Love in the Time of Political Correctness
Book I from
The Compendium of Love & Loss
Memories & Realities
When life is split in two it will eventually collide with its other self.
Such is the dilemma for Jorel d'Vaid as he attempts to navigate life after love and loss and cancer in a world smothered by political correctness.
The Compendium of Love & Loss is a series of romance adventures. Each novel is set in Melbourne and follows chronologically, but none of the characters from the first three books cross paths, until…
That’s what I required.
Free from the white noise of modern life.
No phones, no social media, and no relationship status.
Is that unrealistic? Unfair to those I’ve left behind? Perhaps, yet still I stood at the base of a twenty-metre-high geyser as it pumped white, hot steam into the air, with a fizz and a pop. The white noise of an ancient crack in the earth, set amidst snow-capped crags and a frothing river in the chasm below.
The fascination did not last. Across the valley, perched high on a cliff, sat five modern primates. Two decked out in bright yellow budgie smugglers , the others in teeny weenie pink bikinis. Steam from the natural hot springs shrouded their faces, adding to the now unspoken myth that all who lived in this region of the world looked alike. The burgeoning torsos of the men wobbled with laughter, while the women jiggled in time from the chest up and giggled with hands over their faces.
I wondered why they paraded themselves in the winter sun. Was it a gaudy exhibition of wealth so great they no longer required excess regalia? Is it correct, or socially acceptable, to scratch and preen in full view of any who climbed the ice-laced paths of the Jigokudani Valley when another of Nature’s more natural spectacles awaited?
Perhaps, as Earth’s superior race, this was the level we had reached.
I longed for the solitude encapsulated by the breeze flitting through the mountain pines, and found it ironic that Jigokudani meant Hell. However, each day, beyond the tramp up the narrow mountain trail to this secluded place, I was faced with this incessant geyser, the torrent of the gorge, and the gorging tourists in their spa.
A hundred or so more steps to go…
A hundred or so more steps to go…
This was the daily mantra from this point upwards.
A hundred or so more steps to go…
Worth the repetition… definitely.
Thighs burning, I pushed against the strain of the final exertion. Up the stairs beneath the decorative pseudo-torii that told the tale: Jigokudani Monkey Park. Good thing my Kanji had improved, and fortunate the sign was bilingual.
Kanji: simple lines forming characters more akin to simian art, yet beautiful in their fluency. Brush strokes designed to be art as well as language.
The Greeks had a lot to answer for with their chiselled characters and marble statues to match: cold, clinical, and corrupt within a few hundred years. The Kanji had survived millennia, developing beyond the Greek’s rudimentary twenty-four characters to over two thousand pictographs: each sentence painting a thousand words… whilst in reverse.
Beyond the final climb and the ticket-booth-cum-souvenir-shop, the valley opened up to a steaming gorge where thousands of tourists came to view real monkeys at play. I was no tourist. This was my office, often filled with far more respect, intelligence and logic than many of my former employers. But you don’t want to read about them. I’ve no doubt you deal with the same shite every other day. That can be the nature of life — this is merely nature.
Wander with me along the well-worn path to the river. Its rocky banks eat the ankles of gormless tourists, but the monkeys love it. They spring along the slopes as if on a flat path, and leap the river as if it were a puddle. Here comes one now. Fawn coloured fur made for the snow, a halo about its pink face, filled with wide, questioning eyes.
These creatures frequent the hot spring pools here, especially when it snows, as it does now. Yet you don’t see these
simians in bright, polka-dot bikinis and budgie smugglers. The young pick and preen at the fur of the old, whereas
their human counterparts use mirrors. I’m sure the monkeys wonder what we see in ourselves — the perfect
vision, perhaps: a politically correct stereotype or an object to be adored at arm’s length? And there
we have the Greeks again with their mythical characters adoring themselves in mirrored pools, only
now we are reflected in smart phones with pooled data. Do we huddle in hot spring pools,
naked as the second we were born, or do we sit at opposite sides of the pool with a glass
of champagne admiring our catch? Most human pools in Japan are segregated.
Perhaps they should don monkey furs and use communal, non-sexist pools.
Permit me to bend down and pat my young simian visitor, while I introduce
you. Meet Kid Goku — a Japanese Macaque. I like to name
them all after anime characters.
All the other rangers in the park think I’m mad.
“You’re a good listener, aren’t you, Kid Goku?”
She reminds me of a stuffed toy my brother’s kids used to dangle around their necks.
A spider monkey with long limbs and Velcro paws, but, oddly, no mouth.
