It’s quiet. Jane is away: she’s gone back to Australia to visit a good friend who’s not well. For the past few days I’ve been knocking around the flat on my own. Waking up in the morning I hear... nothing. No breathing beside me, no noise from the street. It’s a good sixty seconds before the silence is broken by the soft whoosh of a car; then more of them, inhaling and exhaling like waves in an irregular sea. I float in that waking space, waiting for the next one.
I’m going out to Australia too next weekend. We’re meeting up in Melbourne and then flying down to Tasmania for a couple of weeks, to help Mum and Dad move out of the house they’ve lived in for thirty years. The house I grew up in.
I’ve been wondering how to write about it since I heard the news, and have ended up writing about everything else instead. It’s hard to get the tone right in my head. I don’t want to sound maudlin, because I don’t feel it; it’ll be a relief for them not to have to look after the old place, and their new one looks just right. They’ve been contemplating this move since I was still living there well over a decade ago, so I’ve been ready for it most of my adult life.
Yet I don’t want to treat it as if it’s nothing, because it’s far from that. I’m travelling halfway around the world, six months before we’d planned, to say goodbye to this place; to see its rooms empty, and close its many doors.
I lived in that house from Gough Whitlam’s election until the end of the first Gulf War; we moved there a month before I turned five, and I left a month after turning 23. Every room and space of it has a story; every tree and lawn of it. Rooms and lawns and trees and streets that are so imprinted on me they feel like an extension of me; I can walk around every one in my mind.
I remember playing in the front porch with my brother, running Matchbox cars along the red tiles outside my bedroom door, as the distant drone of the bench-saw drifted over us from the workshop. Suddenly, Dad was jogging up to us; then standing over us, holding a handkerchief over his hand, saying, "One of you go and get Mum."
I remember sitting in the dining room, the sun filtering between the curtains, bloated blowflies bumping along the window-sill. Mona sat upright in the chair next to me, her eyes shut, as I stroked the back of my finger down the furry white arc of her neck. Again; and again. For half an hour. She may have drooled.
I remember climbing onto the roof of the chook-shed to reach the branches of the peach tree, heavy with fruit during its last bumper crop; and sitting there, peeling off their soft red skins and biting into their warm white flesh, one after another, until my hands were dripping with juice.
I remember a summer evening when the grass in the front paddock was as high as my head. Running along the edge of it, on the lawn by the walnut tree, with my brother and cousins; then plunging in, a shrieking band of jungle adventurers. The daring, the daring, to go where Joe Blake was hiding; if he bit you, you could die. But the only bite was the fat green blades slicing into our arms, and we knew we never would.