Category Archives: prose

Mending buttons

I was just mending an errant underwire when I noticed an unopened packet of ‘mending buttons’ in the tub that now serves as a sewing basket. I vaguely recall buying the buttons in the first months after the fire. I guess I figured there might be a button emergency or perhaps they would be useful for the kids’ craft. I thought of the sewing basket I’d had since a child – frayed but still serviceable and the gorgeous large brown jar of buttons that had been my mother’s and hers before that. Its lid was rusty, the jar pleasingly ridged and inside were buttons like jewels. These objects reflect life’s patina. My home is warm, friendly, light, airy and filled with comfortable and beautiful objects but it doesn’t have its patina. There are only four and a half years of our history here. We belong but something is missing.

I’m thinking of those who have lost their homes in the latest fires. They are dealing with the enormous practical task of day to day living after finding yourself suddenly homeless, with your objects gone. Where will we sleep? How do we replace our documents? How do I charge my phone? I don’t have any clothes. I’ve lost all my prescriptions. There’s no tampons in the cupboard. Thankfully these current fires haven’t left people with the questions ‘Are they alive?’ ‘What’s happened to my GP?’. They will grapple with replacing the essentials, finding somewhere to live, negotiating work, fractious relationships and the behemoth that is traumatic grief.

I hope they, too, will one day have the space to reflect on something as small as a jar of buttons and realise how they have healed and will continue to do so.

Advertisements

The beginnings of a short story?

The last Express Yourself writing workshop was held yesterday. I wrote a poem about the memories of my five year old son. It may contain the kernel of an idea – or it may be a sow’s ear Why do we malign the sow? I must investigate the origins of that expression. In any case the poem as it currently stands is not fit to share. Our second exercise was to describe a journey, which I uncharacteristically undertook in prose. Arnold Zable felt that it might be the beginning of a short story and suggested that I use the ‘daring’ approach of moving to the second person when discussing my ex-partner’s role.  Weave the story of my escape from the mountain with that of the relationship – and, indeed, a second escape. Here is what I wrote yesterday – clearly it’s a draft. What do you think?

Leaving the mountain
The air escaping the back of the car is even hotter than that around us. And that air is the hottest I have ever felt. Sweat evaporates before it has even thought to exit the glands on my skin. I cannot smell the smoke but above me the sky is tangerine or perhaps blood orange. Why do we so often seek edible metaphors? For, unlike the fruit, this sky contains no moisture – only refracted light and ominous promise.

We load the car with tubs of photos, dutifully packed before the first day of tremendous heat and sinister wind. I cannot lift them. I am spent from a morning preparing for such an eventuality. The pump stands primed, ready. Hoses are uncoiled. Buckets, mops, torches, radios and countless bottles of water are positioned around the house. Clothes are ready. The plan is on the fridge. Preparations made, we calmly pack the car.

I am breathless. Belly swollen, the baby due in a mere three months. He is quiet now. My son is at my feet. He has finally stopped screaming, his face slick with shiny red goo. The remains of the placatory red icy pole offered him. He has been woken from his nap. He is tired and frightened. I have no time to comfort him.

Now I plead with you to leave.

I have never been happy that you wish to remain. Your misguided masculinity. Your sense of self bound up with the notion of being a hero. And yet, you are so unprepared, your psyche unlikely to withstand the coming inferno.

So I must leave you. Photos, laptop, a few toys and clothes jumbled in the rear of the car. I throw the woolen blanket out of the boot. A stupid, careless gesture since its purpose is to protect us from radiant heat if trapped by fire. When the blanket is found five days later, ember burns pocking its blue check, we realise it has saved your life.  There are times that I will wish I had taken it with me.

The car noses its way out of the driveway. It could drive this road itself.  I say no goodbye, do not look back and head into the uncertain.

Bringing in the net

Accompanying the rhythm of the small wavelets lapping at the shore, the strange ozone scent of seaweed enters my nostrils. The weed, visible under the water’s surface, is tangled in the net we are hauling aboard. My father’s dinghy sits just metres from shore and we are bringing in the net he has set overnight. So far, this flirtation with illegality has yielded no reward. The net is empty but for long olive green strands that make untangling the filigree cumbersome and a chore. Still, it is pleasing to be sitting there. Precious time alone with my father. We are relaxed, engaged in the activity. For once as one, the light breeze and the sun on our backs conspiring to improve our moods.

The ruffled sand of the riverbed can be seen beneath the boat. A silvery glint, a flicker of action captures our attention.  A salmon, fiercely alive, gasping for breath, its scales iridescent in that special afternoon light of the deep South. It has jumped into the boat – a suicidal gesture. Distracted by this unexpected gift, we are startled when a dorsal fin breaks the surface a few seconds later. I tense my body, fearful. But then, muscles relax and breathing returns and my fear melts into intense joy. For this is no shark but the first of three dolphins. They have been swimming close to shore, no doubt chasing the poor salmon now destined for our dinner.

The first dolphin swims directly beneath the boat. Had I been quicker I could have caressed its silky head. Its two companions swim past the prow and appear to be looking for their erstwhile prey as they circle the dinghy. Perhaps realising we are not going to share the river’s bounty, the pod move off towards the small headland to the South. Despite the loss of their prey, the dolphins appear to take delight in the late summer afternoon. Soon, one leaps from the water, its grey flanks glinting in the low golden light. After a time they move off around the headland, out of view. But the image of them dancing and the joy in my heart will never disappear.