The name Jean presented a bit of a problem to the townsfolk of Callaran, in that they just couldn’t seem to roll their tongues around it to pronounce it in the French manner. But then they couldn’t bring themselves to call a man by a girl’s name. So they fell to the comfortable habit of Anglicising it to John, Jack or Gammo, or simply The Windmill Man. Jean Gameau came to the mallee to escape a doomed marriage. Celia Adamson, came in compliance to her husband’s desires, each in their own way in exile.
Now, it happened that the windmill that served the water trough in the east paddock, two kilometres from the homestead, had it’s blade damaged by a windstorm the previous week so that Celia couldn’t move stock into that paddock for feed.
“I want you to move those wethers into the east paddock as soon a possible,” Gilbert spoke one morning as Celia was preparing breakfast.
“I’ll have to get the mill fixed first,” Celia said.
“What! When did it get broken?” Gilbert demanded.
“Oh last week,” Celia replied casually.
“Last week!” Gilbert yelled “Well why didn’t you arrange to get it fixed last week?”
“I’ve been busy and simply put it down the list,” Celia replied as she licked her fingers of a spill of marmalade. Such casual tones of voice can be very annoying to invalids whose perceptions of moods and attitudes heighten with the length of convalescence. Celia’s casual attitude at such “catastrophe” annoyed Gilbert to the point of almost curing him, and with an acid tongue he drove Celia out of the house to arrange the repair of the damaged mill immediately.
Jean Gameau’s farm was a “dusty little spread” two kilometres down the road from the Adamson’s. Celia drove through the permanent open gate up to a fibro “transportable” dwelling with a little porch carefully built around the front door. The porch with it’s wooden deck added a gentle charm to the otherwise plain cream house. A few well tendered pot-plants on the porch daubed it with geranium reds and pinks and greens.
Celia stepped out of the utility and with hands on hips surveyed the yard. It was untidy as mallee farms tend to be in such vast countryside. An ancient plough, seeder and harvester, were parked at various positions and angles in the yard. She didn’t take notice of these things out of any curiosity of the contents of another persons yard, for nearly all farms in the mallee have the same sweated wrecks both in the yard and in the house. She stood there looking for a sign of life. Celia heard a shriek of abuse from around the back and walked over to the corner of the house.
“Grab the bastard!” She was ordered as soon as she turned the corner. But too late, she was bowled over by a rollicking great woolly, black sheep that careered around the house straight into her, sending them both sprawling onto the dusty yard.
“Shit,” cried Celia as she realised the inevitable.
“Oh bloody hell,” cried Jean as he saw the sheep regain its pace and disappear out of the front gate and head down the road.
Jean galloped up on his long striding legs and stopped next to the sprawled Celia. He didn’t look at her so much as gaze after the disappearing sheep. He dusted his hat against his trouser leg.
“Hello,” he offered his hand to Celia to help her up. “Sorry about that,” he spoke as he dusted her off. Celia saw a slim,strong looking man, in his mid fifties, going toward bald in a tidy balanced way. He was tallish but not over height. There was a casual gentleness in his nature that took trouble to dust Celia down as she stood in front of him. He held her left arm while with his hat dusted her off like one would dust a small rug or an article of clothing. He moved her this way and that and, when satisfied that the article before him was restored to its former cleanliness, let her go and stepped back.
“Hello,” he said again. “I’m Jean Gameau, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“No,” Celia shook his hand mannishly. “I’m Celia Adamson … from Flora Downs” she added as if to put an identification onto her name. Jean motioned after the lost sheep.
“I was cleaning it of a bit of strike and it got the jump on me,” he spoke as if apologising.
Jean was one of those people who can gaze straight into ones’ eyes and seem to see into the bottom of your soul. Such people can be uncomfortable, but strangely, it made Celia smile.
“It’s black,” she teased. “Is it the family pet?”
Jean laughed softly.
“No … But I might have to make a meal out of it one day.” They both smiled.
When compatible souls meet there is no need for idle chatter, the eyes do the talking, indeed, perhaps we only talk at such moments to hide or distract ourselves from too close a contact, for the world of humanity can be a lonely place, a world of fear, fear most of all of an intimate contact of touch for, I’m sure, all of us have met some-one, strangers, that at the very first introduction we would like to, if not embrace, at least hold gently, for they are what could best be described as soul-mates, but such is the life of a structured society that we cannot, dare not become so familiar with that other stranger in our world … a human!
