He gazes out the window at a fluttering bird, its bright colours in stark contrast to the dark sky, threatening showers. It is a helpful distraction from his writing where he is hesitantly putting pen to paper.
‘How will I write this letter and what will I say?’ he worries.
Once more he is distracted by memories of her. Her beautiful, long flowing, golden hair blowing across her freckled face as she ran on the beach. He, chasing her and laughing at his clumsiness, tripping over the sand ruts. It was a glorious day, not too hot, and they had already had a swim and a picnic on the white beach. They had fended off the seagulls swarming them for scraps. Had breathed in the salty brine and seaweed smells. Pretty sailing boats of every colour were bobbing in the distance and the air was filled with the squeals of happy children jumping in and out of the waves. What a wonderful day it had been!
He had seen her across the bar of the Coogee Hotel. She, serving the customers and him, waiting for a beer. Their eyes locked as she came to serve him. She was dressed in a trim navy and white hotel uniform, he in his officer’s attire. Her eyes captivated him. Pools of amber. The smell of roses. It took three visits to the bar over consecutive days for her to be persuaded to go out with him.
‘I will take you anywhere, a meal, a coffee, a drink.’
She had finally suggested the beach, on her day off.
Her name was Juliette (like the Shakespeare play) and he had joked that he was her Romeo. Their banter was enjoyable and their sexual chemistry infectious. He didn’t want to spend any time away from her.
His fellow soldiers wanted him to be with them, but they only revelled in drinking, gambling and visiting brothels. While she worked, he visited the many sites of Sydney, admiring the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. He rode the ferries around the harbour and soaked in the sunshine in this place that he might never see again.
But when she was free, he courted her, bringing flowers and gifts and taking her to interesting restaurants in the rocks or walks on the cliff tops. He found secluded pockets of sand in Vaucluse and Rose Bay, marvelling at the huge mansions which almost touched the shoreline. They caught the ferry to the zoo and wandered its paths, laughing at the antics of the monkeys and elephants. The waft of animal dung did not deter them.
She finally took him back to her apartment in Bondi. It was small and neat with purple and red scarves draped around the couch and windows. Scattered cushions of every colour on the floor and chairs. It looked very Moroccan. The furniture was sparse but practical. It only had one bedroom but that too was filled with many hues. A small kitchen and bathroom completed the space. It was light and cheerful, just like her.
They awoke the next morning, arms and legs entwined. It had been magical and memorable. The sunlight cast rainbows on the ceiling. Words were not spoken. Neither wanted it to end. He was being shipped back to Vietnam. The departure was imminent. They would write, they promised, but keeping up a long distance relationship from across the seas was impossible. The last time he saw her, she was waving him goodbye from the beach. Their favourite place. Shedding tears.
Ten years later, he re-reads her letter, in California.
‘My dearest Sam, I have finally tracked you down after months of searching. I know you would have built a new life since we spent that glorious month in Sydney’s Summer, but have thought of you often. I would not have disturbed you if this matter was not urgent.
‘You have a beautiful daughter, named Julie. She has your eyes and happy disposition and for the past 9 years she has kept me strong and enjoying life without you. But now she is gravely ill. She has kidney failure and despite all medical intervention, the only way to keep her alive is with a kidney transplant. I am not compatible, but you may be. I am hoping you can return to Australia to see her and possibly save her life. Please let me know what you decide but do it soon.
‘Much love, Juliette. XXX’
He picks up the pen and smells the roses.