The enormous sweetness of small things


The sweetness that he brings to all things is unfiltered; every action, every interaction, every utterance. It is nearly all there is and it is everything.

“Just a second …” he implores from atop a mountain of soft pillows, beneath a mountain of soft blankets and duvets, (everything is soft) trying to put his good hearing aid in place (the other one got dropped and only transmits news from Mars.) It takes a full minute to get the hearing aid place, a minute and a half in total because he was struggling at the beginning. But I am not going anywhere. Where would be nicer than here?

“Now” he says, grateful for the waiting, “how did you sleep?

“Great!” I say and he looks happy.

“How did you sleep?” I ask

“I slept okay …” he says yet I detect a drollness between the lines, almost inaudible but there. I think it is in the way he rounds his words.

“I didn’t fall out” he continues, “so that was good.”

“Well, that is good!” I confirm and he laughs.

The news is conveyed as a small miracle, like someone who has gone to the supermarket to for honey – and finds a jar.

Sheilagh lies awake beside him, listening in, letting him do the talking. When she does speak, it is to suggest a hot honey and lemon drink, which is their morning ritual, but I put it down to sheer coincidence.

“Yes, please” says my father and Sheilagh rolls over and is up, gone to make it.

“Did Pete sleep okay?” asks my father because it wouldn’t be a normal conversation without him asking if Pete is okay/slept okay/how Pete is.

“Pete slept very well.” I say. “I was just going to make us some tea but I thought I’d check on you first. You’re still here, so that’s good!”

“Yes!” says my father.

Sheilagh returns with the honey and lemon drink and my father, who is lying on his side, reaches out for it. His movements are slow, like a snowman coming to life, his arm stretching in slow motion toward the bedside table for the drink. Somehow he is able to drink it lying there on his side although it is a little too hot so I add some cold water.

“Thankyou” says my father and continues to sip it sideways, atop the pillows. He is so comfortable atop these pillows, underneath these blankets, in this bed, he says.

“Sheilagh” he asks, sideways. He cannot easily roll over so he asks from the side of the bed, calling out to the other side where Sheilagh is snuggling up. Soon they will go back to sleep and so will I. It is early. Only Pete will get up (permanently) to go to work because he is the only one who is not retired. Eh-hem.

As for my father and Sheilagh, they catch up on sleep they lose in the wee hours when my father needs to … well, do the same. Sheilagh wakes up to help him because my father can’t do much of anything on his own anymore. I have never seen someone so tired or so happy.

The good thing is most of the furniture is electric so he gets rides to go up and down in bed, on his chair, everything. Electrical is the vogue of the house.

Other nights, a carer takes Sheilagh’s place. My younger brother stays over most Thursday and Fridays nights because he is already a night owl and a 2am wee break is like day-time to him. It would probably only be interrupting his lunch.

“Sheilagh” my father is asking. “You used to give me one of those bent straws” he says, at angle to me and the drink. The cup is upright in his hand but because he is sideways, it is not working that well as a drink and he has remembered about the bent straws.

“Do you still have those?” he asks.

At another angle next to him, Sheilagh’s smile, silent and full of warmth, conveys that she does and I offer to get them since I am the only one standing.

I find them in the pantry, grab one and on my way back, drop in on Pete, across the hall. The walls are thin enough and he is close enough to have heard the conversation.

“Hi Sweetie” I say. “Would you like a bent straw in your tea?”

“Yes, please” he says and I take the straw in my hand into my father with the news that Pete would like a bent straw in his tea, too.

On second waking, Pete is gone and Xen has arrived, full of love, to take over from Sheilagh for a few hours. My father is still asleep.

Sheilagh is in the living room. I find her sitting by the table with newspapers. Morning is pouring in through the windows from the bay and lights the room perfectly in beautiful, early luminescence.

Quickly, we get to talking about the operation my father needs and which the surgeon has reluctantly confirmed. It’s tricky: cutting open his hairline across his skull, under local anesthetic.

Sheilagh has her face toward the light, exposing her thoughts. If just left, the situation could easily become worse. It is impossible to know what to do. The choice is stark.

I pop in to see my father once more before I go. Last time we talked, he said he didn’t want to end up with a tomato on the top of his head. Now, when I bring it up he says he is not worried about the hospital trip, he is only worried about his knee (which makes him afraid to stand) He is not confident of conveying this to the nurses.

