September 2013 archive

It’s rude to stare.

Have I told you how much I hate ginger?  For all its apparent medicinal
qualities, the taste of ginger makes my mouth water even as I write about it,
not the mouth watering sensation that says I’m-keen-to get-into-this-food type,
but the mouth watering that happens when I’m ill and nausea creeps up from the
ache in my gut to my mouth and my nose.
 
My husband, on the other hand, treasures ginger.  He drinks it as tea.  In deference to me he leaves fresh
ginger out of most of his cooking though lately I’ve noticed he’s been sneaking
it into some of his fish pies, as if he imagines I will not detect it – not
when he introduces the ginger gradually, surreptitiously. 
This reminds of those desensitization experiments we tried
when I was studying basic psychology years ago.  The idea that if someone is phobic about something, say
phobic of kitchen brooms, you gradually introduce them to things that remind
them of brooms and little by little, up the ante, until they are finally face to
face with a real broom.
Either this exposure will cure them of their phobia or it
will drive them mad, or so one of our lecturers told us.  It struck me then as a risky
business. 
My husband’s efforts to introduce ginger into our diet
have not cured me.  I still hate
the stuff.
Why does it give me satisfaction to announce one of my pet
hatreds with such equanimity?  
I
recognize there are many people who have difficulty with the word ‘hate’,
almost as much as I have difficulties with ‘ginger’.
It’s as if the word ‘hate’ becomes the state of mind
called hatred, and to hate someone is to do damage to them simply through your
feelings.  I suppose hate has that
absolute quality.  Very black, on
the continuum of black to white. 
We were out to dinner last night in a cheap and cheerful
dumpling place on Glenferrie Road. 
We had ordered from the menu, avoiding all things ginger, filling up
fast on dumplings as our entrée.  I
sat facing the door, which meant I could not spend too much time staring at the
other diners in the restaurant.
 
My husband sat beside me, my daughter opposite.  She had a full view of inside the
restaurant but did not report on it to me.  She preferred to keep me in the dark. 
It’s rude to stare.  
I know this but I cannot stop myself when even mid-conversation with my daughter and husband, an
activity elsewhere catches my eye. 
There on the periphery of my vision the fascinating movements of others,
and although we sat at the door of the restaurant and could only see people as
they came in and went out, there was plenty of action.
 
The door kept jamming.  People arrived and could not get inside without exerting a
huge shove at the door.  Then some
forgot to close the door once they were inside.  The springtime winds are turbulent at the moment and the
door left unsnibbed sprang open every time a gust caught it.
 
A couple of older women on a table parallel to ours copped
the full blast whenever this happened. I watched as they complained. I watched
as one of the waiters, seemingly one more senior, spent much of his time
running back and forth to catch the door and seal it after some careless person
had left it open yet again. 
‘Don’t stare,’ my daughter said, but even she turned to
look when a youngish man went to leave and staggered at the door.  His friend, a young woman followed
close behind.  
‘You can’t go out
there,’ the young woman said just as the man collapsed beside her. 
Then a great flurry of attention.  ‘Call an ambulance,’ the girl said to
the waiter and everyone grabbed their mobiles, including my daughter.  
The restaurant staff made the call and
handed the phone to the young woman who talked to the ambulance people.  She gave the impression she knew what was
happening. 
‘Stay with us,’ she said leaning over the collapsed man on
the floor.  She nudged at his inert
body.
‘A drug overdose,’ I said to my daughter. 
In minutes, the young man came to.  Staff helped him to his feet and then he went to
sit outside on a bench in front of the restaurant with his friend, a couple of staff members and other
passers-by who had elected to stop.
How could I not stare? I was trying to work out the story
in my head.  I had decided by now it was
not a drug overdose. The man seemed too alert, too clear eyed even from a
distance. 
Maybe he was a diabetic.
In time the ambulance came and as we left the restaurant
ourselves I saw the young man and his friend seated in the ambulance in
conversation with the paramedics. 
All seemed well by then and I told myself I must not pre-judge and decide
that some one has overdosed any more than than I should avoid all things ginger. 
It might open my mind to the possibility of a new taste even
if it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  

Sliding backwards

Not long after she was handed her driving license my
mother took out her new second hand car, a pea soup green Farina that was
shaped like a woman, all curves and narrow fenders.

On the Saturdays on which my
mother was rostered to work as a child care officer at Allambie, she drove to
and from her workplace with her four youngest children in tow.   I was ten and the oldest of the
four.

 
My mother took the car key with her into work and warned
us not to lock the car should we decide to go for a walk or leave for any other
reason.  Otherwise we would not be
able to get back inside the car until her return at five o’clock.  We were not to interrupt her at
work.
 
Those days were long.  My mother parked her car on Elgar Road not far from the
Wattle Park.  We killed time by
walking to the park and mucking around on the no longer functional tram that
had been installed as part of the children’s play equipment.  

Back inside the car in the middle of
the day we ate the jam sandwiches we had brought from home.  We doled them out slowly so as to have
something to do and also to keep our hunger at bay.  We spent the late afternoon dozing and reading books in the
fuggy warmth of my mother’s car. 
Nine to five, so many hours to fill for four small children alone in a
green Farina.

 
On the way home I sat in the front seat.  I helped my mother to drive by
anticipating her need to turn corners. 
It must have annoyed her when I insisted on clicking on and off the
indicator light whenever she turned to right or left, but she did not
protest.
 
My mother was a nervous driver and often stalled at
lights. Worse still, her green Farina had sloppy brakes. We sat at the
top of the hill at the intersection of Mont Albert and Balwyn Roads and waited for the car’s inevitable slow
slide back, even with the hand brake raised.  I hoped the lights might change soon before the car hit anyone
behind us.  

In the nick of time my
mother re-engaged the gears and we shot ahead spared the humiliation of a
collision.

My mother had a serious accident within a year of getting
her license, serious as far as her Farina was concerned.  She gave up driving then, too terrified
to get back behind a steering wheel. 
With no one to encourage her, my mother lost her opportunity.
 
She told us years later that she had wanted to learn to
drive again but by then my father was against it.  He was dependent on her company.  ‘If she gets her license,’ he said,  ‘she’ll never stay at home.’  He preferred to act as her driver
instead and so my mother became a kept woman once more.

We’re slipping back into the past in this country with a
conservative government at the helm. 
There’s only one woman in the ministry among all those men, all dressed
in dark suits, including the one woman. 
We have a new title for our Immigration Department that includes the
words ‘border protection’ – it seems once again we need to protect our
borders.  And now we have no
ministry for science, or for aging, disability or mental health, all those
areas in which vulnerable people need assistance. 

We have slipped back into the one dimensional world of white Anglo Saxon, homophobic times and
it terrifies me.  My only hope is
this is cyclical and the slide backwards will not continue. 
I wrote a letter to a friend but did not send it.  I did not send it because I did not
want to revive a situation that is now over.  I did not send it in part because I cannot revive a
friendship that is over.

And so my
letter sits in its envelope unopened, sealed forevermore, so many words
unread, so many thoughts unshared. 

My letter will go where all the other letters-not-sent go.

There must be many such letters written by people in the
heat of a moment, written with the intention of communicating to another, but
lost through a change of heart.  

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