He could still recall the night he met her.
Although to say he actually met her was perhaps an overstatement.
Patrick was having some mid-week drinks with two friends in a suburban pub. They were only there for a quick round, and were ready to leave.
It was over 30 years ago, 1990, and he was a few years into his career in accountancy. He was 25.
There weren’t many there, but another group at the bar to his right who appeared to have been there a fair bit longer than him were making quite a bit of noise.
He was struck by her appearance the moment she walked in.
Tall, platinum blonde hair, coiffed in the style of a 1950’s actress. A little like Marilyn Monroe in the scene where her dress blew out over a street vent. She looked about 25, but it was hard to say; she might have been 21. She might also have been 30.
This girl was however no voluptuous starlet. She wore a simple mid-length dress, satin top and flat pump shoes, but there was poise and class about her. Tall, thin, she was no Friday night pub girl. She was alone, clearly out of her milieu. And it wasn’t a Friday night.
Her complexion was alabaster. No eye make-up, her stark red lipstick being the only aspect of her that was anything but understated.
The group of blokes at the bar were suddenly silent. Watching intently the incongruous woman who had ventured into their local.
Walking directly to the cigarette machine, she fumbled for loose change from her purse. It was an era where you could still buy a packet of smokes with coins.
Unable to find enough money to use the machine she approached the bar to get change.
“Hi there! Can we buy you a drink?” one of the group said.
“No thank you, I just need change for the machine” she said quietly, politely, not looking their way.
The barman returned with a round of their drinks, and as he was taking their cash from the counter, the same man ordered a champagne “for the lady”.
Obviously uncomfortable, and clearly not having intended to be in the pub for a moment longer than it took to get cigarettes, she waited for the barman to return and give her change from her ten dollar note.
By the time he did, there was a glass of champagne in front of her. She ignored it and went quickly to the machine.
It was, however, out of order. Noticing her situation, the barman said he could get her cigarettes from out the back. She thanked him, giving the name of the brand she wanted.
I took some time. She looked at the champagne, then the men, and took a hesitant sip.
“I wasn’t intending to have a drink, but thank you anyway”.
Her voice was soft, difficult to hear in the pub. It had a tinge of an English accent about it.
Patrick’s friends had now left, but he was entranced. He would stay for one more, he thought. Just why, he didn’t know. He’d heard a voice like that before somewhere back in time, but he couldn’t place it. She somehow didn’t sound or look like a Perth girl.
The cigarettes were taking a long time.
Patrick pretended to look away, ostensibly at the football starting on the TV. He was however, from a distance, hanging on every word.
One of the men introduced himself.
She declined a hand-shake, took a token sip of her drink, and looked down at her purse.
It wasn’t a gaudy ostentatious designer job. Just a simple tapestry carpetbag material, subtle like herself, Patrick thought.
“Here we go, your Winfield Red, Ma’m” said the barman who had suddenly materialised.
“Actually, it was Blue I wanted” she said softly, but with a degree of disappointment. The barman disappeared again.
“You here for a few?” one of the men said.
“No just ran out of cigarettes. On my way home,” she said, still looking at her purse.
“Live far from here?”.
“No, South Perth”. She seemed however to immediately regret divulging that piece of information.
Patrick’s ears pricked up. He lived in South Perth.
“Right! So you don’t have to be worrying about drink driving then!” The others laughed.
“So what’s your name?”
“Leisel,” she said, hesitantly.
It was hardly what they were expecting, but they nodded.
“And is that your car, the diesel green Golf? Personalised plates?”. he said pointing through the window.
“Yes it is”, she said, apparently taken aback.
“Leisel’s Diesel!” he quipped. The others laughed heartily. She didn’t.
Much to her obvious relief, the barman finally returned with the correct cigarettes. She paid for them, politely thanked the men, picked up her purse and left without finishing her drink or looking back.
As she walked past Patrick, she reflexively looked at him, turning right on the way to the door.
Her deep blue eyes, which he noted then for the first time, were locked with his for a fleeting second.
“Thank you,” she said as he moved out of her way. Then she was gone.