Of the of the tomato, he only says: “I suppose it could be my brains.”

“Or your sense of humour …” I offer.

As I leave, I hear Xen trying to gently persuade him to maybe let her shower him, which has a marvellous restorative effect-  but my father turns her down with equal gentleness and perfect politeness.

“I don’t think so” he says with perfect politeness.

“I’m just so cosy here” he says, from the side and I know it is true. “It’s just so cosy in this bed. I don’t know why anyone ever gets up.”

“That’s what I say to Pete” I say and my father just catches it. I am pretty sure he wishes it were different, for Pete’s sake.

Later, I learn the shower went ahead as Xen planned. “She waves her magic wand over him,” says Sheilagh.

Beautiful artwork by Magaly Ohika

The Lion of Wimbledon

Celestino Piatti's Animal ABCThe way my brother tells it, my father was in charge of the outpatients department at Sydney Hospital when a man walked in swearing at everyone.

“You can’t use language like that in here” my father said, taking command. “There are nurses and other patients in here. You can’t swear like that in front of them” he said.

To which the man seemingly took no notice.

“Listen” said my father. “If you are going to use language like that, you can get out. Otherwise, you can take a seat but you need to keep your mouth shut.”

The man listened to my father, walked to the back of the room and as he did so let out another jet-stream of banned words which took flight between the ones he used to agree to my father’s demand.

“Okay” he said, sitting down. “But I just **** want ****someone to help me **** with my Tourette’s.”

My father listens to my re-telling of his story.

“Yes … I heard your brother telling you it was Sydney Hospital,” says my father. “But actually, it was the Metropolitan Hospital in London.”


“And the man had hit someone. I was upstairs and I got a call from the nurse asking if I could please come down because a man had just walked in and had hit the wards man and was being abusive. The nurse was only little” he says, “I think she was from the West Indies.”

“I went down and there was this man being very abusive to everyone and threatening to hit people. I went up to him and told him he couldn’t hit people or use that kind of language there and that he had to leave.

“Then he said: but doctor, I can’t go outside. I keep hitting people. I’m scared I am going to do it again. I need someone to help me. ”

My father remembers it well because his mind is bright, as always – in his words, about the only thing left that is still functioning properly.

“Well that’s open to debate” I say and he laughs.

My father finishes the story: an ambulance was called to take the man to a psychiatric hospital for help. But the ambulance was delayed, took hours, says my father, who had to stay with him lest the man hit someone again.

“So what happened?”

“So I had wait with him in the outpatients department for hours. And I was really annoyed because I had tickets to the Wimbledon final but I couldn’t get away so I missed it. It was my first date with another nurse from the hospital but I couldn’t take her because I had to stay with this fellow and wait for the ambulance.”

My father tells me he was even more annoyed because there was an Australian in the final.

“Did he win?”

“No” he says “he lost. He was playing an Egyptian and I was disappointed because the crowd were all on the Egyptian’s side and we had just supported them (Britian) in the war. I was angry about that” my father says.

Maybe the Australian would have had more of a chance with my father in the crowd.

“Did you get to any other Wimbledon finals?” I ask.

“Yes” he says, “I went to a few.”

But I don’t ask him which ones. He is tired. And my head is still spinning with news that my father went to a few Wimbledon tennis finals which is many more than I have been to since I am still on none. I would easily take a round one match, Wimbledon or Melbourne, doesn’t matter. It is my favourite couch sport. Wimbledon is more appealing because of the strawberries although I can easily eat them on this couch.

My father lies back on his bundle of pillows, nestled here and there, underneath and around him.

The pillows, bedclothes and blankets are all white, in a bedroom almost completely white but for a set of blue, patterned curtains, the colour of a Manly beach on a sparkling day. And a beautiful, blue watercolour of roses which hangs on the wall opposite the bed. It is only a print but it is so lovely; the whole thing looks like it was painted in seconds, hardly any brush strokes, only what is necessary then a beautiful indigo wash. My mother hung it there years ago – and here it is, still here.

There is so much light in this room and Sheilagh has made it pretty with all this white and blue. I sit close to my father’s bed in a white wicker chair, which I could easily take home, it is so charming. But it is perfect here and I am no robber baroness.

