Saturday, April 10, 2010

Breakfast Jubes, Bat Dust and Origami Shadows

I woke up yesterday morning and I didn’t get out of bed.

There is a magic hour when the rising sun projects flickering leaves on my bedroom wall. I missed that. Joe got up, I made him toast, he switched on the cartoons and I crawled back upstairs. I dozed with ears wide open to his little scribbling and snipping sounds.  Work on paper and designated craft materials tends to be audible. Illegal alterations to upholstery, hair and other things are generally carried out under some kind of cone of silence.  After a while, Joe carried up his last bit of toast. That got me talking but didn’t really get my head off the pillow, so he went back down and fossicked some wine gums out of the pantry.  I sucked on a port wine jube while he explained the rules of a game that involved a plate full of toast crumbs, ten acorns, my pillows and the creases in my sheets. And so, gently and mercifully later than usual, the day began.

Joe’s heart surgery date has been set, so we’re heading into a quarantine period for the next fortnight.  He’s on his third course of antibiotics and we can’t risk a new chest infection, so we do have to risk going mad with boredom in the meantime. Yesterday we drove down to the local hall,  fought through the overgrown grass, brushed aside the bat droppings and played piano. Last year’s Christmas party decorations were still up – desiccated foliage and faded streamers, blue velvet bows, a plastic Santa tacked over one window, dusty presents under a heavily baubled plastic tree.  Blinded by the sparkle, Joe couldn’t get it into his head that the presents were just boxes wrapped in shiny paper.  I looked at the wall behind the tree, with its trophies and honour rolls, a cup and a football in a cabinet, and two laminated photographs of soldier’s graves. I wondered if they were as empty as the presents. I swept up a bit, while Joe played his concerto, and the kids who once went to school here looked down from the walls.  Middle aged and older, many of them are still in the valley. Most of them don’t come to the Christmas parties any more.

At home in the afternoon, the northern light struck out across the floorboards and we rolled around between the origami shadows.  As winter progresses, the sun will flow further and further into this room.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Quince, Time, Travel and The Anti-Entanglement Motto

Five years ago, my father flew back to England for his Dad’s funeral. Our old quince tree had also given up the ghost, so when we came across what sounded like the perfect poaching recipe, my mother and I went on a quest for a roadside tree. She’d heard a rumour about one in Tallangatta Valley, so we set off. Our valley is wider and greener, but it was an adventure to follow the narrow bitumen into another world, winding between steep yellow slopes and over rocky creek beds. We found the brave little quince, stalwart and solitary. Looking over our shoulders, we picked all the fruit we could reach.

My mother knows how to follow a recipe precisely and, thanks to staunch kitchen gardening, her food is always aligned with the season. The quince dish was magnificent - wine red, heavily spiced, syrupy. Serve with marscapone, said the instructions. I remember eating bowlful after bowlful, sitting by the fire on the couch on the Axminster flowers in the dark of the rammed earth sitting room in the oldest part of the homestead.

If Mum has a culinary Achilles Heel, it’s that, from time to time, she’ll come across a great thing and she’ll get stuck in the groove. Delicious the first night, really nice the second time, OK the third and never again after that.

As I write this, I am suddenly reminded of my friend Anna’s old anti-entanglement motto: Three times in a week, or three times in a month, then never again.

When the pot was empty, we poached another batch, and opened a second tub of marscapone…we’ve been hesitant ever since.

Mum did plant a new quince tree, and this year it’s in beautiful shape. Joseph and I have been watching the fruit turn golden, hoping the folks would return before it started dropping. They’ve both been in England. My sister, who was raised in Australia, jumped on a plane when she was seventeen and has lived in London for years. She’s just had a baby and my parents were there for the gruelling, happy event.

My father flew home yesterday. In between bouts with the lawn, he appeared at my door, asking for cream or yoghurt. He was thinking of doing up some quince. I had a heavy, pink, poached flashback. Luckily, Dad’s cooking is a bit like his farming – resourceful, rugged, imprecise, only vaguely inspired by rules and usually containing a substitute ingredient (no point making a special trip to town for just one thing). An hour or so later he reappeared with a dish and we sat down by the big picture window in what was the grain shed in unseasonably warm and green autumn light. I’d never seen quince like this before - dry, sweet, golden brown, caramelised in parts, slightly leathery, the quintessence of autumn. A kind of time travel happened from the first mouthful – is there any other fruit that tastes so old-fashioned? He worried that the dish was too dry, that even though he’d left the seeds in the fruit hadn’t gone pink, and that he should have used treacle instead of golden syrup instead of sugar.
Ahh. Golden syrup. The perfect substitute.

To revise the motto: Three times in a row, then five years down the track? A wonderfully transformed experience.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stepping Moments

Joseph wrote his name for the first time yesterday. The p and h had magnificently long stalks, the o was perfect and the capital J was dashed off with flair (he’s been practising this for a while). E has become a nervous letter for him. The tail wobbled out a bit and then took off on another journey altogether.
“It’s a hospital bed”, he said.

This is a golden season. My mother’s vegetable patch is overflowing, gentle sunlight filters and flickers through the acacias that surround our house, and the air is perfect. Joseph and I went on a picnic yesterday, riding a red motorbike through the green paddocks to Mailman’s Gap. We boiled the billy there a few weeks ago, when my brother Ben visited, and it was so good to find that the forked stick he wedged over the fire is still standing. My fire was pathetic, but Joseph loved laying out the lunch and making tepid tea. Afterwards, I lay back into the damp shade and looked up into the canopy. Silvery gums, dead and alive, fig leaves, a circling crow. I thought about beauty as deeply as I could, under the splash-downs, tackles, rolls, knee-borne aeroplanes and little fists full of grass.

I am waiting on a letter that will tell us when Joseph’s second operation is scheduled. In May last year he had a gortex tube fitted inside his heart to channel blood into the proper atrium. Now tests show that veins have narrowed around the fix. The blood supply to his lungs is impaired. When I asked the cardiologist if narrowing could happen all over again, he changed the subject.

Several times a day, my thoughts leap out of confinement and fly to horrific extremes. Beauty is not always a refuge. Where’s the humour?

Joseph’s grandmother accelerates the Prius towards a woman and a pram, in our desperation to get to a parking spot, as I lean out the window and scare off the stressed old man who is trying to bring things to a sick child.

Joseph throws food at the café in the lobby and the woman who turns to us, as her wheelchair bound daughter moans wordlessly at being tube fed, asks:
“Wanna swap?”

The surgeon visits us in intensive care, looks at me looking at Joe under his spaghetti junction of tubes and wires, and says:
“Happy now?”

Every day, six children are born in Australia with a congenital heart defect. The system for fixing them runs on a knife-edge between efficiency and failure.

Our moments are like stepping stones on a rope bridge, suspended between what has happened and what is to come.