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March 13, 2006

Adelaide

I arrive, drowsy, after a short and awkward sleep against the freezing window and too many late nights preceding the trip. Tilting my aching neck as we descend, I peer out of the window and marvel at the flatness. It suddenly occurs to me that I know nothing about this city, so close to home.

Waiting at the baggage carousel, I call S and am delighted to hear his voice, am surprised at how much I can't wait to see him. People around me smile at my exuberance - I can't stop grinning and I'm jiggling my feet in impatience as I wait to collect the bags. Caz drives up in her blue car just as Coldcut thunders through my brain. We are all smiles and hugs, pleased to see each other again so soon after her birthday. As we zoom through the city, I stare out of the window, trying to drink in as much of the unfamiliar scenery as possible.

Bags dumped, we walk into the balmy evening in search of entertainment and old friends. We pass over the river Torrens, quaintly framed with cast iron latticed bridges and stunning gardens, a picture of old world charm. We pass smiling couples, laughing strangers, streaming in and out of the city which has come alive with festival excitement. We head for Rundle Street, searching for places to eat among the swelling crowd, full of new faces. I can't stop staring and am dazzled by the amount of good looking people I see, the beauty of this place. I keep nudging Caz, telling her to look, look ...

We settle on Moroccan, crack open a bottle of wine and smoke cigarettes on the stoop outside though we both know we shouldn't. We fall into each others' lives again, swapping stories of love found and lost, dreams and disappointments, and idle gossip about friends, until the amused waiter comes to tell us our food is getting cold. Inside, we laugh at the similarities between our apparently different menu choices and eat with gusto, looking forward to the night ahead.

Across the road, down, I spot S searching for us in the crowd and I launch myself at him with laughter, hugs and kisses. We shake our heads at each other, tickled by our sameness after all these years but professing our differences all the while. We head for the nearest pub. It is hot and sticky, and we are jostled by endless student-indie-cool types walking in and out of the pub as we gasp for air near the door, clinking glasses and cheersing over Coopers Pale Ale. We can't stop talking, talking, letting history wash over us in waves, swapping tales of bad sex and terrible relationships and work.

Caz leaves for bed with a kiss and we stay. Soon, Michael turns up with a quiet friend I hardly remember (already!) and we find a table outside. Look at me - I'm dressed like a wanker, straight out of Gazman is Michael's opening gambit, and I can already tell I'm going to like him. He tells me stories about working for the London tabloids and soon I am drunk on the stories as well as the beer and vodka shots which keep appearing. I haven't laughed so much in ages, their irreverent stories and naughty banter coming in a steady stream ... See S, he's got the biggest cock out of any of us, Mike says, and I've always been bad at sex, and this girl fucked up her bits on a BMX bike so they were unusable - but would you still shag her, and, ... we both would have shagged her but she lost a leg in an accident ...

We tumble down the road to the Spigeltent (oh, Spiegeltent!) full of beer and abandon, dodging past the crazy clowns and ferris wheel all lit up against the black sky, straight to the champagne and clinking glasses. We toast ourselves, Adelaide, old friends, already aware of the fleeting moment we are in the middle of. Sitting on hay bales, we plough through the drinks and smoke endless cigarettes as people spiral and lurch around us. (It is beginning to feel like that creepy playground in Big, with spooky carnivale types edging around the dark patches, and the unsteady makeshift floor doesn't help). Liz the wannabe publisher happens by, lured in by the promise of nicotine but quickly sucked in to our fray. Michael turns his attention to Liz and starts spinning tales around her like a web, the other guy disappears and we are four.

We leave the grounds as the lights start to dim and the music grinds to a halt. We join the flood of people heading out into the night, but S has to dash back to collect his mobile phone. Fast-talking past petulant bouncers, he finds our bale and kicks it uselessly in search of the device. Out of the shadows comes a voice (some improvisation required here as I was not there, but it was like the Sopranos S says so I can imagine it well enough) and he says, Lost something mate? And S says, Yeah, my phone, and the guy says, I think I might be able to help you. Come and sit down, and S says, Mate, I'm not sitting down can I just get my phone? And it is a standoff which S eventually loses, as he has to hand over $20 to get his phone back. We are unsympathetic at this tale when he returns, finding it hysterical and surreal.

Down the street, things are getting hazy. We go all over the place and drink, drink, drink our way into relative oblivion. We dance in bad electro nightclubs, visit bars which seem to close only minutes after we arrive, finally end up squashed together in couches in some subterranean bar. Liz has disappeared and the web is broken, and we suddenly remember we're tired and need to go home.

We arrive at S's house and climb into bed while Michael takes the couch. I send Caz a text message at 5.13 saying hello darlin not coming home tonight am trashed and staying with friends will see you on the wrong side of tomorrow ... and then I am not sure how it happens but suddenly we are kissing and touching and ripping at each other's clothes, touching, wrapped around each other tightly and caught up in the breathless excitement of it all. One big blur, then we are asleep and curled around each other.

* * * * * * * *

We eat breakfast at The Store, chowing into piles of bacon and eggs and tomatoes that I can hardly bring myself to eat but force down. I tell Caz everything and we talk freely about love and mistakes and promises, refusing to judge each other and feeling safe. I am glowing but red eyed, tired but switched on, alive. Fortified by food we decide to head for the beach and drive to Glenelg, where the fresh air and sunshine starts to sooth my ills. I take photos of monuments, the pier, camels and trams, wanting to record this moment in history forever. A man in a shop goes to speak, hesitates, then launches into an animated dissection of our state that leaves us laughing all the way down the street.

