THE IRISH SUMMER
Our old blue car wheeled into a tight parking spot under a shady tree. Two lines of four wheel drives and assorted shiny new things filled the small council car park. The blue car with it’s chipped metallic paint peeling away to expose patches of the white undercoat. Crackle paint. They’d seen a few others on the road at times. The same make and model, the same peeling paint, as if a faulty batch of paint had been used in the year of their manufacture. Too old, too many years gone by, to think about recalling them. No claim for faulty workmanship was valid for these old cars. It seemed everyone on the road had a shiny new car. And a shiny new bank loan I consoled myself grimacing at the lingering smoke fumes hanging low in the air. “Peeeuw!” God it stinks.
Embarrassing. I felt I had to wait until nobody was within a ten meter range before starting the motor. Plumes of blue smoke puffed their way out of the exhaust pipe, engulfing all around the car within seconds. Noxious gasses made up of burnt oil and old car smells. Behind my indifferent mask, I am painfully aware of people passing by. Children stopping, staring. An unfamiliar sight on Sydney’s upper north shore. Mothers sideways glances as they drag their children toward their eight seater people movers. Status symbols. Buying popularity as they taxi carloads of spoilt children from sporting field to rugby barbeques. The Smith-Beresfords house on Saturday, the Penfolds on Sunday. The cliques form this way.
They duck through the fumes, wincing discreetly. Some not so discreetly. I hate them for their smugness. I feel angry and frustrated. This is not me. I have taste and style, you just can’t see it. I care about the smoke and the environment. Sitting in the offending vehicle makes me guilty of breaking an environmental code of ethics. It also cements our social ranking.
I asked Dad, a good all round expert on fixing cars, “Are the fumes dangerous for the kids? They come into the cabin of the car you know…” Dad ignored me, so I continued….”
“I heard a story about a little girl who seemed to be sleeping but when they got home, they realised she was dead….from the fumes!”
He looked at me with exasperation. As if I was mad for thinking such a ludicrous thought. It made me think I was mad. Stupid to be worrying about everything. Since I became a mother, worry is now my full time job. A cycle of worry. Feeling guilty about worrying. A psychologist wrote a report for the insurance company stating “It is difficult to convince Terese that bad things don’t generally happen. She has experienced several dramatic events which have served to enforce this belief.”
Was it any wonder? I saw a car hurtling towards me at 60kms per hour. I was powerless to do anything. The car was going to crush my hips and legs against the wall, my unborn baby would die. The helplessness of waiting, as the world I knew slowed to await the inevitable impact. As if someone turned the volume off, the scene had no sound, just a movie broken down into a series of slow motion stills as the car ploughed into my body. Floating up across the bonnet, head shattering the glass windscreen before catapaulting through the chill autumn air. Sommersaulting away from the scene as effortlessly as a gymnast. I remember landing on the cold grass, strangely painless and numb, knowing something bad had just happened Someone had turned the volume back on. A crowd of faces looking at me. A woman with dark hair was crying and saying sorry. I felt the need to comfort her, “Don’t worry, accidents happen”. And then adding quietly…”I’m pregnant”. The woman howled all the more. Nobody came to touch me, they just stared and voices argued somewhere to my right side, where the blackness was. Blackness and clammy sweat closing in on me, like curtains sweeping silently shut at the end of a movie. At that point I knew I had to be strong, I couldn’t be a victim. My eighteen month old son was with his Grandparents, waiting for me to come home. With all my strength I prayed without ceasing. In the ambulance, waiting for Dad to arrive, I silently recited some random lines I had read at Church…”False fears are foes, truth tatters those, when understood…” The hospital staff were astounded at my ‘good luck’. They couldn’t reconcile the accident report with the woman they saw in the bed before them.
Outwardly, I was strong, but inwardly anxiety was building. As a single mother, I never forgot lying beside my eighteen month old son late one winter evening, a month after the accident. Watching his temperature rise. Thirty eight point seven. Thirty nine. Fourty. Me throwing up from all day morning sickness. And stress. Watching aghast as my son began having a febrile convulsion. Panicking. Calling the neighbour… the ambulance. No husband to take over as I sat guarding my precious boy in his hospital cot. Dry retching into plastic bags, wondering who to call. Anxiety. I know about anxiety. The pregnancies had stacked the weight on. I used to be a confident business woman. I managed staff and trained apprentices. Accepted trophies at the Small Business Awards. I felt free in my red convertible. Wind whipping long blonde hair up into crazy circles. An old flame told me the car reflected my personality. Perhaps the blue bomb is an accurate reflection of my life now. The shiny coat peeled away. Stripped bare.
