The End of the Affair

March 13, 2009 at 1:27 am (Uncategorized)

Our neighbours have split up, or are splitting up, and it’s a bummer. We’ve been living side by side on the ground floor of our apartment block for over four brilliant years. R is the other owner/occupier; both the upstairs apartments are rented. M is his girlfriend (shit – I just heard what sounded like a small car crash… and I’m going to resist the ghoulish urge to go and have a look), and she’s moving, it seems, back to China. 

M has been here as long as we have, but she’s significantly younger than R and about an eighth his size. R is a big, slow moving man, a retired tradie who plays a lot of golf and follows the cricket and Rugby League. He’s a top bloke, just a really nice older guy and an awesome neighbour. He sticks his head over our courtyard wall whenever he’s coming home sloshed and we’re still sitting out there entertaining friends, and though we always invite him to join us for a drink, he has the grace to decline. In other words, he wants to say g’day, but he knows we didn’t invite him to dinner, so he leaves us to it with a friendly wave and the occasional burst of jocular abuse. I like R very much, maybe especially because we’ve seen him at his most vulnerable. We came home once to find him passed out on our doorstep, drunk as a lord, locked out of his apartment, and  determinedly unconscious. Forget trying to move the man. At that point he was as permanent a feature of the landscape as Ayers Rock, an absolutely immovable dead weight that could not be roused. Eventually we stepped over him, went inside for a blanket, and left him there, where he slept soundly for a couple more hours before finally gaining entry to his own home and bed. How could this fail to endear the man to you? I found it adorable. He looked so snug. 

M is a really early riser. She’s been our wake-up call too many times to name, her dawn alarm enough to strip paint on sound waves alone, since their backdoor slides open with all the silky ease of heavy artillery fire. It jolts us awake like we’re being attacked in our bed. All a bit violent, really, but M herself is pint sized and cherry-on-top sweet. She skips. I mean it. She actually skips. She also does that distinctly Asian and quite perplexing thing of collecting stuffed toys and displaying them along the back window of R’s car. It’s really crowded back there – everyone’s coming along for the ride. The whole zoo. I don’t get it, but the thought of these animal toys not being there anymore makes me unbearably sad. Is she moving the entire collection back to China? You’d assume so. Heartbreaking! 

She and R had this little ritual (pass the tissues, I am really getting emotional) of walking to one of the cafes around the corner for a coffee every evening at dusk. They are – were – an odd couple physically, no doubt about it, but the sight of R walking heavily (he has a gammy knee) to the cafe with M skipping merrily beside him just gladdened my heart during many a setting sun. R also had this habit of shouting faux abuse at M whenever he got home with a skinful of beer in him. The first time this happened, I jumped out of my own skin, and called Llew feeling sure something dreadful was happening next door. I was petrified. Then as I was speaking to Llew, trying to decide what to do, I managed to gather from the sound of high times coming from next door that in fact it was all in jest, and very much part of their slightly unusual couple schtick. Certainly part of R’s: he fancies himself quite the comedian. Ever since that first and momentary misunderstanding, R’s bellowing whenever he returned home has made me smile. 

Then M’s mother got sick in China, a few months ago now, and R started doing his own washing (he crept up behind the upstairs neighbour once, as she stood hanging clothes on the line, and whispered “A woman’s work is never done,” thinking he was hilarious, and I can’t tell you how amused Llew and I were when we eventually got to do the same to him). 

“Where’s M?” I asked.

“Looking after her mother,” R said. “I don’t think she’ll be back for months.”

I dismissed this with a wave of my hand. Airily is the word.

“She’ll be back,” I said confidently. “Someone’s got to keep you out of trouble.”

But it seems the end of their fine romance has indeed come. I feel so sad for R my eyes are smarting writing this. We had a little chinwag at the door last week (he’s taken to knocking on the door quite a bit – he’s lonely, you see, and that makes me want to sob and sob), and he told me he was leaving for a golfing holiday in America and that while he’s gone, M was coming to clear out her stuff (she’s here now, and even the strange trinket that has hung over their door for the past four years has been whipped off and presumably packed away – I can’t bear it).

“You can’t be telling me the romance is over,” I said to R last week, my denial still in full flight. “I don’t believe it.”

“Romance!” R scoffed. “At my age it’s not about romance, it’s about companionship. Romance is for people your age.”

Well, as it happens I thoroughly disagree with R on this point, but it’s quite, quite bad enough that my dear neighbour has, if nothing else, just lost his constant companion. M will be sorely missed around here.