By some miracle, make that several, my father has avoided disappearing many times just in these last few months. He is like some sort of cat which is not surprising given his astrological bearing. One who can tame a broken, swearing man.

Sometimes you think: this is it. And then next thing, he is recovered, bing! Like that! And it looks like he can go on indefinitely. Then it happens again. I guess it can’t go on indefinitely but in some ways maybe it can, or we do, because when someone dies I have only ever felt that they have left the room or the city or wherever, to go somewhere else.

So I put it to my big cat father.

“Do you like Chinese medicine?” I ask Xen, who looks after my father on Mondays which is today. She grew up in the coutryside in China, so she might.

“Yes!” She says “but not acupuncture. I hate needles!” I already love her but now I love her even more; in return, she adores my father.

“Dad” I say “how about when you come back, you come back as a Chinese Master and practice Chinese Medicine and do operations using only acupuncture needles as anaesthetic?”

Even from his lying down position in bed, he gives me that “I can’t believe you just said that … (ridiculous thing)” look because, well, they can be kind of proud, these kings. These lions. Proud, determined – better not to challenge their will, it will be a waste of your time – courageous.

Which makes them very lucky cats indeed.

Vinatge Illustration: Celestino Piatti, Animal ABC (1965) on My Vintage Book Collection

The Formula of Invisible Gardening

I have just come in from another three hours gardening although I don’t expect you to believe me. There is nothing to show for it. Three hours, three seconds. It is all the same. There is nothing to show.

“I pulled out a lot of weeds today” I tell Pete as he steps off the train. Later I will give him a tour of the garden and he won’t see a thing. Yet that is the nature of invisibility.

“Ah …” he says, pretending to be interested. Even though I know it is a pretence I continue. Sometimes it is harder to stop.

“Yes and there’s more. Much more! I also cut back some branches.”

“Ah …” he says but his tone of voice makes me feel as though the work I have done is as important as designing a universe.

Besides, weeds don’t pull themselves out nor do branches lop themselves from their trunk – although if they did it would reduce the need for gardening by about ninety percent, given that these are the main tasks. It would also be amazing.

Pulling weeds out, lopping branches, constitutes a typical day in the garden. It also constitutes a typical day because it is impossible to avoid a garden when it is the moat of the house. No matter what my day involves it involves gardening since in order to do anything I cannot not cross the moat.

Here is a very basic example, written to cause you to feel you could be at the cinema watching a film. Nobody can classify the film since it doesn’t seem to fit in any genre. It remains unclassified. Nevertheless the usher lets you in:

We have run out of milk. There is no milk in the whole house and we do not own a cow. Therefore we are milk less.

I know I can get some milk from the supermarket which is up the road. It should take a matter of minutes.

I delay putting on the coffee until I return with the milk because it will be better with it. It is still morning but the day is already turning out to be beautiful; a little bit of sunshine here, some clouds there. What a pretty day! The thing that would make it perfect is some milk. It is the only thing I really want.

I find my sunglasses, keys and grab my wallet. It is all too easy. It is relaxing. It has the feeling of a wonderful day yet it seems to getting more wonderful with each moment.

Shoes – I really need some new ones but never mind, it is not a glamorous town and these embarrassing ones will do. Probably no one will notice. If they do, since it is not a glamorous town, they might even like them. My hopes are high, not just for the observations of the townspeople but for the whole day.

Outside everything seems normal – with the addition of wonderful since that is how the day is shaping up.

A few steps later, I estimate two and half or three, I am about to unlock the car by remote key when I notice a few branches on the ground. The wind has brought them down during the night.

I decide to pick up them up, thinking to chuck them onto the pile next to the car on my way to the supermarket. I should be back at any moment.

At ground level, next to the branches (like it is some sort of trick!) there are a few weeds. A few isn’t many, it’s only a few and since I am already there I move toward them to tug them from the earth.

 A few weeds turns out to be about an hours gardening. There will be more in the afternoon when I try to cross the moat again for another, unrelated reason.

“Bloody hell …”

It is turning out to be a terrible day.

This is the beginning of the formula which says (simply): there is no end.

If you have a garden … Actually it’s the other way around, your garden has you.

“Here’s where I cut back some branches. It was like a jungle …” I tell Pete because we doing a tour of the invisible work. It’s tricky because there is nothing to see. But that is also part of the formula.

