Sliding doors. If I’d chosen 2019 for my big trip to France, would I have wanted to stay there? Or would a life by the sea still have beckoned?
It surprises me every time I go to the supermarket to see people wearing masks. Part of my brain can’t conceive of the pandemic actually being real. On the beach my mask keeps out the freezing winter wind.
A scrap of paper falls from a pile of folders I gather to recycle. It’s a poem— ‘Isolation’—I wrote in the first lockdown: Discomfited, losing confidence, ability. Boring old me—not organised, wasting time, distracted. Too much wondering. Too many imagined outcomes. Hemmed in by all the houses. Missing the gum trees, too far from her. The company of birds my mainstay, the sound of the sea from our back deck.
Pulled in two directions: is home here or there?
‘Okay, let’s move, then,’ she says. ‘But you’ll need a job,’ I say. Three weeks later she’s driving to work through Barwon Heads instead of down Whitehorse Road.
The estate agent reports that thirty-three groups of people attended our first open for inspection. ‘Wow! That’s fantastic,’ I say. ‘Some were neighbours and local dog-walkers,’ she adds. Later, I imagine them all traipsing through my home, having a sticky-beak in my wardrobes and cupboards.
I can’t relax. My old refuge, the one I am selling in order to live by the sea, has become a display home, adorned with cascading cushions and fake ferns. The stylist has rearranged a scattering of my books, spines to the wall. Between the open for inspections, I am reticent to make myself comfortable in case I forget to put the kettle away or leave a footprint on the plush white rug in the loungeroom.
I find myself scrolling endlessly through real estate dot com searching for home.
Prince Philip dies. His death signals the impending end of an era; the constant that was the Queen and the Duke in the lives of Baby Boomers and their parents will soon be no more. I come across the funeral by accident on a French media ap on my phone. The Queen, for some reason, has always reminded me of my mother, and Prince Philip my father. I weep at poignant moments during the service. I am unsure if it is the stirring music, the loneliness of the Queen or the sting of familiarity. My lack of safe haven feels magnified.
I am packing my past into small boxes that are not too heavy to carry. In go the silver cake forks, Auntie Bessie’s collapsible giraffe, treasures from the messy drawer. The Parker pens and spare notebooks slot in beside my childhood Derwent pencil box and Dad’s extra-sharp scissors. My children’s toddler years in their dog-eared photo packets take a whole day to pack into one container.
My life is a chaos of chattels in boxes marked living room, kitchen or garden shed.
What if the Grey currawong with net on its foot comes back for a visit and I’m not here?
Where will the Gang-gangs and Rainbow lorikeets drink and splash if the new owners don’t care for bird baths?
Moments of panic. Have I taken my life in the treetops for granted? Seven King parrots descend into the gum tree outside my study window. A female looks up and flies over to sit on my balcony, a metre away from where I’m working. She blinks her beautiful eyes at me.
A couple of weeks out from the move everyday tasks take on a lasting significance. Rolling the green bin down our steep driveway for the final time becomes both a triumph and sacred experience.
Almost all of our farewell lunches and dinners with friends and neighbours are cancelled because of the fourth lockdown. Text messages are a poor substitute. Promises to reschedule one day feel hollow.
A sequence of endings. A slice of cake, still warm from the oven, delivered by our neighbour through our secret side gate. The currawongs’ chorus at nightfall. The light of the moon through my bedroom window, filtered by the pittosporum branches. Soaking in the red bath. Pulling on warm pyjamas, straight off the hydronic heater. The soothing sound of the water feature by our back deck; thinking about my children, at ten and twelve, digging through all that clay, carting the heavy stones after my back surgery.
Picking the first oranges of the season off our tree for the last time.