Brisbane. Sunday, 3.26pm
The trees in the yard are much bigger than they used to be. With the ground cover and bushes taking up much more room, there’s hardly any yard to mow anymore.
I say this to my mum and she says that actually there’s a lot of mowing to do, and it costs a fortune to have it done, but doesn’t everything these days? though the mowing man seems a nice man, has two kids, but he charges like a wounded bull and doesn’t really do a good job, but what can you do? my father used to do an excellent job, remember how he’d be out there on weekends getting the edges exactly neat? oh it was so lovely then, but these days she can’t do it herself, of course, what with the arthritis making her hand useless and her balance is not so good, so she’ll just have to put up with it, but, she supposes, you have to thank God for what you have, however little, what can you do? except battle on and…
The tongue is immune to arthritis.
The path to the creek, which marks the bottom boundary of this suburban block, is overgrown. No-one uses it anymore, except for the mower man who dumps his clippings there. Its entrance is next to the flowering tibouchina.
I tell my mum how lovely the flowering tibouchina is.
She says it is lovely, especially since she had her catataracts done – oh, did she take her eyes drops? yes, she did, good, can’t miss taking them, the doctor told her to take them at certain times and she always follows doctor’s orders because they know best, or they wouldn’t be doctors, right? but she put the steroid drops in the wrong eye this morning, oh dear, how stupid she is getting, oh well, at least she can see colours really really bright since the operation, but she still needs glasses to read or look at the old photos, but what can you do? just battle on, she guesses, and…
Her voice trails off and we stand in silence on the verandah for a minute. A water dragon darts up from the creek. A myna bird darts at the dragon. Memories dart at us from the garden.
It probably hasn’t been a minute, her silence, but, when my mum is quiet, time stretches. Einstein reckoned that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time. Now, my mum is not massive – she has shrivelled from robust to fragile – but her silences stretch seconds into lifetimes, squeeze lifetimes into memories.
She says, ‘Yes, the tibouchina is beautiful,’ and puts her crippled hand around my waist. We stare at the same yard, but it holds different memories for us.
As a teenager, I often used to go down the path to the creek. It was my bushy retreat. I had my first cigarette down at that creek. I smoked Kool, whch seemed cool, and coughed my guts up – which wasn’t. But I practised and practised until my tongue was mentholised numb, and I could smoke a cigarette without coughing.
I’d take my first girlfriend to the creek, helping her, in a gentlemanly way, down the path steps, which my father made. My mother insisted on good manners. At the time, I thought her insistence was a quirky and irritating product of a time gone by – like Brylcreem and cufflinks. Now, I know better.
My first girlfriend and I would sit and watch the water spiders. She’d make flower necklaces. I smoked Kool.
We loved each other but I found another path. Kool went off the market. The teenage boy is a ghost. My father died and the edges got untidy. The creek became a drain.
Only my mum and the creek remain.