Saturday, August 21, 2010
She looked out over that water now, so glossy and harmless and lovely and she remembered the Westerly that came up after that morning of rowing. A westerly wind, they had said, would only blow them home. But, they hadn't thought about the waves it might generate, or the way the water could hide them in its valleys so that the bigger boats wouldn't see them. They hadn't planned that. And Sam, waving down a fisherman who towed them to Deepwater cove leaving them there with a 'Will you be alright to get on now?' where the wind was all up on the shore. Elise couldn't remember being afraid. Was that just because she had a foolish faith that Sam would never let her down? Or had she not let herself think through what she would do if they capsized under the big fast yachts that whirred in the wind and made their own waves as they passed.
The next morning the house was quiet. Specks of sunlight threw themselves out from under the tall spotted gums and up from the water. The wind sprinkled salt on Sasha's newly washed windows. Elise took a cup of tea onto the veranda and perched herself in the corner where a patch of sunlight aproned across the dry splintery boards. She had a pen and the new journal, but she paused there, looking down on the water and the boats. There were children down on the beach laughing and shouting. There was a dog chasing a ball out into the small waves. A shoal of small boats scattered themselves across the view their white sails in sharp relief against all the blue and muted mauve of the hump of national park across the water. What was she thinking? Was it about a day, years ago now - she and the boy she was with (Sam, who held on to her as if she was the only thing he'd ever found, that floated) took a dinghy out across that water. They hadn't set out for the opposite shore - but that was where they turned the boat, bow into the wavelets. Dodging the taller yachts Sam rowed them all the way to the rocky shore on the other side. That day, looking back across the water you could see the many houses and mansions and panels of glass built up on the other side of the inlet. Their small cottage was buried under the trees, invisible from that distance. On that side, when they landed and pulled their boat up onto a tiny strip of sand that usually would have been underwater, there was nothing but trees and vines, rocks and seaweed. They picnicked on a boulder up above the beach, looking out over the water. Elise couldn't remember what they talked about. In fact, she barely remembered anything they ever said to one another. Though there was some distant echo - was it her? - saying that the relationship was so solid she felt she could do anything, branching out of there, reaching for the sky... And that day, the day of the dinghy and Sam rowing all the way across the water, (innocent, she remembered now, of the blustery afternoon that would follow) it was a remarkable tide, so low that mudflats were laid out for them to explore. So low that walking out beyond the tidal zone, rubbish from another era was collectable for the first time in years. Beer bottle of thick unleavened glass, the cursive script on them so worn out by the waves that it was illegible. Elise remembered pulling them out of their comfortable beds in the mud. Later, she used them as candle-holders. But there was something about that day, Sam, she remembered now, had just shorn off his sparkling blonde hair. She remembered him, standing with a quilt around his shoulders, holding a bottle of aunty Veri's beefeater gin.
But, then it was interrupted. Sasha's phone rang, it was her father. She glanced at Elise and got to her feet, taking her wine she walked quickly back along the pier and went up steps towards the cottage. Elise looked at her own small hands with their oval nails and then at the water and the boats. The corellas and lorikeets started to settle. The light got yellower and yellower. Elise waited there, but Sasha didn't come back.
So that is how they ended up there. Sitting on the pier on their first night with a glass of wine each - listening to the corellas finding roosting spots and the lap lap hush of the water on the rocks and against the boats. The hollow tonging of the boats against their moorings. And it was Elise's thought as she wiped the condensation from her glass I must write about this; this is the kind of thing I need to include in my book. This exact scene. The early evening light was catching the gold out of Sasha's hair and smoothing her skin until she seemed almost perfect, sitting with her knees in a triangle looking out towards the island and the open sea. This was the way, Elise decided, she would always remember her - fix her now, this spot, this point in time, this glass of cold clear wine, this breeze. This moment.
