ACT NATURAL

The longer I spend away from this edge town, the more birds it seems move in. The more I spend in this edge town, the more I seem to write about birds. I’m at the edge of nowhere. I once took a plane from the UK via Hong Kong back to Perth, and walked 20 minutes in Hong Kong airport down a very high, very long, very wide, almost dream-scape corridor. Gate 42 was at the longest arm of the building. One or two people appeared out of the horizon, sleeping on chairs. Sometimes a janitor loomed from the horizon curve, keeping after the doors and halls.

The end of the edge of the world. Western Australia once was connected to the grind plate of Africa. W.A.’s overbite once fit East Africa’s underbite, and Madagascar is a piece of toast lost in this onion soup. The longer I stay here, the more the fear encroaches. An unshakeable malaise, a malady of lock down. Will I ever escape? There are two major population groups here. Kids, and old people. Every second person has a pram with a baby in it, and the first person is old.

I feel the man and woman who raised me clawing at our limbs; we are back for Christmas, waiting for the hot weather to kick in, eating sweet chilli sauce and playing bad video games and guitar hero in the meantime. Dogs with too long fringes and burrs in their fur wander around picking curiously at anything they can find. The American who is visiting – in fact – my lover – makes a habit of pointing out all the creepy crawlies that shake their wings buzzing around this desolate, desolate house of rooms.

“There’s a wasp.” “Look out for the spider.” “Hmm caterpillar.” Oh yes, that one’s called a Spit Fire. I have no idea why. We ought to Wikipedia it, along with the reason why Boxing Day is called Boxing Day. “What is Boxing Day anyway? We just call it the day after Christmas” says the American. My father thinks it’s because that’s the day you put all your toys in a box and take them to your cousins. Mother is drinking dessert wine and picking at a vegan mango flan (any food you can make, she can trump better) and says Boxing day is in the UK too. I thought it was because you boxed up the Christmas tree. “No that’s on the 12th day of Christmas” she says. The American thought it may have something to do with fighting.

I wouldn’t be surprised. I was never one to be witness to the stress and typical family wackness that most other human beings speak about with sighs and horror around this time of year. It’s almost like they vow never to go back, but still we all feel some kind of DNA encoded obligation to go back and buy lame $30 presents and write sentimental cards, eat a lot of food, and endure either a) embarrassment, or b) fury. I for one experience both, in varying degrees, but only since last year, and now its spilling over this year too.

Usually our Christmases on this ancient step of the planet are rather jovial and kindly. Nanna lives next door, (It seems my father’s umbilicus was never severed). She comes over mid-morning for breakfast on the 25th, sits with a huge grin on her sagging face, upon an armchair we pull up. She has a blanket over her knees, and sometimes a fan, because mostly it’s about 100 degrees on Christmas day here. She smiles, and we pretend we’re eight again, tear paper and open boxes. There’s generally a lot of racing fingers and lilting exclaiming, up and down, lot’s of ‘ohs’ and whoas.’ I’m usually one of the first people up, meeting my mother in the kitchen to slice open mangoes and deflower berries, flip gluten free pancakes and brew large Italian pots of coffee on stove-tops. By the end of wrapping paper madness – which we leave strewn wanly on the floor all day – the oven is usually operating full steam, a little like Grand Central, and I am the bus that takes its passengers to the table, the counter, the steppes of the marble table outside.

That is our usual Christmas. This year we have a new visitor, and he seems to be coping fine. I am not entirely sure whether he thinks we are completely insane, or excruciatingly boring. I can’t gauge a reaction from him. He is very steely, in a sometimes sexy, sometimes frustrating way. I suppose only time will tell, and perhaps Christmas day will tell, when the paper is all wrapped around his ankles, Nanna is barraging him with the same questions, and games are going on left, right and center. The biggest game is with me, I think. I think this time here, this pressure cooker, manic Grand Central hour of rush, in all the long days of the year, will make or break the contents of our braising hearts. Mine is nearly cooked, with a mixture of fury and frustration.

Nobody seems to care why I am so angry. My parents, when it’s the end of the day and of dinner, and they are smoking cigars and drinking that dessert wine, finishing bottles, only they seem to listen and understand. My sister is hard to catch, like a fish, she is so much more slippery when she comes back to this particular stream. It’s like the water has silicone in it. I need to learn how to fish her with my bare hands, like trout. Otherwise she just snaps and bites at the hands that reach her, or else flips up into the air, makes a big shatter of water which spills over everyone. Like most fish, she is very proud of being able to do that.

