Written 12 April, 2020
Easter Sunday- the day when Donald Trump said he thought we’d be going to church and celebrating the end of the plague.
“Wouldn’t that be sweet?”
Overnight I hear that 2000 people a day have died for four days in the US, many of them in New York.
Early in the morning on the phone, my middle brother, who lives in the mountains of Queensland, exploded with laughter when he heard we’d caught no fish.
“It’s impossible. That river’s full of fish.”
He paused. He inherited my mother’s handsome looks, and he was her favourite. He was allowed to colour in the outline illustrations of not just colouring books but proper story books, whereas I was banned because, no matter how hard I held the pencils, they had a wild life of their own. He was even allowed to colour in my Pixie O’Harris book about fairies; my book; I still remember standing resentfully watching while he coloured in my elves and my toadstools and my fairies. What was the magic that kept his pencils inside the lines? So at least I know why I resent him- because of that book. But why is he mean to me?
“And do you still have all that mud?”
It’s impossible for him to keep the scorn out of his voice.
“Yes, still got that mud.”
I want to add that I could get rid of it if I raked it, but it’s home to thousands of tiny crabs, and raking makes them decamp. I gaze down their hole homes and see their little terrified eyes glinting up at me. I don’t want to make them homeless. But he’d think that a proper person would rake and bring back the clean, golden sand.
A month ago, in the long-gone days before the plague, he’d borrowed a friend’s house in Bar Point, about 2 km from here, on the Hawkesbury proper, not on a muddy creek, but with deep water and yellow sand.
“You should’ve bought a house there. No mud, proper electricity. Fish everywhere. And no worries about storing rainwater. They’ve got a huge dam of the purest, most beautiful water.”
Families are like museums. What you were in childhood, you are all your life. I was the silly little sister. I am still the silly little sister with a house in the wrong bay, who can’t catch a fish on a river full of fish. Who resents, decades later, colouring in in a book about Fairies.
After our chat, I’m crankily determined to catch a fish. It’s a rising tide, the sun is shining, there’s no wind. Fishermen say you catch fish on a rising tide. So we arm ourselves with a thermos of coffee and our last four gluten free biscuits and motor across the river to Andy’s little cove: he said that you row there, drop in a line, pull up a fish, and row home, all in 20 minutes. GG has a rod at the prow of the boat, and I have a line at the stern. At the moment we arrive, so do throngs of orange jelly fish. Fishermen say you can’t catch fish where there’s jellyfish. I count 25 jellyfish floating by, all majestically curling and uncurling their yellow bells and lazily pulsing their pale tentacle. GG says a throng of jelly fish should be called a clag, as in clag glue. We fish for 3 hours, until the tide turns. And catch nothing.
At home, we have a long talk to K about her watching less tv, and helping us more. She says tv helps her forget an autistic childhood of being bullied. We argue that work can help you forget it. She agrees, fearfully, to watch one hour less tv, and do two chores a day. We can nominate the chores. And she begins straight away. She cooks lunch- lentil clag. One more meal of lentils left. I gather, clean, blanch and cook warrigal greens. It all seems less a burden with her help, even though we’ve eaten through our warrigal greens and I’m now gathering them now from Adam’s steep hillside, trying not to slide over his sea-wall and into the mud. For her second chore, she agrees to choose between plant identification apps for me, and downloads “Picture This” (free for seven days then $29.99 a year). I’ve never got around to downloading one, partly because I must first find my diary to look up my 20 digit long password.
With Picture This I kneel in the veggie garden and find to my delight, from my out-of- date spinach seeds, amongst the weeds, two – two! oh, joy! two actual real-life spinach plants. They don’t match each other; one is the tweezers I originally spotted, the other has a flattened leaf. They must be two different sorts of spinach. Tomorrow I’ll weed and give them a chance.
But in the perspex box, where I sowed an entire packet of My Fothergill tomato seeds and 50 Mr Fothergill spinach seeds, I find only a pumpkin seedling and a garlic weed. I sit back on my bottom in the muddy garden, astonished. How is this possible? Is there a rebel at Mr Fothergill’s mixing up the seeds and laughing maniacally?
Spellbound, I walk with Picture This down the track to heroic C’s house, and find all along the way milk thistle weeds, which Picture This says are pleasant to eat. To eat! Any weed would be pleasant as a change from warrigal greens! I pull one up, carry it home, plant it in the veggie garden and hose it encouragingly.