Monday, August 16, 2010
But, to Sasha the conversation was all promises. They had spoken mildly about the idea of moving to Elise's grandfather's waterside shack - to discover what it was they could do without the financial grief of rent. They would hire themselves out as cleaners - tie their hair up in scarves and pour buckets of bleach on expensive bathrooms. They would stay awake all night composing stories and songs. They would breathe the fresh air from the sea and their creative lives would flow from there. They would become famous - because all it took was enough passion and enough time and it would all happen from there. At least, that's how it felt for a while to Sasha, who was old enough to know that Elise's dreams were just that. And she drove off into the rain thinking of an old song she once used to sing. Something about hitching a ride on a dreamtime horse - was it? Or was that just her memory, playing tricks?
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Of course Sasha wasn't magic, but she did change everything. They walked and walked through the rain that afternoon, around the back-streets of Newtown across the Uni campus into Glebe and around the foreshore then back up Glebe Point Rd. Sasha left her car where she'd pulled it up when she'd seen Elise - somewhere near Newington Rd. She put up her large green umbrella and they continued arm in arm, heads together, at talking pace. And it was one of those conversations that covered everything and nothing. From high school boys to Sasha's father, from what happened when Elise met Eddy to how the rain was also talking to them from the umbrella. When she had dropped Sasha back at her car, Elise sat for a moment and tried to recall exactly what they had said. To her, it seemed what had been woven thought their talk was their disappointment in others. One after the other friends, lovers, bands and poets had let them down. Family proved little comfort, possibilities bubbled up in the air. They wanted to write and sing, give the world the gift of themselves. How was it then, that the world was so hard and so heavy and ungrateful? How did you win against such weight? You had to do it for yourself, because you loved it and then move from there. You had to ignore societal expectations and live for your art. You had to get the hell out of here.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
'Hello, I'm your guardian angel,' she said 'I'm here you grant you one wish.' Her eyes shot through with light, her skin pressed out around her lips around her eyes. She took Elise by the arm and gently squeezed it with her own and fell into step. They walked to the corner before Elise could gather up the words. Sasha was a similar height but she bent down to look up into Elise's downcast face.
'I think I have to get out of here, Sasha, I have a dead-end job, Eddy's off the Melbourne, I'm just feeling so sad about my aunt and all of that...I think I just need a change.'
'Change is what I'm good at,' she replied.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Sasha put her face right up into Elise's and smiled. Her eyes seemed to almost poke out of their sockets - greeny brown with enthusiasm. Her mouth was full of skew whiff tipsy teeth, white and crowded and leaning intimately together. Her breath smelt of tea leaves. Sasha's face - triangular with round cheeks and a nose that pointed up – was always dwarfed by her magnificent head of curly hair. Though long, this didn't stop it falling in waves and whorls all around her. It seemed to have its own rhythm and life. Elise could almost imagine it having its own social life. And she smiled back into the face of her friend.
