Category Archives: Memoir

On an indigo night

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

Indigo night : MJ Edmunds
Indigo night : MJ Edmunds

A friend met only once

David Ades was a friend met once only in a cafe  at an hour not as late as it felt. I’d been to the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival launch party, and with no dinner plans,  needed something warm to fill the spaces canapés had not reached.  I walked along Jonson St, Fletcher, Lawson in the cold seeking  a place and eventually spotted a warm glow at end of an open air arcade.

The café staff were starting  to clear up but a few people arrived, a woman in stark white Indian cotton ordering a takeaway, and a young man. We talked.

I didn’t know his name them but I had noticed David sitting at the next table in dark clothes that must have held stories of many nights and cities. I noticed his hair too, silvery white, back into a pony tale. He was focused on eating.

David heard the woman in white speak to us of healing and spoke to her, something about cancer. My ears pricked up, I have my story. Her food ready, she left. David resumed his meal.

The young man had asked if he could join me for dinner. He had written a children’s book about the environment and planned to scale the barriers of the writers’ festival to show it to someone. I am pitching my novel to a live audience and three publishers and I’m nervous, I told him.

David spoke to me right then and I turned to see his blue eyes. He said he’d heard me speak about pitching and unfurled the story of his Dad, Joe, who had been a pitchman in New York City that people came from all over to see. He always wore a three piece suit and Union Square was one of favourite places to pitch. In the evenings Joe would go home to his fourth wife on the Upper East Side and would have a steak at a fine restaurant, every night. By the time David told me this my lentils had arrived, glowing and golden in a white bowl.

Joe’s merchandise was always the same thing, said David, and he did this for decades. The item sold at $5. It was a potato peeler that you will never find in a store. Joe Ades was The Potato Peeler Guy and when he died the New York Times his obituary. David urged me to read about his father on his website. I will, I said.

Oh hey, I wrote a story in a New York literary travel anthology last year [City Pick New York], I said. 
I’d like to read that book, he said.
That can be arranged, I said.

We said goodbye and I felt gratitude that the uncertainty of this evening had led me to these people in that place. I awoke the next morning feeling buoyant, and carried the warmth of David’s story about his dad, Joe, the pitch man, into my own pitch that went so well that complete strangers approached me afterwards. My mood soared for a week or more.David Ades, A Glorious Uncertainty

When I had a chance to look up DavidAdesMusic.com and saw those blue eyes gazing out, I found out he not only played saxophone, he was one of the world’s finest. He never said. Naturally.

He’d had an album, out that year, recorded in New York City, David Ades & friends, A Glorious Uncertainty, and when I saw the cover with the front section of a yellow cab I smiled. The book I hoped to get to him had the back section of a yellow cab on its cover.
Where I meet Franzen

Soon after I found out he had lung cancer and was undergoing treatments, and I realised I’d heard something of this as he spoke with the woman in white.

We exchanged some Facebook messages. I wanted to get the book to him. “We could swap the CD and the book,” he said. “Sounds good,” I said. He said he was playing at Bangalow with Galapagos Duck. “Do you remember them? Or we could always use the good old postal system.” I saw the message too late for the gig. We never made the swap. It didn’t matter. The best swap was made in that hour we spent and for that I am glad.
Farewell David Ades.

MJ Edmunds

Perfect Day

Perfect Day, Mountsfield cover version

Perfect Day has been on automatic replay in my head this past day since the news Lou Reed had passed away. The cover of this tune that stands out in my memory was played on a clear blue June Saturday in Mountsfield Park, London. People’s Day.  A jobbing muso of whiskered jaw in black uniform playing guitar under trees to weekend flower children, jigging toddlers, people yearning  something or someone never reached, remembering things that never quite were. Remembering flashes of fun. We sing along. Together. Weekenders on our own. 

Was it the 444,000th cover of Perfect Day ever made? 

A reggae beat rolls up the hill to warn it will be in charge from sunset.
I rarely carried a cameras in the 1990s.  It is clear in the big screen inside my head. I wish there was a kind of camera that could take the image in my mind and show it to you.  It would show you the plant stall on the left as you came in, the crumbling outbuildings, the craft stalls, and the cakes liquefying even in the shade, flowered icing smearing. It would show you young love. Problems all left alone.  It would show you the children in spangly costumes, it’s such fun.  It would show you  buggies laden with goodies and babies, smiling, sleeping and squirming. It would show you the cream of London apiarists, who for five minutes would make you think of keeping bees. It would show you the tiny stream train and driver, a portly Gulliver. It would show you the tables of ezy cleaning products, and dolls in crinolines with  toilet paper petticoats that will do another twirl at a boot fair soon.  It would show you old love. It would show you  chutneys and pickles with floral covers, and it would show you the donkeys and falcons. Just a perfect day feed animals in the zoo. 

Just a perfect day you made me forget myself.

One perfect day. Luckily, it’s not the only one.

MJ Edmunds

Italics are  from Perfect Day by Lou Reed.

The BFF of a decade

Holidays are boring
Tween view of school holidays

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.

The impressive sands of St Ives, June 1985 - Marian Edmunds

The St Ives etiquette book for reading in cafes

MJ Edmunds

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?”

The impressive sands of St Ives, June 1985 - Marian Edmunds
St Ives Panorama, June 1985

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.

