Instalment 22: pages 89-93 [Elliot visits his grandfather before his date with Danielle]
I woke late Saturday morning, and despite my efforts the previous night, I’d still a good deal to do. Before going to bed I’d made a late start on the calls I should have made straight after speaking to Stephen. First I’d needed to track down numbers for Angela in Melbourne and John Vetheuil in Brisbane. Friday night is not the best time ring round the gang to track down current contact details. Eva and I might have been having a quiet one, but not all our friends were as prematurely middle-aged, or as burnt-out from TND. I’d left a fair few answering machine messages before I spoke to anyone useful. Even then I still had to gather suggestions, and make still more calls and small talk: some “Hi, how’re you doing?” and a little “So I was thinking of taking a road trip later in the year and looking up some of the old gang …”. I had reminisces and leads on forgotten classmates living in Melbourne and Brisvegas who were generous with crash-space well before I found anyone with current numbers for long-lost John and Angela. It had been well past eleven by then, but I called them anyway.
In Melbourne a flatmate informed me Angela was out shaking her stuff in the bars of Brunswick Street. She had a mobile, but would never hear it. I took the number and the called Brisbane.
John was home, in the company of lads, a case of beer and the footy. We had a frank, straightforward conversation – which, thanks to the siren call of televised sport, could be kept mercifully short. I only knew him as Marina’s boyfriend-after-me, anyway, so it was always going to be a conversation rating high on the scale of social awkwardness. Still, John was a straight-up guy, and responded with genuine concern to my barest of details “Marina’s gone walkabout and I’m getting a bit worried” line.
“Mate,” he said, “doesn’t sound good. Haven’t heard from her lately. Couple of months at least. She was up around Easter for work and me and Kelly cooked her dinner.” Kelly-the-new-girlfriend, I thought, has everyone moved on past Marina except me? “Her boss was giving some speech. But nothing since then, Elliot. Tell me if you find out anything though, eh?”
I promised I would and hung up. Well, I’d thought, at least I’ve eliminated Brisbane. I felt strangely better. Speaking to Vethuiel had unknotted something inside me, some little twist of bitterness I’d hung on to from splitting up with Marina so soon after my admission ceremony disaster. She’d been good to stick with me that long really - the shit I was being at the time - but her latching on to John so soon after, all surfer’s good looks and solid High Distinction academic transcript, had really sliced at me. At the time I’d thought it had somehow cheapened what we’d had. It had certainly reinforced my vision of her as being one with the right grades, right family, good looks and teflon-coated armour-piercing charm - the one who’d succeed simply by being Marina. Her finding a rebound boyfriend quickly, well, it just bolstered my self-image as luckless, average-looking to ignorable. damaged goods - branded with the stigmata of the trial.
I hadn’t been fair to Marina then. I’d just been bitter, with nothing to nurse me out of it but Eva’s company, and having to put on a brave face for my grandfather.
Bloody hell, I thought. Pop!
I stumbled from bed, resolving to make him the priority Saturday morning, Marina or no. After a shave and a bolted breakfast, I was in the car and heading out to Narrabundah. I smacked the steering wheel when I realised that before leaving I should have called directory assistance, gotten onto the tourist information centre in Katoomba and tired to see if they could track down Stephen and Marina’s old Blue Mountains family holiday haunt. Stephen had said something about all those old cottages being time-share places now.
I should also have warned Eva that owners of answering machines victimised by Friday night’s drive-by inquiries would probably be returning my calls. She’s a big girl, I thought, she’ll cope. Still, it was going to be my head on the chopping-block if anyone called early and woke her up.
There was no heading back, though. I’d been so busy chasing around after Marina I’d forgotten to stop in on Pop at all this week. Tonight was my date with Danielle, and tomorrow would be a late start, followed by brunch. I had to get over and see him today. I held firm for Narrabundah.
It’s an odd suburb, the ‘Bundah – a sort of decompression zone. To the north and west are the more fashionable Griffith and Red Hill (indeed, it was only a ten minute drive to the Carmichael residence from Pop’s place). To the east, though, only a creek and the Monaro Highway kept the industrial and moral perils of Fyshwick at bay and property prices stable. From the wrong side of the highway, in the Canberra South Motor Park, you could just about see across Narrabundah to the restaurant on the ridge at Red Hill. Narrabundah’s reputation and rental prices pretty much spanned the range from just below diplomatic mansion to just above motor home. Pop’s retirement community was midway along the scale, pressed up at the edge of the suburb abutting some parkland. His unit had its back to the stub of Mount Mugga Mugga and commanded a view out towards Mount Ainslie, not that you could see the War Memorial, but you could get glimpses of the American Air Force Monument.
I was feeling a little rushed as I entered the retirement units, a low sequence of white-roofed, pleasant brick buildings, so I was surprised to notice it at all. I must’ve been just distracted enough that my subconscious and peripheral vision were faster on the uptake than I was.
The community had a low-intensity care wing, the units, facing out onto grass courtyards. These ranged from self-contained apartments to bed/sitting rooms for those who could no longer cook for themselves, or no longer wished to. Pop was not among the self-caters, and referred to the fully self-contained apartments as “a Waldorf full of silver-tails”, indulging a proletarian fantasy that communal dining kept him in touch with the realities of the workingman.
Still, whether visiting the Waldorf or a yeoman’s cottage, you passed through the same foyer, replete with everyone’s mailbox, numbered and named.
It was as I passed the Waldorf mailboxes I saw the name.