Cheering up our Lady
'There is a statue in the western suburbs called Our lady of Fatima who they say has begun to weep.'
'What are you saying?'
'I said there's this statue someone has in their house somewhere, of the Virgin Mary or Our Lady of something, and it's crying. It says so here. In the paper. Page three.' Don rattles the pages of the newspaper at Jenny.
'Who's she crying for?'
'Doesn't say. The statue can't talk. I mean, it's all misguided or, how would you put it, misplaced guilt. It's not true, of course. But it's here on page three. Like, it's news. Would you believe that?'
'I think it's OK to cry, even if you are a statue. What's wrong with a few tears?' So Don throws the newspaper at Jenny.
At the exhibition a thin small girl in a grey track suit stands beneath the lower left hand corner of Renoir's The luncheon of the boarding party. She is entranced by the little dog in the hands of the woman gazing at the man gazing at the woman across the table. The little girl is called back to her group and she turns to them but then she quickly turns again and moves back to the painting, truly entranced.
The little girl violates the front line of adults and stands as closely as she can to the painting. The paint is pink glow, lunch-time alcoholic haze, impressionist myopic haze. One day the little girl in grey with the long straight blonde hair will forget about the dog. A woman is forever drinking from a glass in the middle ground of the painting.
Jenny gives up trying to push to the front of the crowd, she is sick of all this crowding and concrete. She needs to get out. Don has already disappeared. On another level she finds a window overlooking the sculpture garden. The planted natives are growing more thickly than last time she was here, their green-grey-leaves still look depressing against the concrete walls. And Rodin's voluptuous woman still reclines happily; she isn't crying.
'She probably doesn't have much of a life, though,' thinks Jenny.
She finds Don in the coffee shop reading the catalogue of the exhibition.
'Look here, it says that one of the women in the big Renoir painting later became Renoir's wfe.' He points to the poor reproduction on the page. 'Interesting bit of trivia, eh.' Jenny nods and looks past him out of the coffee shop window. The lake is the colour of dull grey metal. She looks away again; the sky is clouded but the sun behind is still glaring. It reminds her of bad Christmases.
'The red dust is over the town ... la, la, la, lala, la ... something, something, something.' Jenny tries to sing along. 'Don't remember the rest of the words. We used to sing it in school. You don't remember? What kind of school did you go to?'
Sue keeps shaking her head and then makes a face.
'Too traditional, I guess, to be singing some newfangled and bad attempt at an Australian Christmas carol. It's a dreadful tune.'
'That's why it lends itself to nostalgia and nothing more. It has no possible redeeming features. Sorry.'
Jenny address her 'sorry' to a passing shopper she has bumped. She turns back to say something more but Sue has moved over to another counter. The piped music keeps pumping out: now a disco version of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Or is it Santa Claus is coming to town? Nostalgia quickly fades and she moves over to the counter beside Sue.
'Mothers! What can you give them?' Sue picks through the various boxes of perfume and cosmetics. 'This is all so tacky. Let's go.'
Jenny has been quite enjoying herself but she follows Sue all the same. The heat hits immediately outside the shop. Jenny quickly tries to draw a breath and almost cannot find one.
'This is the only time of year that airconditioning is bliss.' She is sweating already. So is Sue, but Sue doesn't mind.
'Sweating is good for you.'
'Oh, I don't know. I read it somewhere. Something about getting rid of impurities and wastes. You know, letting it all out.' Sue looks at Jenny and then the two women laugh.
The plaza is bright with plastic, green and red and gold. Other Christmas carols play out here: Oh come all faithful. Shopping bags crackle as they are clutched or jostled, high heel shoes click on the paving stones and sandals slap. No one looks at anyone else.
'Let's go get an ice-cream, something cool.' Sue is already pushing through the crowds.
'OK. As long as we can sit down.' Jenny follows Sue who is heading down to the esplanade.
There is now a slight breeze from the sea but the crowds are still here, this time semi-naked. The smell of sun tan oil hangs in the air like a sticky summer incense blended with salt. There are no more Christmas carols, just half a dozen competing music genres, now pounding, now muffled, as ghetto blasters parade by or disappear with their owners down the steps onto the sand. There are no seats left empty along the esplanade.
'So, it's Plan B, head for the nearest coffee shop. C'mon, young Jennifer, this is the voice of necessity speaking. You're the one who wanted to sit.' Sue tugs at Jenny's right forearm for a moment. A second later Jenny moves and again follows Sue.
Over swiftly melting gelatos they discuss their strategy for the rest of the day.
'I've got to meet Don in town at five,' says Jenny. 'He wants to take me to the movies then out to tea.'
'What a nice boy you have there.'
'You don't have to be that condescending.' But Jenny smiles. 'And how's your David.'
'I think my David is working himself up to telling me he's someone else's David. He'll probably pick the New Year's Eve party at Annette's to tell me.' Sue shrugs. "It's all in the timing," he says when he plays tennis with me.'
'But ...', Jenny stops for a second. 'But, I didn't know this was going on. You didn't say. Who is this other person?'
'Oh I don't know if there is another person. He's just off on another track but he just hasn't got around to telling me yet. So, life's tough. So what.'
There is silence. Sue stares at the remains of the strawberry gelato. Jenny stares out of the window. Towards the sea. She can't hear the sea anymore but she can see it beyond the glass and across the esplanade. Blue and clear to the horizon where it meets the sky, blue and clear. It reminds her of summer holidays and adolescence and self pity. And then further back: childhood and sunburn and emptiness.
'Cheer up, Jenny. You look worse than I feel. Besides, in the long run, what have I really lost? I mean, we were never dreaming of forever.'
'Sorry, I wasn't thinking of anything specific.'
'What, not even my troubles can move you to tears anymore.' Sue laughs and Jenny joins in.
'That Sue sounds a bit cold-blooded about David. Not even a tear.'
Don takes a sip from his red wine. The movie was not a hit but the meal is good.
'There may have been tears, who knows. I think she's just being realistic. You don't want her to be a martyr, do you?'
Don shrugs. 'So long as you cheered her up, I s'pose it doesn't matter.'
'No, she was the one who cheered me up. I'm afraid summer at the seaside induces nostalgic regression in me. I was saved in the nick of time.'
'I'll drink to that.' Don raises his glass.
Jenny looks past him out of the restaurant window. There is night outside and the heat is visible, rising from the bitumen. Couples and groups stroll by, arguments and laughter drift in and out of hearing, car lights flare and fade. She knows it isn't the time to start crying.