Today is the 30th birthday my father did not reach

A painting of my father by his Aunt Augusta ©
A painting of my father by his Aunt Augusta ©

Today is the 30th birthday my father did not reach.
I can’t recall the other 29 clearly. They are shadows of an anniversary that given the preference, I’d rather not discuss. I’d rather just think of him quietly.
My father’s only grandson sleeps. If they’d met, they’d have had a quiet bet together, and agreed between themselves not to tell me. They are so alike – not in love with academia, liking a bet, loving to collect what others see as junk, sensitive to others, and with a wicked sense of humour.
My father’s only granddaughter plays, making, chatting, imagining, devising, her giggles impervious to the coldness of day and a long ago loss. She loves birthdays. If only they’d met.

What would he have made of the person I became? What would he have thought of me with my volatile writing life and my weight lifting under the supervision of a personal trainer for goodness sakes? What would he have thought about us never voting the same way?

He had this scheme or dream of travelling the countryside collecting antiques for a shop on Sydney’s North Shore and me running the shop. He was about to start on his side of the plan. He and Mum had the caravan ready but then he became ill. Now I see the antique shop was quite a good plan. I would have found good stories there.
In the southern tablelands town where my father spent his childhood, one of his oldest friends was interred yesterday. He was 92 when he died last week. I make no comparison. He too was a good man. Both of them now gone. My father would be 77 today, were he here. I will bake a birthday cake.

Home sweet prize home

For some years I bought tickets in lottery prize homes. Recently I visited a prize home and again bought a ticket. I didn’t win. In 2008 I wrote a story that appeared in the Weekend Australian Magazine about what appealed to me me about prize home lotteries:  

I’ve seen my future. Every day before breakfast I’ll slip out across the road wearing a swimming costume, and a towel draped across one shoulder to swim in the sea. After showering off the salt and sand, I’ll partake of a light breakfast of juice, fruits, cereal and freshly brewed coffee.

My family will be there.  Shiny, happy people, who slip off into their days, leaving me to sit down to write at a sleek computer on a glass desk.  On weekends we will frolic in the surf and then recline with our books on the deck. At sunset we’ll have champagne in the spa. We’ll entertain friends to dinner by flame torches.

Prize home bedroom
Funny isn’t it, how people always say they are going to buy a lottery ticket just after they’ve had extraordinary luck such as their life being saved or surviving. Do they not know that to be cured or saved is the biggest win of all? Prize bedroom.

This will be my life after I win the prize home. It only takes one ticket. But I’ve bought three. I’ll just have to keep a second place, a bush cabin maybe, to store all the books and the garage paraphernalia.

Or maybe I’ll just get rid of the lot and start a new digital, clutter-free life.

I love buying tickets in lottery homes. They fire my imagination in a way that cash prizes never do. Sure, I’d love to win a wad of cash but it won’t happen. I never enter Lotto. I used to but I always forgot to check the numbers. But with prize homes, I always remember the date of the draw. And I study the plans and the pictures, and visualise myself there.

There was a lottery recently for a block of apartments at Surfers Paradise. I’ve never wanted to live in Surfers but still I had it all mapped out, with me as landlady in the penthouse.

But this latest place is so me. It has a wine fridge, and it’s right opposite the beach, and close to the airport.  I’d enjoy this place, I’d really appreciate it.

“This is not a good use of space,” says another visitor to my future home speaking about the generous proportions of the corridor that has leading of it three doorways, a stairway, a broom cupboard and an exclusive lift to the underground garage. Look lady, go and enter a lottery for homes with pokey corridors why don’t you? For some people even heaven would be too fancy.

“When I win the lottery” was the catch cry of my paternal grandmother. She’d talk about the lovely home she wanted where we could all come and stay. And she’d look at the beautiful gifts she scrimped for, and crafted all year, as if they were nothing – the dresses she’d made to measure or the individual soft toys that she had stitched. “I am going to buy you everything you could want,” she’d say. But her handcrafted bespoke parcels were the most anticipated gifts of all. Anyone else could buy something.

Funny isn’t it, how people always say they are going to buy a lottery ticket just after they’ve had extraordinary luck. A piece of flying metal goes through a windscreen and just misses a driver’s neck so he must buy a lottery ticket. You are cured from a life-threatening ailment, as I was, and countless people tell you to  “Go and buy a lottery ticket.” Do they not know that to be cured is the biggest win of all?

But I come from a family of ticket buyers, and winners. When I was 16 my Dad won a third share in the Golden Casket, relatively little if compared to the Lotto giveaways of today. I came home from school, and there was madness in the air. “What’s happened?”

“We’ve won the lottery,” said my Dad  A party followed. Some party. The day he won the lottery closed with my Dad in casualty with part of his finger lost when he tumbled into a glass table.

At birthdays and Christmas someone always buys me scratchy tickets and I always win something. But I was part of a lottery syndicate in the UK, and for an investment of £104 per annum over four years, earned £30.  Eventually the syndicate manager retired and it was wound up. It was a relief for I could never quit. What if all my colleagues had won the big prize the very next week? Unthinkable.

With the global financial crisis and superannuation funds on a rollercoaster, I wonder if more people are buying tickets. It won’t change me. I’ve been living in my own private recession for years. And prize homes are fantasy, not strategy, for me.

My grandmother never stopped buying tickets. Never stopped dreaming. One day my aunt bought a scratchy ticket and won $10,000. Granny had bought the previous ticket.

As for that whining woman just ahead of me. I just hope that she doesn’t win.

Marian Edmunds