It starts as quickened breathing then turns into soft crying as the plane taxis to the main runway. I look at his distraught face then past it, through the window to the wing where the flaps are moving into position. The engines whine. They gather up the plane, preparing to push it along the tarmac and into the sky. Beside me, the tears run freely down his face.
The plane kicks into gear. I stare through the window at the accelerating scenery, trying to pinpoint the exact moment of separation from the ground. There. We lift into a blue Queensland sky and Brisbane falls away beneath us. Flight. He crumples and sobs noisily. God, I think.
It’s just the two of us in a row towards the back of a half-empty plane. We’re so close our elbows are almost touching so I can’t just sit there. I study him. He’s a big, fit-looking man who doesn’t look the kind to cry. He’s got dark circles under his eyes and thick brown hair which he’s combing away from his face with wet fingers.
I touch his forearm and do my empathy thing.
“It’s ok, we’re up now.”
He turns to me with an agonised expression, takes my hand and starts weeping all over again.
I put my arms around him, draw him to me. The plane tilts. Through the window, Moreton Bay glitters. I whisper reassurances, tell him he’s safe. The plane levels out, the seat belt signs are switched off and the cabin crew begins its rounds. A passing flight attendant raises her eyebrows, assuming we’re a couple. He’s quietened now so I nod back. It’s ok. We’re ok.
“She’s gone,” he says in a voice muffled by my shoulder, where he’s buried his face.
“She was worried about you,” I say.
Wearily, he lifts his head, glances down the aisle at the flight attendant’s retreating back. We draw apart, though he’s still holding my hand. “Not her…”
Abruptly, he cuts himself short, releases my hand, turns to the window and stares bleakly out. I tug my book from the bag under my seat. I can wait. It’s three hours to Auckland.
“Thank you,” he says quietly. Turned from the window, he’s watching me.
“I’m glad to help,” I say carefully.
“Would you like something to drink? A glass of wine?”
“Sure,” I close my book.
He reaches up and pushes the call button. I see his forearm is streaked with scratches, long, deep and raw.
“Oh, your arm…” I do a mix of hesitation and concern.
He examines the cuts. His lips set in a tight line. “It’s nothing,” he says, then unlocks the drop-down dinner tray from the back of the seat in front.
A flight attendant materialises. When the drinks arrive he waves off my offer to pay, asks where I’m headed. I’ve done five Brisbane-Auckland-Brisbane trips this past month. I tell him I’m flying on to LA for a wedding.
“You?” I ask.
The tight expression returns. “Home… then we’ll see.”
I notice his Kiwi accent, confess I’ve not seen New Zealand.
“I’d never really seen Brisbane.” He grunts, sourly, then taps his forehead with his fingers and mutters, “I’ve been stupid.”
“Haven’t we all?” I encourage.
“I met someone…”
I lean towards him.
He moves closer, talks very fast.
“…on the internet, on a dating site. Can you imagine?” He waits for my reaction. When I don’t give him one, he continues. “First time in a chat room and there she is. We got talking. But then it isn’t talking, is it? You think it’s talking, but it’s not really. Got to the stage where we talked on line for hours. About everything…” he shakes his head.
“I was racing home from work. Every day. Couldn’t wait to sit down at the computer. Might just as well have been living with her. We didn’t phone each other. We didn’t use cameras. We just chatted endlessly online. Did everything but touch. Did you know you can fall in love over the internet?”
His top lip is sweating.
“I said ‘I’ll come to Australia.’ She said, ‘Good.’ We set a date and I got here and she was… oh, the one.” Carefully, he settles his glass on his tray and I see his hand is trembling. He makes a fist of it and looks at me, pained.
“I’m sorry. You don’t need this.”
“It’s ok,” I say. Tell me.
“First time I came over she booked us a place at Paddington. You know Paddington? Great cottages. She said her place was too cramped. She wanted to show me how the other half lived.
“I got off the plane and she was … everything. Like someone had ripped out my heart and built her around it. Have you ever felt like that? We made love the minute we got in the front door. She was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me.”
There it is. I feel the rush.
