The Club Hotel was the hub of Clunes. At seventeen I worked in the kitchen. It was busy. Real fucking busy. A huge colander of frozen shrimp sat in an even bigger bowl, full of water thawing. I scratched and pulled at the shrimp flesh with my rubber gloves, trying to free them. The heat in there was oppressive. Sweat trickled drown my brow. The chef hollered from behind me that he needed his shrimp for the cocktails. The fresh water running over them was mesmerizing. I was dazed. I needed a beer.
Dirty plates stacked high in the buckets. Dirty knives and forks by the hundreds. Half eaten rare steak, scalloped potato cream and peas crammed between plates. The industrial washer pounded its way through them, tray after tray. Steam billowed from its walls and out into the blistering kitchen. Summer of 1992 was here already.
I wiped down the last of the benches. The kitchen had grown quiet and had cooled. The hum of the walk in fridge whirred behind me. I stood still, I was spent. A typical Saturday night. I threw the tea towel into the wash and knocked off. At seventeen, there were better things to be doing than working until 11 pm on a Saturday night. I was meeting the guys in the park before we headed to a party.
The trio sat on the picnic seats in the Collins Place Park. Footy shorts and tees or a singlet. It was a warm night. Crickets were chirping. Moths flicked around the street lights. None of us were eighteen yet. I heaved the carton of Carlton Cold onto the bench. I had my ways. The beer was cold and gassy. One of the guys grabbed the carton and we headed to somewhere out of sight. Although it was dark, the street lights reached the back of Collins Place, from the main street.
We laughed and joked about something or someone. One of them bounced a footy. I was comfortable and at ease around the guys. We grew up together, we were mates. One of them flirted. I ignored. I wasn’t particularly keen on any of them. Our feet scratched through the gravel. It was still and quiet apart from our laughing. Someone suggested Queens Park, so we made our way there. Crossing the bridge and looking over the rail, the creek was almost dry, just dribbling. The moon hit some ripples and bounced back at me.
It was dark in the park, just enough of the street lights and moon filtered through the conifer trees. The ground was dry and dusty. Worn and weathered from years of neglect. The trees had stopped any grass from growing. The creek trickled in the back ground down below. The air was cooler in here under the trees. We settled on the fountain edge and drank our cool beers. The old concrete fountain was empty, it hadn’t flowed my entire life in Clunes. It’s base was cracked and worn. Pieces of it were missing. Broken glass littered the bottom with dried nettle leaves from the trees. It was a pity its three tiers didn’t flow with water.
We weren’t sitting for long when a quietness sat down with us. It wasn’t often we sat quiet. Laughing, friendly banter and jokes flowed easily all the time. Perhaps the beer had lulled the hyper and our senses. Some locals passed by the park not noticing us. In the build back to the chat a dare was made. Kiss Ben, Nom! No way, as I recoiled, giggling. I had never even considered kissing Ben up until that point.
He was a mate. A really, fit… and HOT mate. His blonde hair cut to a flat top covered by his black CCC cap. Freshly shaven he smelled of something, nice. His bare broad shoulders heaved as he sat down beside me. He straddled the edge of the fountain. My head spun. My guts churned, or was it butterflies? The other two had wandered away leaving us alone, giggling among themselves. My hormones raced through my blood. My head pounded. I swung to him. His face was at mine. Holding for a time we just sat. Should I move closer? Was he as nervous? Did he even want to kiss me? Did I want to kiss him? The awkward lingered, resting between us. Our eyes darted back and forth, making contact and pushing away.
He lent forward, resting his hands beside me. Urging forward our lips met. Hunger comes to mind, when I think of that moment. We kissed.
The rest is a lot of history and I am happy to say I married that mate. Twenty two and a half years later he still rocks my little world. I still get butterflies when his car pulls up in the drive, and the excitement of when he smells great makes my head spin. That kiss on that one night might have been a dare, but if it didn’t happen we might have never happened at all. We might never have had two beautiful boys and my life might have been some other dare. I’m glad it isn’t. It’s not always love at first sight. Ben might tell you different. Mine was a tiny seed planted by a dare, that over the years grew into a beautiful love. Our love.
That same fountain now flows in Queens Park, in Clunes. It’s refurbishment a few years ago was a delight to hear. I wonder often how many others had their first kiss there? How many were dared and how many weren’t. We went back there for photos on our wedding day. I could think of no better place than where it first started. Can you?
Make sure you turn the teapot twice clockwise and once anticlockwise!