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9 Comments

  1. Lilian Nattel said,

    Oh I’m sorry. I know how sad and disturbing it is when people in your life split up. We’ve had a few of those lately.

  2. davidrochester said,

    It’s always interesting to me to see oddly-matched couples who seem happy. I always wonder whether they really *are* happy, or if one of them is simply biding his or her time.

    Which is not to suggest anything about M and R … your story simply set me thinking along the lines of what keeps people together.

  3. Grad said,

    Do I see a short story in this? I don’t even know R and I’m feeling lonely for him. Somewhere I read a poem with the refrain, “The last of all words spoken is goodbye,” but the name of the poem and author are lost to me. Sounds appropriate here, however.

  4. Grad said,

    Ah ha! It’s Walter de la Mare

    Good-bye
    The last of last words spoken is, Good-bye –
    The last dismantled flower in the weed-grown hedge,
    The last thin rumour of a feeble bell far ringing,
    The last blind rat to spurn the mildewed rye.

    A hardening darkness glasses the haunted eye,
    Shines into nothing the watcher’s burnt-out candle,
    Wreathes into scentless nothing the wasting incense,
    Faints in the outer silence the hunting-cry.

    Love of its muted music breathes no sigh,
    Thought in her ivory tower gropes in her spinning,
    Toss on in vain the whispering trees of Eden,
    Last of all last words spoken is, Good-bye.

  5. litlove said,

    Oh all too sad. Sad post, sad poem. But it is better to have loved and lost – the people one has loved always leave their mark on the soul and are never truly gone in that way. Forever is a beautiful ideal. A good, long stretch has its own fragile, lovely grace.

  6. doctordi said,

    Lilian, I’m sorry to hear similar break ups are occurring in your world too. I know it was ever thus, but it’s still sad, even at this kind of remove. I hope your people are doing well – I am comforted by the certain knowledge that our capacity to love again is boundless.

    David, that’s a big question in some relationships, I think, especially those that superficially at least look a bit bizarre. I’ve known couples with zero chemistry, an absolute absence of zing, but this break up has taken me so completely by surprise because whatever their differences, cultural, physical, whatever, they were damn cute together, and they had a spring in their companionable step that did not lie.

    Grad, that’s exactly what Llew said. Not the bit about Walt’s poem, the bit about its being the makings of a short story… hmmm… I might just do that. And this poem… so sad, so full of yearning. You’re a gem for digging it out for us all.

    Litlove, I love this sentiment. “A good, long stretch has its own fragile, lovely grace.” Yes. Yes, I believe it does. What a lovely way to reach acceptance.

  7. Pete said,

    So sad. And then thinking about mis-matched couples whose very difference makes things tick over wonderfully for a while. But I guess M’s mother being ill changes the whole situation. I guess it’s too much for him to visit her there? Maybe the differences are too great, and he would stick out in China like a big elephant. Anyway, thanks for the post. Somehow I imagine your place as being by the sea, and my current living by the sea image is of Betty’s Bay so I have this cute image of R curled up with a blanket outside the new door of our Betty’s Bay house.

  8. doctordi said,

    I caught up with M on Sunday, Pete, and she said that life here was too boring. She feels there’s no satisfying future for her here, and she’s probably right. She was restricted in the type of employment she could find, and ended up, as so many do, working in housekeeping at a major hotel. Back in Shanghai, she’s got a job as personal assistant to the principal of a boarding school; she’s got admin and educational qualifications that haven’t been recognised here. She also told me she can’t tell anyone back home what she was actually doing here, that she would lose too much face if they knew she was working in housekeeping. I’ve worked in hotels myself, and it’s true that the housekeeping staff are the lowest on the pecking order, virtually invisible to guests and other staff alike. They’re often of Asian or South American origin, and people assume they’re totally unskilled and don’t speak English. Looks are so often very, very deceiving. M also said it’s just miserable and dull not working with people with similar interests and shared experience, and all these things are readily available to her in Shanghai, where she has family and friends. She said she’s about to turn 40 (she looks about 22), and that the time had come to sort it out. She’s been here nearly five years, so no once can say she didn’t give it a real shot. Anyway, it was great to get her perspective. I completely understand it from her point of view – I couldn’t clean toilets for a living indefinitely either.

  9. doctordi said,

    And yes, we are by the sea! And that’s very cute that R’s little papoose has gone touring!

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