The first peace … came in first moments of knowing the danger had passed. There would be other dangers but they were for another day. All clear.
For a while it had been scary. Could she leave enough for them if she had to go?
She wanted to see them through. Any mother would.
For a while she had been the angel of her suburb, a wonder, a miracle for coping so well, an inspiration, for taking it in her stride, for taking so much on at such a time.
Suddenly, she did not sweat the small stuff. How little they knew, and she made sure to keep it that way. But one day, on an institutional couch in a room with a square window filled by a swirl of leaves and branches, a word or two delivered with measured compassion tugged her and all that had been so neatly buttoned up poured out. A few minutes later she applied lipstick and stepped back into her bravado. She liked this feeling, that she might conquer anything, and of feeling that the normal irritations could not touch her, would wash over her, and of the many plans she had for ‘after this time’. She would achieve so much, and give so much, and never be ordinary again. But she was…
This is written on Mothers Day in some parts of the world. Happy Mothers Day to all and particularly those without their mothers today.
It was prompted by writing a prompt, “The First Peace…” from Writing From The Soul sent by Jane Brunette today. It is always a welcome addition the the in-box. I use prompts if my mind has been busy and my writer soul has been out of action.
The boys were restless all through class. Maybe it was the rocket launch they’d planned down in Tommy Jones’s back paddock. Maybe it was a combination of raging hormones and the moon being in Jupiter.
Adam felt just like them. He had to keep dragging his mind back to the classroom, away from the thought of seeing Shelly tonight. There were only a couple of hours to go before he’d be driving down to the airport. Shelly’s secondment in Sydney had ended up being much longer than they thought, and for three months Sydney had been replaced by Singapore. But they’d got through. There were on the home run now. We’re going to make it.
There was a lot of fidgeting going on at the desk in the back corner. Perhaps it was time to rearrange the class seating plan. “Dylan, you need to think about this revision I’ve set out. If you can work your way through this it will give most of what you need for the examination.”
“Come on Mr Hammo, it’ll be cool.”
“So Mr Hamilton, are you saying that the answers to the exams are all in this latest revision?” said Melissa Broad with raven hair and chocolate brown eyes, framed with long lashes, and seemingly oblivious of her own burgeoning power to break hearts.
“If you can work your way through that you’ll make it through the exam Melissa,” said Adam.
“Gee thanks Brain-box Broad. That’s all right then sir. I’ll just brush up on that the night before,” said Dylan slamming his book down on the desk.
“I’m serious Dylan, you do need to prepare for the exam in advance.”
“C’mon Sir, you’re just trying to make it easy on yourself so you don’t have to teach us.”
“He’s got other things on his mind,” said Dylan. The boys down the back tittered.
“Mr Hammo’s going to the seaside. He’s going to see his shell-leee.
“He’s going to have sex on the sand. He’s going to have a …
“Stop that now, Dylan Miller. Get out of this classroom now and go and wait by the principal’s office.” Dylan stood up and clomped out to the classroom raising his hand to wave to classmates.
“Ooh,” called a voice from the back. Perhaps it was Craig Brennan or Ryan Sharp. Adam was past caring.
“Look how pink Hammo’s face is,” whispered Narelle Flick to Melissa so loudly almost everyone could hear.
Adam knew she was right. And that now his face was turning brilliant red.
“I am going to miss you lot in the holidays,” said Adam, “particularly your humour.”
“No, you won’t sir. You’ll have your lay…..deeeeee.”
“Craig Brennan, would you like to visit the principal too?”
“No Sir, I’ll skip it today.”
“Now over the vacation, if you want to increase your chances at the exams you should be reading…..
The bell rang. Sweet relief. Lunchtime. Almost through. Adam had arranged an early cut to miss the last lesson. He was to drive to the airport, a journey of two hours, and take the afternoon flight to Brisbane.
But first he had to deal with Dylan Miller. Adam thought he might have bunked off, and to be honest on this day if he had. Adam might have let it go, and saved a stiff reminder for his first day of term. But Dylan was waiting, leaning by the wall outside Bill Cosgrove’s office.
“OK Dylan, I am just going in to see when Mr Cosgrove will be free, so just wait here please?”
“Mr Hammo, I mean Sir, do you have to?” said Dylan.
“Dylan, if it was the first time you’d misbehaved but you know as well as I do that you’ve been out of order a lot.
“Please don’t sir. I don’t want there to be trouble at home.”
“Well you should have thought about that before. Just wait here Dylan.”
Dylan slumped into a chair in the waiting room.
“But sir my mother’s really sick. My gran’ll skin me alive if I get into trouble.”
“What about your parents?”
“Mum’s sick, really sick,” he said.
“I’m living with me Gran,” he said.
