The optimist sees the doughnut and the pessimist sees the hole

I’ve been working on a short story for which I cannot find an ending. Why am I so bad at endings? I tend to wrap them up too neatly or leave the story dangling in mid space as if I have left it off half dressed.

I don’t like endings of any sort. I want things to be left in such a way that they can always be resumed at a later date. So for me the idea of riding off into the sunset or happily ever after does not sit well.

I suppose the ultimate ending is death and I don’t want to talk about death again, at least not for the moment. I’ve been on about death too much of late, or at least in my head I have.

My mother told me on New Years Eve that she had said a little prayer to herself, asking that she might last out 2012.
‘I can’t see why it’s not possible. I feel well. The doctor says I’m well. There’s nothing wrong with me except my heart, so there’s no reason why I can’t go on.’

My mother then proceeded to tell me the story of a woman who had lived nearby in the units at her retirement village. This woman came to see my mother one day and told her about a recent visit to the doctor. The doctor had told the woman that she was in the best of health. The woman was delighted at this news and told my mother as much. The next morning her husband found the woman dead in their bed.

‘It just goes to show,’ my mother said. ‘You can never know. The doctors can’t always get it right.’

And here I am talking about death again or am I talking about something more, about the wish for certainty perhaps?

Those who visit clairvoyants and the like, are they looking for some sort of certainty? It’s rather like reading your horoscope. The horoscope says today you’ll have a great day; make lots of money; meet someone fascinating; and so it goes.

We want to believe the best that’s on offer. We tend to downplay the worst, or at least many of us do. And of course, there are those others who focus on the negative.

This was always the contrast between my parents: my father’s negativity and my mother’s optimism.
‘The optimist sees the doughnut and pessimist sees the hole.’ This maxim I learned early in my life and it has stayed with me.

Everyone of our children is away at the moment, overseas or house-sitting or interstate and it is quiet for once in a way that I find unsettling. Perhaps that is why in my dream last night I went back in time to my life before I had children, to when I was much younger, a university student all over again and looking for accommodation.

My house is far less cluttered than it was, now after my annual Christmas clean up, but in my dream the house I occupied was full of clutter and signs of renovation.

That has to be a good sign, I think. Renovation. Hopefully I’ll go on renovating until I die, if not literally, then at least metaphorically.

It is change I look forward to and change that terrifies me. Change is the one great certainty besides death.

Nothing stands still and yet I sometimes want it to. This house for instance. It is over one hundred years old and my present family has lived in it for just over thirty. We moved into this house in 1980. We have twice renovated it and although our daughters say it’s time for another I am past such massive house renovations. The next step will be to sell it and to move into a smaller place.

Last night as I stood brushing my teeth and contemplating the silence of the place without the usual noisy clatter of other people and lights burning at all hours, I thought this place is too big for the two of us.

One day I will want to move out. Not now, not for several years, not until our youngest is past her university days and well onto a career of some sort, but relatively speaking one day, sooner in the scale of time than later.

What a task that will be, to shift out of this house that has seen so much of our lives. My children say we must never sell this house. We must always keep it, and pass it on to them, but that is unlikely to happen for all sorts of reasons, financial among them, but also, I suspect, our children will need to make homes and lives of their own.

They will have this house in their memories just as I have the houses of my childhood in my memory.

I remember the house on Wentworth Avenue best of all and my mother remembers her house on the Marnixplein. From the perspective of our memories, it no longer matters to us what happens to these houses, it matters most, for us at least, that we can remember them.

The house of my mother’s memory from the inside.

My mother’s room today.

Memory enables us to avoid the ending because we can repeat the scenarios over and again in our minds for as long as we like, and usually they shift closer to how we would like them to be.

The natives and the interlopers

They ripped down cottages to make way for an old people’s home. They gutted trees and bulldozed the land. Any pigeons that for years had lived in the topmost branches alongside the magpies and starlings moved on. The rats of the skies.

Now they line the telegraph wires along the side street beside my house. I see them in the mornings, lined up like soldiers, one by one, beaks burrowed into their chests, heads lowered, asleep or dozing or doing whatever it is that birds do when they are not in flight or scavenging.

By mid morning the pigeons move on, from the telegraph wire to my neighbour’s gutter. Or her television aerial. Their midmorning cooing is like velvet against the background blast of traffic from the street in front.

Awake now the pigeons peer into my back yard. I can see them edging closer. By lunchtime, they are ready for another rest. The gum tree in my backyard is forked. A runt of a tree, it should never have been allowed to sprout higher than a sapling, but it grew despite its crooked branches, like a misshaped tooth in an otherwise straight set of teeth, it grew at an angle, down and back into the soil where ants burrow to make nests.

Last summer the caterpillars hatched, yellow and white with orange tufts that flared along their backs. They stripped the gum of its leaves, stripped it of its strength, no flowers now, just half chewed leaves a resting board for the pigeons that line its bare branches in increasing numbers.

I tried once to count the pigeons, as if in counting them I could satisfy my belief that they have increased in number, that they have been breeding, that they have moved in from other places, maybe not only down the road but up the road as well where the bulldozers have moved in to make way for a new shopping centre, a new office complex.

The bulldozers have brought down more cottages since, ripped down more trees, taken over the homes of other birds.

I cannot hang out washing on the line any more, on any but the two outer lines on one side. It might seem a small thing to you, a trifle perhaps to find your washing smeared in the white brown sludge of bird poop, but for me it is a catastrophe.

I have lived in this house for many years. I have lived in this house, uninterrupted, and cared for my cats, my fish and birds. I have distributed birdseeds daily for the wattlebirds and sparrows, shooed away the greedy minor birds and kept my cats in at night.

By day I tell my cats to go after the birds. Go after them but discriminate. I tell my cats to discriminate between the natives and the interlopers. These pigeons must be culled. They have no place here.