Jessie Morgan’s life is okay. She enjoys her long nights with Netflix, dreaming of kissing Jackson Maine and Jamie Fraser, guzzling red wine, and eating mountains of chocolate.
But Jessie’s world is about to be shattered when an old love, Matthew MacDonald dances back into her life and she becomes friends with the terrifying foodie, entrepreneur and cake lover, Marion. Matthew will make Jessie erupt with passion and Marion will rekindle her love of baking cakes laden with butter and sugar.
There’s just a small problem – her industrial relations specialist, old leftie husband Jeff who thinks Jessie should just stay the way she is – thanks very much. And it’s too late to change at fifty anyway, isn’t it?
A story of love, music, dancing in the moonlight, women’s friendship and cakes. Love Song will be the most uplifting novel about finding hope you will read this year. Enjoy the first few chapters of Love Song.
Friday, 30 November 1988
Canberra Workers Club
A familiar set of jerky notes filled the ballroom. Clutching the microphone stand, in tight stonewash jeans, the skinny frontman of the house band, threw out his bony hips, in time with the driving beat, and wailed, ‘I………maaaaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddeeeeee itttttttttt through…….the wilder…’ The remnants of Year Twelve who could still stand surged onto the parquetry dance floor.
‘Well, come on then.’ Matthew extended his left hand.
‘Dance?’ Jessie screwed up her button nose. Matthew, with his slender cheekbones, vintage t-shirt, black jeans, and smouldering gitane was a card-carrying member of the Cool Group. He’d never dance to a hot hitin public.
‘Let us go then you and I, with the evening spread across the sky and walk over there and then step or sway in time with the music.’ He pointed towards the dance floor.
‘But men like youdon’t dance. To Madonna. To Like a virgin. White Australian men can only dance like pogo sticks to Midnight Oilor The Angels.Pissed.’
‘I think it might be time for your re-education to begin.’ Leaning down, he took her hand and led her to the dance floor.
His fingertips sizzled on her skin. The atmosphere in the room snapped into another dimension. Gulping, Jessie felt a glowing sparkly rush of silverly energy flow deep inside her. Her heart pounded underneath her taffeta lavender disaster of a formal dress. A dust of magic sprinkled from the ceiling. No…
Plastered, sweaty and emotional teenagers crowded around them.
Surely, he can’t dance.
But Matthew could keep in time, stay on the beat AND he knew every word to Like a Virgin! His body replied to the throbbing and regular drumbeat. His long arms; his slender quadriceps surrounded her. The bass beat crept up her legs and to her thighs in a sweet unrest. He smelled freshly laundered and his hips seemed to be in synchronicity with hers. Alert and alive, she tried to calm her growing desire. This can’t be happening. I must be reading the signals incorrectly. He can’t be interested in me. I’ve never even spoken to him until half an hour ago. I’m not reed-thin. I’m not cool. I’ve never even had sex.
Everyone else turned into a carousel of flashing lights. They became the only people in the room. She looked up into his gentle brown eyes and his gravelly chin, and he beamed back. His breath fell on her neck like soft droplets of rain, easing their way down her spine, along her ribs and around to her breasts to the small of her back. Holy shit.I think I just became a woman.
‘I think you’ve been hanging out with the wrong men,’ he whispered.
She raised her eyebrows, fighting a desire to launch at him. Oh, God. I know.
‘I want to see people,’ he murmured.
‘And I want to see life. Oh, Matthew.’ She gasped. Gossamer tears came into her eyes. My favourite line fromMorrissey.All the steel nails she had battered into her heart’s coffin dissolved and she unfolded like petals of a lotus flower. The life she wanted seemed so clear. I want to go to Paris; I want to learn how to make the perfect croissant. I want to eat a mound of lemon, chilli, fried breadcrumbs and garlic pasta smothered in parmesan.
His hand felt as if it belonged in hers. Her eyes were drawn to his soft lips. Kissing him seemed to be the most natural thing to do. But I hardly know him and surely he doesn’t feel the same way?
He let go of her hand and reached down and took her head in his hands just like she had seen in every romantic movie she had ever watched.
‘Oh God,’ she thought, her eyes widening.
