An untimely death

My cousin died ten days ago from leukemia.  She was only three weeks older than me
with twin sons, my youngest daughter’s age, and an older daughter.  
In my book she was too young to die and
her family are in a state of shock.
 
We were close as children.  My sister and I stayed with my cousin’s family often during the
holidays, holidays that for me were some of the best times of my life – to be away from the troubles in my own family, to be free of fear, and for once, however briefly, to live with a ‘normal’ family, or so
my cousin’s family seemed to me at the time. 
The best of it, in my child’s mind, my cousin’s family lived in a double
storey house with a laundry chute in the upstairs bathroom that ran all the way
downstairs and outside into a washing basket under the back veranda.
 
I never dared, but I liked to imagine myself crawling into
the chute and sliding down through the house into the ether.  
The chute began as a box on the bathroom floor with a flat lid.  It held a mysterious quality.  From outside in the
laundry I could look up at the exit.  To me it offered a whole other
dimension, rather like a sanitised poo hole.
To add to it, my cousin’s father kept indoor tropical fish.  He installed a rectangular fish tank in an internal wall between two rooms so that,  as if by magic, you could see into
the tank from two directions.  
My sister and I spent what now seems like hours watching these tropical fish in iridescent blues,
turquoise and yellow as they swam in everlasting circles through their fish tank
life. 
 I felt a strange thrill whenever one of the fish released a thin black strand from what I imagined to be its bottom.  Fish
shitting.  The longer the strand the better.
My cousin was older than me by only three weeks and yet
she seemed much older.  She was a
first born and assumed an authority I lacked as sixth born.  She bossed us all around, not in an
awful way as I recall but with the clear authority of her first born and
sisterly status.  
I might have
resented it at times but in those days I was too timid to stand up to anyone
outside of my own family.
 
I can see the fish tank still and my aunt giving
instructions to my cousin to whip the cream for dessert.  My cousin was masterful in her ability to whip cream; to get
it just right, the firm texture with just enough sugar and a splash of vanilla
essence, but now she is gone and all I have are my mottled memories.  

Among the chosen

A young woman came to my door just now and interrupted my
morning writing reverie.  She tells
me she’s doing a door knock in the area because she and others who live nearby object to the application for a four storey block of flats over the road from us that is about to go
before the planning tribunal. The plans do not include space for visitors and the
neighboring streets are already overcrowded. 
I understand her distress and yet I wonder about these
things.  To make room for the flats, they will pull down
a single storey dwelling called the Dance Studio.  It’s an old and unprepossessing house that has been here for
at least the past forty years. 
The house is striking only because of its fence – now ripped down – wrought iron and shaped like a musical
scale with the first few notes of what could be The blue Danube or some other
such waltz.  It also has a round
driveway so that cars can turn in and go out onto busy Riversdale
road.  
The house has not yet sold but I
expect the owner might fetch more if he sells to developers who can make a
large profit out of four storeys of fifteen flats.
Once upon a time I resented this use of land but these
days I reckon we might need to build on top of ourselves to make more room for
others.  
The urban sprawl has its
drawbacks.  More dense dwelling up
to a point is perhaps better.  Look
to France and Germany where many people live comfortable lives in apartments
cheek by jowl and they do not need all the accoutrements of a free
standing dwelling with back yard and front garden. 
Maybe we can make better use of our space and make room
for more people as well.  
When I was young
and growing up in the Catholic church, I took it as a given that Catholics were
the only ones headed for heaven. 
It did not strike me as odd that there were many people around me who
seemed to live  decent lives who
would not get to heaven simply because they did not belong to the right religion.
I felt sorry for a protestant girl down the road whose father was the local
fruiterer. Come Sunday she wore the same sorts of clothes as she wore on
Saturday.  She never needed to
dress up for Mass, but I did.  She never had the pleasure of knowing there was at least one special day of the week every week.  She missed out, while I was among the chosen.  
Maybe it’s that sense of us and them that I find myself
railing against now.  If only there
were some way of finding a compromise.  Likewise for the young woman who came to
the door.  Her complaints might
well be a start if they can be acknowledged and heard.
My fear is she does
not want any new establishment at all and money being the powerful persuader that
it is, she will lose out to the developers.  
The same might apply to new ideas.  As I get older I try to make myself
tackle things that at first glace seem uncomfortable.  I try to look at people or ideas
that I would once have thought unacceptable from a different perspective.  But it’s not easy.  Old ideas die hard and it’s comforting to imagine I have reached some level of certainty about things.  And discomforting to realise I may be have had it wrong all along.