“And your Dad?”
“What’s your Gran like?”
“She’s alright I guess.”
“Don’t give her grief Dylan,” said Adam.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean don’t make life any harder for your Gran than it already is.”
Dylan pulled a face. This was Hammo was in new territory.
“All right I won’t sir.”
The voices coming out of Mr Cosgroves office were clearly in a heated discussion.
“Dylan, go to your next class then go home,” said Adam. “And I’ll see you after holidays. And think about how you are going to behave next term.”
“Ok sir. Thanks sir. Have a good time at the coast sir,” said Dylan making for the door in case Adam changed his mind. Dylan would return home to Acacia Street that afternoon where his mother would be sitting in her shorts and t-shirt on the verandah with a cigarette on the go.
“Don’t tell me it’s the bloody holidays,” she’d say. “Always on bloody holidays, you kids, why don’t you go and get a job?”
If Adam took a cab from the airport, he’d just have time to get to the jewellery store. He liked the sound of the destination as he said it to the cabby. The best jeweller in the city. It sounded like the destination of a successful man.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The event started with a literary speed dating event which meant standing in sometimes lengthy lines to spend five minutes with an agent or publisher. It was a fruitful. My intention was to meet publishers and agents to see about sending them one work and to gauge their interest for another work in progress. Happily achieved plus I discussed a work I hadn’t planned to discuss.
I have brought 18 books to go in the book shop. I noticed the book stand is far from the coffee and rest rooms so I don’t think people had much time to look. Hoping not to take all 18 books on the plane home. (Went home 4 books lighter.)
There were some stirring speeches. I enjoyed Anna Funder who was scathingly about all of those people who want us to ‘just write’ a 200 or 300 words for no payment. Michael Fraser AM issued a call to arms on copyright, Susan Johnson @sjreaders whose books I had read years even before meeting in London at a mutual friend’s barbecue, Antony Loewenstein (who says so many people want to write the same as others which is dull) and Angelo Loukakis with a gift for summing up. Tom Keneally’s video was jolly in his pink Fiji shirt with some magnificent swirly wallpaper behind him.
There was a dinner too. Not some office-Christmas-party-sort-of-debauched-and-shop-talk dinner butsomething that was fun. No business cards, no need to say what you were working on. Just some fun with the tribe. Good to catch up briefly with Anne Summers who was resplendent in her Julia Gillard interview outfit.
I could probably have done with some more sleep but I am enjoying writing in this little room with a view. I like the glimpse of the harbour near the Anzac Bridge and the ‘Rear Window’ view of the lives in the apartments nearby. The shirtless man smoking on the balcony. The dinner party. I’ve made a note of the room number. I may be back.
Marian (MJ) Edmunds
P.S Kate Forsyth was the stand out for inspiration. More on that and more soon #asa2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
/>Jonathan Franzen’s disdain for social media is well-known. He’s also careful not to let the Internet distract him from writing. I read somewhere that he superglued a computer so he could not plug in a modem.
In Nathan Bransford’s excellent blog on the topic of books and writing) he described hearing Jonathan Franzen speak and how this gave him a new understanding of where Franzen was coming from. Franzen thinks very deeply and social media is a distraction from that.
I heard Jonathan Franzen speak at Brisbane Writers’ Festival on the chilly afternoon on September 10, 2011. He spoke a lot about birdwatching. At the end of his talk during audience questions a young man asked if he could comment on the changes in the ‘American psyche’ in the 10 years since 9/11.
Franzen said no.
But then he said he’d explain why he was saying no. Part of the answer was that he did not like memorialisation of events being commoditised into an experience. After the talk I bought a Franzen book and joined the end of a long queue to have it signed. A young man lined up behind me. He worked at the excellent Avid Reader bookstore and was shivering, having set out that brilliant spring morning without a jacket. When we reached the signing table, I suggested he go first.
When I reached Jonathan Franzen I thanked him for his talk and said I felt much the same way about memorial celebrations. Then I said, “You and I have work appearing in the same anthology.”
It’s something I’m unlikely to be able to say again.
He asked me the title. It is City-pick New York I said.
“What's your story about?” said Franzen.
I described "Blue, blue sky". "Its a simple recollection of visiting the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It's a tourist's memory. Returning 10 years later I questioned myself about my resistance to interpreted memorials. I am also resistant to seeing tragedies as cultural events that I can choose like experiential tourism.
After he had signed his book, Jonathan Franzen handed it to me, then took my cold hand into his, shook it warmly and thanked me for being "one of us."
Later I realised I'd forgotten to get a photograph. The moment had passed. There would be no currency, no
'social object' – a la Hugh McLeod – on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media of me meeting Jonathan Franzen. It seems fitting.