Monday, March 24, 2003

Cold call

When the phonecall came through I was standing in the kitchen, I can't remember the room well now, only that there was a breakfast bar and it was the kitchen that had been put in by the company who used a photo of my sister and her first husband in their catalogue.

My oldest sister was hugely pregnant and sitting on a breakfast stool. I think she was wearing her dressing gown, she was enormous; it was fairly early in the morning cool and crisp as it always was in that house and so very, very clean. My sister's houses are never anything like that anymore.

I think I had just woken up and she and I were drinking cups of too hot coffee. She always made it too hot for me, and then after a few sips she would put hers back in the microwave to heat it up again.

I see her face as she listens to the words from the caller. "Yes, she says, Alice is here with me" Her voice strains at the end of the sentence. I can hear her fear.

I know that someone has died, when a call like that comes through there is never any doubt.

I sit down and I am prepared. Grandma would have been 85 then. I had been preparing myself all my life that one day she would have to go. I reach my hand out to my sister and ask if it is Grandma. My sister's face is grey, she is still on the phone, I cannot listen though, all I can hear is a rushing of blood in my head. "It's Dad", she croaks. She muttered into the phone some more and the chair beneath me seems to push up into my body. I want to have misheard her, I know that she is wrong. He is only 61, there is a mistake. I stand up and run into the bedroom where S is asleep. I wake him and tell him hurriedly then I hear the alarm in my sister's voice calling me back.

As I run back I am numb and I see her there, crumpling into herself. I hold her and she moans with fear and shock.

The phone is back in it's cradle. The sounds she is making feel remote, silly almost but I stand firmly and I comfort her. I am thinking about the baby due any minute. I am thinking that I need to go outside and run. I want air in my lungs. I am numb and I am suffocating and my sister needs me.

I don't remember much after that, only more phonecalls and my father's sister saying he was better off now. I wanted to ask her how the fuck she came to that conclusion?

All I really felt is an overhwelming need to get out of that house and away. I wanted to be home on the property where I could run away into the paddocks for miles and scream and scream and scream. Instead I walked sedately down Wilson Street in Oakleigh to the train station. S is walking with me and he is saying the wrong things and I want him to shut up.

We catch the train into the city, past the MCG and we climb out at Flinders street. We walk up to the mall and I am walking too fast but no walk is fast enough for me. Everywhere I look people are doing what they do every day and I am in a bubble and everything feels wrong. We reach the mall and go to the lebanese cafe around the corner. It is like the old cafes in my home town with booths down each side and chrome edging on the tables. We don't go inside to eat because I need to be in the open and I don't know why. We buy falafel rolls wrapped in white paper and we need to find a place to sit to eat, we go the the post office and sit on the stairs.

The juice from the roll drips down my chin and I don't care. I want to scream and cry but I can't. I am surprised that I can eat, that my hands look the same and the sky is still there, where it was yesterday.

We were supposed to meet our friends 4 weeks ago in Ulladulla, they never showed, so we have driven on to melbourne. To my sister, to other friends, to jobs. In that moment with the falafel juice on my chin, and reality smacking me in the face, a line of tall travel-weary surfers trudge up the stairs in search of mail from home.

It is good to see them. They say that Jim who I am scanning for, has gone to my sister's place looking for us. So they get their mail and we go to the closest pub. Which is what we usually do and this does seem right.

The pub we go to is a step or two down from the street. It is dark and there is dark timber and loud carpet. We stand at a round shelf built around a pillar. I have a VB. This is the worst beer in the world, after this week I will never drink it again. S talks happily with our friends. Bob asks me if I am alright and I nod. They don't know what to say to me and it is alright.

In this room I am having a beer with my dad. He would like it here, I turn my shoulder slightly to shut off the others. I picture him standing beside me and in my head we have a conversation and as always he cracks jokes and I laugh and I worry that the haircut I gave him isn't perfect but he is happy and he is smiling and I don't want to turn around when the others talk to me because when I do that, I will be back in the real world and I don't like it here anymore.

Later on we went to meet Jim and when I saw him I looked at him pleadingly for understanding because I know he has lost his parents. Later I think how cruel that was of me, but at that moment I was so desperate for understanding that I did not see that. I don't remember what he said to me but suddenly I realised I had left my hugely pregnant sister all alone and I had to go to her.

She tells me they have decided that the funeral will be the next day, because if they waited an extra day, they would be having it on my birthday. They want me to stay in Melbourne with her because she cannot fly and it is too far anyway. I agree but I will wish so much that I hadn't.

What sort of daughter doesn't go to her own father's funeral?

I don't remember ever crying.

On my birthday I didn't want to go out but S insisted. When we got there I couldn't do it, instead I spent the evening on the side of the road in the back of Jim's truck with the dogs, while everybody partied on watching some band in some pub in some suburb in some city called Melbourne.