The formula has three parts yet as I am just the actuary, maybe don’t quote me. Well, you can quote me but then we could both be wrong.

It existed way before me; I am only it’s voice. The difference between everything that happened prior to you reading this is that people have been too shy to speak of it.

Anyway. The second part of the formula is this: all hours spent in the garden will be available for none to see. No one will see any work you have done because … they just won’t.

“You don’t need to show me” Pete is saying. “I believe you.”

“Yes but, three hours … three hours!” I say because there is not a thing to show for it. It is the same every time.

Weeding is invisible – no one can remember where the weeds were. Cutting back is invisible – branches, shrubs, anything. All invisible. Unless you fell the whole garden, none of us can recall what it looked like before. As the gardener, you may as well have slept through the whole day.

“I did something there …” Even I can’t remember what it was and there are no clues to tell me.

The final part of the formula is to do with belief: that all work in the garden will be lasting.

Here is an illustration. “Pete” could be anyone. But in this case he is Pete:

A short time ago Pete removed the weeds taking over the brick paths. It was one of those jobs that you wouldn’t want to repeat too often; tricky – plus there were quite a lot of them.

“There!” he said when he was done. “That should do for another year.”

It might be kinder to stop here, mid sentence, which is sort of what I did with Pete. I didn’t really say anything. I think I just checked that he had said “year.” Definitely. I mean …

” … a year?”

“Yes” he said. “I pulled out quite a lot. They’re gone now.”

But I need to finish the formula.

Pete may be a blind optimist – but we are all optimists, holding to the belief that the work we do in the garden will last. It looks like six months work. Six months is common.

Here is where the formula can help: the six months is divided into the actual amount of time that will pass before you need to redo everything.

The actual amount is less than six weeks.

Times that by everything you do is invisible.

Times that by the fact that plus or minus, there is no end.

That is the formula.

It goes for absolutely everything.

Which is why I wanted to screen it as a film. Because at least you might have some popcorn.

Beautiful image, untraced artist: Pinterest 


Anna Silivonchik Autumn leaves horse

He is getting sleepy. I wish I didn’t write that.

Maybe he is not too sleepy, maybe he is just sleepy this month, this week.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong” my sister-in-law says. “I think he is just getting tired.”

“Oh” I say because I am kind of not expecting it.

I am not expecting it.

I see him on Sunday at the family gathering. He looks well although his throat is a little sore which is worrying when someone is frail. But he looks the same.

We have been called together for a family portrait, a clan photograph. I am not sure why we are doing it. It has been arranged suddenly and in my mind I am wary.

Everyone is supposed to dress in earthy or neutral colours without patterns because the photographer has said it will look better in the final photo. She sends us some sample photographs to help guide us as well as lots of tips.

“It sounds a bit American” she writes “but it works.”

Later, when I hear her voice, she is American. Probably that’s where she gets the hot tips from.

I study the sample photographs and fall in love with a family dressed entirely in tones of cream, denim and tan. They look very American. “That is the family I want to be” I decide.

I send out emails to try to rouse people into choosing between one and three colours because that is the hot tip. But no-one responds. It is going to be hard to look like the American family.

As much as I admire them – and if they asked me, I would run away with them as long as I could bring Pete (although I don’t know what his act would be) – my fear is that we will end up looking like the cast of Cirque du Soleil.

Actually, I don’t know what my act would be either. I suppose it would either be dancing or singing. Or both.

I send out another email at the last minute and title it “Final time and clothing encouragements for Sunday.” This time I am simply stating what the encouragements are: 12.45 for 1.00 o’clock. Any earthy or neutral colours, including black and white, if you must. Layers, sleeves, dresses to the knees. It comes out like a poem.

That night I have a nightmare that everyone is wearing grey and navy and we look like convicts.

The photographer has counselled us not to stress too much because “families will be families” she writes.

“Yes” I want to write back. “Don’t you hate that?”

My father has excelled the brief and looks lovely dressed in emerald coloured shirt and oatmeal trousers. He has not dressed himself. I realise this because when I arrive, Sheilagh, his wife, is half way through dressing him. He doesn’t dress himself anymore, I realise.

Sheilagh has also excelled the brief and looks glamorous in tones of charcoal, layered with a vintage cream, lace bolero.

