Bliss in Laverton
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
I was worn out.
We'd driven to the mine; I'd met Weena's father; we'd had lunch; driven back to Laverton. I'd phoned my chief in Black Mountain and told him what I'd found -- he seemed singularly uninterested. I asked whether I should call Perth or Kalgoorlie to return to Canberra. He said whatever worked, but soon. I looked at my (now) fiancee.
"Something's wrong at work?"
"Mmm. And do I have any ideas? Nope. None."
"Oh well. Now what?"
"I call my mum. Are you ready?"
Weena handed me the phone.
"Hullo, mum. Yes, it's your long-lost-offspring. I'm in Western Australia, near the desert. Well, the scenery's just great from where I'm sitting -- opposite your future daughter-in-law..." The shriek would have been audible across the 4000 kilometres. I waited a minute, but the questions just didn't stop. "Calm down, mum. I'll tell you whatever you want. But calm down."
I looked at Weena and just sighed.
"Her name is Rowena ... Yes, like in Ivanhoe. She's a nurse and owns the hotel in Laverton, where the Bureau sent me ... Her dad runs the nickel mine ... I dunno. Well, you'll get your answers from her, then. When can we visit? That's right ... we. I really don't know. I've got to get back to Black Mountain. Then I can work out when they'll let me get away. And then Weena will need to work out her schedule ... Yes, you can tell everyone ... Yes, I'm sure ... Yes, I'll tell her. Yes, mum. Okay. Bye." I put down the phone.
"Mum gave you are hard time, eh?"
"Coulda been worse."
"Yeah. You could've told her I was a divorcee with black twins."
"She might've minded the divorcee; I doubt whether she'd care about colour. Just so she can talk about grandkids." We both laughed. "No. She asked about your mum. Okay. Now, how do I get to Canberra?" There had been a brief cloud across Weena's face. But it cleared.
"Well, the easiest is from Perth. But getting there from here'll depend on a bushflier. We can phone Kalgoorlie and see whether anyone's about. Or you might fly from Kalgoorlie. I could drive you there. It's only a few hours. And you might be able to fly from there. Surely from there to Perth."
"OK. Can we call Qantas?"
"Why, doctor ... we're not in Queensland or the Northern Territory..." Weena blasted me with a megawatt grin and handed me the telephone directory. It covered nearly a million square kilometers and was thinner than a paperback mystery. Of course, the state had only a tad over two million people and three quarters of them were in Perth. And only Kalgoorlie and Bunbury and Fremantle had over 20,000. So, I shouldn't have been taken aback. But I was.
I called Qantas and was told that I could, indeed, fly Kalgoorlie-Perth-Canberra as well as a variety of other combinations of flights that could quadruple the travel time. I asked Weena whether we could drive down in the morning and was told "Yes." -- so I booked an early afternoon flight that got me to Canberra before midnight. Of course, two of the hours were time zones.
"I need a cold 'un," I said. "But something else first."
Weena had her blouse off before I could make clear what I wanted. But she was right. It was an hour before we made it across the road.
Inside the pub, Weena caused chaos. "Blokes, I want to make an announcement," she said, leaning up against the bar. "It's official. Gordy here and I are getting spliced. We had lunch with my dad and we've been on the hooter with Gordy's mum." There was dead silence.
"Drinks on the house," shouted Bill. And the place exploded. All 15 to 20 people there insisted on shaking my hand and every one of the blokes told me what a priceless gem I was acquiring. Weena got a dozen kisses on the cheek and teary embraces from the barmaid and the cook -- the only other females around.
Everybody was talking at once and every time I took a snort, someone replaced my part-empty glass with a full one. After about half an hour of mayhem, I shouted: "Okay. Pipe down! Here are the answers to some questions: we don't know when; we don't know where; we don't know where we'll be living. We'll let you all know. I'm back to Canberra tomorrow. Weena'll meet my folks soon. Then we may have some ideas."
"If I wuz marryin' Weena, I'd have some ideas, too," came a voice. Everyone roared, and we escaped back to the hotel.
"Can we get something to eat?" I asked.
"If you don't want the pub, I'll get some chops out of the freezer. There's some frozen veg, too. It won't take long. I'll set up a pot of water and heat up the grill."
I just plopped in a chair. I'd had too much beer too fast. I fell asleep. I was woken up by about nine stone dropping in my lap and delivering what could only be called a monster smooch. "Ooof! I'm sorry. I didn't expect any of that."
"Go wash your face and neck in cold water and come have some vittles."
"Yes'm." She got up and pulled me more-or-less vertical.
We ate. Chops and peas and bread. It was almost like being out under the stars, "I really do love you. I don't know what happened. Did you feed me some native potion, some herb?"
"No. Just arranged for some archery."
