A Weekend in Melbourne

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John Thornton was tired after a long day of arguing with the company’s consultants and accountants about its export plan. Melbourne was cold and wet. He had finished about six o’clock PM and knew that he would miss the 6:05 express to Deniliquin almost the best train of the day as its first stop was Bendigo where he lived. The next train home didn’t leave Spencer Street for another hour. John wanted to grab something to eat for the train because it didn’t have the usual dining car he enjoyed. He wanted something more substantial than a snack. One of his choices was the Melbourne Club, but he was almost certain to meet someone and have to chat to them. “Chatting with a stranger is the last thing I am up for” he thought.

He turned off Bourke Street into a hotel. “Hmmm there’s a convention for parents of intellectually disabled children. I wonder if I’ll find out something that might help us with Bronwyn?” He read closer.

“No it’s about Autism.”

Having ordered a counter meal and a lemon squash he sat down in the bar and looked around waiting for the meal to arrive. He saw a lady sitting at the bar alone, drinking a margarita on the rocks and wearing a white, slinky dress with a slit up the side.

“She must be feeling daring I don’t think she’s got a bra. Oh well to each their own” he thought then he turned back as his food arrived.

The woman rubbed her legs together. Before long, she felt her nipples start to harden and her body start responding in ways it hadn’t in a while.

“Tonight is a special night, mine to enjoy” she thought

She felt uninhibited and free from the restraints of family and small town morality that normally bound her. She was in a strange country half across the globe from Alabama, at a conference for parents with Autistic children for her son. She was to pass on all the information she learned to her own support group. But tonight there were no seminars and she wanted to do something she hadn’t done for a long time, something which her husband and son would never know about.

A few moments later Thornton had the odd feeling that someone was staring at him.

“Oh dear, I can/t go anywhere without someone knowing me, I expect that in Bendigo but a hotel in Melbourne?”

He turned round expecting to see someone he knew from his work, the National Party, the Diocese or perhaps from the advocacy support group he had joined to help his daughter and people like her. “That’s odd — I don’t see anyone I know.” He mused.

He resumed eating but that odd feeling wouldn’t go away. He looked around more slowly this time.

“It’s that lady in the white dress. I’m sure I don’t know her. Better be polite, I suppose. He nodded to acknowledge the lady who was smiling and rubbing her thighs together at her table.

I hope she’s no tart wanting to pick me up,” he thought.

The woman had been watching the slightly short, conservatively dressed man walk in and sit at the bar. “He looks lonely, his overcoat is wet it must be raining outside. I wonder what he is doing here? He can’t be staying here he would have put his coat in his room. He can’t even be planning to be here for long or he would have checked his coat in” she concluded to herself.

She looked back at the man again wondering about him. “Why, he’s even got a hat, he looks like someone out of a 40s movie. Well maybe that’s what they do in Australia. Wonder how old he is? Grey and thinning hair, a fair few wrinkles but what a lovely smile” She saw him smile “nothing ventured nothing gained” she thought blushed and smiled demurely, then stood up, walked to the bar where he was sitting eating, ordered another drink and turned to John “Hello how are you?” she said.

“Excuse me Ma’am, do I know you? I thought you were looking at me. My memory for faces isn’t all that good. I do hope you don’t think me rude.”

“What a strange voice, perhaps it’s the Australian accent,” she thought before replying, “No I don’t know you. But yes I was looking at you. I guess that’s pretty rude of me. I am sorry. I’m American and I’m here for the Autism conference. I was just thinking about the people here and idly looking at them.”

“I’d guess you’re from the old South? Your accent is unmistakable. Those who say Americans sound all the same are wrong. Are you a presenting a paper?”

“Yes I am from the South but no I’m just an attendee,” she explained.

Thornton glanced at his watch thinking,” I’ve got 30 minutes till my train leaves and nothing much can happen in that time. The lady’s probably lonely and looking for some company” He then asked, “Why are you attending?”

“My son is Autistic.”

“We share a bond then. My youngest child is severely intellectually impaired.”

“May I ask your name please?”

“I’m sorry. My name is John Thornton. I live in Bendigo — a city about an hour and 20 minutes away by train.”

