North of the river
by little red pen
Our friends offered their house in North Melbourne for the school holidays, and we took it. Financially, not our most prudent move, but it felt important, tempting in ways that weren’t easy to understand. Now that we’re here, I can see that we were chasing nostalgia, wanting to recapture youth and adventure and the sparkly newness of our relationship when we were unwrinkled, unmarried, un-childrened, and living just up the road in Kensington.
And the truth is that we can’t go back entirely, of course we can’t. We’ve all had a horrible cold, for a start, and there’s been less wandering in art galleries and doing crosswords while drinking coffee in small laneway cafés than I remember. There’s been more soccer and early nights and shockingly early mornings.
But we have been able to tell the boys some of our stories, to point and wander and look, and say, “We were here, we did all this once before, and this bit has changed, and this bit hasn’t, and you can make this your own if you want to.” Which they do, very much. So they’ve been hopping on and off trams, navigating train lines, choosing fruit and vegetables at the market, prowling bookshops, eating kangaroo and prawns and passionfruit and oranges, kicking balls in the parks and stuffing their faces with noodles. The Rabbit has a whole storyline about driving the tram into the water and seeing fish and seahorses and sharks swimming past, and the Cat is a trove of soccer tips and facts.
And through all this, like a drumbeat, a thrum, is the memory of these old stomping grounds from not so very long ago, from the distant past, from yesterday. We lived here once before; we knew this place.
Just this bit, though. We crossed the river yesterday, to visit friends in the south. It’s fucking weird over there, man. I don’t even know why, but it’s like entering foreign territory. I float along the surface of it, marvelling at the strangeness, which looks more or less the same as everything this side of the Yarra, but with a shimmer, a haze on it that says, “Head back, this is not your place.” I feel like Hannibal crossing the Rubicon with my elephants and all of that, only instead of conquering, I sit down in a small circle of unease and can only think of home.