The Red Book Series, thoughts, Welcome to Nowhere

2015/a year in moments and numbers

1/ intro

The year starts scared. It starts in Adelaide. After months of applications and rejections in Melbourne, I flee back to my parent’s house. The year starts with me saying I won’t come back: Adelaide is a soft place to crumple. I wander their garden and eat snow peas off the bush. I wander down rivers with my dogs. I swim (flounder) in the ocean in borrowed bathers. I ride a borrowed bike through the streets. I feel very far away from everyone, including myself.

Then a phone call comes. It says “there’s a job if you want it. It is in Melbourne and you will have to be a brave, badass grown up lady.” And I say “yes”. And I go back to Melbourne. And the year is as full of bravery and badassery as I can make it.

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Photo by Sarah Walker

2/

Outside our dark wood room, a line is forming: 55 people, speaking Spanish. Someone has brought a Venezuelan flag. Others have dressed in the national colours. Behind the wooden doors in the hot, carpeted dark of our tiny theatre, the comedian is warming up as only a Venezuelan would: by teaching his theatre tech to salsa. Our nightly ritual of laughter, loud music, nerves and perhaps a touch of homesickness.

3/

A woman is shaking, screaming into a microphone. She wears a cape and trails red wool like menstrual blood from her underpants. She is tangled in her mic cable in such a way that I just want to run up on stage and explain to her proper cabling technique. (Has she never heard of Under Over?) On either side of her stand the silhouettes of soldiers with heads bowed. They are illuminated by a rainbow chase sequence and the words ‘Lest We Forget’ arch above the tiny stage.

An older woman comes around with a tray of vegetarian spring rolls. She wears earplugs and a glazed smile that seems to say, “I hate this but these people must be fed.”

The raffle is drawn. The prize is a basket containing spam, party poppers, medicinal tea, halal chicken stock and grass jelly. I don’t win. The woman screams on.

4/ some messages i received during my brief foray into the world of okcupid:

  • Hi there! You seem lovely and the robots apparently feel we won’t re-enact the thunderdome upon meeting, so I thought I’d say hello 😀
  • Hello fellow cool person on OkCupid. Nobody around me seems awake at this hour (understandably). I’ve watched a bunch of movies tonight that have me too depressed to sleep, so I’m stuck browsing this site – occasionally consulting with my cat on my matches whenever she wanders into my room. We both agree you seem all right and are mathematically probably not my enemy.
  • You rock! Let’s gets married 🙂
  • Hi, I’m looking for a relationship where the lady gets to see others and I remain faithful. If that appeals please let me know.
  • Fancy meeting you here. Inundating yourself in the lower end of the human evolutionary spectrum and the inevitable associated six-pack pics?
  • If you search against your black and white photo it slams you right there. I give a lot of energy to see how real a person is. If I want to talk to fictional and characters, I can look from within. So when I truly want connect, I confirm they are not a spook.
  • don’t judge I was really drunk and it was with a couple and the guy actually got pretty territorial about her pussy, so I tried ass… but I am not a small guy, maybe only the head went inside, she jumped up ran to the toilet and never came out, it was awkward, so I left…
  • do you think we’ll go on a date? Or just see each other at rehearsal?
  • … and here I was thinking we got along so well! Take care Fleur, all the best x

5/ a girl in a manic up swing talks faster than i can listen

She tells me about her ex boyfriend:

“He had ‘lost soul’ tattooed on his eyelids and stars on his dick.”

It is such a majestic sentence and she is so overwhelming that I decide the night can’t be topped and I leave.

6/ things i learnt this year include:

  • How to wash my hair with baking soda and vinegar.
  • What ‘Shark Week’ means. (I was disappointed that it wasn’t an elongated American holiday celebrating sharks and all the contributions they have made to society.)
  • The difference between an electronic musician and a DJ.
  • How to syringe cough medicine down my dog’s throat.
  • What my natural hair colour is now.
  • That I have a grey hair.
  • My nephew’s name.

