This morning, I am invited sailing by Angeline and her husband Mike. Traditionally, Australia day is when everything that floats goes out on Sydney harbour. Whether one owns a gin palace, a sleek Ketch, a tin dinghy or an inflatable crocodile, there is a place for you in this waterborne extravaganza.
The morning is humid and overcast with barely a stirring of breeze. Mike, Angeline, their friends Alex, Nathan, Rodrigo and I pile into a yacht at Double Bay Jetty. We start her up and motor out into the melee. Our proposed destination is the Sydney Fish Markets where we will have brunch. Pretty soon we enter an area that resembles a floating car park. Just off the tip of Garden Island a flotilla is congregating for the start of the great ferry race. It is here that our motor begins to cut out. With patience and diligence Mike gets it going again. We putter in circles for a while. Ten minutes later, the brand new motor fails again. Mike revives it once more.
A klaxon blares and the ferries are off, charging towards the heads. Since we are there, we join a stampeding herd of boats following the race. And then our motor cuts out once more. With no wind, sailing is not possible. We are adrift, out of control as a motorway of craft of all sizes bears down upon us, some of them terrifyingly huge. After a few tense moments Mike coaxes the motor back to life. “I think we are going to have to abort the mission,” says Mike. “Right-o captain,” I say. That is the most sailorly thing I have done during the entire expedition.
Plan B: Angeline and I drive to the fish markets, pick up three kilos of the giantest, reddest prawns this side of Chernobyl and head back to meet the other ex-sailors at Parsley Bay. Parsley Bay is a secluded little finger of turquoise water with steep rocks and shady trees on all sides. It is shark-netted, so safe for swimming. After a refreshing dip we lie under the trees stuffing down prawns until it is time for me to say goodbye to my shipmates and skip to my next engagement.
I drive to Centennial Park, one of the glories of Sydney. This enormous park contains grasslands, a Paperbark swamp, numerous ponds and reservoirs, playing fields and trees of awe-inspiring magnificence. I park in the shade of a gargantuan Moreton Bay Fig. These cathedral-like trees can grow up to 200 feet tall. Mandy and Tony meet me by a lake populated with flocks of black swans and cormorants. Together we process to a glade of Casuarina trees where we join a bunch of their friends. We spread out our rugs and picnic provisions then spend a lazy afternoon lying in the shade, chatting.
I take a moment to myself. Lying on my blanket with my hat on my face I can just see Mandy and Tony in the sliver of vision beneath the hat bream. They are laughing and touching one another, smiling flirtatiously, their eyes flashing. I am so happy that they are to be married. And I am utterly sad that the story of Lily and Nick just petered out so pointlessly. Don’t get me wrong. I had no intention of getting married to Nick. I just enjoyed his company. I do not long for an all-consuming, anguished enmeshment. I grieve for the small, private moments of togetherness: cooking and eating meals; Nick teaching me how to snorkel; chatting about the day; sharing the bathroom; buying clothes with him... simple stuff really.
When Nick and I were blessed by an eagle’s feather falling from the sky I took it as an augur of far sight and longevity. Later, I made a decision to love Nick for who he was. I would stick with him. I thought that love and commitment would get us through. Of course I never factored in a devastating illness.
Now, every time I see a camper van, my heart turns over. I eat in amazing restaurants and only think “Nick would love this.” I go swimming with amusing people and I wish he were there to enjoy it too.
Mandy senses my sadness and comes over to talk to me. “You are such a gorgeous, beautiful, sexy woman Lily. You know that man is not good enough for you. Everyone knows that. I have no doubt that an incredible future is in store for you. You just can’t see it yet.” She’s right: I cannot see it. But I do know that I am exceptionally fortunate to have such caring and supportive friends.
As the sun sinks we pack up the blankets and make arrangements for further get-togethers later in the week.
Next, I’m off to Vaucluse, enclave of Sydney’s moneyed folk, to meet Samantha and her daughters at the home of Samantha’s friend Tania. The gate buzzes open and I climb up Japanese-style slab steps, cross some stepping-stones through a pebbled water feature and enter a breathtaking modern house. The site has been blasted out of a sandstone cliff face. The house is like a three-storey pavilion built around a central open space containing a swimming pool. All the rooms on the ground floor open on to this space through full-height folding doors. At the rear of the house, huge glass panels expose the rock face. Floating wooden staircases lead to the upper rooms, all overlooking the central garden and pool. The furnishings and fittings are immaculate. Tania turns out to be bubbly and hospitable. I enjoy having tea and chatting with her about her life and mine. “I know just the man that you should meet,” she says, “he’s very successful and funny. Perfect for you...” Tania goes on outlining to me the virtues of some mystery bloke but all the while I can’t help absolutely gawping at her astonishing house.
Samantha, the girls and I finally drag ourselves away from all this luxury. I really must get some sleep if I’m going to be in any shape for my lunch and dinner dates tomorrow.
This relentless social schedule is keeping me distracted. It is great medicine. Yet I cannot seem to fully enjoy myself. A part of me is always elsewhere. Nick has shown himself to be self-serving and unfaithful. But I still miss him. And, after all our shared experiences, I love him. Is that wrong?