It was a hard time, the 50s, for a woman with relentless energy – especially for a widow with no children. You could string out the washing chore by hanging it out Monday, then rehanging it Tuesday to air after you had ironed everything. But where was life if you did that?
Florrie started seeing demons in the patterned wallpaper. Well, she said to herself, there’s a whole world out there. What’s it like? Excitement? Romance? I think I’ll get a job. Hardly the done thing then, if you didn’t have to work for a living, but in a grimy little city office she found a position handling invoices and payments. The neighbours sniffed a bit, but who cares?
Really, the job was hardly more interesting than staying home, but there were people there, and cups of tea, and smoking convivial cigarettes. As Florrie said, you could hardly not smoke when you were breathing in everyone else’s second-hand. But was this romance and thrills? The staff were unremarkable, but Florrie found one man she could really get on with. His name was Bert, around her age. Just her luck, he was married with a couple of kids, but they gave each other that special look. Sometimes they would leave the office together and walk up to the corner and glance rather wistfully at each other as they went to their different tram stops.
If I want a new path through life, it doesn’t look as though Bert is on it, said Florrie to herself. But that warm look, that occasional brushing of hands as they passed piles of paperwork backwards and forwards kept her where she was. Bert’s wife, after all, might decide to up stakes and go somewhere else. Well, not much chance, but you never know.
‘Watcha doin’ for New Year? asked Pat the telephonist. ‘I’m goin’ away. So’s almost all of us, just leaves you and Bert holding the fort between now and then.’
Just Florrie and Bert in the office for three whole days! What a luxury!
When their day’s work on the Wednesday was finished, they sat together and told each other their life stories, about their marriages, his children, how he and his wife were ‘just so-so’. On the Thursday, Bert cleared his throat, and said with some difficulty, ‘Ah, how about tomorrow night?’
‘What about tomorrow night? New Year’s Eve?’
‘Yes, well, I thought we might go out together. Cleared it with the wife. Told her Pat’s holding a party for the staff and I probably wouldn’t make it home – no transport, you know.’
‘You told her a lie?’
‘Well, you know, Florrie,’ he said, and took one of her hands in his. ‘I just can’t help myself. I think about you all the time, really need you and … look, I’ve booked a room near Manly Wharf on New Year’s Eve for the two of us. No names, no pack drill, you know.’
So the path to excitement is taking me to Manly Wharf, said Florrie to herself.
‘I’ll do it, Bert, she said.
They ate hot dogs and fairy floss, visited the shooting gallery, went on the dodgem’ cars, and had two goes on the spider, which whirled out over the Harbour at about twice the usual speed, the cars going round and round so fast that Florrie almost stopped breathing. Then the few hours in the hotel room – Bert had to get back home in the morning of course – surprisingly beautiful and joyous.
It was the beginning, and the beginning of the end. Mrs Bert had her suspicions, and Bert had to find another job. Florrie had tasted life, and she wasn’t going to end there. The neighbours said she sold her house, and was ‘going north’, though they weren’t sure where, and they never heard from her again.