I like to think I have also excelled the brief although I try not to compare. But I don’t try hard enough because it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that I am one of the best. I am layers of cream and don’t even mind if I look like a cake. I like this new, American look.

Then my niece arrives (in shorts) (tailored ones) (she looks a million dollars but I can definitely see her knees) and her boyfriend seems to have dropped straight out of an Armani catalogue, immaculate in perfect, neutral tones. He also looks like he shaved five seconds ago. They are Hollywood in Sydney.

Nearly everyone is wearing grey and navy. Oh well; it is hard not to. Along with black, they are the go-to colours (without patterns) of our age. All the outfits look great but we are missing more beige.

Some of us are wearing vague patterns, so vague it doesn’t matter. People mutter about wanting to feel like themselves, wanting to dress like themselves. Fine, I think, I would rather dress in a new nationality.

We look handsome, a little motley at the edges maybe, but like ourselves.

“I brought you some flowers from our garden” I say to Sheilagh. “Shall I put them in the bedroom?”

“That’s a good idea” she says and I take them in to my father who is sitting on the edge of the bed.

“These are from our garden” I say because he came up to see it in the winter but it was too cold to go outside so we mostly saw it from the window.

“Is that your protea tree?” he had asked, pointing to the giant, mass of pink lightbulb blossoms. It looks like a UFO but friendly.

“Yes!” I say.

The pink lights have faded so today we have brought him roses, honeysuckle and star jasmine.

“Oh!” he says, as I push them into his face to smell. “They’re lovely!”

A few days earlier, on the telephone, I check: “Sheilagh says you’re a bit weaker than when I saw you.”

“A bit weaker, where? In the head?” he asks.

“Yes, of course” I answer and he laughs loudly.

“You need more energy, that’s all.”

The photoshoot over and the next day there are some loose wires, the normal amount.

My sister-in-law and I are debriefing on the telephone. It is amazing how the technology has not gone out of fashion although I would say that.

After the big photo, there were mini groupings and mini portraits that not everyone understood.

“I hope you know you are one of the sisters” I say – or I try to. I wish I had now – it is what I meant. But she gets what I mean and tells me she wasn’t hurt by anything, in this case by being last invited for the sisters photo. It sounds so awful in print. It was worse in person. And it is why I have called her.

“We were just trying to make sure my older sister felt included because she had been left out of the redheads photo and she was photo-bombing it like crazy.”

“That’s okay” says Rose. “I saw that. I thought the redheads photo was cute.”

“So did I” I say but don’t offer the real reason I invented it. It’s so complicated. It always is. But that is how families are. We may look American (on a good day) but underneath, we are chaos and affection, dodging slings and arrows, sending forth others, their heads poisoned with love. It’s a dart game only the very brave or foolish would play, except we all play it, mostly, because mostly we all have families. That is, if we are lucky.

“But he’s not ready to go” I tell Rose because we have got onto the topic. And because I know he is not. Because I checked with Sheilagh. And because his face tells me.

“Yes, I’m sure he will be okay” says Rose because that’s the other thing, she’s very good at saying motherly things.

We hang up and am glad it is the last thing she has said. I go over it a few times, pull every piece of strength from it. It is extra generous of her because she lost her father last year.

I know he is tired. But I will make him a nice bed so he can sleep. So he can rest and be comfortable. So he can conserve his energy.

And please stay with us.

Beautiful illustration by Anna Silivonchik

The Wind that Turned the World Pink

The photos of the kitchen are coming along. We just have to do the work first. But I can’t wait to post them.

That’s the thing about real life, it takes longer than you think. Longer than stories, that’s for sure.

Here is what we have done so far: undercoat.

But I can’t tell you how long that has taken me; ages, is the answer. I have painted it twice and it still looks mucky.

As for the chalk paint, it has its ups and downs. I will tell you the downs first because then you have something to look forward to.

The downs are it is like painting with actual chalk, chalk solution. It is very dry. It dries on contact, especially with itself so painting a second layer is extremely hard to smooth out unless you have a perfect stroke. Actually that still wouldn’t work. There is no way to have a perfect stroke, the only perfection available would be dipping your brush into the paint every single time, every stroke. That might make it smooth. But maybe not. You would have to be a rare kind of perfectionist. So rare, no one has ever heard of you.

