Category Archives: short story

Farm Reflections: Beryl

MurtcaimShe cups her hands under my jaw, drawing me close. Her touch is soft, a stark contrast to the arduous work she began at 10 years old. She kisses my cheek, skimming the corner of my lips. It’s the kind of exchange that exudes the nurture of a mother’s kiss, of appreciation and protection. Those few seconds are tattooed inside of me, such is the power of her touch.

‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘For giving me so much of your time today.’ I had tried to leave hours earlier through concern of taking up too much of her time, before a plate of pointed egg, and ham and cheese sandwiches appeared.

She smiles. ‘Thanks for coming, dear. It was lovely meeting you.’ Her smile is unfaltering, more spirited and permanent than the Mona Lisa.

I pull out the red capsicums from the box and bunch of rhubarb bound by an elastic band with leaves browning at their sliced tops, and toss the Spanish onions and tomatoes into the bowl in the pantry. SBS Chill plays smooth over the radio, although the tunes seem to hinge in a haunting of melancholy. Shuffling, stomps in boots on floorboards with no time to kick them off or wipe away the lipstick from the day, from one cupboard to the next, doors opening and banging with bongo beats of intermingling that flee to the other side of the world.

‘Here, have you seen this?’ he asks, handing me a bluing photo of footballers wearing Geelong AFL jumpers.

More football, but it seems to be what people are passionate about. It played a big part in the community over the years, with many attending weekend games and dances that followed in the Farm hall.

‘She played on the MCG you know.’

I look up over my spectacles, unsure of truth or jovial yarn.

‘She did! I’m not telling any tales.’

Beryl smiles broadly from her arm chair. ‘Yeah, it’s true,’ she nods.

I look closely at the photo. These footballers are women, having played in 1952. ‘We’ve got photos of women playing football in 1950, ‘51 and now ‘52!’ Women took to the field to the upturned noses of some and admiration of others back more than 67 years ago. The hype of women’s football today was built on the strength and foresight of those women and men.

‘I played in the ’51 and ’52 games. Bob Davis was our coach in 1952.’ The sun streaming through the dining room window casts elongated shadows that autumn is known for, lighting Beryl from behind. ‘Sunny Stewart and Linda Tetsil would fake a fight every game.’

I laugh. ‘I thought fake fighting only happened in wrestling!’

A sip of rosé, the green stem of the wine glass reminding me of faraway. Back to the pantry I prance for that onion already packed away. Peeling and chopping, grating in mechanical auto pilot … a slip of the knuckle on my thumb. Onion juice soon seeps into the graze. It stings but I don’t stop. Blood begins to streak, forcing me to search for a band aid. When the boys were little, band aids always disappeared into that black hole of socks. My grating of fingers is all too common in our household and at the suggestion of one of those boys who is now a man, band aids today live in the kitchen. I wonder how many times Beryl grated her fingers in her day, or worse still, gained splinters and cuts from the logs she chopped.

‘I was Dad’s helper up until he died when I was nine,’ she says.

‘That’s young,’ I say, in jarring knowing of loss as a child.

‘Because I was the second eldest in the family, I took on the outside chores when Dad died. My older sister helped Mum inside. I’d have to chop wood for the wood stove and to heat up the copper for washing clothes.’

‘For bathing too,’ says Don. ‘Don’t forget the bathing. You were a hard worker, love.’

Beryl nods. ‘I’d feed the pigs and milk the cows, and churn the cream and butter.’

‘You’ve got to understand that era,’ says Don. He reminds me of my grandfather, trying to teach me of the “old life”. ‘You had no choice. They had no father, no electricity because they weren’t in the town. Beryl had to do those things with no father.’

‘And you milked the cows twice a day?’

Beryl nods. ‘About five or five thirty at each end of the day.’

‘She’d do that before and after school and when she went on to work, and she’d have a five or six-mile ride on her push bike to and from Werribee to get to work.’ Don’s gloating is of that other admiration, one of deep and lifelong love between two people.

‘And before Beryl and her family got to the 40 Road and the house in Clover’s Yard where they stored fencing posts and concrete pipes and those sorts of things, before her father died, they lived out at Murtcaim near us. In a stable.’

Beryl giggles. ‘The horse would stick its head through the kitchen window.’

