6.40am: Alarm goes. Do not want to get up. Curl up for just five minutes more.
7.15am: Ooops. Stumble to kitchen and find that partner has made the school lunches and put the coffee on. Domestic equality winning. We get through breakfast, tidy-up and have showers, then the boys leave for school.
9am: Beautiful Women’s Day text arrives from one of the most inspiring women I know. Think of the women I love, the ones I miss, the ones I look forward to seeing every day, the ones I want to hang out with more.
9.10am: Head to the gym. Struggle with feelings of inadequacy and middle-agedness, but smash the rower, nonetheless. No longer give a shit what I look like in gym gear.
11am: Stop on the way home for groceries. Forget the chicken food. Listen to an interview with a terrific bonsai expert on the way. She sounds about 80, and when Kathryn Ryan asks her what the deal is with air bonsai, she says, “Well, if anyone would like to find out more about that, what they really need to do is Google it.”
12pm: Lunch, coffee and a chapter of the book of feminist essays I’m re-reading.
12.30pm: Attempt to work, admit to self that day is something of a write-off. Am distracted and irritated by a Facebook discussion about training girl children out of shyness. Try five times to articulate anger and pain caused by discussion, decide it is all based on white capitalist patriarchy, delete all drafts. Send love and solidarity out into the ether and hope they will reach all my favourite shy people.
1.30pm: Find out that a woman has been shot in Seacliff. My friend’s mother lives nearby, my partner is being called out to report on it, and it just never, never stops, does it? Do the things women do: get in touch, cry, look out the window, write.
2.09pm: Receive invitation to a Cilla McQueen book launch. Respond YES with whole being. Put event on calendar and discover it clashes with partner’s return home from Australia and elder son’s futsal match. Can vaguely appreciate the irony, I suppose.
2.10pm: More work.
2.35pm: Decide to walk to school. Fresh air’s gotta help, right? Smile at every woman I pass, lean into the hill.
3.00pm: Exchange comfort, hugs and stories with the mothers and grandmothers at school. Embrace my boys. Join the girls’ team in the after-school soccer match. We lose, but with a strong sense of solidarity, y’know.
3.40pm: Walk home with my boys, feel tender towards the world.
4.10pm: Enter the afternoon tea, animal feeding, chores, dinner vortex. Decide to be cheerful about all the domesticity in a kind of “Making the World Go Round” way. Remember my favourite exchange along those lines.
Friend: What makes the world go round?
6.51pm: The afternoon went much better than I expected, which might have been the walk home — or perhaps the sisterhood is even more powerful than I imagined because the boys put stickers in a space book together, did their screen time, had afternoon tea and then put away their dishes and set the table with nary a scrap or grump. My approach of deliberate good cheer seemed to work too, although the glass of wine and feminist reading while stirring the risotto possibly worked better.
Ian came home and we debriefed the day. The Rabbit made himself a homework book while the Cat checked top goals of the week.
7.30pm: Update blog while supervising the Rabbit’s photocopying. He is making alphabets for the kids in his class.
7.40pm: Publish post. There’s more of the day to go, but I’m done. I mean, I’ll update if anything REALLY THRILLING happens, but it’s not that likely.
The llama made marmalade, marmalade jam.
Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam, Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Illustrator)
Well, I did it. I made marmalade. It’s like I joined the matrilineal mafia in one long evening of chopping, stirring, sugaring, boiling, testing and bottling. When I say “I”, I’m lying. I did the chopping, slicing grapefruits, a couple of oranges and some lemon into fine golden slivers, and I added the sugar and water and turned it all on. I washed the jars and put them in a low oven, and I poured the final product into the jars, screwed on the lids and wiped down the benchtops, but Ian led the charge on the stirring and testing regime, which I nearly fucked up by removing a pile of cold plates from the fridge at the tail end of the process when we were both hot, tired, frustrated and TOTALLY OVER IT ALL. And then, BOOM, we had a beautiful collection of jars filled with glowing, softly jellied, sweet, sour goodness. Jam —and all its kin — is magic.
When Mum died, I thought we’d finish the last jars of marmalade, then never eat it again. I couldn’t imagine making my own, and store-bought seemed like a sacrilege. My childhood was filled with marmalade, with the hunt for pulp in the freezer section of every supermarket, with weekend afternoons in the kitchen, the sweet, steamy smell of sugared citrus all around me, with a pantry full of agee jars, with toast and marmalade at the sticky heart of every breakfast.
Then a little while ago, I inherited my grandmother‘s marmalade jar, one of the few remnants of her rich, full life to pass to our side of the family. It sits in my cupboard, pushed back out of the way of clumsy hands, and comes out each morning, bringing a little grace and history to our bright, battered kitchen table. I’ve been buying marmalade, trusting in a facsimile to carry the past for me, which it does, a bit, through the alchemy of an old jar, sunlight, butter.