Unobtrusively as he could, he watched out the window as she lit a cigarette she had placed in an ivory cigarette holder, got into her car and drove off. To say she had captured his attention was an understatement. There was something extraordinary about what he had just seen. And what he had just felt.
He finished his beer slowly, ignoring the football, looking blankly at the array of bottles on the shelves behind the bar. Something had moved in him. He wasn’t sure what, or why, but it had.
* * * * *
At home that night, Patrick had difficulty sleeping.
Although inherently shy by nature, he’d met and casually dated attractive girls before. Pretty girls who he had fancied physically. He had also taken out other girls he had admired and respected in different ways for their talents and intellect. But this was different. Just why, he was completely unsure. It wasn’t as if he had even actually even met her. As ridiculous as it seemed, he felt that something inside him had somehow just changed.
* * * * *
Patrick Connolly had had a number of seminal moments over the years. Moments that had shaped his consciousness at the time, although none of them had previously involved a relationship with a woman.
Despite having chosen the relatively dry and clinical vocation of commerce, his true love had always been history. Patrick was, despite his best attempts to suppress it, a melancholic and romantic at heart.
Whilst he liked the steady money of his job and the fascinating challenge of beating the Taxman, it wasn’t him. It was, from his perspective, soul-less. But until he really worked himself out, he didn’t mind it, it would do for the time being.
And he did have soul, he knew it. There were moments that had struck him deeply over the years, particularly when he was travelling as a student in the mid 1980’s.
For some unaccountable reason he reflected on some of those that night.
Visiting the Tower of London had moved him. In a similar way the Palace of Versailles in Paris captivated him.
In New York he had made his way to the site of John Lennon’s assassination, the very spot. A long time Beatles adherent, this was a Mecca for him. It was a moment he had never, and could never, forget.
Lying in bed that night, Patrick was in no doubt that Leisel, whoever she was, whatever she was, had got to him.
* * * * *
Driving to work early one morning a few weeks later, he saw the car. The green Golf diesel. Personalised plates.
Parked outside a very large block of high rise flats. There was no mistaking it. It had to be her place.
He pulled over and had a closer look. He could see the car park number stencilled on the bitumen: 909. The address was also conspicuously displayed; 11 Mill Point Road.
As he pulled back onto the road he pushed the CD back into the player. The Let It Be album. Track 11 flashed onto the LED display.
“My baby’s travelling on the one after 909,” John Lennon sang. Patrick loved that album and it was never far from his player, although it had to be said that that particular track was probably one of the least memorable.
In his head the address Unit 909, 11 Mill Point Road was already rotating before the realisation of the symmetry of the track and the song lyrics set in.
Move over once, mover over twice
Come on baby don’t be cold as ice…
My baby’s travelling on the one after 909…
Track 11. Really? He had to do a double take, but there it was. He played it again before ejecting it and pondering intently over the coincidence of the address, the song, and the unworldly girl with the retro hair.
Patrick arrived at work in the city, bought a coffee on the street. He sat on a street bench outside his office deep in thought and wondered what to do.
Clearly he wanted to see her again. But how? He knew nothing about her. Had never met her. Had no phone number.
Could he knock on her door one day? Go to the 9thfloor at 11 Mill Point Road and introduce himself? Hardly. To what end? Could he leave her a note? What would he say? Brand himself as some sort of creepy stalker?
There was no possible way that sort of contact was going to happen. It just wasn’t him. Whatever the answer was, if there was one, it was currently eluding him.
Patrick consoled himself that it would pass. Whatever serendipity there might have been by them coming into each other’s orbit, it meant nothing. He would convince himself of it in due course, he argued. It would go away.
* * * * *
But it didn’t go away.
Every morning as he drove past that building, the green car was there. Most evenings it was there as well. Who was she? What was her story? What was she doing?
Leisel. The name was always in his mind. On his lips. Burning into his psyche.
Patrick considered a different route to work. But he somehow couldn’t manage it. Beside being inconvenient, he needed to see that car. Every day. It was beginning to consume him.
On some nights he would see her parking the Golf, going to the complex letter box. Always alone.
As tempted as he was to park and watch until the light came on in the 9thfloor flat, he didn’t. He even considered driving back there late at night, to look for a sign of a man visiting. But he resisted. Just.
