APRIL 27 – Secret Men’s Business

Location: Monaco

Shortly after lunch today Franco drops in unexpectedly. He and Bill disappear into the engine room, embroiled in a conversation about de-winterising the water maker, while I busy myself with the yacht’s teak grates on the floor of each shower.

There are four showers: our own, two guest rooms and the master stateroom. All except our own are circular with a typically nautical-looking criss-cross teak grate on the floor. I lift one to investigate what lies underneath this lovely piece of woodwork and find that what looked like one seamless teak grate is actually a jigsaw of four outer grates surrounding one large square grate in the middle of the circle. Underneath is a grimy mess of hair-infused grunge.

I roll up my sleeves and get to work scrubbing both sides of the grate, then the fibreglass shower floor.

Franco and Bill re-emerge.

“We’re going into town,” Bill announces. “We’ll be back soon.”

The yacht is strangely quiet with just me here, despite Bill’s ever-present music playing in the background. He boasts of having eclectic taste, claiming he likes everything from rock to classical and grooves ranging from the back blocks of deepest Africa to the Fijian islands. Back in Melbourne I was impressed by this, but since we’ve been in Monaco he’s taken to playing the same discordant Islander album over and over and over again. With him off the boat I immediately select one of my own playlists, allowing my familiar favourites like John Farnham, Michael Bublé and Helen Reddy to wash away the disappointment I feel at not being invited to accompany the ‘men’.

A couple of hours later I feel the yacht move slightly as Bill steps onto the passeral, the gangplank or drawbridge between the back of the boat and the wharf.

“How was it?” I ask, jumping up from the settee to which I’ve finally retired after cleaning underneath all four shower grates. “Where did you go? Was it fun?” After a couple of hours of my own company I am keen to chat.

“It was great,” he says smiling. “Francotook me to his local hardware store and introduced me to the guy there, then we dropped into his office and from there we went to the market for some socca.”

“Socca?”

“It’s a flat pancake made out of chickpeas.”

“That sounds like fun. Do you think I could come next time?”

Bill’s smile freezes and he pauses before carefully replying, “You know that’s not my decision. You’ll have to ask Franco.”

“Hmmm… ok.”

His look softens and he says, “You can’t feel bad. You went out this morning.”

Yes I did, but it was only to the supermarket. That’s hardly an exciting outing. “True,” I say.

I look at the chicken salad I prepared earlier for lunch. It’s still lying on the galley bench. “Sooo… do you want lunch?” I ask.

“No. Not that hungry if you don’t mind. I think I’ll just get stuck back into studying,” he says as he flops onto the settee with a boat manual in his hand.

I begin putting lunch away, half-heartedly munching some of the lettuce. No matter. It will keep until tomorrow. My playlist ends and the silence is amplified by the gentle slapping of water against the sides of the hull, which is soon joined by soft snores from the settee.

I grab myself one of the more interesting looking novels out of the bookshelf and take it up the five steps into the cockpit outside, settle myself as comfortably as I can on the hard teak slats, and begin my own form of study.

Just after I get settled my phone vibrates. It’s my youngest daughter Stephanie.

“Hello sweetheart,” I start.

“Hi Mum,” she gets out before bursting into muffled echoing sobs.

My heart skips a beat. “Darling?” I say, loading the word with as much love as I can pull out of my entire being. “What’s wrong?”

More quiet sobs as she tries to talk. I shush her until her shuddering breaths are not so ragged and she no longer sounds as if she’s trying to speak through a bucket of water, and finally, slowly get the full story.

She’s at work in a closed toilet cubicle, upset because she’d accidentally agreed to start a new job, three days before she officially finished her old job and neither place is allowing her to change the days, so instead of standing her ground, she is making excuses to each company and dashing between offices, trying to work at both places at the same time, without letting either of them know. And it has just all got too much.

I make soothing noises while she explains but I can only see the funny side. We chat a bit more, occasionally in whispers, until she gets it too and we can hear each other smiling.

“How are you going?” she asks, sounding almost back to her normal self.

“I’m well sweetheart. It’s fun. Hard work, but fun.”

“Mum,” Steph says. “I have to go. I love you.”

“I love you too bearcub.”

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