I should be grateful for having a car. If it wasn’t for Dad offering me the use of the bomb, where would I be? Rising at dawn to herd the kids to the station. Catch a train and bus just to deliver the kids to school. Do it all over again in the afternoon. What about shopping? How would I take the kids to their various activities? Look on the bright side, the car has one fabulous feature…the air conditioning! As soon as bums are on the seats in summer ….WHOOSH…..on goes the air. Full blast in your face! On really hot days, the whoosh is a warm one. Before it starts to turn your nose and cheeks to ice. Sometimes, I imagine the perspiration dripping off my forehead and upper lip might turn solid and hang like stalactites. So effective is the air conditioning, I could almost forget the other negatives. I sit back and enjoy feeling human again. So what about the crackle paint and smoke fumes, inside on a hot day, the blue bomb is pure luxury.
“C’mon kids, grab your bags and your drinks and let’s go. God it’s so hot! We won’t stay for ages today, it’s not fair for Mummy to be sitting in this extreme heat for too long”
“Why don’t you swim too Mum?” questioned Harry.
“Oh yeah, as if I would swim here….I’d love to….but no………I don’t think so!”
The two kids galloped off down the sloping paved track surrounded by tall shady trees. There always seemed to be an abandoned pair of undies dropped somewhere on the track. Men’s, women’s, kids….sometimes a hat lay forgotten for days on end. Rained on, dried out by the parching sun. Ants crawling under, over, into the crevices. Strangers feet stomping on them. No thought to pick them up and take them down to the pool office. The owners mother searching through bags, looking in washing baskets. Scouring the back of the car….looking for her toddlers hat. Checking lost property at the pool.
“No sorry, no ones handed anything in…..” Months later the hat will still be lying there, partially buried under a pile of dirt and wet bush leaves. Maybe on Clean up Australia day it will be extracted by a pair of enthusiastic gloved hands and dumped into a respectable rubbish bag. Or maybe it will lie there in its shallow grave, forever unnoticed.
Through the bushes, tiny glimpses of blue pool water beckon the approaching swimmers as they make their way down the path toward the pool entrance. Sounds of excited high pitched voices growing louder. The lady at the desk was there every day. She worked from early morning till early evening. She managed everything from general admissions to booking children into swimming lessons. She served the hungry hordes on kiosk line up. On Saturday mornings, she made all manner of warm food fare for the starving swimmers requiring sustenance after their swimming races. Raisin toast, bacon and egg rolls and cups of hot chocolate or coffee. When kids forgot to bring their goggles, she rummaged through the ‘ lost goggle box’ for an appropriate pair to loan out.
During the long hot month of February, the pool was host to almost every primary and high school swimming carnival in the area. Endless streams of excited, gabbling children would file past her desk every morning and afternoon. In between times, they would jostle in ragged queues asking for meat pies, sausage rolls, Smiths crisps and endless assorted lollies. She managed the staff of swim teachers and lifesavers. Late on hot steamy afternoons she monitored the Bureau of Meteorology for potential thunder and lightning storms. I used to think she was a bit short tempered. This summer I’d witnessed life at the pool almost daily. I watched the crowds at the kids swimming carnival, when the humid heat could drive a non swimmer mad. I’ve grown to like and admire her for the amount of responsibility she shoulders.
This summer we had a ‘run in’. One Saturday morning, after the kids swim races, I ordered an egg and bacon roll and two raisin toasts. The teenage boy with bleached blonde hair combed directly forward over his face, peered out from behind the strands and announced there were no eggs left. Unfazed, I changed my order to three raisin toasts. Other people queuing for egg and bacon rolls were being told the same sad story. “Sorry, we’ve run out of eggs”. I wondered how they resolved supply shortages. I couldn’t think of the closest shop to buy eggs from. I asked Marg, the kiosk woman, if they would have to send someone to a local shop. Almost thinking I might offer my services. She looked at me in a vague detached manner and dismissed me as a nuisance. I could feel myself bristle, I was only trying to help. The raisin toast arrived, but only two servings. The kids sat down on the white plastic chairs and dug in. Margarine smeared around their lips and little black and brown crumbs stuck into the gluey mess. I sat and waited for as long as it took for the kids to polish off their toast. Feeling hungry, I ventured over to inquire how the toast was coming along. The boy behind the fringe looked confused and the kiosk woman called out “We gave it to you”.
“No, the kids had theirs, but I’m still waiting for mine”.
“No…I gave it to you, we put it over here” she indicated to the other side of the counter.
I was momentarily confused, questioning Harry if he had eaten two servings?”
“No! I only had one Mum!” he replied defensively.
“Well, I definitely gave it to you” Marg stated categorically.
She thinks I’m a big fat liar and no wonder I’m this size…she must think I try this little number out at all the food joints in town. Scamming extra serves of food by deviously scoffing the food down, then declaring I never received it! Well now she had my dander up. I stepped forward and said “Well I think I ‘d know if I’d eaten it wouldn’t I ?” My voice was raised in indignation with sarcasm thrown in for effect.
Marg was convinced she was right. In her mind, fatso was cheating. She yelled to someone in the back…”Another raisin toast”. The voice of a woman beyond giving a stuff about customer service. I didn’t feel victorious that my raisin toast was on the way. I stormed over to the counter and announced dramatically..”Forget about the raisin toast, don’t bother. I don’t care about the money…. or the toast….it’s the attitude. Always
has to be snotty…every time…I’m sick of it……bloody hell!”
