Day 40

Written 27 April, 2020




Yesterday, I made myself read the rejected novel, editing as I went, vaguely remembering the reports of the readers, particularly one who said she didn’t like the main character- who is – did she know? – me! Me! She doesn’t like me! it’s a fictionalised memoir of living alone with a sumptuously beautiful mother who went mad- except I didn’t have a clue that’s what was wrong- I thought I must’ve been doing something wrong. My Dad had left with my brothers, in his words, “to prevent a murder”. Anyway, I must find a way to become more charming.

I took a break to go up the track to water F’s fledgling garden, including her mint, which seems happily nestling against a rock. I’ve noticed mint seems like nestling – like me.( Oh publisher’s reader, how is it possible you don’t like me, a person who likes to nestle?) Little mint plant, send your lovely, minty perfume to my friend in the city and entice her back.

On the way back, shouting a jokey Knock Knock as I approached Dy’s pink house, I paused to chat with him. He was eating his cereal out of a bowl, slopping it a bit because we’re neighbours and comfortable with each other. He mustn’t die for many reasons; one of the many people the world can’t afford to lose  – he’s one of those rare men who talks to women as human beings, not as cardboard cutouts.  The other day while i was waiting at the entrance to the boatyard for the Woollie’s delivery man, perched on a rusted 44 gallon drum on its side, a man appeared at the door of the caravan opposite. I apologised for sitting in what amounted to his front garden, and explained why I had to stay there- that we’d missed the delivery man last time and we were short of food.

“Like a red wine?” he asked, holding up his tilting glass.

I said no (I can’t because of my Sjogrens, but it wasn’t the time or place or person to mention that to).

“A beer then?”

I apologised that I couldn’t drink at all. (I can get away with spirits, and rather enjoy a gin and tonic).

The way he came down his step and propped himself against the caravan side, I could see  that we were in for a long yarn.

“I’m a millionaire, you know. You can’t tell it by this caravan”.

I said something lame about caravan living probably giving him freedom- after all, I was sitting  in his front garden.

“I’ve been married three times. Women keep taking all my money.”

That one was harder to say anything to. I tried “Ah.” It seemed to work.

“Put kids through private schools and everything. That houseboat” -pointing to a modest houseboat tied up to the jetty- “is half mine, but my partner is living in it.”

“Nice houseboat. I’ve been watching it getting painted. Good colour.”

Just then, the kind DB came out probably from under a boat he was repairing, as always in bare feet and his trousers tied up with rope, and nodded to the man and stood, arms folded, just hanging there, joining in the chat. And tall stretched-toffee B appeared  with his bouncing Brutus, who dashed around asking us to throw him the stick in his mouth. I  greeted them all loudly,  asking DB if his feet weren’t cold, and the millionaire disappeared back into his caravan.




Whereas Dy, we talk real talk. How to live in our bay talk. I remembered that yesterday he’d offered to drag our mattress off our 40  steps- I haven’t admitted but we’re so weak that that’s as far as we could drag it, and we sort of do a hop over it. i’d lately noticed Gg was having trouble doing the hop. But yesterday, I’d said no to Dy in embarrassment. I didn’t want to be a nuisance.  But hard living here is teaching me: Say yes, Sue. Be a nuisance. If someone offers to help, they’ve probably calculated that they can help, so say yes.

So I asked Dy if he’d be so kind, and he was so kind- he even lifted it! This man is dying and he lifted that heavy old-fashioned mattress, the sort with uncoiling springs – and carried it to under our house, where it may stay and one day be useful- I’m not sure if old mattresses ever turn out to be useful, but who knows?

Now GG bursts into the house, slumps in a chair. The generator has just died. We’ve lately had trouble starting it, it’s been getting crankier and crankier. The starter motor seems to have gone. We gaze at each other,  dreading the cost. We know it’s thousands.  We talk about where we could buy one- we must go to an actual shop because with solar power, you can’t wait for a generator delivery, especially if you get a run of dull days and you’ve used up your storage yesterday. That’s even without using something heavy like a toaster- just to run the lights and the fridge. I suggest we ask Dy- he’s very technical. Gg isn’t one either to ask for help, but OK.

So we go together down the track. I pick on the way a present of some sarsaparilla leaves for his teapot- great aniseed taste, not that i know if he likes it- and a handful of scarlet, sugary lillypilly fruit (a tree my friendLibby Hathorn gave everyone as a tiny little pot plant at her launch of  Georgiana Woman of Flowers in 2009, and  now I have to keep cutting  a huge tree back or it obscures my view of who’s coming).


If you look closely, there are still two berries on the tree of the most unlikely pink to see in the bush – perhaps flamingo?- and if picked at the right moment, they’re as sweet as any lolly. They’re often delighted my bush walks- thank you, Libby!



