An Alternative for the Cruel End of Episode 171
What could (and should) have happened instead
(at the same time an alternative sequel to the last part of Magdaīs Diary)
(...) Oh David... I want, I need to talk to you. I want to help you, to be with you when you need me. Why wonīt you let me?! Why canīt we at least give it a chance?! I love you, David. And I need you. It doesnīt have to be here. If you want to go somewhere else, Iīll come with you. If you can leave here just like that, then I can, too. And I wonīt be sorry, for you are far more important than my work. Guy and I managed with only two doctors last week, so Geoff and Guy should be able to, too. But I want to be with you! I have to go to work now, but Iīll try and figure out a way to catch up with you. Somehow! Even if it means taking the car and following your tracks to the end of the earth!
"Knock knock." Magda popped her head into Geoffīs office.
Geoff looked up. "Hi."
"Have you got a minute?"
"Yeah, sure. Come on in."
Magda entered the room, closed the door behind her and took a seat, and Geoff put down his pencil. He was busy making a new schedule, she noticed. A schedule without David. Well, it looks like she came just in time, otherwise heīd had to do it a third time.
"What can I do for you?" he asked casually as he leaned back in his chair.
She took a deep breath. This was definitely not going to be popular... "I would like a week off. Starting tomorrow." Her voice doubted between trembling and determination.
Geoff sat up as if there were a spring inside him. "What?!"
But Magda looked him straight in the eye. "I mean it, Geoff. I understand that itīs very inconvenient for you and for the base, but I have to."
Geoff shook his head. "Look, Iīm sorry, but you canīt just barge in here like that and demand a week off on such short notice. Weīd be down to two doctors!"
"So?" Magda raised her eyebrows. "I admit that itīs not exactly an ideal situation, but Guy and I managed pretty well on our own last week. So did David and I last November. So it should be possible for you and Guy, too."
"Thatīs not the point!" Geoff started to get agitated. "The point is that things donīt work this way! How can we ever expect to give a reasonable level of service if everyone just takes off on a whim without giving some sort of notice in advance so that weīd be able to organize things?!"
Magdaīs lips tightened. This was a direct attack on David... "Iīm sorry. I have to," she said grim.
"And Iīm sorry, too, but you canīt!" Geoff insisted.
A few seconds of tense silence followed. Then Magda started to get up. Very slowly and very determined. She leaned her fists on the desk, and said with calm resolution: "In that case, you can take this as my notice, Geoff: I quit, starting tomorrow. Youīll find my letter of resignation on your desk first thing tomorrow morning."
Geoffīs mouth fell open as she walked out of the room, with resolute steps and head high. What had gotten into this base?! Yesterday David, now Magda... This was ridiculous! Was Guy going to come in here tomorrow, telling him that heīd want to return to the city immediately? And what was Magda up to? What was going on here? It must be something major if sheīd quit her job for it. After all: where could she go?
All that ran through his mind in just a few seconds. And then he jumped up and ran after her. "Magda!"
Clare jumped in her chair. And at the door Magda turned around. Her hand was resting on the doorhandle, and it stayed there. As if she was to leave any second now.
"Hey, canīt we at least talk about this?" Geoff asked when he came up to her.
She looked him in the eye. Earnestly. "I am quite determined, Geoff."
"Yes, I can see that." Geoff heaved a sigh. "But donīt you think you owe me at least an explanation of some sort?"
Magda bit her lip, and Geoff noticed how pale she got all of a sudden. Comforting he put his arm around her shoulders. "Come on," he said with friendly persuasion. "Iīm not that much of a bogey that you canīt tell me whatīs going on, am I?"
She didnīt answer, but let Geoff usher her back into the office. From the radioroom Clare sent them a wondering, enquiring glance. But Geoff shut the door and they sat down again in silence.
Geoff watched his colleague with puzzled concern. What was going on inside her? She just sat there, staring at her hands.
"Why donīt you start by telling me why you want time off so badly that youīre willing to quit your job for it," he said gently.
She looked up into his kind eyes, but lowered her glance immediately again. There was a long silence, but Geoff waited patiently for her to compose her mind. And in the end, she looked up, and asked toneless: "Geoff, if you were to choose between Kate and your job, what would have your priority?"
He looked at her. Wondering. "Well, Kate of course. But what does that have to do with..." He broke off his sentence in a sudden dawning apprehension. And surprise. "You mean... David?!"
She nodded silently. They lapsed into another silence while Geoff was digesting this new piece of information. He knew David and Magda had been mates, but never had he suspected it to be anything more than that...
"I didnīt know you two were..." he hesitated.
"We arenīt," was all Magda replied, making him wonder even more. But this time she continued without being prompted. "I have to find out, Geoff. I have to find out whatīs going on."
He nodded with understanding. He had been just as surprised by Davidīs sudden decision to leave; it stood to reason that Magda, as his mate - or even something more than that - wanted to find out the motive for it even more than he did.
And Magda continued tormented: "I have loved him from the very first moment I set eyes on him. But I didnīt... I donīt know how he feels about me. Sometimes it seemed he did, sometimes it seemed I was just a friend. And Iīm not that experienced in these things that I dared to confront him myself. It would be so much easier if he made the first move..."
A soft smile touched Geoffīs face. It sounded all too familiar... Hadnīt Kate and he been circling around each other for years in the same way?
Magda heaved a sigh. "I have to find out, Geoff. I have to find him. I have to know. I should have gone and talked with him last night, but I was angry with him. And this morning... I canīt live with this... this not-knowing. If I ever want to acquiesce in his leaving, I have to know. It wonīt be easy, but if he doesnīt love me, I have to know for sure. And perhaps..." She fell silent.
īPerhaps there is still a chance that he does love her,ī Geoff completed in his thoughts. How obvious things became when you finally saw the missing link! He couldnīt understand that he hadnīt noticed before. Magda and David were always together; how come no one had ever thought anything about it? He knew that he himself wasnīt the quickest one in picking up these things, but not even Nancy - nor Kate for that matter - had ever mentioned these two as a possible item. The mysteries of mankind...
"Itīs allright," he said softly, "I understand. You want to go after him."
Magda nodded. "The sooner, the better. The longer I wait, the harder it will be to trace him."
"Do you have any idea where heīs gone, now that he wants to explore his potential?"
She shook her head. "Not the slightest."
"Well, he was probably on his way to Broken Hill," he told her. "We dropped him off by his car this morning at Korinda Station; that is some 20 km west of the track to Broken Hill. So you could start your search in that direction."
Magda looked up, with big, inquiring eyes. "You mean...?"
He nodded with a smile. "You take your week off and go find him. Weīll manage."
A sad smile came over her face. "Thank you, Geoff." She was on the brink of tears, and quickly got up to leave.
"And Magda," he said quickly before she disappeared.
She turned back to him. Yes, tears were gathering in her eyes.
"If you donīt find him immediately... you can make it two weeks. Okay? Just let me know no later than Monday."
The gratefullness was in her eyes; she couldnīt say a word.
But Geoff understood. "Good luck," he wished her with an earnest smile.
And he was left pondering why on earth it was so incredibly difficult to tell the dearest person in the universe that you loved him. Or her. Somewhere along the evolutionary line of mankind, something must have gone wrong...
Magda nearly ran outside. Tears started trickling down her cheek, and impatiently she brushed them away. No need to cry now, was there? Or perhaps there was: of plain relief? Relief that Geoff had understood. Relief that she could go and search for David, and still keep her job. She paused for a moment and leaned onto the fence in front of the base. Yes, relief was what she felt. She hadnīt realized it thoroughly before, but now that she had been on the brink of quitting her job, all of a sudden she was aware of how much she enjoyed working here. The adventures, the clinics, the people, her colleagues... She was living here, and very much so. She had a job she loved, and even though it did require irregular shifts and long hours sometimes, she had managed to blend in a bit in the social circles of the town as well. Her colleagues - especially the ones sheīd been working with from the beginning - had accepted her the way she was, and the people in town were on their way of doing the same. It would have been a shame to leave now, and have to start all over again...
She shook herself. Enough of that. There were other things at hand. For even though she was really beginning to feel at home here, the Crossing would never be the same without David. She had to get him back. Or at least find out where he was and why he had left in the first place.
She took a deep breath. Okay, now that her first mission was accomplished and she had gotten the week off, what was next? Yes, finding David... And if there was a pretty good chance that he had been on his way to Broken Hill yesterday, then that would be her first stop, too. If she could get there tonight, perhaps he would still be there. You never know!
She jumped up and hurried back inside to get the keys to one of the cars. Off to the airport!
"Jim," she said upon entering the office, "I have to get to Broken Hill as soon as possible. When is the first plane leaving?"
He eyed her quizzically. "Tomorrow at 8 a.m. Whatīs the rush?"
Magdaīs face fell. A whole night to lose? She wouldnīt get to Broken Hill before midday tomorrow! "Isnīt there a quicker way?" she inquired obstinately.
"Nope. Unless you take the car and drive there. But to drive there at night... I would strongly advise against it if youīre not very well acquainted with the road."
She heaved a sigh. He was right of course. The track to Broken Hill wasnīt exactly a well-kept German Autobahn. And she had never driven that road past the Gonzalez property, which was no more than approximately 30 km south of the Crossing. It would be madness to drive the whole 300, 350 km by herself in the dark on a track she didnīt know. If she wouldnīt get lost in the first place, sheīd arrive in Broken Hill completely dead beat. And besides, she couldnīt very well deprive the base of a car for a whole week, maybe even two, could she? Better get a good nightīs sleep and take the plane tomorrow morning.
"Okay, then Iīll take the plane tomorrow," she sighed.
He got out his ticketbook. "When are you coming back?"
"Donīt know yet. Iīll get the returnticket later."
Jim nodded and started filling out a ticket for her. "You got any ID about you?"
Magda shook her head. "Just my driverīs licence, sorry. Shall I go and get my passport? It wouldnīt take more than ten minutes."
"No worries, your driverīs licence is fine. I know who you are. Itīs just to help me spell your name; Iīm not that good at German."
Five minutes later she got back in the car to drive home. With a one-way ticket to Broken Hill. And with a whole night ahead of her to worry and ponder and torture herself with self-reproach.
The packing for this trip into the unknown went swiftly, since she instantly resolved on leaving skirts and dresses at home in favour of wearing jeans that were easy to match with just about any shirt or blouse. She made herself a quick dinner, studied the map of Australia in the vain hope of finding some clue as to where David might have gone, and paced about the room in between hope and fear. What if she wouldnīt find him? In a country as big as this, it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. He could be anywhere within thousands of square kilometers!
But she had to! She just had to find him! If only to get a proper explanation about his leaving! And perhaps... oh, who knows... please...! Perhaps, in some small corner of his heart...?
She found that she was far to restless to go to bed and have that good nightīs sleep. Instead she kept pacing the room for half the night. Still with the same questions torturing her. What had gotten into him? Why hadnīt she gone and talked with him last night? Where could he have gone? Would she be able to trace him? Would there still be a chance that indeed he did love her as much as she loved him? But if he did... then why had he left?!
The following morning found Magda walking along the road to the airport in the early morning-light. The sun was still low, and the temperature was actually quite pleasant for the time of the year. A slight morning-mist covered the fields around her, and the sky above her was somewhat hazy, but promised a fine day.
She hadnīt walked more than a mile before she heard a car approaching from behind. She stepped into the verge to let it pass, but it pulled up to her and stopped. She recognized Geoff and Jackie, on their way to the airport for a clinicrun.
"Hey, you want a lift?" Geoff invited her.
"Yes. Thank you." She flung her bag in the back seat and climbed in beside it.