The kids weren’t used to Mummy having public explosions. I had plenty of private ones at home, that they were used to. They didn’t know what to do. I marched them down to the big pool to get Harry ready for his lesson. Under the shade cloth I found a woman I used to do hair for. Back in the salon days. The red convertible days. There she sat, probably looking forward to a good read. That idea was shot when I plonked my bum down next to her. She was my first port of call after the explosion, so the poor woman was forced to listen and commiserate with me. As I relayed details of the story, I managed to see the funny side. I had to laugh at the sheer “Seinfeldness” of two women arguing over raisin toast, of all things. I remembered my listener was a psychologist and since she had begun to nod her head slowly and watch me with furrowed eyebrows, I decided to let the topic drop. “Stress” I announced. “ I’ve been under a lot of stress.”
The blonde fringe arrived with raisin toast on a paper plate. I didn’t want it…the woman had probably spat on it. There was no way I wanted that toast now, nor anything that didn’t come wrapped and hygienically sealed. You make a complaint about food and you can never eat there again. I accepted the offering reluctantly, with no intention of ingesting it’s contents. “It’s not your fault” I consoled the boy…”it’s just her attitude, it’s so damn snotty”.
It took me a day of sticking my nose in the air as I passed Marg, before I began to wonder how this attitude could continue. Were we going to have to change swim schools? Could we never eat from there again? The next day I was forced to ask Marg a question regarding class times. The tension was high, but Marg was professional. She went out of her way to be polite and helpful. I resolved to make amends. That afternoon, I slid my hand up onto her arm and told her I was sorry about the other day, I’d been under a lot of stress. She looked relieved and smiled back at me. “ And so was I under a lot of stress, I ‘m sorry also”. From that day on we became friends, laughing and offering each other glimpes of the stress in our lives. I told her about Mum having Alzheimer’s and Marg told me about her son traveling overseas and how much she worried about him. Still business like, defrosting slowly.
On the walk to and from the pool, I always feel like a pack horse. Loaded up with my writing bag, handbag and usually Anna’s swim bag as well. Everyday I call out to them “Slow down….make sure you stop at the bottom….cars come up there you know….” They just run off, Harry ahead, Anna torn between listening to me or keeping up with her big brother. Either way, the children are always well ahead of me. I usually lumber in a good minute after. They stand talking to Marg at the desk, filling her in on the latest news. They always turn when they hear me approaching
“Here she is…..c’mon Mum!”
“How much is it today?” I ask the same question almost every day. I can never concentrate on those details. The kids extract every sane thought I might have been in the process of formulating.
“Eight dollars thanks Mrs Reynolds…..” Marg answers politely. I notice the strain in her voice. Her quiet measured tone barely concealing what she would prefer to reply. “hurry up would you, you know the price idiot….you’re here everyday.”
Marg looks over the counter and speaks slowly and clearly, “Now, Anna is with Jonathon and Harry is with Laura in the big pool OK?” she smiles at the kids as we all move off. One minute I’m telling Harry to slow down, the next I’m prompting him to hurry up and not dawdle.
“Don’t run Anna, you’ll need a cap on…wait for me!” I think I need a remote control for keeping the children moving at appropriate speeds. I walk feigning ease and grace, my eyes trained on Anna and Harry running ahead. I walk with a hopefully perceived confidence, glancing here and there, taking in the scene. Appearing not to care or make eye contact. Unless there is a familiar friendly face and then I smile, wave and mouth the standard…”Hi, how are you.?” …”Good thanks.” Generally it goes no further because I prefer it that way. I like to find a seat in the shade and sit down as anonymously as possible. Settle in and watch the kids.
When I’m ready, I pull out some writing pages and begin……a story. Looking up to check on the kids, reprimand or encourage, then back to my sanctuary. Blank pages, hungry to be filled. Release what lies within the pressure cooker. Boiling away furiously, steam lifting the lid, banging back down again. The pressure rising, lifting….. lifting the lid on my thoughts and feelings. Words, paragraphs, page after page. Heated emotion laid out to air and cool in the light of day.
Anna is learning backstroke. Her male teacher is impressed. After the lesson, he lets me know how well Anna went. Apparently, he thinks she is a fast learner. She picked up the arm movements straight away. He tells me he is only in Australia until mid February. “You’re government is kicking me out!” he says laughingly. His accent is lovely. I assume Australia has it’s share of swim instructors and lifeguards. I listen and nod politely, pleased about Anna’s success.The next day we arrive late. The Irishman holds out his arms in a wild welcoming gesture. His smile catches my attention. “G…..ooorgeous!” he announces to Anna. She stands at the edge of the pool…..looking gorgeous. He’s right….she is gorgeous, I think proudly. She is wearing her hot pink with gold snakeskin shimmer pattern costume. It has a halter neck of dazzling gold which matches the white and gold of her beautiful thigh length mane of hair. She had worn the costume for her jazz ballet concert. A pricey little number, teamed with a gold skirt, sequined anklets and headband. The parents despaired over yet another costly, unwearable costume. The teacher assured the parents it would double as a swimming costume. I never saw another one like it at the pool that summer. Most kids don’t have the confidence to pull that one off. When Anna arrived in her stunning costume and long flowing hair, all the girls, young and old would stop and stare. Some envious, some jealous, most admiring, but whatever the reaction, she always attracted attention. Little Anna, oblivious to the sideways glances, runs along, smiling broadly, thinking only of the water and fun ahead.
Day three, he teaches Anna how to move her freestyle arms in time by saying…”CHA….CHA…CHA.chacha!” His divine Irish accent…”Pructice thut at home”. Anna giggles, she likes him! I find I’m getting less writing done. My attention has been diverted. Jonathon instructs Anna to tell her mother that she is a very talented swimmer! Her confidence levels are bubbling over, she’s found her niche. After the lesson the kids swim for hours in the small pool, ducking and diving, shrieking with delight. The other kids lessons continue whilst I find myself watching him, entranced by his presence. There is nothing I don’t like about him. His smile is one that takes my breath away. What is it about him? All the children love him. They are inspired and motivated. They want to impress. At the end of week one of the holiday programme, he huddles with the kids. Lavishes praise and offers them advice for their future swimming practice. He sends them off buoyed up, confident they’ve done a good job and achieved something. The other instructors move through their shifts with dull faced monotony. The kid floundering by their side could be doing anything, as his instructor stares off at some distant landmark – probably a clock. Just checking to see how much longer this trial will last. The kid stops swimming and looks up for a sign of encouragement. Not finding it, he dog paddles and swims under water to the end. The teacher hasn’t noticed, she’s still trudging through the water as if wading through mud, eyes vacantly fixed elsewhere. The lesson ends and the kids climb out of the water. Wander off aimlessly. Another four clamber in with expectant faces.
Anna swings her arms around the house…”CHA …CHA…CHA ..chacha. Rotating windmills finishing with the full extension of arms and head turned to the side in a mock breathing position. Week two of holiday swimming and Jonathan announces they are going down to the BIG pool! Gasps of excitement and nervous giggles as they run down the grassy slope to their next challenge. The DEEP end……”Today we’re going to practice diving”. Anna is shaking with the cold air on her wet skin. Her tummy is making her want to go to the toilet. She clasps her hands together and puts them between her legs, knees bent, hunching over, trying to keep warm. She hangs back and allows the older boys to go first. Jonathan is signaling for her to come to the edge. I move closer down the embankment. I feel the knot forming in my stomach. A sensation familiar to me.
Anna holds her hands out in a diving position and prepares to dive. She looks up at me, mouth open. Through pink goggles, I can’t see her eyes but I know the body language. I know Anna is stoic. The opposite to Harry. He’ll think of every excuse under the sun. Hold up the works by putting forth a complex argument or try to make a deal. Not Anna, she can be shit scared but if she’s been told to do it by a person in authority, well so be it. Admirable, but worrying. I know she needs to get stronger and learn to speak up for herself. Into the deep she goes, splashing onto her belly. Going under momentarily before resurfacing and turning immediately toward the safety of the wall. Half dog paddling, half bobbing under, desperate to reach the wall. Serious face. As she emerges from the ladder onto the pool side, her face breaks into a giant beam. She starts to laugh and gasp and gesture all at the same time. “I did it!! She’s ready for more, no turning back now. Jonathan places a hoop onto the waters surface and asks her to dive through it. Without hesitation, Anna executes a near perfect dive straight through the middle. There is much excitement. Week two is over.
“She’s a natural. So easy to teach” gushes Jonathon as he walks toward me. Droplets of water are falling down his handsome face. Dark laughing eyes, long eyelashes. Chiseled features. That smile. He always comes up to me. This wet suited creature, clutching paddle boards and noodles. I ask him if he would be interested in giving Harry some private lessons. He seems interested. He said he’d let me know if the pool managers approve. The weather is hot and humid but somehow the upward climb to the car doesn’t seem so arduous anymore.
The sound of ‘ T REX Hungry’ is playing somewhere in my embarrassingly cluttered handbag. A recording of Harry playing his most exciting piece of music. It was
now my ring tone. The phone would ring and up would come a video of Harry, in his
school uniform, sitting at the piano fingering the keys fast and furiously. Little fingers working overtime, hands crossing…..crescendo building to a climactic fever pitch as the dinosaur manages to catch and kill his prey. “Damn….I missed the call” I mumble as I impatiently shove crumpled paperwork and sticky Quick Eze wrappers back into the miscellaneous jumble. The black interior, where no hand dares to enter.
I check the phone log. Don’t recognise the mobile number. I return the call wondering who it might be. “Hello, did you just call my number?”
