BUW: Twenty-Eight Years Old

Saturday, 8 December 2007

We used to play together, you and I.

You would invite me into the kitchen to have a cup of tea that was never really ever there. Just pretend. If I was going to the shops, I’d offer to pick something up for you - if you needed it. Often I didn’t have enough room in my basket from all the dolls and teacups, but I’d always offer. You had your house in the kitchen and I had mine under the table in the dining room, with teatowel flaps for the entrance. You’d call me Mrs Smith and we were kindly neighbours.

Only the years separated us.

We didn’t know anyone else in the neighbourhood because we had each other. We were friends as well as neighbours. We didn’t need to share our affection with anyone else. We didn’t know what it was like for friendship to flit around like butterflies because we didn’t really have any.

My friends are scattered all around the world. I flit too much. From place to place, time to time, heart to heart. When you move away from memories, they chase you no matter where in the world you go. They stick and refuse to let go. They enter your dreams when you try to run, and drag you back to freakish reality when the morning comes. No matter that you are far from home or near. No matter that you’re unsure where your home is meant to be.

Today I am twenty-eight years old and the days are the coldest the year will bring. February in Paris is frozen. Today I am the age my mother was when I was born and she only lived to see ten years of my life. Such a short time, ten years. And the longer your life is, the more time you have to miss her.

Outside the snow is melting and tinged with the pink light that Paris goes to bed with each night. My toes are resting on the radiator and a chocolat chaud warms my fingers right to the tips. I grip the mug tightly and press my nose inside it to breathe in the steam. On the other side of the park, I can see birds plucking at things in the snow. New shoots of almost-spring, seeds that were frozen before they could germinate, the careless crumbs of baguettes on the way home from work. There is barely anyone on the street.

My apartment is small and cramped with boxes and suitcases and plastic bags full of things to give to give to the poor before I leave. I smile and chocolate steam coats my cheeks. It is I who has been poor this year. Deliciously poor. Hunting in thrift shops for grungy clothes at a bargain. Nibbling on day-old baguettes and wine from the supermarket at sixteen francs a bottle. Burning candles at night to save electricity. Rosa and Marco tried to send money but I didn’t want it. How I’ve needed this simple existence. How I’ve needed the endless days of contemplation. To find out what I want to do. To discover who I want to be. To grieve. Eighteen years of grieving is too long.

There are ashtrays on the window-sill filled with the butts of Claude’s cigarettes. The irony that he shares Monet’s name. Some of his papers are still strewn around. There are coffee cups still to be washed and plates from neighbours to return. But otherwise everything is packed, except my easel and paints. I’m unsure if I want them to make the journey home with me. The paint tubes are squished and squeezed at all angles. They curl in angst. My few paintings are stacked in boxes to be shipped home - I sold most of them on the Seine - there where the artists are painting Pont Neuf and Île de la Cité, squinting against the gentle light to capture the colours and the shadows just right.

I was a novelty there, there on the Seine, in the cold and the snow, in the fresh summer days with chestnut trees bursting with leaf, and in the crunchy autumns and florally springs. I was a novelty because there was no Expressionism on my canvas. No Impressionism, no gentle soft colours and brush strokes of Masters long gone. There was no Matisse, no Sisley, no Van Gogh, no Monet. No Macke, Kandinksy or Dix. There was certainly no Dali, Michelangelo or Botticelli. There was even no Turner, who influenced me greatly during my formative years.

There was only my heritage, my stock, the warm and loving guidance of my mother, who no longer lived around me, but through me.

There was red soil and cobalt skies and white girdles of gum trees with elegant limbs and fingertip gumleaves.

There were waterholes and harbours and rockpools by the ocean, with white patches of reflection from the sun.

There were cities with flower-drenched parks and hot air balloons over lakes and elegant buildings and monsters and clowns and beautiful people at Mardi Gras.

There were lovers entwined and elderly people in shades of black and white, standing by cabins on the beach.

There were angry rapids and churning beaches with sand-strips so white and so hot, they are impossible to cross.

There were gentle inlets and trickling creeks, thick green rivers that move like lava with overhanging ropes where children can scream and leap and fall into depths too emerald to fathom.

There were tiny islands dropped into limpid green waters like pikelets on a hot plate, coral banks with swarming angel fish of colour that only children can truly know.

There were thick tropical rainforests and deep woodlands of pine, silent and strong.

There were children on bikes, tearing past sugar cane fields, ablaze against the night sky.

There were snow-capped mountains with quiet pine lodges and endless scapes of bushland with drovers on rearing horses, galloping amongst national parks with peaks and cliff drops over enormous expanses of wilderness - such grandeur and raw beauty, one’s eyes cannot hold it without weeping.

Cold, so cold, in Paris today.

Tomorrow I will return to the Australian heat waves that sweep the coast in late summer. Sydney will be at its most brilliant, its most incandescent - piercing sun and a harbour that twinkles on the surface and has white froth lines where the ferries always go. My chest peaks on a deep breath. For the first time in a very long time, I feel comfortable with going home.

I think I’m going home.

I guess I’ll find out when I get there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is exquisite. Thank you.

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