Written March 24 2020
My new life as a farmer : the spinach seeds haven’t showed little tips in a line, but I water assiduously. I told my students I was watering them assiduously and Anne warned: “keep the soil damp but not waterlogged”. I squat and consider the puddles; have I water logged or just dampened? Two puddles. Maybe that’s waterlogged. Oh well, maybe the sun will evaporate it soon. Maybe the seeds won’t notice just this once. I go up to the big house and cook pancakes for morning tea, to cheer us all up. Pancakes with a squeeze of lemon from our tree and a few slices of our three precious mangoes. Only mangoes kept in the fridge, maybe to last till next summer.
I suggest to GG that we start on our new life as fisherpeople. I’m trying not to nag. His back is too bad. I suggest I at least untangle the fishing lines and he growls. I’ll tangle them more. It’s true- I don’t have a good record with slow, meticulous work. Only with editing words, though that’s slow and meticulous. Otherwise, I’m fast and slapdash. Despite the pancakes, I’m about to nag about how we mustn’t wait till we’re down to our last frozen fish, when K interrupts to say she didn’t brought enough modavigil, only 3 left. In 4 days, she’ll be unable to stay awake. She needs to stay awake for this new life.
We leave most prescriptions in Darlinghurst’s Priceline. I ring S. He knows our family well, and always asks after everyone. He’d be a good man in a village. No problem, he’ll fax it through to the chemist in Brooklyn. Yes, he’ll do it this morning. But when I ring the Brooklyn chemist, he’s sold out of modavigil. But his assistant works at a chemist near Gosford. She’ll be here tomorrow so he’ll ask her to bring it, or to find it at another chemist there. Sometimes this new world feels full of kindness.
Pancakes improve GG’s back, and we untangle fishing lines and prop them up off the jetty, so they fish for themselves. GG comes up to the top house excited while I make lunch. He’s found a wire cage just slung by someone into the garden! Who? Anyway, it’d be a good fish trap. It’s really well built, solid, much more solid than he would make. Proper corners and all!It must’ve been made by previous people here.
“But that’d be 20 years ago!”
I go down to the deck outside the cabin where he’s hammering wooden struts into the cage. I recognise it- it protected the lemon tree when it was little. I’ve regularly watered between the wire. I know it by heart. The tree’s only just grown out of it, and I must’ve slung it on the ground.
“You made it,” I say.
He stands back ,surprised.
‘I did a really good job,” he says.
But he’s distracted by a new, much more exciting idea for a big fish trap- to use the white netting which every year, I throw over the peach tree to stop the possums eating peaches – it never works, they sneak under it, no matter how much I peg the mesh to the branches. We’ve never eaten a single peach from that tree. What he’ll do is he’ll sling it between two pylons, with weights underneath, and a rope to pull it up like a blind so we can just pick off the fish!
I’m excited with him. At last we’ll be able to live off the land.
“It’d catch more fish than that little cage. So many, we won’t know what to do with them. We’ll have to give them away to the neighbours.”
So he abandons the wire cage and by evening, I ‘m helping him sling up the peach tree fish net trap.
“We’ll have fried fish for breakfast,” he says.
After dinner, an other easy one, my dear friend L rings. She lives alone in a big empty house near Centennial Park .She’s very sociable, she adores her family but she’s not allowed to visit her 4 grandchildren, they’r not allowed to visit her. Usually they’re in her big house every second day. Now, she’s lonely. But she’s just been having a cocktail hour on zoom with her sisters.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to last 2 months, she says. Two months! I’ll never make it.”
“That’s how long they said it’ll last.”
“Who saying that? More like two years.”
“Oh – some politician or other,” she says, faltering, considering what she normally says about politicians.
Listen to the scientists, I’m about to say, but instead I text her link to corona cast with Norman Swann.
The easy dinner: I cook chicken legs and sweet potatoes on the BBQ, and we sit outside looking at the stars. In nature, I’m calm. I try to photograph the stars on my phone to send to her, to cheer her up, but all I can send is a black rectangle.