“Yes, is this Miss Reynolds…..it’s Jonathon from the pool”
“Oh….hi….sorry…I didn’t know who you were for a minute!….how are you?” my mouth has gone into fast forward.
“Fine, thank you. You were wanting private lessons for your son?”
“Yes, that would be great if you have time”
“I’m teaching at the pool until five….so how about we start the lesson at say…five
“That would be fantastic….he can have his normal lesson, then have another one with you afterwards.”
“Ok, tomorrow we’ll have a talk about what days are suitable and discuss the goals Harry might have and so on.”
“Thanks so much Jonathon, I just want him to do well at his swimming carnival in February! We’ll see you tomorrow at five fifteen…” I hang up. My heart is pumping. He sounds gorgeous on the phone. Sounds older maybe?
I drop the phone back into my bag and feel ashamed at the mess. Inedible snack packs are shoved back into the bag carelessly. Minute hairbrush bristle piercings have caused cheese to ooze from their ‘sealed for freshness’ foil. They should be thrown in the bin, I don’t have time for a big clean out today. A sodden packet of Extra chewing gum
hangs limply from my fingers. I can see bits of dirt and long tangled strands of blonde hair embedded in some of the green gum which had broken out of it’s wet packaging. Scrunched up white Kleenex tissues, used and unused. Bobby pins with gum stuck to them. Five cent pieces, dirty and smeared with sticky grit. Abhorrent mess, I think to myself. I never have time to attend to these things. How do other women manage to have neatly painted toenails and perfect cars. Not a discarded food package in sight. Nothing, just clean black interiors, empty boots. Bar a stylish umbrella, wrapped up and press studded firmly, a sensible hat on the back seat and a handy spot for the UBD. How lovely….how boring. Those people are anally retentive. Just plain bloody boring with too much time on their hands.
Everything in my life is a mess. My bed is littered with assorted washing. Almost every night I lug about two to three bags of clean washing through the car port of the unit block. Through the security door where I have to dump the lot on the ground in order to put the key in the lock. Press with enough weight to open the heavy fire door. Bend and grab all three bags again, drag myself up two flights of stairs to the front door. All the time, I’m either shooshing the kids noise, refereeing a heated argument or trying to quiet the badly done by ones howls of injustice. The kids would always jostle to be the first in the door. I turn and stretch around them awkwardly trying to locate and insert the key into the wire mesh security door. The changeable weather had seized the lock making it nigh impossible to turn without risking shearing off the metal key within the lock.
At the door, I try to reinforce the plans we discussed in the car. The “getting to bed plan”….”the don’t make a mess of the house plan”…”the boom, boom, boom, boombedy boo plan…it’s that simple plan”. How can it all go so awry…every night?? Too little time, too many distractions, too much to do. It hardly ever went “boom, boom, boom….done!” It usually went scream, yell, mental breakdown, kids realisation that Mummy was serious and then and only then …would silence settle. Gentle loving kisses soothed the shattered nerves of all parties and sanity slowly returned to my exhausted body. The kids slept like angels and I worried over the harsh words spoken in frustration. Wondered how we could do things better in future.
The kids are everything to me, I adore them. We are a team. A close loving family, with our own unique ways of doing things. Quirky things that other families might not do, because their mothers are the anally retentive neat freaks who drive perfectly tidy cars. And keep to perfectly scheduled study times, TV times, meal times. Those mothers always have time to read to their little ones before retiring early to paint their toe nails.
The three of us do things to suit ourselves. When most kids are at home eating their evening meal, Harry and Anna are still frolicking in the pool. Turning pruney, but having a ball. And then it becomes a bit late for cooking, so we head off to eat Sushi at our favourite restaurant. And sometimes after sushi, we ride on the huge escalator which takes us up, up, up…..into the sky it seems. And when we arrive at the peak, we see Borders. The kids start to nag….”Oh please Mum….could we just have a look for a minute….please…” I reluctantly give in and find ourselves inside Borders soaking up the endless varieties of books, magazines and dvds. Inevitably, Anna needs to go to the toilet…..”I’m busting!” We pile into the Ladies, laughing and giggling. Harry playing with the hot air hand dryer while Anna plays with too much soap, for too long, making bubbles burst up out of the drain hole. Shaking and shimmering like Frosty the Snowman. We have a lot of fun playing games on the drive home, trying to keep Anna awake. The blue crackle car climbs the hills and we all sing “Booom, Chugga chugga…Booom, Chugga chugga…. On the steep declines we screech….”WEEeeeeee!!” until the car bottoms out on the flat road.
I hope our closeness lasts forever, but I know about time…. how it changes things. I always hold on to the hope that the kids will value family as much as I do. Time might march on but my relationship with my babies will stretch and grow. Hopefully, we will always remember the three musketeers screaming “WEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” as the blue bomb rolls down the roller coaster of life.