Celia and Jean looked into each others eyes and simultaneously turned their glance away and talked of the business at hand. Jean would go and look at the mill the morrow.
Over the following couple of months a friendship grew between the windmill man and Celia Adamson, a platonic friendship that drew him to the farmhouse of the Adamson’s for lunch some days. After Gilbert’s initial suspicions had been overcome by the enjoyment of the company, Jean became a familiar face at the dinner table. He would gladly do some small jobs about the farm that were beyond Celia’s strength, and he had no ulterior motive in mind. Although he enjoyed Celia’s company immensely, his person had not yet awakened to the reason of his delight at her voice in greeting, or farewell of an evening after dinner as he climbed into his truck and swept out of the Adamson’s gate into the pencil brush landscape of the mallee.
Let us reflect again that we are talking about two people in their fifties. No great beauties either, as I have described before, but what can you say … for surely, one person will see as much beauty in the petals of a sour-sob as another will in a rose … for it is certain that as we all grow from the child to the adult, do we not seek that love most denied? Here were two souls anchored in a vast landscape, of no significance and of little interest to any but each other. Yet in their private lives there grew a common bond.
Quite often when meeting on the road they’d discuss affairs of the district or farming problems each while leaning out of the windows of their parked vehicles opposite each other on a sandy back-road, or if in no hurry and in need of deeper discussion, would stand outside the car, on the road, and talk in attentive tones while sweeping the blowflies away with a grimace and wave of the hand. The jokes and chiacking would fly on parting never realising they were each other peeling off layer upon layer of social protocol that was holding them aloof from their true desires .. each talk, each meet, was bringing them toward the start of their journey into exile. An exile from social correctness into an exile of love.
It happened one morning while Jean was repairing the gearbox of the mill in the “home paddock” only a couple of hundred yards from the farmhouse. Celia had watched Jean wrestle with the blade of the mill and hoist it with pulley and rope toward the top of the mill frame. He looked so small and pitiful against a backdrop so vast of parched plain and black-line mallee bush. The frame of the mill like a child’s toy and Jean a foolish ant fussing around a hopelessly impossible task, both of them jellying in the rising waves of heated air. Celia left the breakfast dishes for a moment and with the tea-towel dangling from her left hand at rest on the sink, gazed hypnotically out at the scurrying figure of Jean. A fleeting wave of loneliness for them both swept through her.
“Celia,” Gilbert called.
She was wrenched back into her world. Gilbert wanted his smokes and a light. Celia tended to his needs and fussed over his side-table then announced:
“I’ll go down and see how Jean’s getting on with the mill.”
“Tell him to finish it by this weekend or we’ll die of thirst!” Gilbert grumbled as he snapped the pages of a stock journal. Celia felt her world shrinking smaller and smaller.
She walked past the grove of mallee gums toward the windmill where Jean was working. The bent and twisted trunks of the trees threw crooked shadows over the rubbled ground.
“Hello Jean,” she said slowly. “How’s it goin’?”
Jean glanced over his shoulder, he was holding a rope with both hands that stretched to the top of the windmill frame.
“Oh Celia, just the person … give us a hand could you?” Celia start clapping … “Don’t be silly,” he laughed.
He was bathed alternately in sunshine and shadow as he moved and turned while he held the taut cord and glanced around looking for something. His workman’s shirt was streaked with sweat at the chest line. He attempted to wipe the sweat off his brow with his forearm. His hat fell off. Celia bent down, picked it up and scrunched it back on his head.
“There,” she teased as she fashioned it onto a different slant than he usually wore.
“That makes you look sort of rakish like those young bucks at the stockyards,” she giggled.
“Knock it off, Celia … and give us a hand with this rope.”
“What do you want me to do?” She queried as she held her hands ready.
“Just help me here … I’ve got the blade balancing up there on the end of the rope here so if you can hold it so’s I can get my spanners it’d save me a lot of trouble … ”
“Is it heavy?” Celia asked.
“My oath,” Jean replied, “for a fragile girl.” He smiled teasingly … “But you’ll be right.”
Celia slapped him playfully on his bicep, she felt it hard and moist with a film of sweat under her palm.
