One afternoon my mobile rings with the shrill voice of my old school friend Sue. I have called her Sue Sue, (so good I named her twice) over the years, so Sue Sue rings and wants to catch-up.
I warn I am full of germs but she comes around anyway. See, told you she was worthwhile. Faithful and true, always. It’s hard to make friends, harder to keep them, and our friendship spans from meeting as 15 year old virgins to marriages, children, and now the expectant arrival of grandchildren. You just can’t pull old relationships like this out of your ass.
Our friendship reminds me of an old silver vase, black with wear. Tarnished, looking unloved, but an hour of conversation sparkles the shine, polishes the wit and memories, and the vase always holds the water, always displays the flowers. Reliable. We sit in the comfort of my mother’s darkened lounge room and discuss everything, as is our way. Her husband Dave, is fishing out of the reef. Another friend Jules is also on the reef with her husband. We imagine them hauling large parrot fish, red emperor, snapper.
Recipes of the best way to cook the fish.
I don’t really cook fish, so although the conversation doesn’t really apply to me, I enjoy watching Sue Sue speak, love to see her blue eyes and long brown legs coiled like a spring beneath her. We are both getting old, and I love it. She is the only daughter and sister to four brothers, I am also her sister and I am hers and she is mine. We are together. We polish.
She asks me if her daughter Jillian can dress at my home for her wedding. I am thrilled but say no. I’m not sure my husband can bear the strain, the imagined stress of it all.
We’ll work something out. I take our photograph.
The lawn needs mowing, we have no mother to ring the man.
Mark? Can you please come and mow our lawn. When? Soon, anytime really, but soon.
I’ll be around in 10 minutes.
Well you can’t really complain about that, and within 10 minutes he is almost running across the back yard. He has a curious gait, and I stand at the kitchen window peering through the cream lace curtains, transfixed and interested. Does he have a mild spasticity? Did he have polio as a child? Is his hip out?
He wheels the mower around and off he goes again, with his curious lurch. That’s probably why he mows lawns, but he does a reasonable job and soon it’s the whipper snipper’s turn. There’s something lovely as a woman, to hear these sounds. It must be the same for a man, when he listens as his wife beats eggs or presses the steam button on an iron. It’s comforting.
When my older sister was here she pruned the side hedge. The red bush, whose name I don’t know. She is a gardener, a green thumb. It was my job to cut the branches up and place them into a bin, but Mark offers to mulch them for me. This is a great plan and I readily agree, it’s sensible.
Soon another organic sound fills the house, and Mark tells me how lawns need to be mulched.
It’s the difference between couch grass and buffalo grass, he lectures; and each lawn needs different amounts of mulch, it builds the soil and protects the moisture loss.
As he speaks he closes his eyes and holds his fingers together. This is a gardener, a lawn mowing man, who knows his stuff. I have to admire his passion and knowledge.
I know he is right, and we both busy ourselves with our chosen jobs. Mark charges me another $10 for mulching. The lawn looks loved.
My small black drag-along suitcase is kept in mum’s bedroom. Her duchess holds many things. The shoulder patch from her war uniform. Old Palm Sunday crosses. A miniature statue of David, one of brother John’s travel souvenirs for her. A lavender room spray, a 90th birthday present bought by my friend, for mum to spray on her pillow, and around the room before sleep comes. I note that one third has been used already.
Mum loves is sissy, Carolyn tells me. It helps her sleep.
On the walls facing her bed, are three framed pictures.
One is of a Picasso drawing - mother and child - I bought for mum as a 21 year old, thrilled to be purchasing a real Picasso print, only 500,000 printed! The other two frames are filled with my clumsy long stich work, each is a bouquet of native flowers, fat waratahs, delicate Geraldton Wax, bottle brush and so on, lovingly made during the cold Brisbane winter nights; when the room smelt of breast milk and poo, and darling babies slept in cots. Before our bedroom had a television installed.
Now we lay prostrate and stare like fools at the moving pictures, before one of us can stir a finger to switch it off. We drool on our pillows, sleep deprived.
Mum’s clock radio is flashing, must have been a power cut. I want to change it, but there is something about the way it is; the way it bleeps to the world: I am lost.
I don’t know what the time is.
Help me! Help me!
It's unsettled, and it suits my mood. I leave it to its own mute distress, and pull the door softly behind me.
To be continued…