Phil and I sit beneath huge umbrellas, mine forest green, his red and white check – as jolly as the tablecloths sometimes found in Italian restaurants. We are drinking weak coffee from a thermos and eating squares of dark chocolate.
The park is deserted due to the heavy rain except for several sea gulls bobbing in puddles and the occasional avid dog walker. The water shimmers in the bay, scrunched like cellophane, churning and grey.
I laugh at a dog, sliding in the mud, barking at pools of water split by raindrops and turn to see if Phil has noticed. He is weeping, silently, wiping at his face roughly as if afraid of discovery. His wife has left. His love. His world for twenty years.
On a day like this, with rain like this, you’d think the day would be washed clear, but it is smudged, mirky. Ink blot clouds cast shadows that render the landscape forlorn, haunted.
Phil is a builder, a football nut, and a music buff. He owns his own home outright and is a great father to his two children. A few years ago he gave up working full-time so he and his sister could share the care of their mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. His wife, Junie, agreed to the drop in income initially but when she was given a promotion at work her attitude slowly began to change.
She began to compare Phil to the men she worked with – movers and shakers in the world of finance – who as Phil says, would sell their grandmother for a buck. Instead of being repelled by the materialistic ethos they inhabited she was attracted by it, entranced.
Junie and Phil began to grow apart. She started to work longer and longer hours and took to sleeping in the guest room. ‘I have never felt so alone as when Junie was sleeping in the other room,’ Phil said. ‘It was torture.’
Two weeks ago Junie left. Moving in with an older man who has a waterfront home and a vintage car collection. He has bought her a Porsche Carrera and is taking her to his holiday house in Bali. She has made it clear to Phil that it is a relief to be with a man who is so well-off, so motivated to succeed. Phil feels disillusioned, having thought that paying off his house and ensuring his mother doesn’t have to go into care, is, in fact quite a good measure of success.
‘She wanted me to renovate the house – granite benchtops in the kitchen, recessed lighting, a Japanese garden; but I like it the way it is. She wanted the kids to go to private schools and learn the cello. She wanted me to get my teeth whitened. Suddenly, all that I was, wasn’t enough. How can that be?’
A wind hisses like snakes at our feet. The day has grown too cold to just sit. Phil built me a raised garden once. Long ago, in my old house. The bricks were the colour of caramel. I planted Australian natives in that garden in greens the colour of seaglass.
When I had to leave that garden behind every time I saw Phil I felt a little tug in my chest like mourning or apology. I didn’t want to leave it but there was nothing I could do. Phil built a similar garden for himself. It even had a little bird house where honeyeaters had morning and afternoon tea. I wondered if Junie felt a sense of mourning or apology when she left that garden behind.
The rain swoops like birds. The fabric on our umbrellas bends. I drop my last piece of chocolate in the mud. The gulls jostle over it.
There is a lot to be mended on a day like today. It is full of uncertainties that cannot be denied. Thoughts hang like torn curtains dragging on the floor. Phil smiles as we cross the street, his characteristic wry grin. He takes my hand then leaves. Children in a passing car glance at his umbrella, pointing and laughing. It cheers him, I can tell. He laughs and twirls it, strutting as if in a parade. My heart soars. There is no gloom around him, only light as he walks down the road that leads to the sea.
Your friends are very lucky to have you in their life Selma. I feel sorry for Junie if her measure of a person is how much money they have, where they live, what car they drive, how much they can buy her. Sounds like Phil deserves a lot more and hopefully one day he will meet someone who will love him just for who he is.
Selma, your reader, Gypsy has said it best. I would only add that your telling of this story was quite elegant; I loved the imagery–the waves”crumpled like cellophane..”
and your last words, with Phil walking away…. I hope Phil does not let this “define” him. I feel nothing but pity for his (ex)wife.
I think Phil is going to get through this, with a little/lot of help from his friends. He is indeed lucky to have you for a friend Selma.
I think his wife will come to regret her decision but when all is said and done, these thoughts/desires have been a part of her being all along, haven’t they? Phil sounds like the kind of guy that deserves much better. He will find the right one. G
Everyone has said it well. I do feel for Phil and the kids. But in the end, maybe he can find someone who appreciate him as his friends do.
Superb post , superbly put.
GYPSY – I feel sorry for Junie too – she’s got it wrong, but what alarms me is I see it happening more and more – this obsession with money and status. I don’t know if you see it as much in Adelaide but in Sydney it is becoming a bit over the top. It worries me a bit.