"Amor or Eros?"
"One of each." I took her hand. "I can't believe how happy I am."
"'Look what is best, that best I wish in thee.'" We sat quietly.
"Do you have much to pack?"
"No. I'll just stuff my clothes in my pack, put my field stuff in on top, and put my washkit in last, in the morning."
"We should leave around 9 or 9:30."
"Right-o. And it's now?" I looked at my wrist. "Not yet 9."
"Time to shower, then bed, then sleep."
"Aren't you the randy one?"
"That's your randy one."
We got up and cleaned up. I stripped the bed in #3 (which I'd only slept in once), took the linens and towels downstairs, went back up for my pack, and got my stuff out of the downstairs bath. "You'd best make out a bill for four nights, dear."
"Four nights. The bureau will expect a bill for four nights. I can't very easily explain to every beancounter in the CSIRO, can I?"
"You said 'dear.'"
"And I loved it!" I got another super hug and kiss. "I'm really beginning to like this a lot. Is this the way you treat your fiancees?"
"Every one of them!"
"Had enough to eat and drink?"
"Yes. I just want to pee. You toss your stuff into the Rover. I'll do a bill on my way out."
I zipped and buckled the top of my pack, put the key on the counter, and went outside. It was a tad over 30 and just about 9 am. I tossed my pack behind the seats. The town was nearly deserted. The store looked open and there was dust from a truck or car settling on the track towards the mine. It looked like a dog, sitting in the shade near the store, was trying to find a cool spot. But that was about it. Weena came out with a sheet of paper.
"$125 a night! $500 plus tax!"
"They charge $150 and up at the motel in Kalgoorlie. Will it be OK?"
"It's a bargain! And when I think of the extras..."
Weena punched me in the shoulder and got in. I walked to the left side and got in. "Ready?"
"Yep," and we were off.
"Tell me about your mum."
"What do you mean?"
"You froze up yesterday when I even mentioned the word 'mother.' And your father didn't mention her. And you've got a picture of you and your dad on your dresser. But there's no trace of her at your dad's or at the hotel."
Weena was driving with tears running down her face. She just pulled to the left and stopped. "You drive," she said and got out. I got out too, and held the door. As she sat down, I kissed a salty cheek. "Thanks." And I walked around the Rover, got in, and started driving.
"Mom and dad met at the Uni in Sydney. Dad was doing a degree in management. He'd already done one in mining and worked for a year or three in Kal. He got the certificate in management, proposed to my mom, and they were married. They moved to Kal, and soon Mom was pregnant. At that time, dad was asked to look at the old mine up in Laverton. There was gold there decades ago, but it gave out. He looked around up there. Went through the tailings, explored a few of the shafts. He brought back a few boxes of assorted rocks.
"The chemists got to work on the rocks and got all excited -- no gold, but cobalt and nickel. After a while, it was decided not to bother about the cobalt -- apparently it's both a fire hazard and is associated with arsenic. So they got at cleaning up the old site and doing a real survey. It took years. I was born in Kalgoorlie. But when I was about two, the company asked dad to manage the site. He'd drive up on Monday and drive back on Friday."
She looked at me. The tears had dried. "Am I boring you?" I just shook my head 'no.'
"The next year, the company asked dad to be resident manager. They said they'd even build a house for us. And they did. And we moved. I was just over three. I can't remember any of this. Mom hated it. She hadn't thought much of Kal, but she had the ladies' parties and bridge. There just weren't any ladies in Laverton -- oh, there were a few women her age, but not 'ladies.' And the only other females around the mine were servants -- blacks from the mission -- and whores. After a few months, she said she was going to Kal for a few weeks. Dad drove down two weeks later, but came back without her. The next week he drove down again.
"Apparently, they had a real knock-down-and-drag-out. Dad drove back the next day. About two weeks later, there was a certified delivery from a lawyer asking for a divorce because of 'irreconcilable differences.' Dad drove to Kal again and went to see the lawyer. The next day he went back to the lawyer together with one of the company's lawyers. Mom refused to see dad." Weena stopped and took a deep breath. I wished I had a drink to giver her; then I was glad I didn't. Weena needed to do this.
"You want to stop?" She shook her head.
"Mom stayed in Kal for a few months. Then she withdrew half the money in the chequing account, and flew to Sydney. Right before my fifth birthday, dad received a notice that the Family Court in NSW had granted a divorce on the grounds of 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage, ' a full year having elapsed. There had been no claim for support nor any request for 'visitation.' That's what hurt. My mom. My own mom. I hadn't even seen her in more than a year. And she never even wanted to see me." Weena began sobbing. I pulled the Rover to the left and stopped. I put my arms around her.
