My watch was showing 8:02 when we started. The first section was downhill and I was breathing lightly, then onto the flat and up the first hill. I checked my heel-strike action a few times to make sure they weren't twisting, then quickly went through a body check: breathing, thigh muscles, arm and shoulder movement, head up; everything good, no worries. I shut my conscious mind off from how my body was running; it was doing everything correctly and easily by itself, no need to interfere.

   I had no idea that Louise was in the fun run until I had run almost one kilometre. That's how far in front of me she was. When I first saw her black hair made up into a ponytail I suppose I didn't even think it was her. She was wearing a pale yellow sweatband, a white top and white running shorts with red stripes. I almost sprinted to catch her, then I held back a bit to catch my breath before I spoke to her.

   'Hi Louise! I didn't know you were running today.'
   'Oh Keith.' She turned and looked at me for a moment as she ran. She looked fantastic. Her legs were a beautiful golden brown, strong well-shaped thighs: runner's legs. Her breasts were bobbing up and down a little as she ran, although she was wearing a bra for the run, which she didn't normally wear. Her face was superb; that's what set her apart right away, her face, and her long black fluffy hair, now pulled back into a ponytail.
   'You're going well,' I said.
   'Sure. How are you doing?'
   'Great. How'd you get so far in front of me?'
   'Oh,' she smiled sweetly, 'my shoes have little wings on them.'
   'I didn't know you ran.'
   'I've been running since my school days. I love it. I've even been around Mt Coot-tha.'
   'You're joking! That is hard. Where's the old man today?'
   'Old man?' She looked puzzled.
   'Yeah, Pierre.'
   'But he is not--'
   'That's just slang.'
   'You have funny sayings. He does not run. He is in Sydney anyway.'
   I thought: Bloody good. I had been trying to woo Louise for weeks. The first time I clapped eyes on her I was hooked. I mean it! Not just the physical thing--the whole business--love or whatever it is. I was always trying to meet her at school functions or run into her at the supermarket. If I saw her Citroen anywhere I'd follow it and try to meet her when she got out. I even tried to get my kids to be friends with hers, but that hadn't worked out. And now we suddenly turn up together on an eight-kilometre fun run. Obviously a sign from God. Not only that, but I had her to myself. I wanted to keep her talking, make her feel happy, get her laughing.
   'Do you mind if I run with you?' I asked.
   'No, of course not. It's better if there is a friend. I sometimes worry if I pull a muscle, how would I get home.'
   'Yes. Do you play squash?'
   We started on the first big hill.
   'No. Tennis. I like tennis.'
   'Yes. Me too. Maybe we could, all get together, sometime, for doubles. Or singles.'
   'Yes. Sounds fine. Where's the missus?' She smiled at me.
   I laughed. 'You French, have vunny vords, no? She's probably, watching TV. She doesn't run.'
   'You run much, Keith?'
   'Every second day.'
   'Up and down the roads, round Sunnybank. Sometimes I go to Griffith Uni. I like to go early, in the morning.'
   'Yes. Me too.'
   'What about, the day after, tomorrow?' I asked. My heart was thumping now and it wasn't because of the running.
   'Why not? Six o'clock, too early?'
   'Just right. I'll meet you, on the corner, of your street.'
   'Yes fine,' she said.
   The hills got steeper and we stopped talking for awhile, she was a good runner, a nice style. Not like some sheilas who carry their elbows tight and high. Louise was good.
   'Am I maybe, going too slow, for you?' she asked.
   'No. You're pushing me. Go any quicker, and I'll have trouble, keeping up.'
   In fact we were doing pretty well in the run, half of the starters were behind us, and we had been talking. The sun broke through a gap in the clouds and suddenly the sweat came faster, I could feel it all over my body--it felt good. I glanced at Louise to see if she was sweating. Yes she was, but it made me think of oil. Fine rubbing oil, rubbing it all over her smooth brown body. She glanced across at me suddenly. I felt embarrassed, as if she read my thoughts.
   'It's getting hot,' she said.
   'Hey, what about going for a swim, at the Mt Gravatt pool, afterwards?' My heart was pumping again. She didn't reply for a long time, but looked at me strangely, then said, 'Come around to our house; we've got a pool.'
   'You bet.'
   When the last kilometre came up she said, 'Let's go,' and amazed me by stepping out quite a bit faster. How could she do it? Gradually she pulled ahead of me. With my lungs and legs aching, I began gulping for air. My heart seemed to be palpitating, but I believe it was the thought of being in the swimming pool with her that mixed it up. I mean it. Then I thought to myself, if she licks me at this running it might make her feel dominant and muck up our relationship. She was already thirty metres in front and moving further and further away, there was only half a kilometre to go. I began pushing myself hard to catch her, and metre by metre I began to peg her back, desperately trying to show how macho I was.
   Then when I was only two metres behind her, with fifty metres to the finish line, she got up on her toes and sprinted to the line. I couldn't believe it! I was rooted, there was no way I could have sprinted after that last kilometre when she had clapped on the pace.
   I was smiling at her and gasping for breath.
   'Wow. You. Really. Took. Off!'
   She smiled back at me, the sweat dripping off her face. She had no makeup on, and as they say: she looked beautiful without makeup, just glistening with sweat. We sat on the grass for ten minutes. Boy, I couldn't take my eyes off her. I felt tremendous admiration for her. When I saw that Louise could outrun me that really turned me on. I knew she had brains, that had been obvious from our first meeting, but pushing herself like that at the end of the run really impressed me.
   'You were terrific,' I said. 'I just couldn't believe the way you sprinted at the end.' I looked at her long, brown, muscular legs stretched out on the grass. It was all I could do to control myself.
   'You too were good, Keith. My old man cannot run one hundred metres.'
   'Same as the missus, she thinks exercise is watching the football on TV.'
   'Do you like watching the football?'
   'Nope. Squash, I love squash. Tennis. Running. A bit of swimming,' I reminded her.
   She took the hint. 'Okay. Where's your car?'
   'Just over there a bit.'
   'Mine also.'
   We walked down to the cars. 'I'll meet you at your place,' I said. I had been there a couple of times before. It was rather a flash place, better than mine. They rented it--and in six months they would be off to Quebec. I climbed into my old Falcon and watched her pull out. It was easy to see her, for she had the Citroen that day.

   When we got to her place I parked behind her in the driveway. The old heart was pounding now, really, believe me. Pounding. What's going to happen? it asked.
   We went through to the kitchen. At the fridge she asked, 'Would you like a drink of wine? Water? Juice of orange?'
   'Oh lovely,' I said, 'some moselle, if you don't mind.' To steady the ticker, I thought. Everything was turning out better than I could possibly have dreamt. I didn't know what, if anything, was going to happen. I knew what I wanted, but how to get there. 'Where's Camille and Maurice?'
   'They've gone to a friend's house for the day, playing the tennis. I pick them up this afternoon.'
   I gulped my wine desperately trying to relax. 'Mind if I have another?'
   I poured her another also, and we both drank them quickly. She stood up. 'The pool's through here.'
   'I didn't bring my swimmers, but I've got my running shorts.'
   'Ahh, but you can swim in the nude! I always do. No one can see you from next door, it's quite private.' And with that she stripped off her clothes, her back turned to me and with a few quick steps dived, clean as a dolphin, stark naked, into the pool.
   Suddenly it was me who was at the disadvantage. She was always in control; Louise was always one step ahead of me. I got out of my shirt, then my shorts, finally my undies. I didn't feel too sure about diving in, knowing I couldn't dive as well as she did, so I jumped.
   By then she was swimming underwater the length of the pool. I dived under the surface and swam after her, when she reached the far wall I expected her to surface. But oh no, she did some sort of underwater flip, and sped back past me the other way. I came to the top and gulped some air. I felt good, skinny-dipping around in the pool with her. I was beginning to hope that perhaps I had a chance with Louise, if only I could get her interested in me.
   She surfaced and smiled at me, water running from her hair. 'Beautiful, no? This is heaven after the running.'
   I swam over closer to her. 'You're beautiful,' I said like a dummy. I immediately regretted saying something so corny.
   Unfazed, she smiled at me. 'Perhaps the water is in your eyes?'
   I just stared at her, she was standing a metre away, the water up to her breasts. I looked at her eyes and they held my gaze. I moved in closer and without thinking too much about it I put my arms around her and kissed her warmly. She held my kiss.
   'Louise.' I kissed her again and caressed her breasts with my hand. She bent her head forward onto my shoulder, and then we kissed again, and suddenly her tongue was swirling around in my mouth. When her hand caressed me between the legs, I jumped with nervous excitement. She laughed.
   'You are nervous! Relax Keith, I not bite you. Come on now, can you kiss under the water?'
   Kissing underwater turned out to be less exciting than kissing on a bed. We frolicked in the water, hugging, kissing and caressing. She was not hindering me at all--it looked like "YES". Enjoyable as it all was I wanted to get onto solid ground.
   'Louise, let's go up on the grass.'
   'Grass? No thank you. There is divan inside the door.'
   She hoisted herself up over the side of the pool. 'Hey, don't think I'm going to try that! I could lose everything.' I headed for the steps, then scampered for my towel, feeling very awkward. She dried herself, and I watched the way her skin glowed and shone.
   'You're brown all over,' I commented.
   'Oui, but you are brown nearly all over.'
   'I try. But we have neighbours who like to perv on me.'
   'Oh? And do you not also perv on them?'
   I laughed. 'You know all my secrets!'
   She lay down unashamedly on the bed, completely naked. I finished drying myself and sat alongside of her. 'Louise, are you ... err ... taking the um pill?'
   'The pill? Which pill do you mean Cherie, the headache pills?'
   'No ... err ... I mean the pill that stops you having ... getting pregnant.'
   'Oh? But is there such a pill in Australia? What is this marvellous invention? A pill that can stop making babies! Why would I need such a pill?'
   I guess I must have looked pretty stupid.
   'Cheer up, Keith. I am only teasing. Yes, yes. Come on now.' She smiled at me inviting me to lay alongside of her.
   As I said, she was always one step in front of me. I lay down alongside of her and put my arms around her, and kissed her and kissed her. Long, slow, passionate kisses on her mouth, in her mouth, then slowly, down to her golden brown breasts, her flat smooth stomach.
But she didn't lie still for long, she sat up and rolled about on top of me, she massaged me with oil, she was hot and ready to go, and I realized that she was not submitting to this apr├Ęs-run delight, she was a full participant. Everything started to blur, passion burned out of control until the inevitable event occurred. Twice.

    Afterwards, she asked, 'Where are your cigarettes?'
   'But I don't smoke. Do you?'
   'Of course not, just teasing.'
   'Do you mind?'
   'I'm not used to it! My wife is ... well nothing like you! She spends most of her time watching TV.'
   'Would she mind if she knew about us?'
   'You bet! She'd be furious. Jealous. Oh you're really beautiful. She'd tear my eyes out. But what about Pierre?'
   'He is French, you understand? We have a different attitude. We both have affairs. We realise we cannot be everything to each other until we are old. As long as things are kept "clean" he does not object.'
   'What do you mean "clean"?'
   'We have rules: no making love in our bed. And lovers are not to interfere with our normal lives--meals, children, sex. They must be squeezed into spare moments. There must be no angry, or tearful scenes. In fact we must keep everything secret, only in this way will it work. You understand all that, Keith?'
   'Yes, that's fine with me.'
   'If we break the rules it must end. You may be my boyfriend, but not my lover.'
   'Yes, that's wonderful. I mean it. I also am tied up, my children, the house, my work, my wife--the whole catastrophe!'

    Later we sat up, dressed, drank coffee, and made practical plans for the continuation of our affair. It lasted for three months; three glorious, golden, best days of my life, months.

   We were always meeting secretly: in Garden City car park, Kmart car park, Griffith Uni. There were many phone calls: I phoned her from work, from public phones, from my home phone when Ruth was in the shower. We had long, beautiful talks, we talked about everything. She loved music just as I did, although her tastes were different--she liked opera, Wagner, Mozart, symphonic music and early jazz. I like baroque, progressive jazz, and early Beatles. We both loved Indian music, and would sit in her car or mine listening to Ravi Shankar on a cassette, holding hands, and if it were private, kissing.
   We didn't get to bed as much as I would have liked. There were so many problems: her spouse, my spouse, my job, her children, my children, shopping, squash, tennis, running; all these things took up our time and caused complications. And where could we go? It was always difficult; only rarely was her place completely empty, my place even more rarely.
   Four times we went to motels, but we never stayed more than two hours, sharing the costs.
   'How much was it Keith?'
   'Eighty dollars.'
   'What a waste, we use it only two hours. Imagine if we had a whole night. I leave my forty dollars on the table for you.'
   'Would you like your wine on the sofa, or in bed?'
   'Let's have it in the bed.'
   In the bed the sheets were clean and cool. I cuddled her naked body to me and caressed her.
   'You're so soft to touch.'
   'But Keith, your hands, they are so soft.'
   'Sure--that's because I'm a gigolo.'
   She laughed. 'Oui! Your forty dollars are on the table.'
   We hugged and laughed together in a cocoon of happiness.

* * *

   It was two years after our affair ended--I was driving along Logan Road, heading towards Mt Gravatt when I saw a Citroen Pallas in front. Of course I knew it wasn't Louise, but I had to chase after it and see who was driving it, an elderly woman as it turned out. And I was left brooding over my memories again:
   I was in bed with Louise for what turned out to be our nineth and last time. It was early Sunday, and we were downstairs near her swimming pool. Pierre was in Melbourne for the weekend on business, the children out horse riding for the morning. Me, why I was ostensibly on a fifteen kilometre run. Well, I had run to Louise's place anyway.
   She was waiting for me on our bed. I decided I'd better go in the pool first as I was lightly sweating. In bed it was nirvana! The touch of her fingers was ecstasy, I was beside myself with desire, and worked up to a frenzy until I sank into her beautiful flesh; an albatross gliding into its nest after weeks of endless flight. I felt myself spinning higher and higher into an intensely beautiful mental plane. I was a captive of Louise. I knew I wanted to marry her, to leave Ruth, the children, the house with it's three TV's and 16 goldfish, and go and live with Louise. There was nothing with Ruth, our life was empty and futile, meaningless repetitions of flat greyness to eternity.

   But I was afraid: Louise had made it clear from the start--this was to be a temporary affair, no arguments, no jealousy, no clinging. If I asked her to leave Pierre what would she have said? She was strong enough to end everything on the spot. I didn't doubt that. So I dared not declare my feelings, perhaps they would show; perhaps she would want me, and tell me.
   In bed with her everything was perfect: she touched me, she caressed me spontaneously, she kissed me. She let herself feel; she let herself be carried away sky-high. In bed she was an adventure; she did all the things Ruth was horrified of. But it was holding her in my arms that gave me the greatest pleasure. Sex was a blinding flash, a tremendous relief, but embracing her, snuggled together beneath the sheets led me to believe that we could always be together. And I soon came to realise that was what I wanted.
   I tried to ask her to marry me, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. I was in catch 22; if I asked her to marry me she would immediately see that I had gone in too deep and so she would end our affair. But if I said nothing, how would she ever know how much I loved her? Perhaps there was a chance that she would marry me; but I would have to wait ... to watch, so that I could know the right moment. If I spoke too soon I might never see her again.
   So I loved her, but I kept my mouth shut. When it was time to go, I dressed, kissed her warmly and sprinted off on my Nikes. I got home some two and a half hours after I had left--not a good time for 15 k's.
    I was careful during the brief affair, of not letting Ruth know. Perhaps it seems strange when I didn't care at all for her. But I didn't want Ruth to interfere or have any knowledge of what was the greatest happiness of my life. It was something I would share only with Louise and no one else.

   But somewhere along the way Louise cooled to me. She stopped phoning me at work to tell me where and when we could meet. She changed the time she left her house on her morning run. She talked to me, but cooler. When we met in private she would not kiss me--someone might see us. When I asked her was there something wrong, we had a small spar about how intense I was about her, and how it was not healthy.
   I was trapped. If I wanted to continue with her I would have to be less loving, less intense. I would have to wait and see if she would come back, but that would cool things even more. She took three weeks holiday in Cairns with Pierre. When she came back I hardly ever saw her, and never alone. I knew it was over then, all except my heart. Gradually, day by day, the time came closer to when she would be leaving for Quebec.
   I gave up chasing her; I would accept whatever she wanted to do with our relationship. Really I had little choice. The week before she left, I met her at Market Square, and purely by accident. Can you believe my heart was pounding! It was painful, my breath was unsynchronised and my legs, despite all the running, were wobbly.

