: twice a day he would saunter from the Art Gallery through the Botanical Gardens to the State Library, stopping to read and sunbake on the various park benches.

Rather than infuriate, Duncan's languid haughtiness encouraged indulgence in everyone: employers, shopkeeper, bus conductors, pawnbrokers.

Me? I was in love with him. Light-headed. Absorbed. Beguiled.

Almost from the first moment we met in the crush of the front bar, no-one else existed beyond he and I in the hothouse enclave we created about ourselves.

It was Duncan who showed me the dilapidated grandeur of the Glebe, his aristocratic eye seeing the original Victorian elegance where I saw only poverty and squalor. We found a ground floor apartment near Jubilee Park, in a dilapidated old house in Allen Street divided into apartments, and we moved in to whitewash the walls and paint the floor boards and brighten the gloom with bold posters of Roy Lichtenstein.

POW! WOW! BAM! We two were the universe.

Oh, the giddy, erotic intoxication of love at nineteen: dreamy afternoons with every nerve end tuned to the sound of his key in the lock; sexual games with a coercive edge I had not yet learnt to name; a sure sense that my life would radiate with bliss for ever.

Chloe hovered on the edge of my firmament trying to shake off the terrible ordinariness of life in Neutral Bay where she was still marooned. Had I cared enough, or been less self-satisfied, I would have seen desperation in her increasingly loopy behaviour, but at nineteen I didn't have a name for that either.

She drank too much, with too much abandon. She was forever falling into bed with some dishevelled lout picked up at a folk club or a party and she seemed to actually court men's disrespect; to relish their gross put-downs. I couldn't see what she was playing at in her dreary black dresses and her affectations about being a witch. What had been vague melancholy was turning into self-abuse and fatalism which I thought neither interesting nor avant garde.

I had tried to keep her away from Duncan. He had a poor opinion of Australian women and I knew that he'd be displeased with Chloe's occult babble or her obsession with the moon.

I was wrong about that. He liked Chloe as it turned out. She had an unusually fine mind, he said. She looked like she had just stepped out of a painting by Burne Jones. The Pre-Raphelites were his particular passion.

So I let her attach herself to us. Our fey shadow.



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