|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||326 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Closed for Winter
By Georgia Blain
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 1998 Georgia Blain
All rights reserved.
Behind us the ocean is pale blue.
I hold the photograph up to the light and look closely. The colour has faded but I can remember it as it was. Silver-blue, but pink with the warmth of the last of the day.
We are silhouetted. Two young girls. Long limbed and gawky. Awkward, thin and misplaced. Me more so than Frances. At twelve, she stood poised on the edge of change and hating it. Furious with it and with everyone around her. But she had a certain grace, a certain strength in her defiance. You can see it, even in that picture.
At eight, I was still safely cocooned in childhood. Still on the right side of the fence. But I wanted to be like her. In the photo, I am trying to stand in the way that she stands. I am trying to look the way that she looks. But I am a child and she is not.
Our features? Eyes? Nose? Mouth? I hold the photograph closer but nothing is discernible. We are figures against a pale-blue backdrop. I cannot see the details, the parts that made up who we were. But if I close my eyes, if I concentrate, I can remember.
And it is the heat that I feel first.
Standing with my eyes closed in the house where I live with Martin, my photograph on the table in front of me.
Feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders as I lie in the rock pool again. Knowing that this is where I am because this is where I was every day of that summer.
And I am concentrating. I am taking myself back.
The row of shells on the rock ledge next to me, but they are not shells. They are my jewels. The seaweed on my back, but it is not seaweed. It is my hair. My legs stretched out in front of me, but they are not legs. They are my tail.
I am a mermaid. Sliding down into the pool and holding my breath. Swimming down to my palace, deep down in the dark-blue sea.
This is the way I was.
And far off, the boys dive-bomb from the jetty. They run, full pelt, along the wooden planks and then leap, high in the air, legs tucked tight against the chest, shouting wildcat calls as they crash, like bullets, into the depths.
While outside this house, the house where I am now, the wind comes up from the gully, shaking the winter-wet branches of the trees, cold and bracing.
But I am not really here.
I am there.
In my pool, with my back to the jetty. Lost in my world; my sister, Frances, somewhere in hers. Up there on the jetty, leaning lazily against the railing, with the boys, a cigarette in one hand, her free arm draped around the waist of the toughest boy, the best-looking boy, a boy who also smokes a cigarette, pinched between his thumb and forefinger, down to the butt and then flicks it expertly into the ocean, where it floats bobbing on the surface.
This is what it was like. Day after day.
This is the place to which I try to return.
But it is not just this general picture that I am trying to remember. It is not just the summer as a whole. I am always trying to narrow it down. I am always trying to take myself back to the one day, to pick out the details that made that particular day what it was.
I turn the photograph over in my hands. On the reverse there is nothing, just the word 'Kodak' in pale-grey print. I have not written our names or the date on which the photo was taken. It was one of those days, but I do not know exactly which one.
No one knows I have this picture. Not even Dorothy, my mother. I have always kept it hidden and I change the hiding spot regularly. Or else I carry it around with me, tucked into the back of my diary. I bring it out when I am alone, when Martin is out and I am in the house by myself, when there is no one behind the box office desk with me, or on the bus after work.
I have had this photograph for years.
I have had it since that day.
And for months afterwards, I would keep it hidden under my pillow and each night I would take it out and stare at it, trying to take myself back, going through every detail to see if there was something I had missed, while at the other end of the house, my mother would be sitting in front of the television, chain-smoking in front of an endless blur of pictures, until, at last, she fell asleep.
I would hear her.
And then it would be quiet.
I would turn off my light, close my eyes and tell myself, Okay, one more time, from the beginning, in order, and I would start again, picking through that day, piece by piece, from beginning to end.
And this is what I still do.
This is what I am trying to do now.
With my photograph under the light, I am taking myself back to that day.
Tell us what happened? they would ask when they questioned me later. And I would. Step by step. Over and over again.
From the beginning.
I would take myself back to that morning. I would see my mother getting ready for work, standing by the sink, a cup of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other, telling us what she always tells us. Frances is in charge. I must do as she says.
The sizzle of her cigarette as she butts it out in the sink. The pink lipstick on the rim of her coffee cup.
I start from here because this is where they would tell me to start. This is the logical place. Tell us what happened? they would ask. From when your mother left, they would say.
And I would hear her slam the door, late, shouting out instructions, running back to get her keys, her hair already loose and wild about her face.
And then gone.
Just Frances and I.
And then? they would ask, sometimes leaning forward, encouraging me to keep going, sometimes sitting back. Step by step. Over and over again.
And I would hear my sister telling me I have ten minutes and I know she is telling me I have to be ready by then, that she will go regardless of whether I am ready or not. It is up to me.
Step by step, through that day. Over and over again.
And I am racing to the bedroom, pushing past her. She is putting on her new bikini that she nicked from Grace Brothers last week. She is rubbing coconut oil into her legs. She is smearing gloss on her lips.
All of these details I can remember and recite.
Wait, I cry as she starts heading for the door, because I am still making my bed.
She has left hers as it is.
Wait, I shout again, knowing that she will not listen to me, knowing there is no time to smooth out the blankets and fold over the sheet in the way I like.
And I am running out the back door, into the glare of the day. I am chasing her, telling her to wait, seeing her there at the gate, pulling my towel off the line, pegs scattering behind me, as I run to catch up.
This is the way it was.
This is where I start because this is where they tell me to start.
But sometimes I want to go back. Further and further. Sometimes it doesn't feel right. Sometimes I just don't know. How can you understand one day without understanding the day before and the day before that one?
I have to stop myself. I have to pull myself back. Because otherwise it would be endless.
I have to begin at the beginning, from the place they tell me.
I have to remember.CHAPTER 2
Today is my twenty-eighth birthday. I am catching the bus down to Dorothy's house. Martin will join us later and I will cook dinner for the three of us. It was his idea. Not hers and certainly not mine.
Martin and I live at one end of the number 12 bus route, Dorothy lives at the other. From the foothills to the beach. There is one road and it stretches, straight and wide, no bends, no deviations, only the occasional slight rise to alleviate the monotonous miles.
I know this road well. I have travelled it more times than I could care to imagine.
When I was young, I caught this bus from my mother's house to school. I would sit near the front, where the adults sat, not wanting to hear the others down the back, and hoping they would not notice me. But they were impossible to ignore.
The old man sitting next to me would tut-tut and shake his head in disapproval as a school bag came spinning up the aisle.
You're dead, mate, and there would be a scuffle and a thump as someone hit the floor.
The girls would laugh, blowing perfect streams of smoke into the air, and the bus driver would pull over to the side of the road.
Okay, he would shout, you and you – out.
Not one of them would move.
You heard me, and he would glare at them, one more time, before finally giving up with a shrug of his shoulders.
And the bus would groan as he veered it back into the morning traffic.
I caught this bus into the city when I studied Business at the Institute of Technology. Lectures five days a week for three years, and I would go in on the number 12 in the morning and home on the number 12 in the early afternoon. When I finished studying, I started working at the State Theatre, and I still caught the number 12. From Dorothy's to my job.
Now that I live with Martin, I just catch it from the other direction, from Martin's house to work, and, once a week, from work to Dorothy's and from Dorothy's back to Martin's, travelling the entire route, from the sea to the newly planted eucalypts in our suburb.
So, I know this road well.
I know the progression of houses, from the neat brick homes where Martin and I live to the cluster of office blocks in the city, to the sprawl of low houses that get shabbier as you get closer to the beach.
I know each brick fence, each gravel drive and each front door.
I know the shops, the small supermarkets, the milk bars selling hamburgers and the video stores. A group on every third or fourth corner, and the occasional one on its own, a furniture shop or a hardware store that struggles to stay open, because no one stops along this straight wide road any more.
When we get the insurance money, we will move to a place like that, Dorothy used to say pointing to one of the new brick houses closer to the city. She would squeeze our hands. Your father loved me and he will have made sure that we are all right. She would toss her hair back and her voice would become louder and louder. He loved me and I loved him.
Everyone on the bus could hear. We could feel their eyes on us and we kept ours fixed on the ground. Staring at our feet. Waiting to see who would kick first. The tap of my sister's toe against my heel, the knock of my own shoe against hers, back and forth, back and forth, in time to the relentless flow of our mother's words.
When the insurance money finally did come, it was only just enough to buy the house that we lived in, the house that I grew up in, the house that I did not leave until I was twenty-two.
I have never wanted one of those new brick houses. But I live in one now. With Martin. His mother left it to him when she died.
On our third night out together, he took me back to his house and when he opened the front door, I noticed the smell. It was like everything had been covered in plastic. I stood at the entrance, hesitant to go in.
This is it, Martin said proudly as he turned on the hall light, and I remember wishing he hadn't said that. This is it. This was the escape that I was choosing.
I sat nervously in the lounge room while he made me a cup of tea. It was like sitting in a waiting room. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a photo on his desk. I picked it up and held it under the light. It was a wedding photo.
My wife, Martin said, when he brought the tea in.
I was embarrassed at being caught, and in my rush to put it back where I found it, I dropped it.
I should have told you, he said. She left me, he explained, about four months ago, and when he looked up from the floor where the photograph lay at our feet, I accidentally brushed his hand.
It's all right, he said, we weren't suited.
I looked down at his wife's face, there in her white dress on the shag pile in his mother's house, and I could feel the pressure of his hand in mine.
Everything was quiet.
Outside, the evening wind from the gully was making the gum trees sway and bend, silver against the night sky, leaves shaking in a mass, and I closed my eyes and imagined I had slammed his front door behind me and run up those streets, up past the last line of houses to the blackness of the hills beyond. Running as I run in my dreams, tireless for miles, until from somewhere high above, I looked down on all this. All the lights of the houses, sparkling small and insignificant, and in the midst of them, this house, with him and me sitting here in this room, in this silence.
I did not lift my gaze to meet his. It was him. He lifted my head in his hands until my mouth met his, and he kissed me. Briefly.
I will show you the bathroom, he said.
And I followed him, silent, thinking, This is it. This is it.
Outside it is night. In winter, it gets dark early, and by the time I leave work, the day has gone. When I look out the bus window, I can only see the lights of the houses and the cars. I lean my head against the cold glass and feel the chill against my skin.
By the time we reach my stop, the bus is empty. It is the second-last stop on the route. Martin's house is the second-last stop at the other end of the route. I pull the cord, and the bus driver brakes suddenly.
Sorry, he says, I thought everyone had already got off.
I can only just hear his voice above the shudder of the engine as he pulls up to the side of the road. But I think that was what he said to me.
The wind is blowing off the sea and there is salt in the air. I can taste it on the tip of my tongue. My coat flies behind me as I walk down the road to the small group of shops at the back of Dorothy's house.
Every week I shop for her. John Mills, the doctor who lives up the street, also shops for her. He buys what she needs. I buy the things that she does not want him to know about. She leaves a list on the table for me, near the door, so that I will pick it up when I leave. Without anything ever needing to be said.
I buy her cigarettes at the newsagency and her beer at the bottle shop next door. I also buy food for our dinner tonight; steak, potatoes and peas, and, at the last minute, a cake from the supermarket because it is, after all, my birthday.
As I am coming out of the shop, I see Mrs Donovan. I try to look away, but it is too late. Our eyes meet.
Hello, Elise. She smiles and her voice has a measure of concern. They are all like this. They will always be like this. How's your poor mother? she asks.
I tell her that she's fine and as I speak, I turn my whole body away from her, wanting to look like I am in a hurry.
You know if ever there's anything you need done, you just have to ask.
I am not sure what she means but I smile politely and thank her.
I'm sure Jo-anne would love to catch up. Maybe you could come and have dinner next time she visits? Or I could arrange an evening?
Jo-anne is her daughter. We went to school together but we were not friends.
Mrs Donovan is not really concerned for me. She is just curious. They are all just curious. Still. After all these years.
I tell her that I must hurry. I turn my back on her as I am saying goodbye because I do not want to see that look on her face.
On Military Road the wind is wild. It comes straight off the ocean. I can feel the spray from the sea even though I am two streets back, and above my head the pine trees creak dangerously. The streetlights are out and I walk quickly, head down, forcing my way through the gust. There are not many cars. One comes towards me, crawling slowly, and I can hear the bass of the stereo speakers long before it gets close. As it passes, the driver leans on his horn, and someone winds down the window and shouts out to me. I cannot hear the words above the music and the roar of the wind. It may be someone I know. It may not.
I just keep my head low and walk faster.
I hate these streets at night.CHAPTER 3
You often do not see things until you are forced to see them through the eyes of someone else.
That is the way it is for me.
I do not think I ever really saw our house until Martin first came here. I do not think I ever really saw Dorothy either. But perhaps I did. Somewhere, deep inside. I just did not want to admit it to myself.
Excerpted from Closed for Winter by Georgia Blain. Copyright © 1998 Georgia Blain. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.