"So thatīs the way to get time-off here!" Jackie sneered, pretending to be jealous. "Just go and see Geoff the night before, and the next thing you know you got the week off!"
"Now hold your horses there!" Geoff interrupted her, but Jackie continued teasingly: "Well, it worked for David. And for Magda now. Perhaps I can give it a shot next week?"
"Donīt even think about it," Geoff warned her. "And besides, this is a whole other bowl of soup. David really needed a break, and Magda here has some personal business to attend to."
Of course, the ever curious Jackie couldnīt let that pass. She turned around in her seat, to ask Magda what business that was.
Magda shifted uneasily. "Just some personal matters that need to be sorted out," was her evasive reply. She didnīt feel like spilling her dear secret to just about anyone. Perhaps least of all to Jackie, in whose secrecy she didnīt have complete faith when it came to matters of the heart. Not that she had ever noticed her betraying it; it was just a feeling. She reminded her a little too much of a giggling teenager, likely to get a crush on every handsome attractive guy that happened to cross her path. Not someone with whom she would feel at ease to share her dearest feelings with.
But Jackie wasnīt one to give up so quickly. "Where are you going then? Sydney?"
She thought quickly. And shook her head. "Broken Hill first. But if things donīt work out there, I may have to continue to Sydney."
She caught Geoff looking at her in the rear-view mirror. A hardly visible nod of understanding was exchanged between them.
Fortunately the airport came in sight, so further intrusive inquiries were cut off. Magda was early for her plane, so she helped them to load the medical equipment into the Nomad, and when she walked back to the car with Geoff to get the last of it, she begged him urgently: "Please, Geoff, donīt tell anyone. I donīt want the whole town to know that..." She broke off, and Geoff nodded.
"No worries, mate. I understand. I have to confess that I have told Kate last night - she was just as surprised as I was when you told me. But Kate would never talk. And neither will I. Weīve had far too much trouble with that in our days to be giving anyone an equally hard time in town. So your secret is safe with us."
She sighed with relief. "Thank you, Geoff."
"And Iīve been thinking," Geoff continued, "in case people would get curious about this sudden vacation of yours, we could always say there was some kind of problem with your visum that had to be sorted out immediately. I doubt very much whether anyone at the Crossing knows all the ropes of immigrantvisa, so I think it might do as a likely explanation for your absence."
Magda nodded. "Thank you for the idea. Iīll stick to that story, too, then, when I get back."
"Good. And one other thing. I know as little as you do about where David is heading, but one of the directions he could take upon arriving in Broken Hill is his parentsī place. As far as Iīve seen these past years, he has a good relationship with them, so even if heīs not heading their way, heīs bound to contact them sooner or later. Did David ever tell you himself where heīs from?"
Magda frowned. "I believe he did. Some little Outbacktown between Broken Hill and Canberra, as I recall. But I donīt remember the name right now."
"Leeton," Geoff nodded. "I wrote down his parentsī address for you; here you are. I thought of it last night, so I was hoping to catch you here at the airport. It might be of no use at all, but you never know."
"Thank you, Geoff," Magda said again. And all of a sudden she just had to hug him. "Thank you."
"Youīre welcome," he smiled as she let go of him. "Well, good luck, Iīd say. And when you do find him, try and convince him to come back to the Crossing, will you? Already now heīs being missed; and that you may tell him from me!"
Magda gave him a faint grin. "I will."
One last encouraging slap on her shoulder, and then Geoff joined Johnno and Jackie who were already waiting at the entrance of the Nomad. Magda watched them climb inside, and waved a last goodbye to Johnno. Then the engines were started, and slowly she watched the little airplane move towards the strip.
It was a grand sight. Really. To see it taking speed at the runway, and slowly lifting itself up into the air. A jolt of pride and emotion struck her. Their plane. Her job. Her life. It was good to be living and working here. Now if only David would agree to come back home... Here, where he belonged...
She watched the Nomad turn west, until it was but a tiny little dot in the blue sky. Then she walked over to the hangar, where more people were waiting for the Broken Hill plane to get ready. All of them were people from around town with whom she was acquainted. But since she had little inclination to chat about the weather or peopleīs aches and pains, she sat down in the grass a few meters away from them, and took a book out of her bag.
Her strategy worked pretty well. Apart from the usual greetings and a few loose remarks, she was left to herself, so she instantly resolved on following the same strategy during the flight. Shouldnīt be too hard, since everyone else was taking his or her own company on board; she was the only one travelling alone. So she buried her nose in her book even before the plane had taken off, and was not bothered during the entire trip.
However, she was just pretending to read. In truth, her mind was trying to figure out what to do when sheīd get to Broken Hill. Would it be worthwhile asking around at the airport? Or would it be best to see if she could find out where heīd been staying the night - if he had done that here at all - to see if she could find a clue as to where he may have headed afterwards? This could get tricky, she realized. A man in a car would not attract all that much attention; at least not enough to be remembered specifically. Her only hope in that matter was the fact that David was driving an RFDS-car; that may have drawn a little attention. Hopefully...
They landed at Broken Hill airport at a quarter past eleven. The pilot helped the passengers to get off, and as a loose flock they walked towards the buildings and the taxistand next to the hangar. But suddenly Magda stopped. There, in the parking lot, was a dark red, very dusty car with the RFDS-logo. Could it be that...? She walked towards the fence until she was able to discern the numberplate. OXY 694. Yes, that was one of theirs! So David was here at the airport! Or at least he had been here!
She felt her heart beating faster, but another question popped up immediately. The airport...? Where could he have gone then?
Swiftly she made for the office. It was far more like a real airport terminal here than it was at the Crossing. But still, it was but a small place, and not that much air traffic went through here, so hopefully someone would remember having seen David...
Upon entering the little airconditioned building, she was greeted with an enthusiastic: "Gutentag, Fräulein Magda! Wie gehtīs?" It was Augie Polak, who worked at the airport, and whose parents had migrated from Austria to Australia in the late thirties to escape the nazi-regime. Augie was born and bred an Australian, but when he had met her a couple of months ago, he had gladly dusted off some of the most common German expressions he had learned from his late parents. They had encountered a few times when she had been accompanying a patient to Broken Hill, and today she was extremely glad to see him.
"Augie! Am I glad to see you!"
He grinned and spread out his arms. "How about a real bear-hug then?"
With that over, Magda turned to more practical matters. "Augie, have you seen David Ratcliffe? Yesterday or today?"
He nodded. "Sure did. Both yesterday and today."
"Do you know where he is? Has he taken a plane somewhere?" She sounded almost anxious, and Augie gave her a curious glance.
"I suppose so. Anyway, he gave me the keys to one of your Coopers Crossing cars, and asked me to return them to one of you lot as soon as any would show up. Shall I give them to you?"
She shook her head. "Better not. I wonīt be going back there till next week. Youīd better wait for someone else."
"Okay." He tucked away the car-keys in his pocket again.
"But Augie, did you actually speak to him?" she continued urgently. "Did he tell you where he was going?"
"Nope. Why? Are you after him or something?" A sudden grin spread over his face. "You love him, donīt you?" he said with a faint chuckle. And as Magdaīs face turned red, he smiled: "I guessed as much. The way you two got along... But no worries, I wonīt tell a soul. So heīs run off and youīre after him?"
Magda sighed and nodded. "Sort of." How come this man, whom sheīd only met a couple of times, instantly hit the right spot?!
"Well, I canīt tell you exactly where heīs gone, but I can tell you what I do know," he told her. "David was here yesterday afternoon; I suppose to get a ticket. Early this morning he was back, with his luggage. I havenīt paid attention to which plane he went, but at that hour, the choice is fairly limited: Alice Springs, Adelaide or Melbourne. So heīs most probably taken one of those."
Magda heaved a sigh. "Thanks, Augie. It does help a bit, but those three places are still thousands of kilometers apart..."
He noticed her disappointment, and all of a sudden he ran away, saying: "Wait a minute!"
She saw him talking to the lady at the presently quiet check-in desk. Talking, gesturing, arguing... But in the end, it seemed the lady gave in and checked her computer. And with a big self-complacent grin Augie came back to her. "Mr. David A. Ratcliffe has taken the plane to Adelaide this morning, and according to the ticket he bought yesterday, he should be on his way to Perth right now."
Magdaīs jaw dropped. "Perth?!? Whatīs he doing there!?"
Augie shrugged. "Donīt ask me. I only got information about his ticket, not about his motives."
"And when is the next plane to Perth leaving?"
He shook his head. "Youīd have to get to Adelaide or Melbourne first. Iīd recommend Adelaide: a shorter route and a much better connection."
"And when can I get to Adelaide?" she demanded.
"Tomorrow morning, 7 a.m. sharp."
"And the train? Or the bus?"
"Wouldnīt get you there any sooner; they go a long way round. And after youīd get off the Indian-Pacific, youīd have to take a bunch of winding commuter trains. Youīd be exhausted by the time you got to Adelaide tomorrow."
She sighed. Seems like she had no choice: she had to lose another night. At the rate this was going, she could be chasing him to the end of the world, always having to stay one day behind him... But since there were no real alternatives at hand... "Thanks a lot, Augie. I owe you one."
"Good luck," he wished her. "I bet youīll find him, tenacious as you are!"
She got her ticket to Perth for tomorrow, secured a room for the night in the adjoining motel, and decided to take the bus into town for the afternoon. If things were to continue this way, she was definitely going to be in need of more reading material than just this one book. And surely the day would pass far quicker when roaming about the town then just sitting and waiting in her room. She tried to make a bit of a holiday out of it: sending postcards to her family, treating herself on a huge strawberry sorbet and things like that. But the real holidaymood refused to come. There were just too many things to worry about.
Back at the motel that evening, she spread out her map on Australia on the table. She knew enough of the Australian topography to know where she would be going tomorrow: the southwest coast. But now, comparing the distance with the known distance between Broken Hill and Coopers Crossing, she sat in awe for a moment realizing just how far she would be travelling tomorrow.
Then she took out the piece of paper she had gotten from Geoff this morning. īMr. and Mrs. Christian D. Ratcliffe, 44 Elm Street, Leeton 2705 NSWī, she read in Geoffīs neat handwriting.
Where was Leeton? īBetween Broken Hill and Canberraī was a very broad hint. And perhaps it wasnīt even on the map. On the other hand, she sort of remembered David saying that his hometown was quite a bit bigger than the Crossing. And Coopers Crossing was on the map.
Indeed, she did find it. It wasnīt all that far from Hay, where she could have been working instead of Coopers Crossing. And if necessary, she could reach Leeton by train from Broken Hill. That was good to know. Not that she was thinking of contacting his parents yet. As long as she had a clue as to where David was, she would stick to following him, to try and catch up with him. His parents were the emergency exit: just in case sheīd lose track of him completely.
She looked at their name again. Mr. and Mrs. Christian D. Ratcliffe. Funny the way they write that here, as if the wife takes on her husbandīs first name as well. Christian D. D... for David? Christian David Ratcliffe? Would he be called after his father? She wondered for a moment what Davidīs own middle initial A stood for. Adam? Alexander? Alfred? Anthony? She sighed. Too many possibilities...
A slight smile touched her lips. Would it be possible that - one day - she herself was going to be formally introduced as Mrs. David A. Ratcliffe? She smiled at what it meant, though the complete losing of her own name in that case felt rather unsettling. And besides... sheīd have to find him first - with no certainty whatsoever that he cared as much about her as she did about him. So contemplating marriage was rather premature...
She slept very well that night, to her own surprise. After a quick shower and a good breakfast she was back at the airport around six. The checking in went quickly, and at 7 a.m. sharp, just as Augie had said, the plane to Adelaide took off.