The blue bomb rolled down the hill to Church. On the way up the other side, it was a case of Booom, Chugga, Chugga. The steering locked up. Grinding into the nearest parking spot, we all piled out to investigate the problem. Nine fourty five in the morning. Stinking hot. The cicadas buzzed loudly in the leaves overhead. It felt like the temperature had already reached 38 degrees. We huddle in the shade and debate the best course of action. Dad decides to drive the car back home. I knew that was going to be impossible since I’d felt the immobility of the wheel. “Well, I’m not taking the kids in it. It’s not safe, especially on those huge hills.”
“Please yourself, get in, get out” Dads patience worn thin.
“You’re crazy driving it. We’ll walk down to Chadstone and get a taxi, or train… whatever”
Dad was in the car, moving out from the kerb.
“C’mon kids, he’s mad, you’re not going in the car. No way”
“Poppy will be back…you wait and see. He’ll be back in a few minutes” says Harry confidently.
Minutes later, the blue bomb rolls into the kerb side beside me and the kids. “Oh you’re back huh? Steering too hard?”
“Told you so” says Harry.
“Yeah, have to get a tow I think” Dad stands with his hands low on his hips. Shoulders drooped, sweat shiny on his tanned foreheadThat was Dads first Sunday of respite. A carer was at home looking after Mum. He was free for four hours. Looking after Mum with Alzheimers, had worn him down. Alzheimers. I should refuse to give it a capital letter. Disgusting. I hate to utter the word. For a long time there was no title given to Mums condition. Now suddenly there’s a diagnosis. After years of knowing but not admitting. I used to believe I could heal her. I still do, deep down. The way I’ve been talking lately, it feels like I’ve given up. I wanted to prove to the world that this so called disease is not real and has been proven to be nothingness. I still hope. I won’t give it a name. Why give nothingness power. Dad took his respite in a tow truck that Sunday. The blue bomb riding high. The next day, Mums old car went out in sympathy with old bluey. The kids and I had changed cars temporarily. Driving up the Pacific Hwy, it gave a splutter and conked out. NRMA came and towed it away. They dumped it next to the blue bomb at the mechanics workshop behind the service station. Together they sat forlornly awaiting a verdict.
That’s how the kids and I started ‘temporarily’ living at Mum and Dads house.That hot and humid January. The mechanics verdict was to decommission the yellow car. The blue bomb was resurrected by the mechanic for it’s last hurrah. Until October rego, if it could last that long. In the mean time, my priority was to transport the kids to their holiday swimming programme, followed by our private lessons with Jonathon. Desperate to keep that arrangement, I hired a car for three days. We were given a shiny red, six month old car.“Look! The windows go up and down with a button!” the kids shrieked as all four windows whizzed up and down unsychronised. The car had a CD player, reversing camera and air conditioning of course. It had clean upholstery which smelt leathery and new. The first evening, the three of us sat in the car, playing with the reclining seats. Back and forth. Up and down. Harry was in charge of music. The car came with it’s own funky CD. The first track had lyrics to the effect of “ I felt shiny and new……when I met you…” We played it at full blast as we cruised to Chadstone and back one hot evening. That was the night we reclined our seats back in the garage. Lying in the darkness, giggling and listening to music. Harry obsessively fiddling with the multitude of lights on the central dashboard. One or two rides in the new rental car and I think Dad had made a decision. He was going to buy a new car. To enable him to leave the house to search for a car, I volunteered to stay for a ‘week or two’. To care for Mum. That was how we spent our days. Caring for Mum during the day. Every afternoon we drove to the pool and made our way down the bushy path to see Jonathon. No matter how many afternoon thunderstorms threatened to interrupt our lesson. An hour with Jonathon. Anna first, then Harry. I’d sit down to write, but didn’t get much done.
I found myself sitting as close to the lesson as possible. Laughing and enjoying Jonathon’s methods. I was impressed with his motivational techniques. Harry’s stroke was being pulled apart and corrected. Anna was swimming fifty metres freestyle. Before the lesson, I was thinking about what shirt to wear. Considering pulling my hair out of its uniform tight ponytail. In the car park, I’d check my lipstick and brush my hair again. Through the bushes on the walk down, my eyes would search for his telltale blue instructor shirt. The kids celebrated their birthdays at the pool. Pink and blue helium balloons bobbled away in the shade of the huge oak tree. I sang praises about Jonathon to other mothers at the party. Soon Jonathon had four extra students for private lessons. Anna included.
By the time it was our turn for a private lesson, the smaller pool was all but deserted. As Harry swam laps, Jonathon would talk to me. Tell me what his next plan was to inspire him. He’d smile his engaging smile. His whole face lit up. I was a moth to his flame. “Are you coming to the races tomorrow?” he’d ask me.
“Yes, we’ll be there”
“Well I’ll see you then”, he smiled as he backed away slowly. That face.
“OK we’ll see you tomorrow.” my heart pounding.
One night he called me from Chadstone shopping centre. “Hi, it’s me Jonathon. I just wanted to let you know I have a new idea for Harry tomorrow….”