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘How could a family live in a stable when every other worker and their family had a house?’

‘Again, it was the era. A single man would look after the horses and live in the stable with the them. It was an oversight to have a family in there. Mr Vincent was the Farm manager at the time and he didn’t know they were living in the stable. But as soon as he found out, he arranged for a house for them to move into.’

‘We moved in on Boxing Day 1939.’

‘Beryl’s Mum had trouble adjusting after the stable. She didn’t know how to use the electricity,’ says Don. ‘She wasn’t confident with it.’

Beryl giggles again. ‘I used to crank the handle for Mum on the car too.’

‘What do you mean?’ Surely her mother hadn’t been driving that far back?

‘Mum learnt to drive in a Whippet after Dad died and I’d have to crank the handle to start the car for her. She would’ve got her licence in 1949 or so.’

I feel her cupped hands at my jaw again before striding out to feed lettuce and cauliflower leaves, carrot tops and onion skins to the chooks.

‘Here chookies,’ I call, swishing through already building dew that sends droplets onto the points of my suede boots. They come scuttling from their foraging behind the bottle brush when they hear me. I think it’s more that they notice the blue container, an ever-reliable source of sustenance for them.

‘The Board had a policy of no women working on the Farm back then,’ says Don. ‘But they gave Beryl’s mum a job when her father died.’

‘Mum cleaned the offices so we could keep living on the Farm. You couldn’t stay in a Board house if you didn’t work there on the Farm.’ Beryl barely moves in her armchair. She doesn’t look unwell, with a healthy glow and one of the kindest smiles I’d seen, yet a walking frame on wheels sits by her.

‘Mum had five kids to look after and she was determined to keep her family together. She’d iron for some of the mangers on the Farm and clean for them too to earn enough money.’ Her quiet spoken words are edged in zeal, revealing a wider spectrum of strength. In her position of centre half back on the football field and as a woman that would tower over me even now, she would have flung me like a frisbee rather than tackle me to the ground if I had played against her.

Don wanders off into the bedroom, I’m hoping for photos of where he lived as a child on the Farm, in the Murtcaim area. I don’t yet know a lot about Murtcaim.

‘I’m not very well,’ says Beryl, almost whispering. ‘My heart’s not working properly and they can’t do anything more for me.’

‘What do you mean? Why can’t they do anything?’

‘I’m too far gone.’ Her look becomes one of pensive contemplation.

‘But you don’t look sick, Beryl.’

Don returns, clasping a few small photos. ‘Look, here she is. Beryl on her bike and on the fence post. Look at that smile.’

And there she was. Perched on the flat top of the fence post, holding her knees in close, looking so relaxed and content and with an air of cheery chipper, even with all the responsibilities of back then.

‘And look, my car,’ says Don. He throws me three photos. ‘It was that car that made Beryl go out with me to the movies. My black Austin A40 convertible with white wall tyres. How could Beryl resist!’

I bound back into the kitchen to a spicy Latin rhythm, perfect for the salsa … what’s next? I find myself almost shuffling a one, two, three, four around the kitchen … carrots and lettuce for the fridge, broccoli to squeeze into the vegie drawer, a hip to maracas, a thought of him, more of her and him. Zucchinis into the fridge and rhubarb shoved in half an hour earlier pulled out for stewing, although I’m not sure how to cook rhubarb. With lots of sugar I think I’d heard it said, to offset the rhubarb’s tart or sour or something. With apples too I recall.

One, two … Beryl and Don dancing at their wedding reception in the Farm hall, the band playing on stage behind the bridal table across the front of the hall. Guests eating and drinking into the night, joyful and jolly on three long tables adorned in flowers that stretch from the bridal table up the length of the hall … I reach for that wine glass again, celebrating a life, wistful of what’s to come with lands faraway.

‘They can’t do anything more for Beryl you know,’ says Don. ‘She’s had her cancer treatment and now this heart. They can’t help her. But that’s what I’m here for,’ says Don. ‘I’m a fulltime carer now, after all the looking after Beryl has done for me.’

My son walks in. I don’t want to talk about where I’ve been today, or Beryl, or any of those intermingling thoughts. Apple skins into the chook container … his eyes follow me.

‘Thanks again, Beryl,’ I say. ‘I’ll bring your photos back on a Monday when I’m in the area with my son at karate.’

