“Old is old. There is no getting ‘round it.”
She viewed herself in the bathroom mirror.
“Maybe these lights are too bright or maybe a touch more make-up, no, old is old.”
Wendy-Ann Hogstead had the same job for 30 years. A good, well paid position with Helmsley, Helmsley & Helmsley a very large firm of corporate accountants in Sydney. For the last ten years she had been in charge of Acquisitions and Mergers. Most accountants would give their back teeth for such a job but Wendy-Ann found it uninspiring. It was dreary to the point that she felt brain dead. Her life was boring and stagnating. Married twice, both had been disasters. She was a well groomed, slender woman with a good bone and facial structure. She spoke well; she walked well and had excellent taste. She was an attractive 55 year old middle-aged woman. Rarely did she need to wear much make up.
She had a Friday morning ritual; before work she met up with her friend Jeannie for coffee at Koffee Kulture. You know the one. It’s on Willoughby road across from the church that serves meals to the homeless and I think that they are sometimes able to organise a few beds for them. It was a miserable morning cold, drizzly and bleak. It was the sort of morning that if you didn’t have to go to work, there would be no reason to get out of bed. No latté this morning, a long flat black! Jeannie was also single and about the same age with perhaps a few more bumps than would be considered desirable but she wore well designed clothes that made up for that slight indiscretion.
“Why is it so difficult?” commented Jeanie.
“It never used to be like this. Why 20 years ago there was more spice. And men look at the crop of losers!”
“Good looking men that were not afraid to spend a few dollars to take a woman out have faded from the landscape.”
Wendy-Ann gave a ridiculing half-laugh.
“Not like the cheap skates that we’ve both met lately.” Maintaining the smirk on her face.
“They even expect, mind you, for you to pay half the bill when they take you out. The nerve.”
Jeanie was getting a little frustrated.
“I just want to meet a decent, good looking bloke. He doesn’t have to be rich, just a good job where I don’t have to look at the prices when I go to the supermarket or wear last year’s fashions. Where we can take an overseas holiday once or twice a year and live in a decent house in a good area. Surely they still exist!”
“And for good sake looks after himself and keeps his weight under control.”
Was Jeannie’s contribution; obviously considering her own body to be perfectly natural and attractive.
The women’s get together ended on the usual negative note. Jeannie took the 257 to Chatswood. Wendy-Ann took the next bus that went to the city and those maddening crowds. But she didn’t go to the office instead she went to Forbes Tavern. Today she needed to think.
“Bit early Wendy-Ann?”
All good barmen know their regulars by name.
“Never too early to sort things out, but I will start with a black coffee.”
Responsibly, she rang the office to say she was not coming in and began to ponder on the life she was living.
By lunch time and a bottle of good South Australian Sauvignon Blanc, at least at $47 a bottle it should be, she had made her decision. That included the time to shoo away the bar vermin who believe that a woman by herself in a bar is fair game.
Wendy-Ann Hogstead arranged her long service leave, rented out her flat and by the following Saturday she was driving over the Blue Mountains towards Mudgee. She was going bush. Though she was not exactly sure where. Her plan, if you can call it that was to stay in country hotels and hope to meet a few locals and find more meaning to her life.
Ariah Park is a nice old town, a village really out the back of New South Wales. I think it is classified as part of the rich Riverina district. It has an ageing hotel, a brick two-storey affair but I cannot tell you what it is like inside because I have never been inside. The publican only opens up when he feels like it. So you have to be lucky to be passing by when he decides to open which is not very often. Obviously a man of independent means. The locals I am told go to the bowling club after five for a drink but there is only a serving back and tables and chairs set up for drinking, very unsociable if you want to get around and talk to other people. The main street where everything is boasts of the usual Diggers Memorial, dedicated to the soldiers to whom we owe our way of life to. Most of the shops are empty and rundown but there is the White Rose café. What small town is without one? But sadly the era of Greek immigrants owning them is long gone. There is a sort off collectables store that opens on Fridays and Sundays. An op shop/museum and some sort of shop selling mostly food although the Post Office sells bread all $4.50 a loaf that’s the same bread I can buy from a supermarket at $1.50 and there is a bit of a Produce come Hardware store. But the town is activity minded and boasts a swimming pool, tennis and netball complex, a large football oval with stands and facilities and of course a nine hole sand golf course.
It was on her 2cnd day of looking around the town that Wendy-Ann thought to try the advertised special of the day at the White Rose café; a roast beef roll with chips and gravy for $6.50.
“Come to try out the special, luv? It’s pretty good.” He was half way through his so that made him an authority.
“Same for you, dear?” A female voice rang out from somewhere out the back.
“Take a seat, I’ll be right out.”
There was one table and 3 chairs or she could go outside and sit in the car and eat it.
“Do you mind if I join you?” was the timid request.
“Course not, Luv. My names Malcolm but everybody just calls me Mal. What’s yours?”
“I reckon ‘round here Wendy mint be the go.” She was taken back. A man in his early sixties, bald not shaved like middle-aged men do to hide their lack of the symbol of virility. He was quite a bit shorter, maybe 3or4 inches, than she was and a decent size gut that hung over the top of the belt on his shorts. Dressed rather poorly, by her standards. His hat, which was resting on one of the chairs, was grubby and out of shape. Even though she would not have been seen dead with the likes of Mal elsewhere else he was pleasant in his manner and they got into conversation together which couldn’t be helped sitting at the same café table.
“What do you do for a living, Mal?”
“I buy and sell old farm equipment to antique businesses in Melbourne and Sydney.”
“Is that regular work.”
“It is when I can get it. But I only have to worry about myself so it doesn’t matter too much.”
“You don’t have a family?”
“I went to Vietnam and stepped on a mine which affected the lower part of my body, so I decided that it would be unfair to get married when I couldn’t do the right thing and sire children. So I have remained celebrant and a bachelor.”
Wendy-Ann was intrigued by Mal’s down to earth honesty.
“If you like our town well enough and figured on staying I reckon someone like you would go well in the collectables business around here.”
“It’s a thought, maybe.”
She couldn’t get it out of her mind, what a good idea and if Mal was prepared to help her….”
What with Wendy’s accountancy background and Mal’s flair for the unusual The Teapot Shop was born. Selling old, collectable, tea pots preferably with family history attached and related tea making accessories, after all the area had been first settled by the English and Irish. So there was bound to be a good supply of stock. Mal arranged for Wendy to rent a vacant shop in the main street which had a small one bedroom flat attached to it. To help her get started he spoke to the owner who gave her the first six months’ rent free.
“It’s good for the town.”
This was with the proviso that she stayed at least 2 years and gave it a fair go.
Things started off fine but when things slowed down with fewer tourists during the winter months, she developed a cash flow problem. She was unable to continue buying stock. Mal as usual was full of good suggestions.
“What about extending your range to collectable silver spoons? A lot of country women collect silver tea spoons particularly when they have been given as trophies from the different Bowls clubs. It will give you a local trade rather than just relying on the tourists.”
And so an intimate relationship grew between two unlikely people; Wendy the sophisticated big city lady and Mal the plump, short, old, basic country bloke.
Jeannie came up for the October long week-end.
Over coffee on the Monday morning before Jeannie went back to Sydney she felt the need to talk to her friend…
“Wendy-Ann I’m only telling you this because you are my best friend…. but how could you get involved with such a man?”
“He’s such a looser. He’s got nothing>”
“Mal takes care of me.”
“How? He’s got no money or property not even a steady job.”
“Whatever he lacks I have.”
“Well what about your physical needs? His injuries have stopped that for 40 years.”
There was a nasty snicker in her tone.
“Oh Jeannie,” a big smile came over Wendy’s face.
“Don’t you see I’m 56 this year I don’t have any needs. It was only that I didn’t have anyone to share my life with that I thought I did. I’ve come to realise that I don’t need those material things that I thought I wanted but what I needed was a strong, sensitive person that I could care for.”
Jeannie shook her head in disbelief. What a waste!
It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.