She let out a sigh of relief as the plane door was finally shut with a deliberate clunk of the metal latch. It was the most comforting sound she could imagine hearing at that moment and she happily leafed through a safety pamphlet in Italian, feeling her shoulders ease and drop. She hoped the seat beside her stayed empty. She wasn’t in the mood to make anyone else cheerful. God knew she wasn’t.
How foolish she’d been she thought to herself with no small amount of regret. She slumped down in her seat and stuffed the pamphlet roughly into the seat back ahead of her and stared out the circle of window. They had begun to roll down the runway and the plane heaved and creaked as she leaned forward, hoping she could somehow help speed it up and get as far away from Italy as possible.
His name rolled around in her mind like dice in an endless game. It made her think of ice cubes and she looked up for a stewardess. A red seat belt sign frowned down at her. No drink to ease her nerves yet.
How she loved to say his name, hesitantly, joyously, sensuously, whispery. She felt ashamed at how much she’d said it. Like an addict, she had binged on his attention, watching his eyes watching her lips as she’d cooed to him, a long-lost femininity fluttering up into her face, her eyes, along her skin, and flooding her mind.
Until she woke up in their hotel room early one morning and looked out the window to find him exploring the back of a sundress on a young, curvy Italian woman.
She’d believed her days of being cuckolded were over. Still, there was a certain sense of whimsy to it all that she’d not felt since she’d been in high school. She knew Edward would say she was an easy target, a cliché, but she’d really been deeply infatuated with Lodano. Or was it Italy? No matter, she was on her way to Australia and she was determined to have an adventure. She was circling around the idea of visiting Mara, Edward’s sister, but first she needed to hole up and knit back the hole she’d torn in her newly acquired confidence.
It unsettled her. This feeling of apathy. What was wrong with her? She’d loved every Four Seasons she’d ever stayed in. But she realized Italy had changed her forever and no amount of amenity or luxurious food, bedding or service would be enough to shift the weight, to unburden her from the sense that the time had come for her to really and truly let what she’d set in motion happen, unfold and become.
The front desk was agitated. There was a lineup and luxury hotels don’t like lineups. They moved in precision with clipped, hushed tones as she leaned on one leg then another, watching for a every inch she could move forward. She was normally an acquiescent tourist but now she was a traveler and she wanted out of Sydney.
“Yes, that’s correct, today. I realize it’s several days short of when I’d reserved for but something has come up.” She had nothing else to add. She stared flatly at the woman who paused, with a brief nod that conveyed her slight annoyance and offered a polite ‘certainly, ma’am, by all means we are pleased you enjoyed your stay with us’. Well, she hadn’t enjoyed her stay but it wasn’t the hotel’s fault.
At the lounge the night before she’d met a BMW instrument mechanic who had purposefully spent most of his life on the road so he could avoid his marriage. He was matter-of-fact about it and they had an immediate commonality of travelers with no true ‘home’. They’d shared a dinner of appetizers in the bar and he’d described his travels in Tasmania in such tangible, colourful stories she knew that she would have to go there next. It sounded like a place where she could escape everything. It sounded like a place where she might also find what she’d been looking for since she’d started her journey.
— Prue (@TravelwithPrue) March 3, 2014
On the ferry to Tasmania there was a rack of cards advertising places to stay. She couldn’t understand what they were. They were pictures of homes with people’s faces on the front of the brochures holding dogs and proffering baskets of food seemingly on their own front porch. Did they rent their living rooms? She turned one over after another. They were B & B’s. Bed and breakfast. Breakfast in bed? In someone’s actual bed? Not a hotel bed. It was an odd idea.
She wandered to the deck and considered how she might sleep in someone’s basement. The prices did not seem a lot lower than some of the hotels she’d stayed at so what was the selling point? She imagined some kindly husband supporting his wife’s small business, walking by in his boxers in the middle of the night, giving her a small wave as she brushed her teeth.
No, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
Stop it. You came here to do try new things. To remember how you used to live in the world. How your body felt without props, artifice or Edward. Why travel to the ends of the earth if not to end something? If not to find what you have lost?
She looked out over the cheerful expanse of blue ocean meeting blue sky and for the first time since she’d been a teenager realized she was truly free.
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She stood at the edge of the property and looked up towards the house. She had the urge to call the taxi back. She felt like she was trespassing. There didn’t seem to be anyone home anyway. She turned to call the car back when a burst of energy piled out of the front door including two dogs, a man and a short, wiry woman with an unruly mop of silver curls that bounced as she bounded past her husband and met her with a hug. Prue broke into surprised laughter as her upright stance was caught off guard and she stumbled in the woman’s embrace. The woman introduced herself as Ann and the man behind her as her husband, Ellis. He offered his hand and it was warm though roughly calloused. Ann expertly guided her towards the shade of the deck.
“Are you parched? It’s hotter than usual out here the past few weeks and if you’re not used to it, can affect the noggin’, right?” The woman spoke quickly, sharp and precise like her movements as she scooped Prue’s bag from her shoulder and crossed the porch into the house, opening the door wide open for Prue.
“No, I’ve learned since traveling so much this year to always have a bottle of water by my side, thanks ever so much.”
Prue suddenly felt too formal and self-conscious, like she’d just barged into a family of perfect strangers (which she had) but her hosts instantly sensed it and offered her a tour of the house. It had large wood beams on the ceiling and artwork on every inch of the walls, with colourful stained glass hanging in the windows that flooded the room with beautiful light. It was a home. She’d forgotten what that felt like and her eyes blurred with the sudden prick of tears. Ann took no notice and kept up a steady stream of hospitality monologue as she led Prue to her guest room which was a kind of semi-detached space off the back of the house with its own small deck that looked out over a yard brimming with Ann’s artwork in all shapes and sizes of sculpture, paint, glass work and pottery. The room was utterly silent save the soft chirping of birds she’d never heard nor seen before, some showing off flashes of bright green feathers as they moved between branches at the edge of the garden. The single bed butted up against a half-wall made of white slatted wood and huge windows surrounding it. Small wooden shelves lined one side filled with books and brightly painted pottery. An old-fashioned coverlet with bright embroidered flowers covered the bed. Prue instantly wanted to lie in it and listen to the birds.
“Allight then, you have a lie down and we’ll set about fixing a lovely dinner for you when you are good and ready for company. If you want to that is! We’re not fussy here and don’t want anyone telling us when and where we need to be–ever!” Ann said this with a kind of fervor that made Prue smile. She liked the rules of the house already.
“Thank you Ann, I think I will lie down for a bit,” Prue said, a yawn escaping before she could cover her mouth.
Ann made a noise of approval and whisked off, her salt-and-pepper curls dancing after her as she leapt up the two stairs to the door the separated them from the main house. The smell of the ocean drifted through the screens on the window and she was glad she’d chosen Coles Bay to begin her Tasmania adventure. It was remote, beautiful, and unpretentious. And so far, very poor cell reception which suited her just fine.
Prue had not felt so sleepy since London when she’d visited the hammam. As she closed her eyes she made a mental note to herself that this was the best check-in of her life.