Rain flooded the streets and I was late to wake up. It was 10 am. I had to be at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre by 11 to meet with Brisbane artist Alana Wilkie. Alana’s my ex and we split up earlier in the year when we were still living in the Gold Coast. Now that some time had past, and we both ended up in Brisbane, we thought we’d try for a friendship. In the months we’d been apart, we’d both accomplished a lot – Alana’s been featured for her art and pin-up modeling in a few magazines and websites, and my writing career was just taking off.
Thanks to Brisbanista, I had an extra ticket to attend the last Sunday performance of the year by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. I tossed up the idea of asking Alana to attend – but once she found out I had one to spare, she made sure the ticket was her’s, and I wasn’t complaining. They were putting on an afternoon show titled “Tradies and Artists” conducted by Dane Lam and hosted by Guy Noble. Each composition was inspired by a story in the trades, tragic or heroic, that stood the test of time.
It was a quarter past 11 and I was just walking up to the box office. I felt really bad making her wait, but I was sure she was accustomed to my faults by now.
I started typing to her, “Hey I’m just picking up our passes, meet me here.”
As soon as I hit send I looked up and there she was across the room. She was wearing gingerbread gloves and a vanilla dress with a classic silhouette, complete with a lucite purse and crimson on her lips. She had on a pair of nude back-seam stockings with the Eiffel Tower trailing up her achilles heels that I’d bought for her when we were still together. Her umbrella matched her outfit, with an outline of the Paris skyline painted on its lavender shade, clashing with the bright yellow umbrella I was now using as a walking stick. She looked like she belonged in the pictures, dolled up all classic Hollywood glam – Hedy Lamarr style. We smiled at each other and I walked over to her.
“Hey sorry to keep you waiting, traffic was a wreck. Did you get here okay?”
I could tell she knew that excuse was bogus, and judging from the look in her eyes (I’m so well acquainted with) she also knew I had a late night and just a few hours sleep. I don’t sleep much these days. But in her elegance she let that go.
“Steven! It really started coming down out there when I was crossing the Victoria Bridge, then I was baptized by a bus on the way over and I had to keep pulling down my dress from blowing up in the wind. Luckily it’s all dried off now.”
The imagery gave me even more reason to believe she’s the reincarnation of a 1940’s starlet, or perhaps just born to the wrong time.
“Yeah it’s tough out there today, but it’s great to see you Lan. Let’s find our seats.”
We were seated in row M in chairs 15 and 16, right smack dab in the middle of the theatre.
The orchestra gathered onstage and out came host Guy Noble, playing the part, dressed head to toe in hi-vis tradie gear ready to make his introductions. He was a fantastic performer; engaging and captivating, captaining the direction of the show. And off they went. They began with the Overture to The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, and it was grand. The orchestra laboured beautifully together; and leading the way was Dane Lam, like a master architect. The bows of the violinists danced in sync, like a line of eager fishermen on the ocean’s shore. It was deeply captivating and my heart felt full, just as the room did with the gorgeous sound. Alana and I were both taken back.
My favourite piece was their third one – the first movement of Richard Strauss’ Concerto No.1 in E flat major for Horn and Orchestra, featuring the talent of Malcolm Stewart on French horn. It’s an incredibly difficult piece for French horn, and even Strauss’ father (also a horn player) believed it to be “totally unplayable.” But Malcolm tackled it and the walls of QPAC fell to tears; for the sound of his instrument cried through the plaster and took flight like a raven with its wings free of binding, trickling down in its trail like a cold gentle rain. I thought this was a considerably deep thing to witness with an ex-girlfriend, and when I looked over at Alana I could see great emotion washing down her face; the kind I’d only seen when she was totally lost in a painting or reading a romantic poem I’d written for her.
