Once the coronavirus restrictions were lifted and café’s opened Alison and I met for lunch in Toowoomba at the Parkhouse Café. I patted down my windswept hair as I walked into the café, elated that I was catching up with my bestie after months of home isolation. I looked around the café, the tables were scattered sparsely across the café floor. I had to wait to be seated and the disposable paper menu was handed to me at the table. It was different to other occasions when the café was a buzz with diners and people lined up at the counter to order. I kept reminding myself not to hug Alison when she arrived, even though my desire was to warmly welcome an old friend.
Once Alison arrived, our words, held back as though they lived in a genie bottle, came tumbling forth. Both of us were never short of words!
‘Jacquie, I saw a photo in the Highlife Magazine and couldn’t believe my eyes.’
‘What do you mean’ I gushed, ‘who was it, is it someone I know, a celebrity?’ I was enthralled by Alison’s widened eyes and her leaning forward, speaking in a hushed voice.
‘The last time I saw him was over 50 years ago, and there was his photo in the magazine, alongside his wife’ said Alison.
‘Who is he?’ I almost shouted as I could hardly wait for the unfolding story. Alison and I were big on background and it was not surprising when she said to me ‘Let me start at the beginning.’
‘I was 18 years old and my sister Jane told me there was someone at the back door asking for me. Not expecting anyone excitement and curiosity took over in my short trip to the back door. And there he was tall and skinny standing at the bottom of the steps. He stood alone, a young man, about my age, in his late teens, with thick curly hair and blue eyes. He looked embarrassed as I stared at him wondering why he was there.’
He said ‘Hello, I’m Jack, Jan’s son, your mother and mine are friends. Will you go out with me?’
‘I can’t believe what happened next’ said Alison.
‘What was it’ I said, hurrying her up in the process to get to the point!
‘The ‘no’ word’ she said. ‘It plummeted from my mouth as though it had been rehearsed a thousand times, waiting for this very moment.’
We stared at one another briefly and Alison then said, ‘That was it Jacquie. Can you believe that, knowing me and my “gift of the gab”, all I could do was blurt out the no word.’
I asked her ‘What happened then, did he say anything else?’ while my eyes interrogated her face, looking for any clues as to what happened.
Even though we were both aware of the 1.5 metre social distancing rule Alison once more leaned in closely and whispered, ‘He never said another word.’
Alison talked on. She explained that Jack was a well-known businessman in the city, successful and wealthy. The photo in the magazine was of him and his wife of fifty years. She reminisced about the moment, never lost from her mind’s eye. Did she miss the opportunity, to have a friend, possibly a soulmate, maybe even for life?
We talked on and I began to understand that growing up in the 1960s in an all-girl family, going to a girls school, and little interaction with boys created the moment. That ‘no’ moment, that lost moment because she was scared and uninformed in the way of boys. She did not know how to relate to a boy. He had turned and slowly walked away; his shoulders slumped. A moment of rebuff, of rejection. He did not know why she said no. It was not because of him. It was because of her immaturity. The only reason was that he was a boy and she was inexperienced in talking to boys.
While I pondered her story, Alison broke our unusual silence. ‘It could have been me that he married. What surprised me is that his wife looks a little like me.’ She went on to describe him, a well-dressed handsome man, tall and stately. She only recognised him because of his name.
She said, ‘If I met Jack today he would not know that I was the girl who said no at the backdoor!’ ‘He never came back, and I never had a second chance to think about his invitation or to talk to my parents about what I should do if he returned.’
‘I often wondered Jacquie when I remember back to that day is how did he get to the back door? Did he ride his bicycle? Did his father drive him to our house? Did he have a car? Did he tell his parents about his trip to my backdoor and could our parents have intervened in a potential love match?’
Alison went on to tell me about the car she bought, back all those years ago. It was a Hillman, the car that on occasions required a hand crank to start the motor. She laughed when she recalled this then said, ‘Young people today would not have a clue what a car hand crank is.’ We both laughed but I could see that she had regrets about blurting out the ‘no’ word to a young man’s invitation for an outing. All because of naivety.
‘Jack never gave me a second chance’ she said. ‘I don’t know why he didn’t come back a second time. Like me, he might have been scared. I always wondered how long he thought about the trip to my backdoor. I do know that on that day he put fear aside, he took a deep breath and came to my back door and asked me out. Now that I am in my 70s I see him as a brave young man, someone I would have liked to get to know. But that was not to be.’
She went on ‘If I ever got the chance I would tell him who I was, recount the moment and say sorry.’ ‘Yes, Jacquie, I am sorry that I never took hold of the moment, of the opportunity.’ I was immature, and not prepared for dating.
That day as Alison walked out of the café she whispered to herself ‘I am sorry Jack. I am sure I would have had a wonderful life with you. If only I had been brave enough to say the simple word ‘yes’ or even get a second chance to try it out.’
Note: While this short story is based on true events some of the story is fictional, including the character names.