Melbourne/Geelong late 1970s
She arrived as we were loading in at The Stage Door Studio in Wangaratta. About 4pm.
Our stage manager, my wife Julie, found me inside the small theatre talking to the lighting director. “You have a visitor. A woman here to say hello.”
I stepped from the darkness of the stage onto the footpath and into the light of the February afternoon.
The woman wore a health professional’s uniform. Corporate colours of the country town hospital. Somewhere between light blue and grey.
Our drummer was emptying his station wagon, the bass player giving a hand.
The woman introduced herself. Straight teeth smiling. Friendly brown eyes. We embraced lightly, like old acquaintances.
Her voice was not as husky as I’d remembered. Always liked that voice. It suggested secrets. ‘Always’ spanned the grand sum of the three or four weeks that it took me to work up the nerve to ask her out.
“I heard you on the radio this morning and thought, ‘I know that name!’” Early riser, I thought, while the drummer and bass player carried more gear inside.
The local station had chatted to me for a few minutes at ten to seven, after the announcements about the weekend’s markets and attractions and before the extended pre-news weather report.
“When my shift finished I worked out you must be playing here.”
I thanked her for taking the trouble to find me and silently wondered if her seeking me out was a country-town courtesy, a form of hospitality that may not happen in the hustle and bustle and traffic of a city.
I did not flatter myself to think she may have seen more in me all those years ago than I’d realised.
I explained that I was not a musician, but a writer, and the director and MC of our hybrid show featuring musicians and writers.
She explained that she had been up here for a few decades. Married. Children. Good job. Loves it.
She had a prior engagement, so couldn’t come along in the evening.
The drummer locked his car. The stage manager looked on, smiling.
We said goodbye with another light embrace. There wasn’t time to ask Mandy if she remembered us going to a Joan Armatrading concert. There wasn’t time to ask if she knew I was too shy to attempt to hold her hand in the stalls of the Palais, or to place a hand on her knee as we travelled to and from the show in the back seat of my brother’s car. It was our only time together. ‘Couldn’t even call it a date. We were friends of friends.
There wasn’t time to tell her I’d liked her voice. And her eyes. And how she looked in the crisp white uniform she wore at the pharmacy, where she worked after school and weekends.
And there wasn’t the time to tell her that one night way back then when I knew, without drama or heartbreak or emotional burden, that our moment was never going to happen that I was in a take-away joint in Geelong with a good mate and there was a jukebox and while we were waiting for our hot food I thought, I might already be a music snob and the lyrics don’t add up in terms of my little experience but why not put some coins in the slot and play a song by Barry Manilow?