Vinculum

Today I learnt what was a vinculum.

It is the kind of thing you might learn when you help an eleven year old with his maths prior to a test. Yes I remembered what was a denominator and even a numerator but I had no idea the line that separated them was called a vinculum.

To spellcheck the word does not exist.

To google it is a tendon before it is something in mathematics.

Lately I have learnt how to do factor trees. It is something brand new to me. Not quite as much fun as learning that leaves transpire water from their surface just the same way we breathe. But. It’s maths. Quite fun really, but something I feel I have never done before. Did factor trees exist in the 1970’s? Where were factor trees when I was in grade seven? Between the rise of the white board and the demise of the blackboard did the triumphant factor tree emerge? Surely maths doesn’t change. Then, between straw-sucks of a liquid cereal breakfast, he tells me two negatives multiplied make a positive number. Are you sure? This rings a bell. I will have to check since I don’t do negative numbers. Pass me the iPad again. How is it that two negatives multiplied make a positive? Please don’t ask me why. My mind is spinning. It is only 7.30am. I wonder why negative numbers exist. You can’t have minus three apples any more than you can have minus six.

Then there is the school tie. If you want to wear a jumper – and it is cold outside – you need to wear a tie. But it looks ridiculous. No it doesn’t. Everyone will look ridiculous. It feels wrong. You’ll get used to it. Scream. Scream.

Under my breath and not under my breath – God save me. Save me from myself and my pettiness. Just wear the tie, so you can wear the jumper. Please.

If a submarine is 160 metres below the surface and then rises 90 metres and then submerges again by 170 metres how far is it below the surface? In my underlining you can see my purpose. I want it in cement. I want it drummed in. If I rub hard enough, underline often enough, say it louder it works, right? It makes me hate myself.

He trudges across the oval with the heaviest of chiropractor approved school bags. Must weigh ten kilos. He has the legs of a stick insect. There is dew on the oval. I call out looking good and a smirk creeps out. Don’t let her see it. Turn your body in case. Your morning track across the oval, like a giant snail trail.

I so wish the vinculum was just a tendon.

Rubbish Man Jogger

An Autumn morning. A splatter of rain. Spits really. The boy is excited. He loves rain. It hasn’t rained for years, he says. It can feel that way. A sky permanently blue. A sun a constant burning white. Today the sky is filled with storm clouds and there is the crack of thunder in the distance. A sky of substance. Something to look at and make into animals. Somewhere else it rains. Here a few drops dry instantly on the pavement.

From my verandah I see a man hopping on one leg up the steep embankment of the park. He is not injured. It is not the hop of a lame man. It is a vigorous hop. I watch him to see what he will do after he reaches the crest of the bank. He jogs now down the slope on two healthy legs. He weaves in and out of the eucalypts, occasionally bending down to pick up rubbish. He is the rubbish-man-jogger. Daily, on the oval, he performs his series of exercises mixed with the task of collecting food wrappers and tin cans. His jogging shorts are pulled higher on his waist than those of a regular jogger. The shorts are old and thin, worn constantly. He has no fat on him. His muscles are always working, if only at a trot. Up close you can see the tension in his face. In his neck you see the sinuous muscles of a man under strain.

Maybe this jogging is his meditation. It keeps him calmer than he would otherwise be. I imagine him as a tightly wound clock. Does he count his steps too?

I am leaving the house and come across him again – this time outside my house weaving his expert steps between the bollards that line the park. How large do the blades of grass appear? He has his head down, intent on purpose, but he senses me there and raises his head and smiles and waves. We exchange the wave of pedestrian and jogger. In his hand still is the collection of waste he has collected from the park. He will deposit it in the bin shortly, and then run on.

I wonder about him while I wait for my train. Something about him reminds me of my father. It could be the high pants. It could be the loose skin over muscles straining hard. It could be his work ethic. His doggedness. His assault on the hill on one leg. I see his tight tendons. Everything at breaking point. A mind stretched taut?

I miss my train by seconds, still fumbling with the notes at the ticket machine, as the train pulls up. I mutter a Fuck to make me feel better. It does nothing. I try it again a couple of times. Fuck fuck fuck. But in truth I am not late for anything. I have a date with books and words and texts. Twenty minutes later they will all still be there. In the library, joggers are not.