7/

January 12th: This photo arrives in my inbox.

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I carry it with me all year. This was the year of Felix. Of waiting for Felix to be here and safe.

Boxing Day 2015: For the very first time, we watch Felix sit up all by himself. He sways back and forwards and then slowly, slowly he topples to the right, drooling all the way.

8/ my 2015 resolutions:

  • Direct a play of my choosing. (Exit Everything)
  • Don’t complain about theatre as much as in 2014. (Turns out it is much easier when you are getting paid.)
  • Don’t post any old modelling photos or use them as profiles. (Nailed it.)
  • Spend less money on my hair. (Which was easy.)
  • Wear less make up. (Which was terrifying.)

9/ my proudest moments: one of three

Opening night of Kindness, by Bridget Mackey. Having followed that play through from her very initial idea, seeing it fully realised on stage makes me I cry in the dark. I reach back behind me and squeeze her hand as the audience applauds.

10/ some numbers:

  • 74: the number of theatre productions I saw.
  • 12: the number of theatre productions I paid to see.
  • 454: the number of actors I saw in productions.
  • 252: the number of actors that were women.
  • 52: the number of actors of colour.
  • 13: how many play readings I saw.
  • 15: how many productions or readings I worked on.
  • 10: how many scripts I assessed.
  • 272: how many nights I slept without medication. (I beat last year’s record – 103 – by May 17th this year.)
  • 55: the most nights I managed in a row.
  • 79: how many yoga classes I’ve been to since I joined my studio in June.
  • 12: how many OkCupid dates I went on.
  • 5: how many people I kissed.
  • 1: how many people whose hand I held as we slept.

11/ a question mark

“What are you thinking?”

I have a moment to decide how to answer. I decide to be brave, foolish, drunk and love-struck.

“I’m thinking we probably should stop going on these dates.

Or we could just make out.”

He says “hmm, interesting – ” or something similarly terrifying but in that moment, the playwright of the night, Declan Greene, appears. (Of course he does, for Declan must interrupt the hetero-normative, both on stage and off.) For five minutes we say words about theatre, his process, the immense complexity of his play and I am so proud and excited for him but all the while a question mark hang in the air over my head. The hyphen that sliced that response in two has lodged itself somewhere in my oesophagus.

Then Declan is gone, and the two of us make sounds like “hmm” and “so” and “yeah”. We walk. We walk away from the opening night dizziness and into the dark and yes, it is raining a little, just enough to make my hair ridiculous and my jumper smell of wet dog. We stop on Grant Street.

We say some words with our mouths. We smile with our mouths. It is the smile of two brave people who are about to kiss in the rain.

12/ an actual conversation i had:

“It is perfect but… I don’t think – “

“How much do you have?”

“He’s done the maths. It turns out, essentially nothing.”

“Well, how about this: I’ll give you the space for a cut of ticket sales. We’ll take 30, you take 70, plus whatever you get from the bar.”

“That is… amazing! But we still need a set… We don’t even have money for that.”

“What do you need?”

“The first act doesn’t need much but the second act is in a post-apocalyptic cave or something.”

“We’ll I’ve got a post-apocalyptic bunker in the basement. Some students built it for a film shoot. If you promise to get rid of it at the end, you can use that. Would that do?”

That was John Paul, giving The City They Burned a second Melbourne season.

13/ my proudest moments: two of three.

Sarah Walker reading at Women of Letters, blowing everyone away, making a room laugh and cry in turns. And there’s me not being even a tiny bit surprised by her amazingness (we’ve known each other a long time) but feeling so, so achingly proud to know and love that woman.

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Yoga by the Murray.

14/

In an effort to escape the fluorescent bulbs of our hotel room, he has filled the place with tea candles. The balcony doors are open. The tiny flames wriggle in the breeze. Mosquitoes vibrate against the fly screen. Out there in the darkening world, the river flows past us, giant and oblivious.