He told me his plan. “ That’s great, you’re very creative Jonathon. What are you doing now?” I asked him nervously.
“Oh I don’t know. Just wondering around”
“You should go and see a movie” I suggested in a motherly way. Wishing I could relax
out of my ‘straight guy’ role.
“I was thinking I might do that….” his voice trails off.
The straight guy inside me winds up the conversation for us…”Ok well you have a nice night then”. God I hate that voice!
“I’ll see you tomorrow then…..” he was gone. To wander the shopping centre aimlessly. I went back to cleaning the kitchen wishing I would have offered to see a movie with him. That was a dream that seemed a long way from my reality.
The next day after the lesson, Jonathon tells me he’s going down to the big pool to do laps. He’s standing at the deep end. Dark hair covered by a racing cap. Long eyelashes obscured under goggles. Strong arms hidden under his shirt. Muscles outlined. I watch him. Because I’m interested in swimming. Interested in seeing his style. In him. He moves through the water fast. No matter what his style is, I think he’s brilliant. The sun is setting in the west. Spreading blinding golden sparkles across the blue water. I squint into the sun, toward the shallow end. I can’t see much, but I hear the water lapping up and down in the stillness of the early evening. The sound of swimmers rhythmic
splashing, up and down, in time. One, two three…pause…one, two, three…pause…..
”I bet I know what you’re thinking!” I’m caught unaware, he’s beside me, dripping wet, smiling into my face.
He’s referring to his style but I’m sure he has no clue what I was really thinking. I reassure him I thought his style was great. I add…”I’m no expert though!”I have the feeling he is too hard on himself. I watched him after the Saturday races. Alone, wrapped up in his towel. Sitting on a seat high above the pool. Quietly watching. I sensed a black mood. This dark haired Irishman might well have a dark side. I asked him if he missed home. He told me he missed Ireland on Christmas day.
“ At home it’s 15 below. We go swimming in the ocean!” he delights in shocking me.
“Oh my God!” is all I can say.
“It’s beautiful. Invigorating! You haf to huv a log fire and a pot o tea ready for when you get home!’ his Irish accent makes me laugh.
It frees me. I laugh hard. No straight guy. No sensible mother. Just me laughing my head off.
He sees me. His face widens into a huge smile and he laughs back at me.
“Whot are ya larfin at….whots wrong with a pot a tea?!” he feigns hurt.
I love him in this moment. “It’s just so Irish that’s all. A pot a tea! Like a little leprachaun…pot a tea!” I tease him. My smile reflecting his.
My leprachaun gathers his paddle boards and pool noodles together and runs to catch up with me. “You think saying a pot o teas funny do you?
We depart with a laugh. The children adore him. So do I.
Jonathon has shaved fifteen seconds off Harry’s time. He is triumphant in Harry’s success. “We want to get you something to say thank you…what would you like?” I ask him.
“The only thing I want, is to see Harry do well at his swimming carnival. Thuts all I
At the carnival, I watch Jonathon performing his duty as lifesaver. I sat there all day watching him. Barracking for Harry who won third in both races. Eyes scanning for Jonathon. I confessed to one of the other mothers at the poolside. “I have a huge crush on him you know….which is hysterical…because I really could crush him!!!” Making jokes at my expense. I’m good at that. God forbid that they might think I believed he could possibly be interested in me. That would be delusional. As delusional as it was, in a small optimistic way, I hoped he did like me. That some dreams come true. Unrealistic dreams. Out of the blue. That’s what keeps me going. Its hope.
We carried on with our private lessons every day for twenty five days. Our intimate times around the pool. The kids laughing “Look Jonathon …..look at me!” Craving his attention. We’d say goodbye and head down to the big pool so the kids could practice. Out of the blue, he was by my side again. My Leprechaun “How do you think they’re going?’ he asks me.
“I think they’ve improved so much.”
“Especially Anna, she’s fantastic. Six years old and she’s swimming like that…fifty metres. Unbelievable….all the good swimmers have arms like that!”
“ Harry has improved heaps too….it’s been good for him ….having a male teacher. He doesn’t have a Dad at home….” I trail off.
“I know. The way they treat me….like a father…look Jonathon… look at me!! I feel like a father. That’s what a father does you know?’ he speaks softly as he watches them. I don’t know what else to say. We stand in silence watching. My dripping wet Irishman. Arms crossed shyly in front of him.
“Do you think you’ll come back next summer?” I ask him, imagining I will lose heaps of weight before then.
“ I don’t know what I’m going to do…”
“We’ll have to get your email address. The kids would love to write to someone in Ireland!” I lie.
“ Yes, I’ll give it to you. One more lesson to go… see you tomorrow”
He walks away with the dark cloud over his head. Do I imagine it?
My phones ringing. Jonathon calling……. He phoned to confirm the time for the lesson tomorrow. “I’ve got some fun games for them to do for the last day”.