And it means the train will be empty. Only the late people. And ones who bring their bicycles. A middle aged woman wearing a shirt with paws on it – giving her away as a volunteer at the dog rescue, asks a younger man in high viz gear, cradling a hard hat, How is it that you are that handsome? then quickly steps off the train. Never on the 8.40am.

A nice morning for the jogging rubbish man. Man jogging rubbish. Jogger man. Rubbish man. Hopping up hill.

The Giant, the Cook and the Cripple.

Pat Metheny plays. I stare at the knots in the wood of the orange pine ceiling. On my single bed. I remember studying ceilings; a past time of the spinal patient.

I think of yesterday.

On a quad bike. Held between the thighs of the Giant. Meanwhile the Cook roasts the chickens and tomatoes with fennel. Roasted sweet potato encrusted by macadamia crumble. Stone fruit tarts for after. Her kitchen is her castle. Stainless steel. Plywood. His is the scrub. The glades. The sandhills.

But after all what will I remember?

Freedom. Air rushing past. Being without my chair. The spray from the ocean waves as we hurtle along the wet shoreline. Hubert, tan galloping, keeps pace 38,39,40km/hr. His ribs showing. Tongue lolling. Eyes of an athlete. Hound. Rescued, he must think he is the luckiest dog alive.

After us comes the eleven-year-old on a tinier bike and then my Small Good Man. The eleven-year-old wears a motorcycle helmet that makes his head look like a pumpkin. He putters. But he’s getting the hang of the lean. Always into the hill. Faster too. He hits a bush. He learns to reverse. The Giant tells him whatever happens don’t let the handlebars hit the ground.

It is another lifetime ago since I straddled a machine. European pine forest roads, mountain switchbacks and black ice. A tasselled leather jacket because I could. Thighs that clenched. Now, I don’t feel the seat.  Mine is a flaccid lower half – legs like the stick insect the boys later find. When he lifts me my limbs dangle like laundry off a line. This is a different kind of pillion. Think disfigured damsel. Wedged. With my right hand I link his forearm and he grips me around the middle. His brachium is like a leg about me. He is my seat belt. My saddle. After he says, some embrace.

There is a grove of peppermints and a fairy forest; a place for taking children and singing lullabies to the chugalug of an engine. The black trunks and the feathery green leaves. The Giant and the Cripple hum along. There are reeds and rushes and swarms of small midgies. The ground water is close and the mud gluey. There are gouges raked into the earth where a tractor bogged. But on the bike it is all just a surface on which to ride. A platform to view the rear of a big roo bounce away. Hubert takes chase. He’s called back by the hoot of the horn. Lean forward, scoot. Lean. Fly.

A dragonfly hitches a ride to a giant’s woodshed. A dead snake twisted into dried leather hangs from the wire fence.

He lifts me from the bike like I am a sleeping child to place me back in my wheelchair. Like laying a toddler in a pram. I am lofted high. A memory of being plucked from a pony ride floods back. Being placed on your feet by a large man. A momentary lapse between you and the earth. Like stepping from the rollercoaster.

Later at the table we talk of surviving house fires and losing stuff, of book edges turning sooty but not burning right through. Of losing to fire the exact same George Haynes’ etching of a naked woman under the dappled light and shade of a south Fremantle tree. Of waking to the sound of picture glass cracking. The Cook once found an unexpected photograph of me in the rubble of another house fire in a whole other place. She picked the photo from the detritus and placed it safely in the elbow of a tree. The man and I had long since parted but somehow the image of me was there for her to see. And rescue.

Pat Metheny plays the theme for Cinema Paradiso. Guitar strings squeak. Hearts break. A child hits a tennis ball against the wall of a mud brick house. A dog lies on a three-dollar charcoal wool blanket from an Op shop in Albany where white-haired women helped a homeless man clothe himself. A Small Good Man says the best reception for the phone is in the toilet.

He works outside on a large jarrah table, in this pocket of still bush. He has postcard sized images that he shuffles about. They are photographs of another forest place. He worked long hours, from dawn till dusk, but it is the crepuscular shots that form the ballad. A place of mountains and the people that are drawn there. More treacherous than here. Beauty turns to tinder. He stops and looks again. He moves them like someone arranging cards for a magic show. Eventually they settle where they will hang on a gallery wall to speak a narrative of place.

Assassin flies make roads in the air three inches off the ground as if involved in a grand prix circuit across the grass. Sometimes a magpie picks one out of the air. Teaching its baby, who squawks beside it.