18/ driving down the freeway at night:

“We thought we could stay close with our Christian friends and just not be Christian with them. But in the end, we lost practically all of them.”

Behind us, the dogs are snoring.

I say “thank you”. I thank my father and my absent mother for the choice they made. I tell him I’m so glad to have grown up the way that I did.

“I think about it a lot; the choice you made. I think you were both so brave.”

And they were. We travel on, down a golden river of tungsten light.

15/ motion sickness

Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature leaves me with Tralfamadorian motion sickness: a sense of swinging between many different presents, haphazardly.

Up pops an alert and I am transported to a day on which my grandmother is still a part of my life. A day when I cut her nails and tease her for sleeping with a bag of old corks in her bed because she’s heard they help cramps. I take photos of flowers I’ve cut from her garden and I watch the news beside her and roll my eyes every time she calls Gillard ‘That Woman’.

Like someone in a dream, I cannot yell “The train is coming!”, “It’s behind you!” or “Time’s almost up!” The days tick by for Past Fleur and Past Flo. Days spent trying to stop her from eating so much chocolate and trying to stop her from waiting at her front gate for the taxi when she could just as easily wait inside. And then the days run out. Then miraculously begin again because time is no longer linear. Flo and Fleur, a year younger, begin their last year once more, moving obliviously towards oblivion.

16/ my resolutions for 2016:

  • To find what it is that I need in each project or job to do it joyously. Follow my joy. Work with joy. Articulate that joy.
  • Glorify balance rather than overwork.
  • Love courageously.
  • Go to yoga 180 times.

17/ yesterday

Sitting in the car outside of the pharmacy, I take my painkillers and cry.

18/ my proudest moments: number three

When I see what Emma Valente and co. did with my stage direction: ‘Maisy falls back on the bed. Stars come out on the covers and glitter across the stage. The two bodies seem to float in space. Galaxies collapse and are built in the creases of their arms and the softness of their bellies.’

 

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Photo by David Sheehy.

19/

On the other side of the world, a little girl is telling us about Space. She works her way through the planets with a useful fact about each one (“it has rings”, “it is very small”, “it has a volcano but the volcano is sleeping”). Once we pass Pluto we learn that comets are “sparkly” and that then there is the Milky Way.

“What’s the Milky Way?”

“It’s our galaxy.”

“What’s a galaxy?”

“It’s all sparkly and all together.”

“Do you tell your baby brother about space?”

“No. He’s too little to understand space.”

So am I, I think. Perhaps you have to be the right amount of little and big to be sure you know what a galaxy is. Perhaps Almost Four is the perfect age for understanding space.

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Photo by David Kilpatrick

20/ a word

It has been years since I used the word ‘boyfriend’. I am more comfortable with unfinished sentences and vague hand gestures.

Once, back in 2013, I said, “the guy I’m dating” in front of The Guy I Was Dating and he hissed, “we’re not dating”. We stopped doing whatever it was we were doing not long after that.

Which makes it seem like I was uncomfortable without definitions. Like I’ve spent four years longing for clarity. And I haven’t. I’ve spent four years longing to feel ready for clarity. And now I am.

‘Boyfriend’ still feels foreign. It feels italicised. Like an invitation for questions. Like it isn’t mine to use. Like I might be accused of mispronunciation, or cultural appropriation. It is so outside of me.

And yet, as anxious and unsure as I am every time the word leaves my mouth, I am so proud to be saying it. So proud to declare with those syllables that I care for someone and they care for me. That we can make out pretty much any time and hold hands in the dark of theatres. I say those two syllables with terror in my eyes and an increased heart rate. I say them ready to be corrected, rejected and neglected and yet I am not. I am smiled at, hugged, kissed, affirmed, celebrated. This is the year of complete sentences.