I’ve gone up to the house when suddenly a boat races into the bay and streams towards our house at great speed. Two strangers wave. I wave back, wondering. As they come close, a woman pops her head around the dashboard shouting like an Old Testament prophet:
“You’re not alone”.
A familiar voice, though my eyes see only a blur. Our jetty is full; boats, the last firewood bag, the huge rubbish bags awaiting the barge, crab nets, the illegal prawn net we still haven’t figured out. I run down to Adam’s jetty, which is clear. The boat swerves in a circle.. At last I can see it’s my therapist, and a man driver. They skid to a stop. I grab their boat, careful about the prescribed 2 metre distance.
“I came to tell you you’re not alone”.
I’m gaping, finding a rope, throwing it over their prow rail, asking how on earth they come to be here.
She says she could never tell me because of breaking professional distance, but they bought a house on Bar Point two years ago.
“We love your bay, but we’re not pioneers”.
“Bar Point! I was just talking about it with my brother. He says the fishing’s great there.”
“We never catch a thing.”
In the course of conversation, she mentions where the locals get their online food orders delivered to The Ruins, much closer to them and us than DB’s boat yard.
“The benefits of having a community”, I say wistfully.
For comfort, she hands me a plastic bag of oranges, and there’s introductions to her husband, and GG, who’s just arrived smiling. He hangs back when there’s company so I’m always pleased to see him arrive smiling. He remembers them coming to the last production of his play, ‘The Boys.’ Playwrights remember these kindnesses, even when the play sells out.
We invite them in, but her husband is twitchy about the tide.
“I won’t be able to get out of here soon”.
I’m about to say that the tide only turned an hour ago, and it won’t be low until 5 pm, (three hours away) and then only it’s only a point 6 which would probably be fine for his hull, but my voice falls away. I’m a nerd, a nerd in muddy trackies, an unravelling jumper, and hair brushed two days ago if that. Whereas my therapist is one of those women who’s naturally glamorous. She’d wear mud, prickles and spider webs and they’d be fashion accessories.
We chat, my therapist, her husband, GG and me, and my heart suddenly bursts into singing.
“You’re not alone”. “You’re not alone”
They’ve come to stay in their house at Bar Point for 6 weeks, maybe longer. I ask could we have a holiday from professional distance.
She laughs.” Oh no, never”
But she’s going to pick up seedlings at Bunnings to plant a veggie garden, and generously agrees to pick up some for me.
“If they’ve got any,” laughs GG, remembering his trip there.
I ask her about the water at Bar Point, mentioning my brother. She says she’d never drink it- that’d be dangerous.
We sadly wave them off, but an ancient impulse seizes me and I’m texting my brother:
“I hope you didn’t drink the water while you stayed at Bar Point. My doctor, who’s had a house there for 2 years, says it’s dangerous.”
Take that! Serves you right, for keeping inside the lines when I couldn’t!
And then, because I didn’t fare with mum as badly as my oldest brother, who she believed was not her real child, so she waited all her life for her real child to turn up, and he probably still waits for his real mother; because, though I wasn’t her favourite, i”m happier now than him, I delete the text.
But for even thinking of that text, I get the punishment I deserve.
At night, k is very difficult. She’s charming all afternoon, then suddenly, unexpectedly, a full autistic meltdown. Even when she was little, her meltdowns were cataclysmic, with horizontal tears that leaped out and splashed the furthest wall. We sit shattered, as we did then, till she subsides. She’s shattered as well. It may be the change in routine, always difficult for her. Or it may be the warrigal greens, which, considering the way their leaves grow in a cross, must be cruciferous. The citizen science site we follow (www.cfsremisison.com) shows that cruciferous vegetables increase the symptoms of autism by encouraging the overgrowth of wrong bacteria. However short we are of vegetables, she must not eat warrigal greens anymore. There’s still the remains of a packet of frozen beans, the end of a leek, a bendy stalk of celery and half a sweet potato. I’ll make sure she eats only those tomorrow and till Tuesday night, and hope.
At night in bed, while GG sleeps, I finally get to watch, through tangled headphones, an Easter Service on Youtube, and howl again over the yearning in the singing, the ambition of our human hopes, the puniness of us who have the genius of gods but the power of butterflies. Cockroaches do better than us. Viruses do better. I weep quietly, shaking the mattress until GG murmurs in sleepy protest, at the songs about the love of God. I curve my legs and nestle into GG’s back and feet- men’s bodies sleep so warm- and try again to pray.
I believe you love us, despite who we are. I believe. I think I believe. Help me my disbelief.
Pity us. Save us. Pity us.
And then I hear again:
“You’re not alone.”