‘Take your time,’ she says.

Don walks me out and levers the door open for me to walk through. I kiss the side of his face and hug him. He’s nervous with his embrace back, unsure of what to do with his arms. We walk to the mail box together.

‘My mum spoilt me,’ he says. ‘She did everything for me and my grandfather lived with us so he did a lot of the chores that Beryl had to do. And then Beryl spoilt me once we got married. I’ve been a lucky man. It’s my turn to look after Beryl now.’

Something catches in me. ‘Well you know how to spoil then because you’ve been so well looked after, your turn to spoil Beryl.’ The words fall from my mouth, my thoughts spoken before I have time to consider them.

Don gives an uneasy chuckle, appearing to be searching for a reply to my candid comment. He nods. ‘You’re right. I will.’

I drive home to the box of vegetables delivered earlier and waiting to be unpacked, thinking about the sensitivity of Beryl’s hold, her appreciation of time to reminisce. Perhaps that’s stronger when you reach an end of life you know is near.

Gratitude’s a very grounding thing. People sharing stories, sometimes deep and personal memories only they can recollect. It’s an honouring that grounds me, an appreciation and trust of memories in extremes of harsh reality and sublime pleasure, the challenging and enchanting, all collected in a tiny box locked in the life time of one’s heart.

As bearer of these recollections to record as a moment in time, milling over them, mining the jewels that lay among a reef more fertile of the most precious … there’s much satisfaction in holding that pause of time to reminiscence, of life on the Farm.

 

NOTES:

These reflections come from researching a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1973; the last family moved off site in 1980. The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece.

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm

Geelong AFL is a team in the Australian Football League.

The MCG stands for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an Australian sports stadium located in Melbourne.

The Farm is a colloquial term for Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

The Board stands for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the organisation first responsible for establishing and managing the sewage treatment plant. The Board became Melbourne Water in the 1990s.

Advertisements

This place

received_10208386816364326

Three strikes of the brass bell. Each strike rattles the frame that holds the bell, sending vibrations into the soles of my boots. Although my feet tingle, they steady and relax into the stone floor. Then comes the ding, as the little brother or sister trying to impress. Only one. It’s 3.15. I give myself half an hour in the Temple of Minerva.

Built in the first century BC as a Roman temple to worship Mars, it was converted in the 16th century to what is today the St Maria Sopraminerva Church.

But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate this place. Sitting in the musty silence, the energy is breathtaking. Grounding and still, with an undeniable strength and dignity that permeates the space. The few wooden pews for 20 or so people are dwarfed by statues gilded in gold leaf of saints, cupids and angels, and columns that support a basic, sarcophagus shaped altar. Colourful frescos adorn the ceiling and pink and orange gerberas sit at the foot of the altar, both adding to the temple’s heart.

Thankful and appreciative to be alone, l shut my eyes and succumb to the wooden seat that supports me. I breathe deep the air of chalk and stone and prepare to soak in every miniscule of everything I can.

Light humming creeps into my ears. My body relaxes, limbs become heavy and soon, l don’t feel them. Another deep breath and a comfort begins to sweep in, triggering an insatiable desire for more.

Although l don’t feel my legs, my left achilles starts to ache, probably from the last four weeks of walking over old cobble stones. My right foot follows in sympathy with a tenderness at the base of my big toe, possibly bruised from climbing the many hills and worn stairs.

But for all the aches, there has been much fun and laughter, crazy falls over slippery and unsuspecting ice, and reminiscing and reconnecting with family. Much food and wine too, way too much.

Another deep breath, a sense of calm washes over and my whole body feels as if it is hovering.

Hes, shes and theys weave in and out, become liquid thoughts of laughter with family and new friends. So much warmth, even in freezing temperatures of snowmobiling under a polar sun and late night scouting for the dancing night lights of the polar north.

My body becomes weightless, I’m unable to feel it. Thoughts are random and mixed, come and fade to nothing, become as fluid as the snowfalls of little balls as we walked up mountains, and as the streams of tears of goodbye.

Three more strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, and two dings.

Thoughts move in and out, linger in a space of infinity and drift.