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My own plays, personal, The Red Book Series, Theatre, thoughts, Uncategorized

on learning, listening and leaving the dead behind

So I’ve been doing this since 2009. When a journal is finished, I go through and take moments from it – things I’m working on or notes from a class or scribbles in the margin. It helps me remember where I’ve been and what meant something to me as the years fly by. I am currently about five journals behind. This has been a deliberate choice. You see, the last one I collated was from December 2012. It was a document of deaths, both fictional as I wrote Unicorn and real as I sat beside my beloved Grandmother and watched her die. So I’ve been holding off.

No one in history has ever been more dead than my grandmother. I listened to the changing textures of her breath. I studied the minutiae of her final moments. I dressed her for her funeral. My hands were on her and she felt like ice. She is the most dead being to have ever existed for me. And yet… and yet I still feel that I could jump on the Traralgon train and, in an hour, be sitting at her kitchen table, chatting with her and cutting her finger nails.

I try not to think about how much time has passed but it has been months and months and journal after journal has been filled and it still hurts such a lot that she isn’t here.

Yesterday, I decided to acknowledge that time and to collate the next journal. I’m glad I did. As painful as it felt to start with, it did make me remember what a beautiful, beautiful year it has been and how many amazing artists I have around me. This picks up just a month after Granny died, January 23rd and finishes March 27th. It contains the words of Raimondo Cortese, Robert Reid, Paul Cox, Patricia Cornelius, Stephen Cleary, Richard Murphet, Sarah Cane and a whole lot of me working things out. Thank you to all these incredible artists. Enjoy.

The Red Book Series, Part Six

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Unicorn, Oxford, England 27th January 2013:

KIT                    This – this moment right now – is the furthest I have ever been from you. Silence. Now this is.

A note to myself, Oxford, England 23rd January 2013 (I was hanging out with a lot of neuro-scientists)

There is nothing intangible left about humanity. Even memory is now just a cluster of proteins. Nothing more romantic or infinite than that. We are changing. I am not the same person I was five years ago. Not a cell of that person remains.

Unicorn, Oxford, England 25th January 2013

ALBA               I’m going, Kit. I am going tonight and it’s not a touristy, greyhound round trip there and back again. I am going There and I’m staying There.

KIT                  Where’s There?

ALBA               I don’t give a damn. Somewhere near the seas. I think I’d like that. I’ve never seen the sea before.  A beat.

KIT                  I saw it once.

ALBA               I know.

KIT                  The week dad –

ALBA               I know.

KIT                  I know you know!  A beat It was beautiful, Alba. It was totally – We stopped and mum brought us ice-creams and we ate them just staring at it. Then we got back in the car and we kept driving and the ocean…. It kept pace with us. Like it was just there – just filling the left window of the car hour after hour until it wasn’t special anymore and all it was big. And blue. And it made me feel very small. And pink. And a long, long way from home.

Considering Monet, Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris 1st February 2013

Individually, no brush stroke is genius. Just as no single words written by Shakespeare is truly profound. If you stand close to the painting, each individual brushstroke is apparent: the thickness of the paint, the separate hairs, the flick of the hand. It is a bit like reading a play that was written to be lived aloud: you see the bones – the structure – of the thing and each individual syllable that went into its creation. Then you step back. You step back or you read it aloud and the riot of paint, the mechanics of the art, becomes one picture. One immense image.

Notes for yours the face, Paris, France, 5th February 2013:

It is about temporary things – moments, beauty, passion – all of which will be outlasted by the image they create. It is about being alone even when you are holding someone’s hand in a city of millions.

Notes from class, Raimondo Cortese, 5th March 2013 (If the phrase is in quotation marks, it means I got the exact phrasing and am quoting Raimondo Cortese. Everything else is paraphrased or a tangent my brain took.)

–       “Suspension of disbelief is just an excuse for ‘stuff doesn’t work.’”

–       Beckett is a poet of words but today we must be poets of actions. We and our forebears have different relationships with what is pertinent to now.

–       “If you want to write, you must be abnormal. Find your aberration. It’s weird. It is very, very odd.”