They concluded six compositions later, with Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, based on a retrospective exhibition of his deceased artist friend, Viktor Hartmann. The final movement of the piece, The Great Gate of Kiev, was a grand close complete with peeling bells, making a fantastic end to an emotional rainy afternoon. Dane Lam turned to the crowd and bid adieu, bowing promptly and precisely, making a perfect 90-degree angle to the floor, then back up again to 0 within a blink of an eye. The applause was phenomenal.
As everyone began to exit the theatre, Alana and I sat speechless for a minute, then I leaned in and said, “What a way to say hello again.”
She flashed her vanilla teeth with a striking grin.
I continued, “Wanna grab a drink?”
“Cool, I know just the place.”
I took her to West End – my neck of the woods, and brought her to the Bearded Lady. It’s become a bit of regular watering hole for me and they always have a good band playing every night of the week. When we got there the band was setting up. They were a six-piece folk band complete with brass and wind called Revelation Groove.
The owner, Jamie, was behind the bar. We shook hands and I introduced him to Alana.
“What can I get you Stevie?”
“We’ll have two of the Alley Cats man,” my go-to brown ale by Newstead Brewing Co.
We grabbed seats against the wall parallel to the bar. The pendants hanging from the ceiling were furnished with old-fashioned shades and blonde tassels draping down, and the band was backed up by an open window filled with October rain falling to the ground.
Since our split, Alana and I had both seen other people, all of which had failed to blossom. But we knew this was something we wouldn’t elaborate on with each other, as it felt uncomfortable and useless; and yet it filled the air and it was still present to us both. So I smiled, and she looked at me and asked,“What’s so funny?”
“Our relationship.” I said. “There’s too few words to define it. Seems like we’ve said goodbye more times than we’ve said hello. I’m the one person you can be completely vulnerable around, and I’m the one person you can’t be completely open with.”
We laughed at the thought of that and we laughed at the tragedy of it all, then we finished our beers. The rain fell harder and the sky grew darker.
My apartment was up the road from the Bearded Lady, so I asked her, “Wanna grab some goodies from the market and head to my place for a movie?”
She didn’t think long about it, agreed, and we were off. At the store, we picked up stove-top popcorn and on our way to the cashier, I saw gingerbread cookies that matched the colour of her gloves.
“Hey are you down for these?” I love them, and I knew she did too.
“Oh my god yes! Are you trying to seduce me!?”
I grabbed those bastards quickly, paid, and we were out the door.
On our way home, it seemed as though anytime silence broke between us, it was understood that we were reminiscing of the sounds from the orchestra earlier in the day, and it was as if there was no silence between us at all, just the beautiful symphonic sounds filling the damp and misty air. We got to my apartment on top of the hill and I made us two scotch and drys.
Alana was on my loveseat as I brought over the drinks. I handed it to her and asked, “So what should we watch?” (I don’t have cable or own a tv for that matter, so anything we’d watch would be on my laptop.)
“You know, Black Swan has been on my mind lately.”
“Sounds great, I’ve never actually seen that.”
I sat down beside her and queued it up; before I hit play she placed her hand on my knee and said, “Let’s watch it in your bedroom.”
I didn’t think too much about it as my sofa is more comfortable on the eyes than it is on the ass.
“Yeah sure, sounds good.”
As the film played we grew closer, naturally, finding any excuse to put our hands on each other’s bodies and faces – like some sort of crescendo we witnessed in the hours before. The movie was devastating in all its beauty, and it tore through my muscle like a warm knife to butter. As the credits rolled at the end, I asked, “So what’s next?”
She placed her hand on my laptop and shut it closed.
We shared the night together and reintroduced ourselves to each other in a way that we hadn’t for some time. Alana fell asleep on my shoulder, her hair sweet as midnight beneath my chin.
I thought back to something my co-worker Alex told me earlier in the week, “You know Steve, I heard if two past lovers can remain friends it’s either that they are still in
love, or never were.”
That thought bounced across the corners of my mind as my eyelids weighed heavier and my heart beat slower; closing the chapter of my intoxicating, seductive day.