June 19, 2009


The purple veined clouds, moody and beautiful, prompted me to pop in.  What I saw through the perspex became even more purpled.

For months after our dissolution the sight of the Elizabeth Tower Hotel, on the corner of Elizabeth and Grattan, evoked anger in me.  I wonder if it’s still there.

I perched myself up high… on the stairwell… seventh floor… looking out upon the dull and drab stage.  I was right.  Nobody could question that… but I felt loss.  It was a colossal moment.  I wasn’t sure whether I loved her or myself the most.  I might say both… but.

I had seen her dally in this spot.  Now, I scanned slowly left to right… from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, past my office at Melbourne Uni and further on to the Royal Women’s Hospital.  These were sites of major trauma for her.  It defied all logic why she would have picked this place.  Why couldn’t she see that?


I had resolved to confront her at Tiba’s that night but had been distracted… for various reasons.  There was never a good time.

For example, Collingwood lost their next two fixtures so badly it was apparently beyond belief.  Outside Etihad Stadium… the din from the first debacle against St. Kilda still vexing her… she’d sworn off footy for good.  Still, the following Saturday, we found ourselves watching the catastrophe against Carlton from our couch.  She was mournful and distressed.  I was bursting to bring up my issue but wanted to do it when she wasn’t so volatile… to optimize the possibility of a constructive outcome.

Collingwood’s form wasn’t encouraging.  It exhausted me.  Thankfully, a comfortable win against a second string West Coast outfit broke the bad streak and returned her to a jauntier outlook.  As she bobbed and hummed along to the club song I decided this was the right time and readied myself.

Here, Take This

“Layla, do you think… I mean… am I in any danger?”

[Layla, mid-hum, reflected]:
“Ah yeah, there’s a bit of that alright, Nally.  Look, I’m sorry, I should have been much clearer at the start.  It was selfish of me.

[leaning to me reassuringly]  It’s not a guarantee… but hey, I’ve made efforts to keep you safe.”

That surprised me… nicely.

“Like what?”

[Layla, discretely]:
“Those toasted vegemite sandwiches I make you for breakfast… Pippy said the vegemite would thwart attacks… up to and including bomb blasts.  But don’t throw caution to the wind…  Pippy doesn’t always get it perfectly right.”

You’d have to agree that was a worrying statement… and not just because I’d been a bit hit and miss with the vegemite toasties of late [more a marmalade lady].  I searched her face intently.  Well, she seemed straight enough.  No hint of levity.  A bit jowly even.  Okay… been intent long enough.  Who knows… it may be that, like many Australians, she believes in vegemite’s restorative and protective properties.  I should semi-call her on it… to test her.

“Thanks Layls.  I appreciate it.  It’s just… I haven’t fully acquired a taste for vegemite.”

[Layla, slow nodding and with empathy]:
“You’re very welcome.  The vegemite… it takes time.”

Flashing Red Light

Buggar that.  This was ridiculous.  I’d been simmering and had to stretch and yawn to postpone boiling point.

“Did… umm… did Callo forget to eat his vegemite toasties? “

Aaah, that got a reaction.

[Layla, discernibly defensive]:
“Nally… that’s completely different.  Anyway, I never made breakfast for him.”

Of course you didn’t.  That was the epitome of a professional relationship, wasn’t it?  Try this for size.

“And your mates… Joel and Cath… do they munch down on your vegemite as part of their staple diet.”

That crudely brought her to a halt.

“I… don’t know what you mean.”

“You know what I mean Miss Simmons.  Elizabeth Tower Hotel.”

Layla on mute.

“I mean, c’mon, it’s where I work.  I walk right past it… everyday.  You were shitting on my doorstep.  Who does that?”


Mid-afternoon, walking up Grattan Street on my way back to work, I noticed Joel Underwood, lanky streak of piss, on the other side of the road.  With his wife.  Ah Layla’s Horsham friends, I thought.  How unusual…  I’m sure they remember me.  I hailed them.  To no avail… they’d turned into a hotel.