But now I’ve made the real thing, and how much more powerful that alchemy is when you add effort, love, a mess created and cleared, the lessons I should have learnt while I still had the teachers. I’ve been making oatcakes too, a sort of light, crisp, aniseedy alternative to the stock-in-trade porridge and toast I grew up on. Put butter on one of those babies, add a spoonful of marmalade, pour fresh coffee, sit in the sun, and you’ve got a fine breakfast on your hands, my friends. A fine breakfast, some gentle ghosts, a lick of the past.
My great-aunt told lovely stories about her parents, her mother Mary and her father Percy. Percy was quiet, a bit of a socialist, a reader. Mary was a cheesemaker, a manager, a maker-doer. She would invite everyone for Christmas dinner and he would go out and dig his turnips. In the evenings, Percy would read by the fire, and I imagine Mary would knit or sew or make elaborate plans and organisational lists, not that I’m projecting or anything. After a while, she’d crack it and say, “Do talk to us, Percy.” And he’d slowly put down his book or paper, take off his glasses and look around like a mole emerging into sunlight from the dark and fragrant earth. He might talk then, a little bit, but after a while he’d retreat back into his book and silence would fall again. Not that I’m projecting or anything.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that there’s precedent, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that not everyone holds with reading in company. Some people find it disconcerting and kind of rude, and they want you to come out and talk to them or at least keep an ear open for what they’re saying.
But we readers go a long way under when we’re reading, and spoken words take a long time to reach us down there. Surfacing takes effort, and we don’t function so well bobbing about with the chat and the questions and all. Haul me out of the water and talk to me on dry land or let me sink back down. Better yet, join me underwater. My sister knows how this works. Every now and then we’ll go out for coffee, and somewhere between the stories that must be told and the ordering of drinks one of us will ask if it’s okay to read. Then we’ll sit there, coffee at our elbows, books in our hands, and read together. Together and apart.
You slipped away tonight, Granny, waited till we weren’t watching, then took your last breath. I wanted to be with you, have held you in my heart through these past weeks, but I knew you wanted to make your own way, a small cat curled in the dark.
I found you a poem though. My friend Maria wrote it. You’d like her; she makes a good cup of tea. So, rest easy now. I will miss you always.
The last run
Up the hill behind our house.
He’d hardly been talking,
too polite and quiet,
like he had to conserve energy,
take short shallow breaths —
like he was old.
Then he woke me one morning
threw my running shoes on to the bed,
in the doorway,
He was faster.
In the wind ahead of me
his white T-shirt billowed
round like a lantern.
The street lights flicked off
as we passed them.
The sound of our shoes
like a song.
I could almost smell jasmine.
I could almost smell snow.
He reached the top, where you
could see clear over the other side,
and turned to me smiling,
Meggie, run faster, I was heaving,
heavy as a horse. Quick, he said
as if it were a gift he was giving me —
quick, before the city disappears.
Maria McMillan, The Rope Walk.
I don’t know you, readers. I don’t know whether you want these stories, these ramblings, these slivers of an editor’s life. So this is for the maybe-not-even-real ones who do. This is for the one, or none, or some of you who think about those ladies in Southland, my grandmother and my great-aunt, and wonder how they are, how the story is spinning.
Well, it’s hard. The story is spinning slower and slower, and one day soon it will stop. Granny got a chest infection, and we thought she would die. I stayed with her for six days, sitting with her sister, Nan, holding hands, helping Granny to drink, washing her face. Nan and I talked and talked, just quietly, no rush, letting the old family stories play. It was a good time — sad and scary and lonely, but comforting too.
And we had some funny moments. Nan was talking about moving into the resthome, how she’s finding it, what she’d like to work on. She said, “I don’t know about being in here. I just feel like it’s moving me into an age bracket that I’m not quite ready to join.” She’s 99. And it’s true.
Then after three or four days of barely talking, of tiny responses, of looking on the very edge of life, Granny started to look more alert. A nurse was asking her about dinner, suggesting eggs, soup, vegetables. All Granny’s food is soft; her teeth aren’t up to chewing. “What would you like?” the nurse said, leaning over her, talking loud. Granny opened her eyes, looked straight at the nurse, and said (tartly), “Steak.” Point to you, Granny.
So that was a few weeks ago, and we know that Granny will slowly get more frail, and then maybe there’ll be another infection, and then she might not rally.
But now Nan is sick. A chest infection too. My sister and I went down yesterday, sat with them both, tried to pretend it would all be okay. But I’m scared this time, listening for the phone call, planning to go down again at the weekend. I asked the head nurse what she thought, how the story might go. She didn’t really know, of course, none of us do, apart from the inevitability of two ladies in their late 90s, with bodies that must be tough as steel, but that can’t withstand everything, for ever.
“They’re like two little girls,” she said, “standing on the edge of a pool, holding hands, wondering which of them will jump first.” How I wish they didn’t have to make that jump.