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A tale of sad liaisons on the high seas

I REMEMBER PEIRRE WELL, but I’m not sure that his memory of me is as sharp. I got this impression one Saturday afternoon in the late summer of 2007 when a friend and I were walking the foot track that follows the Tamar River. It was on the banks of that river that we encountered him.

He was preparing to launch onto the grey waters on his sailboard when my friend called out to him. I held back a little. Looking at him, he seemed not all that much different to how he looked almost 30 years ago. Solid of build without being heavy, with somewhat less fair hair on his balding pate, his paunch was more pronounced though he wasn’t what you would call overweight. He must be into his fifties, I guessed.

He came over to where we stood. “I think you two know each other?”, my friend said more as a knowing type of question than as a statement of fact. Her question had an air of mischief about it as she introduced us, more as a reminder of each to the other than a formal introduction.

His voice was much the same as I remembered it, slowish, higher rather than deep. He looked at me, eyes squinting as if running through images of people he had known back then. But – recollection, reconnection – a knowing look spread across his face and he reached out to shake hands.

Sad liaisons

The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the living room as my friend filled two cups with the dark brown liquid. That done, she sat in the lounge chair opposite, rested her feet on the coffee table and proceeded to tell me about her life here these past few years.

Although we seldom meet in person – we live in different cities – we do have email contact. But discussions of things truly personal have to wait for those rare occasions when we meet. She has an annoying habit of hinting at things in her emails but acts as if reluctant to fill in the details. It’s not that she is truly reluctant, it’s just that her seeming hesitation provides the opportunity to add a little drama by creating a sense of suspense. Drama and suspense of the right sort, at the right time, is something my friend likes. She has written fiction, after all, and such things are stock in trade to her. She can use them well.

She has truly settled now, she told me, and there will be no more long periods working in Asia. Her job is ok and she has more or less full control over it, as she demanded when she answered the ad. That didn’t surprise me for I knew how assertive and persuasive she could be. She has this unusual habit of assuming what she wants to be true to be the actuality, effectively subverting discussion.

The conversation got around to people we had known. Inevitably, Pierre and what he had been up to came up.

“What has he been up to, you ask?. Quite a lot, actually”, she responded.

“First, you must know about the German female fiasco…surely you’ve heard about that. I’ve mentioned it briefly in emails”.

“I know very little”, I responded, “ …just the snippets you let slip in emails, like crumbs offered to a pigeon”. Truth is, I did wonder what he had got up to with that German woman.

I could guess. I knew he had a taste for female company and found it difficult to keep his hands off. This I had learned all those years ago when I first heard of his on-again, off-again liaison with the wife of an acquaintance. She was a little older than he was, the petite, blonde wife of an outdoor education instructor at a private school. She was pretty enough and of pleasant personality. She also had four children.

Peter’s wife knew of his long-term liaison and had been accepting enough though understandably unhappy about it. But when he ran off with the petite blonde it must have seemed the end. That wasn’t how things turned out, however. They were back after a week to return to their respective spouses. Why? Why so short an elopment? Because — according to his wife — they ran out of money. I’m sure the liaison continued in a desultory fashion for some time after the return.

The petite woman might have been the most significant such encounter in Pierre’s life in those years, however it was not the only one. That other one, unfortunately, led to the breakup of a relationship that had endured for the best part of a decade. When the liaison became known, Pierre’s wife merely responding with a resigned “Oh, not again!”

Perhaps it was out of a sense of revenge, of getting back, that on some pretext or other the woman’s partner arranged to visit Pierre’s wife one night, and perhaps it was also to get back, revenge that is, that she had happily accepted his nocturnal visit.

Within a year or so, Pierre’s wife had said “enough!” and left for the state’s southern reaches.

The German sweetheart

Now, the tale of the German female as reiterated by my friend.

It started soon after Pierre met the woman. How this occurred is unknown, but it seems Pierre was smitten by her presence. Inevitably, “…the friendship evolved… into a casual liaison, then into an affair”, explained my friend.