LISA – to be called ‘elegant’ is such a compliment. Awww, you have made my day. I am delighted. I don’t think Phil will let this define him. (I hope not.) He is a fighter and despite the fact he is hurting now I think Junie’s change of heart was not totally unexpected. I’ll keep an eye on him. So will a lot of other people. Ironically, it is Junie who ends up somewhat ‘alone.’
GERALDINE – you hit the nail on the head. Junie has been like that all along. Isn’t it amazing how many people who have so little in common, end up together? I see it all the time. I remember when I was a teenager learning about dating and so on and people went on and on about ‘opposites attracting.’ I think that should be taken out of the dating guidebook because it gives people a false sense of what they should be looking for in a partner. Similar interests and a shared philosophy on life are what’s kept me married for nearly 18 years.
NAT- he is a bit of a catch, actually. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble meeting someone else at all. Now that would be fantastic.
IAIN – nice to hear from you. Thanks so much for visiting.
god that was wonderful.. sometimes when i am here reading i never want the story to end.. and this line,, was sheer brilliance: Thoughts hang like torn curtains dragging on the floor.
oh how i wish i had written that!!
One day Junie will realize her error – it can’t last long. The luxuries are all nice and stuff but there is no point if you don’t have a family to share it with. I think Phil will recover and he will be happier in the end.
By the way Selma, you write it so beautifully. I was imagining the whole thing as if it was happening right in front of me.
PAISLEY – you know I have read so many things you have written and thought: ‘Boy, she can write. I wish I’d written that.’ I think it’s because I recognise part of myself in you. I am so pleased you like that image. After I wrote it I thought :’Hey, that’s not too bad.’ I hope we can continue to inspire each other for a long time to come!
THEFORCEFIELD – thank you so much for stopping by. I completely agree with you. A diamond ring is just a diamond ring after all. It doesn’t keep you warm at night. I pray you are right about Phil. He really deserves to be happy!
ROSHAN – thank you so much. You are always so kind to me. 😀
I assumed that this was fiction, but in reading the comments, I understand that it is a slice of real life. I like some of the images that you use — the ones that pull me out of the safety of a fictive space. I can tell that words mean a lot to you, and that you really thrive when you are writing.
You know, I visit you each week, but I have a hard time reading long things on the screen. I often read a few paragraphs and then move on. Today I learned how to magnify the text. We’ll see how that works.
CAROLINE – it is always a pleasure to hear from you. I didn’t realise you had trouble reading the text. I do ramble on a bit too. Let me see what I can do from my end. No matter what -I am glad to hear from you. Take care of yourself.
I, too, have known people like Junie. Don’t they know the best things in life are free?
I wish the best to Phil and hope he’s able to get on with his life fairly quickly. I’m glad he has a friend like you.
Beautifully written. Your friends are indeed lucky to count you as a blessing (I know I do). Phil will be ok, once the shock wears off. I wonder how the kids are doing through all this. Do they think they’re lucky to have access to so many material things through their mother’s new friend, or do they deeply respect their father, the man who has taken care of them and their grandmother so well, with love and patience?
I can understand security, and longing to be sure that you’ll always have a place to live and food on the table, but there is a point where it isn’t security anymore, it becomes excess. It’s hard when people can no longer tell the two apart.
My parents were raised during the depression and they find it difficult to not look at the material value of anything, everything, and everyone. When I married LOTM, my mother said she was relieved that he’d be able to take care of me. But I understand where she is coming from on this point. When she was young, there were many missed meals due to lack of food and money.
Still, I wonder just how secure Junie really feels, living with a man who doesn’t think twice about helping to break up a family…
That was very well written. Phil sounds like the kind hearted man any woman would be lucky to have. I cannot fanthom why anyone would not be able to see that.
Re your comment; I read The Book Thief last year and agree it was excellent. That was a very good suggestion! I do have it bookmarked as a “read again”, but I sort of feel like that is cheating :P. I reserved a book about peak oil, which I am sure will scare the pants off me, and the author’s name starts with a Z (although it escapes me now…).
EMPLOYEE – the best things in life are definitely free. No doubt at all. It’s a shame people like Junie can’t see that.
KAREN – you are also a blessing in my life. Thank you. The kids are bewildered. They have put up with their mother undermining their father for years and now she leaves the entire family for a wealthy guy. On the one hand they have their father telling them that it’s the person who is most important, but on the other hand they have their mother telling them that money is the most important thing.. Sheesh. I agree with you about Junie’s security. At the back of her mind she must know – money can’t buy you love.
LAURA – thanks for stopping by. I would love to hear what books you had on your list. I was trying to think of an author whose name started with ‘Q’ the other day but could come up with nothing. I would also be terrified reading a book about peak oil. Talk about a sobering subject. So good to hear from you.