* * * * *
In the course of his job, Patrick did a lot of bush trips. Giving tax advice and preparing returns for farmers, miners and local government authorities who were clients of his firm.
He was never away that long, usually a just couple of days at a time. Staying at small country pubs or motels on his own, he had plenty of time to think.
At night he would do some work, watch TV, read a little. Have a few beers. But the last thing on his mind before he went to sleep every night, as much as he tried avoid it, was flat 909.
* * * * *
One day whilst picking up a newspaper in the local newsagency in Mount Magnet, he saw a display of postcards depicting the local sights, such as they were. He bought one. A picture of an old mineshaft. “Greetings from Mt Magnet,” it said.
A short time later as he ate his sandwich at an outdoor pergola in the park, he addressed the card:
11 Mill Point Road
South Perth 6025
But what to say? “From a secret admirer?” Hardly. He settled on a line from the last song he had played on his car CD.
I’d like to be
Under the sea
In an Octopus’s Garden
He looked at it for a while, picturing the look on her face as she retrieved it from the letter box. It pleased him.
He stopped in at the post office, bought a stamp and posted it.
For some reason he couldn’t fathom, he felt an odd sense of satisfaction. In a way, he had made the connection he had been longing for, though it would mean nothing whatsoever to her. But at last some, there was some sort of spring in his step.
* * * * *
In Geraldton a few weeks later, he bought another card. He actually couldn’t wait to do it:
Something in the way
Attracts me like no other lover…
Whilst he would never see her reaction, and there was no prospect of her ever knowing who had sent it, the sense of satisfaction as he licked the stamp and sent it down post office chute gave him more than a serious frisson of excitement. He felt like a mischievous child.
A few weeks later in Broome, sitting at a bar overlooking a summer storm develop over Cable Beach, he decided on the two lines:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night…
Take these broken wings and learn to fly…
On a later trip to the Goldfields, at a pub in Coolgardie he wrote some lines from Golden Slumbers on Abbey Road.
Once there was a way…
To get back homeward…
Once there was a way…
To get back home…
In an awful motel room in Leonora, he went to Lucy in the Sky from Sergeant Pepper’s:
In a boat on a river
With tangerine trees
And marmalade skies…
In a dull moment at a Field Day in Narrogin he sent a card saying simply:
Jai Guru Deva
Now that was a little more obscure, he thought, smiling to himself, using a line from Across the Universe on the Let it Be album.
* * * * *
As the months went by, Patrick imagined he might tire of the exercise. He didn’t. The excitement he got from licking the stamp, and posting the card each time in fact became almost addictive.
One evening, passing the block of flats, he saw her pulling in to the parking bay. He slowed down and nervously found a discrete vantage point, only about 50 meters away, knowing that in all probability the card he had posted a two days previously from Albany was awaiting her.
He’d thought twice about this one. Abbey Road.
I want you.
I want you so bad …
It’s driving me mad…
It’s driving me mad….
Whilst all the previous ones had been playful, mischievous, obscure, this one had an element of desperation to it. On one view, it was almost stalkerous.
But after hesitating momentarily at the post office, he had sent it anyway.
Then in the half light he saw her, platinum hair almost luminescent in the carpark lights, taking the card out of the mailbox with a couple of other items. She ignored the other envelopes as she stood still and read it. Pausing to look at the words, the picture, the post mark.
For a moment he was filled with apprehension. Would she discard it? Rip it up?
He watched intently as she appeared to dwell on it. Taking far longer than it would to digest the message, before placing it in her handbag, the other mail remaining in her hand.
She moved toward the door, pausing to deposit the other items in the bin.
At that moment, Patrick felt a sense of victory. She obviously wasn’t taking them as a nuisance. Just what she was making of them he would never know, but he felt buoyed by the mere fact that the mysterious girl of his fantasy was actually reading them, possibly even keeping them.
* * * * *
The months went by, he sent more cards. Bunbury, Narrogin, Wubin, Bencubbin and more.
Lines from the White Album. Some early songs like Love Me Do and some more obscure ones from Happiness is a Warm Gun. He never ran out of inspiration. And surprisingly he never tired of it.