Dy agrees to look at the motor, after he’s bandaged his foot- he just trod on a rusty nail. He turns up, sits down on the deck, tracky-suited legs and bare feet splayed on either side of the generator, takes it to pieces, tells us that he began as an apprentice fixing starter motors and within nanoseconds knows that the push button starter’s gone, but – phew- we can manually pull start it. GG can’t  do it because of his back, so they both give me a lesson. I could never do pull starts. Pull. Fail. Pull. Fail. Dy warns me to put my foot on it, or I’ll pull the thing on top of me, and go for a header off the deck!  But I can’t  do the the foot thing, can’t co-ordinate both my foot and my arm and then  GG thinks to put his foot on it and I yank with both hands like a two-handed golfer, and the rope pulls out all the way and the generator  roars into life and I dance and shout in triumph.

Late afternoon, after I’ve worked further on the rejected novel and run away from it and filled the tub I’ve drilled holes in with the soil Dy brought, and replanted six crammed lettuce seedlings and kicked the tub out along the jetty, like a kid with a football, to where the sun would shine if it was that sort of sunshiney day, I go back up to the house and ask K for her to put her foot on the generator. I give the string another almighty two-handed yank and the thing roars into life again. And we fall around, shouting and cheering and laughing and feeling we’re two powerful women who a little generator can’t put down.






4 Responses to Day 40

  1. I often feel this tension between two mindsets. One – that the years are short, life is precious and fragile, and that it is critical to hustle hard, experience everything, and make the most of each and every moment. Two – that a human life is so small, so impossible and so insignificant, and that nothing we do truly matters. So why not just take your foot off the accelerator, relax and be with the ones we love?

    Being in a period such as this has really heightened that tension for me. Days once filled with sporting pursuits, creative classes and social gatherings have, inexorably, become quiet. This quiet is a new kind of test, a unique challenge to sit alone with myself and to find purpose not from the external pursuit of goals but internally instead.

    A close friend of mine reflected – “I’m actually enjoying isolation. It’s a great excuse to bum around and be a bit of a slob without feeling guilty.”

    I couldn’t help but feel fiercely resistive to that mindset. I knew how my friend was primarily spending his days – watching TV, playing video games, drinking with his housemates. Mindless, mindless, mindless. I think that’s the thing that scares me the most – the thing I am so vehemently resisted to – the idea of spending your days in a mindless daze. Letting inertia take you from one moment to the next, not recognising the true MIRACLE it is to even BE alive, the true gift of being present, here on Earth.

    The quiet, I can learn to navigate. There is beauty to be found in the quiet. There is love here, creativity here, space for reflection and deep thought. But it is this idea – this “normal” – of spending your life drifting, mindless and unintentional, in a state of constant distraction, in a state of constant inertia… THAT is something I could never find peace with.

    So I look to this period of isolation as an opportunity. Not for laziness, not for guilt-free indulgence, not for mindlessness. But an opportunity for deep reflection. An opportunity to connect closely with my family. An opportunity to give service, to help where I can. An opportunity to find peace with a quiet life, not through distraction, but through gratitude, through love, and through the joy that can be discovered in the simplest of things.

  2. Hi Beth,

    Thank you for this reminder. I am sure you are right. But I wonder if your daily work in a hospital brings the fragility of life and its preciousness into sharper focus. Whereas most of us assume that we’ll continue- that is, until now.

  3. Hi Sue, you’re right – being constantly surrounded by death and illness definitely facilitates a more regular contemplation of my own mortality. As tragic and confronting as it can be at times, working in a hospital has the invaluable effect of allowing one to feel gratitude for things that may otherwise be taken for granted. I will often finish a day of work grateful for the mere fact that I can walk easily, breathe deeply and am suffering no physical pain.
    Our health is so easy to overlook when we are not ill or injured and, as you alluded to, I think many of us feel invincible at times – as if these things only happen to other people. It is easy to ignore our health when we are healthy, but it is all that matters when we are not. There is no certainty that sickness, or even death, will spare the young. This is a fact of life and mustn’t be forgotten. It is my hope that something good can come of this virus, as we are all forced to confront our own mortality and remember that we can never know when our story will end. I hope that we will use this as an opportunity to ensure that we are on the right path, that we are prioritising the important things, and that we are not leaving things left unsaid. Above all, I hope that this confrontation will lead not to despair, but to a deep and lasting gratitude for what we have right now, and our presence in this wild and wonderful thing called life

  4. Thank you, Beth. I for one am learning so much. Terror, horror and grief are great teachers. And for me, needing to accept the kindness of others, instead of saying,”No thanks, I can manage”.

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