‘I’m a victim of circumstance!’
The catchphrase of Curly of the Three Stooges had been his lifelong internal mantra.
When things happened to him, they rarely came about by his own choice; his parents, teachers, officers, non-commissioned officers and now his employer ran everything for him. Like the former, the latter had also invaded his private life…
His manageress informed him that he had too much leave, and if he didn’t use it by a certain date in the very near future, he would lose it.
When he asked her why she didn’t tell him of his situation sooner so he could have made some plans, she giggled nervously and said, ‘never mind’.
His office had selected, employed, trained, mentored and coached him to think ahead to predict and detect falsehoods, frauds and criminal actions, yet they seemed surprised and upset that he didn't swallow the ones they spun to their employees...
One of his workmates told him about the wonderful holiday that he had on the South Coast with a beautiful beach, a cheap but attractive hotel and…He made reservations and packed his beach gear.
Her control of his life continued; at the last minute she informed him that she needed him to work the very day he was to leave.
He anxiously watched the clock as he worked. Though he had to leave by a certain time to make his coach, she came out smiling and gathered everyone around just before his departure.
‘Gather round, everyone! We have cake for you.’
He looked at his black faced wristwatch with the metal dial on it.
‘Never mind’, she told him. ‘This won’t take long.’
It was the office’s standard issue tea-party for their staff with teabags, instant coffee, powdered milk and a supermarket cake. His manageress was also stale and artificially sweetened…Bring your own fun…
The day was a rainy one, but he had his umbrella. Wearing his usual navy-blue suit, with his large broadbrimmed Panama hat and single suitcase he brought to his office with him, he boarded the evening coach to the South Coast in the nick of time.
His coach driver disregarded the current radio and played what she liked best, a folksinger from the early 1960s singing,
‘Bon Soir, Cher’
In an amazing coincidence, he once owned the Nancy Ames 1963 record album the coach driver played. It was as if the bus was driving to his pleasant past as Nancy now sang the exotic Alma Corazon Y Vida. The rain had stopped, they now were driving by the sea, and they were literally chasing a rainbow.
Nancy continued her singing as his coach kept going south…south…,
‘The South Coast is wild coast and lonely…a man there is always alone…’
In an exciting song with bongos, Nancy was now giving advice to a Young Young Man to take all the adventure and romance that he could in his short life.
Nancy gave way to the We Five; he delightfully recognised Somewhere Beyond the Sea and Cast Your Fate to the Wind.
He spoke to the driver from his seat complimenting her about her choice of music. She answered in delight,
‘Where are you staying?’
After he told her, she replied she would take him right to his hotel’s door.
She was true to her word.
The smart receptionist wearing a peach-coloured blazer introduced herself as Liz.
‘You must be somebody…the coach has never stopped here before…we never see anyone dressed like you either…the police don’t usually come here…’
‘Everybody’s somebody sometime…I just dress like this to get the free Maccas.’
‘There’s no McDonalds anywhere near here, our town has a variety of excellent food.’
As Liz briefed him on his hotel, he was being watched by the only one in the foyer…a dark-haired tanned and fit woman near his age who placed the book she was reading down next to her cocktail. She was dressed in a colourful blue top, white skirt and the reddest lipstick he had ever seen. He turned to her and fanned himself with his Panama hat as he cocked his eyebrow.
Rather than saying anything, she began to sing,
‘The South Coast is wild coast and lonely…and a man there is always alone…’
‘Today’s the first time I’ve heard that song in a long, long time…but it’s the second time I’ve heard it today.’
‘Do you know the story of the song?’
‘I’ll tell you tomorrow…’, she walked up the stairwell; he would have joined her had he not still been conducting business at reception with Liz…
‘You’ve heard who I am…’, he said to her back.
She stopped and turned,
‘I’m Random…’, she said it an American accent in what sounded more of a warning than a greeting…
‘Name, presence, or personality?’
‘All of the above.’
‘Just Random…I’ll see you tomorrow…’
He had slept too well; he rose amazed at how late it was. He didn’t want to miss his hotel breakfast.
Unshaven, he was dressed in his unironed, unstarched short-sleeved white shirt worn outside his navy suit trousers with the top three buttons undone; his highly polished black oxfords and socks were replaced by sandals.
Arriving in time to a cacophony of women whose conversation and matching flight bags revealed they were on the same tour group, he looked for a place to sit.
