When the alarm didn’t go off I seriously considered taking another sickie. Except I’d done that once already this week. There were only so many days off a connie could take without a doctor’s certificate and I rather suspected I was over the limit as it was. Not that it would worry me unduly if I was sacked from a tram conductor job. I was hardly making a career choice here. But I was desperate to go overseas and without a job had Buckley’s hope of getting the money together.
I glanced at the recalcitrant clock. The tram I was supposed to be on would be leaving the yard in another ten minutes. I threw back the bedclothes. If I rushed I’d make it by the time the tram passed the depot again on the way into the city. The spare would cover for me, that’s what they were there for. I might even have time for a quick shower.
It made a change to be starting work at a somewhat decent hour, I was thinking, as I stepped onto my very favourite (albeit rapidly becoming extinct) mode of transport, one of the old green W-class trams. Almost worth having my pay docked on the strength of it. Although at the rate I was saving the only travelling I’d be able to afford was what I was doing now. It didn’t bear thinking about.
Being peak hour the tram was packed with workers. As I pushed my way through the crowd automatically taking money and dispensing tickets I wished I was somewhere else entirely. On Lesbos, for example. I’d never been but I’d heard all about the nude section where the lesbians hung out and the way the tavernas were strung out along the beach front in the village so you could have dinner watching the sun setting into the Aegean.
I was oblivious to the fact that they were hurtling down St Georges Road. In my mind I was now spread-eagled on the hot sand at Skala Eressou smothered in suntan lotion, the sea shushing a few feet away. And best of all, I was surrounded by dozens of naked lesbians who were plying me with Kalamata olives, fetta cheese, fresh peaches smothered in Greek yoghourt and ice cold retsina.
‘I said,’ a passenger was practically yelling to get my attention, ‘I want a two hour concession. If it’s not too much bother,’ he added sarcastically.
‘No bother at all,’ I muttered through clenched teeth, ‘Could I see your concession card, please?’ I only ever did this if passengers got up my nose, like this one. I bared my teeth at him as I handed him the ticket punched for eight o’clock. It was five to. If he hadn’t been such a dickhead I’d have given him the extra hour as I usually did.
He handed me a twenty dollar note. I handed him his change in coins, all $18.90 of it. I moved away satisfied that honour had been maintained. It would take more than that to get the better of me.
By the time they were crossing Alexander Parade I’d made it to Paris. I was sitting outside one of the patisseries along the Boulevard Saint-Michel, sipping an aperitif before a late dinner for two, the balmy night air caressing my cheek while a dark-haired woman ran her fingers along the inside of my thigh under the table.
I was so taken by this fantasy that I failed to notice that one of my ex-lovers, the one I wasn’t talking to, must have got on as they were trundling down Brunswick Street. It wasn’t till I’d pulled the cord to signal everyone was on board at Johnston Street that I realised.
My heart gave a painful lurch and settled into a steady rhythm of panic. Shit, of all the trams on all the tram lines in Melbourne I had to pick this one. Not only that, she had another woman in tow. That’d be right.
Fortunately, the tram was so full they were quite oblivious to me standing there riveted with shock, one arm in the air, my hand still clutching to the cord. Pull yourself together, I told myself. She means nothing to you anymore. It’s all over. You’ve got your own life to lead and you’re much better off without her. Remember that!
It certainly paid me to remember that I didn’t at all miss the dramas, the fights, the emotional blackmail and manipulative tears at three in the morning. I relaxed my hold on the cord and chanced a glance in their direction.
I was so startled I did a double take. It wasn’t possible, was it? That they were standing there, in full view of a crowded tram full of passengers. Kissing. As if they had the whole tram to themselves.
I looked around to see how everyone else was taking it. In typical cool Melbourne fashion, by the looks of it. This was Brunswick Street, after all, what could you expect? All these straight passengers from the outskirts of Preston seemed to have shed their suburban prejudices this morning, bless their stretch pantyhose, to incorporate two women kissing, kissing mind you, without so much as batting an eyelid.
I put it down to all those articles in the women’s magazines about lipstick lesbians which were slanted, to my way of thinking, to be a turn-on for males or as an interesting experiment for straight women or even worse, as something weirdly newsworthy, like serial killers.
And on my tram into the bargain. Just my luck. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have minded, of course. If it was anyone else at all.
When I’d had a chance to recover somewhat, I noticed they were not really pashing on, as such. They were cuddling, certainly. Holding hands even and giving each other little, almost inadvertent kisses as the tram lurched and clattered its way towards Gertrude Street. Nothing to get worked up about really and damned if I was going to let anything get to me this morning. And especially not this particular ex-lover.