From farm visit in Mukinbudin he dared to write:
Of course there was no prospect of them ever coming together. But as usual, the mere thought of her reading it satisfied him immensely.
On his return to Perth he continued to regularly drive past the flats of an evening, but disappointingly never again saw her going to the mailbox.
But her car was still always there of a morning. And usually of an evening.
He sometimes returned to the scene of his first seeing her at the pub, but as anticipated she was never there. He just couldn’t help himself.
* * * * *
The following winter his application for an interstate job was successful.
Brisbane seemed like a good change, and he took it.
He quickly settled in, but all the time still wondering about the unusual girl, ruminating over whether he should resume his bizarre and nebulous postcard relationship.
In the end he decided against it. It had been exciting, but the whole ruse probably had to end with his departure from Perth. He was also based in the Brisbane CBD and didn’t have to travel to other parts of Queensland.
He toyed with the prospect of one last card. He mentally pored over what song it might include. Like a painter agonising over one last stroke of the brush to a completed landscape.
He also flirted with other ideas like title searches, vehicle registration checks. He knew people he could get to do that sort of thing. But he decided against it. The prospect of cruelling the glorious uncertainty in which he had basked for so long was not worth the risk of uncovering something that he didn’t want know if it didn’t accord with his longstanding reveries.
Finally Patrick determined it was finished. No more cards. He would leave the portrait as it was. His lasting thoughts were of her wondering when the next card might come, and of her returning home of an evening, visiting an empty mailbox.
He had savoured each posting, and the mental image of the luminescent woman receiving each card on what had become at least a fortnightly basis, the notion of her pondering, possibly agonising over why it had ended, was enduringly titillating.
At night however he still couldn’t avoid his reveries of her, the tall, thin, art deco woman with the porcelain complexion, the unfashionably lacquered hair, the long flowing shiny silk skirts and blouses. He even on occasions imagined her undressing at night, fantasising about how she might review the cards, perhaps naked on her bed after a shower.
The prospect that there might have been someone else in her life was something that was never part of his fantasy. Whilst it did fleetingly occur to him from time to time, he was able to compartmentalise that issue and not let it interfere with the images of her and the cards.
* * * * *
In Brisbane life was good, his job more than comfortable. He made new friends, came to know new places; the Gold Coast, the Hinterland.
He resisted the temptation to return home, even at Christmas. His apologies to his parents in that regard were invariably accepted on the basis that his work was probably more important in the short term.
The prospect of driving past the block of units on Mill Point Road and perhaps seeing the green Golf missing was not something he was prepared to deal with just yet. Or worse, the vision of Leisel (he rarely used the name in his reveries of her, the image being so powerful that it didn’t need a name to ignite it) with another man was also something he didn’t want to intellectually or emotionally contemplate.
The Brisbane social scene was kind to him, and he enjoyed it. There was no shortage of good pubs, cafés and restaurants by the river. He joined friends at the ‘Gabba for AFL or cricket when the WA teams were playing.
Women came and went. He was hardly looking for a relationship, but that didn’t seem to be an impediment to him being able to secure casual dalliances when the mood took him. Physically he was with them, but the images of the woman with whom he had never shared any form of intimate encounter, nor even any single word of conversation, operated as a silent barrier to any serious liaison.
* * * * *
Eventually the prospect of a second Christmas away from home was something he couldn’t justify to his parents. As much as he had become settled and happy in Brisbane, he accepted a job managing the new Perth office of his firm and moved back home.
He’d done well, saved money. He had no regrets. The stock market had been kind and he was looking forward to resuming his old life in his hometown; possibly buying his own place on the river. In the meantime, he’d go back to his old rental.
Flying into Perth airport late at night, he craned his neck looking for the lights of the old Brewery and the Narrows Bridge. He thought, fleetingly, that he could see the apartment block that had so often permeated his thoughts, but he wasn’t sure. His imagination, or the alcohol, was probably playing tricks, he conceded.
He directed the cabbie to take a detour on the way home. It wasn’t far out of the way. Nothing had changed at the units. It was about three am on a Thursday night, so the car would certainly be there, he thought. If, of course, she still lived there.
He told the driver to slow down as they passed by, the car park was still semi lit up but there was no sign of the car. The car.
