Our sojourn in “Honeymoon Cottage”, as I like to call it, was all too brief. Helena was adamant in explaining the cold realities of her itinerary. She had a deadline to meet. On Monday, the 20th of May, Helena was contracted to head a new project in Sydney.
‘But…’ I said aghast.
“But me no Buts”, said Helena, going Shakespearean on me. ‘Them’s the facts. A contract is a contract. On the Twentieth I head a team to restructure the computer systems of two amalgamating Building Societies. At the moment they are completely incompatible. Let’s put it this way: One is playing Rugby League and the other is playing Aussie Rules football.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Teach ’em Soccer!’ she grinned.
So I discovered the disparities in our careers. We were both in computers, but Helena was in a different league. It was a sobering thought. Although our academic qualifications were relatively equal, Helena was a high flier. As for me … Well, I had better explain. I am a small businessman.
Before my lottery win, I got by. I stayed home a lot, but then I liked staying home – most of my work was done there. I specialise in helping other small business people computerise their records. I devise and teach them simple systems. Half the tradesmen in Melbourne -plumbers, electricians, small builders and other contractors -rely on my systems to keep track of appointments and bad debts. I plan their office stationery, provide straightforward invoicing and nurse their staff, usually family, through the future-shock of a new computer. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s a living, and a necessary service I always felt. But amalgamating two Building Societies -Wow! I was impressed.
Surprisingly, Helena was as impressed by my job as I was with hers; envious even. ‘Sounds blissful,’ she said. ‘You must get a lot of creative satisfaction, shaping a made-to-measure system for individuals. No wrestling with committees, No traumas with middle management’s fearful of being replaced. No team to keep in line…’
‘You can join my team, any time!’ I said. And somehow we got diverted.
‘But seriously,’ Helena brought us down to earth again, ‘Today is the sixth so we can stay on here a few more days. I’ve planned to spend a week in Dublin before flying home on Friday the 17th. It’s a through a trip, near enough – change to Qantas at Heathrow, refuel in Singapore, then Sydney via Melbourne.’
‘I’ll come with you.’ I said enthusiastically. ‘I’ll change your ticket to First Class, and then …’
‘Oh no, you won’t!’ Helena was emphatic. ‘Let’s get this thing straight. You say that you are in love with me. And I think I’m in love with you. It feels good – the real thing – but what if this is just a holiday romance. They happen, you know. What if this turns out to be just a happy memory of far away places. And besides, I’d be very poor company. I’ll be thinking about the project once I start back.’
Dismay is hardly the word. I started to protest but pulled myself up. Hadn’t I promised not to make any assumptions – not to take Helena for granted?
‘I need to think about this.’ I said. ‘Would you be offended if I went out for a walk-about half an hour?’
‘It is still raining.’ Helena was dubious.
‘I’ll wear my rain gear.’
‘Okay,’ said Helena. ‘I’ll cook us some lunch. One-thirty okay? And could you bring back some milk?’
‘Okay.’ I said. We gave each other a married-couple-like peck of a kiss and I left.
I don’t know about you, but thinking, for me, is mainly a matter of internal monologue; and I was going great guns as I strode through the rain. Now and again, I’d stop to raise a protesting blackthorn against the heavens as I made a particularly telling point. The Heavens made no response other than to lave my face with its cool tears. Curiously salty, my inner self thought, probably coming straight off the Atlantic.
I’ve never really been into denial, preferring to intellectualise my emotions away. Today was no exception. I faced the fact that nothing I could say or do could alter Helena’s resolve. She would fly away on Friday week – and she would not allow me to tag along like a stray puppy, however much I tilted my head and looked at her with mournful eyes. What to do. Well, one thing’s for sure, no sense in spoiling the time we have left by quarrelling, or acting miserable, or … Cheerful Charlie, that was going to be me from now on. That sorted, I remembered the milk. Why can’t Ireland be like Australia, with a Milk-bar on every corner? I gazed in frustration at the leafy lane in which I found myself -No corner, no Milk-bar, not even a bloody cow!
The rest of the walk became an obsessive search for a shop. Successful at last, I returned to the cottage.
Helena’s eyes read my face with concern. Satisfied, she smiled and took the milk which I held out in triumph.
‘Good work,’ she said. Now change out of those wet things while I serve lunch.’
© Copyright H.St V.Beechey April 1997
Next Episode: Good Nature