Love Stories

Published by HarperCollins

Every now and then, I come across a book I wish I had written myself. Trent Dalton’s Love Stories is a book like that. It rests the simple idea that everyone has a love story to tell. His story starts with an act of love. A close friend’s mother dies and bequeaths a blue portable Olivetti typewriter on which she had typed thousands of letters of protest, determined to make the world a better place. He is touched by the love this woman has shown him and decides to use the typewriter to type up the ordinary stories of love which turn out to be extraordinary in their magnitude.

Dalton takes the typewriter into the heart of Brisbane and sits at a card table with a hand-written sign, asking passers by to share their love stories. And they do! Over a couple of months, he collects their stories, polishes these gems until they spark so much love that my heart aches and tears flow with equal measure of joy and grief.

I listened to the book on Audible on my long drives through the country travelling between schools. I have cheered for bold young lovers and cried at the sublime love stories of couples who have been together for longer than I have been alive. My heart has ached for those who had lost their loved ones and I remembered the men in my own life, whom I have loved just as fiercely.

I was struck by the eloquence of the men and women who spoke candidly about their deepest feelings, who bared their soul to a stranger with a typewriter so that their story could heard. I thank them for it. I fell in love with each one of them.

Dalton cleverly weaves his love for his own wife and children, extended family, and friends into the story. There’s no denying that the book is sentimental, but it is never syrupy or gushing. Anything but. What makes the love stories work is their honesty, however painful that may be. Difficulties are not glossed over, and pure joy isn’t reduced to clichés. The emotions are raw and real, beautiful and tragic, joyous and always, always life affirming.

This is book is a rare gem. Simple yet not simplistic and so full of love that I forgot about the cares of the world for the time that I spent at the magical place on the corner of Adelaide and Albert Streets with Trent Dalton at his Olivetti typewriter.

Memories of love

My father in the early 1940’s – he would have been 99 on Feb 4, 2022

My father was a good-looking, debonair man. He flirted with ease and knew how to flatter women. He liked telling stories of his youth’s exploits. For him, women represented a source of fascination, conquest, and pleasure. The exception was Agnes, his first wife.

Throughout my childhood, a slightly tattered, black and white photograph of Agnes leant on a mirror in my father’s heavily draped room. She was a slender woman with shoulder length wavy hair who was destined to have her smile set for posterity. The photo was taken in Budapest, sometime in the late 1940’s.

I would look at this picture for hours and wished she had been my mother. Instead, Agnes died of TB. Penicillin could have saved her, if only the drug had been available in post-war Hungary. In the picture she is in her early twenties, full of life and pregnant with her first child.

Agnes was the only woman who had rejected my father’s advances. I don’t think she was playing hard to get, she just wasn’t interested in his games. They fell in love, married, and started their life together in a city that lay in ruins. In their short life together, she doted on him. Whatever wish passed his lips, she would try to fulfil. My father recounted a story of craving doughnuts in the middle of the night. Agnes got out of bed to make yeast dough so he could have his favourite jam-filled, fried doughnuts for breakfast. I wished I could have had a mother like her. And he did too.

She fell pregnant and they were looking forward to starting a family. Agnes loved the feel of the child growing within her but developed a persistent, blood speckled cough. Doctors confirmed the worst but only to my father. He set about trying to get penicillin from the West. Relatives who had emigrated were begged to help. None did. The cough persisted and she grew weaker. It became clear that she would not see out the pregnancy. The doctors enlisted my father to persuade Agnes to abort the child they both longed for. I don’t think my father ever forgave himself for that treachery. Agnes couldn’t understand why he was so adamant but yielded to his wish. This may have extended her life by a few short weeks.

My father described his anguish when she died. He walked out of the hospital and straight into oncoming traffic. He didn’t notice the screeching cars or people yelling at him. It is hard to know how he went on with his life. He had lost his son and his wife within a few short weeks of each other. No-one would ever be able to fill that emptiness. Only drinking somewhat numbed his pain.

My father died a long time ago and Agnes is suspended in an eternal autumn day. She is a hand-me-down memory, a two-dimensional figure etched on brittle, glossy paper. Yet I think of her more than I do of my father. Or maybe I think of my father as I struggle to be the woman he wanted me to become. Agnes is the looking glass, the flawless woman, the perfect mother, the ideal lover, the unattainable Madonna. The mother I never had. The mother I still strive to be.


Zoë and her bunny

‘No, she’s not a groodle, or a cavoodle, she’s a standard poodle,’ I explain patiently as someone stops to enquire about Zoë’s breed. ‘I always thought poodles were small dogs,’ is the usual reply. I sigh, go into detail about the different poodle sizes and temperaments before concluding that the standards are the best poodles by far. They are.

I have had minis and even a rescue toy poodle. Except for one of the minis, none of the other dogs have come even close to the intelligence, elegance, and devotion of the standard. Zoë is not a lap dog nor is she particularly cuddly, but she is constantly by my side without getting under my feet. If I’m working in the kitchen, she leans into me. It is her way to claim me as her own. Her bark would deter most people from entering the house, but she is friendly with strangers, as long as I am relaxed in their presence. She is the perfect companion.

Zoë is well known around the village. People may not remember my name, but they know hers. If we stop at the corner store for milk, she is often rewarded with a piece of bacon from the proprietor. Children come and pat her and visiting tourists stop to have a chat. Zoë knows how to wheedle her way into most hearts.

One of her endearing qualities is her love of toy bunnies. Whenever I bring a new squeaky animal into the house, Zoë leaps with joy and plays for hours, biting obsessively until she finds the squeak she is looking for. We then play a game of fetch which will be repeated every morning until the squeak dies and it is time for a new bunny. She is like a young child at Christmas taking her toy to bed and protectively putting a paw over it. Her devotion to her bunny melts my heart.

A less endearing quality is her love of chasing real bunnies. Selective deafness is a well-honed skill and when she sees a rabbit, no amount of calling, cajoling, or yelling will stop her. She is off through the thick scrub but she ain’t never caught a rabbit…  What she does come back with is a coat full of burrs which take the best part of an afternoon to remove – one by one, tugging them loose from her woolly coat. Zoë is never sorry for her disobedience; she always returns with her tongue out, eyes sparkling and tail wagging. It is hard to stay annoyed with such a display of exultation.

You can see standard poodles are hardly lounge lizards. While they don’t need a huge amount of exercise, they do love a good run. They will chase balls, their favourite human, and of course other animals. I have seen Zoë keep up with kelpies and border collies at the dog park. There’s an elegance to her run, a regal poise, and a graceful stretch of the legs as she flies through the air, ears flapping behind her. Out on a field, she is cheeky and playful, bursting with energy and joie de vivre. Poodles are quintessentially effervescent party animals. They are a pure joy to watch when playing with other dogs.

I never have to worry about doggy smells in the house, nor are there any dog hairs to sweep. As poodles don’t shed, even people with allergies can safely own one. They are clean dogs but do require regular clipping. If you don’t, before long, they will resemble your favourite reggae singer without any of the musical talent. I don’t recommend home haircuts; dog clipping is much more complicated than you think. It is well worth the money to employ a groomer every six to eight weeks. Zoë isn’t ever coiffured to resemble topiary at Versailles. After a trim, she simply looks like a well-heeled, short haired dog.

I can’t imagine my life without Zoë. I never feel lonely with her in the house, and she motivates me to go for long walks which are good for us both. Zoë can read my mood and responds accordingly. I would go so far as to claim that she has more EQ than most people. I have often thought, she would make a great therapy dog. But then, I believe that every dog has the capacity to be a therapy dog. Zoë just happens to be mine.

%d bloggers like this: