IT WAS winter in a world turned upside down. The over-friendly Australian sun beamed down on me as I sat in a beachside bar.
I’d fled the chilly atmosphere back home to hang out with a few friends from the ad business in Brisbane. Keen to show me the splendours of the Sunshine Coast, they’d taken me north – past countless beautiful beaches where the surf held the shore in a wild embrace – until we found ourselves in the pretty, tame, seaside town of Noosa.
It’s a small, manicured resort, packed with pricey boutiques and chi-chi eateries, popular with couples for whom luxe and love go hand in hand.
My mate David liked the resort a lot. He had brought his lovely wife-to-be Kimberley on the trip, along with his pal Marco. In turn, Marco had brought along a new, girlfriend called Carrie.
It would have been easy to feel deflated, but we were having so much fun.
David was an award-winning art director. A former motocross champion of Australia, he knew no fear, except running out of cigarettes, or not doing what Kimberley told him. She was a lovely, sensible woman who worked in direct marketing. Carrie was a sweet, beautiful girl, and a cordon-bleu cook too boot. And Marco?
Well, Marco was the son of successful immigrants. Handsome with wild, dark hair and wild, dark eyes, he was more Italian than mascarpone. He fronted a smart little creative agency and, if you could bottle what he had, you’d label it “Gallus” and sell it in Glasgow.
We were hoping to eat at a restaurant nearby, but it looked busy. So Marco offered to go and have a word with the maitre d’ and sauntered off to try and snag us a table.
“He’s always doing that,” said Carrie and began to tell us a story.
The previous Sunday, they’d strolled out of Marco’s riverfront apartment in Brisbane. Dressed in shorts and T-shirts, they’d walked and walked, and talked and laughed like any couple newly in love. Before they knew it, they’d walked miles – way across town and close by the convention centre.
At which point Carrie spotted a poster for an exhibition of travel photography. Like many young Australians, she yearned to see the world and suggested they visit the show. Marco pointed out that the entry fee was $10. Patting his pockets, he found he only had a few dollars on him. He’d forgotten his wallet and she hadn’t brought her purse.
Carrie’s face fell. So Marco suggested he’d go and have a word with the girl at the ticket desk to see if he could blag a way in for free. Cringing, Carrie held back, peeping from behind a pillar to see him leaning in to charm the woman behind the counter. Suddenly, he turned round with a huge grin and there, in his hand, were two tickets to the exhibition.
Towards the end of the exhibition, there was a beautiful souvenir book on sale. Carrie picked it up, and looked longingly at the images. But the book was $20 and she put it back with a sigh. At which point, Marco said he thought he knew the man behind the counter, and would have a word with him. Maybe he could get her the book for free.
Mortified, Carrie couldn’t look as Marco talked to the sales guy. But when he came back with the book in a bag, she was elated.
They were so happy together, as if being in love was their lucky charm. But, at the end of a long, hot, footsore day, they were tired and thirsty and didn’t fancy the long walk home.
So Marco suggested they spend the few dollars they had on a couple of soft drinks. Then they’d catch a cab. When the cab stopped at their apartment, he would keep the driver talking while Carrie jumped out, ran up to the apartment and got his wallet from the bedside table. Easy.
So, when the taxi pulled up, Carrie sprinted upstairs, into the apartment, into the bedroom, and there on the bedside table was a wallet-shaped space where no wallet was. Frantic, she had a hunt round. Still no wallet. She found her own purse: empty.
Aghast, she ran back down to the street… only to see the taxi driving away and Marco sauntering up the sidewalk.
“You won’t believe this,” he said. “I was just talking to the man and telling him how I feel about you and how in love we are. And he let me off with the fare!”
Back on the beach, I could see Marco coming back with the look of a man who’s always lucky.
My mate David coughed, and it wasn’t the cigarettes. “Carrie,” he said. “Don’t you know Marco had his wallet with him all along, and was paying for everything as he went?”
It was clear that Carrie had no idea. We were rolling about laughing, and steam was coming out of her ears. When Marco arrived back at the table, all she said to him was: “I’m going to get you for that.”
Was she mad because Marco had enjoyed a joke at her expense? Or was she mad because David had burst her bubble, the fairy-tale romance that was racing in her mind.
In any case, she wasn’t as mad as Marco. He couldn’t believe David had given the game away. He’d been hoping to resurrect the ruse on a later date for an even bigger laugh.
Today, as many couples wake up from their Valentine’s Day night out, maybe there’s something to be deduced from the story of Marco and Carrie about this thing called love.
For a start, you can see how men put their faith in the outward form: the gesture itself stands in for true meaning. For some, love is a game and the end justifies the means.
How many males bought the bunch of roses and/or box of chocolates and then pondered, pen hovering over the Valentine’s card, how to put their feelings into form? Especially when Hallmark seems to have the done the job for you.
At the risk of wild generalisation (and steam coming out of the ears of the fairer, smarter sex), women often seem content with such a show.
It suggests a basic difference between us.
Men eat with their eyes, always looking longingly through the sweetie shop window of life. Women hope with their hearts, and often seem strangely satisfied with the most half-baked doughball from God’s kitchen. Of course, there can’t really be a God, otherwise a lot of guys would be a lot lonelier than they are.
But you’ll be glad to know Carrie had her revenge. She married Marco. All these years later, with a beautiful family, they’re still in love with each other and with life.
That’s the truth: the woman who loves you would rather you were a hero than a heel, and it’s a man’s job to maintain the illusion.