A large karri stands near the house, orange spirals about its trunk. Some branches are dead and grey. It is bigger than all the other trees. It spreads itself wide in ownership. Beneath the karri are peppermints and kangaroo paws and smaller gums. Closer to the water the chalky white of the Paper Barks can be seen. The karri’s rusty skin catches the sun and shines. It is windless but still there is the sound of bark falling. Like footsteps in the forest.

Sometimes a distant cow can be heard, baying morosely, as if for a lost calf. At dusk the waders from the mud flats take to the skies. The sound of their flight suggests air is not nothing. They go to their place to sleep high in the trees. Tomorrow they will stalk the mud once more.

Waiting for the Miracle – Revisited

The image, taken by Graham Miller, inspired the writing of this story;

WAITING FOR THE MIRACLE

In the foyer of the hotel I meet a man. After drinks he is braver and asks what he has wanted to know from the moment he saw me in a wheelchair. Always the story of how. But really the story of after, the story of before, or the story of why goes unsaid, unpicked. It is there in the picture if you know how to look.

A car hits a tree. Fast hits hard. Wood is unforgiving. Aged carbon is as solid as stone. Bone is weak. Honeycomb really. The things I tell him are; that I was not the driver. I don’t want him to think it was my fault. Somehow that makes it better for me. Yes I was wearing a seatbelt. The driver fell asleep. Nothing more sinister than that. We were all tired.  She was just doing what the rest of us had already succumbed to. The sleep that comes after surf and sun.

He goes to his room. I go to mine. I suspect he wears a toupee. These are the kind I attract. He walks soundlessly on carpet to the stairs in shoes that have never seen the dirt. I point to the lift. I remember climbing stairs, barely.

****

The things I don’t tell him.

Through the car windows the sun streams in slats made by trees and branches. Like interlaced fingers across your face. Ribbing the road. There is the hum of tyres. A melody of sleeping notes. The sand is still between my toes and in the dip of my belly button. Salt has dried in my hair, so it is like tendrils of thin stripy seaweed. I suck a strand of it like a baby does a finger.

I wear a second hand dress from an op shop from a country town run by old biddies and not gone through like the second hand shops in the city. It is synthetic and sweaty but beautifully cut. It makes my armpits moist and saltier still. It is cream with black flowers. Who would have thought of black flowers? As they slice it from my body in the hospital it is binned in a disposable bag. It is just a \$2 frock but I miss it still.

My boyfriend comes to see me in the hospital. All brown and surfy. His hair stiff with sea. It is a cruelty he can’t imagine. I can smell the salt on him, worse than any perfume. He is more than a boyfriend. We live together. We’ve left other people so as to entwine ourselves more completely than vine and post.

She comes too, the girl who seems beside him a lot these days. She was in our lives before all this happened. Before the tree and the car collided as if they were magnetised to each other.

******

The Story of Before;

She is blonde, but so am I, so that is not the reason. She is young, but so am I, so that is not the reason. She is bright, but so am I, so that is not the reason. She wants him and so do I, so that is not the reason. She is her, and I am I, so that is the reason.

When I enter the uni social club, where I meet him after lectures, he is there and so is she. Always these days their schedules are the same. And they are doing this or that project together. This assignment is due tomorrow; they will need to work late. I can see their faces are too close together to be talking of study. Is his skin touching hers? They are magnified to me. I analyse every movement she and he makes. This is Anita, he introduces her.

What kind of man is he? Sinewy but stooped. He needs Yoga. I already know the bends, the postures. He copies me but never learns. His body won’t soften, his spine stays curved.

After an argument, heated and passionate, there is no making up. A touch from me is rejected. Don’t. Our bodies, like shop dummies, lie apart in the bed wishing it could cleave itself in two.  I lie on my side looking out to the wardrobe, seeing my reflection in the grey-spotted glass. Then I am pushed from the bed by his feet in the middle of my back. Boof. On the floor. Like a child who has rolled out in their sleep. But no one is there to cradle and soothe and place me back under the covers. So on hands and knees I make my way to another room and curl asleep on a chair.

He is so clever with words. Was that the reason? He writes reams and reams. He fills yellow pads with scrawling epic poems. He wants me to read it. To praise him. Always about love, he writes, and God.  If I take too long to read it, because I have my own study to do, he is offended. It means more than I am busy too. It means I do not care about him. It means I do not care for the things that are important to him. Of course it means I do not love him.

I must convince him of my love.