I was devastated. What kind of a woman could this have been? I just held on. After about ten minutes, the sobbing stopped. A few more minutes and Weena's stranglehold relaxed. "You must think I'm a ninny."
"No. I never wanted to marry a red-eyed ninny."
"I love you so much!"
"And I love you. By the bye, can I still make my plane or should we make up a good excuse as to why I missed it?"
She snuffled. "We've time. Do I look awful?"
"No. You look wonderful You look exactly like my fiancee." I started the engine and pulled back onto the road.
"We're coming to Kanowna. Does that sound right?"
"It's a ghost town. Sometimes tourists go there. There is a mine there again. Somewhere off the road."
"Ah. Part of the old 'Gold Trail'?"
"Feel a bit better?"
"Can I ask some more questions?"
"I guess so."
"Did your dad try to track her?"
"Yes. I know he spent money trying to locate her."
"Did he track her maiden name? Try her parents?"
"Yes and yes. They hadn't heard from her in several years. It sounds amazing, but people can just disappear. For a while, when I was a teenager, I'd get birthday cards from them. Then, when I was at uni in Adelaide, my grandfather drowned, swimming. Then my grandma just faded away. She died about 18 months later. I got a letter from a lawyer that they had been unable to locate my mother, who was the residual legatee, and could I help. I wrote back, 'no.' Then, a year later, I got a document from the state's attorney saying that as no claimant had come forward, the 'residue' of the estate was mine, as 'sole surviving issue.' I recall thinking just how weird the language was. And there was a government cheque for over a hundred thousand dollars. Dad helped me invest most of it, but that's where the money for the hotel came from. It's what I call 'my savings'."
"OK. We're passing Mullingar. We'll be in Kal in a minute so slow down. To get to the airport, we go on through town and then make a right at Anzac Drive. There's another way, too. But I can never recall it."
I found my way to the airport and parked. I grabbed my pack and we headed for the terminal. I gave Weena the keys. Miraculously, Qantas found my reservation, were able to give me boarding passes for both flights, and were able to check my one piece of luggage through to Canberra. It turned out that I had an hour to boarding. We also learned from a sign that this flight would cease but that the early morning [8:00am] and evening [7:10pm] flights to Perth would be available ("for your convenience").
I looked about; they was a candy and magazine stall, but no visible restaurant. "How about some water and crisps?" I asked. "A truly romantic noontime."
Weena laughed. "I knew you were a big spender the moment I set eyes on you."
After excessive goodbyes, we parted, I flew to Perth, grabbed a bun to munch while changing flights, flew to Canberra, actually received my pack, found my wreck in the lot and paid excessively to liberate it, drove "home," showered, and fell into bed.
The next morning I missed Weena beside me. And I knew it would be that way for a while. I shaved, located a clean outfit, got my papers and vial of ants, and left. I stopped at a cafe and had a sinful breakfast of eggs and chops and toast washed down with black coffee. The caffeine and the sugar rush set me up for the disaster at the bureau, whatever it was.
I got into my office/lab, looked a the blizzard of pink call slips, and walked out to where Janice sits.
"Yeah. I think Kevin wants to talk to me."
"Right-o. I'll buzz." She did. "Gordy's back. Right-o." He says he'll be right here and wants to go for a smoke." She meant tea. I don't smoke and neither does Kevin.
He was out before I finished giving Janice my expense receipts. "Back later," I told her. Kevin was wearing his usual: khaki shorts, football jersey, sandals.
"Welcome," he said. "C'mon." We walked to the cafe, he got tea, I got coffee, and he led me to a table near the windows. "I'm sure you're curious."
"Massive understatement," I smiled. "Am I getting the boot?"
"No. Quite different. This is confidential, ya'know. I mean, really confidential."
"Right now, this Bureau has three locations, all in the eastern half of the country." I nodded. "Well, they want us to put an office in the Northern Territory or the West. I know that you did research in the west. And you were just there. I need an opinion on where we might locate. And there's more. UWA wants us there. They're offering the Bureau space in Agriculture, I think. Anyway in Perth. So, I want you to spend a day or two reading the guff they've sent. Then we'll sit down and you can tell me what I might say to the Minister. Yeah. The Minister. Somehow we caught someone's eye. Today's Friday. I see him on Wednesday morning. You can spend the weekend reading and Monday writing your notes. We'll meet Tuesday at 8. Right?"
"Do I get to ask questions?"
"Because, me bucko, if we're expanding, you're the only guy with a doctorate without a wife and a house and a mortgage and kids. You'll be setting it up." And he got up. "Oh. Janice'll have the paper in an hour. You can pick it up and file your expenses before lunch. Do you have a place to read offsite?"
"I'll fly up to Roma for the weekend."
"Great idea. I'll tell Janice to get you tickets." And he walked out, leaving me to bus the cups.