He pushed his chin slightly forward and bent his head.
That looks like the kissing position to me.
‘You’re a little charmer, Jessie Morgan.’ He gazed into her eyes.
Sobs pooled. A deep longing and yearning boiled over. Please kiss me, she prayed. Please. I’m dying here. The end of the song loomed. The end of the night loomed. The harsh fluorescent lights that would smash and dash all romance and true love loomed.
Matthew leaned in, closed his eyes and parted his moistened lips.
A puff of dry ice encased them.
Her face and chin and lips seemed to know what to do. She raised her head and prayed that this first precious kiss would exceed her expectations.
His soft, delicious touch awoke her body from a silent teenage slumber. Her hips moved into his as if on a quest to find a hidden treasure deep inside his soul. Tears came into her eyes. Life suddenly made sense; it was less starless, empty and sad. A moment. A sudden revelation.
‘The time is ten minutes to seven and I’m joined now by notorious Sydney icon, radio shock jock, Peter Vincent.’
In the half-extinguished light of another muggy morning, Jessie lay in an all too familiar molasses of silent despair. Yet again she’d been wide-awake during the lonely early hours of the morning. She prayed that the cooler air of autumn would finally come – and soon.
Jeff the Idiot, let one rip – so powerful, so foul it made the white bed sheet tremble. A rotten egg, soft cheese, and spinach gas filled the air. She flinched. Missiles of red-hot anger soared through her chest. The imbecile really had no idea the flimsy thread on which his life reposed.
‘Sorry.’ Jeff chuckled, clearly quite impressed.
‘It’s a pleasure to be here Robbie,’ said a deep, hit with the ladies, 1970’s AM radio voice. ‘Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society. I’m a huge supporter of women. What I’m not, is a supporter of feminism. Feminism is what I oppose. Feminism has led women astray. I love the women’s movement — especially when I’m walking behind it.’ Proud of the bait he cast, Peter Vincent laughed heartily.
‘You’ve got to be bloody joking. Yet another bloody old white man trying to control women…’ Fuming, Jessie readied to breath fire at the universe and life as a whole.
‘What a low life scum sucking dinosaur. What the hell is he doing on the ABC? Why doesn’t he just stay up the dial where he belongs?’ Jeff leaned out of bed, picked up one of his worn brown boots from the dusty wooden floor and hurled it at the radio.
‘Go Jeff!’ She raised her eyebrows; startled something positive about her husband had escaped from her lips.
Looking at her with a trace of disbelief, that she had not jumped down his throat or cut him off at the knees with a stinging sledge, Jeff smiled weakly.
For a moment, for the first time in months, she saw the man she had fallen in love with, nearly thirty years before. Rather than seeing his pregnant paunch, she admired Jeff’s broad shoulders and muscly biceps. An ancient longing inexplicably stirred and a rare impulse to kiss him besieged her. In the past year, as she nudged towards her fiftieth birthday, all she typically felt for Jeff and the world, in general, was a wild, roaring rage. Not a Katy Perry – female empowerment, kind of bubble gum, Frozen kind of roar – more Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, subterranean beast.
Recently, while sitting at a school trivia night dressed as a Liquorice All Sort, Jessie had confessed to a friend, dressed as a blue and yellow Fantale, ‘I think there may be a tiger living inside me.’ Her friend had stared, her black eyes widening in surprise, ‘A tiger? Mine’s more like a beast.’ Finding that description pertinent, on one particularly sleepless, desolate night, Jessie had set herself the task to try and describe the raging, frothing mass living just under her ribs. The kid’s dog-eared copy of The Gruffalohad proved most helpful. Curved horns – tick. English mustard coloured eyes – tick. Scales – tick. Prickles – tick. Claws – most certainly. Slimy black tongue – oh yes. But then she had found Mary Shelley’s description of the monster in Frankenstein…
Translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath.Watery, glowing eyes…breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs…
With the beast temporarily appeased, she gently stroked Jeff’s back with the tips of her fingers and thought about kissing the nape of his neck. Maybe. Just maybe? God. He could get lucky. If she narrowed her eyes and ignored Jeff’s growing stomach and his Ned Kelly beard, he almost looked like a pasty Jamie Fraser. She gazed at the cheery buttercup alarm clock on her bedside table. Five minutes would be enough. In the real world. Not like that Jamie Fraser who seemed to have all the time in the world to make love to his sweet sassenach – didn’t he have civil wars to fight?