But his need for love is fathomless. Like the open cut mine it is deep and ugly and scarred. I fill it time and time again but it is a piddling attempt to pack the gaping hole. It is turning into something else between him and me. He is making me compete with her and I am losing.

She is more capable.

We are living together in a student house. We eat eggplant and beans. We heat the house with a fire. We collect wood from vacant blocks. We can’t afford a trailer of mallee roots. The landlord has many cats that he comes daily to feed. Like bats they appear at dusk when his car pulls up outside. He leaves the diesel motor running and it beckons the strays. From under old car bodies and out from under limestone foundations cats pour like liquid fur. He stands beside the boot, dishing out the entrails and carcasses he has brought. There is the odd hiss and claw as they saunter back to their hideaways with their bounty.

Inside the house we are two people at war over scraps. Scraps of love that are torn at like rags. He wants to go to her. She is a fresh thing, he has yet to tread on and make soiled with sadness.

******

The Story of After;

Now I am injured he has remorse. But it is also an escape for him. He can be injured too. How dreadful to have a girlfriend so handicapped, such a burden. He must make daily trips into hospital and sit by my bedside. He must drive past the surf.  He must leave his trail of sand on the lino for someone to sweep.

Sometimes she is with him and she is sweet and kind. I cannot believe that I like her. I want to be her friend. She starts to come without him. We both wear no makeup. Her skin burns in the sun. Mine tans. But in hospital there is no sun, just harsh buzzing fluorescence. Our skins have the same milkiness. I am fading into the sheets. When I wake up from another surgery her hand holds mine.

She unburdens herself and tells me she was with him, entangled, coiled beneath cotton, as the car hit the tree. She was warm and wrapped in flesh while my bones bent and broke like twigs.

Her confessions are tearful. We both weep. She is crying for her own self and me for mine. Again we are the same. She doesn’t want him anymore. I can have him. I can.

He talks about garden paths and pushing me in my wheelchair through the forest. He can make this and that. He can convert, he can carry up stairs. Beside the hospital bed beneath the cotton of his boxers I give him a hand job.

Back in the house of cats we have ramps and an open bathroom. Men friends with tools have converted the kitchen and bathroom so that a wheelchair can manoeuvre and a hand control is put in the car, and it all sounds so easy to just convert and rearrange, but inside the house the house is different. I see it from the height of a seven year old. There is a clunking to movement, a sound of wheels and squeaky rubber tyres on floorboards. No one says you will miss the sound of bare feet.

I can get into an armchair and remember my legs. I can close my eyes and when the phone rings go to get out of the chair to answer it before my mind registers there is a new way to do this that involves no legs. Getting up without legs. All arms. Hauling around legs that are weighty in their uselessness but as good as amputated.

Burn me and cut me and still they do nothing. I wish them gone for all the good they are. Separated by him, so he can still call what we do love making.

More girls. This time they are different from me. They walk. They can feel their vaginas. I can’t compete. I don’t want to compete. He has made me a non competitor.

It is not enough to love someone with all your might. To squeeze every ounce of love you have into it, so that you are a husk after all the wringing is done.

******

The Story of Why;

I will go from him. To my own place. I will worship things like monumental rocks that the indigenous people prefer you don’t climb. In their magnificence I will seem small. I will wake up at dawn so I can look out to the sunrise and watch it slowly make its way upward and in its rising feel my own self soar. I know I look sad, but it is not sadness you see in my face. It is the face of someone who knows loss, and knows that in losing there are great gifts.

Rottnest 2012

Every year we go to Rottnest in November. It is our family tradition. We have done it since Jasper was in utero and before he was even thought of. In those days we had an imaginary child called Pee Wee. Somehow she skipped childhood and we never envisioned her at Rottnest. She was a gamine who grew up to be a singer in a jazz band and who lived a groovy loft on Manhattan. In our musings we were aging grey-headed parents who visited her there. But that’s another story. Instead we got a blue-eyed boy, who, like the real boy he is, comes with us on holiday, a forty minute ferry ride from home.

Arriving at Rottnest is like going home. You have stepped out of your Fremantle cottage to shortly enter your more primitive but better abode. This home has no messy desk, no laundry, no bills and, most of the time, no telephone coverage.