Liz was still there, poor thing. She beckoned him.
‘You look relaxed already…’
She seated him at a quiet table for two on the balcony with a coastal view, a vase of fresh colourful flowers and a glass of orange juice waiting for him.
‘How did you know, Liz?’
‘You look the type…How do you like your eggs?’
‘Scrambled with Parmesan mixed in?’
‘With grilled tomatoes, bacon and sourdough toast?’
‘Done and dusted.’
He sipped his orange juice as he admired the view and the brilliant sunny morning.
‘The South Coast is wild coast and lonely…’, sang Random as she joined him at his table. Liz brought her a long black as well…
‘A man there is no longer alone’, he sang. ‘Now...the question you’d never thought a man would ever ask you…’
Her eyes grew large,
‘What on earth is a barranca? And how and why does a lion rule it?’
She smiled in relief,
‘It’s a Spanish-American word for a narrow, winding river gorge. In 1926 a woman named Lillian Bos Ross and her husband went hiking in the wilds of Big Sur…have you ever been there?’
‘No, but I saw The Sandpiper, with Elizabeth Taylor as a single mother living there in a pretty swish place…’
‘You can only get away with that if you’re Liz Taylor’, she smiled, ‘I’m from California and I can’t get anything like that…anyway, they saw the ruins of an old house in the middle of nowhere. She wrote a poem called The Coast Ballad that became the South Coast song about a vaquero son of a Spanish grandee winning his wife in a card game. Unfortunately, a mountain lion comes out of the barranca in the moonlight and spooks her horse; she’s thrown to her death down the barranca, and he’s forever alone…’
‘It’s always something, isn’t it?…How did you end up here…at Random?’
She took a spoonful of his Parmesan scrambled eggs, her expression showed she loved them as well.
‘Do the winds speak to you?’
‘If they did, I never listened. What do they say to you?’
‘Go…go with the flow…One day I woke up and decided to leave banking and come to Australia!’
‘Americans always say Australia with an exclamation mark! Pommies always say it with an ellipse…’
She took another spoonful of his eggs and a slice of bacon,
‘I’m enjoying myself…’
‘So I see…I also heard another song about a Young, Young Man being advised to seize the day and do just that.’
‘Something is playing the right songs for you…’
‘Or some One…’
A pair of rainbow-chested green lorikeets landed on the rail of their balcony. She made noises of pleasure like a child.
‘Would you like them eating out of your hand?’
No words were necessary, he took her hand and emptied the contents of a packet of raw sugar in her palm,
‘Sweets to the sweet…’
Then he held her hand out…the birds sat on her palm to eat the sugar.
‘I’ve never seen anything so beautiful!’
‘Look in a mirror…’
The pair of lorikeets finished their breakfast and flew off to the land of fun.
‘Join me for body surfing after brekkies?’
‘Who could refuse an offer like that…you’re picking up Strine rather well, Random…’
The surf, as well as the day was perfect. They put lotion on each other’s backs then went into the South Pacific where they were propelled by the waves as if they were flying like Superman.
They eventually went ashore to lay on their beach towels. She dozed off with his hat over her face as he watched the surf; he soon followed her in sleep.
She woke him with a kiss,
‘Teatime?’, he asked.
She answered him with a smile.
* * *
After they had showered and changed at their hotel, he waited for her on their balcony as he read his book. To his surprise, there she was…dressed in a white Mexican blouse and colourful skirt.
‘You must be ex-army; you move fast and look good.’
‘Brownies had too many rules for me…but life’s too short to do anything but…’
They went for a morning on the town.
He found a lovely quiet place for tea and cake. She announced that she didn’t want tea, but she enjoyed the atmosphere of the teahouse. She went off and returned with an iced coffee and asked the shocked staff if she could drink it at their table. They politely said she could.
‘You look embarrassed’, she smiled.
‘Teatime is as sacred as church.’
‘I don’t go to church.’
‘I can tell.’
Her preferred morning activity was shopping, where she would try on a variety of dresses, though apparently she didn’t buy anything.
‘You’re very patient,’
‘When my mother took me shopping with her, she bribed me with ice cream.’
‘Your mother was a wise woman.’
At the ice cream parlour, she refreshed herself by trying at least six free samples. She sat with him as he enjoyed a dish of ice cream.
‘I suppose you must be full after all those free samples.’