The tide is coming in, and it won’t be low for 7 or 8 hours. So we’ll be able to get back home from the chemist’s. The wind’s good, a calm day. At times, it’s been so windy here , that we’ve had to turn back. 38 km an hour is too high for us, since there’s wild water out to the ocean once we get past the first of 3 bridges and for 15 minutes after. But today it’s only 19. So I’m allowed to take the boat to Brooklyn but Gordon brings it in to berth at the marina for a strictly controlled 5 minutes. GG says he’ll buy petrol to keep the marina happy, and then linger in the marina shop deliberating between a tin of salmon or a tin of tuna. He demonstrates looking thoughtful. I still find his chin charming. Firm, but not too firm chin. He strokes it now and I laugh. I often think how lucky I was to meet him, that he’s good-looking as well as good. I felt myself to be the ugliest women in the world, so ugly I didn’t rate as a woman, and I often wondered why he even noticed me. It’s not just his looks, it’s his- well- loving kindness. Before I met him I wanted dangerous men. It always ended in tears, but I didn’t seem to be able to learn. I swore I’d never be with a man again, and hid away for 15 months, then suddenly at a poetry reading I met him. A poetry reading. I’d gone there alone. As we walked away from it, we discovered we’d both had fathers who were artists. We were walking side by side, him tall, me short. We must’ve stopped and despite the difference in height, gazed into each other’s eyes.
“Really…!” We’d said together. It suddenly seemed like a special club, people who had artist fathers. Now our daughter has writer parents. I wonder if ever in her life, she’ll meet someone who had the same, and they’ll gaze into each other’s eyes, and both say “Really!…”
I leap out of the boat and run the 1/2 km to the chemist. it seems empty- only a man loitering on the verandah. I go in.
“You’re jumping the queue,” says the man, now behind me.
I stop abruptly, turn, apologise. Apparently we’re only allowed to go in one at a time.
A woman comes out, the man goes in. In these new times, every chat is a pleasure, even with a total stranger. And we’ve got something in common to talk about.
“How are you managing all this?” I ask.
She looks at me nonplussed. I add that I’m a local. There are many tourists here, and being a local means you’re in the club. She smiles. I’m in that club.
She tells me that at the tiny post office next door, the man who runs it wouldn’t sell her stamps.
“But post offices have to stay open,” I say.
“It’s his post office, and he says it isn’t open,” she said.
As I go into the chemist, I see her going back to the post office, determined to demand her stamps.
The chemist has been as good as his word, and found the meds. Since there’s no one outside on his verandah waiting, I walk around his shop seeing what else we might need. It’s a new pleasure, one that would’ve seemed boring a week ago. New toothbrushes, picksters, shower caps- they’ll feel like Christmas presents back home.
As I hurry down the street towards the boat, I pass the woman who wanted stamps.
“I got them”, she says triumphantly. And she says more quietly, though loud enough for me to hear: “He’s got masks for sale!”
Masks, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, were sold out everywhere in the city!
“And if you can’t afford one, he’ll give it to you. He’s a good man, after all. Just scared.”
I go to the post office. He’s piled up chairs at the doorway so I can’t go inside. But he sells me a mask, a proper one, that looks like a prop for Star Wars. As he hands it to me, I worry about how to hold it, so I noticed where his hand touched when he handed it to me, and I don’t touch where he touched. This is why I had to leave the city. It seems so calculating, so rejecting.
But then he holds up a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer, another thing we couldn’t buy in the city.
K has said she has a little bottle in her bag from years ago. I’m sure she wouldn’t have paid $15 for it. But it might be beyond its expiry date.
“No,” I decide. After all, we’re not going to go back to the city until it’s all over. After forever.
I’ve taken ten minutes but Gg is still in the marina shop, deciding between three plastic-wrapped zucchinis for $6 and a $5 lettuce that looks home-grown, with big dark green leaves. I’m so used to the manufactured look of pale round lettuces, that I’m delighted.
“Both”, I decide. I’m normally more careful but I seem to be changing. Is this what happens when you run away forever?