I hang up feeling sad. The Irish summer is nearly over. He’ll be gone in two days. He’ll be on the plane and I’ll be here looking after Mum. The old routine. The magic will fly away.
The last day. I move through the day slowly. I have it in mind, I want to buy him an Australian gum leaf. They make them into bookmarks. The lady at the National Trust shop tells me they are from Western Australia. There is a shortage of them because of the drought. I’m disappointed. I peruse the shelves of Australiana merchandise. A fine bone china mug with a hand painted kookaburra sitting in a gum tree. Plenty of kookaburras and gum trees up at the pool. He commented on the kookaburras once. He liked them. It’s a pot a tea!!! Yes….he can have his pot a tea with this mug. And think of me!! Our joke. The water, sunshine, happy kids…our Irish Summer. I took the mug.
Harry and Anna made goodbye cards for Jonathon. As soon as they arrive pool side, they try to thrust them into his hand, even though he is still in the pool. He clambers out to accept the cards. The afternoon summer breeze picks up the cards and blows them into the pool, where they float face up on the waters surface. With much excitement and giggles, Jonathon jumps into the pool to retrieve them. He takes them down to the big pool for games where they laugh themselves silly. I watch, enjoying the spectacle. Aware of the minutes thundering by. I trail Jonathon, video taping the kids moving through their obstacle course. I wanted him on record. As crazy as I felt, I didn’t stop filming. Right to the end when Jonathon gathered the kids together and gave a speech.
“Guys, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for the present. I want you to turn to your mother and give her a round of applause”
They turn and clap while I ask “Why me?”
“Well, your mother’s got you here every day. She’s the one who’s driven you backwards and forwards to the pool”.
If only he knew what a pleasure it had been. Despite the heat and the desperate humidity. The outpouring of cash. He had lifted me out of my life. Awakened me from a dead sleep to discover there is life inside. Hope still burns.
The children dressed as I sat and waited. Conscious of him disappearing into the shower room. Knowing we had to go and leave him forever. It was hot with my long hair hanging around my neck. My face was perspiring as quickly as I could blot the beads away. I saw him coming, toward me. He was coming to give me a kiss. I could only think about my sweaty face. I couldn’t let him kiss this face. He was next to me. I was sitting. He was standing. He put his arm around me and bent down. I pushed my head into his chest and patted him on the back as one would a footy mate. And then it was over. Not what I would have hoped for. We climbed the hill to the car. I glanced back through the bushes. Nothing to see.
The next visit to the pool was when the emptiness settled in. Jonathon was not in his usual training lane. The vacant faced teachers were there. No colour. I stared at the pool. Stared down into it. Past the surface. The water was flat and still. So still, I could see the dirt and leaves settled on the pool floor. It’s dirty today. There were no golden sparks reflecting off the water. The emptiness was palpable. The kids played for a while before I called them out. “We have to go home, Nanny and Poppy will be waiting for dinner”. I watched my email for weeks. Expectant of news.
I wrote about our summer. I called it “The Irish Summer”. My writing teacher liked
the title. She wanted me to find some structure in the piece. Rework it. Write it in the first person. What happens to the main character? Is it a catalyst for change? Do things go back to normal? I didn’t know then. He’d only just left the country. I put the piece aside. Until the other day when I found myself scrawling under a sparse bush beside the pool. Here….. I give you my life…..
The sun is burning like a bitch. Mid March and its scorching rays are setting my black pants on fire. Its not just the sun. Today my life is a bitch. No mixing words. This afternoon, this day, this whole bloody month. I’m sick of myself. Life is too hard. The only thing that gives me hope is writing. As if putting some words on paper and editing them until they’re perfect, could make everything better. The reality is, my life is a big shitty mess.Gloss it over as much as I like. Develop a crush on Jonathon. Pretend to be a writer. Eat expensive sushi when my credit card has too many noughts on the end. Drive a clapped out car and pretend I don’t care about the sideways glances. The days go by as I punch tablets out of Mums webster pack……. …..Monday….Breakfast….Sunday….Evening…buy more Tuesday. The list goes on. Yes I feel sorry for myself. Today more anger than sorrow.It’s a bad day. I know it. The kids are swimming. I’m trying to write. My back is aching. Nerve endings strangled between tortured muscles. Nauseating headache. Can’t balance my writing pad anywhere. This mood will pass. I’ll put my blinkers on and keep pretending that life’s OK. If I was alone, I’d cry. Instead I sit with my back to the world. Not caring. Not watching Anna’s swimming lesson. The wretched sun is at my back. I’m facing the shadows, today I want to stay in the shadows. If it wasn’t for the kids I’m not sure I would come out.
Need to chug up those endorphins. Do I have any? If I went for a walk my body might awaken a few. Throw them out to me like life buoys. It’s hot. I’d better find the energy to move my lard around the oval. If there is a way out of this mood – I’m looking. Too frightened to let it get hold.
WEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…. ………………..The roller coaster of life.