Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Whiskey and Soda

Auckland, New Zealand, 1969

Ethne and I were staying at the Big I for our honeymoon. 
The Auckland Intercontinental Hotel, “The Big I” it was affectionately called, was a deluxe, modern hotel, with fantastic views of Albert Park’s green expanse and the bustling city center and out to the glorious Waitemata harbor, vast and blue, where stood giant Rangitoto, the extinct volcano that’s named after a god. 
On my honeymoon, as I was saying.
I was sixteen years old, my bride Ethne was seventeen.
We’d been married earlier that day in the presence of our parents and families at the Registry Office in downtown Auckland, and then had returned to the suburbs of Avondale for a simple reception at Ethne’s house.
The reception was a modest affair as befitted a workingman’s (Ethne’s) family, a family of recent immigrants (mine) to New Zealand, and the sudden and complete unexpectedness of the event itself. Yes, it really caught them all by surprise! You should have seen their faces on the night Ethne and I gathered the courage to tell them! I’d never seen my father so angry, ever, and Mick, Ethne’s dad, he hit the roof! 
Boy, could he curse!
Yes, our parents had been pretty pissed off to learn that Ethne was pregnant, that must be admitted, but now a week or so later they were making the best of it.
After the reception, my Dad and Mom drove us back downtown to the Intercontinental and helped us check-in. My father was paying as a wedding present. We parted awkwardly in the opulent lobby. My mother, crying, hugged Ethne, then me, while dad quietly wished us luck, no hugging, saying he’d be back at 10AM day after tomorrow to pick us up and take us home.
Goodbye we said and it was strange and a little sad to see them turn and go.
We were shown to our room. 
Eighth floor, number 807. 
We entered with curiosity, not knowing what to expect. After all, we hadn’t seen anything of the world yet. 807. This is where we would spend the first night of our lives together. Our new life. Never again would it be the same to sleep at home, surrounded by brothers and sisters and moms and dads. 
It was exhilarating and freeing to be alone with Ethne at last. We stood together at the window, looking out at the city and the harbor. It was very beautiful. I put my arm around Ethne and she leaned against me. We didn’t speak for a long time. Then we kissed. We kissed some more and fell onto the bed. 
It was the biggest bed either of us had ever seen. 

That night we had dinner in the hotel restaurant and then went to the Tasman Lounge Bar on the top floor for a romantic nightcap.
Neither of us had ever been in a bar before. 
We sat ourselves at a small table and the waiter came to take our order. A Pimms for Ethne and a whiskey and soda for me. I’d seen Ethne drink Pimms before at home, when her dad had a beer sometimes. I’d had a glass of beer with her dad too, but I’d never tasted whiskey before in my life. 
Probably not in a previous life either, knowing my family. 
I was embarrassed when, due to our obvious youth, we had to show our room key to the waiter to be served. But, that done, we sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place and waited for our drinks.
So this was the big time, I thought, a snazzy hotel bar just like in the movies, all low lighting and soft music. Patrons sat at tables or at the bar itself. The walls were flocked in gold-and-red velvet, and the floors were padded with thick, ruby colored carpet. Large windows gave out to a wonderful view of Auckland’s million sparkling city lights. 
The patrons too, seemed flocked in gold and red in the warm, low lighting, chatting and sipping their drinks. The staff, carrying silver trays, wore spotless white shirts and little black bow-ties.
They also wore trousers, but I suppose you knew that already.
Across from me at our table, Ethne looked beautiful. She wore her dark hair piled up in a sophisticated style, with a simple V-necked black dress that accentuated her figure. A black plastic bracelet encircled her wrist. Nothing at her throat, just her smooth coffee-with-cream colored skin framed by the dress. A touch of red at her lips and fingernails. Small silver earrings studded her earlobes.
Dressed as she was, Ethne was a strikingly beautiful girl and in this sophisticated setting she radiated allure and sexuality.
I’m not sure what I was radiating. Pride, probably, being seen at the side of such a gorgeous creature. Other patrons, both men and women, stole looks at her from where they sat or as they passed. 
The drinks arrived, the waiter eying Ethne appreciatively as he set them upon the table.
Thank you we said and waited an eternity for him to leave.
We stared into each other’s eyes and raised our glasses.
“To us,” whispered Ethne, never lovelier.
“To us,” I answered, very much in love.
We sipped our drinks.
“Cough! Splurt! Hack!” I spluttered, caught unaware by the whiskey’s bite.
The whiskey burned my throat and I hacked for another minute. How was I to know it takes innards of steel to drink whiskey for the first time without distress? “I’m okay,” I lied to Ethne when I finally caught my breath, tears streaming from  my eyes as I fought for air. “I’m just… fine!”
I took it easier next time and it worked out a bit better.
We sipped our drinks and talked, the goddess across from me apparently unaware of the commotion she was causing. The warmth of the whiskey spread through me. Ethne leaned forward to select a potato crisp from the bowl on the table between us, and seeing me watching her she suggestively lifted her hand with the crisp to her luscious mouth, smiling lasciviously and at the same time secretly exposing more of her breasts to my view. 
They were heavier now, with the baby on the way. 
My gaze lifted from her cleavage to her eyes. Ethne’s large, liquid eyes stared directly back at me. Her eyes were laughing, like they always seemed to do, yet giving nothing away.
I smiled. 
Ethne smiled back. 
“What are you smiling at?” she asked gently. 
I loved Ethne madly. She was my first love. She had inherited, it seemed to me, the best from both of her parents. From her mother Olive came patience, love and a deep spiritualness that lent her incredible confidence and strength. From Mick she received intelligence, determination and humor.
She was also uniquely herself. A loving, gifted, friendly girl.
“You,” I answered truthfully. 

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