“You said she ‘was’.”
He drains his wine, pushes the call button again.
“Another?” he asks, looking at my half empty glass.
He leans forward, elbows on the arm rests of his seat and drops his head into his hands. When the flight attendant arrives she looks at me worriedly. I frown, place my hand protectively on his back. Don’t ask. I find my wallet, order more wine. Tiredly he rubs his eyes, sighs, then snaps upright when he realises the flight attendant is assessing him.
“Thanks,” he says, dismissing her. “Are you from Brisbane?” he asks me.
“Yes,” I say. “Nowhere does blue skies like Brisbane.”
“Or jacarandas,” he says.
“Or magpies and kookaburras.”
“Or possums and poincianas.” His expression softens. “Or river walks.”
He tells me he made three trips to Brisbane for her. At New Farm, they stayed in a townhouse and walked by the river. When they rented the apartment at South Bank they did the lovers’ thing and kissed at the top of the Brisbane Wheel. In Paddington he bought her an antique lamp. She ran a finger over it and didn’t say much.
On a walk during his third visit she had pointed up the outside of a tall building in the city’s legal precinct and groaned about returning to work. Don’t go back, he had said. Come with me instead. I can’t come with you, she had laughed.
Listening, I fix my face into a caring expression.
He tells me he’d wished he’d never asked. It had been too soon. Still, her not suggesting an alternative solution to their separation problem had bothered him. She should have wanted a solution. After all, being apart the way they were apart hurt… didn’t it? Wasn’t their hurting a measure of their feelings? Did she think this was all perfectly normal? What the hell was normal about sitting in front of a computer screen typing out his guts to her night after night?
It was a miserable web he had run headlong into.
He wanted her to be happy, but needed her to ache for him when they were apart. If they yearned together they could comfort each other and their breaks would become manageable, he had reasoned. Instead, she had kept on... loving and gay. Perfectly satisfied.
He tells me she sent him off the last time with smiles and kisses. It had driven him to distraction. At the international terminal, she had stopped her little black Mercedes and walked with him to the back of the car where he had jerked his cases from the boot. You’re what I’ve been waiting for, she had said.
Beside me, he pushes his head back against his seat, closes his eyes, folds his hands in his lap.
Curiously, I wait.
“I thought about her from the minute I flew out to the minute we landed. I sat there like this and pictured her hair. Her legs. Her body. Everything,” he says.
He tells me how, during the taxi ride to his Auckland city apartment, he had come to a decision. Standing his bags, unpacked, inside his front door he had made his way quickly to his study. He had switched on his computer, googled her name, stared at her address. Hamilton. He had written the address down. Pulling his credit card from his wallet, he had booked a flight to Brisbane the following day. Then, for the rest of the night he had surfed jewellery sites. She was perhaps the only woman he had ever known who didn’t wear a ring. There would be just enough time to buy the biggest diamond he could find before flying out.
Beside him, I mentally applaud the airline for bringing us together and decide to have another drink, after all.
“Hamilton,” he told the taxi driver at Brisbane airport the next day. As they headed towards the city’s first overpasses he sat, smiling through the driver’s chat. When they passed Eagle Farm Racecourse he unzipped his carry bag, removed a small velvet box and placed it on his lap where it sat like a small bird.
They turned up a hill. Around them, the houses were magnificent. The taxi passed through ornate gates into a curved driveway, past a four-car garage and clipped hedges to a home which could have swallowed his apartment five times over.
“Is this right? I said 35 Harrison Street.”
“Yeah mate, this is it,” said the cabbie. “Everyone knows this place.”
He paid the fare with his last remaining Australian dollars, followed the exquisitely paved path to a richly paneled front door and pushed the button set into a shining brass panel. A security camera looked down at him. The air smelled of jasmine.
The door was opened by a woman wearing linen and gold and talking urgently on a slim mobile phone. “I’ll fix it, just stay away,” she said. She snapped the phone shut.
“Yes?” she glanced at the ring box in his hand.
“I’m looking for Emily Meyer,” he said.
“I’m Mrs Emily Meyer.”
