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.”

“Oh.”

“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

Time, Rewind

She kissed the bear on the nose (c. 1910 by John Bauer)

Yesterday afternoon I was walking down the hill in the big town, the same town and the same hill where tourist buses empty themselves of passengers throughout day, dropping them off at the bottom to eye the beautiful mountain scape: a wide screen of misty, blue cigar smoke – such is the accumulated haze of ten million, zillion eucalyptus trees – over stiff cliff faces of sandy rock to distant, evermore blue peaks. It has no end, this view. It goes on and on. Sometimes it looks like the end of the world.

The town itself is left behind and to its own devices although backpackers like to hang out at the top, in cafes with outside tables. I have seen them dancing for no reason. Mostly, they look like they have just come from a circus festival and are on their way to another.

Further down, more life is reflected on both sides of the street. There are pubs that fill with locals who get there early and stay all day. There are no jobs in this town nor many in the region. If you are doing well, you probably did well elsewhere then moved here. The big town has too much unemployment, the highest in the state. It is always the big town.

If there is a stalemate of decay, there is a liveliness too. There are lots and lots of artists. Everyone who is without a job is an artist, for example. Either an artist or a writer. Or perhaps they are a mother, a young one, or a young grandmother. There are people here who are recovering from life. There is something to be said about recovering from life away from the cities. Being surrounded by ten million, zillion eucalyptus trees in a fragrant, flowering bushland puts recovery more within reach.

People wander up and down the hill, in and out of art supply shops, flower shops, spectacle shops and car parks, mostly all on their way to the supermarket or all on their way back.

Otherwise, we are all going in or out of the library and cultural centre, a building so gorgeous and so soaring, with high panelled, endless glass and concrete, it looks as at home in this town as a space station. I am glad that it is home here but certainly nobody around here paid for it. A present from a benevolent benefactor perhaps or the government.

By miracle, some of the cultural problems in the town are mended just by being in the cultural centre. Not just by it’s beauty; the library has all the newspapers and magazines – plus books – you could want and at some stage, everyone drops by, not all at the same time, but nevertheless. People read and relax together on feathered poufs with groovy geometric motifs and matchy-mismatchy sofas. There is also free wifi.

Along with the problems the cultural centre is helping to heal, there are people in this town with kindness stuffed underneath their jumpers, going about their business, supermarket business mainly, or art supplies or flowers, ready to unleash the stuffing at any moment. I have met some of them at the neighbourhood centre where I work as a volunteer, only once a month but that gives me a whole other month to look forward to the next time.

Anyway, that is the big town and the one I was in yesterday, walking down the hill to the spectacle shop because the arm of my reading glasses needed surgery.

When suddenly I was transported to another town, it either appeared before me and there I was half a world away, in a town nothing like this one. The town of Melrose is in the border region of Scotland and England but on the Scottish side, definitely. Don’t even question it, you will start another five hundred year war.

Melrose is not a big town. In fact you could say it is wee but perfectly formed, nestled in hills so pretty and so rolling, with freezing cold, crystal clear streams here and there while the river Tweed runs straight through it like an icy highway. Ancient apple trees surround the football ground and line the walk all the way to to the river. The town also has a strong affliation  with bees but I forget what. It seems important, so sorry.

The actual town is immaculate; boutique hotels, twins, one on either side of the main road, boutique butcher, boutique boutiques. It is so lovely and the setting so unadulterated and magical, if you climb to a meadow and look down at the town below, you will feel tickling on your skin and in your being, like we did. Maybe it is Merlin, buried in these hills, or so it is writ.

This is the town that appeared to me yesterday, striking a force in front of me as I wandered down the hill here in the big town.

There seemed nothing to link the two but there I was, in a flash, back in Melrose with Pete, eight years ago.

And in that moment, it was all I wanted. Anywhere but here.

Because I am unable to stop it, unable to stop my father disappering.

I felt the contrast of Melrose and Now so accutely, I made a case: to Time – rewind. Please rewind.

Put us back.

I walk the last few steps to the spectacle shop in tears.

A few days ago I visited my father. I hadn’t seen him in a while but we talk on the phone often. I like calling him. His voice is faint but through it he still laughs at my jokes and makes his own. He always asks how Pete is. Then he tells me what a nice husband Pete is, what a nice man. I think he is glad for me but more than that, I think he really likes Pete. A lot. Which is normal. Usually, everybody does.

“Pete is so lovely!” Again and again. I try to ignore the astonishment. I mean, is it really that far fetched that I would be with someone nice? Never mind …

Before I visit, Sheilagh, my fathers wife, responds to my email to say yes, please come and also to say that I should know that my father is slightly weaker.

When I arrive I am not prepared for what I see. I hardly recognise him. It has all happened in the last five days. Later, Sheilagh tells me it was he who asked her to give me warning.

After a short time, a toilet break, I don’t think he would mind me saying, he picks up. His bladder, kidneys and heart have been at odds with one another for a while and the medication he is taking to keep them functioning is in balance. Fluid in his system is not good for his heart. His kidneys are struggling to release the fluid. His bladder needs to be kick started with fluid. “It is a balancing act” Sheilagh says.

But – therefore – after a wee break, he is almost completely changed! His face is back to normal hue, his eyes are wider, his voice is clear. He is tired though.

I have brought sausage rolls for lunch and he eats his, a half, and Sheilagh scoffs hers down. She is starving, she says. Neither of them have eaten all day. All her time, morning and night, is taken with my father. She tries to maintain a weekly choir class or spend a night a her sister’s nearby but sometimes she doesn’t make it nor on this day, as I discover later.

My father recovers for a time and then dips again. It is a frightening merry-go-round for him. By standing is not good either.

Then he asks about Pete (what  again?) He asks in a quiet voice because it is all he has. He doesn’t talk about himself, about his medical issues. If you ask him, he jokes and then changes the subject, usually with a “how’s Pete” if he hasn’t already asked or “how’s your garden?”

Today when I arrive, he says he is feeling awful. He has never spoken like that before.

Throughout every health problem he has had, including nearly every major disease, he has kept virtualy mute, even while being wheeled into theatre. “Oh, I meant to tell you, I’m having surgery today  ” and he is wheeled off.

When he had his heart attack nearly forty years ago, he was in the middle of an operation, meaning he was doing the operating. As a medical professional he knew what was happening so he paused the operation for an hour to sit down and rest. Then he went back to the operation to finish it.

After that, he got in his car and drove himself to another hospital on the other side of the city where his cardiologist worked. Sometime in the examination he went into full cardiac arrest. After surgery he came out with six bypasses in his heart, unheard of at that time.

There are other examples. He doesn’t talk to us about his health problems, he says, because he doesn’t want to worry us.

A world away and in the past is a time shift I cannot access.

“I think I am from here …” I say to Pete as we pull into in Melrose. It is the middle of the night and we are on our way to live in Edinburgh, an hour away, but it is dark and so we stop for the night.

“I think my grandmother is from this town …” I say, because I have the strongest feeling that she is but not remembering if I have heard it or am guessing it.

In the morning, in the early light, everything seems familiar. The town, the name, the setting. I can see my grandmother in these streets, I can see her shopping here, admiring the stylish shop fronts with their smart dresses and tailored suits because that is how she liked to dress. I am not even sure if that is a guess but somehow I know it is true.

Later, when we arrive in Edinburgh, I telephone my mother.

“I think she was … ” she says and afterwards confirms it: my grandmother was born in the Scottish Highlands but Melrose is where her parents were living and was the family seat, if you like, until my great grandfather moved the family north for his new position at Johnson’s Woollen Mill. And that is where they lived. And that is how my mother is from the Highlands.

I don’t know how I know this town.

I don’t know how to take us there.

I battle a grief I do not want to feel. But I don’t know how to rewind.

Artwork: She kissed the bear on the nose, John Bauer (c. 1910)

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 

Secrets and surprises

 

This is by way of hello because I haven’t seen you in ages, haven’t seen the words and images you have pressed. I’m sorry. I’ve been doing other things, secret things. I will tell you about the secret things in a moment.

Life was simpler when there was only the post and the telephone. You could call and say: I haven’t called in ages because I’ve been doing secret things. Or you could send a letter with the message. You could send a telegram, I suppose, but it would have to be an emergency: Hello, hello? – stop. I’ve been busy doing other things – stop. Secret things – stop. I’ll tell you about them later – stop. Hope you are well – stop. Happy New Year – stop. Stop – stop.

Also there was this: “Who wants to read another story about me?” I wondered. And then: “And who wants to write one?”

That happens sometimes. It’s a good thing because maybe if it was getting boring – if only to me – it puts a halt on the boredom and it is a fact that life is more interesting when it is not boring.

Here is what I have been doing. It’s not even a secret. It’s a list. The rest was smoke and mirrors to get your attention. I am like a lady magician.

There are two items on the list and neither are secrets.

The first is that I have been up-cycling stories. I have been up-cycling stories in order to make them longer, mostly. I have been making them longer, mostly, in order to enter them into short story competitions.The competitions usually want long short stories. Longer than in my collection, often three times the length.

On the other hand, there is no minimum word limit so you could enter a one word story and still have a chance, theoretically. Hardly anyone works on theories alone these days, so I imagine everyone is using guesses as well as logic in their calculations. But it would be interesting to read the winning entry if it was only a word. It wouldn’t be interesting for very long but it would for the time it took to read it. It would be amazing. But it would be short lived.

Anyway, I am not taking any chances so have been upping the numbers on my word count, fluffing them out to make them fatter as well as to give the stories context and sense, since each is now a little universe, no one having read of any of the characters I write about before, least of all me. Plus, you are not allowed to write your name on the story or identify yourself in it in any way, so there is a task.

“Pete? Who is this Pete?” they might ask, for example. So I am having to find ways of identifying who Pete is in relation to the writer, without boring them or myself to death. So far, the only thing I have come with is: Pete, my husband. Or: my husband, Pete. Let me know if one excites you more than the other.

Also, for major relevance in one story, I had to find a way of letting the reader know that we had been living elsewhere for a long time without actually saying it lest they fall asleep in that part of the sentence. It took about two or three hundred words. I prefer subtlety although it is wordier. Maybe it would have been easier to write a one word story.

The second item on the list are the photos of the kitchen, now finished! We finished it on Christmas Day which tells you how much else was going on. Never mind, we had a busy Christmas Eve with everyone from the portrait clan in Sydney so in some ways we were still resting from that. That was great fun actually. Only I thought there was a no present rule but I was way off because we came back with a car-seat load of gifts without reciprocating a thing. Talk about the spirit of Christmas. That’s all we took, aside from food, more food and flowers (some from our garden.)

“You are learning to receive” said my friend later, maybe because she was not among those who didn’t get anything from me. Well, she was, but it was reciprocated.

In the photos of the kitchen you might note there is no wallpaper, no silver swallows soaring behind open shelving but that is because it looked awful so we took it down. Oh well. It was one of those backwards surprises but since it was quick to put up, quicker to remove, we lost nothing.

Tonight: may the fireworks that you see or sleep through light your creative fire for the year to come, at least. May you feel love and peace in your heart. And may you invent a one word story, or something equally amazing!

Beautiful artwork by Marta Orlowaska

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Sleepy

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?”

“Either?”

“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.

“Voila!”

“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.”

“Yes.”

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