“I could tell you a story about Monkey if you like, Kid Goku.”
“Very well… there was a time when the older you were, the more the younger set looked up to you.
The only chance an older guy gets to experience that these days is while feeding a Japanese Macaque.”
Yes, Kid Goku pays attention to me for more than just my stories. Who’d have thought a Snow Monkey
would show more respect.
“Or is it just curiosity and a decent feed that keeps you mesmerised, Kid Goku?”
Squeak squeak squeak.
“OK, settle, no need to get impatient, I’ll get to today’s story. Imagine, if you will, my furry friend, a quarter acre block…”
Down passed the back door
Beyond the budgie chatter
D’Artagnan the cat sits in a field of green
As much as a quarter acre of couch could smother
Beyond him and his blinded eye
Beyond the patch on the other
Were swings of green with seats of yellow
Where spider webs did gather
And on again stood three tall trees
All silver birch with leaves of plenty
That cast a shade where three small boys
Did tear apart and resurrect all their favourite toys…
‘I’m not a monster!’
‘Yes you are — Daddy says so… it’s on your T-shirt!’
And so it was
In big bright red letters
On a background all blue
Beneath a nose full of goo!
‘He was mine first, Nanny gave him to me.’
‘My monkey — Mum… my!’
And Monkey’s shortened arm
Repaired not long ago
Came off his matted come apart many a-washed torso!
Monkey stared but blankly back
Up to the horror of three
Small pox-marked faces who knew very well
That toys didn’t grow on trees!
‘Except of course.’
The Middle Child surmised
‘When made of wood
A penny for your thoughts Monkey please…’
And then as if the pain was far too much
For all the years he’d suffered
To their amazement each of the three
Heard in their heads an odd but plaintive plea…
‘I’ve been stuffed in boxes and wet pyjamas,
Spent the night with Barbie, tigers and Jedi
As if this arm weren’t short enough
Now you’ve gone and torn it off
How am I to swing at night?
When zzzs and spiders crawl across
The ceiling by the rose and the light
That hangs way down, now you’ve made me cross…’
Squeak squeak squeak
The Japanese Macaque at my feet bounced up and down; as if this idea, that a monkey should attack back, had fermented in its brain…
“Inspiration, eh, Kid Goku?”
“Yet still a primate of few words, I see, unlike the illustrious leaders of our world. Or are you the small and silent type? Reminds me of someone I used to know: gentle as a lamb, until cruelled by life. You know, I can pinpoint the exact moment when his life began to unravel. Would you like two tales in the same day: one showing the rise on this planet of an ape, the other depicting the devolution of our world’s most evolved primate?”
“I suppose I can accommodate you, it’s not as if your species is short on tails. Perhaps you can rate this story at the end, and tell me if it’s worth writing down. I can almost imagine it in print, as do many, but most don’t surround themselves with monkeys and fill their pockets with winter feed.”
The snow drifted down onto the fur of my willing audience, while the mist of my voice dissipated between flakes. The isolation here at Jigokudani Monkey Park, especially now it was out of tourist season, fed the introvert in me, even if I secretly craved company.
We lived in a sugar-coated world, but the bitter after-taste of the almond inside was often jagged on the taste buds.
I contemplated the ease with which the Snow Monkey scratched parts of its body I could never reach. Life was often like that: the best bits just out of our grasp, with no placards or detailed instructions to improve the experience.
What if this was a book: a signpost for others to follow? A sketch of where we went wrong, despite some good intentions.
Turn the page, reader, but don’t tell anyone I said so. We wouldn’t want to give anyone allusions of being walled in on all four sides.
Why do you think I’m out here in a frozen forest watching nuts freeze?
Turn the page…
Tales of Innocence
Picture a man, barely a man, eighteen if a day, as he strolls through the campus library of Melbourne University. It is 1988. It should have been 1984, as Big Sister loomed large over his shoulder. He contemplates the notice board he has just read… never accept an A for a lay… he can’t quite picture a hot English or History professor, at least not one worth losing his virginity over. Cringe. Besides, the entire Humanities department was male.
He stumbles toward a familiar face, his newly acquired mate, Andrew. Randy Andy would be a more suitable moniker. Hand raised in a timid wave, it is ignored. Andrew is all about action, all about conquests. He reaches for the jugular, subtlety not his forte.
“Jorel — as if — where’s your hair curl?’
Hair parted and lank down to his shoulders, Jorel brushes the strands back with his fingers. “You do know I was named after Superman’s father — smart, not super. Besides, I’d need my mum’s curlers for that shit.”
