By MJ Edmunds : I glimpsed the moonlit sky in the last hour of darkness. For this I give gratitude to the cat that found me at my early desk and brushed by my legs to say he had a night mission. As I slid the door open I spotted the moon just up there and liked how it glimmered on the roof of the house next door and onto the road. Barefoot, I crossed the deck and leaned on the railing to crane to take in the indigo sky. I drew in a deep breath at the pleasure of it. As light as it was, you (if lucky) could see stars still strewn across the sky, and what I call in all of my stories a dance hall sky. Some were dimmed by now. A car came up the hill, two white orbs showing the way although almost not needed. This driver was making an early start, a nurse heading for a shift, a lover stealing home before dawn, a traveller heading for the airport to go south for weekend, or a surfer racing to catch a wave at daybreak… The Paradigm Shuffle~MJ Edmunds
MJ Edmunds This piece was submitted to the Australian literary journal Griffith Review for its Now We Are Ten edition, one of several submissions I’ve sent. My first submission to GR was published. GR’s reply appears at the end of the piece.
Now she is 10, the girl who came as a surprise and saved her mother’s life. There’s something there, said the obstetrician, I’ve referred you. ‘Unlikely to be benign’, said the urologist one Thursday afternoon in one of those singular moments when someone is speaking of cancer, and you.
Ten years on I am still here and she is 10 with dark chocolate eyes, hair shiny, untarnished by colorants. How do I help someone this lovely get on in this world?
She rushes in late one afternoon, back from her friends, tears forming. ‘I always do good things and am never rewarded.’ Her friends received thank you gifts for helping at the shop. She was away that day, only that day, when the rewards were handed out.
I smiled for I had said the same thing the other day. That I keep writing but there seems never to be reward. Eventually I recall what I know but too often forget that reward is found not from others but in the accomplishment and in creation. But she is 10. How do I say this to her, help? She wants what she wants and wants it now.
Now she is 10 and it’s too soon to know these things so I can only watch and do the best I can to ease the way, and be there to hold her when the agony is great. Now she is 10 and on email and Instagram and networks with names my brain cannot retain. At 10 I was riding my bike and playing cricket in the park. She hates cricket. What are Australian childhoods coming to?
Now she is 10. She has BFFs, some new girls, and some go back to pre-school days, and like the The Biggest Loser scoreboard one supplants another constantly as the best BFF. They’re in, and they’re out over spurious claims, and particular treats, each apprised of their status the second it changes. Shrugs or tears follow and declarations of never speaking again and then next day they are BFFs again.
“Oh I thought you and [insert name] were great friends,” I say. She gives me the You Don’t Know Anything glower, that is not only a glower but withering to boot.
‘Maybe you don’t need to tell a friend they are your ‘best’ BFF every hour, and just accept they are a very good friend, and sometimes they are close, or sometimes they are busy. Remember when you were busy.
‘Maybe one of your friends thought you weren’t their friend any more but you were just busy’
‘Cool, she says. Later that evening there’s a re-alignment in the constellation of the BFFs.
One wet day in the holidays I ask her if she wants to go shopping. The answer to that question is invariably yes. I ask why the long face?
BFF [far away cousin] is being mean and doesn’t want to talk [Skype] to me, she says.
‘It can happen like that when you’ve chatted for seven hours in two days I say. Give it a rest today.’
‘But it’s not fair, I wasn’t mean.’
‘Can we see happy you back soon please?’
Ten years since she changed me: saved me. Ten years of making me smile, and burst with pride, and of loving her laugh, easily the most delightful sound in the world.
I try to picture her 10 years from now and how to help in the transition to being a young woman. She is already good and kind and lovely. Even other people tell me so, unprompted. I want her to feel rewarded, to know how to live a good and meaningful life and be happy. Will I be able to do enough? Now she is 10.
GRIFFITH REVIEW COMMENT: I think you capture perfectly the rolling emotions parents feel for their young children. Your daughter sounds lovely and a lifesaver in more ways than one. Your piece is not what we’re looking for this time round, though, with the 10th anniversary edition more focused on the underlying forces that will shape the next decade and the challenges ahead, rather than personal reflections. Please do keep us in mind for future submissions. I always enjoy reading your work.
MY COMMENT: The next decade and the challenges ahead are at the front of my mind too now she is 10 (just turned 11). My feedback to self is I would like to add another anecdote at the end of the story. Perhaps I haven’t because that event hasn’t happened yet. But GR’s comment was correct as my ‘daughter is a lifesaver in more ways than one’.
She is a BFF of more than a decade whose status can never be challenged.
I headed to a favourite café the other day, book under my arm. There is time enough to digest a short story at one sitting. As I entered the café an acquaintance greeted me warmly. Wrapped in a bright shawl, she sat alone at a kitchen table. I smiled and greeted her and made a note to self that if I sat there I could forget my intention to read. I was writing well that day and wanted to oil the wheels with some good reading.
The remaining small table in the café was taken and the other big table was almost full with a couple chatting quietly and three others eating and reading newspapers. I found a place, set down my book and scarf, hoping my acquaintance would not feel slighted. Then I thought to myself, it’s a free country and I am entitled to read.
I ordered, sat, poured some water, and opened the book choosing a short story because of it’s title, Green Bus to St Ives by Salley Vickers. I once took a train to St Ives, and somewhere is a diary that records who I met that day and my visit to the Barbara Hepworth home and studio oblivious that not so many years later I would live amid a garden of smooth carved stones. Greedily I lapped up the spectacle, smell and sounds of the beaches that were alike yet far different from home.
As I slipped away with the story characters on a bus to the Tate and rediscovered Barbara Hepworth’s garden, I heard the voice of my acquaintance. “Where do you live?”
A male voice replied, “We live up the coast but I would like to live here.”
“I wouldn’t like to live here as everyone knows your business,” said my acquaintance. I glanced around to see a man and his wife sitting at a small table, a walking frame parked in front of the table. My acquaintance sat at the far end of a big table.
For the next few minutes as I tried to keep reading I learned where the man, and my acquaintance were born and had lived and why each had moved. I learned that my acquaintance had left an affluent city area and was “not like” those people she had left. In a few short minutes I had learned a great deal about my acquaintance’s life. I learned nothing about the man’s wife. She appeared frail and said little. The man seemed glad of the conversation so I thought that was a good thing.
Their talk turned to the economy. I determinedly kept on reading about the unexpected alliance of the characters in the story. Why hadn’t my acquaintance moved closer to her new friends instead of broadcasting across the café?
“My kind of business is not affected by the downturn,” said my acquaintance. “Everything is affected by the downturn,” said the man. For a moment I was tempted to weigh in to agree with him and I suspect they wouldn’t have minded a bit.
“What are your names?” said my acquaintance to the couple. And so it went on.
As I finished my tart, a warm tumble of cheese and vegetables, I checked the pages of my book and saw I still had a number of pages to read.
My acquaintance stood up and issued a fond farewell to her new friends and it was quiet again. I ordered coffee, and made my way back to St Ives.