Notes from dramaturgy class, Robert Reid, 6th March, 2013:

–       “Dramaturgy is the art of being professionally interested in stuff.”

My adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five, 8th March 2013:

A beginning. There is no part for John Wayne in this story. No. No John Wayne or Frank Sinatra. No tans. No flashing teeth. Barely any words even. A long silence. I mean, what’s there to say after a massacre? Another silence. Everybody is supposed to be dead. Everything is supposed to be very quiet. And it always is. Except for the birds. Silence.  The actors consider the silence. One shrugs. So it goes.

Notes from a lecture by Paul Cox, 7th March 2013

–       This is the danger of researching today: you used to research by looking at the yellow pages, dialling a number and speaking to a Society. Today, the Internet can take you to the other side of the world without human interaction. Have we lost the ability to concentrate on a face? To make a connection? To ask ‘who is that person’? This is not progress. This is the dark ages.

–       “You must caress the eyeballs. The eyeballs don’t matter any more… Cinema is an abstract medium. ‘That’s entertainment’ is such a damaging slogan.”

–       “We are all travelling to die. But we are also travelling to live.”

Notes from class, Richard Murphet, 18th March 2013

–       Theatre’s strength as an art form is not dialogue so much as image… it is about creating memorable moments and interactions between people. The story is only eh vehicle for this… the Ancient Greeks told the same story again and again. The newness of the story isn’t important. The depth is what matters.

–       Sarah Cane: “I keep coming back to the theatre in the hope that someone in a darkened room will burn an image into my mind.”

–       Peter Hatton: “The image is a possibility rendered present. Images are at best a clarification, not only of what is there but what is more than there.”

–       “Stories walk, like animals or men”. There are gaps between elements. The story is the stride over something not said… choosing deliberately one word or another, knowing that the gap between them is unique.

–       Every word we ever say has a history stretching out behind and in front of it.

Notes from a film class by Stephen Cleary, 19th March 2013

–       Narrative point of view: how you manipulate the audience into seeing the story from a particular perspective. A story is just that. It is how the writer conveys the story, when they reveal what, when they let the audience know more or less or as much as the characters. Groups of characters work because through them we experience their different points of view. Sherlock is far ahead of us intellectually but emotionally behind while Watson is intellectually behind but emotionally ahead. Hermione is ahead intellectually, Ron, ahead emotionally.

–       The shower scene in Psycho: The long shot on her eyes to show that yes, the star of the film, Lee, really is dead. A new protagonist is needed and all we have is this strange boy. He takes the money, which has been the entire plot up to this point, and throws it away along with our former protagonist. Hitchcock is adept at this fast transition that, by the time the car gets stuck in the swamp, we are on the strange boy’s side. We want the car and the evidence gone.

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Fragmentary texts, 20th March 2013

Two women.

– It doesn’t feel like me talking. It’s not me talking.

– Your mouth is moving.

– So it is. Touch it. My mouth.

– I… can feel your teeth through your lips.

– Teeth are just bone. Put your fingers in.

– Sometimes mine hurt. My teeth hurt. Smiling all day.  Do they have (what you call them?) pain thingies? Your teeth are wet. Your mouth is wet. Your tongue. … Ouch.

A love letter in the form of a multiple choice questionnaire.

Question 1:

What colour are my eyes?

  1. Blue as the ocean. Blue as the sky.
  2. Green as a forest. As a leaf. As a leaf in a forest.
  3. Black as sin. As lust. As wanting.
  4. I don’t give a fuck. They are yours. They are yours and that’s all that fucking matters. Be blue, be green, be black, be blind but let me gaze into them.  Let me study their depths. Let me –

Two women.

– I don’t want to use words. I want to use some other… some old, old long dead form of…

– You’re scaring me.

– Am I? I’m sorry. I am. Have you ever heard a horse scream? A pig? A goat? The most ageless sound. Like – it’s like –

I can’t do it. Sorry.

