During my first year at secondary school I had two choices of direction home. Either I could walk down Vaucluse Parade through Rowena street and then cut through the factories, which had thoroughfares as wide as roads through the middle, to the Richmond Railway Station or I could leave from the other exit at the school and wander down Church Street, cross Swan at the lights, and look longingly into the window of Dadd’s cake shop where the girls whose parents gave them pocket money stopped to buy a treat, then down the ramp to the East Richmond station.
Richmond was a better bet as all the trains, including express trains, stopped there. Not every train stopped at the East Richmond station. Despite this, I preferred the lesser of the two stations. It was smaller than its big sister up the line with only two platforms that sat stolid opposite one another and was cupped in a valley underneath the bridge that flew over Church Street on its way to the Bryant and May Red Head matches factory and then onto the Yarra River.
It felt safe.
Not that I ever travelled during non-safe periods, at night or in the very early morning, when the dirty old men whom, I had often encountered in the parks around our house, prowled.
I sat one day at the platform and watched one of the old red trains rattle by on its way to Camberwell when I began to consider the notion of infinity. Sister Anthony had talked about this concept during our maths class and although most lessons in maths flew over my head, especially when we began to explore Algebra, logarithms and complex ideas beyond simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, the idea of infinity fell into the irresistible category of ideas that I could not leave alone.
The idea that numbers could go on and on into the distance, and that other things too might stretch into the future on and on like the universe, my mother’s Queen Anne dressing table with it’s three mirrored panels that folded in on one another.
I could stand in the middle panel and pull the other two around my body to see myself reflected again and again as each hinged panel picked up different sides of my forever-retreating form.
My body grew smaller and smaller into the distance but there was no possibility of seeing it disappear altogether.
‘What’s wrong with your gums?’ a woman, who sat on the same bench separated from me by her shopping, asked.
I kept my school bag on the ground in front of my feet. I had been peering ahead into the distance, trying to read the tiny letters on an advertisement for tomato sauce and my mouth must have slipped open long enough for her to get a look inside.
It seemed an intrusive question, one that cut across my thoughts about infinity and I did not want to answer. But I knew small people like me were obliged to be polite to grown ups so I turned to face her.
‘Let me take a look,’ she said, and leaned towards me. ‘I’m a nurse.’ She said this in such a way as to suggest great authority rested in her role and there was nothing wrong with a complete stranger asking a twelve year old girl alone on a railway station to open her mouth for inspection.
But this woman did not know me. I opened my mouth for no one.
The train pulled into the station, the stopping-all-stations, and I grabbed my bag and raced to the first carriage at the front of the train far enough away to avoid the woman joining me.
Why, of all the many memories that follow me from a childhood of rotten teeth and fear, I should remember this woman’s curiosity is beyond me now?
I link these events with my first inkling of infinity that glorious word to match an even more glorious concept, the infinity of memory, the way one memory follows another endlessly one after the other, and each piggy backs on another, each lending itself more layers of meaning in a life that would otherwise seem dead ended.