She would have looked at home on the cover of Vogue, modelling loose-fitting, summer clothes of cotton at an evening barbecue in the garden of some large country house. She had a wispy beauty, and to Harvey she seemed not entirely of this world. He felt she might become insubstantial at any moment, and fade away into the forest dim. Her hair was red and long, and full as only a young woman’s can be. It fell lightly over her shoulders. Her eyes were green. She was slim and about four inches shorter than Harvey, but then he was well over six foot. She often seemed abstracted, staring over her wineglass into the distance, and in those moments Harvey imagined that she was dreaming of the mists of some green valley on the west coast of Ireland or longing for the sands of a wind-swept beach in the Hebrides.
Harvey was not far wrong in thinking this, because, as he later discovered, Lorna’s father was from a small village near Aberdeen and her mother was from Ennis in County Clare. She didn’t tell him much more about herself. How or where her parents had met and what had made them go to Australia, Harvey never knew.
From the first moment he saw her, as she steadied her cue on the green baize of the pool table, he was lost. This sort of attraction happens all too frequently, but time and place must lend a hand for matters to stand a chance of survival. How often do we meet someone on the very day before we have to move on and leave a place where we have been lonely? Many times had Harvey seen the girl that he knew he could spend the rest of his life with. But she had always been on the other escalator going up while he had been going down, in the other car at traffic lights, leaving the airport in a taxi when he was just arriving, or coming out of a cinema while he was going in. He had often thought of stopping her, this fleeting woman, but he never had. But, here in Perth, for once, circumstances had lent a hand, and time and place were right.
When he first saw her, she was leaning over a pool table, her red hair almost touching the green baize, in the back room of a smoky Perth bar. Her long cigarette was lying on a corner of the table. She usually won her games. Celtic apparitions can play pool, and Lorna played very well. That is how she and Harvey met. He asked her if she wanted to have a game. She won the first time they played, but Harvey was not concentrating on what he was doing. How could he? But, after that first encounter, they won about equally.
They had an unusual relationship, which Harvey always felt would be transient, just as, in his heart, he felt his stay in Australia would be. At the weekends they went to the beach. As he looked at her, and at the sun and at the sea and the swimmers, Harvey felt that life was treating him very well. He had always been lucky, but being in Perth with Lorna in the summer was a time that he would never forget.
One day when they were on the beach they saw a photographer taking photos of girls for a weekend supplement of the newspaper. This was Australia. Such things happened there. As soon as the photographer spotted Lorna, he came up and asked if he could take some photos. Harvey bought the paper for the next few weekends and cut out her picture when it eventually appeared six weeks later. He spent hours with Lorna, but he felt that he would never really know her well. What did she do? Nothing connected with playing pool. She was a musician. She played the violin in a string quartet, and she gave classes as well. This was a world that was closed to Harvey. He had started piano lessons when he was seven and had stopped when he was eight. There were many compartments of her life that were closed to him.
Harvey felt he loved Lorna, but he couldn’t imagine talking with her about new tiles for the bathroom. Loving is easy; loving is in the blood and in the limbs. Liking is different. Liking is the day-to-day, the nitty gritty. Liking is not minding if the toothpaste tube is squeezed at the wrong end. It is sharing a joke or an umbrella, and worrying when she is late coming home. It is the whole of the “in sickness and in health” promise. Loving gets things moving, but liking has stamina. Harvey wondered about his stamina with Lorna.
“Oh what can ail thee knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake
And no birds sing.”
Lorna was the perfect Belle Dame Sans Merci. She would need no preparation, no instructions. She would entice men to their doom on the lonely hill by the lake. How many palely loitering knights she had already enthralled Harvey never knew, and never dared to ask.
He knew that she was 20. She was at that age, or just entering it, when youth is approaching its peak, full of sap and full of the present. For some that is the highest point and later comes the slow decline, but Lorna was one of those women who would turn heads and lift eyes for many years to come.
To Harvey she seemed to have a sadness and a yearning for something inaccessible. One of her attractions was that he thought he could help her lose that serious look, and replace it with a laugh or at least a smile. She did enjoy spending time with him, but his laugh had to be enough for both of them. Lorna never lost her wistful expression.
He gave her a novel for her 21st birthday. It was “Pickwick Papers”.
She had told him that she had never read Dickens, and he wanted to
give her something which would make her laugh.
He wrote FOR LORNA inside the cover.
“Forlorn! The very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!”
Some sadness hung about her in spite of all his efforts. She was in a different dimension, and, Harvey felt modestly, she was on a higher plane. Their worlds overlapped a little in space and time, in Australia, in the bar where they played pool and on the beach where they swam and then lay side by side in the Perth sun. Later, he thought, she’ll swing back to her side of life, and I will go back to mine.
The weeks passed, and then one evening, after a drink with Lorna in one of those bars near the waterfront, Harvey went to get his car. Nothing. There was no car there. ‘That’s odd. I must have left it in the next street. Sometimes I park there. But I am sure it was here. I am sure it was here.’ Harvey walked round the corner and up and down the road. Nothing. He went back to where he thought he had parked and the finally he accepted that it had gone.
Stolen! Sometimes a single incident can crystallize a feeling that has been growing for some time. It is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is the drop that brims over the glass. It is that moment when you realize it is time to cash in all the points you have been collecting. Why did losing his car make Harvey decide to leave? As in dreams, cause and effect are not always clear, but they are there. There and then, standing in the street next to the empty space where he had left his car, Harvey decided to go back to Somerset. He felt strangely defenceless and alone when his car had gone and he knew it was the moment to go home, to go back around the world once more. His car reappeared a couple of days later with some old blankets on the back seat and some beer cans on the floor. It smelled of tobacco. It didn’t matter. He was going home.
The next day he saw Lorna. They met and had a coffee, and that was it. Losing the car crystallised everything. Without it their separation would have taken longer, but it would have come in the end. With that, they parted.
As time passed, he thought of Lorna less and less, and, strangely he even found it difficult to remember exactly what her face was like, and he had to look again at the photo he had cut from the weekend supplement. Yet, for several weeks, in the bright sun of Perth, she had been what he had lived for.
Harvey bought a ticket for England. It was for the first Tuesday in November. Perth to London Heathrow, one way. He was sad to leave but happy to go. Australia had treated him very well and he was grateful. On Tuesday, at 8.15 in the morning, Jake drove him to the airport. At the security gate, Harvey turned and said goodbye to Jake, to Perth, to Australia, to Lorna and to three years of travelling. He was going home.