Here, in this tiny town of goodness and grace, everything is different. The water is crisp, fresh and untainted, lunch earlier of short cannelloni filled with veal and ricotta tossed in a pumpkin and truffle sauce, the Chianti … the flavours are distinct and clean, as gentle and pure as the people in this town and the monks and nuns walking the streets. Calmness and cleansing exude as profusely as the black and white scenes of snow-laden Alps viewed from the train a week earlier.

It’s a purity that can’t be described. It’s more to be savoured as the most sought after wine or chocolate, or softness of the most pristine mountain water.

It’s a calmness in the air, as if the place has its own cone placed over the top to exist in it’s own ecosystem, even with a blustering wind over the Rocca Maggiore on the hill top, a fortified feudal castle from the 1100s AD. The climb today to the top will test my legs in the morning.

This place is like stepping back in time. Not for its life, material value or amenity, more in the goodness and giving of people. In a world full of materialism and self adoration, this place is a haven for old fashioned good.

Another three strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, followed by three dings.

I ease my eyes open, taste my mouth as if just waking. I’m surprised by where l am and realise I must have drifted to somewhere else. A scan around me reveals no one.

It may be time to get back to my travelling buddies but l will return.

Assisi, you have my heart.

‘… and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

969cc10d04396f68298d818d9eb6fd50

‘The Kiss’ (full size) by Burke Heffner

 

‘… and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

I emailed that to a lovely guy who spoke of the back pain he experiences from degenerative discs and the time he’s had away from work to manage that pain. DB’s cute description of ‘anything from picking up a pair of socks to coughing will see it chuck a wobbly’ made me smile and I hoped he’d had an opportunity to smile that day given his suffering.

That was in the morning.

In the evening, I discovered an old friend’s sister who I’d grown up with, had made another attempt to take her life. This time she’d succeeded, whether she meant to or not, and her children had to make the decision to turn off their mother’s life support. Gut wrenching. It made me think of the rest of Mark Twain’s quote –

‘Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Laugh truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

I wondered about my old friend’s sister and whether she had a life that was full and meaningful to her. I believed she did. While I was sad that she was gone and for the family and their loss, my sadness was for the anguish my old friend’s sister must have endured through her life. Or had she? Her life was what she knew and who was I to judge it as one of enduring.

Mental ill health is growing by the minute. I see it in people around me and what I consider ‘extreme’ actions they can take. But to them, those actions aren’t extreme. It’s a way of coping with the daily torment they live with. It’s their reality. Their life. It may not be one of torment that I understand torment to be.

Some take ‘extreme’ actions that make perfect sense to them. I’ve seen what I consider  most irrational actions being taken where the person taking the action believes it to be perfectly rational – the shaving of eyebrows because it looks good and the dodging of cameras in every corner of their own home and in the streets, following their every move. The spying that occurs from being followed, to the point where holding up a 711 store at knife-point to distract those spies from following the family, to protect them, is the only answer. And the swallowing of pills, because that’s the only way.

Years have taught me to not inflict my biases onto those actions and the reasons behind them, to accept them as actions relevant to the person. I don’t have their experiences so how can I know. Truly know. It’s not easy or straight forward for anyone experiencing mental ill health to understand the effects of their thoughts and actions on others. The illness is all consuming, and a reality onto its own.

Someone said to me yesterday that if the friend’s sister could see the hurt she’s caused, she wouldn’t have taken her life. While that may be a ‘Christian’ view, it’s not one I hold.

There is almost always commentary about the selfish act that suicide is. But what of the person experiencing the pain to the point of having no alternative but to take that action? I’m not sure they could see past their torment to understand the impact of their action. To me, there’s a selfishness in those that hold such beliefs that those experiencing such torment should act in ways that are appropriate, as appropriate in their eyes. I’m trying to be kind here!

Every day is a reminder to live life in a way that matters to me – Mark Twain ensures that, with his quote sitting on my desk for me to read each morning. He’s done that all year.

‘Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Laugh truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

While I work hard and may not take on each of those elements every second of every day of my life, I do aspire to them and make a solid attempt at achieving them. I can’t have everything all of the time and can’t always fit everything into a day that I might want. Life’s too short too for regrets and each mistake is a learning from a new fork taken in my road.

I found myself commenting to one of my boys last night on something similar: don’t do things because you feel you should. Do them because you want to. Go out with that friend because you will enjoy it and not because you feel it would make them happy. There’s a level of deceit in that to them and you. It’s a balance of self-respect versus being selfless. Be happy to do that something for someone else.

