Kangaroos and Champagne
By: Mary Ann Day
A Decent Proposal
“Tonight’s the Night” - Rod Stewart’s gravelly tones drifted across the dance floor.
Sally sashayed across the shiny parquet ballroom, Gin and T in hand. Tonight it certainly was – how right of dear old Rod to define the moment.
Sally knew it had to be done and the sooner the better, before she lost what little Dutch courage was left in her now half empty glass.
Beads of perspiration dripped from her pretty tanned forehead. Soft golden curls in tendrils stood guard around her face trying to stem her visible fear.
There he was, on the dance floor at one of Sydney’s top hot spots, jingling and shaking his hips like a 25-year-old on drugs, a big smile fixed on his broad, tanned face. In his smart dark suit, sporting a burgundy handkerchief tucked fastidiously in his breast pocket, he stood out as one of the smartest and best dressed men in the room.
Con’s thick shock of chestnut hair, a touch graying at the temples, was combed to perfection a la Bill Clinton. There was just a hint of the ex-president about him. He had obviously spent time teasing his coiffure to a subtle, casual peak. But, Sally noted, the world and his dog could have seen that it was more vanity and style gel. What men did to get their gal!
Sally caught her breath at the sight of him. ‘Dear Lord, I am getting cold feet.’ She had psyched herself up to this for the past three weeks, when the ‘The Plan’ had popped into her head. Was she half crazy? Yet it was logical. Made a lot of sense really. Why not try to be sensible for once?
The fast gyrating on the dance floor to Kylie’s ‘I should be so lucky’ eased into a slow smooch. Michael Buble’s cool tenor drifted through the speakers. “And I’m Feeling Good…” came the catchy lyrics. Sally loved the song, but this was not a time to dance. She glanced over at the floor where the throng of bouncing bodies had ebbed to a small cluster of couples clutching each other in desperate closeness.
Nearby, she spotted a crowd gathered on the spacious balcony. In the distance, glimmering like a shy lady of the night, was the brightly lit skyline of Sydney city. Like cardboard cut outs, the high-rise office blocks and tall, majestic sky-scrapers stood as soldiers on parade. They flanked Sydney Tower with all its 250 metres, boldly etching it against an indigo sky. And all around the picture postcard horizon, hundreds of city lights flashed and winked like falling stars with secrets.
That breathtaking silhouette brought Sally back to the shapes on the dance floor and to her purpose. To her relief, Con was walking off the podium, mopping his brow with his starched designer handkerchief, smiling and waving at his erstwhile partner.
“Hey, I didn’t know you were here.” Con sidled up to Sally, his hot hands held out in friendly welcome. He kissed her perfunctorily on both cheeks, smiled uncomfortably and knocked her glass from her hand. “Oh Sal, I’m s..so sorry.” he flustered. His usual suave front dented momentarily.
Bending down to mop the small drop of precious liquor from her silver strappy shoes, Sally dismissed the episode. “It’s fine, no worries.” She stood up brushing fine droplets of colourless liquid from her soft pink chiffon dress. By this time she was shaking, hand uncontrollably trying to place her glass on the nearest table. This was not how she had envisaged this encounter at all. Why was life so unpredictable? Sally had planned it all out. This was the night she was going to seize the day and execute her plan. Now she had wrong footed him. Instead of making it a smooth romantic evening, they were trying not to embarrass each other. Her ploy to be cool, sophisticated and charming just shattered with her glass.
Ah well, she was not smooth and sophisticated. That’s what happens when you try to be someone else. But was Con too being someone else? Was he- like his name- a con? When she had first been introduced, he’d told her his name was ‘Constantine’. Sally was taken aback at such an unusual and historic name. Was he joking? Not long after, she met a few more Constantines in Sydney and learnt it was a popular name among the many Aussie families who had originally migrated from Greece to Oz over the years - and no con.
But who was this man anyway? A stranger she had met a few weeks before. They had a few dances. He’d told her he was born in Australia of Greek parents. He seemed friendly and a decent guy. Why not him?
Then again, why him? Did she fancy him? Or did he just fit the identikit picture she had created?
What would he say when she asked him? And would she go though with it anyway, now that they had exchanged such a stilted start to the evening?
“Hey look, don’t worry about the drink,” she said with a broad smile. “Let’s have a dance and we’ll fill up with some more booze in a minute.”
Con perked up. He grabbed her hand and pulled her firmly on to the dance area, trying to assert a Tarzan –like image of himself. Of course, Tarzan always looked like he had been training in the forest gym of trees, pumping wood and lifting log weights to bulk up. Con himself, likely pushing 50 and carrying a tad more padding and soft tissue, would never match that. He would have to try to get the girl some other way- like knocking her glass on to the floor? He knew his air of confidence was all a sham. Inside he was just a little boy desperately trying to be accepted- and loved by everyone.
Sally was keen to bolster him up. He tried to focus on the dance. What did she see in him? His head was in a whirl as they launched into every energetic number with gusto. He felt himself relaxing. Hot, sweaty and off guard, finally Con had had enough exercise. He managed to get Sally away from the bopping throng and up to the bar for a long beer- for him- and a cool coke for Sally, who was limiting her intake to one alcohol glass, as she was driving.
Sally glanced at him out of the corner of her eye as she settled herself on one of the bar stools. Their knees just touched under the counter, with Con squeezing in against the wood panel stained with sticky Fosters beer.
She had to do it now. Otherwise she would probably chicken out and miss him for another week- or who knew when. She didn’t know when she’d bump into him next and didn’t even have his phone number. She simply knew him to dance with on occasions and to exchange the odd bit of idle gossip with. He was the perfect candidate.
Con beamed his wide smile at her. His generous mouth lit up warm, friendly features. He looked more Italian than Greek. But Sally was sure he was born a true Aussie –she’d need to double check that. He’d also told her once that that he was divorced. The rainbow-coloured strobe lights of the disco caught his features like a flame in the firelight. He glowed red and green and happy.
The once handsome face had seen a few decades of eating, drinking and partying and his jaw line was not as tight as it must have been. But to Sally Con still looked suave and very dapper. However, try as she might, she knew she didn’t fancy him. Still, that was all right. That was the whole point, otherwise it would all get messy and complicated with lots of emotion and heartache, wouldn’t it? She really couldn’t be doing with any of that.
“Look, could we step out for a minute? I just wanted to have a brief chat,” Sally took the proverbial bull by the horns. Taking Con by the elbow, full of false confidence, she steered him towards the club door. “Maybe we could go for a coffee?”
“No probs, darlin,” Con was all business like. Still mopping perspiration from his brow with one hand, he chuckled: “Not as fit as I used to be. Need to take a break between dances these days - knees givin’ up! So, thanks for the breather. I could do with a coffee to sober me up, darlin’, before driving home - have had a couple of beers too many tonight!”
He was nice, smelt nice. Sally detected a musky aftershave that lingered as he walked. He would do, if only he was willing. This was it. In the car, she had rehearsed what she thought she should say to him. But there, faced with the reality, she was tempted to head for the door and run. Her courage was fading faster than eyeshadow under spotlights.
Still puffing, Con fetched two coffees, one black for Sally and one frothy, peppered with tiny slivers of chocolate. He stirred a couple of sugars in his.
He sat her down in the club’s café area where it was quiet, except for the low hubbub of chatter from other couples tucked in dark corners. The odd tinkling of glasses and crockery from the kitchen added to the distraction. Subdued lighting gave the space an air of intimacy. Sally was glad not to have tried to talk to Con inside the hall. To try to get out the words to a background of thumping disco beat was sure fire disaster. Imagine if he misheard her intentions? Body shaking, Sally steeled herself.
Sally Wiltshire, blonde, 5’4’’, slim but curvy and some would say attractive but not beautiful - no she knew she could never be mistaken for beautiful, but yes, sexy on a good day - was about to put all her cards on the table, play Russian roulette with a stranger.
“I don’t quite know how to say this Con,” she faltered. “It’s a bit of a funny request really and I hope you won’t take it the wrong way..” Sally sipped her coffee nervously, as much to moisten her parched throat as to kill time. “But…WILL YOU MARRY ME?”
Con’s jaw dropped visibly. She could see he was about to interject, so she quickly ploughed on to finish her well-rehearsed speech. She had to explain, before he shrugged it off as a bad joke, or worse still, a come-on.
“As you know I am from England..” (What a stupid remark this was! Of course he knew she was English. That cut-glass London accent was pure give away, a Pom through and through.) Her courage melted faster than a glacier on a hot day.
Quickly Sally gabbled on: “Well, the trouble is that my visa- it’s running out….and while I can renew it online, it’s not the right visa to enable me to work and live here..” Con loosened his blue shirt collar and coughed in mild embarrassment. Sally feigned to ignore his discomfort and steamrolled on: “I was really hoping that you might be able to come to the rescue.” She paused with a pleading look at Con.
“You see, to help me get the right visa, I really need a job sponsor, which I have not had much luck with, in the present climate. The problem is, no one wants to burden themselves with paperwork when the job market is flooded with applicants.” Was she losing him here? Sally began to wonder whether she should go on with her plan. Confidence sapping under the heat of the dimmed lights, she pulled herself up, took a deep breath and gave it one last shot.