The trip went smoothly. She had about an hour in Adelaide, which gave her a perfect opportunity for a second breakfast after the early one at the motel that morning, and then she got the direct plane to Perth. With the big worldmap at the Adelaide airport, she had worked out that she was more or less travelling from Munich to Cairo today. Or Munich-Reykjavik. Or way past Moscow... which actually sounded much farther off.
Thanks to the time-difference, it was still early in the afternoon when she arrived in Perth. She decided to have lunch first, before starting her inquiries at the airport. Her heart sank into her boots when she saw how big this place was. But she had to start somewhere. Even though it didnīt strike her as very likely that he would have continued by plane - otherwise he would have gotten a ticket there instead of to Perth, wouldnīt he? Still, she couldnīt afford to rule out any options, so after lunch she took out the only picture on David she had from her purse.
She looked at it. Longing, wondering, lost in memories. Bonita Station, her first encounter with David. She recalled his amiability, his genuine interest in her, the unsettling effect his presence had on her body... She closed her eyes in a moment of desire. She knew she hadnīt been imagining things: he had been attracted to her, too. Not just that night, but on several occasions; she was sure of that. And she could not possibly believe him capable of pretending things like that, just for the fun of sweeping a lady off her feet and then dump her. He was no lady-killer like Guy; he just wasnīt capable of deceiving her like that. He couldnīt be. Or could he...?
A gnawing doubt started nibbling at her heart. What if he did have wilfully deceived her? Could he be that bad? Hadnīt she created too much of an ideal man out of him? After all: what experience did she have in the flirtatious ways of the world? She shivered. Well, if her dreams were to be shattered like that, he could tell her so in her face! And no doubt sheīd give him a good piece of her mind in that case!
She sighed. No. That was so unlike the David she got to know; she shouldnīt even let these thoughts enter her mind. And besides: she knew something else was going on. Something had been disturbing him the past couple of weeks. He had been unusually touchy, short-tempered, restless... She didnīt know the reason behind it. It could be the strained atmosphere at the base since Guy had joined the staff, for David didnīt get along with Guy at all. His leaving was more likely to be the result of something like that. More likely at least than his deceiving her. Something had been bothering him badly, and even though she had become very well acquainted with its outbursts, she had not been able to figure out what it was. David had needed her support - but he hadnīt really confided in her what this was all about. And she wondered if he would be willing to tell her now...
She put her bag away in a locker, and then the big search- and rescueparty started.
"Excuse me, maīam, do you remember this man, David Ratcliffe? He has arrived here yesterday."
"Excuse me, sir, do you remember having seen this man? He arrived here yesterday."
"Excuse me, sir..."
"Excuse me, miss..."
"Excuse me, sir..."
The car rental, the information desk, the restaurant, the coffee corner, the shops, the luggage deposit, the toilet lady, the check-in desks, the transferdesk, the different ticketdesks... plus anyone walking around she recognized as airport-personnel... "Excuse me, sir, have you seen this man?"
Still, no one seemed to remember him. But she was not to be discouraged: when she was pretty sure she had asked all staff present, she went outside to question the bus- and cabdrivers.
"Excuse me, maīam, have you seen this man yesterday?"
"Excuse me, sir..."
"Excuse me, sir..."
There were an awful lot, and new cabs and other busses came in every minute.
"Excuse me, maīam..."
"Excuse me, sir, have you seen this man yesterday?"
"Why, whatīs up, lady? Did he walk out on you?"
"Have you seen him?" Magda urged on.
"Nope. Sorry, lady. Are you going to ask every cabdriver in town or something?"
"If I have to," was Magdaīs short response as she was already on her way to the next cab. "Excuse me, maīam, have you seen this man?"
"Excuse me, sir..."
The afternoonīs interrogation remained fruitless. However, she was aware of the fact that both airport staff and bus- and cabdrivers usually work in shifts. So she just kept asking and asking, continually looking for new faces, and thought with a grin that people would certainly remember her if anyone came asking about her tomorrow.
But it was all in vain. By eleven oīclock the airport was nearly empty, and with a sigh she decided sheīd better find a place to stay, and continue her asking around tomorrow. At the hotels, at the train station, at the bus station... Perhaps she could check the phonebook, to see if there were any Ratcliffes in the area. Who knows, perhaps he had relatives here. Or... what if he was staying with friends? How was she ever to find him then?!
What am I to do? Where else can I go? I canīt think of any other place I could go and ask for him, unless Iīd start with the shops downtown. Iīve covered the bus- and train stations, all the hotels and inns listed in the yellow pages, as well as all the car-rentals and all the Ratcliffes in the wide surroundings of Perth... Iīve asked around at the race-course (knowing how much he likes horseracing), and at the beach, but no one had seen him there either. Nothing! What do I have left? The police? The hospital, in case heīs had an accident? It seems like he has disappeared off the face of the earth upon arriving in Perth. No one, no one has seen him here! Iīm even starting to wonder if perhaps he didnīt come here at all. Or not yet, that heīs still back in Adelaide... Perhaps I should guard the airport then, in case heīd arrive one of these days. Where can he be!? I donīt have the slightest clue anymore, but I canīt give up. Not yet. Though despair is creeping into my heart.
The worst thing is that Iīm starting to see things. Hallucinating. I know not how many times these days I thought to see David among the crowd. So that I happily try to get closer to him, only to find out that itīs not David at all. Just someone who resembles him somewhat. Especially the first time the disappointment was nearly unbearable... It still hurts, every time I get all excited about having found him, only to discover that itīs yet another mistake. But I canīt help it: if I think I see him, I have to check it out. You never know: it could be him...
I canīt give up. Not yet. I could get back to the railway station again, and the bus station. Surely there will be other busdrivers tomorrow. Other shifts. I just try and keep hoping that my lucky star will lead me to him in the end. I donīt want it to end like this. It just canīt. And I still have his parentsī address. As a last straw.
But first Iīm going to church tomorrow. To pray for a miracle. For I need all the help I can get...
It was a huge cathedral she had seen the day before. īHigh mass Sundays 9.00 and 11.00 a.m.ī it said outside.
Magda had resolved to go to the first mass, so she could spend the rest of the day enquiring again. For whatever use it still had. The longer it took, the less likely it became that people would remember a total stranger...
Rather hesitantly she climbed the steps. She had not seen a catholic church since September. And in the meantime, she had only been to church - a protestant one - the few times father Jacko was in town. Wouldnīt God hold that against her? Turn away from her? But surely He understood that there was a difference between Coopers Crossing with its flying padre, and Garmisch, where you could attend high mass every day of the week if you wanted to... At least she hoped He understood...
The heavy, richly ornamented doors were open, inviting the passers-by to come into the house of the Lord. An elderly church-warden stood at the door and welcomed the few people who accepted the invitation. It was still early, and the church-goers had spread out over the pews. Magda kneeled and crossed herself before she sat down. It was good to be back. Almost like coming home.
The inside of the church was beautifully ornamented, too, but all Magda longed for right now was to beg the almighty God for help. She knelt down in her pew, buried her face in her hands, and all of a sudden she couldnīt do anything else but spill her heart out for Him. She told Him everything: about David and what he meant to her; their genuine friendship; how much she loved him; his hints and her own suppositions about his feelings for her; his changed behaviour the past couple of weeks; his leaving without a word, just when she had come to the conclusion that he was the man she wanted to share her life with; how angry and upset she had been; and how stubborn and stupid that one evening she did have the chance to go and talk with him; her self-reproach and her determination to find him, to get at least a few things straightened out; and now she seemed to have lost track of him completely. "Please, Father," she begged nearly in tears. "Help me to find him! If only to talk things through! If indeed he doesnīt want me... doesnīt love me the way I love him... I think I could learn to live with that if I have to. But I have to know! For my own peace of mind; to be able to move on and put this behind me. Please, Father, I beg you... Help me!"
Upon that last silent cry of distress, the church-bells started ringing. She looked up, very calm all of a sudden. Perhaps she should have talked things over with God before. It was just that practical things so easily took over. And quiet moments were easily filled with other pursuits than praying... She crossed herself once more. "Please forgive me for ignoring you, Father," she whispered.
The priest appeared and the mass started. It was good to be back, with all the familiar routines and rituals. And somehow her restlessness was gone; she had no trouble concentrating on the sermon. Which was good, since its message was to trust in the Lord, and never give up faith, no matter how dark our prospects on life were. Though she couldnīt help wondering if there would be anyone here today whoīd need this message as much as she did...
Eucharist was celebrated, and when high mass was over, she lighted a candle for Mother Mary in her niche next to the altar. As she stood there in silent prayer, all of a sudden she heard the priestīs kind voice next to her: "Is something bothering you, my child?"
She looked up into his friendly eyes, and instantly she gave in to a sudden urge to kneel down before him. "Please, give me your blessing, father," she asked quietly.
He didnīt ask what for. He just laid his hands on her head and said: "May the Lord God be with you, wherever you go. May the Lord God make his presence known to you, and give you His peace. God bless you, my child. Amen."
He took away his hands, and slowly Magda looked up. "Thank you, father," she murmured gratefully.
Filled with new hope, and determined not to give up faith, she decided to go back to the nearby railway station. With what she had heard this morning, combined with the tranquillity those prayers had given her, she felt she could face the entire city again with questions about David.
"Excuse me, sir, could you tell me if youīve recently seen this man?"
The picture wasnīt getting any better with all those fingers handling it, but she did have the negative. So if necessary, she could have it printed a hundred times. Or maybe make a poster out of it, to put up all over town?
Nor this interrogative round at the railway station produced anything positive, so late in the afternoon she headed for the bus station. There, too, she had been before, but especially the drivers of the long-distance coaches might be different ones every day. And she was not to give up faith, remember?!
"Excuse me, sir, do you remember having seen this man?"
"Excuse me, sir, do you remember this man?"
"Excuse me, maīam, do you remember this man?"
The female driver of the coach that had just arrived at the terminal was obviously tired. She barely glanced at the picture Magda showed her before grunting: "No. Sorry." But before Magda had turned around to go and see the next driver, she bolted upright and said: "Wait a sec, can I see that again?"
With a sudden rising expectation Magda handed her the picture. The lady studied it carefully, and Magdaīs heart skipped a beat when she started nodding pensively.
"Yep. Iīd say itīs him. But he looked a bit different. I believe his hair was quite a bit shorter."
"Yes, thatīs right!" Magda panted. "Have you seen him? Was he on this bus?"
The busdriver nodded. "A couple of days ago, yes. I remember."
"Where to?" Magda eagerly demanded.
"Dunno. But he was still on the bus the second day. And he must have got off before the end of the line."
"But where to? Where did this bus go?"
"Caernarvon. Over Geraldton and Overview."
The lady gave her a wondering glance. "Caernarvon? Well, some 900 k north of course."
"And when is the next bus leaving?" Magda wanted to know.
"Tomorrow morning, 9.30. You wanna come?"
"Definitely! Itīs a two dayīs drive there, I understand?"
"Yep. But as I told you, he must have got off before we got to Caernarvon. Come to think of it... Is he from around here? Or on holiday?"
"On holiday. More or less," Magda answered.
"Then Iīd say your best bet would be Monkey Mia. Thatīs the main tourist attraction in that area."
"Yep. Never heard of that either?"
She shook her head.
"Swimming with the dolphins," the driver explained. "Itīs famous for it. People go there from all over the country. There must be more than a hundred dolphins there every day, just waiting to play with people."
"Dolphins?!" Magda asked bewildered. What on earth was David doing, playing with dolphins? "And does this bus go there?"
