'Have you ever been to New Caledonia, Doc?'
'Why do you ask that, Phil?'
Franco and Ciccia looked up at Doc.
Because he did.
With their wives having a girl's Sunday afternoon out at a chick flick, Doc Sanford joined Phil Danté and his pair of white poodles to walk the Western track bordering their coastal town. The green farmlands, dry stone walls, copses and forested hills were a wonderful backdrop for the four friends.
'Ohhhh, my family holidayed together in New Caledonia. I think of it from time to time...Doc, the expression on your face looks like you've quite a story...'
We love good stories and we love you too, Doc!
'It was a long time ago, before I met Tory....'
Flight to a Fling in a French Fandango
Things do happen in threes.
Doc Sanford's holiday had happened through a conjunction of events, all under the sign of ARIES, the Additional Research, Information and Enquiries Service of the Miscellaneous Affairs Department of the Australian Public Service in Sydney.
The first event was when the MAD Director, known by her staff as The Fat Controller, was keen on her brand new experimental scheme: putting supposedly idle employees from various sections together to perform needed tasks in another section having a backlog of work due to the incompetence of their manager. Directors and managers of course were never idle, they had excuses...
Though the dictator and her suck ups talked up the talking points, no one mentioned the amount of time, training and experience it would take to get the unwilling and untrained officers to efficiently do what was required in a different section before their own sections required their return. In the APS efficiency was never important; what was important was that someone had created their own scheme to use as an accomplishment on their curriculum vitae. Some punk flunkie would later dream up dodgy statistics to prove a failure had somehow been a success.
The APS resembled The Emperor's New Clothes; if you openly stated that someone important's pet plan wasn't really working, you didn't belong in the workforce, and you'd be strongly encouraged, AKA harassed to leave either through resignation or suicide...Change was the thing in the APS, not only for creative egos, but by changing the benchmark, you had nothing to compare dreadful performance with.
The cardinal rule was when at your work station, the APS name for 'desk', don't be seen to be idle and when you're idle don't be seen at your work station. As not everyone could arrange to be on training courses, deployments, interstate meetings, or officially approved BOBSATs (Bunch of Blokes Sitting Around Talking), it would be an opportunity for those not wishing to waste their time and lose their temper to have some leave until the bad scheme was forgotten and things returned to normal.
ARIES consisted of three investigators; Doc, Suzy Wheeler and their leader Alex[andra] Constance. Though the trio were opposites in everything, they formed a formidable investigation team. One of their peccadilloes was that two would gang up against the other for the greater good, and not only in work matters...
Suzy removed her wristwatch and slowly waved it in front of Doc's face like a stage hypnotist,
'You need a holiday...You need a holiday...You need a holiday...'
'Doc, you haven't had a holiday since...'
The death of his wife was the elephant in the room...
Doc seemed incapable of grief, but the pair would hug or touch him at times. He would reciprocate and say 'thank you' without his voice; his expression forgave Alex.
'You may never have a better time for leave with our workload being rearranged....'
'Translation...Alex and I are going on holidays and we'll come back refreshed. We don't want to come back to find you in a shitty mood.'
'Suzy!!!...I'm afraid she's right, Doc. For everyone's sake, have some time off and learn how to relax...please.'
It was rare that Alex said 'please' to him. She was looking forward to quality time with her husband and children, Suzy was planning a Queensland road trip with her partner, they didn't want poor Doc to be Odd Man Out.
The third thing was a brochure suddenly appearing on his desk.
It was an incredibly cheap Aircalin excursion to New Caledonia that was a two and a half hour flight from Sydney. He had never been there before, but knew of it from The Proud and Profane and McHale's Navy.
Alex and Suzy adamantly denied putting it there.
Doc did his research; the airfare, hotel accommodation and transport to and from La Tontouta International Airport combined was significantly cheaper than the standard air fare by itself. As Sydney was in winter and New Caledonia was warm enough for ocean swims, the office was going through a spasm of stupidity and his team urged him to leave...Things were falling into place, as if they had been prearranged...Alex delightedly gave him the cold rainy afternoon off to visit the Central Business District Aircalin office.
* * *
In the hallway of the floor of the airline's office was an attractive blonde woman about his age dressed in a blue business suit and beret as he was.
