Brisbane. Sunday, 10.30am
‘What’s this?’ I ask, extracting a folder from a cardboard box full of folders.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Probably some of your father’s business stuff,’ my mother says, pulling out another folder.
She and I are rifling through cardboard boxes stacked in a little room under her house. This room used to be my room when I was a teenager. I liked it. It was tiny, but it was separate from the rest of the house upstairs – and I parked my motorcycle just outside the door.
‘This is your father’s,’ my mother says, voice quavering, reading a page filled with looping scrawl. I recognise my father’s writing. She wipes her eyes with a handkerchief she has manifested from somewhere. (Always carry a hanky. Best advice I ever got from my mother.)
‘This is familiar…’ I say, holding a fat blue folder.
‘Some of this stuff is your father’s. The rest of it is Des’s,’ she says.
Everything changes. Like, one day, I woke up in this little room, chucked some clothes and a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into a saddlebag, jumped on my Suzuki 500 and left.
Next time I saw this room, years later, my father was using it as an office for his business. My father worked hard. But everything changes. He died, leaving financial security for his wife, a lesson about life’s precariousness for me, and boxes of stuff.
There’s nothing of me left in this room. Nothing, except, perhaps, this fat blue folder I’m holding. My hands remember it. My brain is slower.
After my father’s death, my mother remarried. He was a gentle man, Des. He used this room as his private space, a refuge. Here, he painted – his neat, ordered depictions an antidote to an untidy, chaotic world. Upstairs, his paintings hang on the walls. They show me that the mark you make on life can be graceful. It’s all you can do, I suppose. He and I agreed that grace and truth are the same.
Still holding the fat blue folder, I spy, behind a dusty pedestal fan, a wooden easel cradling an incomplete painting of a Japanese temple.
‘He was painting that for me, you know,’ my mother says, following my eyes to the easel. ‘He never finished it…’
She makes a little gasp. I hold her to me. Des died a year ago.
My mother is two times lucky; she had two great loves in her life. And two times sad, losing two great loves. She’s frail. I can feel her heart flutter. My heart hurts for her.
Even though the only thing we know – we can ever experience – is life, death hangs over that life like a spectre. My mother is clearing out the dusty residues of her husbands’ lives to make space for what remains of her own. It’s tough confronting the ghosts so you can address the reality.
‘Well, well,’ I say, changing the focus and opening the fat blue folder.
‘What is it?’ my mother asks.
‘Jeez, Mum. I haven’t seen this since… since I was living here.’
‘What is it?’ she asks again.
‘Look,’ I say, lowering the opened folder to her level. (She’s small now, my mother.)
Inside the folder are 45s, singles from my youth: Lola by The Kinks, Moon Shadow by Cat Stevens, Have you Ever Seen the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Love Her Madly by The Doors – stuff my son can throw out when I die.
‘They’re dusty,’ my mother says.
‘Yes, it’s been a long time.’
‘Seems like yesterday.’
I take a hanky from my pocket and wipe the dust from the records.
‘I never liked your music,’ my mother says, smiling.