Sydney - Thursday November 28th, 1996
Hot bright sunshine spilled through the white iron railings, making a stark pattern of striped sun and shadow. Wanda looked over her balcony and smiled with satisfaction. Sydney harbour churned below her, busy with craft of every shape and size. Its deep, intensely blue water, sparkling with a million diamond-points of light, was furrowed into white wakes by speedboats and yachts, hydrofoils and the grand old ladies of the harbour, the green and white ferries. Wanda watched the Manly ferry slipping through the Heads and, for a moment, felt a pang of grief for her own harbour and the green and white Star ferries.
Were all ferries the same colour? This place was so different and yet the ferries made her homesick. She looked across to the white sails of the Opera House, washed by last night’s late southerly buster, gleaming like marble in the clean air.
Her previously high mood plunged, signalling a squall brewing. What’s wrong with me? she wondered miserably. I’ve got what I want. I’m a real success here, I’ve a beautiful home overlooking the harbour, I’m the toast of Sydney, in all the social pages. Jon’s devoted to me and I’m making him just how I want him. Everything should be wonderful.
She felt a tear slip down her cheek and impatiently dashed it away. ‘Jesus!’ she called imperiously. ‘Jesus, come here, pronto!’
A white-coated Filipino houseboy appeared through the French windows.
‘Hasn’t the mail come yet? Bring it right away and an iced punch. It’s hot out here. Be quick!’
Jesus bit back an acid retort and left, with a backward look of undisguised contempt for the appalling manners of Mr Langford’s woman.
Wanda stretched out her golden legs and rubbed more suntan oil into her skin. Her bikini made no unsightly strap marks. She tanned often enough without it to ensure her perfect colour was unbroken from top to toe. She slipped a light robe over her shoulders, just in case, and flipped idly through the Vogue magazine beside the li-lo.
Jesus returned. ‘Here’s the mail, miss, very late today, and your drink.’
‘Put it down, then, and get out!’
The mail was presented on a silver tray with an ivory letter opener. Wanda began to slit her letters open. Half a dozen invitations to the opera, races, arts festival - and an airmail letter. She dropped the others and snatched it up. From her mother, at last! She slit it carefully and unfolded it.
When Jonathan came home an hour later, he was surprised to hear that Wanda was lying down.
‘Is she sick?’
‘Not sick. In a temper. Bad news from home.’
Jon felt his stomach tighten. ‘Well, you’d better hold dinner, Jesus. Tell cook we’re sorry but Miss Wanda’s been taken ill. We’ll ring when we’re ready.’
He opened the bedroom door and came softly in. ‘My poor darling, what’s the matter?’
Wanda sat up, her face taut, eyes like flint. Jon flinched at her ice-cold tone. ‘My mother says Pat’s been recalled to Hong Kong.’
‘Yes, darling. His work in Brisbane’s finished. David wanted him back in head office but he stayed on a little longer so I’d be free to take up the reins here. I thought you knew.’
‘No, I didn’t know.’ Her voice rose piercingly. ‘I’ve been cheated, betrayed. How could you do that to me? You said you loved me.’
‘Darling, of course I love you.’ No, Wanda, don’t, Jon pleaded silently. It’s been a bugger of a day. I’m dog tired and hot, and we’ve another of your damned parties tonight. I just want a cool shower and dinner and ...
‘You bastard.’ Wanda screamed. ‘You’ve made me lose face. Everyone knows and I didn’t and all of Hong Kong is laughing at me.’ Her fingers curled like talons, her nails pressing hard into her palms. ‘David’s spread the story around that I left Pat and he’s glad to get rid of me and they’ve picked out another woman for him already. It’s not true! You seduced me, made me come with you. Pat was devastated. He begged me not to go. He wanted me to stay with him.’
‘Wanda, you know that’s not true. We talked it over, all of us.’ Jon sat down next to her and put out a hand to stroke her hair but she slapped it away, blind fury absorbing her. She began to cry hysterically; deep, gulping sobs.
Jon watched her, worriedly. ‘Darling, don’t, please. You’ll make yourself sick.’
Her crying grew louder. ‘Oh, oh, oh, what am I to do?’
‘Wanda, stop it.’ He’d never used such a stern voice with her and it shook her momentarily, but not enough to break the now very real hysteria she’d worked herself into. Jon took a deep breath and dealt her a sharp slap across the face.
There was a stunned silence. Wanda drew herself up slowly, her face a sudden mask. When she spoke it was with a quiet intensity that shocked him more than her screaming had done.
‘I am sick,’ she almost whispered. ‘Sick of you, Jon. Sick of this place, sick for home. I had a second letter today. From Pat. He begged me to go back to him, join him in Hong Kong. I’m going back. Then everything will be all right again. They’ll all see.’
In a swift movement she got up and went to the door, holding it open, her face still devoid of all expression, her eyes glinting. ‘Now, get out of my sight, Jon. I’m sick to death of looking at you.’
As he left her, the noise of the bedroom door shutting him out echoed through the house.