She offered her hand, “Pleased to meet you John, I’m Margaret Hale. Please sit with me –join me at my table.” He shook her hand but instead of letting his casino oyna hand drop she held onto it for a moment. “I would really like someone to talk to, would you mind?”

“Excuse me while I bring my dinner plate over. Would you like anything to eat?” He asked tentatively.

She smiled released his hand and replied, “No thanks.”

He returned with his half eaten dinner and sat down.

“Well let me be predictable and ask how do you like Australia?”

She began to talk and then when he had finished his food and taken the plate back to the bar she took his hand in hers saying pensively, “You look very reserved, formal and distant, can you spare some time for me? I know so little about this country and I don’t understand why my son is like he is. If you have a daughter with problems perhaps you can help me. Tell me about your girl?”

“Well Mrs. Hale”

“Margaret, please.” She smiled warmly.

“Well Margaret,” he ventured a half smile, “its rather personal and I find it hard to talk about let me just say I love my Bronwyn very much but its hard to care for her for she’s like a big baby. At 10 she’s still incontinent, I have to feed her because she can’t use cutlery. I also dress her. My daughter can’t talk, either.”

“Wow that sounds hard to manage.”

“Yes,” he answered shortly.

“How do you cope? Tell me what resources you have in Australia. I had a look at some displays in the foyer for the conference. I was impressed. What’s your health system like?”

“My daughter gets a health card which means the government pays for almost all her medicines. We pay a nominal $2 for each prescription. We also have a scheme called Medicare which I think is the best in the world. It pays most of your doctor’s bills. Now some doctors accept the Medicare amount in full settlement but most don’t and we have to pay the gap but that’s never more then about $40 even for her top specialists. Public hospitals are free to health card holders but we pay a private insurance too which covers her and our family. All Australians who do take out private cover get a rebate off our tax.”

He took a sip of his drink and continued, “I know something of your system and don’t like it much. I mean ours isn’t perfect but I do think it’s a lot better then yours. Every Australian has pretty good coverage; I don’t think that’s true for Americans.”

“No, it’s definitely not as good. Perhaps I should live in Australia. Does she go to school?”

“She goes to a special school I don’t like it. It depresses me. Its very good at what it does, there are only 6 children to a class and there is a teacher and an aide to each class.”

“So why don’t you like it?”

He finished his meal and resumed, “As I said it depresses me… you go there… it’s a warm inviting place and parents are always welcome. Then you see these children, many of them in pain, many in wheelchairs… most can’t talk. And however much it tries to teach the children, to have a curriculum and however much it benefits the children its not much more then childminding. None of them will ever work or live independently… why… the teachers have to change teenagers nappies- you call them diapers. It just upsets me. I’m sorry Mrs. Hale for going on so. “

“Please honey I’ve already asked you to call me Margaret and don’t worry I do understand.” She squeezed his hand, “I get upset too and my boy is no where near as badly off as your daughter seems to be. Would you like another drink?”

“Um no I don’t drink much alcohol but I’d like a cup of tea. Shall we go to the Palm Court? They do a wonderful English style high tea there and the room is a recreation of a 1930s style hotel dining room. I think you might like looking round it.”

“Yes thank you,” she took his hand again; “don’t be afraid to speak your mind about your daughter. After all you’ll probably never see me again.”

He looked at her hand holding his, “Shall we go now??”

She let go of his hand and nodded. They walked together up a flight of stairs and into the Palm Court where there was a small band playing Gershwin.

“Oh John this is lovely,” she gasped.

“I think it’s a tad overdone but there you are. Sit down and let’s have some tea and scones.”

The tea came in a silver pot with an ornate handle. “Its real tea here not that horrid teabag stuff,” he said as he poured it.

They ate and talked for a time as Margaret looked round the room admiring the fittings and decor.

John suddenly started, glanced at his watch,” Damn it; I’ve missed my train again. I’m sorry Mrs. Hale err Margaret. I got carried away. Your conversation has been delightful. This has been great! I don’t often get to talk to pretty ladies like you.”

She blushed as he went on, “but I have missed my train and there’s not one now till 9:10 pm. I shouldn’t complain the train service is excellent so much better then it used to be fast comfortable clean oh here I go again rambling on – forgive me please.”

