the surfers reunion
He had been optimistic about the night after the invitation arrived, somebody had improbably sought him out and included him in the roll-call. A list of names accompanied the invitation. Old friends.
Everybody was asked to meet in the main bar of the Bondi Diggers early in the night and then continue upstairs to the old function room for the main events.
This man arrived alone and moved straight to a corner of the bar where he slowly scanned the faces of the old men moving about the room.
How disheartening and melancholy are these affairs as we approach old acquaintances whose features have been been fattened beyond recognition by wealth or success, or whittled to the bone by penury or addiction – or hidden behind some terrible guilt that has made an old friend a stranger.
Sometimes old friends bring their old wives, women whose faces are the tide-table of their husbands’ affairs.
She would have seen him wander from group to group that night, barrier to barrier, knowing it was just another methodical dismemberment of his memories.
Some of the old cliques needed little reviving and like a pack of dogs they had a sensitive nose for an outsider and their laughter still mocked. There was no special old friend this night because there was no special young friend forty-five years ago: and groups of four had no room for a fifth, and after five drinks he soured up.
The function room had not been used for years and with all the furniture gone and the fittings stripped it played no welcome to the thirty or so who bothered to move up from the downstairs bar when they were called. They stood about there in the large quiet, smothered by the gloom, sobering.
Somebody found a microphone, another his guitar and a couple of young women began dancing together. Marijuana stink drifted in from the one balcony that looked out over the dark beach and a harsh light over the bar spilled onto the features of the men waiting on their drinks. Unsmiling and ancient, they had the faces of mourners.
He arrived home much later than she expected and full of whiskey. The T-shirt and cap he had been given to commemorate the reunion were crumpled up and sodden with beer so she threw them out without any hesitation – he would have little memory of any of it by morning.
How his bed smells in the mornings, and his clothes are always stained. His mind is loosening so quickly now and his conversation rambles here and there, flicking between fiction and reality, and he drinks far too much, every day.
The young man she married fled himself decades ago, in fear of the rapidly increasing muddle of his unfolding middle life.
Years ago she found herself picking through the old surfing magazines that he had collected as a boy and kept, she was hoping to find a picture of him there – her good looking man.
And there was just the one, a water stained picture of a boy sitting on a low headland at the Pass in 1964 – alone even then – watching the long waves sweep past.
That flattened me.
Like a lump of fourbetwo between the ears, like a thud deep down in the guts when you realise something is gone forever.