Here are the ups: the fumes from it are minimal and it doesn’t cause headaches which is a miracle I think. I am a sort of litmus paper for headaches. With paint, I am the ultimate test which could sound strange. I will leave it there. I like a bit of strangeness.

But no headaches! That is a kind of miracle. Although after a big day of undercoat I did feel sort of dizzy when I hopped in the car. Luckily, we live in a very sleepy area and everyone drives as if they are taking their car for a walk. I mean, they could walk just as fast or faster. Lugging a car along is going to slow you down, of course.

The undercoat has almost wiped out all the dark and already the kitchen looks amazing. It looks so happy to be white. I am not sure what the word is when you place human feelings onto inanimate objects but I feel like the kitchen is happy because it can see. That must be wonderful for a kitchen. To have eyes. What an outcome.

I am like one of those doctors in remote areas giving sight to the blind. I do not mean to sound trite because it is not funny when poverty means a slight eye infection, like conjunctivitis, ends up in loss of sight. But luckily, there are doctors like us in the world who can reverse the damage.

We have estimated it will take about five coats of paint to look nice. Two or three of them will be undercoat, the rest will be overclothes. In some ways we wish we had never started. It’s going to take forever. It is not the process we imagined.

It looks disgusting. I am sorry to say that but it does. There are drips and paint splodges everywhere. It’s quite horrible. It’s terrible. How we long for the old days when we couldn’t see it. At least it had a professional finish. It is hard to believe how much two people and a can of paint can wreck a place but you might agree with me if you saw it, if I stuck up some pictures.

Maybe I will. It is worse than the pictures so in some ways I would still be protecting you.

It’s okay with the lights dimmed.

What a mess.

There is not much more to tell you. There are no more birthday parties to tell you about because the impromptu one I threw for Pete was a fizzer in terms of numbers. I mean, I was the only guest and Pete was the surprise host. No one else could make it, maybe because of the one hour notice (in advance.) Still, everyone who came thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

At one stage there was a surprise dance around the kitchen island, a sort of rhumba to a made up song something along the lines of Happy Birthday, but with a more Latin beat.

Pete wore a black tiara with a skull and crossbones on it while mine was pink and just read “Princess.” We still have them. We’re saving them for the next birthday which will be in November. But I hope the guest list improves. Except then we would have to get more hats.

Apart from that, there is nothing more celebratory to tell you.

Except maybe this: last night a howling wind shook the all cherry blossom from the trees, shook the trees so hard that most of them only have green foliage left.

But the rest of the world is pink. There is pink carpet on the roads, there are pink cars, even our garbage bins have turned turned pink because the jacaranda tree next door, which is not a jacaranda tree but something like it, blew it’s petals onto them. Some of the petals landed on Pete’s bike so it looks like a girls bike now.

It is so pretty around here, especially around there which before today looked like every other side of every other house; nondescript, with bins. Now it looks like a wonderland with Pete’s bike as the star.

That is the thing about nature. You think: oh no, the wind! And then you wake up to find the world is pink.

It’s not very macho.

But I hope it happens with the kitchen. I mean, I hope the wind changes and one day we wake up and shout: hey! It looks nice!

Beautiful teacup artwork: Susan Brown


Little green pumpkins



Love in wakefulness, love in sleep. The love moves from day to night, attaching itself somewhere just above the head. Then our dreams are filled with the love although the object of it can change and be unrecognisable.

It happens a lot.

We fell in love with little green pumpkins, the size of cherries and made of porcelain. We were in the market for them because our kitchen is rapidly changing. It is happening at quite a slow pace but nevertheless, the pumpkins were perfect handles for the cabinets.

I fell in love so much I wrote about them in sleep, eyes shut, brain turned down to low. I’ve never done that before.

I wrote through dark and through dawn. I wrote with a light heart, full of gladness. I wrote endlessly and without hesitation: little green pumpkins, green pumpkins, green pumpkins …

Nothing else much happened. Beside me, Pete dreamed his own dreams.

Occasionally I would stop myself mid dream to ask: what was the name of that story again? Something snails? – because they also look like snails – No – Little Green Pumpkins! What a great name for story!

And they say other peoples dreams are boring.

So far we have painted nearly the whole house, wallpapering where it was easier.