“I have enjoyed this too. But honey, if I made you slot oyna miss your train then come to my hotel room. We can talk better there and Ill make you some tea or coffee. Come for a chat and relax. You don’t look at all comfortable in that suit. Come and put your feet up. Nothing more I promise. Oh do say yes, please John?”

“Well as the next trains not till 9:10 pm I have almost 2 hours and this hotel’s but 10 minutes walk from Spencer Street station.” He mused half to himself then, glancing up at her, he said more loudly, “Yes Margaret, I’d be delighted. Thank you for your very kind offer.”

He picked up his hat overcoat and bag and followed her out of the room. He looked at her as if for the first time as they waited for the lift. He rather liked what he saw: a blue-eyed woman in her early thirties, short auburn hair, good figure perhaps just beginning to be a bit plump but not overly so… and he thought “she had a lovely voice.”

She opened up the door to the room and while fussing round making tea there she instructed John to get comfortable saying “”John put your stuff over there and take your coat off. Kick your shoes off if you like and sit on the couch.

“You really don’t need to make tea after all we just shared a pot,” John replied hanging his coat carefully and sitting down on end of the couch.

Margaret sat down on the other end and asked, “When did you find out about your daughter’s problems?”

“The day she was born” he said heavily. “It was a Sunday night; Bronnie was born about 9.30 in Bendigo hospital. I was there – always was for the children’s births- it snowed the day my eldest was born- it does get cold in Australia you know… Anyway… her gynaecologist… who’s a friend of ours… goes to church with us… well me now… Susan doesn’t go anymore… told us there was something wrong… he wasn’t sure what it was… thought it was hydrocephalus” John stopped.

Margaret saw tears smart in his eyes and reached out her hand. She squeezed his hand then stroked his cheek. It seemed to her that John didn’t notice at all that he was lost in his own private prison.

“I had a bottle of champagne packed, Susan didn’t know about it… thought we would celebrate… it all turned to ashes… Dr Winchester said… that he thought we should get Susan and Bronwyn to hospital here in Melbourne as soon as possible… I’d dropped the boys with my brother to look after them… I thought I’d be taking them home again that night but I rang Jos… my brother… and told him I was taking Susan and the baby to Melbourne… in the end though they got an ambulance and I took the boys the next day. I hate hospitals… they make you feel so helpless… there’s absolutely nothing you can do”

His shoulders began to shake and Margaret watched as tears rolled down his face “Damn it I hate crying… I hate losing my self control. It does no one any good at all. It’s so pathetic… I’m 48… rich… successful… a good citizen… and here I am blubbing like a baby. I have to be there to help Bronnie the boys Susan. I can’t do that while I cry.”

Margaret pulled his head down to her shoulders “It’s alright to cry. We all need to let our emotions out. Don’t be worried.” They stayed like that for some minutes. Margaret soothing John as the tears slowly dried up. Then she wiped his face and gently kissed him. “I guess you’re lonely… that you find it hard to talk about”

“Yes I do” John replied. “No one can help… people feel embarrassed… people at St Paul’s… the church we go to… say Bronwyn’s improving… maybe she is but she has so far to go… they don’t say how well the boys are doing… even when they win prizes at school or when they play in the team that won their age premiership in the district Rugby competition… they are all well meaning, nice people without a clue about what its like. You can’t talk to anyone… either they don’t want to know… and I can’t blame them for that… or because… if you are talking to another parent who does understand because they have a child with problems… they too are overwhelmed by it all”

He stared bleakly at the wall.

“I feel that way too though Stuart… my son… doesn’t have the problems you have… he will get a job… in fact he may be very well paid.his form of autism doesn’t affect his mental powers… his favourite past time is doing math problems- at age 10 he has taught himself calculus… no… he has difficulty relating to people”

“Is that Ausburger’s Syndrome Margaret?”

“Yes, so you’ve heard of it?”

He nodded.

