Splinter stepped into our smoker's circle outside the pub, all soulful jarrah eyes, extremely drunk and wanting to converse, despite the obvious impediment of being articulatory challenged. "Sshe's a good woman," he said to Alice, nodding towards me.
I haven't seen Splinter for a long time and never this trolleyed. He stood on the concrete deck and waited for the sea to rise up and meet him again, which concrete decks rarely do without an earthquake. It's the illusion and I wonder, if drunk and at sea, whether you would experience the opposite.
Splinter shambled off down the alleyway between the pub and the bridal salon. "Do you know him?" Tilly asked me doubtfully.
"He's gorgeous, just a little messy tonight."
"Have you ever actually been into that bridal salon? Man it's a hoot, talk about a blast from the past! And what are those feathered thingies, you know, those French ticklers you put in your hair?"
"Fascinaters," said Alice. "They are called fascinaters."
"I've been there," I said.
"I used to live upstairs. It was a brothel in the early 1900s apparently. A secret door existed, a hidden passageway from upstairs at the hotel, across the alleyway and over to one of the bedrooms.
When I lived there it was just a party house inhabited by barflies and me, the white trash star barmaid. I'd jingle down the stairs with trays of middy glasses, to the bar on Monday mornings. The lease was taken by an overbearing kiwi by the name of Kiwi. He ran the flat with a meaty fist and a generous spray of expletives. In the room next to me lived a shattered man who'd lost his family in a car accident. We played cricket in the car park - smashing one of the hotel bathroom louvers was considered a six.
My bedroom window looked out over the harbour, the view broken by traffic, trains, boats and the ships of the wharf. It was a great view.
My sister stopped in once angry and in tears. Dad moved out of the marriage, to caretake the whalechaser. He didn't say why, perhaps he didn't know himself. Mum came, whitefaced, for a cup of tea. I retreated from the imploding family and into Pub World.
The bar manager, an imposing ex bikie from Bathurst, bought all sorts of interesting substances from Asian freight ship crew and patrol boats, selling them on over the bar. No one messed with him. Ben made six foot look ordinary and he had a mad flash in his eye. This didn't stop the police from rummaging through his apartment and dragging garbage bags full of wet weed back down the stairs.
Visiting skimpy barmaids and the cook were the only female company I had then, if you didn't count the Philipino bombshell who quietly cruised the bar for regulars on a weekday. She didn't speak much English though. Part of my job as barmaid was to button up the flannelet pockets of regulars who were obliviously displaying four or five foils. Ancient Rosie, the famous deflowerer of virgin boys, danced with her shirt off when the moon was full.
A few months ago, my daughter suggested we go to the bridal salon and try on dresses. We trawled through racks and racks of glossy satin bridesmaid dresses, the ones you'll forever hate your bride best friend for making you wear. "Come upstairs," she said. "There's wedding dresses up there."
The flat was spruced up. The skylight had been replaced in Kiwi's room, from the night he trekked across the roof and fell straight through to his bed. The old kitchen area was clean. Not a pile of dishes or king browns to be seen.
My old bedroom was the new changeroom. I couldn't believe it. The shabby fake wood panelling painted all creamy white and swathed in muslin, a huge gilt encrusted mirror covered the very same wall through which I used to hear the muttering product of the widower's tormented sleep. The view through the long sash window is just the same.
I stood there in a ridiculously frothy ivory wedding dress with mutton chop sleeves and stared at myself in the mirror. Eighteen years. Eighteen years ago, I had sex in this room with that man who just stumbled off down the alleyway. Splinter."
Tilly just stared at me and then down the alleyway. Alice was quite silent for maybe three seconds. "Bloody hell!" He said then. "How on earth did you just pull that story together? You should write that down!"