Dropping her permanent guise of PMS, seething, bitch, Jessie yielded. Jeff had made her laugh and deserved a reward. She gave Jeff one of those resigned, oh all right, looks.
Stunned that her missiles were momentarily disarmed and knowing this moment would only last for microseconds, Jeff snuggled in a little closer and prepared his hairy right leg to mount. Climbing on board, as if he was clamouring over a sty in a paddock, making their old mattress squeak, Jeff gently kissed the back of her neck, and ran his soft, academic hands along her bottom, wisely circumnavigating her dimpled, spongy stomach. The iron bedhead started to tap on the wall in a regular motion.
Looking up at the roses embedded in the peeling ceiling, Jessie put her arms around his naked tummy, clasping her hands around his back, finding it surprisingly relaxing to physically exert herself, if only to a minor degree. She found relief in his soothing, knowing hands and lips. Without a doubt, she was the laziest maker of love in the Inner West – maybe in the whole of Sydney.
She felt a swell on her thigh. Jeff entered and started pounding her arse with the tops of his hairy, pallid white man’s thighs.
Closing her eyes, lifting up her hips, occasionally groaning, she mentally went through the coming day. Wage a war with the rest of Sydney. Drop Maggie off at school. Get a bus or train to dreaded North Sydney to attend the death of a thousand cuts Occupational Health and Safety course.
By his distressed expression, and the amount of air he was inhaling, Jessie knew she only had to lightly exert herself for two more minutes before he would finally explode. She dug her fingernails into his back and wailed to indicate he was a rival to Jackson Maine. In principle, she and Jeff hated the North Shore. SOOOOO CONSERVATIVE. SOOOO boring. SOOOOOOO WHITE. Not like groovy, hip, glorious, diesel infused, cockroach central, less than ten minutes to coffee, train, bus, the pub, quinoa, yoga – the holy grail of Sydney’s public sector, vegans and Amnesty activists, where you could trace the Qantas A380 en-route from Singapore – the INNER WEST.
Unlike class conscious Jeff who hated the North Shore because of the high concentration of rich tossers, Jessie avoided it because it was the Grand Central of THE PAST. The ghost of her mother dwelled in the train rattling over the Harbour Bridge, swam in the lanes of the heritage-listed North Sydney pool and lurked in the tall elms, making her painfully remember when life had been simple, rich and good. Even thinking about going to the North Shore made her tremble. The pain of missing rumbled into gear.
Jeff panted, his eyes closed.
Jessie drove her rounded, milky hips into his, digging her nails in further to his back. She had to get Connor’s birthday present too. A guitar – the guitar– from the best guitar shop in Sydney apparently, in Dulwich Hill. They were such terrible parents – couldn’t even manage to get a present on the day of their son’s fourteenth birthday. She thrust up her hips with an extra pizazz so she could at least pretend she had contributed.
The imaginary man in her mind came alive; a thread and blend of the ones who’d made her believe in magic. She wondered what it would be like to make love to someone she truly, savagely desired. She liked making love to Jeff, while it was familiar and comforting, it wasn’t… but maybe those years were behind her. The girl she used to know at eighteen was almost gone. Heading into middle age seemed to be a process of deleting oneself. A concrete bitch was tilting for possession of her soul. She didn’t want to let the fresh, optimistic, sunshine part of herself to totally vanish.
With beads of sweat pouring down his brow, Jeff looked like he was squeezing out a lemon. He let out one final deep, primal, squeal and thrust his hips through her in one last almighty heave. Groaning, he collapsed on top of her, spreading his rubbery, lathered self all over her.
Trying to catch a breath, she waited for about a minute, then quietly asked, ‘You done?’
He nodded. Exhausted. Ecstatic.
‘Action stations everyone,’ she yelled, pushing her reddened face away from his head, to snag some sorely needed, fresh and clear air.