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.