‘If you do it deliberately, it’s not embarrassing.’
‘Not for you, no…’
‘Would you feel better if I bought something?’
‘They would; you can afford it, can’t you?’
She bought herself an ice-cream soda.
‘Why do you Australians call it a spider?’
‘Because like a bottle of tequila there’s one at the bottom of the glass.’
She quickly looked, then broke out laughing.
‘Supposedly because the reaction of the carbonated drink with the ice cream looks like a spider’s web.’
To his surprise she had bought a dress. The shopgirl entered the ice cream parlour and handed it to her in a gift-wrapped box.
‘Take me somewhere nice tonight so I can show it off.’
‘I’ll take you somewhere nice so I can show you off…Please don’t sing that Lesley Gore song about Don’t put me on display. I’m proud of you, Random.’
They returned to their hotel in the afternoon. She asked,
‘You’re not ty…yerd are you?’
‘You sound exactly like my Physical Training Instructor before he gave us more exercises…I was hoping for a siesta…’
‘I always feel torpid in the Tropics…but I feel energetic in the Sub-Tropics…’
‘Our Lady of Perpetual Motion…’
‘Time enough to sleep when you’re dead.’
‘Now you sound like my Drill Instructor…’
She broke out laughing and repeated the catch phrase of an old television show,
‘This is Your Life!’, she laughed, but determinedly said, ‘Now you can begin your new life…’
‘What are we going to start with, Random?’
‘Liz gave me a map for a country drive.’
They felt cool in the green hills of the surrounding countryside. They would stop and admire the views of the green forests, hills and farmlands towards the West and the blue Pacific towards the East. The cows in their paddocks enjoyed the views as well. They stopped again to pat some horses,
‘When are you going to start living and stop merely existing?’
‘Are you asking the horse or me?’
‘A horse is a horse of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course, but I’ve got hopes for you. You’re good mannered and patient; but you enjoy life as much as I do.’
‘No, some people enjoy being miserable, others enjoy making others miserable, and then there’s those that just can’t understand. They’d ask me if I don’t get tired of enjoying myself and said that they would. They even said they were bored with fireworks; I never am.’
‘Neither am I. But you’re the type who makes them, not watches them.’
She kissed him and smiled, then asked,
‘Do you know Maslow's hierarchy of needs?’
‘Let me see now’, his mind drifted back, ‘physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation.’
‘You’ve got the bottom things, when are you going for the top?’
‘When I was adventuring around the world, whenever I had the esteem of my peers and self-actualisation, I didn’t have the basic needs. I didn’t know where I’d be sleeping that night or if I’d be alive the next day. When I now have the basic needs, I don’t have the higher ones. It seems one or the other, rather than starting at one and working your way up.’
She thought the matter over,
‘Yes…serious artists are the same way…You’re right!
‘That’s the first time any woman ever told me that…’
‘Are you worried what your employer thinks about you?’
‘They give me the basic needs...’
It must have been 3 o’clock…the winds suddenly picked up and the high grasses on the hills moved with the breeze like a green sea. Was it her he was listening to or was it the wind? Maybe the songs on the coach were some supernatural force speaking to him, or maybe he was having a mental breakdown?
‘Eeny meanie chilli beanie…the spirits are about to speak…’
‘Are they friendly spirits?’, he responded.
He smiled at her quoting favourite television shows of his childhood, as if they had been together then as they were now.
‘Friendly? Just listen…Have you ever seen a moth going to a flame? It looks stupid or embarrassing as you’d say, to everyone else, but the moth believes he’s living life to the fullest.’
His mind drifted back to watching other people’s children running around in circles screaming that made him think the parents couldn’t control their ankle-biters, but when he was a child, running around in circles and screaming with his friends seemed the most fun ever.
‘Never mind how you look, if it feels good to you, do it.’
‘Providing you won’t go to gaol; all the things on my bucket list would get me thrown in prison for quite some time, Random.’
They returned to their hotel to prepare for the evening.
He wore his blue suit without his tie. Her purchase was the most incredible dress that he had ever seen, it was a lovely blue with half a dozen different patterns randomly ranging from sea creatures to leopard-skin spots. She demonstrated she could wear it with straps or hanging off her shoulder like a Mexican blouse. It was either very versatile or for people who couldn’t make up their minds; or those who were Random...
‘All that’s missing is a fan…’
She whipped one out of her purse and showed that she knew how to use it…
‘I’ve got everything, and I’ll try anything…’
* * *
They dined at one of the outside tables of a Mexican restaurant that faced the harbour.
After they ordered and began with their carafe of red sangria, they discovered that the RESERVED area was for their entertainment. Three Latin-Americans, a woman on a harp and two men with guitars took turns singing, further adding to the atmosphere.
They were enjoyed by the crowd in a reserved fashion. Their songs were well known to the point of being a cliché, for that’s what makes people happy.
He told them their songs were beautiful,
‘Muy Hermosa’, Random translated.
The female harpist smiled,
‘¿Desea solicitar una canción?’
‘She asked you if you have any requests for them to play.’
His memory took him back to John Ford’s The Fugitive. A rough band of federales entered a cantina, searching for the title character. Bull terrier lookalike policeman Robert Armstrong decided to have his wicked way in a back room with Dolores Del Rio, the cantina’s owner and mother of an infant. A peon played a record that made Dolores burst out of her room and dance on top of the bar for the other police that put everyone in a mood of pure joy. He loved that song as well as the cinematography and dancing…
‘Do you know El Balaju?’
They smiled and her harp began. One of them sang, the others joined in chorus.
Random became thrilled, rose and began dancing, whirling about, using her fan and giving wild looks. She increased her show by holding her skirt up to display her legs. She shouted,
‘Mi huapango favorito de Vera Cruz!’
The audience and the musicians began to shout in delight.
She acknowledged the expression on his face,
‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’
On the floor was a disused folded up wooden table, when they came to the instrumental portion of the song, Random jumped on the flattened table with her dancing feet loudly stamping that made everyone cheer. The harp and guitars sped up to keep up with her…it was a duel! She was sounding like a machine gun…Everyone was cheering, screaming and whistling!
A man grabbed his shoulder,
‘If you don’t start dancing with her, someone’s going to!’
He found himself getting up and circling around her as the man in the cantina did in the movie. Euphoria increased; it was as if they were rising to heaven in a vortex of joy going to the stars...
They put their arms around each other as they danced side by side, one, two, three four! One two three four! One two three four! with the audience wildly cheering them on. They had slowed down, but he was in step with her in their dancing together.
Everyone wildly applauded, even the flocks of white corellas perched in the Norfolk pines by the harbour seemed fascinated.
‘Guantanamera! Lenta y sensualmente‘, Random requested.
Dancing slowly and sensually, they fell into each other’s arms…
Several couples joined in the dancing. Everyone applauded at the end of the song, and Random and the trio conversed in Spanish. They asked her where she was from, then began a slow and sensual rendition of California Dreamin’ cantado en español.
As he held her in his arms, he noticed Random was crying…
After dinner they walked back to their hotel in the moonless night that featured the light of what seemed to be a thousand stars.
Number 1001 was a shooting star that blazed across the dark sky in a moment of glory,
‘I wish I could put this day in a bottle and drink from it every day for the rest of my life!’
‘You can’, Random answered, ‘But never stop looking for another day just as good or better...and the night’s not over yet…’
They returned to the hotel and its empty foyer; he looked in her eyes.
‘No, you can’t go inside my room!’
‘Curses, foiled again…’
‘We’ll go to your room…’
* * *
She woke him early in the darkness.
‘Tomorrow has finally come; let’s walk barefoot in the morning dew and watch the sunrise together…’
The clouds were a brilliant red that set the day on fire…
‘Red sky at morning…’
‘Never be in mourning’, she yearnfully replied, ‘Life is too wonderful.’
They had breakfast on their balcony together.
‘Have we time for a morning swim?’
‘No…I have to complete my packing…I’m leaving this morning…’
‘Where are you going?’
‘To another place, and you can’t come along…please don’t ask me why…you’ve got your day in a bottle to open and savour…no, nothing you’ve done, I’m just flying away.’
He believed she must’ve had a reason to be a woman of mystery, or this was how she got her kicks.
He sat on the same balcony that they had their first breakfast together with his tea watching the rain pour down. Liz gave him a letter.
By the end of this letter, you will understand why I did not give you reasons for my farewell and most of all, why I did not remain here with you in your sub-tropical paradise.