He asked the bemused taxi driver to turn around and go past again. He knew her spot. The end one on the front row. A chill came over him as he saw a different vehicle there. A large Range Rover. It couldn’t be hers, he thought.
He asked the driver to go past again, more slowly. He could see a baby seat in the back of the vehicle. The momentary relief of knowing that the car wasn’t that of a lover was quickly erased by the realisation she probably didn’t live there anymore.
Despite the fatigue of the long flight and the lateness of the hour, when he eventually got back to his empty unit, Patrick slept restlessly.
Over the next few weeks, try as he might, his route to the city would, as it had two years before, inevitably encompass a drive by the apartment block. Maybe she was on holidays? Perhaps changed flats or been allocated another carpark?
But there was no sign of the green Golf. No sign of her.
He tried to anticipate the time when she might have been coming home. Thought back to the times when he had stumbled across her after work. Nothing.
Eventually he gave up. Resigned to the fact that the mystery of Leisel was something that needed to be consigned to history. Despite the intermittent but recurring visions that he could never seem to erase, not that he wanted to, he accepted, reluctantly, that needed to move on.
* * * * *
Patrick was able to slip almost seamlessly back into his old life in Perth. Same pubs, cafes, same mates, although a number of them were starting to settle down, marriage, kids, the usual things.
He even managed to keep his trips past the apartment block to a minimum despite being somehow, almost magnetically drawn back there. He came to the realisation, this was probably an aberration he would always have to live with.
One Saturday night after a Bucks Party at the Casino a group of five of them, all single, were having last drunken drinks at a massive suite they had booked into for the night, after a long dinner at the Chinese restaurant and an even longer session at the gaming tables. They had surprisingly done pretty well, despite their significant lack of sobriety.
The conversation turned from tall tales of their best previous punting wins to an open challenge to recount the strangest one night stand they had ever had.
Derek, the groom to be, discreetly refused to be drawn on the subject, but some of the others joined in enthusiastically.
Nick the car salesman recounted a bondage story about a legal secretary by whom he’d been taken home a few years back.
Michael, the somewhat reserved school teacher, described an encounter with a middle aged divorcee who had a house by the beach, which was going well until he discovered that he was going to have to share his night of passion, and the bed, with her six cats.
Simon the ex-footballer told the story of how he’d been commandeered by a garrulous redhead after the grand final. He’d passed out on the drive back to her place, waking up the next morning 100km away in a suburb of Bunbury.
Patrick, not having anything which really compared, but not wanting to disappoint, felt compelled to invent a story about having to escape out a second storey window when the husband arrived unexpectedly the next morning. Something he’d read in a magazine somewhere. It was bullshit, and probably was seen as such by the others, though they didn’t say so.
That only left James, who wasn’t really part of their regular group and who seemed somewhat reluctant. He was English, conservative in both dress and attitude, a hedge fund manager for a multi-national bank and only been in Perth a year or so. He was also improbably good looking, a little like some-one out of a ‘90s British chick-flick movie.
“Okay”, he said, after some serious cajoling. “I will tell you this, but it can’t go any further. It could land me in trouble. But I assure you it is true”.
There was a girl, about six months ago. Unusual girl, tall, stately, looked like Betty Grable, or Lauren Bacall in Key Largo, that sort of thing. Paler than anyone I’ve ever seen in Australia; a ‘Sloane Ranger’, as we would call them in London. Beautiful. Curious.
The other men were suddenly listening, as he continued to speak in his cultured London accent, putting out their cigarettes and sharing around the bottle of whiskey. This didn’t seem to be a laughing story, somehow.
“We’d been having a midweek winter dinner at Perrugino in West Perth. End of the financial year. She had come in late, alone, around 10.30pm.
The manager and the staff all seemed to know her. She didn’t have to say anything; they knew her, knew her order. They had her champagne at the table immediately.
My party all left shortly after she arrived, before I’d finished my Cognac. As I went to get my coat she looked at me. There was no-one else left in the whole place”.
Patrick sat very still.
“She asked if I would like to join her, so I did. All she had to eat was a dozen natural oysters. Some triangles of buttered bread. And a bottle of champagne. She beckoned for another glass and poured me a drink. Mumm, I think.