Feeling foiled, I was about to focus my attention back onto my upcoming lecture when a strikingly attractive 1950’s Hollywood starlet in shades and scarf furtively approached and then entered the hotel from the Elizabeth Street direction.  Yes, it was Layla… superbly disguised… as herself.  I, and the rest of the people at the busy intersection, watched this magnetic siren as she coiled up and up the staircase.  It was a real kick in the guts.

[Layla, concerned, pleading face]:
“I thought you might take it like this.  I was hoping to avoid this situation.”

“Were you really?  A Miss Simmons… YOU… booked the same room five times in the last three months.  Five times since we’ve been together.  You’re a cheat, a hypocrite.”

I was hoping, guilty or not, she’d attempt some plausible explanation that demonstrated our relationship was sacrosanct to her.  Then, solaced, I could hug her and, sobbing, chastise her.  I’d scold that perception was tremendously important and she shouldn’t put herself in a position where dirty conclusions could be so easily drawn.

“Nally, I love you… I do.   But Joel and Cath are very special to me too.  We’re trying to have a baby.”

A boybee.  Aaw, how sickening.


My intention was to put this ordeal behind us by bringing it out into the open, her apologizing and me establishing new ground rules.  Wasn’t going to happen but I felt myself, on autopilot, going through the motions.

“Nah.  Nah.  You can’t do that.  Look, if you can commit to breaking ties with the Underwood’s… and whomever else you share affections with… well we can take… little steps… to… you realize this is completely unacceptable behaviour?  You’re not treating me well.  Can you commit to what I said?”

“I kinda suspected you wouldn’t happy.  But Nally, I’d love you to be part of bringing up a family with me.  Give it a try.  I’ll invite them over.”

“Oh no you won’t.  I won’t.  Now, can you commit or not?”

It was clear she couldn’t.  I mean… what kind of person is she?  I shook my head before her.

“What can I say?  Unbloodybeleevable… that’s how you put it, isn’t it?  Then again, Layls, you are not like us are you?”

It was like I laid waste to Layla.  Nalleeee, she moaned.  Not so happy now, eh?  Welcome to my world.

“Hey, I’m not being nasty to you.  It’s just a fact… you are different.  Even physiologically… you are incredibly dense.  150kg?  With your height and build?

It’s no stretch to suggest an emotional and moral difference too.  I wasn’t prepared, that’s all.

I mean… WE struggle… but YOU… how can I put this?  It’s a bit like you’ve volunteered to paint a prison cell… you agonize over the colours, poor you… but it’s we who are stuck there as you move on to the next cell… to the next project… a different design perhaps.

It’s not like some Callo’s going to come back from the dead to apologise to me.  See the difference?

And let’s pray for everyone’s sake that it’s Cath’s babies you miraculously have and not that buffoon Joel’s.”

We were finished.  I left right away brushing aside all her desperate, clutching appeals.

Nally Through The Looking Glass

Yes, it was a colossal moment for me on that Elizabeth Tower Hotel stairwell.  I was flooded with feelings.  I had entertained a thought where I’d book their room… lie on their bed and ponder the pungent hydraulics of the trio.  Hmm, the thought was too repulsive.

Why, with so many suburban nooks and crannies, did she hold the affair here in full view of her past, present and future?  Obviously, she didn’t understand what was in store for her.  She didn’t join the dots.

What a panoramic view.  Looking down on her life trials I felt tremendously dominant.  I felt bigger than her… felt my knowledge superseded hers. I relished being in this position where I could see the clear geographical line that pinpointed a great distress, then another and another.  I had recovered the agency she had extracted from me.  But I was talking to the wrong person… me.

I now realise that the line I drew on the stairwell wasn’t dead straight.  But it was so attractive I couldn’t shake it.  After her disappearance I quietly but assertively directed detectives to Ruffey Lake Park in Doncaster… she often walked her dog there and, extending my line to cater for the years that had passed, it matched.

When she wasn’t found there I’d said “Oh well, I’m glad we’ve ruled it out.”  but privately thought they hadn’t looked hard enough.


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