But our kitchen is still nearly black, such a dark shade of blue it is. Most days we can barley see it. On rainy days it is almost impossible, we have to use torches and candles. 

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Yes please!”

“Okay, I’ll just get the matches …”

“Have you found it?”

“The kitchen or the matches?”


“I’ve found the matches.”

We thought about throwing it out, throwing in a light one. But we are not really the types. Sanding and painting or neither and wallpapering is about as far as we go. You will never see us on television raising dreams from the sea bed, building houses from nothing but seaweed and hope, jellyfish ensuites.

Yet our kitchen is so painted – every crevice, every cranny, behind shelves, even behind cabinet doors – we would have been sanding it forever or so far into the future we would have met the past, which is forever.

So we decided not to. Then we returned to the first idea – throwing it out – which took us all the way to the second idea, which took us back to zero. Once in a while we would repeat the cycle if there was nothing else to worry about.

Meanwhile, the kitchen remained and every now and then when we weren’t looking, it would bump into us to say hello.

Then a few things happened at once. I am convinced the universe works like that, when you aren’t looking especially.

A friend came over for early tea and brought his whole family, a beautiful wife and two very small dwarves who clung to their mother all afternoon until the last hour when they started to undo the house; mainly cushions on the floor, ornaments repositioned, power points turned off, doors moved. The ceilings are okay. I don’t think they could reach them.

“I painted straight onto a varnished surface once, no sanding. I just had to use a special primer,” said our friend.

“Oh yes! I think there are natural paints that stick to anything,” I said thinking of one in particular that is basically breakfast cereal without the flakes that you throw onto the walls and when you want to change the colour scheme you move house because no one can remove it.

Sometimes it is only for us to have friends around.

Two small towns away, I offer a man in a raggedy shirt with a stylish, crumpled look our cutlery draw. I have brought it with me and carry it to him with outstretched arms.

“Are you selling cigarettes?” he asks.

“No … Oh – ha ha ha ha!” Then I offer him the draw.

“Chalk paint will stick to water” he says and produces a paintbrush and half a tin of milky paint and paints our cutlery draw right there before me. He paints standing up and practically in the doorway, flicking his brush to and fro, wiping away the black. In seconds, our cutlery draw has transformed and is the most beautiful shade of ocean on a rainy day.


“I can’t believe it!”

People wandered in and out of the doorway, moving past us. Then he left to show someone a heater. 

What a magician.

When Pete saw it, we clapped our hands. “Hooray!” we called.

Then he found a teaspoon dragged it all along the surface, cutting into it.

“Why did you do that?”

“To see if it really sticks.”

Everyone gathered around to inspect the carnage because he did it while we had other friends here. (We don’t have that many. We are still making them.)

“But it’s like magic” I said. “It will be better with sealer.”

“Yes,” they agreed, “it will be better with sealer.” But their faces were long.

The next morning I hadn’t been able to reconcile the sticking properties with sealer – so I tried Pete’s old trick, drawing a spoon hard along the edge to make it scratch.

It wouldn’t.

“Pete” I called and did it again with him watching, pressing hard into the paint with the edge of the spoon. A barley visible line appeared, like an ant had walked across it.

“It must have been still wet.”


Our kitchen is rapidly changing at a faster pace now. Soon it will sparkle sugar white, day and night, with highlights of ocean on a rainy day to hint at beginnings. Silvery swallows, salvaged from one of our wallpapering mistakes, will soar behind open shelving. I am hoping things will look pretty.

The porcelain pumpkins, well – I’m just going to say it – they have been replaced by ones that look like macadamia nuts. But they were the beginning, the muse and inspiration and are worthy of the title.

The macadameias also make a lovely clacking sound. They are sweetly decorated, some with flowers, some polka dots. Others look like rosy apples.

Beautiful illustration from “What is a Color?” by Alice and Martin Provensen (1967) on Pinterest 

Magic in the Garden

Absolutely gorgeousI suppose I always knew. But then I checked it out – first with Pete and then with my sister – and then I sort of didn’t know. Do you know what I mean?

I mean it was one of those occasions when you think you know something and then you check it out, for collaborative purposes, with someone who doesn’t know. Except you don’t know they don’t know. You assume the opposite. You think they might know.

By then it’s too late because you have included their not knowing – which is the wrong answer – into yours and come up with … sort of nothing. It’s like a wasted exercise.