Standing beside DB the day after we emailed, wearing what my mother calls my grandmother’s bright pink floral, flowing dress, his grimace was all pain. He commented that his back probably threw its current wobbly because he’d been busy balancing work and finishing off his study for the year. I replied to his asking of how I was with being good and sometimes not knowing what day it was. What I wanted to say was sometimes I leave the house and am driving to work or University and I look down at my legs to make sure I’m not still wearing my pyjamas as I rush around trying to do so much in the morning that I don’t remember changing! (But I didn’t want to embarrass myself saying that in public so I’ll say it here instead!) He acknowledged the need for slowing down and taking it easy. Perhaps I should have sent him the whole quote.

I’ve been called many things over the years – queen of clash, being to gung-ho or aloof, asking too many questions or never doing things ‘normal’. It’s probably all true but I’m pleased that I have a true appreciation and understanding that life is short.

 

Time is lost in all ideals of time, where the cocoon has toughened as tungsten steel.

Diamond tips tap to tunes of break free, seeking to escape to a place of new. They sometimes grow as clashing bangs that smash through a weakened fissure into sun shining onto fields of sunflowers waking in the heat of summer. The scent of new life intoxicates to an exhilarating trepidation.

Sometimes those taps are barely auditable whispering feathers and no amount of push can break free. Eventually, the trap secures. The trap becomes all that’s known: the norm.

 

 

The vying

seeds-undergroundloveseries-manami-lingerfelt

A blaze of cyclonic fire, a blow torch of extreme has rampaged the Earth and scorched it bare. Nothing remains. No fragment of life exists on the blackened face scattered in trillions of smattering flecks of grey.

No birds of waking tunes or trains of clicks and clacks ferrying their freight into town. No roosters calling or dogs singing with clucking chooks as they lay their eggs.

In their place is the darkness that suffocates as a silent tightening, tourniquet.

And yet if you sit in utmost concentration in the stillness of this aftermath, the cleansing of the burn is obvious. Concentrate, even when fidgeting itches can disturb, and tune in to the unmistakeable pitch of the fresh and new and the faint whispers of a dawn about to break.

Glints of pink stained orange wrestle billowing, liquid cloud in the distance. That glimmer of sun’s warmth stirs our seeds, willing them to unearth.

Root tips begin to tingle … the emergence IS coming. Those seeds know of the birthing about to occur, of the potential waiting to applaud them.

They nudge and jostle to edge upwards, stealing past fractures in rocks opening and widening under the pressure of their shoving. The charm of those minuscule glimpses of light flickering through the friable soil is irresistible, their appetite for it is insatiable.

They tussle for prime position, vying to reach higher to break through the surface.

The darkness warms around them, the nurture of the sun’s warmth has hit. Ravenous eagerness ricochets and disrupts the birthing balance. Restlessness underground … a rumbling core.

 

Breathe, be patient little ones, the dance of birth into a bosom of fertile and Mother Earth nourishment will soon begin. The time is near for a creation yet unknown.

 

 

Pick-up sticks

$_35

Toss those sticks way up in the air and stand back. Watch them propel and collide, splinter and fuse with neighbouring and crossing sticks, often with those tossed by others. They crack to glimmers of aquamarine tinged in teal and highlights of ochres in oranges, twisting and twirling into unknowns and gleaming silver beams of life into the Universe.

The higher they rise, the slower they climb, until their speed is curtailed and they linger within a hover. We watch in bated breath within our own pause.

Then their descent begins and time kick starts. Speed gathers in quick momentum in flashes of blurred bronze and blizzard blue and our sticks crash in scattered confusion onto any slippery, stable or stodgy surface. Wherever they land serves a purpose and our job is to pick them up to discover their intent.

That seems to be life for many at the moment. Whether because of the politics of the world, the passing of someone prominent in one’s life or from those birthdays that end in zeroes, those big, life changing ones. The fact is, life is about change. Life is filled with contrasts of busyness and stagnation, always changing depending on where our sticks land and the manner in which we pick them up or slide them out.

Life just is. The birds and bees are on constant rotation. Children grow and blossom into their own person. We grow. Life flows between enriched satiation and boring bland, of the sapless in an endless burnt umber or in the tranquil azure of turquoise.