Veri had been dead for less than two months when - just where Elise had become used the noting the patterns made by the thin long leaves of a lemon-scented gum tree all over the path – someone grabbed her by the elbow.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Elise's small job in the tiny publishing house - shuffling papers and replying to letters of enquiry in a low-ceilinged back room of a terrace off Missenden Rd - no longer held appeal. Ideals aside, if life was going to be that short (aunty Veri had only been 52) then she wasn't sure how long she wanted to spend in a hunched position over the uncomfortable desk. Summer was about to begin - the jacaranda's took liberty with the colour of the grass, lorikeets dangled shrieking in the branches, the scent of the jasmine that was tangling itself with the front gate began to get too strong and waft around turning putrid on the warm days. The funeral had been perfect in the rain – they had sat on Veri's perfect cream silk covered french chairs and drunk tea with lemon, just as she always had. The rooms felt too tall. The house, though full of people seemed almost to know the loss it contained. Vince got drunk, spoke too loudly. The cousins formed a knot of young people and walked down to the harbour. Outside the sky had washed itself clean, and the sea was slick and silver, almost oily. Elise found herself watching her feet as she walked home in the afternoons, thinking about her brother, her cousins, her lousy job. She would occasionally wipe her eye and unless you looked closely (Eddy did) you wouldn't see the moisture there. Perhaps they were tears of self pity. It was difficult to define. Maybe she missed the aunt she rarely saw. Maybe in knowing Veri was about, racing along George St. in the red Lotus, doing the cryptic crossword in her kitchen with her half-moon spectacles falling down her nose, or walking her labradors along the harbour foreshore, allowed Elise to define her own place as short-skirted arty type girl of the inner west. Instead of stooping to pick them up Elise crushed the frangipani flowers with her Doc Martin boot.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
It took a while for the results to come back. 'Spontaneous Pneumothorax' - the family didn't know what to make of it. Even Eddy seemed unwilling to go into the details. It sounded like something you could take a liking to, not something that would kill you. She was crumpled on the carpet when her husband, Vince, came home. The carpet was dented where she had fallen, both her hands to her throat. Her face was bluish. Her hair unsubtle bright gold. He thought for a while she had fallen, just then as he opened the door. But, when he touched her she was stiff and cold. He told the family he had knelt there for a while, the 7pm news playing on the kitchen radio. Something about it was so ordinary and also so incredible - he couldn't believe that he could reach for the phone and it would work.
Of course, this changed everything. Who Wilhelmina and Elise thought they were to begin with. When you have spent your life defining yourself as against that other, that thing you are not or the differences between you - without it, you lose a sense of what you are. There was some kind of balance to it – Wilhelmina eventually admitted – like being on a see-saw and supported by the wieght of the other. When they dismount and you fall with a bump onto the hard ground. It also changed the feeling of the air in the evening at exactly the time they got the news for the next few years. The way they felt about the currawong calls at sunset. It altered what they expected in the post and how rich the ten cousins would become when the wills were sorted out.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Verity graduated from her exclusive school and hurled herself into exclusive society. She got the job, the car, the boyfriend very quickly and moved with a fast set of people-who-had-yatchs. In fact, her own father had a yacht, but so he could spend the occasional sunday breathing the wind and winding the ropes into neat figures of eight. Not the friends that Verity made - they had yachts so they could be watched. So they could invite attractive girls like Verity along to sit on the stern, shriek as the spray soaked them and sip champagne on the deck. She was the sunshine ice-cream girl - spotted on the deck of a 12footer and photographed the next day. The money was nice, but certain friends became jealous. Her tan had been that much deeper, hair that much blonder and her eyes - they were unnaturally green.
Sisters with the same eyes could choose such different lives. Wilhelmina chose to go to the other side of the earth - found communes and artists, people who celebrated the moon festival and gathered apples and lit fires and bees wax candles. They drank wine from the stoneware chalises that, if they hadn't made them they had a close friend who had. The harvest, handmade shoes and homegrown produce (even if it was worm-riddled and slightly sour). The smelt of patchuli and earth. They loved the dirt under their nails and often wore hats of felt that stood out in the villages they lived in. People called themselves artists with the ease and casualness that left Wilhelmina staggered. She only dared to mention her painting occasionally, fearing the label the inquisitive and well-meaning questions.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
There were very few similarities between Elise's mother Wilhelmina and her aunt Verity; except for eyes so green they glowed. Even in black and white photos their eyes were remarkably green. Like the water at high-tide at the end of the pier. In both sisters these eyes could be adjusted to snaky squinting or flicked up at the corners to convey a sense on mischief. In both sisters it was the eyes that narrowed and widened, but never in a way to give the slightest insight, never to let anyone in. And perhaps that was the most similar thing about them. They were inscrutable – to one another and the world. Looking at her own eyes in the mirror Elise wondered where she got her give-away eyes - was it the lids that betrayed her every feeling? Was it the angle of the lashes? The flecks of copper and gold that mixed themselves into the green?