“She again looked over in the direction of the waiter, gesturing to a packet of cigarettes she had produced from her purse, and remarkably he brought over an ashtray. She obviously held a special position at that place. Anyone else would have, I assume, been booted out for lighting up.
“She smoked the cigarette from an ivory holder, never seen that before”.
“We exchanged pleasantries, little more. She seemed to know I was English, and somehow guessed I was in finance Maybe she had recognised some of my colleagues before they left.
“To cut a long story short, she asked if I’d like to come back to her place for a night-cap.
I wasn’t driving that night. She had a car, a little green Golf”.
“We went back to her place, somewhere in South Perth, near the river. A unit in a block of flats, the top floor as I recall.”
No-one spoke. Usually in a situation like this, the like of which he had been in before, there would have been bawdy laughter. Ribald interjections. But not a word was said as the Englishman moved through his story.
“We went inside and she went straight to a cupboard and produced a bag of cocaine. Drew two lines on the living room table. We took it through some small plastic straws. It was, I have to say, very good cocaine.
“She asked if I was interested in staying the night. I agreed and she went off to get changed.
“I looked around the place. It was simple, uncluttered, tasteful. Great views.
“There was however, a silver bowl on the table, full of postcards.”
Patrick was now almost apoplectic, his heart racing. Sweating. Still he said nothing.
“The cards were all in the same hand. Postmarks from everywhere you can imagine around the State. The messages were all short, didn’t seem to make much sense, lines from songs.
“She called me into the bedroom. I didn’t, of course, mention the cards. The whole thing was as strange as she was.
I left early in the morning, flagging a cab near the Freeway. We had exchanged little more than our first names the whole time”.
A silence ensued in the room. The story could have ended there, but James continued.
“She didn’t give me her number and I hadn’t asked. I suspect she probably wouldn’t have anyway.
“I spent some time over the next week digesting the whole situation. Whether I would see her again. Whether I wanted to, in fact. The night had been so surreal. In the end I had to. She was probably the most intriguing woman I’d ever met, not to mention, in an odd way, one of the most beautiful…
“I went back to the units. It was a Wednesday night. Quite late. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Maybe buzz her unit from the foyer. I hadn’t really thought it through.
“I was planning to park outside, but as I got there the whole area was cordoned off. Police, ambulances, lights, the lot. I figured that any re-connection would have to wait. I certainly didn’t connect any of the chaos to her,” James sighed.
“The next day I saw a news article about a girl who had died of a drug overdose. In South Perth. Not that that sort of thing might usually make the news, but the report said the deceased woman had been on remand for being complicit in a major drug importation…
The name under the photo in the paper wasn’t the one she had given me, but there was no doubt. It was her…”
“So that was that?” Simon said, after a protracted silence.
“Yes, that was that…” James responded.
Patrick initially remained still. Then instinctively got up, like an automaton, silently collected his gear from the bedroom and left. He gave no excuses, he was incapable.
The other men looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders. Derek opened another bottle of Scotch. It had been an interesting night.
* * * * *
Patrick caught a cab from the front of the Casino. His thoughts were ragged. Convoluted. His gait was unsteady. He sensed the early morning punters and security staff were looking at him as he left. He just needed to be out of there, to be alone.
At around 4.00am, Patrick arrived home. Poured himself some more Scotch. It didn’t stop his shaking. He sat on his couch, bewildered, staring into the wall. Sleep was not an option.
At around 6.00am, he made the decision to drive to the units.
The whole place was virtually in darkness.
He stood on the verge and looked up at the top floor. There were no lights on. Despite knowing now a little more about the mystery of unit 909, he was in reality none the wiser; about himself and about the haunting woman who he now knew to be long dead.
He stood there transfixed, glancing intermittently at the car bay which was now vacant, the dim foyer light, and again at the upper level. He didn’t move for what must have been the best part of an hour.
Eventually he turned slowly and trudged back to his car. To the east over the Causeway bridge and the Casino the early light of dawn was beginning to break on the Darling Scarp.
A song came to him at that moment, racing graphically through his head. The flickering opening acoustic guitar notes of a song:
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun…
And I say,
It’s all right…
* * * * *