This One Life: 50 shades of grey hair

Mar 20, 2022
"There is a message from a 60-something guy I met on a dating app earlier this week." Source: Getty

While I straddle another turning point in my life, I’m renting a serviced apartment in Sydney’s Potts Point. I’m at what is now my regular morning café, where the baristas know my coffee order and my name.

I used to hang out here four decades ago with journalists, characters from both sides of the law, musicians, landscape gardeners and drag queens. Nowadays, the musos and queens are in their seventies and the younger customers are gym junkies and dog walkers. I’ve been trying to find my way into writing about seniors and sex. Finally, I settle on a framework for the piece and order another coffee.

‘Same again, please, Angel.’

With a fresh cup in front of me, I open my laptop.

Cleo, 69, might pass for 62 if one’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Her trim figure and shoulder-length hair divert attention from the lines on her face and her sagging jawline. Her eyelashes have all but disappeared, though her eyebrows have grown bushier in recent years, with coarse, long white hairs that sometimes appear overnight. Her skin holds the dent for longer now when pressed. There are creases around her eyes, though they hint that life has taught her to laugh more at herself than at others. 

‘Are you in the line, doll?’

A man, seventyish, gestures at the half-dozen people ahead of Cleo in the supermarket queue. In her basket are the makings of a dinner for one: salad ingredients, marinated goat cheese, a rotisserie chicken. She sees a pleasant, craggy face, a thatch of white hair, a man whose weathered skin sits compactly on his rangy frame. 

‘Yes, I am. And don’t call me “doll”.’

‘Okay, darlin’,’ he says, and winks.

He stands behind her. She can feel his eyes on her, smell a masculine scent that reminds her of Ted. 

The queue is slow moving. She closes her eyes and lets her thoughts drift. 

She and Ted had met when they sat together during a bus ride into the city. The attraction had been immediate and mutual. She had liked how he smelled, the sound of his voice. They’d exchanged phone numbers and met the next day for lunch. Two days later, they watched a foreign film on Oxford Street, then sat in a quiet bar until late, talking and touching, flirting, laughing. There was comfort – a sense of familiarity, a hint of something beyond. 

The following week, they had eaten dinner in a new Thai place on Macleay Street. They had spoken of the strong physical attraction between them and it seemed they would spend the night together. She had dressed as he had requested: a simple and stylish outfit – she had combined pieces picked up from visits to Berlin, Budapest and the English spa town of Bath – worn over lace lingerie. 

‘Would you wear suspenders and sheer black stockings for me?’ he’d asked her. ‘While we are in the restaurant, I want to imagine how your legs look under your clothes.’

 His asking this of her, and her willingness to do it, had excited them both. 

She’d bought the bra and wide-leg black silk knickers in a boutique in the red-light district of Amsterdam. 

‘I haven’t felt this sexy in years,’ she told him.

‘Just thinking about what you’re wearing makes me feel young.’ He had stroked the back of her neck after the server removed their tom yum soup bowls. ‘Describe them to me again …’

After dinner, they had walked down to Rushcutters Bay Park, to the water’s edge, where pleasure boats were bathed in moonlight. She had raised her skirt and placed his hand on her leg, where her stocking top met her skin.

Ted had been a tender lover, but he confessed that he could not be hers. There was someone else, somewhere else; someone he couldn’t love physically, but to whom he was committed.

Cleo had broken it off with him soon after. 

She feels a light touch on her arm. 

‘It’s your turn now, darlin’.’ 

It’s the man who had stood in line behind her; the man whose pheromones had sent her into an erotic reverie.

‘Are you right, there, dear?’ 

The twenty-something checkout operator sounds impatient.

‘Yes. I’ve never been better. And don’t call me “dear”.’

The man laughs.

‘I’m Max.’

She laughs too – at herself, at her quickness to bristle. 

‘I’m Cleo.’

‘Shall we have a coffee together, Cleo?’ he says.

‘Yes, Max. I would like that.’

It’s a relief to have written the first draft of my piece. I finish my coffee and check my phone. There is a message from a 60-something guy I met on a dating app earlier this week. I couldn’t figure out how to use the site and cancelled my subscription after just one day. Apparently, I’d sent encouraging signals to half a dozen men without intending to. One of them looks okay, though, and we’ve spoken on the phone.

‘Shall we have a coffee together?’ he texts.

‘Yes. I would like that,’ I reply.

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