 

Interview with Patricia Cornelius in PWA magazine, undated

If I wasn’t a writer I’d be a farmer. I’d wear gumboots and dungarees. My hair would be worn in a no nonsense basin cut and my gender would be indefinable. Actually I’d look like a bloke. My life would be a constant drama – a race to harvest before the rains, up to my elbows in a pregnant sheep’s twat, beating wet bags against encroaching fires. My hands would be thrown up in despair, cursing God. My hands would be thrown up in the air, dancing joyously at the birth of a dozen piglets. I would be dog tired at the end of the day and I’d sit back and smoke, yes, smoke a big fat cigarette and think ‘I really should get out and go to the theatre one day.’

Extract from a play I started writing and then abandoned, The Architects of Warsaw, 25th March 2013

Three architects are drafting plans for the buildings of their city as bombs fall around them.

–       I’ve never noticed the gutters on the post office before. Shame to spot them now as it burns. Beautiful craftsmanship. A nice feature.

–       My chest hurts.

–       Deep breathes. Embrace plain. That’s what your generation does. One day you will draw a square – an empty cube – and hold it up for all to see. A tribute to your faith in humans to inhabit any space. To fill even the starkest room with their humanity and make it breathe. But remember the gutters. You won’t want to but try. Think of how the tiniest feature will illuminate your restraint. Otherwise it will just be a square. Four brick walls. How’s the chest?

 

An exercise, Isolation is, 27th March 2013

Like the sensation of hollowness in the centre of your chest, like there is a cavity inside your ribs and your lungs and your heart and your organs are not large enough to fill it.

Like not quite knowing how to move your arms. Like looking down at your hands and thinking them alien. Like holding another person’s hand in a crowded city and feeling a chasm open up between you. ‘There’s a hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I can’t help but fall.’ Like sitting on a tiny desert island – one cartoonish palm tree – and watching the ships sail past and having nothing to flag them down with. Like cooking for one. Like not bothering to eat it. Like tumbleweed. Like not getting the joke. Like the Iron Curtain. Like distance. Like the Australian landscape. Like naming a town Nhill. Or Wail. And placing it in the middle of flat nothing. Like masturbating without a climax.

Like taking valium. Like procrastination. Like not screaming. Like deliberately not screaming. Like trying to merge on a freeway. Like no one letting you in. Like blindness.  Like deafness. Like puberty. Like forgetting how to read. Forgetting a face. Like reaching. Like striving. Like grasping. Like failing.

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My own plays, personal, The Red Book Series

on death and grief and my grandmother

Today it is six months since a little old lady died in a quiet country hospital with her family surrounding her.  She meant the world to me.  Because of the date and because I’ve been thinking about it all weekend and because I dreamed last night that I tried to call her and couldn’t because I had deleted her number from my phone, I am posting this.  Back to politics and theatre shortly.  

This is a series I started back when I first studied at VCA: when I completed a journal I would go through and select extracts from them.  Usually they would be bits of plays and notes from classes but this one here is December 2012-January 2013 and my beloved Grandmother’s death became the dominant theme.  It just so happened that the play I was writing at the time for Quiet Little Fox, Unicorn is also a lot about death so this one has become a very special document for me, juxtaposing my fictional representation of two children dealing with their fathers’ deaths with my own experience of sitting at my grandmother’s death bed and writing a record for my sister on the other side of the world.  

Photos by Sarah Walker. She photographed and filmed the funeral for my sister on the other side of the world.

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The Red Book Series, Part Five

November 19th, 2012 to January 21st, 2013

–      Unicorn, driving to Kit’s father’s funeral (a bit that was cut)

KIT  We paused for three hours for mum to nap with her head lolling back against the seat. Without the car engine, the landscape was filled with the loudest silence I’d ever heard.  Insects and tiny creatures, seduced each other with chirrups and pheromones.  It was a sex-filled night.  A virile night. Two dark little rodent things chased each other across the car bonnet, their rice-grain claws sounded like the world’s tiniest rain fall on a tiny tin roof.  They fell off the edge in a bundle of fur and squeaking passion.  ‘That’s it,’ I thought, ‘that’s what God intended for dads: just one tropical night of frenzied lust and then they were meant to disappear back into the jungle.  If we knew this was the deal from day dot, we wouldn’t be here now.’