Living without expectation is key. What’s underneath the purple stick as it slides out from the red could lead to enchanting discoveries of personal, professional and otherwise, of the most powerful, life affecting surprises. It’s vital to enact plans that are fuelled by passions but just as important to not hold preconceived ideas or expectations. Holding those can hide the most amazing finds and block growth, unmet expectations can lead to disappointment and emotional torment.

Picking up our sticks once they’ve landed is a matter of rolling up the sleeves and getting on with it, to uncover paths from beneath the intrigue of maroon or mined from the riches of gold. Some paths may be straightforward and clear, others may be covered in debris and full of winding roads and hills to climb.

My sticks were tossed some months ago and are slowing in upward propulsion in many more formations and shades than usual, glimmering in pinks and greens and with an abundance of red too. New sticks already shimmy in new trajectories.

Their decent is inevitable, and soon. And when they do come tumbling down, they’ll continue to spin and intermingle, some may disintegrate and even explode before they land.

I’ll be here, waiting and ready for any landing. The subliminal excitement in the not knowing and in the knowing that changes are afoot smoulders in sepia tones of magenta beneath the innocence of baby blue – such contrasts to look forward to!

A storming ride

Starry-Night 1889 Vincent van Gogh

Speckling ideas, partial and fragmented, brewing in twinkle yet without spark. They’re more a hazy glint of thoughts that fade in and out faraway, sometimes flashing as a glimmer of something and then disappearing with the flutter of an eye lid.

Time ticks. There’s nothing more.

Until that hazy glint grows and feeds the head with a heavy might. It whips at limbs that become tired and limp.

Tingling tangles of thinking, eyes darting in flurry as people look and stare. And then comes the squeeze within a vice of lead and excruciating dread and a body rippling and tensing in terse.

Clashing confusion and rumbling ruin, ranting and raving. He is, she was. You’re it, you’re not …

Words overflow in an electrical storm of despair and are hammered by floods of entwining and interconnected molesting vines. They meld as a mash of mess spiked in diamonds tainted in venomous credibility. They shred through everything but understanding.

No sense of semblance, just mad irrationality shared with rationality, spewing fire and ice in bursts of hate and desperation, gasps in bated breath … roaring and ripping into everything and everyone in its cyclonic wake … It’s too much. End it now!

And with that comes a release, an excretion of toxic waste that gnaws at the soul of essence.

The crescendo tumbles, spiralling down, down to flat as grey, black of nothing.

The electric storm of fire and ice has dissipated. Within an isolated place of refuge yet with no railing or safety barrier, the free-fall-to-nowhere ride funnels through an opening into the core of the earth.

Quiet after the erupting, storming head. Ride complete. For now.

Let me take you on a run

running

The same bitumen road greets my warm up walk to the roundabout with the double-storey house on the corner – my cue to start running. My feet and hips are clumsy at first, a swagger to an out of tune country and western song. My right arch begins to burn and I wish my foot would settle into these runners that aren’t new anymore. Under power lines swaying with little sparrows I stomp, past sleeping homes with gardens of fan palms and cacti tinged in an early morning dew and native trees filled with birds squawking and chirping in chatter. Nothing else stirs, not a single car travelling between home and work or school, not during this Christmas break.

My jarring knees feel the stress of my weight and remind me of the few kilos I’ve gained since I stopped running two and a half years ago because of lower back niggles. Back then, running up to 15 kilometres at a time was the norm. Then one morning a couple of months ago in the midst of Spring and after being cooped up swimming and practising yoga indoors, I laced up my runners without thought or plan and took off. That exhilaration of freedom was addictive and I’ve been running ever since.

Across a road I stride and down a small street lined in old red brick and modern homes with backyards of parrots devouring apricots and peaches, around the corner from where my ‘second mother’ once lived. The term ‘in-law’ does no justice to her love or that of the family that accepted me as theirs many years ago. I missed her this Christmas. She sat on my deck last year, eating Christmas lunch beside Mum and the family. I almost destroyed the Poinsettia she gave me for the table. I’ve never been very good with pot plants and thankfully after rushing out to buy a top strength fertiliser, the plant is shooting nourishing new growth, a sign of things to come I hope.