“So Con, I was just wondering whether you might be able to solve the issue for me by marrying me?” Sally babbled on, afraid to stop and wait for his reply. “I could really do with a husband right now”- she giggled nervously –touching his arm, in a vain attempt to enlist his support. “…to get the right visa! But just an arranged marriage, of course – I..I would pay you..” Trailing off, trying to read his face, Sally feared she faced imminent defeat in the line of battle.
He looked at her sympathetically and wiped his brow again with his now soggy handkerchief. Sally held her breath as Con prepared his reply. He didn’t beat about the bush or fob her off with thinking time. He simply gave it to her straight.
“Aw, no, sorry darlin’. Thanks for the offer, but no, I am too old to be messing about with weddings and wives and more baggage. You know, I get asked this almost every week by some of the Asian ladies here, and I always say no. It’s not worth the hassle and worry. I have four kids and an ex-wife, and some bad blood in the family. I don’t need any more heartache than I already have.”
Con saw the disappointment flash across Sally’s face. She swallowed, trying to hide it with a brave smile. He took her gently by the hand and pulled her up off the brown leather sofa to guide her back to the bright lights of the disco. Sally fought off the temptation to rush out of the room and never look back.
“Look I am really sorry to disappoint you, hon, but- listen, I am sure there are plenty of guys here who would oblige… And you’ll look back at this and be truly grateful that I said no. I am a grumpy old so and so and would make bad company for an up and coming Pom like you!” He trailed off in an avuncular way, steering her away. They left the brown stains of the drunk coffee in the empty cups on the table as the sole reminder of their little ‘tete a tete’. If someone could have come along and read the coffee stains in the cups- like tea leaf reading- Sally wondered what message they would have left about her life and non-loves.
Sally walked zombie-like back into the auditorium with Con, feeling cold, disillusioned and dejected. The room had suddenly grown cold and dark, its milling crowd like a tableau that she was watching from afar. She had not expected this. Not instant rejection.
Con may well have thought there were plenty of willing guys out there to marry her. But Sally didn’t want a physical relationship with them. For the arranged marriage she envisaged as her answer to remaining in what for her was the most beautiful country on earth, she didn’t want to mix business with pleasure.
Deep down, without admitting it, Sally knew she would have much preferred a full relationship. She dreamed of the full Monty. Romance, flowers, sex, the lot. But after nearly a year in Sydney without much glimmer of a full-blown love affair, that seemed pretty unlikely. Not that she had lacked adventure since arriving fresh from London that cool April day. A snap decision had been all it took to give up her life in London to follow her dream. The dream of making a new life in Australia.
Now she was facing having to settle for compromise. Not many men would want to marry and not have sex. And they would need to be nice guys, ones she could get on with and be married to for years – on paper.
Sally had had a plan fixed in her mind, which was all very well as a plan- but was it realistic? She considered having sex with her chosen man - if she fancied him. But if there was no love, she felt she would need to insist on an open relationship-to keep her much valued freedom. And again, how many would go along with that? No, a straight down the middle business arrangement was really the only way to go. No involvement. Sex would just complicate things. Introduce feelings. The last thing she needed was feelings. So, it would have to be down to money. She felt sure an incentive of some sort was the thing that would clinch it. But with whom?
If Sally was going to be honest with herself, she’d admit she had been searching all her life for the elusive fairy tale.
As a little girl, you are brought up to think of the perfect marriage with perfect kids. Imperfection, infidelity, failure and divorce, do not come into it. It’s as you grow older that disillusion sets in, along with disappointment and fading hopes. So, all those years ago, when she thought she had found him - Mr Right that is – Sally was really full of optimism and fire. This was it – er, several times over. But as the years rolled on, disappointment and let down took their toll.
Sally looked back. She must have been searching for him for a pretty long time now. How long was it exactly? Mr Right was clearly not out there.
There was Barry, who she had been sure was The One at the time. Without conviction, this was the love of her life. Just goes to show how wrong you can be. And there was Colin.. ah Colin; her heart still beat a fraction faster at the mere thought of him. How could she find Mr Right when she didn’t even know what right was? Sally bemoaned the fact that she’d got it so wrong, so many times.
Having said that, it occurred to her that, despite all previous let downs and missed lessons, there she was again, like Voltaire’s ever optimistic hero Candide, still buoyed by hope. ‘All was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.’ As always, she felt that may be this time, as the song goes, it would work, that this one would be the one.
A few weeks before her histrionics with Con, she went into panic mode. She wailed to her friends that she couldn’t go on waiting for Mr Right any longer. Nothing might happen for a very long time- if ever. She had to do something. No one else would do it for her.
Which is how she came to be all geared up the previous night to get out there and grab Con.