–      Unicorn, after Kit has become a girl

Cut to a cloud of insects rising into the air. The girl Kit watches their flight from the asphalt and counts herself lucky that there are no senior boys left and that children’s fists bleed almost as fast as faces and they file into the classroom and show and tell is shown and told and laughter is laughed and scabs scab and are picked and bleed and scab again.  So on to infinity.

Or-  Or it is geography and the Girl Kit sits in the front row and is so, so… aware of the bodies pressing in behind her and she pretends to study the map of the Northern Territory on page 46 of the text book.

And there she sits, tracing the course of the Stuart Highway with her finger, which makes the long trek from Darwin to Alice Springs in seconds and then skips across deserts and jungles to follow the Darwin River from birth to death.  And for that moment she is a giant of colossal proportions, not a skinny girl bleeding a little from here – and here – and here – while – a tiny teacher in front of her miniscule blackboard, pretends not to see.

–      Unicorn, Alba waiting for her father to die (a bit that was cut)

ALBA  Here is me, Alba, a nine year-old with a bowl-cut, roaming the halls of the Royal Darwin Hospital.  For a year, I am invisible.  Mum forgets she has a daughter.  She doesn’t send me to school.  Doesn’t feed me often.  I slip into wards.  I watch old men getting bathed.  Their skin hanging from their skeletons.  Their filmy eyes.  Their weeping bedsores.  I walk along corridors, peering into every open door.  I see people at their most undignified, caught standing with pants around their ankles as grumpy nurses change their damp sheets.  I am present at five deaths.  Three are quiet.  A gentle letting go.  Two are loud with doctors and nurses and defibulators.   No one sees me seeing.

–      Note to myself on Unicorn’s structure

Okay, so- okay.  We are getting to the part of the story that’s hard to explain… all those bodies that weren’t even bodies… breathe.

–      In Granny’s room.  December 21st, 2012. 

–      3.08am

There’s this smell in the room.  I keep smelling my clothes, the blankets wrapped around me and breathing into my hands.  It is so all-pervasive that I don’t know how my body and breath aren’t rank with it. To call it a smell of death makes it too significant.  Perhaps it is nothing more than the breath of an old lady who has not cleaned her teeth in days.  She tells me her mouth tastes like the bottom of a cocky’s cage.   Well told.  She is sleeping now.  On each wrist is her name, address and date of birth which was many years ago.  On each leg is pain relief….

I am writing this so that you might feel a little closer although, in many ways, I think nothing could make you feel more absent than reading this but, if you want it, it is here for you.

–      5.49am

So I was doing okay.  Light happened and I realized that outside our window is honeysuckle and roses.  But then I realized that the light means this night is ending and this will probably be the last few minutes I have alone with my Granny.  The nurse just came in and woke her.  She woke when her name was called.  But was pretty incoherent because of the morphine.  She went back to sleep as soon as she was able so the pain must be okay.  The nurse had night breath so maybe that is the smell of a hospital at night: not death but all of our collective teeth calling out for sleep and Colgate and sunlight.

–      8.33am

This is the face I am wearing today.  It is red and white and its mouth won’t work and its eyes won’t work.

There is never a moment when they say ‘this is it.  This is the last lucid moment she’ll have.  Say it.  Say it now. Tell her how loved she is.’  That moment raced past us because it was so full of pain.  Such a moment can only be full of pain because that’s what it takes to get that much morphine.  So much that lucidity disappears.  You only spot that last moment in retrospect.  I realized at about 6.15am that 2.30am had been that moment.  It happened and now it is gone.  I missed it.  I am so sorry for all that love I didn’t profess at that moment.  Or in the ambulance.  I kept thinking there would be another.