For someone usually so opportunistic and blase about such things, Pierre took it rather seriously, it appears.

“Little is known of the details of the affair. But, inevitably, the German woman’s visa ran out and she had to return to Europe. But Pierre was smitten and he would not accept this state of affairs. So he boarded a plane and disembarked in Germany.

“Details are few here”, said my friend. This, I realised, must have galled her for she is that type that likes a mystery to solve. Wave a name of someone once known in front of her and she will have tracked them down within a few hours.

“But what happened was the reversal of what had occurred in Tasmania. It was this: when Pierre’s visa ran out, unlike the German woman who had the sense to go back to Germany, he stayed on and became an illegal alien.

“Eventually, he was found and deported. Without his German sweetheart”.

A tale of the high seas

My friend couldn’t quite remember his moves over the next year or two, though I did pick up something that seemed like hesistancy in her reply when I asked her about that time. Instead, she hurried on to an incident of recent memory.

The tale of the high seas occurred after Pierre had taken up, in a married way, with a woman involved in the politics of the city. Events now become complicated and murky. It happened like this (my friend takes up the story…)

“Pierre had agreed to sail a friend’s boat from Hobart to Launceston. It’s not a long sea voyage, just a few days, but it’s a coastal voyage and, as you know, coastal voyages can be hazardous, with all those rocks in the ocean and the chance of running aground on some cape or other.

“Well, he set sail from Hobart. First, it was out into Storm Bay. Then he turned northerly to follow the east coast. He had earlier taken a GPS reading of a coastal position to assist his navigation.

“It happened somewhere near Triabunna. It was the early hours of the morning – I don‘t know why he hadn’t put into shore to ride out the night at anchor. Well, what happened was that the ship ran into some rocks and started to sink. So they abandoned the vessel and swam to the rocks where they were later picked up by another ship”.

“They?”, I queried, surprised that a second party had entered the story.

“Oh yes, didn’t I say? It happens that Pierre wasn’t alone on that boat. He had a… let’s say he had a friend on board, a friend from Hobart. A friend whom he had been seeing, shall we say, at the same time he was with his partner in the north”.

This second, on-board party, my friend said, was a “masculine looking New Zealand woman”.

“The real question is”, she continued, “what were they doing that made them lose attention to where the boat was going at the time?

“And, yes, that GPS reading. It turns out that it was coordinates for downtown Triabunna and it just might have been this that led him off course”.

How Pierre’s partner took this news, and how it was presented to her, was not disclosed. But his link with Hobart didn’t end there. It resurfaced only a year ago. Or, rather, a second link surfaced. This I learned via email some time after I returned to the mainland.

“Here’s another episode in his life”, my friend started.

“Pierre’s wife has kicked him out. As of immediately. Why, you ask? Well, because she discovered he had a girlfriend in Hobart. No, not the masculine looking New Zealander. Another one. And he must have been seeing her for at least the best part of a year. Maybe longer, who knows?

“Why at least around a year?” my friend asked, trying to deepen the sense of intrigue by creating a suspenseful pause.

“Because she just gave birth to his child”.

Filling the gap

There was a part of the story missing, I realised, and it was troubling me. When you have a timeline dotted with incidents, gaps stands out.

“What about the period after the incident of the German sweetheart and before the tale of the high seas?”, I asked.

“Oh, that”, my friend responded. “Well, I really don’t know all that much, it was a confusing time for him.

“You know, sometimes partners don’t know about the peccadillos of their spouses. It was a surprise for his wife to learn of his liaison.

“I assumed Pierre had told her about us, but it turns out that wasn’t the case at all. She was surprised, shall we say, to learn about it.”

That is the last I have heard of Pierre, except for the story that his first wife may have been back in town and living with him. This I find improbable.

Just what happened about his later wife, his Hobart girl and his baby I have yet to discover. No doubt, that will happen when next my friend and I meet. Meantime, I do wonder about that seemingly calm and proper little city and its smutty little underbelly. Happy families indeed.

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