On balance

‘There are some memories you can’t lean upon. You sense the railings, but you can’t read them.’ Niall Williams 

In the spirit level of my mind things are out of balance. A little too heavy on the side of back ache, and a looming need to sort my annual tax details. A holiday task, I resist.

The earliest memories. The ones that come in snatches. A glimpse of a grass high back yard in Greensborough where we lived when I was two, three and four. In the weatherboard house my father built. An expectation I came to have of men. They could use their hands. While women’s hands were designed for daintier or dirtier tasks. The cooking, the cleaning, the soothing of brows. 

Everywhere around his house you could see traces of the bush that once was. Tall gum tress, scrubby melaleuca. Dry soil, bare in places with clumps of grass in knotty disarray. Across from the front were open fields full of green food for cows. There were cows not far from where we lived. Whether it’s from memory or from photos, I can see them now. At the bottom of the road where the field sloped, a creek ran unconvincingly along the craggy bottom. My brothers caught yabbies there. 

I’m fleshing out my memories from snippets, turning single word flashes into sentences to create a story of one day when I was four, returning from yabby hunting with my brothers. 

The road at the bottom of the hill, formed a t-section with our street. It was finished in gravel and few cars used it. Though on that day when I did not know my road rules and strolled across as though the road was just another part of the beaten footpath, I ran sidelong with a car. Its colour evades me, but I will call it blue. Why not get run over by a car in my favourite colour. 

I was not hurt, not knocked down, only shocked. The car stopped. The driver was alarmed to at hitting a small girl, but I did not like the attention and ran from his solicitude into open fields.

I was afraid of wrongdoing. Afraid to be found guilty of breaking rules of which I had only a vague awareness. Afraid my father would be angry with me for giving people trouble. My brothers pointed to our house and the driver knocked on the door and explained to my parents what had happened. Both parents, one parent, I do not know. Hours later, or so it seemed, my brothers found me hiding. And though they joked I might go to gaol; they also convinced me it was safe to return. 

Years later in adult hood when I watched the movie Short Cuts, a series of stories, there was one based on a Raymond Carver story that had stayed with. The film begins in my memory with a mother buying a birthday cake for her eleven-year-old son. 

We cut to him walking home alone from school. He gets hit by a car. Same thing as happened to me. The driver stops to see he’s okay. This boy does not run away but reassures the driver he’s fine. Then he goes home and waits till his mother returns. He tells her about the accident, and she is alarmed. More so when he becomes drowsy and cannot stay awake. 

The mother rushes him to emergency where the boy slips into a coma. His father joins them at his bedside while they await test results. 

The thing of medicine: test results. Blood tests, ultrasounds, MRIs, the internal prodding and poking, looking into people’s eyes, mouth, ears, listening to the thump and thud of their hearts to figure out what’s wrong. 

In the case of this boy, there are signs of internal bleeding or some such and he’s concussed. One of the parents goes home several hours later to get a change of clothes. They discover an obscene message left on their answer phone from the cake shop owner. Enraged that the woman has not come to collect her custom-made cake. 

He ignores it and returns to the hospital where over time the boy dies.

The parents return home devastated. They listen to the answer machine that is now filled with recorded phone messages from the cake shop man who is increasingly furious at not hearing back from the woman who did not come to collect he customised birthday cake for her son. It took him an age to make it and he cannot give it to anyone else, not with their son’s name on top.

The couple leave their house and go to the cake shop. They tell the baker the story and he is chastened. The three sit around the table together in their grief. End of story.

A story that speaks to what happens when we don’t now all the truth behind things that have happened.

Years later I have written other stories of when I was seven years old and hit by another car in Canterbury Road. The crossing is still there and whenever I drive across it I think back to this memory. This time I was concussed and shipped off to hospital. But the damage was mild, and I was allowed to go home. 

These two encounters with cars and another time of nearly drowning left me with the fantasy, like a cat, I had nine lives. I’ve used most of them up now decades later and no longer live in that fantastic world of childhood. The balance is fast tipping towards the loaded direction of reality. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *