[[I’ve been preoccupied with a few personal issues, but that did not mean that when reader Pat contacted me and said she wanted to hear more about Derek and his grandparents that I didn’t take note. The story is about to be finished 48 hours late–Sorry! Here goes… I hope you enjoy it, Pat. Do you have any challenges you’d like to share with me?]]
A month had passed since Derek had finished his romances. Jim and Mick had shown extracts to the guys at work and there had been hooting, hollering, and commentary,in the break room over a couple of mornings, mostly about Derek’s writing of the love scenes in The Italian’s Virgin Secretary. His friend Sally, who had offered him the challenge, smirked at the title, read the ending; and she along with Monica consulted over some of the main scenes.
When they met in the pub, for their weekly get together, the girls mocked him with score cards scribbled on the back of coasters, and torn-out pages of handbag notebooks. They took a series of pictures of this process and posted them on Instagram. They included the following categories ( with averaged scores). Hot sex: a disappointing 5/10; Genuine Emotion: an abysmal 2/10. “And that’s being kind,” shrieked Monica, as she showed Derek on her phone. Plot: 1/10, “To be expected- these stories are all the same”, remarked Sally. Character: 3/10, “Most of them were cardboard cutouts”, sighed Monica,”but the secretary managed to keep her boss at bay for a little longer than usual.” Sally nodded.” Yes, actually I thought there was some interest there in the secretary’s stylish descriptions of Rome, thus the extra point.” Finally, they commented on his style of writing: “It gives me pleasure to say you had some good sentences, 5/10″, concluded Sally’s comments on the scores.” I’m kind of disappointed despite this being a gag,I really thought there was more to you.”
Derek’s mate Joe said, “How many blokes can say they have written a commercial romance.” “More than you know mate, I did some research”, replied Derek,” a number of guys write under fake female names, although they don’t say which one.”
“Hey”, said Mick,”maybe we could make a bit of cash. It might be something we could churn out in a couple of weekends between the end of footy season and Christmas.”
Derek didn’t reply, and the guys went back to watching the bar television. The girls were talking among themselves and Derek began to muse about one of his granda’s journal entries that he’d edited for his story.
“Michelle is becoming a necessary part of my everyday life. In the past six months we’ve been on two picnics, to five luncheons at the local cafe, ten Saturday night dances ( and at most of those we have been each other’s sole partners). Best of all we have been on two moonlight strolls, and on the second occasion I kissed Michelle. She kissed me back! Her breath was sweet, and her fingers caressed my neck with warmth and tenderness. Her lips were passionate, tracing the shape of my lips, and making my toes curl. I remembered, even felt that kiss for two whole days afterwards. Without volition my body relived it, and I had to remind myself where I was: in the workshop, or driving a lumbering Bedford across an intersection. I’ve learnt that Michelle is unfailingly kind in her comments about others she knows, and well informed. She is widely read in history, and listens with interest to the radio news, her father and brothers, and reads the newspapers. She expresses strong opinions about the policies of our government. She is critical of our British Imperialism evidenced by our backing the French in the Indo-China War, and expresses the opinion that resources and the energy of politicians would be better expended to stop the severe rationing that makes our diets so plain here at home. She is intrigued by the concept of the cold war, and we agree that this type of intimidation, particularly of Russia,could minimise the threat of the kind of horrendous war we’ve been through. At the dance on Saturday night there were petulant female faces surrounding Michelle and the five men she was discussing politics with. The dancing was delayed by three quarters of an hour while a debate raged, involving the drummer from the band. She said to me not two weeks ago,” Maybe we should run away to Australia, it is far away from Europe, and has plenty of sunshine and more food!” She laughed like this was a great joke, but the truth be told, there is a lot of talk about emigration. I wonder seriously if it might not be a good idea for someone like me. Michelle fascinates me. We have not yet expressed our feelings in words, but I am almost sure she is the right person to share my life.”
After breakfast the next morning,Derek moved his car onto the lawn, and began soaping it with a sponge and rinsing it. He thought of the joy in his Granda’s diary entry of October 18, 1952:“Today I marry my gorgeous girl. I feel like clapping my heels together like that clever American Gene Kelly, and humming to the title song of “Singing in the Rain.” In fact there has been a shower or two this morning but now I see the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Michelle and I will honeymoon in Brighton, a gift from my Uncle Bart who owns a hotel there. I can’t wait to see Michelle coming down the aisle.”