“Get on with you,” she laughed. “Give it here,” she took the rope.
“Now it’s balanced up there on that lug so it won’t go anywhere … so just steady it … keep the rope tight an it’ll be right … ta.”
He lifted one arm and she slipped coyishly under and with cautious manoeuvring they exchanged places.
“You right?” Jean asked.
“As rain,” Celia replied with a grimace.
Jean moved to his truck to get some spanners. Now, fate always selects it’s moments for mischief, a gust of wind snatched at the blade at the top of the mill and it twisted off the supporting lug. It jumped and slipped down the frame.
“Jean!!” Celia yelled as the rope burned through her hands. She didn’t let go though.
Jean leapt to her and reaching around her with his strong arms grabbed the rope and planted his foot against the bulwark at the base of the mill. The blade, in it’s swinging descent caught in one of the bracing bars of the frame and jammed. Jean was braced there with both arms around Celia and holding the rope. She had disappeared inside his encompassing body. The muscles on his arms and legs were solid with the tension. Celias’ face was brushing against his chest while his upper right arm pressed against her forehead. Celia let go of the rope and clasped her hands together.
“Oh bugger!” She sighed.
“What’ve you done?”, Jean asked as he stood there still in his braced position. Celia looked up, she was only inches from his eyes and she saw the deep concern reflected in them. She became aware of the warmth of his body, his arms, his manliness around her, his scent, not the scent of sweat, but rather the scent of man, of work, of that unfathomable allure of man to woman.
“What have you done to your hands?” Jean repeated. Celia snapped to her senses,
“My hands,” she softly said, “they hurt so.”
Jean raised his right arm and Celia reluctantly, for all her pain, slipped out of that moment of non-conditional bond of belonging that she felt she owned of Jean’s personality. She slipped out of his cushioned embrace and edged over to the truck. Jean reached down and double looped the rope around a spike at the base of the ladder and eased the blade secure. Then he went over to help Celia attend her injury. She stood at the end of the tray of the truck with her lips pinched, holding her hands cupped and not quite knowing or daring to touch one or the other.
Jean took her arms gently and turned the palms upward and they put their heads together gazing at the injury like two children gazing open eyed at some strange object. The skin of both palms had been burnt red by the coarse rope.
“Oh dear,” Celia sighed.
“Hold on a minute, I’ve got some salve in the glove box.” Jean said. He steered her over to the truck cabin, opened the door and reached inside rummaging around till he reappeared with a tin of Rawliegh’s golden salve. He wiped his hands clean and with clumsy fingers, as gently as possible, spread a thin film of the ointment over the burns. Reaching behind the drivers seat he pulled out a bag of clean rags and tore two strips off a piece of white cotton and placed the squares over the wounds.
“That’s about all I can do here, Celia.” He spoke apologetically. Celia looked from her poor hands up to Jean’s eyes, they were looking deep into hers too, though but a moment, it seemed a long time for silence between them and they both knew then, but could not acknowledge it to themselves yet; the thrill of each others touch.
“It’s enough … Jean,” Celia softly replied. She turned her eyes away and stepped from Jean’s nearness. His hand slipped from her arm in silence. She turned back to his glance and ran her tongue over her top lip. “Ta,” she added softly and turned toward the house. Jean watched her walk away over the gibbered paddock, her feet sometimes slipped, askew as she trod on some of the many small rounded stones.
Oh how he would have loved to have carried her, he imagined for a moment, like some chivalrous knight in a romantic story – (for is it not in the better nature of a man to desire to protect women … to shield her from hurt and harm?) – he was feeling, but then he chastised himself for the foolishness of his silly thoughts … juvenile desires … and anyway … what was he really, but a grubby worker … a lowly mechanic. Celia stopped by the backdoor and looked back toward Jean who was still staring after her. She bit her bottom lip and went inside.
They didn’t see each other for a few weeks after that incident; such was the mutual discomfort of their discovery toward each other. Each of them too, at this voluntary separation was surprised to learn that they were quite casual at not seeing one another. Neither was distressed at the others absence, amazing, it seemed, though in fact they each had reached that phase of longing so that denial was bonding their egos together. They each knew with joyous delight that the other was thinking of them so the physical contact was not at all necessary.
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