Anyway. It happens around here sometimes. And it’s partly how I found what I found in the garden …

At first I wasn’t sure. I mean I was, but I wasn’t.

It’s autumn and we have had so much rain. Lots and lots. There are mushrooms and toadstools coming up everywhere – not just in our garden, throughout the neighbourhood. You see them by the side of the road, under trees, in flower beds, running wild in vacant blocks, popping up, taking over.

Some of them look just like those depicted in fairy tales: bright red spherical houses with white polka dots, fit for good folk. They are so life-like, these little dwellings, that I am not sure we are not living in their fairy tale, the fairy tale of the wee ones although they probably call it something else. Something unflattering probably. Like Clumsy-Big-Oaf-One tales. Although they probably shorten it. Don’t ask me to what, it’ll be unflattering for sure. Something like Oh-Fatous probably.

The mushrooms grow in infinite number and multitude species; there are many, many dwellings for the fair folk, should they choose to exist.

Tiny, wee toadstools painted gold gather in clusters, like little families. They look like they have been spray painted gold. Most of them are black now because they have been there all season but when I first noticed them they had the look of precious metal, sprayed on.

“Pete, come and have a look at these ” I said one day, ages ago.

“What do you think?”

“Yeah …” he said, mulling it over.

“I think they are magic mushrooms, don’t you?” Magic, meaning, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, magic. Meaning psychedelic, what are all those colours in the sky, magic?

“Yeah … nah” he said. “They’re not sprayed painted properly. They should look more sprayed.”

“Really? I’m not sure … “ I wasn’t. Yet I was. But I didn’t want to waste the exercise.

Then my sister came up.

“Do you want to see our magic mushrooms?” I asked.

We stared down. “I’m not sure … What do you think?” I asked her.

By that stage they had started to go brown and looked like little clusters of browning gold.

“Maybe they are Brown Moonies?” said my sister and I agreed, “maybe …” even though I had never heard of them. I had a feeling she hadn’t either. Still, it was a good guess.

Then last week I was in the garage, which is converted so it is like a room with glass where the garage doors would have been and shutters over the glass, which were open. And three teenagers walked past.

But when I got to the other side of the house I realised they hadn’t walked past. Yet I couldn’t see them. So they must have … vanished.

Then I heard giggling. They were right outside our place. They were in our garden.

Eh? … What are they …?

What would teenagers want with flowers? was my actual thought.

I decided to find out and opened the door quietly because I didn’t want them to hear me. But as soon as I turned the handle they popped up from between the foliage and started to walk away, really slowly. Nonchalantly. Like everything was super normal.

And somewhere between the front door, which I had walked out of, and the roadside, the pennies dropped.

So I just said: “Hi!

And they said: “Hi!”

Then I said: “I don’t think they are magic mushrooms.”

Then one of them said: “They are.”


“Yes” he said and offered some back to me, like I might like to have one in the evening instead of my usual tipple, which is a mineral water with bitter lemon cordial.

“No thanks” I said.

But I was mainly concerned for them because, well obviously, because of so many reasons.

So I just asked: “Have you had them before?”

And they replied, as one: “Yeah,” like it was the most boring answer in the world and they were sorry for it.

Then one of them added: “I’ve been having them since I was eleven!”

I wanted them to be safe. I didn’t want to scare them. I couldn’t stop them. I just wanted them to be safe.

All I could say was: “Be careful” over and over.

Then they left.

Then I called Pete.

“I knew it” I said.

“Yes” he replied.

“Yes, I mean I knew the garden was enchanted.”

“Yes” he said again.

I look in the garden every day now to see what they are up to. Not the teenagers, the little toadstools, growing black.

And they are everywhere. I think the new ones may be from a different gene pool, not so magical – it is hard to tell – but each time I look there are more.

And they are tiny. I honestly don’t know how anyone could ever find them.

When I pick flowers, I tread carefully. I peer at the ground before I even put a giant foot down.

I walk around families and groups on tip-toe. They can be hard to see. I don’t want to crush them.

I am spellbound.

But I don’t think I will be exchanging them for my grown up tipple.

Sometimes I have two.

FootstepsLovely (non-magical) mushroom: Pinterest

Beautiful artwork: Eszter Schall on Etsy