"Well, not exactly. Youīd have to change. No worries, if you tell the driver you want to go there, heīll tell you when to get off. In fact, if youīre coming tomorrow morning, Iīll see to it myself!"
The first thing she did when she got back at the hotel was calling Geoff. It would be rather late - certainly considering the time-difference - but it was doubtful whether sheīd have a chance to call him tomorrow.
Fortunately, it appeared Kate and he hadnīt retired for the night yet. "Standish here."
"Geoff, itīs Magda. I hope itīs not too late in the evening to call?"
"Donīt worry about that. How is it going? Have you found him?"
"No. Not yet. But Iīve finally got a pretty good indication as to where heīs gone. So if itīs okay with you, Iīd like to check it out. But that means I wonīt be back on Wednesday."
"No worries, weīll manage here. Where are you?"
"Well, thatīs what they could tell me for sure in Broken Hill. But I lost track of him here in Perth. It wasnīt until tonight that I found a bus-driver who remembered having had him on the bus. So thatīs where Iīm going tomorrow."
"Good luck!" he wished her. "And do keep me informed about further developments, will you?"
"I will. Thank you, Geoff. And good night."
Tue 20/2, in the bus
The second day in the bus. We stayed overnight in a motel in Geraldton, and the lady driving the bus has told me I have to get off around three in the afternoon to change for Monkey Mia.
Monkey Mia, swimming with dolphins! Is that what heīs doing?!
The busdriver told me yesterday sheīs been thinking, and she is almost sure that David had got off where one can change to the bus to Monkey Mia. So I guess Iīll have to take her word for it. Keep faith!
I had hoped weīd be driving along the coast, but the highway is quite far inland. The landscape here is not all that different from the Crossing. A little greener, I suppose, though I believe weīve come up quite a bit closer to the Capricorn tropic than the Crossing.
Rubbish... I donīt care about the scenery just now. I just want to see David. Though Iīm sort of starting to dread it, too. What if he tells me in plain words that he doesnīt love me at all?
Tue 20/2, in a parking lot
"Here it is," the busdriver alerted me as she pulled over to a parking lot with a hamburger-stand next to it. "The bus to Monkey Mia will be here in an hour or so. And it might be wise to get something to eat here. That bus is not exactly a through-bus; it will be pretty late in the evening before you get to Monkey Mia."
"Thank you," I said as I scrambled my belongings together. "Thank you very much."
"Good luck!" the lady said when I climbed out of the bus. "I hope youīll find him!"
I waved to her, and then I turned toward the hamburger-stand. I wasnīt really hungry yet, after lunch at 12.30, but it seemed wise to follow the driverīs advice. So I decided on plain french fries and a milkshake. And a cold bottle of water and an extra take-away sandwich for on the bus. I wonder where Iīll end up tonight...
It was nearly ten in the evening by the time this bus ended its winding trail through the countryside, and stopped at the centre of Monkey Mia. It had long turned dark, but the little town was friendly illuminated. Already at first sight, it was obvious that this was a tourist centre. Magda and the few other passengers stiffly climbed out of the bus. It seemed everyone knew where to go; even the bus drove on to the garage immediately.
Magda looked about. There were still quite a lot of people out. Was David among them? A shiver went down her spine. If all was well, she could be confronted with him any second now. What would he say? Would he be glad to see her? Or...?
She let out a sigh. No way to tell how he would react upon seeing her. Sheīd better get a place to stay first, and worry about finding David again in the morning. She knew he wasnīt much of a night-person, so there was little reason to suspect that heīd be out dancing in the disco all night. And besides: it seemed kind of stupid to come all this way for something as common as a disco. Sheīd better find out more about these dolphins, and be on the look-out for him there tomorrow.
It appeared that high season had just ended, so she had no trouble finding a room. And after inquiring about this dolphin-business, she decided sheīd better have a good nightīs sleep, to gather strength for the days ahead. Days that might turn out to be decisive for the rest of her life.
It was past nine oīclock when she woke up the next morning. The sky was covered, and after the beautiful clear weather of the past week, it seemed the sun had a hard time breaking through the clouds.
Magda jumped out of bed and took a quick shower. Sheīd have to rush it a bit if she wanted to be in time for breakfast.
The weather worried her a little. On a day like this, perhaps people were less enthusiastic about swimming. Would it not be better to roam about the little village, in the hope of meeting David there somewhere?
But she decided to go for the beach and the dolphins today. After all, if that was the main tourist attraction here... So after finishing breakfast, she went out, crossed the boulevard and stepped onto the beach. So this was where he most probably - hopefully - would be. A sandy beach and a darkblue sea. Oceanwater. Swimming with dolphins?!
She peered around. Yes, several groups of dolphins were playing with people along the shore. Playing and romping. It seemed fun. But it was hard to make out if David was among them.
She heaved a sigh and sat down in the sand. She would just have to wait and see if he would show up. Either coming out of the water, or entering the beach to go and swim with them. If this really was the main attraction of this remote little town...
On the other hand... she remembered having read somewhere that dolphins are considered the most intelligent species of the animalworld. It seems they even have a larger brain than humans do. And that they are capable of communicating with people; even with autistics. Would that be what David was looking for? Was there something he could not talk about to other people, so he was hoping he would manage to tell it to a dolphin instead?
She watched the people and the animals play. She tried to count the dolphins, but there were just too many. It looked like fun, playing with them, and suddenly she felt a longing to join them. Well, maybe later. First sheīd have to find David. If only heīd be here... What if he would have left this place already? Or what if that bus-driver was wrong, and it hadnīt been him at all...!?
She shuddered. Better not to think about those options. She had to keep faith... To keep believing that sheīd find him in this enormous country. Otherwise...
Tenacious as she was, she remained on the beach all day. There were but few people on the beach itself; most people - perhaps twenty, thirty - were out in the water playing with the dolphins. But every once in a while someone new came across the boulevard to go and take a swim. She watched them intently. But David wasnīt among them.
High season had ended, they had told her. Summer vacation was more or less over. And when the sky started to darken and a drizzly rain started to pour, more and more swimmers decided to get out of the water and return to the cosy little town. With tense expectation she watched them swimming to the shore. At a few meters from the coast they usually got up to wade the last part. And every time she watched them with close attention... but as soon as they got up, she knew it was yet another disappointment. This wasnīt the person she was looking for either.
The drizzle passed, and a few other people came to swim. A bit further down, a man was feeding the dolphins from a landing-stage. Man and nature in harmony. She could understand why David had gone to this place. It was... calming in a way.
She let her eyes roam over the water again. Another swimmer was coming back to the shore. She followed the little dark head in the vast ocean with her eyes. It was hard to see, but it did seem to have something familiar. But so she had thought a couple of times already this afternoon. Not to mention all the pseudo-Davids she had seen in Perth...
Some ten more meters, then he (or she) would get up to wade the last part. She watched intently. Would it appear to be yet another disappointment, or...? Somehow the head did seem...
Her breath caught. She wasnīt dreaming, was she? Was it really, honestly David...? Slowly she started to get up. It was him... yes, it was unbelievable, but it was him! Her heart leapt in her chest. She had found him, yes, she had found him!
In the meantime, the lean, wet figure had reached the shore, and started ploughing through the sand towards the small wooden cabins. And Magda hurried towards him as fast as she could in the loose sand, her heart full of joy. Oh, how much she had to tell him...!
When she was only some fifteen meters away from him, David noticed from the corner of his eye that someone was coming towards him. He looked up. And stopped dead in his tracks. "Magda?! What are you doing here?"
She tried to swallow a sudden lump in her throat. But it refused to be swallowed. She came a little closer, and as the incredulous expression on his face subsided a little, he asked her: "How did you find me?"
Magda stared back at him. She could still barely believe that she actually had found him. There was so much to say, but she could think of only one word. She swallowed hard, and uttered croaky: "Why...?"
He averted his eyes and looked away. Out over the ocean. "I had to," he finally said softly. "I couldnīt stay. I had to get out."
"Why, David...?" Magda asked tormented.
He turned his eyes back to her. They were filled with sorrow and pain, and for a moment, Magdaīs heart stopped.
"Why, David?" she repeated gently. "Why did you leave like this? Why did you have to?"
He shook his head.
"Why, David?" she continued on the brink of tears. "Why?! I thought we were friends...! I... I want to help you if I can. I need you. I..." She broke down, but after a few seconds she finished hesitantly: "I care about you..."
A sad smile touched his lips. "I know. Itīs just that..."
"Then why the heck wonīt you tell me whatīs going on!" she yelled with tears in her voice.
He heaved a heavy sigh and bit his lip for a moment. "Iīm sorry," he finally said softly. "Maybe you are right: I was wrong in leaving you guys... leaving you the way I did. Without any proper explanation. Itīs just that... I couldnīt..." He closed his eyes for a moment. Lines of pain and distress appeared at his mouth that made Magda feel terribly guilty. What misery was it that he was going through?
He opened his eyes again, but avoided her big inquiring ones. "Just let me get my things," he mumbled. "Then..."
A few minutes later they were sauntering along the flood-mark. Silently. Magda, with the grief she had just witnessed still in her mind, didnīt really want to prompt him any further, and David was just trying to determine how to put his story into words. So they just walked on and on in silence, until there was no other human soul in sight.
But in the end, Magda asked carefully: "Was it because of Guy?"
He looked up. "Is that what they thought?"
"Thatīs what I thought," she corrected.
But he shook his head. "No. It added to the situation, but it was not the main reason." He looked up at the sky, closed his eyes and let out another sigh. And then he started talking.
"It was a couple of weeks before you came. There was this girl, Andrea..." He stopped to swallow at the mention of her name, and Magda felt a shiver going down her spine. Was he to tell her that there was another girl in his life?!
But she didnīt say anything, for he continued already: "Her plane broke down a couple of hours from the Crossing, and since the Nomad was in the area, we picked her up. She was the most delightful creature I have ever seen..." He was silent again, lost in memories. "Lively, enchanting, beautiful, sweet... She was from England, and made a trip around the world. All by herself. And I just loved the way she enjoyed the beauty of everything she saw. A tree. The sun. The clouds. Things she enjoyed so thoroughly, so deeply..." He sighed. "I should have known. I could have known. But I was blind. Blinded by love. We had the most wonderful day together. But that night, when I started talking about how special she was and how much I had fallen in love with her, she fled from me. I didnīt quite understand, but I let her go. And when I went to see her at the pub the following morning, it appeared that she had checked out and had already left..."
Magda drew in her breath. "You mean...?"
"I went after her of course. She was still at the airport," he continued. "First she didnīt even want to talk to me; she just wanted me to let her go. I couldnīt. Not before she had told me why..." He swallowed hard. "In the end she came with me. And she told me..." Another swallowing. "She told me she had Hodgkinīs disease. Stage 4 B. It was picked up too late. She was in a relaps now, but as soon as it would get worse again, sheīd have to get chemotherapy and a bonemarrow-transplant. But she... she didnīt want that anymore..."
He lapsed into another silence, and Magda had thousands of thoughts running through her mind. The predominating one however was compassion. Compassion with David, and compassion with that Andrea, for whom all her initial feelings of jealousy completely had disappeared... Hesitantly she rubbed his arm a little the way he used to do when she was upset.