A heavy breath to release, although I’m not sure what’s being released. Something is shedding. I feel lighter. My breath relaxes into a steady pace as I cross into another street, not gasping at all, just steady and in rhythm to my feet.

The hum of a car behind alerts me to my surrounds, the first for the morning. It passes from behind me on the other side of the road. I always run to oncoming traffic to be sure of what’s coming at me, particularly because I don’t wear my spectacles when out running. Speaking of which, I double back as I miss the street sign that takes me along the top of the river bank.

Doves coo, wattle birds shriek to screeching galas. Green all around me now – grass and eucalypts, wattles too, and tiny plants surrounded by plastic rabbit protectors. Eucalyptus on a fresh morning always smell good, like an invigorating, lemony cough drop. In summer though, that green dries to spindles of ideal fuel, as we’ve just seen in the Christmas Day bushfires down the coast. Over 100 homes lost and the fires are still burning. Wye River down there has always been a favourite of mine. I’ll live there some day.

Running cleanses me, even when I catch a whiff of red sauce cooking in someone’s kitchen and I imagine a grandmother in her dressing gown preparing pasta for lunch for her grandchildren, as my mother does. Running clears my head, blows the cobwebs of thoughts from deep crevices and clears blockages. Insights can be amazing.

I turn a corner and swerve into the middle of the road to pass the blue-hulled boat in its trailer hitched to the back of the grey four-wheel drive. Three fishing rods stretch up high from holders strapped inside of the boat. It’s always there, parked on the road side, sometimes in a cloud of sea and salt. A dog inside the house barking a string of ‘don’t come in here’ from behind the window is always there too.

My breath quickens, yet it’s still at a comfortable tempo without first run gasps and the dread of collapse from not being able to run any further. Around another corner and a vacant block of land lined by the stark pale grey of a new concrete path, inviting me to run on it – no chance, not with these knees!

This could be my last run for the year, unless I’m lucky enough to squeeze in one more on New Year’s Eve. It’s been a year, one that allowed me the chance to work with great people, two in particular who are warm, strong, caring and astute with a thinking of challenge and understanding, one of which is acting for me and my writing. Two great wins this year, akin to finding two needles in a haystack!

Two cars pass by. This part of the world is waking. Up an incline and my breath turns to panting. Sweat dribbles into my eyes and blurs my vision – as if I can’t see already! An open hand wipe clears away gathering pools of wet.

Around another bend and I’m almost at St Thomas’ and three quarters done. Marriage equality was hot this year, and so it should – love is love after all. Australia, you’re falling behind.

My knees ache. It’s such an oxymoron at this point – tiredness thumping in, yet a mind still cleansing, purging. Keep going. Not long to go. Need to be fit for travelling next year. It’s good for my health too. Helps to recover from any unexpected illness, like my skin cancer this year. That was three months of recovery and no activity and feeling like a caged lion, and dealing with the mental anguish of that ‘C’ word. Panting. Keep going. Just like the Syrians and so many others fleeing their homes. They kept going. Such determination and fortitude, such contrast to the gluttonous talk of greed and ego and futility of mass shootings. My pace quickens without effort.

Two utes turn from the next corner, on their way to work with tools and a wheel burrow stacked in the back. I’m almost home, where another driver has recently entered the household, just when two young men distressingly left theirs after a tragic car collision. Two others in the car are in hospital, one in a coma and the other, with a broken leg and back. Such loss of young life, such grief of families makes the reality too real, life too fragile, especially when my young men are friends of these young men.

Heat sets in and I’m beginning to roast. Keep going. Not long to go. I’m conscious of my head and shoulders falling forward and the sweat pouring from my head and face, down my neck and onto my chest and back. Straighten up. This planet is roasting too and thankfully, the summit in Paris on climate change has seen countries come together to address it. Whether you believe in climate change or not, it’s a positive to be looking after our planet. Poor Paris, it has had its own enduring year.

On the home stretch now, my street’s in sight. Keep going. Be fit. A slight gasp. Two more driveways … and home, just as the sun rises over a terracotta tiled roof. Gasp and gasp, hands on hips to hold me up.

An enduring run after the excess of Christmas, after the year that’s been. The next one will be better. They generally are. Best wishes for your 2016 year.

 

%d bloggers like this: