When Pearly was in a north-facing upstairs bedroom, he saw through the window a woman come briskly to the neighbour’s back door, which opened without the need for her to pause on entry.
He knew her, though. It was Deidre Utterspan.
He said nothing, but Sanderson noticed his glance. ‘A regular friend,’ he said with a knowing smile. ‘Our Nigel is a bit of a ladies’ man. I’ve seen a few things with those two.’ Sanderson was pleased to pass on gossip, but Pearly didn’t encourage any further disclosure.
‘I’d like to have a quick look at the ensuite,’ he said. ‘Bathrooms and kitchens. Over the years I’ve noticed a real rise in the importance of those for buyers. People expect at least two toilets in a house these days. Double garages are becoming an expectation too. We’re getting too rich perhaps.’ He mentioned double garages because Sanderson didn’t have one, and it was good sales practice, while encouraging a seller, not to inflate expectation.
As Pearly drove to his next appointment, he was thinking of Deidre Utterspan, not real estate. He wondered if she was really having it off with Sanderson’s neighbour, and he felt a condescending pity for his deputy. Philip with his earnest concern for pest-free reserves and dairy run-off, while his wife, after a stirring anti-fluoridation meeting, or an exhibition of installation art, was off shagging herself silly in Montgomery Street. She wasn’t an especially good-looking woman, nor did she act, or dress, provocatively, and Pearly was surprised by the revelation of her double life.
Like many men, he assumed that sexual drive in women was commensurate with their attractiveness. Why that should be so when it didn’t apply to his own sex, he never thought to consider. Pearly was well aware of the aberrations that love and lust could cause in even the most logical and composed personalities. Love has extreme persuasion but is not a sensible emotion. It may provide sublime happiness or occasion a total collapse of an ordered life. Perhaps both in turn, even simultaneously.
The coach of Pearly’s first club team had been a solicitor with a personal life outwardly irreproachable: a wife notable for gaiety and as a bridge player, two teenage daughters successful in almost everything they attempted, a holiday home in Wanaka, and a record of giving time to a free legal clinic for those who couldn’t afford a lawyer’s advice. He left all of it to disappear to Sydney with a twenty-six-year-old journalist who had the body of a cheerleader. Pearly had met him in the street the day before he left, and the man was a stranger to him, jittery and with forced bonhomie, eyes distraught with the enormity of his decision. He was a man possessed, and although Pearly never saw him again, he never forgot the evident pain and confusion of that possession.
Pearly himself had experienced the buffetings and deliriums of love, and as he neared the three-storeyed Pegasus Building, which was on his books, his memories had segued from Deidre Utterspan and the rugby coach to his humiliation over Gwendolyn Posswillow. She’d been his Juliet when Pearly was in the seventh form and she one year younger. For six months of that year everyone else in the world had faded to a pale and pygmy insignificance, and he’d maintained an almost permanent erection.
Gwendolyn was languidly beautiful and cruel. She favoured Pearly in an offhand way when the moon was full, and others when it suited her. On footy practice nights when he had the motorbike he would walk through the Posswillow shrubbery of azaleas and rhododendrons to reach her bedroom window and tap on it. If she was at home and in the mood, the window would lift and they would talk there, her desk close, her bed against the far wall.
Nothing they talked about was of consequence to either of them. Everything was in their mutual awareness of proximity. Twice when he came she had a classmate with her to witness how completely he was in thrall. She never allowed him to climb in, and the smooth, blue cover of the bed was undisturbed despite its daring proximity. On a wet winter’s evening when she was still in school uniform, her mother came into the room and found them kissing at the windowsill. Pearly had cut and run, half blinded by the cold spray from the leaves he dashed through.
It was the end of it, although Pearly and Gwendolyn never discussed the incident, and he never returned to the window. Pearly had wondered what she’d expected of him, what she would have considered an appropriate response to her mother’s arrival as he stood drenched, lovesick, outside the bedroom window.
Most likely if he had at the beginning of it all gone to the front door and politely asked to see her, it would have been okay and turned out differently, but Pearly had felt that his intentions must have been as clearly seen on his face as they were felt internally. It was all an eternity away, and most of Pearly’s love affairs since had been conducted with greater success and more sangfroid, but that first wound was still tender. Her teeth were white, uniform and pointed, and when she raised her narrow face to be kissed it was like the approach of a vixen.