He sighed heavily. "I couldnīt accept that. I wanted her to fight, no matter how small the chances were. I couldnīt accept that the first woman in my life with whom I had fallen in love head over heels... was dying, and refused to do anything about it. So I called all kinds of specialists, but even though there were new possibilities, she wouldnīt even hear of it. She had accepted that she was dying, and she just wanted to enjoy the little time she had left. Instead of spending that precious time in hospital, sick from the chemotherapy... It drove me mad. I even wanted to marry her on the spot, so that I could at least spend the time that was left by her side. But she wouldnīt let me. She said she had no right to turn my life inside out like that." He laughed bitterly. "As if she hadnīt done that already... But she agreed to stay for a few days, as long as I wouldnīt play hospital with her." He sighed. "That wasnīt easy. I wanted her to fight; she had given up the fight. īAny other time I would have stayed with you,ī she said, ībut it is too late.ī" Another silence. "Too late!" he continued tormented. "How was I ever to deal with that!? But there was nothing else I could do... It was no use arguing about it; I would just have to try and enjoy the few days of her company as best as I could... But they were about the saddest days of my life... With this knowledge hanging over my head, and her refusing to do anything about it... Still, I learned to accept it. Because of a patient I had in those days. An old man, alone in the world, tired of life... Heīd have a pretty good chance, if only he would fight... But he saw no point in fighting. He didnīt see any reason why he should stay alive. I tried to fight for him, just like I wanted to do for Andrea. But in the end I had to give in. It has been the only time in my life that I couldnīt do anything but accept the patientīs wish to die. Oxygen and some morfine, nothing more. The old man died that same evening. Calm, even grateful. And I cried in Andreaīs arms. For I couldnīt help to think of the fact that she would die the same way. And soon. But the old manīs death sort of helped me to accept her decision as well. With pain, but there was nothing I could do if she wouldnīt let me. I would have loved her to stay with me, but she couldnīt. She had to keep going; it kept her from going insane with fear. So two days later she left for Perth. It was the hardest farewell I have ever experienced. For her, too; she wouldnīt even look me in the eye. I... I hope she has enjoyed the rest of her trip. Iīve never heard from her again. Perhaps she was right; it might have been better this way. But a couple of weeks ago, I got the card." He swallowed with difficulty, and Magda understood what he meant. He sniffed, and then turned away from her to hide his tears.
Magda put a comforting hand on his back. She felt so sorry for him that tears were gathering even in her eyes. "Hey, itīs okay to cry," she said softly.
Her other hand on his arm made him turn back to her. Somewhat hesitantly. But Magda took him in her arms, and he held her so tight that she could scarcely breathe. But she let him. He needed someone to hold on to. A shoulder to cry on. All the pent-up grief from the past months came out, and he cried - as it seemed - for hours. And all she could do was hold him. Be there for him. Try and comfort him. And in the meantime she shivered at the thought of what he had been going through. The mere thought of something like that happening to herself nearly choked her. Imagine that David would die... She shrank from the idea. She would be devastated...
Finally it seemed he had spilled all his tears. He seemed to be calming down, but it took a while before he let go of her.
"Iīm sorry," he said.
She shook her head. "No need to be sorry. I understand."
He gave her a grateful look, and sighed. "Can we sit down for a minute? I feel as void and tired as... as if..." He couldnīt find the right word, but Magda already sat down in the sand. They looked out over the ocean in silence. But in the end, David picked up his story again.
"And then you came along. I donīt know whether you were sent here to console me or to torture me, for believe it or not: there are quite some resemblances between you and Andrea. Both the way you look and the way you are."
Magda looked at him. She didnīt quite know how to take that.
"I didnīt know what to think of it. It was so confusing... I was attracted to you from the beginning, but... I couldnīt help reminding myself that this was not Andrea. No matter how much I liked you, no matter how much you reminded me of her, I had to keep a clear head: this was Magda, it was not Andrea. Still, even if only because of this resemblance, I couldnīt help but take an avid interest in you. And without knowing it, you may have been the best help I could get in coping with Andrea. She refused my help; you seemed only too happy with it. So to me you served as a kind of substitute: I could help you, support you, take care of you..."
"And I was very happy with it," she said quietly. "I still am."
Their eyes met for a moment, then David looked out over the ocean again and continued: "Still, it was all so confusing... I like you. I like you a lot, I really do. You are the best friend Iīve had in years. Iīm not sure; sometimes it feels like perhaps I even love you..."
Magda held her breath...
"But I donīt know... I donīt know! Is it really you I love? Or is it you as the image of Andrea I love?"
She let go of her breath. Very calm all of a sudden. "I donīt know, David. But I do know that I love you." So logical and easy as those words suddenly were...
He gave her a quick glance. And there was even the hint of a smile in his voice when he said: "I guessed as much." Then he buried his face in his hands and moaned: "But I donīt know, Magda... I donīt know! I think I simply need time to sort this out. Time to get over Andrea. Time to find out whether I love you because of you, or because of you being the image of Andrea."
She put her hand on his arm. "I understand. You take all the time you need. I can wait."
He looked up. She nodded. "All I want right now is to make you happy. And if you need time for that, then Iīll leave you that time."
He nodded gratefully, and for a while they both looked out over the ocean again.
"Is that the reason you left?" she inquired gently after a moment of silence. And on his questioning look, she added: "That it got too confusing having me around when you were mourning over Andrea?"
He shook his head. "Didnīt Geoff tell you? Or... maybe youīre right. That may have been part of it... No..." He looked out over the ocean again. In the distance a dolphin kept jumping up. He swallowed. "Of course Iīve known all these months that she was going to die. Soon. Still, when the message came, it struck me like a blow. All I could think of was her lying there, breathing her last, and she wouldnīt let me - or anyone - help her..." He fell silent again, but then he continued: "It made me realize how short life is. Of course I had been thinking about that before, but this time it came so close... It wasnīt until then that I really understood what made her travel around the world the way she did. She wanted to see as much as possible. To enjoy the world as much as she could. As long as there was still time. It made me wonder about my own life. Iīve been working all my life to become a doctor. But is this really all I want out of life? What if Iīd die tomorrow... would I be able to look back at my life with the satisfaction that I had done everything I had ever wanted? Definitely not. There are so many wishes and dreams that simply have been quenched by this big one of becoming a doctor. So much Iīd want to do, so much to see... Just like Andrea did. And somehow this urge to go and search for the rest of me, to develop my other sides and to see the world, to enjoy its beauty as long as there is still time... it just grew stronger and stronger. And it caused a growing vexation with the life I was living as well. My work especially. I was nothing but a pawn. If I would die, or even if I would just pack up and leave... Theyīd just get a replacement for me and things would go on as if nothing had happened..."
Magda shook her head. "Thatīs not true, and you know it."
He shrugged. "It is. Youīll see."
They lapsed into yet another silence. But this time it was Magda to break it: "But even though I donīt agree with you on that last part, I understand perfectly why you wanted to leave. For it was virtually the same reason that made me decide to come here. To Australia."
He looked up. Almost shocked. "You mean...?!"
She shook her head. "No, nothing like a lost love." She sighed. He watched her intently. "Itīs just that... well, I asked myself that very same question: is this all I want out of life? At the time I was the rising star at the Academic Hospital in Munich. Work, work, work, long hours, no private life... With my colleagues as the closest thing to friends. And then I mean at most the kind of friendship I have here with Johnno or Geoffrey or Kate. You are quite a bit more than that." She smiled. And for the first time that afternoon he smiled back at her, making her heart glow. "I thought just like you: īWhat if I would die tomorrow, and all I had ever known was hospital-life?ī So to everyoneīs astonishment I quit my job and went to work in a small townīs hospital in Garmisch. But when it came to the point, my life hardly changed from that move. So I started looking for something really different. And thatīs how I ended up with the Flying Doctors."
He chuckled. And staring out over the water, he said: "Iīm glad you did."
It wasnīt until the sunset behind them started colouring the sea orange before they realized that they had wandered off pretty far, and that it might be a good idea to get back to the town again. They stepped out briskly in the orangefading light.
"Would you like to come and play with the dolphins tomorrow?" he asked eagerly. "That is... do you know how to swim?"
Magda snorted indignantly. "īDo you know how to swim...ī What do you think?! Of course I can swim!"
He shrugged apologetically. "Youīd be surprised how many people canīt."
"Iīd just have to go and get a bathing suit. I hadnīt exactly expected Iīd need one when I went out looking for you."
He grinned. "More than enough shops around to get one, Iīd say. And then Iīll introduce you to my dolphin-matey Andrea."
This time it was Magdaīs turn to grin. A funny remark was on her lips, but she was too aware of the fact that words like that might hurt her refound friend terribly, so she restricted herself to the question: "What do you do together?"
He smiled. "We play. Youīll see. Itīs fun."
The daylight was fading away quickly, and all of a sudden another thought struck his mind: "When are you supposed to be back at the Crossing?"
"Halfway next week," she answered, and she told him what Geoff had said. "But Iīm going to call him tonight. Iīm not going back there."
David stopped dead in his tracks. "What? Why?!"
She turned to look at him. "I want to be with you. So unless you tell me very clearly that you donīt want me... that you definitely donīt love me and that you never want to see me again... then Iīll stay with you."
He looked at her with an incredulous expression. "But... you canīt just quit like that!"
She was not to be impressed. "You did."
"Yes, but..." He fell silent. Yes but what? "What about your permit? Theyīd throw you out in no time!"
"No, they wonīt," she replied calmly. "Up till the 30th of September I have every right to be here. They donīt care what kind of a job I have, as long as I donīt come begging for unemployment benefit. And I donīt suppose you have the means to live for months without some sort of an income either. So we can try and find a job somewhere together sometime, canīt we?"
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I suppose so, yes... But is this really what you want? I mean: the fact that I am fed up with my job doesnīt mean you have to be, too..."
She nodded earnestly. "I am not. I love my job. But I love you more. My job is replaceable; there are other jobs, both as a doctor and in other branches. But you, David Ratcliffe... you are irreplaceable. And you are far more important to me than any job ever could be. Thatīs why I want to stay with you. I love you. I need you by my side to be happy. Or..." All of a sudden she hesitated.... "Do you want me to leave you?"
"No!" he said startled. "No, itīs not that! Itīs just that... Are you sure? Do you really want to give up the job you love, and a stable home, and all security... just to be with me?"
"Yes," she said solemnly. "Yes, I do."
A hint of a smile touched his eyes as he took her in his arms. It sounded almost as if she was plighting her troth to him in front of the altar. "You know..." he chuckled softly, "youīre as bad as I am. Stubborn and pigheaded..." The teasing tone died away, and he added: "And youīve got the most beautiful eyes, you know that?"
She didnīt answer; she just kept gazing up to him. Carefully he stroked her jaw and brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. The air shivered with expectation as he slowly bent over to her. "I think I love you, Magda," he whispered just before his lips touched hers.
A soft, superficial kiss on her lips, longing for more... Another one, a third one... Trying, tasting, exploring... Magda put her arms around his neck, and finally, finally the connection came through...
It was better than she had ever imagined, even in her wildest dreams.
And she simply surrendered.
It was quite a while before their lips finally parted. Magda looked up into his eyes. Soft and kind and black they looked back at her. She smiled. "That was wonderful."
He returned the smile and nodded.
A silence fell as he traced the contours of her face. The soft touch of his finger was as teasing as it was ardent. Her body seemed to be longing for more, but somehow she knew she wasnīt ready for it yet.
"David," she whispered.
His fingers moved to her mouth and she closed her eyes in desire. Softly she kissed his fingers, but then she continued: "David... this was wonderful, but... Can we take this one step at the time? Please...? I... I donīt think Iīm ready for... I donīt have all that much experience with this..."
A slow smile came over his face. "Neither have I," he confessed. And relief spread over her face as he continued: "I donīt think Iīm ready for more than this either. Not yet. Though if someone had told me this morning that I would be sharing a long, wonderful French kiss with the most beautiful woman in the world before the day was over, I wouldnīt have thought it possible either. But apart from that... I wonīt go any further than you want me to. And I hope you will do the same for me."
She gave him a warm, broad smile. "I wonīt. I promise."
All of a sudden they both burst into a relieved laughter, and David said: "Come on, weīve got to get back to civilization."
She chuckled. "I wouldnīt mind spending the night here, on the beach. As long as I am with you..."
"And serve as a crocodileīs breakfast? No, thank you."
Magda jumped. "Crocodiles?! Are there crocodiles here?!"
He shrugged. "Crocodiles, dingos, vultures... I donīt know. But this is a National Park, so there is bound to be something. And since Iīve always lived in town, Iīm not exactly the expert when it comes to fighting off our hungry wildlife."
She looked around in horror, and he chuckled. "Come on, itīs not that bad. I havenīt heard of any recent reports on ravenous animals attacking tourists here, so weīll be allright. But I would prefer to sleep in town instead of out here."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded and put his arm around her. "Come on, Iīll see you home safely. Where are you staying?"
"At the Backpackerīs Inn."
He grinned. "Well, that suits me fine, for I have taken up my domicile right next door to that!"
It was definitely too late to call Geoff when they had gotten back to the Inn. Especially considering the two hours time difference. "Youīd either call him out of bed or out of an emergency, and I think neither would be much appreciated," David pointed out to her.
"Then Iīll call him first thing tomorrow morning," Magda decided. "He has the right to know as soon as possible. After all, weīre leaving him with all the problems."
But when she called the next morning, it was Clare who answered the phone. Geoff was in consultation and could not be disturbed. So Magda promised to call back around lunchtime, for she prefered to speak with him privately instead of simply leaving an uncomfortable message like the one she had to tell him.
So when Geoff was about to leave for lunch, Clare called out to him. "Geoff, Magda wants to talk to you. She said sheīd call back around lunchtime."
Geoff raised his eyebrows. "Lunchtime?! Our lunchtime? Or her lunchtime?"
Clare looked at him quite bewildered. "Well... I donīt know... Lunchtime, I suppose..."
Geoff sighed. "Well, last time I spoke with her she was in Perth. And they do have different ideas about lunchtime there... if only because of the time difference. But weīll see... Still... if she doesnīt call during our lunchtime, Iīll rely on you to bring me something good from the pub!"
He neednīt have worried, for at 12.05 Coopers Crossing time the phone rang.
"Geoff, itīs Magda."
"Yes, I was hoping it would be you. Whatīs up? Have you found him?"
There were a few seconds of awkward silence before she answered: "Yes. I have found him. And Geoff... I know this is very inconvenient, but..." He could hear her take a deep breath. "I am not coming back. I want to stay with him."
A warm glow came over Geoffīs face. Ever since he had had that eyeopener last week, he had felt a particular interest and anxiety about the result of Magdaīs quest. Could it be that...? "Do you mean that he does return your feelings?" he asked with tense expectation.
"Yes, he does. More or less," came the answer.
Geoff heaved a sigh of relief. "In that case Iīm very happy for you both. But ehm... canīt you instead convince him to come back here with you? Otherwise it might be easier for me to get a monthly subscription on new doctors from head office."
He heard soft laughing from more than one person, and he understood that David was probably listening in. But it was Magda who answered: "I donīt think so, Geoff, I am really sorry. Will you be able to handle things?"
"Donīt you worry about it," he soothed her. "Weīll manage to make shift of it. And like I told you before: if I had to choose between Kate and my job, I wouldnīt hesitate either. So donīt worry about it; I understand. But still: when there are any future vacancies, Iīd love to see you back. Both of you. But for the time-being I think youīve got more important things on your mind. Okay?"
A short silence fell. "Thank you, Geoff," Magda said.
"Just let me know when the big day is, okay? So that we may have a drink in your honour! Oh, and David! I believe you are there?"
At the other end, Magda handed David the phone. "Yes, Geoff?"
"I wish you all the best, mate," Geoff said a little croaky. "Thanks for the time I got to work with you. And now take care of yourself. And of Magda."
An emotional smile crossed Davidīs face. "Thank you, Geoff. I will."
At the Crossing, Geoff hung up with a broad, soft smile all over his face. His first attempt ever at matchmaking had turned out to be a success, and all of a sudden he realized just why ladies like Nancy and Violet (and Kate for that matter) took such pleasure in these schemes. The wonderful knowledge of having made two people happy just couldnīt be compared to anything else. It was true that Magdaīs news caused him severe staff-trouble; that was for sure. But the knowledge of having assisted two starcrossed lovers to find each other seemed to drown all inconveniencies. It even kept him from dreading the call heīd have to make this very afternoon...
"RFDS, Richard Taylor speaking."
"Goodday Richard. Geoff Standish here from the RFDS in Coopers Crossing."
"Hi Geoff. What can I do for you? I have no news on a replacement for David yet, so..."
"Yeah, well... the situation here has become a little more pressing."
"What do you mean?"
"Well... Magda has just given me her notice, too. Quitting immediately. So weīre down to two doctors where there should be four..."
"What?! Youīre joking!"
"No, I am serious. Magda has left, too."
"Geoffrey Standish, what on earth is the matter with that base of yours? Do you eat your colleagues for lunch or something?!"
"No. No, I donīt," Geoff replied seriously.
"Iīve never heard anything like it! Within a year, Chris leaves to stay with her father, Tom disappears to the aboriginals, last week David decided to quit medicine all together, and now you tell me that Magda wants to leave, too? Whatīs gotten into her then?!"
"Love," Geoff answered plainly.
"Yes, love. She loves David, and had gone after him. And about an hour ago she called to tell me that she has decided to stay with him. So apparently he loves her, too."
"And what are they up to?"
Geoff shrugged. "I donīt know. Perhaps they will come back one day, but I donīt think that will happen any time soon. So I was wondering whether you could find me yet another physician."
"At the rate you are going, I might as well send you a dozen," Richard grumbled. "But fine, Iīll see what I can do. Though Iīm really tempted to send you none at all..."
And how this story continued?
Well, what happened at Coopers Crossing the following year is something we are all acquainted with. But David and Magda...
David moved to the Backpackerīs Inn, too - though they were in separate rooms. They stayed at Monkey Mia for another week, doing a lot of talking, and happily enjoying each otherīs company and the dolphinsī. They sent for some more of their belongings, since neither of them had actually taken very much. They bought a second hand ute, and after some travelling around, Magda got registered as available for replacing doctors for short periods. For about half a year, they simply lived where she got to work, with David finding all kinds of odd jobs in the neighbourhood: from stationhand to pilot and from washing dishes to tutoring maths. They really enjoyed each otherīs company, and more so since their nomadic life practically denied them the possibility of making any real friends in the towns where they got to work.
It seemed only natural to continue their former companiable intercourse - at least until David would have gotten over Andrea. Still, their relationship was enriched with some more intimacy than before. Magda was only too happy to be able to hug him from time to time, or playfully put an arm around his neck and kiss him. And Davidīs arm seemed to have found a new favourite position around her shoulders. However, something like love was never discussed again; they were just mates, happy in each otherīs company.
Until September. For over half a year, they had been living as if they didnīt have a care in the world. But that day...
At the time, they were camping just outside the little town of Naretha, where Magda was filling in for the local physician, and David was replacing the schoolīs phys ed teacher for a few weeks. They had cooked and eaten dinner by their little campfire, cleaned everything away, and then Magda had proposed a short walk under the stars. And now they were lying in the rough grass, looking up at the starry nightsky in silence.
David was quiet. His teaching-job was going pretty well, but it seemed to consume all his energy: each afternoon when he closed the schooldoors behind him he was completely spent. Watching the stars and thinking of nothing was just about all he could muster after dinner these days. Peace and quiet, and Magdaīs company; that was all he needed now.
At last though, Magda broke the divine silence. "You know itīs nearly a year ago that I left Germany?"
He sighed in reply, and Magda didnīt seem to expect an answer either.
A year. Nearly a year had passed since they had met, and now they were practically living together. A year since... He winced. Andrea...! The days he had spent with her last year... those dates had passed and he hadnīt even thought of her!
He swallowed. He felt guilty for not having dedicated a single thought to her for several weeks now, but somehow the consolation of Magdaīs company seemed to diminish his grief over Andrea. He was so happy and at ease in her company; it was like the memory of Andrea had started to fade a little.
He bit his lip. It didnīt feel right. He didnīt want to forget Andrea. Ever! He had loved her... he still loved her so much; he couldnīt betray the memory of her by simply forgetting her!
But then Magdaīs voice was heard again. "Back in Germany you can see perhaps a couple of hundred stars - that is, if the night is clear and youīre not too close to the city. When I was a little girl I tried to count them. Not that I succeeded, but I think - if I had grown up here - I would never have had the courage to even start counting."
He smiled in return. There was still something of a little girl in Magda; he thought he could easily imagine what she had been like as a child.
"Itīs so beautiful. So grand..." she sighed. "Of all the nightskies I have seen around the world, none of them is equal to the nightsky of the Outback. I wish I could take a proper picture of it. No one back home is going to believe me."
David jerked his head toward the vague outline of her face in the dark. īBack homeī!? That was right: her permit expired at the end of this month! Was she thinking of going home again?! Back to Germany!?
Out of nowhere an aching pain suddenly gripped his chest. His mind was reeling as he struggled for breath. Was she really going to leave him?! As far as he knew, she had not applied for a renewal of her permit yet. And even if she had, it remained doubtful whether she would be granted a renewal at all, due to the lack of a permanent job. Which meant she would have to leave the country within a few weeks, while he... He nearly panicked. She couldnīt go! She couldnīt just leave him! He needed her, he wanted her, he...!
Magda however seemed totally oblivious to his sudden distress. For with a smile she mused: "Do you remember the night of our first clinic, when you took me for a nocturnal walk, too? That was the first time we lay down in the grass together to watch the stars, remember?"
David swallowed. Hard. His memory showed him stars, too. He was pointing out the Southern Cross to her from the veranda, leaning into her a little as he sensed her body so close to his. Magda looking at that same Southern Cross through his telescope, and his feeling a sudden urge to take her in his arms and kiss her. Staying the night at Bonita Station, watching the stars through the window, because the new colleague staying in the room next to his had stirred up such a wave of emotions and desire in him that he was far too excited to be able to go to sleep. One twinkling star in the twilight as he kissed her at the beach. Dancing with her at the Christmas-party in the pub, holding her in his arms and nearly kissing her - if it hadnīt been for all those people. Feeling her shoulder against his arm as they prepared dinner together, and having to concentrate very hard on the food he was cutting to prevent him from taking her in his arms and kissing her senseless without even the slightest forewarning. Just watching her until she would catch his gaze and smile that bewitching smile at him, causing him to quickly avert his eyes in order to hide his desire. Seeing her home and...
"Thatīs the Southern Cross, right?" Magda interrupted his thoughts. "And that is the Achernar? Then south must be more or less in that direction." She grinned happily. "You see? I am learning!"
David sat up to face her. Southern Cross, Achernar, who cared! If only he could make her stay with him, be there for him, love him! He couldnīt bear the thought of... of losing her...
"Magda..." he stammered hoarsely, "will you... do you think...?" He had to swallow down a lump in his throat, and Magda looked at him in some wonder. "Will you... perhaps... Do you think you... you could... marry me...?"
She sat up with a start. "You mean... marry you?!" was all she got out in her surprise.
He nodded gravely, and almost anxiously he continued: "I love you. I love you, Magda. I want you... I need you with me to... to... I know weīve mainly been acting as mates since... But... do you think you could love me like that? To stay with me? ... Marry me?"