“Right — the mad alien scientist — wicked,” Andrew leers. “I could at least fix the underwear over the trousers bit with an atomic wedgy.”
Jorel’s testicles retract a few inches as he imagines his friend’s threat — his underpants pulled up and out from the bum crack. SNAP!
“No, thanks, mate… I’d rather find a phone booth. You heading into the city for some Galaga , or you actually here to research?”
“Study! Fuck that for a joke. I’m here cruising chicks.”
Jorel could picture this, despite the setting, based on one of Andrew’s recent stories. The incident occurred a week before, with his supposed last girlfriend. She was actually more of a casual encounter — full coital one evening on the library stairs — a one step stand. He buried the image of his friend drooling over the orgasm and concentrated on the question at hand.
“Galaga at the Swanston Street games arcade it is then.”
Andrew shuffles toward the library door, hands in his jeans pockets, a laconic leer a fixture. He pushes through the heavy glass door back first, and fills his narrow eyes with every inch of female candy the university has to offer. Thank God he wasn’t a girl. He would have racked up the As by now without submitting a single essay. Instead he wallows in satisfactory.
Jorel follows his friend through the door. He catches the shadow of another student on his tail, holds the door open wide, and waits for them to pass through.
Nobody comes and Andrew buckles over with laughter.
Jorel turns, still cradling the door’s edge, only to be confronted by a young woman. She stands, arms crossed, in the doorway.
“What do you think I am a weak female that you have to hold the fucking door open for?”
“N-no,” Jorel stammers. “I-I…”
Andrew falls on the floor laughing as the young woman struts through the doorway…
Twenty-odd bloody years and that incident still haunted him. Head in hands, Jorel leant against the cool of the
elevator’s mirror. The clack of heels on tiles alerted him to the presence of another woman. Despite his
throbbing head, he swung his arm down and pressed the <|> button. All these years and he still held the
door open… for anyone, regardless of sex, young or old, firm or limp.
Jorel lifted his head. “That’s OK.”
“Are you new?” asked the younger woman.
“No… well, interview…”
“Didn’t go so well, eh?”
He shrugged. The woman who stared at his elevator of woe offered him a smile
beneath her pierced nose and bright, sleepy eyes.
“You’ll like it. I’ve been here two years...”
“And still smiling.”
“Yep, I’m always happy.” The elevator pinged and its doors slid open with a jolt. The woman stepped out on
teetering heels, which added inches to her meagre stature. “Quick, it does that sometimes, the jolty thing. Juli got
stuck in here for three hours last week. Hope you get the job,” she added as she turned towards reception.
Twenty years, he mused, and I still haven’t learnt. Still holding doors open for people who won’t remember me by lunch.
Jorel slid the phone out of his pocket, unlocked it with his thumbprint, and scrolled through his email. Mostly SPAM. FCUK. He knew his private email address had been on-sold by a supposedly reputable online travel service. At first he didn’t mind the junk mail: Japan travel experiences, solar heating suggestions, and deals from the local liquor merchant. However, these had morphed without him travelling, partaking of sake, or finding politically correct warmth in his life. He struggled through thirty messages, deleting as he scrolled. Jorel was an automated bot on his own device, flicking past suggestions on how to extend his virility, in both time and length (who had been talking about him?) These blended with messages from Olga, Aurika, Anastasia and Jinfei — among others. All the girls were impossibly cute, most were lovely and successful business women with their own companies, why the hell would they want him, and all wore increasingly less clothes on tiny buxom bodies.
What would any of these women want from him, besides an Aussie passport?
“You’ll get RSI if you keep slamming your phone like that. Best you game on a console.”
Jorel looked up, into the fluttering eyes of the girl from the elevator.
“We just came down together, right?” he asked.
“Alzheimer’s hasn’t set in yet, I see.”
“And the thumbs, have you already buggered them?”
Jorel checked the pose of his hand over the phone. “I, um, prefer to use my index finger, as you saw, especially when it’s all about deleting SPAM.”
“I don’t like meat, but I will eat spam if there’s no chicken.”
The term high maintenance caught in Jorel’s taste buds like a P.C. choke.
“Are you alright?” she continued. “Do you need a drink… perhaps a coffee at the café here next to reception?”
“Thanks, but I don’t drink coffee. Love the smell of Brazil, but…” Jorel paused at the question marks her eyebrows had twisted into. “Sorry, wordplay. I’m a bit fond of Shakespeare.”
“Boring. And now I have a brain explosion. I’m going in for a hot chocolate, wanna come?”