–      3.05pm

I am becoming aware of the multitude of textures that a breath can have. Studying the minutia of movements under the skin.  There are such big pauses between breaths now.  Each sentence I write is interrupted to listen.  Mum, Hannah and Lorraine are singing ‘Away in a manger’ and the little hospital continues to move.  Rough country voices, smoothed by love, rise and fall in the corridors around us.

In my sister Hannah’s handwriting: And Fleur is very pale.

–      4.21pm

9-10am was my breakdown.  Hannah took me home.  I showered, ate for the first time since midday yesterday, felt instantly sick and went a bit demented for a while.  I ended up bringing back photos and a letter from you.  It reads like this:

“Dear Granny, I like reading books with you.  I like having cake with you.  I like looking at flowers with you.  I like going to get a haircut when it’s a bit long.  I’m picking out pictures of flowers for you.  Nothing else.  Love Emily.  I’m sticking a bit.  I’d stick another bit just here.’  Mum’s handwriting.  Your beautiful words.

–      5.50pm

I was hoping it would happen in daylight.  The evening sunshine is still beautiful but I think she will outlast it.  She is actually breathing more regularly now although each one is an indescribable gurgle but she is in no pain.  She is definitely past hearing us now and doesn’t stir when touched.

Do it with the daylight, Granny.

–      Funeral Notice

Florence May Rogers, ourbeloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.  She gave us the great gift of love.  With deep and endless gratitude, Nancy, David, Emily, Hannah, Fleur, Rosie and Roy.

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–      Extracts from her eulogy

It is so often said that in aging we become the very essence of ourselves. Our personalities are distilled to their purest form and this was certainly true of my grandmother.  In this last year her memory was beginning to disappear, her mobility decreased dramatically and she was in a lot of pain but she never for a moment stopped being Florence May Rogers: messy, hospitable, generous, mistrustful of doctors, stubborn, independent, warm and welcoming. As her grandnephew said this week “she was everyone’s soft spot to fall.”

In this last year her world shrunk.  It narrowed until it was the size of the kitchen table and her chair in the living room, the dog’s bowl, her seat on the bus at Probis trips, the kettle, the chocolate draw, the bed.  She ceded more and more rooms of the house to her aging but she accepted this with great grace because, more than anything else, my grandmother wanted to remain in her own home and she did what she had to to make this possible.   …

In the end, my grandmother both aged and died with grace.  She lovingly accepted the help that was offered and was so, so brave.   In the emergency room she held her hankie but never used it.  She said ‘I am ready to die’ and ‘they tell me I have a skin cancer on my nose.  I suppose that doesn’t matter now.’

Granny, goodbye and thank you so, so much and to mis-quote Dylan Thomas: ‘go gently into that good night.’

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–      Unicorn, in the cemetery

ALBA   I was thinking how – when you die and when you love your family as much as our dads loved us – how dying must be like – like you were reading this really amazing book and – like – you were really into the story and you knew all the characters as well as you knew yourself and then someone came along and tore out the ending.  Like, you know these characters – people you love – are going to go on and on into the future but you’ll never read it.  The ending. And I was thinking – if I were to die, that would be the thing I’d be most sad about.  Not knowing how they end.

Silence.

KIT   If you could – if your dad could hear you now– what ending would you tell him?

ALBA   I don’t know. I haven’t got to the end yet, have I? But I’d tell him I’m okay.

Dad, I’m okay.  I’m not spectacular – like, nothing special about me – but I’m –  And Mum.  She’s okay too.  And you. I’d probably tell him about you.

KIT   What about me?

ALBA   Just that you’re here.  Here with me.

Silence.  Kit takes her hand.

ALBA   And stuff.

KIT   Yeah.  Stuff.

–       Richard Dawkin’s quote from Unweaving the rainbow

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day out number the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

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