Day 22

Day 22

Written April 10, 2020.

Good Friday today. I must go for a walk alone in the bush today and try to pray.

My mother who was Jewish by inheritance but made by horrific circumstance to be Catholic, always sent us kids to our room on Good Friday at 3 pm precisely to think about Christ on the Cross. I was a timid, impressionable child, and caught up in the drama in her voice, tried diligently, but could only imagine two bits of weathered planks like my father would strip off a house he was renovating, two bits of wood nailed together. Dad was an artist but he was always renovating houses to keep us eating – which we’d often move into, before the renovations were finished. It fitted me for this house.

But the weathered planks remained bereft of a person on them. I never could put a person on those planks. They looked too splintery. We were very unchurched- in fact, I didn’t see the inside of a church until the end of primary school, when, going home from school one day, i wandered into a church, just because a door was open, and gazing into the vast brown, deep, hushed space, I was astounded by the quiet pale statues, the tall gold candles, the very air with waves of  a perfume so strange that I felt myself to be under water, and half expected a school of fish to come finning towards me at any moment, intent on their fish world and silently parting to go around me as if I was a rock. And the furnishings!  gilt tassels wherever I looked, a perfectly ironed white linen cloth, its ironed creases upright,  on a stand underneath a big, heavy gilt-edged  bible, and it seemed the whole church was cloaked with gilt or rich, heavy velvet hangings. I owned a secret little matchbox with a piece of gold velvet inside that a kind lady had given me, a cutting from her new dress I’d admired, and I’d often open my little box and to ward off terror, I’d stroke my gold velvet. But in this church, such an excess of velvet, an excess I’d have never imagined, not gold which suddenly seemed flashy but deeply regal blue velvet, blue that seemed like the bushland we’d lived in till recently and I mourned every day, blue catching the light and glowing in hilltops and dark, shadowy valleys. Glowing hill tops  and shadowy valleys, glowing blue and then black, glowing blue and then black. Being the family of an artist we were always poor, and my impoverished eyes had never seen such  grandeur that became mine just because I’d sneaked through an open door. And I had it all to myself, this astounding grandeur, no one was about, no one to judge or criticize. So after a while, round-eyed,  I crept out of my hiding place  and stroked as much blue velvet as my grubby, ink-stained could reach, in a sort of ecstasy I remember to this day.

Today In our very humble river house, one without any gilt,statues, candles or velvet, only nature as magnificent as any cathedral, we have the working board GG made, to help with cooking, and weeping.

My student whose work I edited yesterday sent me back an email:

I’ve only read your comments once, and that far too quickly, but I loved them.
And that last line… (I’d said if his brain threw up  an ordinary safe word, or one that was blushingly weird)…. choose the weird.
I had forgotten just how perceptive and penetrating you are.
And why I follow you around the world.
I shall read and re read your comments and try to incorporate all your beautifully made points….
And don’t you just love Houseman…?
“Oh when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave
And miles around the wonder grew
How well I did behave.
But now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again.”


I read his words, weeping.

And K, who is only a part-time believer, I suspect to keep me happy, sends me a website for Sunday. So I can be part of the celebrations. Often I ignore Easter Sunday, but this year, I need it. I cry again at such kindness. I seem to be always crying.

Sometime later, I remember my plan to walk and pray. The day is a desolate grey, a stormy sky full of rain.. There’s no prayer in me so I walk as far as the last house and  sit on his porch- he won’t mind- he’s a lovely, heroic man, and a smiling, pretty wife, though I’ve been too shy to get to know them beyond a hello. i curse my shyness. They’ll be very hard hit by this virus. I stare at the grey river willing a prayer, trying at least to remember formulaic words of prayer,  but  even that won’t come- pray, Sue pray – this is not how to pray- I must get to the stillness but  I can’t, I can’t  find God. When I still my mind, there’s just a painful swelling in my heart at the 100,000 people suddenly struck down. I put my head down on his somber grey table  and sob till they’re screams, screaming sobs for all the people I love. it’s not just what they do for me – our builder with his golden grey streaked hair, my dear little hairdresser from Iran where they’re digging mass graves maybe for her mother and father as well, our chemist who serves us so diligently confronting people every day and which one who looks well is going to kill him?, the man in the corner shop in Darlinghurst  who works long hours but always has a wide grin for me, for everyone, my friends, the risks they take just walking down a street and passing someone who seems well, just  buying a carton of milk. Many of them like me are of a dangerous age – 80% of the deaths are older people –  and living full, rich lives. The bush at least listens to my screams, but does God? Spare them all, please God, spare them. Spare them like you did C. Spare us all. Have pity on us all.


One Response to Day 22

  1. ‘I’m finally going to win the Easter egg hunt.’ I’ve pulled B’s big black jumper over my knees and I hug them in the cool night sea breeze; a devilish smile creeps over my face, ‘…after 24 years, I’ll finally win the Easter egg hunt.’ Tomorrow will be two weeks since I arrived in Lennox Head, (it’s no hidden home on the river, but it will do!), somehow, the slowest and fastest 14 days of my life. I resolved within myself the fact that I made the right decision to flee the city. Fleeing Sydney, fleeing my leaky terrace house in Annandale (the worst house on the best street kind of situation), fleeing my housemates. I resolved all of it before I said goodbye to B, to my friends, before I even said goodbye to my twin brother who decided to stay in the epicenter; I love him, but man oh man, he can be an idiot. C was the last person I saw before I drove ten hours north, solo. “I’m not sure I can go back Soph, I’m not sure I’m strong enough.” C spent six months in his own isolation about two years ago. Just him, just Lennox, just an empty beach house. “I’m not sure I can go back to that.”. Contrary to these remarks, if you’ve never made the trip to the sleepy beach town, I recommend you do! Preferably before it’s bursting at the seams with rich cosmopolitan yuppies, but leave it long enough for a vaccination to do the rounds (I’m sure there’s a sweet spot of about six – nine months). ‘Oh well’, I’m still smiling, sitting on my verandah, starring off into darkness that’s replaced my view of Lennox beach. With C out of the picture I’m a shoe in for the Easter egg hunt. He’ll be ok, he’s smart, he’ll be ok. My parent’s cozy beach house sits squashed between the monolithic wealth that’s seized the modest locals of Lennox over the past decade – we don’t mind; we were never flashy anyway. Dad is transfixed by his stargazer app, his head almost vertical, pointing out Gemini in the clear sky, too intrigued by his rudimentary technology to hear mum’s remark about the sea mist creating “jack the ripper” like shadows over the yellow street lights. C was the only realistic threat to my childish appellation – not that we’re a religious family or anything, although, deep down beneath our brooding nihilism I see a slither of spirituality dancing through us all. N, (another brother), is locked up safe and sound in Brisbane with his girlfriend; he couldn’t come down for Easter even if he wanted to! Not with QLD’s boarder control and the imminent threat of local Lennox nationalism…even if he is a local, historically. ‘So that’s C and N out of my way’, I think to myself, but the humour of this thought quickly drops away as I start to think about J, my third and final brother. N is in Brisbane, fine, he’ll be ok. C is in Sydney, fine, he’ll be ok too. But J… J is right now in tyrannical lockdown in the world’s epicenter, Manhattan. He’s smart, healthy, young, no medical history, no genetic pitfalls – but I think we’re learning quickly that that’s not the concern anymore. J wouldn’t come home, his life is there, his wife is there. I can only hope that he’ll be ok – I’d pray for him if I wasn’t a nihilist with commitment issues. In the darkness I look again at my parents on the verandah, both distracted by the night sky, lost in their own thoughts. I know that they’re thinking about J, in fact, I know he is all they think about. How could they not? I’m safe. N and C, realistically, should be fine. But J, on the other side of the world, in the heart of virus and amongst the mobile morgues – I could only imagine how helpless they feel, how deeply saddened they must be knowing that they can’t do anything for their son – and in that, can’t do anything for themselves. These moments, these are the sort of moments that rip me from the thought of ever wanting to having children. J, in his exhibitionism, (an actor, I should mention), everyday since lockdown began in Manhattan has been doing a live stream read on his Instagram account. Without fail J becomes active online and reads to whoever will listen a chapter of Harry Potter…he’s already up to the Whomping Willow in The Chambers of Secrets. Mum has set an automatic alarm on her phone for 11.55am to go off so she can sit and see her boy for twenty-minutes a day. Wherever I am in the house, be it in a zoom meeting, the bathroom, my bedroom, will hear the shrill ring of her 11.55am alarm and instantaneously I’m flooded with a delightful reminder that J’s animated voice is about to flood our house…. then, just as quickly, my stomach drops as I’m reminded of the devastation of his reality, the devastation of our people’s reality. I try not to think about J too much; I try not to think about my parents thinking about J too much either. I wonder if, like you, Sue, I should take a crack at a prayer – but it doesn’t come, so instead I distract myself again: ‘I’m finally going to win the Easter egg hunt.’.

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