Names still lying strewn on the floor like a cascade of unopened fortune cookies, the younger woman turned toward the café door, leaving Jorel in the foyer. Dilemma was voiced from each shoulder into ears attuned to failure.
His conscience Angel delivered a sermon of propriety: “That was a lovely invite, but she is far too young to be seen with you.”
The alternate Imp on his left shoulder proved more philosophical: “It’s not every day a young babe invites an old dog to drink, mate.”
Inner turmoil oddly collided to propel him forward… Jorel followed the woman, and discovered her perched on a comfortable lounge inside.
“Decided to join me?” Her brashness was a breath of fresh confrontation.
“Um, yes… would you like me to order?”
“Already have. Sit down. I always decide before I come down. Less stressful. And I didn’t want to be waiting around
for your decision. Your lack of decisiveness makes me nervous, and I have enough problems with wonky
Jorel suspected the emptiness of the café had prompted her rash of friendliness, but sat regardless.
She reached out her right hand.
He accepted the greeting with a limp shake. “Jorel.”
“Not very manly.”
“Well, I was named for—”
“I meant your handshake. You won’t crush me, you know. I’m not a weak female.”
Visions of swastika-toting university women sent a chill down his spine as various parts of his body
retracted. Lips parched and drawn tight, his imagined explanation wallowed in receding saliva.
“As for Jorel…” she said.
“It’s such a stupid name.”
“I think it’s super. Cynthia licked the tip of her index finger and stroked it through his fringe, creating a curl.
“There, and now you have hair to match.”
He didn’t have the heart to correct her. His life story was repeating ad nauseam.
“So,” she continued, interrupting his silent lament, “why the long face, Jorel? I’m sure you’ll get the position. What department did you apply for?”
“The I.T. Department here is shit. No one ever follows up, no one stays, and you look like someone who’ll give a damn. So you’re a shoe-in.”
Jorel did give a damn. That was why he lost his last job: too old for Information Technology, too particular, too possessive of his creations… he cared too bloody much. He wouldn’t make the same mistakes again, nor would he open his life to a bunch of strangers all looking to climb the same ladder, whilst kicking him off at the fingers. Institutional burial was what he required. Ease of use, security of pay, and stress free.
Hot chocolates delivered by the café’s barista, Cynthia sipped hers with a raised eyebrow. “Yummo. Not so talkative, are you? Shy or in self-preservation mode?”
“I like the idea of being able to flick a switch. It’s better than being too transparent. What should I do now? Turn on super power: flick.”
Cynthia laughed. “What would yours be, I wonder? X-ray vision? I hope this table is made of lead.”
Jorel smiled at the suggestiveness, but his companion had moved on. She greeted a colleague who walked into the café with a brilliant smile. Each tooth perfectly spaced with the gentle hint of an uncorrected overbite.
“There you go, Jorel. You’re in there.”
He swatted away the Imp on his right shoulder. There was no suggestion, no flirting, just a joke. Besides, flirting was a no-no these days — wasn’t it?
“Is there a fly in here?” she asked as she sipped the hot chocolate through the lid of her polystyrene cup.
“You waved away a fly, Jorel.”
“Did I?” Bloody imp!
“Oh my God, I hope you weren’t this vague in the interview.”
“Probably.” He tasted his hot chocolate. Twenty years in the industry and he’d never enjoyed a morning tea break, let alone regular lunch hours. “No, I was sharp. I just think they’re looking for someone younger.”
“What! Another teenager? I doubt it.”
“Flattery — nice!”
Shut up, Imp. Where’s my logical Angel when I need him?
“Did they ask your age, Jorel, ‘cause you know that’s illegal, and I should know, I’m in H.R.”
“It’s easy enough to work out.”
“Not if you keep your résumé short — or longer than required, in my case.”
Again with the eyebrows. Who was this woman, the Inspector Gadget of Facial Features?
“I’ve got a friend in recruitment. She chopped my résumé in half and then threw the rest on the floor.” Jorel teased.
“She what? Isn’t that all of it?”
“The thick plottens, eh?”
“The… what… God — my brain hurts.” Eyes narrowed, the bridge of Cynthia’s nose scrunched up in
several rolls of what the f***… “You’re not really an I.T. guy, are you?”
“Yeah… nah.” Jorel stood, picked up his hot chocolate, and tipped an imaginary hat. “Thanks
for the company.”
“Fortunately, you’ll never have to know, nor will you have to endure my occasional
Jorel left her with a question mark in one eyebrow, an arc in the other.