“Is this 35 Harrison Street?”
“Yes,” she was considering him now.
“And you’re Emily Meyer.”
“The last time I looked. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry. I was looking for Emily Meyer and I thought she lived at 35 Harrison Street.” He made a plaintive face. “I don’t suppose you know of any other Emily Meyers?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Ok, thanks.” He turned away, then said, “I’ll keep looking.”
“Oh, for goodness sake,” she was irritated. “Come in. Let’s sort this out.”
The entry hall was flanked by staircases. Ahead was a splendidly furnished space overlooking a sculptured swimming pool and the Brisbane River. She ushered him through, gestured for him to sit, produced an iPad from under the coffee table and placed it on her lap.
“How does your Emily Meyer spell her name?”
He spelled it out.
“Quite right, same as mine,” she said, typing. “Hm, nothing on Google. Nothing in White Pages. One Emily Meyer, just me. You see?”
Through the entry hall a key was pushed into the front door, turned. A woman’s shoes sounded briskly on the hall tiles. Then she was there, wearing the easy, just-showered look of the very rich. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she’d never worn denim in her life.
He sat and stared.
“For God’s sake, Em,” the linen and gold woman snapped. “I told you stay away.”
“I don’t need you to tell me anything, Mother.” The response was tart.
“Apparently you do.” The linen woman waved the iPad at her. “I thought we’d seen the end of this grubby nonsense,” she gestured at him, “and now it walks into the house. Do you understand what you’re risking each time you do this? Exposing yourself and this family to God knows what?”
“This isn’t to do with you.”
“Obviously it is.”
“Em… God,” he interrupted.
“No,” she raised her hands, warding him off. “What are you doing here?”
“I came back… obviously… Em, I love you.” He fumbled for the ring box, thrust it at her. “Em. It’s time,” he gabbled. “I can’t be apart from you. Em?”
“Oh Lord,” said the linen woman, aghast.
Her face was stone.
“Jesus, John,” she said. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m happy. I have my life. You can’t interfere with that. We’re having fun, aren’t we?”
He stepped forward.
“It’s time to leave,” the linen woman moved between them, caught his arm. Her nails pressed into his wrist.
“Write me when you get home John?” Em was smiling over the linen woman’s shoulder. “You’ve always been my favourite.”
Her voice, it seemed, came from a great distance. When he reached her, things happened very quickly. Later, at the airport, the check-in staff said it would be three hours before he could get out of there.
On the approach to Auckland, the captain tells us we’ll be slightly delayed on arrival. We’ll need to stay seated while a few technical issues are sorted. We taxi to the terminal. Please stay seated, the captain says again, apologising. Through the window, we see the rear stairs being moved into position. Men emerge from a car on the tarmac. There’s a flashing light on the car’s roof. Beside me, he’s crying again. I lean close, soothe. He reaches into his pants pocket then drops a small, velvet box into my lap.
“Here. Have this.”
I suppress a smile, look politely nonplussed.
The men from the tarmac arrive at our seats.
“John Francis?” one says.
“We’d like to speak to you about the death of an Emily Meyer in Brisbane. Come with us please.”
“One second,” he says. He leans towards me and whispers, his breath warm on my ear. He draws away. “Ok?”
“Ok,” I say.
He stands, squeezes past me, takes his carry bag from the overhead locker. I watch him disappear down the aisle – one policeman in front, the other behind.
I open the ring case, remove the band with its sparkling stone and slip it onto a ring finger. Diamonds and information. In this case, I’m hard pressed to decide which is more precious.
* * *
Linda Brucesmith is a Brisbane-based writer and public relations consultant. Her public relations business and clients have provided her with unique perspectives on tourism, hospitality, food, horticulture, medicine, mining, dance, academia, media and the internet. She has worked as a magazine and newspaper journalist in Sydney, Melbourne, the Snowy Mountains and on the Gold Coast. She is passionate about Brisbane, and views the written word as the greatest art form. She declared her intention to write fiction as a teenager, spent three decades developing her “eye” , and is now working towards her reincarnation as a short story writer.
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