I turned abruptly and headed back the other way. Let them have a free ride for all I cared. ‘Tickets. Move away from the door. Tickets please.’
I accepted money and dispensed the odd ticket in between pulling the cord to keep the tram moving. This run couldn’t end soon enough for my liking. I braced myself against the back door as the tram turned into Victoria Parade.
Ireland, that’s where I wanted to go, back to the old country as my mother used to say, to visit the few members of my family who were still alive, cousins mainly. I’d roam the green hills around Belfast as my ancestors had done, drink Guiness by the bloody pintful and watch the sun go down in Galway Bay, to be sure.
‘Excuse me,’ someone was saying, wouldn’t you know it! I focused back to the present, rather surprised to find myself moving down Collins Street rather than a country lane with stone walls either side.
‘Just down to King Street, please.’
The woman looked familiar, I thought, as I handed her a short-trip ticket and fifty cents change. Really, my memory for faces was getting worse, if anything. Then again, the other woman seemed not to have recognised me either so maybe she just looked like somebody I knew or had been on telly or something?
I pretended to peer out the window to get another look at her face. The woman twigged and smiled. She had the most beautiful brown eyes, I noticed, blushing in embarrassment as I tentatively smiled back.
Then, because I didn’t want to seem rude or pushy, I began making my way back to the other end of the tram quite forgetting why I’d stayed up this end in the first place. Too late.
My ex and her new lover were getting ready to get off at Russell Street. It only then occurred to me to wonder if maybe she had a job at long last. She was certainly dressed for it in a suit with the obligatory shoulder pads and carrying a briefcase no less. Must be some salary she was on to look like that, I mused, trying not to let envy get the better of her by imagining how much sooner I’d be able to get away if I was earning some kind of a decent salary myself.
At that moment it occurred to me that the woman with the brown eyes was Lou Bennett from Tiddas. I had all their CDs but had only managed to get to see them live a couple of times, so no wonder I’d been a bit vague about who she was. I was so delighted that Lou Bennett was actually on my tram that I almost laughed out loud.
It was then my ex turned as she was stepping off the tram and caught the full impact of my excitement. She seemed puzzled at first and possibly smiled or more likely glared back. It was hard to tell for sure before she was obscured by the other passengers and the moment was gone.
The lights changed, I hurriedly pulled the cord twice and the doors closed as the tram trundled on its way. Safe again. Really, one of the more positive aspects of being a connie was that I was on the move all the time and not stuck in one place where I could be got at either by phone or by someone inadvertently dropping in. Not usually, anyway. I took a deep breath. It was inevitable that we’d run into each other at some stage. I’d hoped it would be later when I’d completely recovered rather than sooner, like now, that was all.
I was just pulling the cord to keep the tram moving, not even bothering to check tickets as most people were getting off anyway, when I noticed Lou waiting at the door. If the sight of my ex had made my wish I’d stayed in bed that morning after all, the presence of one of my very favourite singers on my tram more than made up for it. Trying not to stare, I stood with one hand on the cord as Lou stepped off the tram and then rang the bells twice and kept watching till she was out of sight.
It was always an easy run out of the city at this hour of the morning. As we were changing ends at Spencer Street my driver muttered, ‘Must be the school holidays or something. I’ve never seen so many passengers as we had this morning.’
‘Really?’ I hadn’t noticed.
‘You seemed to cope alright,’ he added grudgingly.
I accepted the praise as my due. Sitting down up the back and gazing out the window I allowed the events of the morning to play themselves out in my head. By the time we were crossing Spring Street I was back on Lesbos and sipping ouzo in between being massaged all over my bare body by any number of willing lesbian hands.
Jean Taylor is a radical lesbian feminist writer and activist in Wurundjeri country Naarm in Melbourne, Australia. Her earlier works were under the pseudonym of Emily George; now Jean publishes in her own name and the 2008+ imprint Dyke Books Inc.—established to publish lesbian writing by lesbian writers. Jean’s books include ‘Brazen Hussies: A Herstory of Radical Activism in the Women’s Liberation Movement in Victoria 1970—1979’ (2009) and ‘Stroppy Dykes: Radical Lesbian Feminist Activism in Victoria During the 1980s’ (2012) and ‘Lesbians Ignite’ set in Victoria during the 1990s. Her work can be found at www.dykebooks.com.