Later, home and showered, I lie on the floor on the scratchy carpet and call S, make plans to go to comedy. The tiredness is starting to seep into my bones. When we reach the bus stop, he calls to say he can't come, and I'm momentarily disappointed but remind myself to understand. Caz and I catch the bus into town, delighted even at the unfamiliar tickets, and head back to the Spiegeltent and adjoining park. The ye olde style carnival next door adds to the sense of unreality, all top hats and freak show, painted faces and oddities. Ambling around, we settle on scorching buttered corn cobs which burn our tongues and chilled white wine for dinner, which we eat while watching trapeze artists and jugglers.

Dashing through the streets we discover the best ice cream parlour in the world and let the cool creamy flavours slip down our throats as we dodge the endless crowds. Upstairs in an airless venue, we sit precariously close to the front, inviting heckles, and let Charlie Pickering entertain us with mad random Bin Laden impersonations and ranting diatribes about how the world needs to change, some of which are funny but others bordering on lectures. The hour passes quickly and soon we are traipsing off to the Richmond Hotel. Dazzled by the glamour and icy charm of this hotel and with eyes half closing, I stay long enough to add to my collection of canapés and dash away, having convinced S to let me come and sleep.

We sit quietly in the backyard, swapping stories and remembrances about old housemates from Scotland, rendered as caricatures with the passing of time. We laugh ourselves silly, feel close and comforted by these shared recollections, relieved to at last have someone to share with who understands so completely the impact these times had on our psyches. Over a few hours, we share beers, draw closer, and the inevitable happens.

* * * * * * * * * *

We smoke morning cigarettes and I talk him into coming to the beach even though the protestations come fast and many ... but I brush aside the words, selfishly wanting to hang on to the moment because it is exciting and soon we are driving in his car with the wood panelled dashboard towards Caz's house.

As if by magic she pulls out a pair of swimming shorts and we are off, down to Henley Beach. We eat calamari and lamb in a café on the beachfront, sipping beer and talking openly and honestly while stealing furtive glances at David Byrne from Talking Heads, who sits looking terribly serious and worldly with his bleached out face and glasses. Later on the beach, Caz lies supine in the sun as we dip briefly into the soupy seaweed water, give up and walk up and down the beach, checking on each other with occasional glances and kicking up the fine white sand. We lie down on towels in a row, drift into the afternoon and I start to get the feeling that this moment will be scorched into my brain forever.

Back at the house, I quickly collect my belongings and kiss Caz goodbye. I ask him to come up and he says no, no I have to get back and I pout briefly and wheedle and plot and say but this moment will never happen again and then am slightly ashamed for my insistence. I check in to my hotel and please come up and say goodbye properly not here, not like this I say dramatically and he laughs, follows me into the lift. The afternoon is drawing to a close and we lie on opposite beds, drinking beer and watching each other. He says he might stay, goes to move the car and I half expect him to drive away altogether but he comes back. I am showered, lying clothed on the bed and I tell him it has all felt a bit surreal, like some strange fantasy removed from real life, which somehow makes it easier, and he agrees.

He takes a shower and comes to lie next to me, slightly awkward but soft. Can I lie here he asks and of course I say and then the threads start up again and I curl into him. His fingers lightly caress my back and then oh yes we are kissing again so passionately cause maybe we both know this is the last and only time this will happen again and for me it feels bittersweet but then I am lost in the sensation of it. And soon we are back sitting on opposite beds and looking at each other. It is about seven and he says I have to go soon and I say I know and then there is no more wheedling or imploring or seductive tactics because it really must come to an end and real life is only moments around the corner.

I push down any thoughts that do not belong in the here and now and I tell him I have done so, and promise not to think of the ramifications or consequences or other such things that do not belong in this story. I think briefly about this life that pushes you together and pulls you apart in so many different ways. I say to him we should have seen each before now, we should have looked after each more and I think to myself in another life who knows, I could have loved you and let myself briefly wonder but we refuse to be too serious and are half laughing at how grown up and sensible we are and then we are dressed and holding each other tight as we say goodbye again for who knows how long. I am sad but not ready to think about anything just yet.

We walk downstairs and I lean against the wall and smoke one last cigarette with him as the unfamiliar city starts its slow descent into sleep. We say goodbye and I kiss him once, twice on the cheek and goodbye sweetheart he says softly and walks away down the street. After one last look at him walking down the street, away back to his real life, I go back upstairs, lie in a bath, listen to the silence and then to Powderfinger's My Happiness and then I really am sad but I have no regrets.

In the morning I wake after a night of jumbled dreams, of people waving giant, red, furry dominoes in the air and unfamiliar surroundings, of people I know barking at me that I will never work with them again. I am surprised by the room service boy when I am wrapped only in a towel and sit down to breakfast while I check my emails. In my inbox I discover yesterday's horoscope, winged to me in the middle of the night: Today is a great day for you, and you should enjoy a great deal of playful conversation, Flip. Fantasy is likely to play a big role in the events of the day, and you may find yourself daydreaming as you walk down the street. Don't bother with reality if you don't have to. You are much better off keeping the tone of things light and playful. Enjoy your fantasy world and feel free to invite others into it.

Somehow things all make sense. I wonder if this story is over and what will happen next.