In a movie the other day I watched a young girl kiss the envelope containing her first piece of writing before she shoved it into the slot of a red post box. Elsewhere, someone in another movie, talked about how you might put your wish into a bottle. Then ship it off to sea. 

Or turn your bottle into a type of genie. When you rub the sides or open its cork a genie pops out, and voila, you have three wishes. 

A wish in a bottle without a genie speaks to me of the blue/green of oceans and a glass container that has made its way over the water and past many lands to find itself on some remote coastline.

To be found by some unlikely person, usually a child, who will unravel your note, cherish your words, and bring your voice into the light of the day. 

That’s not my only wish these days. I have a far greater wish percolating away, though I’m not now free to say.

Early in 1993 when Paul Keating brought the Labour party back into office for a final term, I sensed my luck was in. I knew I was carrying the speck of an infant inside my belly but fearful it might slip away, just as its predecessor had done months before.

I had anticipated an early menopause at 42 and that I might never enjoy the pleasure of another baby in my arms. I kept this wish to myself, until I was certain this speck had every chance of coming to fruition. 

This little wish is now 28 years old.

Otherwise, my wish today takes the form of getting my book out into the world. I wish with the same fervent hope I wished as a child when I prayed to God to let something good happen, or else in the case of my father, to stop something bad from happening. 

To this end I slipped a tiny bubble of what I believed was Lourdes water from my Holy Communion rosary beads into my father’s tea one Sunday morning after Mass. As he sipped his tea, I watched him through the corner of my eye and imagined a man transformed. 

Typically, on Sunday mornings after he had run out of alcohol the night before and was by then beginning to sober up, my father tended to be a quiet and considered man. A chastened man. A man who gave no trouble to anyone, least of all, to my mother. He became a man who drank tea, laced on this day, not with alcohol, but with Lourdes water. 

Then, for several days, after my father did not bring home the brown paper covered bottle from work, and I began to hold out hope that my efforts at a miracle had worked. That the tiny drop of water taken from a stream near where Bernadette met her apparition of the Virgin Mary in a grotto in France, became a wish fulfilled.

For a while I had decided on Bernadette as my Confirmation name, but after ten days of sobriety, my father brought back his brandy in its usual paper bag and resumed his usual weekly late weekly drinking that culminated in blind rages on Saturday. So I changed my mind about Bernadette.

A few years later I chose another name, Veronica. After the woman who offered her veil to Jesus on his way up the hill. He had dragged his heavy wooden cross from the garden of Gethsemane, along the streets of Jerusalem and onto his crucifixion. The image of his blood-stained face was imprinted on the fabric forevermore. The shroud of Turin. The veil is still supposed to exist, but I no longer believe in such miracles. 

At the time, when I took on Veronica’s name to add to my already heavy first and ‘Christian’ names of Elisabeth, Margaretha and Maria, I had no real expectation of anything other than a life of sorrow.

It was not fair, I concluded. My mother had enjoyed a wonderful childhood, or so she told us often, with her virtuous parents who tended their many children well. 

Their huge house, nestled on the cobbled streets of Haarlem, with skiing in winter, and boating in summer. With fields of tulips against long flat fields filled with potatoes. My mother’s childhood had been one of uninterrupted joy. Or so she led us to believe. 

Impossible I now know but I bought the idea as a child and my mother enjoyed the telling of her stories, the idealisation of her past, just as her present became increasingly hideous, here in Australia, so far from her beloved parents and stuck with a man who accused her often of being one of those women who took money from men. 

As if she could, I reasoned. She did not look like such a woman, if such a look existed but I had seen images of the ‘whores’ of my father’s fantasy on the television and they were thin and wore thick black makeup around their eyes, with reddened lips, and they leaned against the walls of city buildings in wait. 

My mother never went into the city as far as I could tell, or certainly not alone. And she never waited. She had no time. Sure, she could slow down, but only to read the newspaper, or in later years, a book.  

My mother could not have been the things my father said she was. And her wishes were simple enough. Mostly she wanted a new house in which to live. A house they owned, not rented, like the one we inhabited in Wentworth Avenue. 

But even after her dream came true and the money from the sale of their first house in Greensborough came through, many years later and my father was able to buy a place in Cheltenham, a brand-new home, the fortunes of my mother’s life in adulthood did not improve. 

So, I reasoned, a happy childhood begets an unhappy adulthood. And by this simple childhood logic I deduced that an unhappy childhood, such as mine, should surely be met by a happy adulthood.

Now I know such simple divisions of happy and unhappy do not exist. Instead, wishes belong to the realms of luck.

They may, or may not, come true. 

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  1. I have always thought that kids should get to choose their own name when they get old enough. I’ve only known one who did that. His given name was Dawson and, when he was old enough, he said he wanted to be called ‘Joe’ like his dad. I put a lot of thought into my daughter’s name and picked one with scope but she never shortened it and that pleased me and (she tells me) her mother too. I’m named after my father although his father was John so it’s not exactly a family tradition but I did have every intention of calling my son, had I had one, James and never, not for a second, considered anything else. What’s interesting is that some people call me ‘Jim’, some ‘Jimmy’ or ‘our Jimmy’ (mostly, but not exclusively, family), ‘young Jimmy’ to differentiate me from ‘auld Jimmy’, I was ‘James’ at secondary school and a friend of the family always called me ‘Jamie’ which is the only one I actually hated. Oh, and of course, now I’m ‘Dad’ too. So who am I? James comes from the Hebrew name Jacob, and means “supplanter.” I’m sure my dad never considered that. I never really got why names “meant” anything.

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