   'We leaving for Quebec next week,' she said.
   'So soon? I'll ... I'll really miss ... you Louise.' Oh I could have declared my love for her, told her I'd follow--I'd divorce, but I knew all that was futile.
   'It has been good to be ... friends with you Keith. As you say, Mickey Mouse.'
   I smiled to hear her use my own slang. 'Will you ... be coming back to Australia again?'
   'No, Keith.' She shook her head slightly and her hair shimmered in the light. 'I hope you will remember me?'
   'Lou--- ' my voice caught in my throat; tears were not very far away.
   'I must hurry,' she said. 'The old man will want his tucker.' But I couldn't raise another smile. She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, turned and called out in her best Oz: 'See yer round, sport!'
   I waved awkwardly and muttered self consciously, 'Au revoir.'

   She vanished in an instant, while I stood grieving for all that was worthwhile in my life. I went back to my car to suffer in private. What would be left for me now? Squash, music, and running. Nothing else. Work, that would fill in time. Maybe if I got too depressed I could start watching TV. My life would be mechanical and totally meaningless. I didn't mean that I'd grieve over our affair for ever--but it was just that I felt lost in a sea of quiz shows, cricket, goldfish, cigarettes and work days. Where would be the joy, the meaning to my life now?
   For the moment the only thing I had to look forward to was running down the road at first light in the morning.

* * *

    I was driving with Ruth along Kessels Road, up ahead I saw a Peugeot just the like the one Pierre used to drive. Thoughts of Louise were never far from my mind, and that day I had been feeling bitter about what I had lost. The Peugeot represented Pierre to me; Pierre who had taken my Louise to Canada. I felt a burning desire to pass that Peugeot ... a compulsion. I hated it.
   'Hey, slow down!' Ruth called out.
   'What for, we're late aren't we?' I changed lanes rapidly, but the Peugeot was stepping out also. I changed again, cutting a little too close to a taxi who blasted out anger on his horn. I was right on the Peugeot's hammer now, but I couldn't get past.
   'What's got into you Keith? Keith! You're too close to that car!'
   'He's driving too slow, I've got to pass him.'
   'Don't be silly; slow down!'
   I didn't answer but flattened the accelerator, and pulled out around him. He glanced across at me as I drew level and I saw out of the corner of my eye his look of surprise as I pulled away from him, even though he was speeding. For a minute I felt better, relieved ... then everything subsided. I didn't care; what was the good of feeling angry? Besides as Ruth repeatedly pointed out to me, we had gone past our turnoff in the mad scramble to pass my rival.

    Two years after Louise had gone to Quebec my life was as barren as ever. Ruth was almost the same--she had changed her brand of cigarettes, her quiz show, and put on about six kilos, but that was all.
   I pulled into Garden City and parked my Ford beneath a tree for shade. Suddenly, like a good omen, I saw on the other side of the tree a Citroen. I walked over to it and looked in--was there some clue to the owner? None. I went inside and bought a few groceries for Ruth. As I came out of Woolies, I saw her: black hair, soft and fluffy to the shoulders, it floated as she strode along, tall and erect; she had the posture of a model. I hurried after her but before I had gone three strides my heart was thumping insanely in my chest, my breathing tight, so that I had to pant to keep my breath, and my hands were sticky with sweat. Why was she back in Australia? Had she returned after two years for me? As I drew near I wondered what I could say, something witty and funny. Something in French.
   She turned, and I saw it was not Louise. It was a much older, fatter woman, half Indian, dark-skinned and wrinkled.
   My stomach flopped about like a dying fish. I walked dejectedly, nervously, back to my car. The Citroen had already gone. I felt numb and confused: after two years I was still grieving. I sat staring vacantly out the windscreen for five minutes, thinking of nothing; just empty.

   I started the Ford and drove out towards Kessels Road. I pushed the cassette in as I passed through the exit; when I came in I had been listening to the beautiful Bach double violin concerto. The second movement started and it filled the car with exquisite beauty. Before I reached the bottom of the hill tears were flooding out of my eyes, I was sobbing, clutching onto the steering wheel not understanding where all the tears had come from. Were they caused by the beautiful sadness of the music, or the illusory black-haired woman outside of Woolworths--who had finally convinced my grieving heart that the affair really had finished.


© Copyright Marcus Clark 2002

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