Magdaīs breathing went fast. Somewhere deep down inside her, something was jubilating. But all she could get out was a croaky: "Yes... Yes, I do..." And as her face started shining with happiness about her dearest wish finally coming true, it seemed David could still hardly believe what he had just heard: "You do? Honestly?"
She couldnīt contain herself anymore: she jumped up and threw herself around his neck, so that he nearly lost his balance. "David Ratcliffe, I love you!" she declared with overjoyed determination. "I have loved you from the very first moment I set eyes on you: in the garden at Bonita Station, remember? And Iīm never, ever going to let you go again, so we can just as well get married!"
Happiness and relief washed over him as he felt her body in his arms, smelled her lovely scent and saw her bright eyes shining at him from so close by. "I love you," he murmured, just before pulling her close and joining her lips in their first real kiss since February. Warm, ardent, passionate... Magda answered with the same passion, and for a few moments he couldnīt think straight anymore. There was just Magda, his Magda, and he wanted her. He pulled her so close that he felt her heart beating against his chest, and his hands were roaming over her back. But when they started tugging at the shirt she was wearing under her fleece sweater she pulled back a little and struggled to quit their kiss. Looking into Davidīs upbraiding eyes nearly made her lose her senses again though, and she bent forward to place a little kiss next to his nose. He brought his hand to her cheek and she closed her eyes in desire. She wanted him; her body was screaming out for him, but...
"David..." she panted, "I... I love you...! I love you so very very much... but... letīs save the... the actual deed... to... to our wedding-night.... shall we?"
He closed his eyes and moaned. "Youīre cruel, you know that?" Still, he knew from earlier communications how important this was to her, so he forced his hand obediently away from her lower back to let it play with her ear instead. Their foreheads met, their noses, and finally their lips found each other again in a gentle kiss. She tasted so good, and it felt so right to have her in his arms, that somewhere in the back of his mind he seriously wondered why he hadnīt asked her the very day they had met. It sure would have made life so much better...
It was during that same week that Clare Bryant, the radio operator at the RFDS-base in Coopers Crossing, got a very surprising phonecall.
"RFDS Coopers Crossing, Clare Bryant speaking. How may I help you?"
"Good day, Mrs. Bryant. Dr. Miller here, from Barragunya. Could I speak to your Dr. Ratcliffe, please?"
"Dr. Miller?!" Clare echoed surprised.
And Kate looked up. "From Barragunya?"
Clare nodded. "Well, I am sorry, Dr. Miller, but Dr. Ratcliffe doesnīt work here anymore."
"Ah, I see," she heard. "Well, perhaps you can tell me where to reach him?"
"No, Iīm sorry," Clare answered apologetically, "I donīt know where he is. I could ask Dr. Standish though; he might know. Can you hold, please?"
A grunt in reply, and Clare put down the receiver.
"Whatīs up?" Kate inquired in a whisper. "Has David managed to come to blows with old Tim Miller now again?!"
"I donīt know," was all Clare could say to that. She was equally astonished about this phonecall as Kate was.
Geoff was in his office, at paperwork, so Kate followed Clare in to be able to hear what this was all about.
"Geoff, Iīve got Dr. Miller on the phone. The Dr. Miller. Heīs asking for David."
Geoff raised his eyebrows. "Dr. Miller? Wasnīt that the one David had a fight with last year?"
"Exactly," Clare confirmed. "I donīt know what he wants, but he is extremely adamant to get in touch with David. Do you happen to know his whereabouts?"
Geoff pulled an apologetic face. "Not a clue. I havenīt heard from him since we sent down their stuff."
"Well, perhaps you could tell Dr. Miller then?"
Geoff grinned. "Why? My dear Clare, you are not afraid of our Dr. Miller, are you?"
"Well... letīs just say he can be somewhat... intimidating..."
Geoff chuckled and picked up the phone. "Oh, give him here then."
Clare hurried back to the exchange to put the call through, and then rushed back into Geoffīs office, in order not to miss a single word.
"Dr. Miller? Itīs Geoffrey Standish here, RFDS Coopers Crossing. I hear you were enquiring about Dr. Ratcliffe?"
"Yes, Dr. Standish. Can you please tell me where to reach him?"
"I am sorry, Dr. Miller. Dr. Ratcliffe has left the Service about half a year ago. The last time Iīve heard from him was last March. He was in a little town at the west coast at the time, but I doubt very much whether heīs still there."
"And what town was that?" Dr. Miller demanded.
"Well, I know he has been in Monkey Mia. And later he was in... what was it called..."
"Quobba," Kate remembered. "Thatīs where we sent their stuff."
"Yes, Quobba." He gave Kate a grateful nod.
"Do you have an address there?"
"No, Iīm afraid not," Geoff answered. "And I donīt know if it would be of any help, but... he was together with his colleague Dr. Magda Heller at the time. Itīs quite probable that they are still together. But I really have no idea where they are."
"Very well. Thank you for the information, doctor. Iīll see what I can find out."
"Ehm... if I may be so bold as to enquire," Geoff added cautiously, "what is it you want him for? Does it have something to do with that row from last year?"
"No, Dr. Standish," he heard the old man reply rather haughtily and impatiently. "I donīt see why itīs any of your concern, but I will be retiring soon, and Dr. Ratcliffe is the best successor I could wish for. Good day to you."
Geoffīs jaw dropped, and he looked at the phone in his hand as if he had never seen a contraption like that.
"Well?" Clare asked inquisitively.
Geoff slowly put down the phone, and then he looked up in utter bewilderment. "He wants David to take over his position as doctor in Barragunya." He could scarcely believe his own words.
"What?!" Kate exclaimed incredulously.
A pensive silence followed.
"Still waters really do run deep," Clare reflected. "It makes you wonder what happened between those two that last time David went over there, with that incriminating pathology-report. He never really told us..."
With Dr. Miller being who he was - just as persistent as he had once reproached David to be - it shouldnīt surprise anyone that he indeed managed to trace David in only a few days. Well, actually it was Magda he traced, but that was close enough for him. So, a few days after Davidīs proposal, it happened that Magda and David had another one of their rather romping īfarewells-for-the-dayī before she went inside for her work. They both found it still pretty hard to take on their professional role after such playful love-goodbyes, as was the case this particular morning, too. She was still laughing when she entered the office and heard the phone ringing.
"Dr. OīTooleīs practice, Dr. Heller speaking," she answered still a little out of breath.
"Am I speaking to Dr. Magda Heller?" an authorative voice demanded.
"Yes, thatīs right." Magda had refound her role. "How may I help you?"
"Dr. Heller, you are speaking with Dr. Miller from Barragunya."
Magda frowned; the name sounded familiar, but she couldnīt place it right away.
Anyhow, the man on the other side had already continued: "I have been told that you might be able to tell me where to find Dr. David Ratcliffe. Is that true?"
"Yes. Heīs teaching at Naretha school at the moment."
"At a school? Teaching?!" she heard the man grunt. "Oh well, every man to his own taste. But in any case, can you give me his phonenumber? Iīd like to speak with him as soon as possible."
"I could give you the number of the school. David will be teaching most of the day, but Iīm sure they will be able to tell you when he can be reached."
"Very well. Give me the number, please."
"Yes sir!" Magda saluted in her mind...
It was lunchtime at Naretha school. David was in the faculty room, just about to start on his third sandwich, when the schoolīs administrator popped in his head.
"Ratcliffe? Telephone for you. In the office."
He put down his sandwich in surprise and made quickly for the office. Perhaps Magda needed a hand with something?
"Dr. Ratcliffe, this is Dr. Miller speaking, from Burragunya. I hope you are doing fine?"
"Yes, thank you, Dr. Miller," he replied in surprise - he knew exactly who he was talking to. "I hope the same goes for you?"
"Yes, it does. Well, letīs cut the proverbial crap and get to the point. Ratcliffe, I have a request to make of you. I was going to retire last year, but you persuaded me to stay on a little longer for the sake of my patients. But now I am going to quit. But before I simply turn over my area to the RFDS, I am asking you to consider the position. For I would much rather see you taking my place in this town. Barragunya couldnīt wish for a better doctor. Will you do it?"
David swallowed with some difficulty. Oh my... How was he going to tell this man that he had quit medicine? His mind was in turmoil. But just as he took a deep breath to break the bad news to him, all of a sudden he felt his blood tingling. His own practice?
"Well, I..." he stammered, terribly confused by his own thoughts. "I really feel honoured by your request, Dr. Miller. But it would be a huge step. Do you think... Could you perhaps give me your number? I need some time to think about this. Perhaps I could call you back in a few days?"
"If you think you need that... Certainly."
So Dr. Miller gave his number, and a really astonished David Ratcliffe was left there in the office. Totally upside down. Did he really want to return to practicing medicine? Or...?
That evening, after dinner, he told Magda about the phonecall he had had that afternoon. And about his sudden doubt whether he really wanted to quit medicine. Magda listened quietly, with a comforting, supporting arm around him.
"I donīt know, Magda," he pleaded. "Itīs like thereīs two of me. One part whose heart is dedicated to medicine, and another part that wants to roam about the country, doing all kinds of things like Iīm doing now! How am I ever going to unite these two in one life?"
Magda smiled. Davidīs story had given her an idea: "David, what if weīd take over Dr. Millerīs practice together? Do you think heīd settle for that? Then weīd both have time for other things as well."
He looked up. Hesitantly. "Is that what you want?"
She nodded. "It seems a fair deal to me."
"But is it really what you want?" he insisted. "You already gave up your job and your home at the Crossing for me... I donīt want to be responsible for yet another adventure you didnīt ask for, just because you love me."
"Not ījust becauseī..." She chuckled. "The fact that I love you so much is a perfectly good reason to do just about anything, just to be with you! But in this case..." She sobered. "David, I really enjoy the life we are living right now. I really do. And I think I could continue this way for years to come. But itīs just like you said: there is another part of me. A part that wants to belong somewhere. That wants to have a home, and friends, a quiet life in a small town. And that part of me jumped up with joy upon hearing Dr. Millerīs request."
A long silence followed.
"May I ask what youīd want to do beside your job?" David inquired softly. She had never mentioned a wish like that before, so he felt a little uncertain all of a sudden.
"Study perhaps," she replied calmly. "There are so many interesting subjects, even outside medicine. Or get a bit more active in cultural activities, like a dramaclub or a choir. And for the rest... perhaps itīs a little early to talk about it, but I would love to have a couple of children. And that would be easier to organize if we both donīt work full-time."
He glanced at her.
"Do you want to have children?" she asked cautiously.
He smiled. "Absolutely. Perhaps not right away, but... in a few years or so..."
Magda smiled back at him, and decided to remind him some other time of the fact that they did have to start pretty quickly - if they were to have these couple of kids at a reasonable interval. After all, he may not be 27 yet, but she had turned 34 a few months ago. And the planning of parenthood was quite a bit more dependent on the age of the intended mother than on the fatherīs.
"So," she returned to the subject, "does that sound like a reasonable solution to you? We share Dr. Millerīs practice, and we both have something else beside? If we could get a plane from somewhere, we could even turn it into a kind of private Flying Doctorīs base. What do you say?"
He sighed. "It sure sounds tempting. For I have to admit: sometimes I do miss the excitement of the RFDS. It wasnīt so bad working there."
Magda chuckled. "Well, we could always make Geoffīs day and go back to the Crossing, I suppose."
He grinned. "No way. Iīd rather work with you, and be our own boss. So I suppose we are going to Barragunya?"
"If thatīs what you want... Youīll have to make up your own mind, David. I canīt decide for you. But we have to keep in mind that it would mean making a commitment. If we take on this job, we canīt walk out after a few weeks if we donīt like the place."