'Do you work here, Miss?'
'I was about to ask you the same thing.'
Her smile was everything, it was genuine...she had excellent posture and self confidence. She walked up to him as if she knew him...had he forgotten her?
Taking his hand in a warm firm handshake, she then raised it looking at his wedding ring.
'You'll have to excuse me for being so incredibly forward, but there's method in my madness. Are you about to enter the Aircalin office to undertake the four day three night Nouméa package, and will you be going for their jour de Fête nationale?'
For some reason he was reminded of wedding vows.
'I do...as you were, I am.'
She gestured to the chairs in the hallway, they sat, she spoke matter-of-factly,
'I've just come from their office. The package deal is only meant for a couple; the single fare's nearly twice as much as the deal...'
Indeed it was.
'I'm stingy Scottish...and I'm willing to trust you if you're willing to trust me. You look like a gentleman.'
'Thank you, you look like a lady...'
She gave him a questioning look,
'You're direct and brutally practical but courteous, well dressed and well spoken...you could tell me to go to Hell and I'd look forward to the trip...'
She burst out laughing,
'Thank you. I propose that we join forces to save a significant amount of money. Are you game?'
This was going to be an adventure...or would it be a misadventure?
'The answer to your proposal is I do. By the way, I'm David Robert Sanford, call me 'Doc' because of my first two initials; and you are?'
'Jenny...from Jasper's Brush.'
'Just south of Berry on the South Coast.'
* * *
They entered the office as a couple. They left having saved an incredible amount of money and were issued a multitude of extras, including free Aircalin flight bags.
Outside beneath their umbrellas, they acquired South Pacific Francs. They concluded with tea beneath the rain splashing on the glass roof of the Victorian Era Strand Arcade. Doc explained that he was a Commonwealth public servant and a former Canadian. She responded that she was an artist and had a gallery but wouldn't say where.
Jenny set her terms,
'We'll be together for a few days then we'll go our separate ways. There'll be no talk of the past and none of the future...Only the now...agreed?'
* * *
He didn't meet Jenny from Jasper's Brush again until he arrived at Sydney International Terminal. They greeted each other at their gate of departure with an embrace like old friends...or new lovers? Again, both were nearly identically attired; now in tropical suits and large brimmed hats for their journey just north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
He wondered if she was married and having a fling away from her husband and family; ergo no past, no future...only go now pay later.
'Have you ever seen The Wizard of Oz, Doc?'
'Many times, and I can see it many times more. Stuff Citizen Kane...The Wizard of Oz is the greatest film ever made.'
'We agree. I want you to pretend you're Dorothy and those highly shined brown Oxfords are your red slippers. Close your eyes...click your heels and repeat after me three times, "Now is the time to be aware of the present moment. I let go of the past and the future."'
He did so, she embraced him again with more warmth. Their boarding was announced...as if they were pronounced temporary man and wife...
'The untold want by life and land ne'er granted...Now voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find...'
'I loved Now, Voyager too, Doc!'
* * *
On their flight across the Coral Sea he found it difficult to converse without asking questions, but he managed. His late wife told him that he excelled in small talk, and it paid off. They discovered each other to be sympathique: intelligent, well read and possessing a witty sense of humour; they clicked...Together they studied their tourist brochures and other items issued at the Aircalin office as if they were secret weapons from Q Branch.
Their excellent in-flight meal was accompanied with vin rouge gratuite; she toasted,
'No past, no future, only pleasure...'
'When you aren’t in the present you become a victim of time. Your mind is pulled into the past or the future, or both.'
'All present and accounted for, Ma'am.'
They synchronised their watches one hour into the future...
Le premier jour
The skies were a brilliant blue as they landed, so it would be for all of their stay.
The complementary coach trip from the airport to Nouméa meandered by dropping off many locals. As they viewed residential areas and industrial ones, Doc conversed and questioned the locals about living in Nouvelle Calédonie; his French was coming back.
Eventually they arrived at their hotel on the Plage de la Baie des Citrons. It was of an older style in wood with white walls, varnished brown floors and cornices cooled by ceiling fans; the pair fell in love with it. Continental Breakfast was included, served in a charming veranda facing the beach and there was a swimming pool.
They walked upstairs to their tropical cosy room; Jenny travelled light like he did. Doc prepared tea as they unpacked.
As they sat on their balcony facing the colourful sunset, the beach and the palm trees, she pensively sipped her tea,
'You asked a lot of questions on the bus...'
'I didn't ask you any questions...'
'You didn't, well done...no objection...it was the way you asked your questions...you sounded like a detective...'
'Didn't you say no talk of the past or of the future?'
'I'll talk about the present, Doc...Are you a policeman?'
'I was in Ontario...a soldier for a longer time...I'm neither now.'
'Thank you for being truthful...that explains things...your dress, your posture, your fitness..."as you were"..."all present and accounted for"...yes, you were in the army...You're a good man to have around...I'm glad I met you...'
She had him figured, but he couldn't figure her.
'I'm glad I met you...Now, what would you like to do tonight?'
'I'll go with your flow and trust you. What would you like to do?'
'Well Jenny, how do you feel about dressing up, having dinner somewhere and going to the Casino to use our free 500 Franc chip?'
Doc didn't want to tell the free-spirited Jenny that their extras had determined what they were going to do; agenda by freebies. He also had his own ideas about the Bastille Day celebrations, he wondered how easy going she would be.
* * *
Jenny's evening dress was a smashing mix of colour; Doc still wore his tropical suit.
They searched for a restaurant they felt they wanted to go to and found one on a side street run by a charming family who let their cat have the run of the room. They enjoyed the French cuisine, the feline and her family's company.
He noticed that she seemed to savour everything, the food, the surroundings, the conversations...
'You're really enjoying things, Jenny'
'Everyone does when they live in the moment, it's what mindfulness is all about.'
'Focus...focusing your awareness on the present moment and nothing else but; mindfulness isn’t difficult, you just need to remember to do it.'
They both didn't mind walking, even when they were in their evening clothes as she wore practical, but attractive shoes. He enjoyed her talking about her artwork as they walked arm in arm along the seaside promenade abiding by the conversational rules of only the now.
One of the freebies was a free taxi ride to the Casino Royale. They appeared to be the only ones there until Jenny opened a door that led to the poker machines that was Kangaroo Valley...filled to the brim with Aussies. He feared he'd be unsuitably dressed without a L'Homme de Rio white dinner jacket and red carnation, but they outshone the tourist mob. The young female croupiers looked as bored as cats after they had eaten as they awaited them to lose their free 500F chip, which Doc quickly did.
Les croupiers kept their poker faces when Jenny hit the roulette table like the Marines hit the beach. By playing the red and the black she won a substantial amount of money.
Gambling junkies, tourists and glaringly obvious former policemen now casino security officers appeared out of nowhere to witness her streak of good fortune or skill. Les Flics tried to unnerve Jenny, but she appeared nonplussed; they made Doc extra watchful.
She beckoned him as he was beside her holding her hand; she passionately kissed him, then whispered,
'Don't leave me, Doc...'
His femme de mystère may have been a professional gambler as she was placid, in control and knew when to quit...it's rare to be able to run an art gallery without some form of other income...
At his suggestion they rode a taxi back to a different, but nearby hotel. He could see her initial apprehension of him being a former policeman vanished; she could trust him as her bodyguard. He wondered what else she would require a bodyguard for...
They sauntered back to their own hotel along the seaside promenade beneath the palm trees, the Southern Cross and the other stars in the sky and taking in the sounds, smell and spray of the ocean. A hamburger stand they passed was as loud as it was small.
'The music's so loud I can't hear myself think.'
'Why do you want to think, Doc?'
'If you live like the Eloi, you'll die by the Morlocks.'
'I don't mean go catatonic. I want you to learn to seize the moment, not the day. Embrace the now. Emily Dickinson said "Forever is composed of nows". Don't you want to live forever?'
'Only with you.'
They embraced and kissed alongside the seaside promenade...The music travelled across le Pacifique sud Français...
Monday...Tuesday...Day after day...life slips away...
'Dance with me, Doc? Dance as if no one is watching!'
They did...to Laissez-moi danser with the dynamic duo joining Dalida in singing the chorus as Jenny's Franc filled handbag swang.
After a champagne night cap at their hotel, they prepared for bed. Both were enthusiastically willing, for there was no yesterday and no tomorrow, only tonight...
Le deuxième jour
They started their morning with coffee and a swim in the ocean across Rue Jules Garnier, with each applying tanning lotion to each other. New Caledonia was surrounded by a reef so there was no surf.
After their small leisurely hotel veranda breakfast, they caught a bus to central Nouméa. They began with a look around the colourful markets then some shopping and banking. She bought two lovely scarves that Doc approved of. As he waited in the background she converted most of her winnings to Australian currency at the bank, then it was to the Post Office where her currency was wrapped in one scarf and posted off somewhere.
'I borrowed quite a few things from my sister, so I'm paying her back.'
As they walked arm and arm, Doc summoned up the courage to ask,
'Do you mind if I take your photograph?'
'To capture the moment, so I'll never forget you.'
'There's plenty of moments to come.'
'They won't be the same, otherwise it would be like having dementia; never remembering the great times that will perk you up when you find yourself down. Even in Total Recall they provided photographs.'
'I see...yes, Doc...You may photograph me.'
She posed in front of a scenic view and smiled,
'Live the moment Doc, I hate it to stop...because when will we ever have it again?'
'Portrait of Jennie!'
He was glad that she had no phobia of being photographed; her reaction when she thought he was a policeman gave him pause.
After luncheon near the Place des Cocotiers central park, they enjoyed another of their free treats...They toured the sights of Nouméa and its splendid views on Le Petit Train, a small kiddie train like those that carried children around a shopping mall.
'Doc, have you ever noticed that in Australia everything is "the big this" and "the big that" and that in France everything is "Petit?'"
'Life is full of wonders, and you're one of them.'
They kissed in the train, the French passengers gave smiles, the Antipodeans whistles.
'You're adept at flattery.'
'I say what I mean, Jenny.'
'I believe you do...'
The artificial honeymooners kissed again for le divertissement des autres as well as each other.
They stopped off in the Michel Corbasson Zoological and Forest Park to enjoy the quiet of the bush and the local birds...then hopped back on a later Petit Train for more sightseeing and shopping.
Doc suddenly realised that everything in their Q Branch Secret Mission Nouméa package of freebies was for one time only...
They returned by bus, had their afternoon tea by and swam in their hotel pool. It lived up to the name of Baie des Citrons as amidst the lush jungle type banana tree vegetation around the pool there were lemon trees bearing fruit that he sliced for their tea.
In their room they made love as they showered together then dressed in smart casual red, white and blue. The bus returned them through the sunset to Nouméa for the Eve of Bastille Day in France d'outre-mer.
Free Japanese Lanterns were issued out in a park where the crowd formed. Their procession was a mixture of native Caldoches and Metropolitan French, Melanesian Kanaks, Arabs, Chinese and Indochinese, Matelots in white with red pompoms on their sailor hats, soldiers in tan uniforms and berets, and French, Aussie and Kiwi tourists. They were led by a band as they carried their lit lanterns on a route through narrow old streets by the icons of France: the Marine Barracks, the résidence du haut commissaire Français, up a hill to the Gendarmerie and the Cathedral. When they reached Le Zan-ze-Bar, two Kanaks crashed out the door to carry on their fight in the street like an old Western. A Kanak woman bigger than they were stormed out of the bar, grabbed the two brawlers and banged them together to the cheers and Bravos! of the procession, then dragged the embarrassed but now tranquil fighters back to the bar. Doc wondered if someone would shout 'drinks on the house!'
They concluded near the harbour at a giant carnival with fireworks; the pair embraced and kissed, joining the ooohs and ahhhhs.
After carousel and Ferris Wheel rides, it was Doc's turn to shine at the air pistol shooting gallery. Instead of white knock down ducks, there were cigarette packs on strings, some with a small bundle of South Pacific Francs on them. As the smiling Corsican shooting gallery owner sent the cigarette packs to swinging side by side, Doc used his military moving target expertise to shoot the string. His first pellet hit, making the string holding the cigarette pack jump...the crowd behind him roared...Jenny jumped up and down in excitement...but it didn't break.
The Corsican sent the cigarette pack swinging faster...Doc hit it again, at first the crowd roared in delight at the jumping string, then there was a feeling of vicious menace in the air...The crowd were no longer smiling. Faux blonde Mademoiselles took off their shoes to demonstrate that they had stiletto heels; their brown eyes blazed telepathic messages of what those heels could do...and who they would do it to if this was a gyp joint and a con game...
The Corsican began to sweat heavily, his smile seemed forced, he covered the string with his entire hand and swung it harder...was it Doc's imagination or was there now a slight fray in the string? He paused and shook his head; despite the blaring French pop tunes there was a wide eyed hush in the growing audience. The Corsican sent the pack swaying fast again...Doc fired...the string moved...there was a cheer then a growl as if a wolf pack was about to rip the place apart...the string broke and everyone cheered! Jenny kissed him, Doc put his arms around her and told the crowd,
Everyone gave vocal signs of approval. The incredibly relieved Corsican handed him the pack wrapped in South Pacific Francs then shook his hand.
'Voici votre prix!'
The crowd cheered then swarmed to pay to shoot...
'Looks like dinner's on me.'
The French ate late, the pair dined on a balcony.
'One thing's sad, Jenny. In Casablanca and To Have and Have Not all these colourful places had fun pianists singing, now it's just recordings of loud rock music.'
The pair noticed a Frenchwomen wearing a leopardskin jumpsuit, Doc teased Jenny about how well she would look in one of those. She laughed,
'The secret of leopardskin is not to have too much of it...unless you're a leopard...She's a jungle fighter!'
'What now, my love?', sang Doc.
'When in doubt, dance. It's how you find out someone's personality.'
'I don't really know how to dance, so I don't have a personality.'
'Everyone has a personality; you're shy.'
They danced the evening away...
Le troisième jour
After breakfast they were off to the Jour de Nationale celebrations in the city.
They viewed a military parade similar to The Battle of Algiers with bands and soldiers in camouflaged uniforms; Colonial Paratroopers in red berets, Marines in blue. The troops were proudly watched by their senior officers in brilliant white uniforms, generals wearing brass hat képis and the colourful festive crowd including ancien combattants who wore their army berets and medals on their suits and blazers like ANZAC Day. Then came an armoured car and vehicles, the navy in white, the air force, police and gendarmes in blue, a small fly past and the sapeurs-pompiers in brass helmets with their fire trucks concluding the event.
'Soldiers and policemen! It's like seeing a parade of Docs! I love it!
They took tea sitting outside a Café-Tabac. She smoked and commented that they didn't sell low tar cigarettes, nor decaffeinated coffee.
'In France you either do or you don't...No half measures...'
Returning to the Baie des Citrons; some streets were blocked off as a bicycle race would go by their hotel. They enjoyed a Casse-croûte lunch and Number One lagers from their balcony as they cheered the cyclists.
Afterwards they went walking by the beach in their swim suits, casual shirts, large hats and sandals with Aircalin flight bags.
'My turn to choose an adventure, Doc! Let's sail to Duck Island!'
A five minute motorboat ride took them to an incredibly small islet.
'Able was I ere I saw Elba.'
'Napoleon's palindrome, Jenny! Smile awhile in exile...'
'Now I know who you remind me of! Adam West as Batman! You're tall, dark and so serious but you make me laugh!'
Whether it was Ile aux canards or Îlot Canard, which name was correct would no doubt start another Hundred Years War, it was fun. They walked around it with Jenny remarking about the beauty of such a small place; it was the desert island lovers dreamed about being together on.
They rented face masks with snorkels, swim fins and orange wetsuit jackets that reminded Doc of Thunderball. Domino Jenny was in brilliant physical shape and swam much faster than he did in the cool blue undersea world of tropical fish and coral.
Their adventure concluded with another Number One lager and cheese crisps at a small tropical bar with a thatched palm frond roof. They watched white sails taking boats out to sea adventures and dreams as François Deguelt sang Le ciel, le soleil et la mer...
'Gilligan's Island à la française!', Doc quipped.
'I imagine you're the type that prefers Mary Ann...', his facial expression confirmed her opinion, 'I tried to be Mary Ann and failed; now I want to be Ginger.'