The quick answer is that it’s now time to fly back to California from your wonderful country you shared with me. But there’s something else, something that I didn’t want to say, but I had to write to you lest you think I was tormenting you…or you believe that you had done something wrong to upset me…you haven’t…and you never could…
To cut to the chase, I have a terminal illness, it doesn’t matter what its name is, but I am living on borrowed time.
The ‘one-derful’ thing is that borrowed time is the sweetest. Everything has a stronger taste, aroma and enjoyment.
If I remained here, or anywhere else, those that know me as the adventurous, or embarrassing as you say, Random will see a deteriorating creature that will tug on your sympathies. You soldiers have a colourful phrase for where you’ll find sympathy in the dictionary. I shall not have it.
My wishes are for you to not only remember me as I was in our precious time together, but for you to feel the times we had together as well as remember them. When you are body surfing the South Pacific, dancing like a demon in a Mexican restaurant, or merely walking barefoot through the morning dew and watching the sunrise, firstly feel everything, and secondly, imagine me with you, but most importantly of all, imagine you too are living on borrowed time. Then ask yourself, is what you’re doing something you really want to do? My time with you has been so very much so for me!
I shall close by thanking you for the most wonderful time of my life. Shall I find others just as good? I shall try…but as I feel my time growing shorter, so shall I have to look more quickly and intensely…
My eternal love,
She was right, you had to enjoy things when you first saw them, otherwise they would never come again. You may imitate, but you’ll never duplicate a special time, the chances of the stars of destiny, the winds of fate and the mood where two strangers realised that they ‘clicked’ together would rarely be in conjunction again...and there would never be another Lady of the Sub-Tropics…
As Random said, everything happened for a reason; you just had to discover it…
He observed Liz studying him.
Liz’s brown eyes seemed sympathetic and understanding, but perhaps that was as much a result of good hospitality training and experience as her eternal smile and ability to predict what her clients desired.
A single lorikeet flew by…
He returned to his salt mines of work with his sadistic giggling manageress. Had it all been a dream? Had Random returned to California, or wherever she was really from…
Who was she?
He recalled an episode of The Richard Boone Theatre entitled Captain Al Sanchez where a Mexican labourer worked all year long at an awful job and building a small sailboat in his spare time. Once a year he would spend all his money on a trip to Mexico where he would impress the locals with his stories of being the captain of a large deep-sea fishing boat. He had also read identical stories of 19th Century European peasants visiting casinos with an imaginary identity of a sultan or maharajah of an exotic non-existent land. As long as they kept to their image, they provided entertainment to everyone, except perhaps to a lover whose heart they broke.
Perhaps she was sitting in an office somewhere far away from the coasts of North America in an office as he was; counting the minutes until it was time to leave, then dreading the hours until returning to work…but cheering herself up by remembering the role she played of a woman of mystery in a far-off foreign land…
Relaxing with a beer and bargain steak dinner at a pub, his eyes were attracted to a news story on the television on the wall…there she was…her name really was Random…
The news story told of a terminally ill woman who somehow obtained clothing, escaped from her California hospice, stole a police car, blindfolded and handcuffed the police officer, then extremely fatally drove herself off a high cliff into the ocean with the siren going…with the local police department refusing to comment just how that had happened…
He thought of her comment,
‘All I want the cops to do is wave the chequered flag at my finish.’
She had fought her way out of her barranca because she was the lioness who ruled it. She was forever in his Alma Corazon Y Vida; he would never be alone…
He strode into his office the next morning dressed as on holiday; unshaven, in his navy suit trousers and his unironed, unstarched short-sleeved white shirt worn outside his trousers with the top three buttons undone; his highly polished black oxfords and socks were replaced by sandals. He was holding a cardboard box.
His upset manageress clicked out in her extra-loud high heels with her Play School hostess persona.
‘What do you think you’re doing? Casual dress day is not until this Friday!’
‘Gather round, everyone. I have cake for you.’
‘Thank you, we’ll have it later; after you shave and dress in a more suitable way for the office. I’m surprised at you!...Is it fresh?’
‘Made this morning…’
‘Well, thank you…it’s very nice of you…’
‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’, he laughed, ‘This won’t take long.’
He opened the cake box; her eyes grew as big as the proverbial town hall clock as she loved sweet and expensive things…everyone gave sighs of approval.
He smashed the whipped cream cake into her face.
‘Never mind…’, he smiled.
His fellow workers cheered!
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).