I let it all out on guitar hero. With my brothers, that seems to be effective. They are taller than me, longer than me, seem sturdier than me; like their bones have more calcium in them, which I’m sure they actually probably do. They drink a glass of milk every night (‘they’ are my fraternal twin brothers) and a lot of chocolate, which I guess is also milk, at the end of the intestine. The younger one is slightly taller, with insanely knobbly elbows; I keep telling him is the space where his muscles will one day grow. I was actually the one who told them to drink so much milk. Back maybe 5 years, after basketball practice, I suggested it would make them grow taller. Good protein. All the Pro’s do it. They haven’t failed me yet. From that moment they haven’t stopped drinking it. The younger one once had a three litre carton of milk next to the computer while he hung his head over his homework. I was so proud. White paper, white milk, white t-shirt, what a sight. Three of my favourite things.

The brainiac boys are great to hang out with. I thanked the elbowed one for being not only my brother, but my friend. The fish is great when you can catch her. The older twin has a girlfriend he takes for picnics, and they lock themselves up in his room when she’s here. My mother coos and dissolves when that happens, and I shake my head to shake that sentiment off her, the poor boy. Dad is mostly lugging limestone or sourcing reticulation pipe corners around the garden when he’s not at the surgery. Last night the younger twin said “Thanks for making sure the house doesn’t fall down Dad. We might not see a lot of what you do, but I know its there.”

Obviously it’s a concern that if one element gives way and stops doing what it’s doing, the house would fall over. Whether it’s Grand Central closing down, or the hardware store burning up, or the fish finding a new stream (happens frequently). Whether its the American flying away, downing Valium and crossing himself,  or guitar hero being taken back to its rightful owners with empty batteries or Nanna becoming sick, we’d all be goners. The unwritten knowing is that even if I stopped walking around in a white silk kimono, chopping mango, ferrying passengers of pots and pans and plates to tables, things might fall to pieces.

What else can I do? The American is a grown man, apart from showing him where breakfast and lunch is able to be acquired, he can take care of himself, and he only wants to be here for me, not for the floury beaches, or the scratchy dry landscape, the wild ocean I grew up in. This place is rugged, in more ways than one, and I suppose I am more rugged than I ever knew. Australia itself, is angry. Angry at being so alone, angry at being so disconnected, angry at being so dry in the center and so soaked at the limbs. I understand this continent. My fingers are soaked, but my innards are gasping for wetness.

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4 Comments

  1. Mary Roberts
    Posted December 25, 2008 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Merry Christmas Sophie!
    We are thinking of and praying for you and yours at this special time of year. Miss you! Mary

  2. Posted December 27, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I first read this on Christmas Eve, during an momentary escape from relatives, and the pillars of stacked cookie tins (I do believe I was one moment away from a Christmas cookie overdose!), but didn’t have a chance to comment until now.

    I always appreciate a writer, like you, who has mastered language and imagery enough that I can perfectly well see the words come to life, and there is little interspace between writer and reader. Sometimes I have to shake myself slightly, at the end, away from the vision of words, but always pleased, as I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Anyway, this is a perfectly gallant portrait of your family at Christmas, was lovely to read! Hope you are well!

    xoxo,
    S-C

  3. Posted December 27, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Haha, S-C, you are fantastic. I am glad you see the enjoyment in words about chaotic christmases. Ours got even crazier when mum had to go to hospital on Xmas eve…with appendicitis.. You can bet I’ll write about it very soon.. Stay tuned!

    and Mary, Merry Christmas to you too! I hope all is well at Casa Roberts.

    I love my readers.

    X

  4. Posted December 28, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Oh my, sounds like an eventful Christmas eve! Hope your mom feels better and makes a quick recovery, if she hasn’t already. <3

    By the way, going to “chuck” (Facebook’s choice of word, not mine, haha) a book at you via weRead/iRead on Facebook. I don’t know how much you read, but if you do, I think you’ll like this book (if you haven’t, by any chance, already read it). Haven’t even finished it (watch now, it’ll end horribly and I’ll wish I never suggested it, haha), but I am quite immersed in it. It was recommendation from a dear friend of mine, and it is definitly a book for the philosophical, thinking type. :)

    xoxo,
    S-C

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