He sensed the dreamy expression in her eyes wasn't about the sailboats.
'Jenny, you may not think of the past, but to me, this islet will always be my mental tropical snow globe kept on the mantelpiece in my mind.'
'A tropical snow globe! You're not from Canada, you're from the Imagi-nation!'
'Let me borrow a László Bíró...'
The fascinated bartender who gave him his ballpoint pen and Jenny watched as he drew on a serviette,
'The top and bottom will have to be flat so it can stay upright. The smaller topside will be our Îlot Canard with our bar with a French flag and palm trees, then our sailboat between our isle and the edge of the globe...the larger underside has us in the blue water in our snorkelling gear with coral on the bottom and tropical fish replacing the snow...'
'Professor, you not only remember your past dreams, you plan and build your future dreams...I live in the now...'
'Sometime's the now's not such a nice place...'
'It's the best alternative.'
'You can only die in the now...'
Her meditative mood broke with a smile.
'Sign it, Rembrandt...I'll put it pride of place in my gallery...not for sale...'
She folded his art work and placed it in her bag.
They returned to the mainland, then their hotel for another shower, tea and change of clothing.
In the cool of the evening they promenaded arm in arm on the Promenade Pierre-Vernier between rows of palm trees. Local couples walked back and forth with the pair smiling and nodding their heads as if they were their neighbours, the locals reciprocated. He felt they belonged there; he wanted to stay with her there forevermore...
Over their final New Caledonian dinner he kept reminding himself that he promised he could only live in the now, there would be no future.
They massaged each other, laughed and reminisced as the recent past wasn't the past...
Le dernier jour et retour
He awoke to feel Jenny softly crying; he silently held her...they kissed, cuddled, made love...then it was time to go...
There was no time for any sightseeing or swimming with the problem of a wet swimsuit in their luggage. Their dernier petit déjeuner Français wasn't rushed, but the coach to the airport was much faster than their meandering arrival.
'Doc, may we say our farewells before we board the plane?'
The relaxed suntanned couple in their tropical suits passionately embraced and kissed at their departure gate.
Their flight passed in loving silence as they held each other's hands...
'There's something I just thought of...you're big on mindfulness, yet I never saw you meditate once. We did our deep breathing on the beach, but...'
'There's a time for meditation, and there's a time for moving, there's a time for resting and there's a time for action...I'll have plenty of time to meditate later...'
'I'll have my tropical snow globe...'
She squeezed his hand once the landing preparations were broadcast.
Doc suddenly remembered The Clock, when beneath the starry sky Judy Garland questioned Robert Walker about the vast amount of chance that brought them together...he replied, 'We couldn't not have met.'...Star-crossed lovers?
'Doc, thank you for giving me the time of my life...but I'll have to ask one last favour...Try and be the last one off the plane...'
No doubt her husband and children would be present in both meanings of the word; he was now her past she would refuse to remember.
They set their wristwatches back to Australian Eastern Standard Time.
* * *
'Good-bye, Mr. Sanford.'
'Au Revoir, Eurydice.'
He kept his word as she walked down the aisle, but he was curious to see her family.
Everyone had clustered at the exit; Doc Orpheus elbowed his way through the crowd.
Jenny of Jasper's Brush was led off in handcuffs by plainclothes and uniformed police...
* * *
Phil and Doc sat between the poodles on a bench facing the colourful Western sunset. A mob of kangaroos hopped in the distance as the lush green land and creeks turned to gold.
'So her family was the police?'
'Her future family. She stabbed her husband and two daughters then escaped from a high-security forensic mental health hospital in Melbourne. She came up to Sydney to see her twin sister who was away, so she helped herself to her passport, credit cards, clothes and luggage.'
'Her sister didn't report things were missing?'
Phil and his poodles understood Doc's knowledgeable expression...
'Her sister thought she'd have one last holiday; to pack the rest of her life into four days and three nights in Nouméa...she'll spend the rest of her life where she is, then go on to another world where she certainly won't be rewarded...'
'You believe that Doc?'
'I know it, because my first wife's an angel!'
Phil, Franco and Ciccia gave him amazed looks.
'But that's another story, Phil.'
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).