Derek thought about the newly weds, and their happy early days renovating a flat in East London. Nana worked as a typist, and Granda as a lorry driver. By 1957, with two young children, they had scraped together, with the help of a two pound loan from Michelle’s father, the ten pounds necessary to emigrate to Australia. Derek mused on what his Grandfather said about his first moments on Australian soil, after 28 days of sailing. The passengers were allowed to explore the dock at Fremantle.
“The sensation of walking on solid ground was strange for Michelle and I, as we walked for an hour around the Fremantle dockside. The freshness of the air, though tainted with fish and diesel, and the brightness of the sunshine impressed us. We walked as far as the prison, but turned back when we realised where we were, by then Martina grew heavy in my arms, and young Albert was groaning. When we returned to the ship the Captain told us we will arrive in Port Phillip and be able to go to our lodgings in Melbourne in five days. I am looking forward to holding my dear Michelle in my arms, and enjoying the comforts of our own bed, we have had separate quarters while on the ship.”
Derek had finished polishing the car when he had an unexpected visit from his sister, Harriet. She called out to him from the driveway as he polished the boot lid.
“Hi Derek, I’ve come to get something.” I figure, he thought, you’re not usually up for a chat.
Cordially he said, ” How’s things Harri?”
“Pretty good. I’m here because Aunty Cath said you’ve got some of granda’s diaries. She wants some stuff out of there for some display at the family reunion. I s’pose you’ve just chucked them in a box somewhere.” She folded her arms.” By the way you don’t have any of that three gran you owe me do you.”
Derek shrugged, thinking about teasing her, then smiled. ” Actually, I sent you a couple of hundred last night.”
She raised her eyebrows, and said ” Can I expect the same next fortnight?” Derek nodded, and she came closer. ” I can see you’re busy here. I’ll go find the diaries. Give me a clue?”
“They’re in a red box under the foot of my bed.” Harri was looking at her watch and hurrying into the house. Derek kept polishing and whistling, enjoying the sunshine. He was surprised to see more than forty minutes had past. Why was Harri taking so long? He gasped with realisation and ran into the house and up the stairs. There in the mezzanine floor bedroom was his sister as he pictured her, he swallowed a lump in his throat. She was staring at him, as if she’d never seen him before. “Derek, did you really write this? From Granda’s diaries?”
The manuscript lay in two piles each side of her legs. “I told you the red box under the foot of the bed.” She had opened the red shoe box under the head of the bed, instead of the red plastic box under the foot of the bed. He planted his fist into his palm.Derek sighed, and his sister kept reading. He went downstairs and made a cup of coffee, and paced while it got cold. Eventually, she appeared in the front room with the diaries, and the red shoe box.
” Derek, if you give me your manuscript, I’ll forgive the debt you owe me.” Derek was surprised at the pang he felt at her words. He looked away. I wasn’t going to publish it under my name. I get rid of 2800 worth of debt for that story I wrote.
He looked out the window, and heard himself say,”You reckon it’s that good?” “Yes”, she said. ” I want the right to be called the author of it.”
“But is that right even if you pay for it?” They negotiated into the evening, and in the process had their best discussion in years about family, life and love.
Harriet West became the self-published author of All’s Fair, Michelle which sold a fair number of copies , 100,ooo, and Derek got 50% of the profits.
A year later he was sitting in PJ O’Brien’s on a Friday, with Joe, Mick and Sally. Monica was overseas, and Joe had brought his girlfriend of six months, Ashlee. As Derek watched the two of them he thought, I think he’s got it bad. Acting the gentleman, indeed. After Joe had left to take Ashlee to a King St night club, Mick excused himself because he had an early flight the next morning. Sally and Derek had another drink each. He was draining the dregs when Sally said,” I know that you wrote All’s Fair, Michelle.” He gasped and sucked beer down his windpipe. While he was coughing Sally moved around the table and sat next to him, she rubbed his back. That feel’s nice, thought Derek. “Who told you?” ” Nobody. I know you better than you think”, whispered Sally. He drew a deep breath, and his body calmed. He smiled and putting his arm around Sally drew her close.
–The End —