He chuckled. "Like we can do now, you mean. But youīre right. Iīll think Iīll just sleep on it."
A few nights were slept on it, and quite some discourses were held on the matter as well. By then, David was able to make the call to Dr. Miller from Magdaīs temporary office.
"Dr. Miller? Itīs David Ratcliffe here."
"Ah, Ratcliffe. Well, have you made up your mind?"
"Yes, I have. We would be happy to take on the offered position. But we do have a few personal matters to settle before we come to Barragunya, so if you could stay on till the end of the year...?"
"Personal matters, hey?" Dr. Miller replied in a slightly teasing tone. "Are we still to settle something Iīm not aware of?"
David chuckled. "No, my partner and I. Weīd like to get married first."
Magda grinned at him.
"I see." Dr. Miller cleared his throat. "And this īpartnerī wouldnīt happen to be a certain Dr. Magda Heller, would it? I did hear you say: īWe are happy to take on the positionī..."
"That is correct," was Davidīs answer.
"Ratcliffe, I think I have to caution you there. Barragunya is but a small town. The position of general practitioner here consists of hardly more than one full-time job. It wonīt do for two doctors. There arenīt enough patients to go around."
David smiled. "That would suit us just fine, Dr. Miller. For even though we are both dedicated doctors, weīd also like to try our hand at some other ways of making a living. So weīve decided to share the position at Barragunya."
"You mean youīre both going to work part-time?"
"Yes, thatīs right."
Dr. Miller coughed. "Well, a bit unorthodox if I may say so, but if thatīs what you want... And this Dr. Heller?"
"Sheīs as fine a doctor as Barragunya could wish for. Better qualified and more experienced than I am. She was the rising star at the Academic Hospital, but discovered that she preferred the country in every way."
Magda gave him a mocking offended prod.
"Well, I hope you donīt mind my checking up a bit on her, too? After all, under the circumstances I can hardly expect you to be impartial when it comes to your future bride."
They both chuckled. "Fine with me," David replied. "You could always ask Dr. Standish at Coopers Crossing."
"I will. And this Academic Hospital you mentioned?"
David grinned. "In Munich, Germany."
There was a moment of perplex silence before Dr. Miller continued: "I see. Well, Iīll see to that then. So if you two take over here at the 1st of January? It would be best if youīd arrive here the week before, so I could show you the ropes, and you could find a place to stay. Shouldnīt be too hard: you can either move in to my apartment above the practice, or take your pick around town. There are several houses empty here."
"Thank you, Dr. Miller."
"Well, if there are any more questions, you know where to reach me. Otherwise Iīll see you by the end of December in Barragunya. Good day, Ratcliffe!"
"Goodbye, Dr. Miller."
David slowly put down the phone. A broad grin marked his face.
"Well?" Magda was dying to know what Dr. Miller had said.
But David pulled her close to him and put his arms around her waist. "Well... Dr. Miller does want to check up on you first, but if that enquiry turns out right - of which I have no doubt - he agrees to turn over his practice to us. And weīre expected in Barragunya by the end of December."
"Great!" was all Magda got out with a big shining smile - before she got tonguetied by Davidīs kiss.
The weeks following that phonecall seemed to go by in a flash. Magda got a visum as a īwife-to-beī, to which David simply couldnīt resist making funny allusions from time to time.
Further she had to organize for her savings in Germany to be transferred to her Australian bankaccount. They would just about do to buy out Dr. Miller without getting a mortgage. David felt bad about her having to spend all her life-savings, but Magda reasoned that - when they would sell the practice again one day - she would get them back anyway. And why getting an expensive mortgage if she had the money?
Then there were their respective relatives who had to be informed of their plans; something that upset Magda quite a bit at the thought that her family hadnīt even met her groom yet, and nor had she been introduced to his parents. But all that would be remedied by the time the wedding-bells would be ringing. For Magda had expressed a profound wish to get married among her family, back in Germany, since she would be leaving them for good now. David had readily yielded to her request, and so it were mainly Magdaīs mother and her sister Lori who organized the wedding according to Magdaīs modest wishes.
Just before they left for Germany the last days of November, Magda finally saw herself introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Christian D. Ratcliffe. They welcomed her as their own daughter, and their kindness and genuine interest in her prepossessed them completely in her favour.
Davidīs brother Joss on the other hand gave her quite a shock. When David had told her about his family a while back, she had liked the idea of him having an identical twin-brother. Still, when she was confronted with Joss, she was struck by the perfect likeness of the two brothers, even though they hadnīt seen each other in years. As a matter of fact, it took her quite a while to be able to tell them apart without looking at their clothes...
All five of them were to travel to Germany together. Magda and David would stay with Mrs. Heller, while the others preferred the freedom of a hotel. Nevertheless, they enjoyed the good German hospitality nearly every evening, mostly spending that time at the different Heller houses.
While the Ratcliffes went around to see the sites, David and Magda had to attend to the final arrangements of their wedding. They were to be married in the parish of Magdaīs childhood, in Immenstadt. Fortunately, the priest there spoke English fairly well, for Magda insisted that heīd do at least the actual marrying part in English. She had even brought a copy of an Australian mass-book for him, for she said: "Itīs far more important that David knows what question heīs answering to, than that my mother understands every word of her daughterīs wedding." Which was the kind of logic no one could possibly argue about.
The morning of the 10th of December came with a special wedding present: the night had brought the first snow of the year. The whole world was covered with about an inch of glittering bright snow, turning good old grey Immenstadt into a fairy-tale town.
The wedding-ceremony was warm and simple. To Magdaīs joy, it was mostly done in English, but the songs were all German. David was very serious during the ceremony; Magda on the other hand felt all kinds of emotions running through her mind. Happiness, uncertainty, relief, excitement, fear, expectation, suspense, even a little doubt... For the bond they were creating now was really meant to last a lifetime. Even beyond this world. Was it really possible to love the same person for so many years, she wondered all of a sudden. Her "yes, I do" came therefore out rather quavery, but the half smile David gave her at those words both comforted and reassured her. It was right what they were doing. She loved him, and he loved her; what more could they want for? The broad smile, brought about by that thought, didnīt leave her face all day - not even when they shared their first married kiss on the church-steps.
There were pictures to be taken, which caused some general merriment since the photographer mistook Joss twice for the groom. "Are you sure you married the right one?" he sighed to Magda in the end...
Afterwards they had dinner with the family and a few intimate friends of the Hellers in a cosy, very German restaurant. To Davidīs relief there was no Sauerkraut on the menu, but they got to enjoy the most delicious recipes from the German cuisine.
Of course there were the usual sketches and songs afterwards, but since no one was very well acquainted with David and Magda as a couple, these served mainly as an insight for the in-laws on their new family-memberīs youth. Joss seemed to have occupied his time with the Hellers by taking on several parts as David in their sketches; the most hilarious one as a hypernervous David on the brink of becoming a father, with all kinds of funny allusions to the idea that a medical couple does not guarantee a secure and carefree medical life at home.
Out of practical considerations, most of the wedding-gifts were in the form of money, to be spent on furniture and a trousseau; both of which they needed now, but scarcely owned. But later in the evening, Chris Ratcliffe got up to address his son and his new daughter-in-law personally. "David and Magda, youīve had congratulations and presents flowing in all day long. I would like to add ours, of course, and at the same time congratulate ourselves on such a delightful daughter-in-law." He exchanged a warm smile with Magda. "You two have chosen to stay together for the rest of your life. And from what Iīve seen from you as a couple, I think that was the wisest decision you could ever make. Knowing David, and from what Iīve seen from you and heard about you, Magda, I am sure that you both will do everything humanly possible to make each other happy. And thatīs exactly what we wish for you: a lifetime of happiness together.
"Your mother and I have long been contemplating on a gift that would enhance the happiness we so wish for you. Fortunately, you guys mentioned something yourselves. Something that you would love to have, something that you might need in your job, but that would be convenient and fun in your private life as well. But you also admitted openly that you wouldnīt be able to afford it for years to come. Well, it was a bit hard to wrap, and it was impossible to take on the plane here, but... David, Magda, we want you to have the old Madeira."
Apart from the Ratcliffe-clan, no one understood what he meant. But David himself could hardly believe it: his jaw slowly dropped, and after a long silence he brought out: "Youīre kidding..."
His father shook his head. He beamed upon seeing this present being received so well. "No, son. I want you to have it. Iīm sure it will be of a lot more use there in Barragunya than it will ever be in Leeton. But I hope you will take the opportunity to come and visit your old folks now and then, too."
All David could do was nod. He was speechless.
But Magda still didnīt have a clue what this was about. "David, what is the old Madeira?"
"His plane... the Cessna..." David stammered. On which it was Magdaīs turn for happy bewilderment and an excited hug of her father-in-law.
Finally, it was David who delivered the general speech of thanks. With Magdaīs hand tightly in his, he thanked everyone for the wonderful day to which they all had contributed, and his new family-in-law for the kind and cordial welcome they had given him and his family. He even added a few lines in somewhat broken German, to thank for the party, and to promise them that he would take very good care of Magda. Mrs. Heller even had to brush away a few tears now that she realized that even her last daughter - the one she had worried about so much, fearing that she would be alone all her life - was finally provided for. And the tender kiss to his bride with which David concluded his little speech brought about even more tear-brushing, along with the more modern cheering from the younger generation.
With a lot of farewells ringing in their ears they left for a little cottage on the edge of the mountains. Thatīs where they were to spend their wedding-night, followed by a weekīs honeymoon, though at first Magda feared that David was far too amazed about getting an airplane to be in any mood for a romantic wedding-night. He reminded her so much of a boy who unexpectedly got the toy-firetruck heīd been dreaming about for years... Luckily, David managed to put the plane out of his mind in favour of his new wife when they arrived at the cottage, and a huge part of the night was devoted to the exploration of the game of love.
They had the most wonderful time together, and after a few more days at Magdaīs motherīs to say a final farewell, the new Mr. and Mrs. David Alexis Ratcliffe returned to Sydney, to spend Christmas on their own in Leeton, as Davidīs parents were staying in Europe till January. And from there, they took Davidīs new toy to Barragunya.
"David, why did your father call this plane the old Madeira?" Magda wondered when he was stuffing their luggage into it. "Is its official name Cessna Madeira or something?"
He shook his head. "The callsign. He tends to make words out of those. He does it with numberplates, too. With quite funny results most of the time." He chuckled, and Magda stepped back to see what callsign their plane had. VH-MDR.
"Mike Delta... What is the R again?"
"Romeo." He came up to her and took her in his arms. "Mike Delta Romeo, my dearest Juliet."
"Or Magda and David Ratcliffe," she pointed out to him with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. On which they had another one of their dreamy long kisses before climbing into the Madeira to leave for their new home.
Apart from Dr. Miller and Ron Moore, the localsī reception of their new doctors was not extraordinary cordial. It didnīt really bother David and Magda; they knew the people would come round. They moved into a nice house, just outside the town, with a wide grass garden, and hidden among a couple of huge pine-trees. The house was in pretty good condition, and David had picked up enough handicraft this past year to be able to fix smaller things and change a few others to their liking. They just loved playing house together, to finally have a place of their own. A place where they could belong.
"No," Magda said, "Iīve finally understood. You canīt belong to a place. You belong to the people you love. To the people who love you. So it doesnīt really matter where we are, David. The only place where I belong is with you."
And she is dead right of course.
And how their life together in Barragunya continued?
Well... I could tell you, I suppose.
But I think weīd better leave that for another story.
For now, letīs just content ourselves with the thought of them living there together, more or less "happily ever after".
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