‘We are all weightless in the end’. And yet our lives are measured from our earliest days ounce by ounce, gram by gram, molecule by molecule, as if we exist only in the material weight of our beings rather than in our spirts, which are as weightless as dust motes. And almost as invisible, except in certain lights when they catch the sun.
They suspended a DANGER sign in red and white over the Camberwell junction in the days before authorities installed a similar set of traffic lights at the intersection of Auburn Road and Oxley Roads. To slow people down even when people travelled more slowly. Their cars unable to gather speed, but people rode without seat belts and loaded their cars with as many bodies as possible. When families were large and distances wide, and with limited public transport.
My father ran his grey station wagon into another car or was it the other way round at this intersection? His car was mangled but only one body suffered damage, my elder sister whose leg was in plaster from an earlier fall. She’d been playing with our brothers in a tree. Getting up the tree was easy but getting back down trickier.
Just swing down with this branch one brother told her and obedient child she grabbed the branch and it snapped. She hit the ground and could hear the crack of bone. Her brothers carried her home. Our father was convinced it needed nothing other than his care and her rest until morning.
By this time it had swollen to twice its size and despite his makeshift splint and hatred of all people medical, my father and mother took her to the hospital where she was x-rayed, the brake confirmed and she was rolled in plaster of Paris for several weeks. Her fame at school sealed by the mark of white that in any school signalled a person of note, a person different from all others as she walked on crutches and her leg was in plaster different from one day to the next.
If she had travelled permanently on crutches it would have been a different story. Then she would be shunned as disabled. But the temporarily wounded attract attention among young folks.
For this reason, I too decided it would be good to break a bone, but no matter how often I let my body tumble, the only time my bones broke came later years. Though one of my father’s favourite wounds one he could attend with impunity happened when I was ten.
At the Camberwell swimming pool which we called the Baths, a blue sea of water wide at the shallow end and narrow at the deep with a baby’s pool next door and the oddest of outhouses on either side en route to the men’s and women’s change rooms.
These tall structures were open at either end. You were meant to enter on arrival before or after you visited the change rooms and before you entered the baths to shower under a blast of cold water from within this white tiled extravaganza that almost no one used. Built in the days when people washed less or when chlorine in pools was not yet invented and they worried over for the water’s health.
Near the female cubicle five steps led down to the women’s change rooms. A metal banister ran down the side and one day I swung over and under like a monkey. My strong arms took my weight until they did not, and I fell onto the concrete, jarring my shoulder.
‘It’s your collar bone,’ my father said as he draped a torn strip of old bedsheet across my shoulder, down around my waist then back again. Mummified and indignant. Terrified with my father’s hands on my body and disappointed my wound was not greater.
The pain passed overnight and I took off the bandage in the morning spared my father’s ministrations, the white coated stranger of a doctor far better than the man whose touch could turn a body to stone. Not so weightless in the end.