“How do you talk to your wife about this? Surely she should be sharing your burdens with you and you helping her with hers”

“But that’s where it stops. I can’t talk to her anymore it’s all too hard. At least we are together still most couples split up… they can’t cope”

“Yes that happened to me then I was very lucky I met a man who is very kind to me and who loves Stuart and me and married me knowing Stuart’s problems. But he is a lot older then I am and he… isn’t canlı casino siteleri much fun… we don’t share the same bedroom” Margaret gulped and wiped her eyes and went on “I know how it is no one to talk to… no one to share your problems with… Milton… my husband tries but its not the same”

It was John’s turn to comfort her which he did holding her still for a while until Margaret pushed him away went to the bathroom and returned after washing her face. She sat down and asked “How do you cope with your child’s problems? No I don’t mean physically but how do you explain this to yourself. Some people blame themselves”

“I don’t know, I believe in a holy righteous God who loves us all despite our sins and who is just and merciful He paused as if summoning courage, “It’s the only thing that makes meaning for my life. If we don’t have god then we don’t have a meaning for if we just evolved if our minds are just random electrons wired together in some special way then we can’t know that anything is true and so we can not say our minds are just random electrons. How well do you know your bible? Some people say God is glorified by suffering. They haven’t suffered like Bronnie does… they haven’t sat in hospital and looked at their child all wired up and with tubes hanging out after operations on her brain at 3 months old… they haven’t changed nappies on a 10 year old. It’s all too hard. But without God my life is meaningless. Sometimes I sit in my office and cry. I look at the kids at Bronnie’s school and want to cry too so many of them are so worse off then she is” he stopped almost as if he had run out of words.

Margaret wriggled over and hugged him, her arm round his shoulder. “Its alright it really is I know what you mean. At least you have the guts to say it.” She lent over pulling his face to hers and kissed him on the lips.

“Thank you, that was a nice surprise.” John momentarily slid his arm round her waist then as if shocked by his audacity he took the hand away.

“Why didn’t you leave your hand there? I could do with a cuddle.” As I said earlier “I’m a bit lonely.”

Sheepishly John returned his hand to her waist. “I wasn’t too sure I should do that or that you’d like it or where it might lead” He paused for a moment as he thought to himself “Careful… this is getting intimate… it’s wrong… soon you’ll be lusting after this lady… with the best of intentions… the kind the road to hell is paved with… you’ll be wanting to console her… you’ll want to cuddle her… and where will that end?”

He coughed and spoke again.” Um I was talking about Bronwyn it’s a real problem for me Susan, my wife has stopped going to church. She said she gets no support from the people. We are the people who should be supporting others. My brother and I own a family business that employs over 100 people. We are both very rich. We are well educated. It’s our duty to be helping others. And we do. But I can’t help my wife; I can’t show her the Gospel. I cant make her see how her ways upset our sons no I cant help my wife anymore she just seems to want to spend money and live her own life. I do a lot of the housework and all the shopping it’s my social event of the week. In fact that’s where I’d be now if I were home, he smiled wryly. But the family’s gone away this weekend; Susan wanted to see her parents so they caught an overnight train to my in-laws. So this evening’s free. And oh… we have a cleaning lady as well but it’s not enough for Susan… nothing seems to be,” he finished lamely.

Do you still love your wife?

“I hope so. But if I did what would I be doing here?” his question hung in the air. As if to cover up the silence he went on hastily. “But Bronwyn is where it all stops. Poor defenceless little girl I take her for walks to make her stronger and to give her some fresh air or pull her on an adaptive bike. I sort of hope she might learn to peddle herself. But deep down I fear nothing I do or say can help Bronwyn get better. Yet I’d give a million dollars to help Bronwyn.”

“You poor worried man,” Margaret kissed him again lightly and held his hand, “I love my husband too but I’m pleased to be here talking with you. Why do you worry so?”

They talked like that for some time. Margaret saw John fighting to speak of his problems with his child – problems of loss, of frustration, of self doubt.

“You see Margaret,” he went on, “you’re powerless. You can only do so little to help your child. That is so hard for I had always believed there were few limits to what you could do if you set your mind to it and it was in accord with Gods purposes.”

Margaret nodded still holding his hand, she stroked his cheek with her other hand. “But there are limits and you have to recognize them. You can’t change the world, John.”

He shook his head, “But we can and we should.”

“Why do you torture yourself?”

She kissed him again lightly at first, then she reached behind his head pulling it to her and her tongue licked his lips then she nibbled his upper lip with her own lips and then his mouth opened and his tongue sought hers and slid into her mouth. Her hands stroked his back. She felt his hand tighten round her waist; his other hand slip softly, lightly through her hair.

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