I need to tell you about ‘the hug’. I was sitting at the St Andrews’ pub – which for those who don’t know it it quite simply one of my favourite places in the world. On the outskirts of Melbourne’s east, it’s a beautiful little town past Warrandyte that is all rolling green hills and tall stands of ghost gums. The pub is a sprawling timber barn with a big deck and inside it’s all dark timber and a blazing fire. There’s a yellow helmut on the bar with a slot cut in it for donations to the local CFA. There’s a sign saying how much money has been raised for Maddy, a girl whose entire family died in the Black Saturday fires. There’s rows of big golden brown timber tables with bench seats and they’re filled with young mums nursing newborns, dads chasing toddlers and dread-locked hippies nursing pots of beer. A guy in his fifties fills the place with the sound of his voice and his guitar. There’s the smell of hot chips and people are hunched over slabs of parmigiana.
I’d settled at a table by the window after being at the Saturday market with a couple of friends – one of those impromptu “how bout coffee?” texts that turned into lunch, wine and wandering in the Winter sunshine. It was over a glass of semillon that I saw them. Funny how my gaze was pulled. Like I heard a note ring in the air. There they were, outside on the decking, embracing. I’d noticed her earlier, wearing a sheepskin coat dyed the strangest pale green. I’d turned to my friend and asked if she’d wear that colour, saying it would drain every drop of blood out of my face. I couldn’t help think of minty sheep leaping in a paddock. Odd.
But now it wasn’t the shaggy coat or her messy blonde curls falling softly about her pretty forty-something face that I was looking at.
It was the way he was pulling her close to him.
He was taller than her, shaved head and wearing a black leather jacket. He had a strong build, broad shoulders and a gut that was large enough to let you know he didn’t work out but not soft enough to even consider he’d let himself go.
But ah, how he was holding her. As if she was keeping him afloat. Pulling her in so tight that she had to lift her chin up onto his shoulder, balancing on her toes. She didn’t mind. Not at all. Her eyes were tight shut and she was smiling. I couldn’t see his face. I didn’t have to. The way the fingers of one hand spread out across the small of her back, the way he slung his arm across her back. The way he buried his head in her neck. Every part of him said ‘mine’. Through the cold sheet of glass I was sure I felt him sigh. I saw her melt into him. They swayed a little with the moment. I heard a voice in my head say ‘home’.
I leant over to my friend and nudged her, flicking my eyes over to where they stood.
“Affair? Married? New love?”
My friend considered. “Nah, not married. Or if they’re married there’s something going on – a reconciliation?”
That’s when I saw she was holding back tears. And failing. The air seemed to hum around them a little. He let her go. She stepped back, looking at the ground. He did the same. Then they looked at each other and smiled, he patted her arm and she seemed to give herself an internal shake and rested her arm on his shoulder, but just briefly. The moment was over.
He walked inside ahead of her. She followed.
“God, she’s blushing. She’s all aflush.”
My friend smiled and nodded. “Something definitely going on.”
“Yep, that was a moment. That was definitely something. Look at her. She knows it. And look at him. He knows it even more and is trying to keep it together.”
We looked at each other and raised our glasses. “To them”.