Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a girl.
The girl was 23.
The land was Australia.
The time was 1994.
She lived there for a year and worked in Sydney as a Girl Friday for an investment company. The girl licked stamps and made coffee. Her mouth tasted of glue and her coffee tasted like muck, since she’d only ever made instant before. She answered the phone and had to say things more than once, on account of her Irish accent. Her shorthand was much better than her coffee. She typed letters and, when no-one was looking, played Tetris on her computer. She became brilliant at Tetris and if it had been an Olympic sport, her mother would have been very proud.
The girl lived with a boy in an apartment that was a little bigger than the cardboard boxes that fridge-freezers come in. There was a sofa that became a bed, when a bed was called for. There was a balcony. There were cockroaches with wings in the cupboards in the kitchen. There was never any food in the cupboards in the kitchen because the girl and the boy never ate there, on account of the cockroaches that could fly but never seemed inclined to. They ate out. Which was easy to do back in 1994, even on the wages of a Girl Friday and a boy who worked for a mobile phone company and quoted reference numbers in his sleep.
They went hiking in the Blue Mountains, danced in Kings Cross, buggy boarded on Bronte Beach and sustained third degree sunburn.
One day, the girl turned 24. It must have been her birthday. The boy met her after work and they went to a bar. They sat outside. It was warm and sunny. It had been warm and sunny every day for a year. The girl was full of it. Full of warmth and sun and sparkly wine which she ordered in the bar, because it was her birthday. She looked at the boy with his dark hair and his blue eyes and his sunburn and his reference numbers. She looked at him until he noticed her looking at him. Then she said, ‘Will you marry me?’
He said yes.
They got married in a little church on a hill in Watson’s Bay. She wore a green dress. He chanced a cream sort-of-a-suit. His socks were beige with bright orange polka dots. She forgot to take the sticker off the soles of her sandals so everyone in the church – there were 25 guests – could see that they cost $24.99.
They sailed around Sydney Harbour that afternoon, eating Balmain Bugs (they’re tastier than they sound) and drinking Champagne (which was really sparkly wine, but nice all the same).
They returned to their tiny apartment in Paddington, walked up two flights of stairs before she remembered that he had forgotten to carry her over the threshold so they walked back down the stairs to the front door and he lifted her and carried her, not just over the threshold but all the way up the two flights of stairs and then he read her a poem by WB Yeats and it was a love poem.
The girl is 42 now. She has three children and one dog. The boy is 43. He also has three children and one dog. She is a writer these days, and makes good coffee. He still works for a phone company. They call them Solutions Companies now. He no longer quotes reference numbers in his sleep.
They talk about Australia sometimes. Perhaps because there is something magic about being 24 and full of heat and hope and possibilities.
And now they’re going back.
It’s a book tour, really. She wrote a book. Four of them actually. It’s her first book tour and it happens to be in Australia. And New Zealand. But Australia. She remembers climbing to the top of Uluru with the boy (they still called it Ayers Rock back then). Dawn, it was. The red dust of the desert. The vastness of it. It was windy at the top. But quiet too. Like the world was letting you in on a secret. Was whispering it in your ear.