So much of every part of the holiday is soaked in familiarity. Do you remember the year I nearly fell off my chair onto the Dugite? What about the time Vinnie cracked his helmet smashing into the wall as he stacked his bike? And when Jasper caught his finger in the flywire door? Each year melds with the former so it can no longer be recalled what year it was and who was there. That time we stayed in the back row, with Troy and Jo and the boys were babies. Remember when we showed the Nordic Anja the flickering of the orbiting satellites. She had never seen a sky so black, so unaffected by city light. There is the routine of arriving at the ferry terminal early enough for someone to unload the plastic containers full of belongings and beach gear and still have time enough to drive home again and return riding their push bike, into the head wind, with the semis roaring by. This year Jasper is old enough to do the bike run too.

There must be enough time to sweet talk the ferry men into the delivery of the-above-allowable-safe-lifting-weight beach wheelchair in its bag. They have not denied me thus far.

Once arrived at the island there is the picking up of the key from the accommodation office. Invariably the unit is not ready, but they have taken to texting you when it is, and so we just go to the bakery to wait. Here donuts are bought. Not because they are especially good. It’s just what we do. Energy for the hill. Is the peacock that frightened Jasper as a baby still alive doing its dance? The seagulls that live around the settlement are the most brazen and will snatch a chip right out of your hand just as you are about to put it in your mouth. But this year I have learnt that seagulls mate for life, and some how knowing this makes me feel kinder towards them. Somehow I notice that they are in pairs when I have never seen this before. Before I thought of them as flying rats. Me; older, softer.

There is the ascent to climb on the way to the Longreach. The kids race off, well ahead on their geared bikes. No one is pushing a pram, or hauling a trolley with little ones. The way is known to the boys. Past the Police station, the nursing post, the oval, the Basin. This year I am walking alone to the chalet. I have a heavy load of extras under the chair and a bag on my lap. But it is not super hot and who is in a hurry anyway. The odd moth-balled quokka is about attracting the odd tourist who squats in front with a camera. To the boys the sight of a quokka is no more interesting than that of a seagull. The new attraction is freedom. Ahead of the parents. Gone.

The oval is dry, the grass cracking, and the sign still says the water used to reticulate the grass is unsuitable for drinking. The potholes in the bitumen remain.

The hill to Longreach is my test. One day I will falter here. One day I will not have the steam to make it up unaided. For now it is doable. Tough if it is hot and the chair is loaded. But still. Flies make a nuisance of themselves when my hands are too busy pushing to shoo them away. At least the glasses keep them from the corners of my eyes. I am slow enough to look up and see the windmill and marvel that its spinning is providing the island with its energy. A large black skink, like an expensive sunglass case, slithers through the scrub. I love the whoosh whoosh of the giant windmill blades as they rotate. They give the wind muscle. Cyclists whizz past going down hill, wind-smiles on their faces. I look at the bitumen as they pass, think about how sweet it might be to stroll up the hill, taking step after step in soft leather sandals, then put my head down and keep pushing.

Then the familiar Longreach Bay comes into view. It has a large section of light blue water where there is no weed. We call it the Big Blue. Yachts are anchored to moorings around the edge of the blue, but it is mid-week and there are only a few. The moorings are familiar too. There are ones that we swim out to as a test. There are ones that we have swum to and then whilst treading water in the deep we have gasped as beneath us the dark shadow of a stingray swims by. There is a descent now to the front row of Longreach chalets. I can get some speed up. I get my own wind-grin. Still the others will have been there a good fifteen minutes already. They will have brought the luggage inside. They will have chosen their beds, checked the fridge is filled with the groceries delivered by the shop and rearranged the kitchen table. Graham will have disconnected the tv and faced it, like a naughty child, into the corner. Single-handedly he will have manoeuvred the couch out onto the verandah and faced it towards the Big Blue. We always strung a hammock, but since a child died when a pillar collapsed, the authority that runs the island has banned this. On this holiday a worker erects a sign on the balcony saying maximum capacity of nine persons. Graham will have set up the sound system and might even be flopped on the couch with his feet up.

When I arrive the boys will have their shoes off. They will be jumping on the bed, climbing the door jambs Spiderman-style and exiting through the windows of the front bedroom. They will have scattered the cork tile floor with their belongings. Already Hot Wheels will be lost in the far reaches under the beds. It will have taken only a moment for them to turn feral. From now on they will sleep in beds full of sand, with black feet and salt-encrusted hair. They will wear the same boardies and t-shirts for days. They will reluctantly put on sun-screen and a hat. They will joyously travel to the shop several times a day for whatever it is the adults need, just in case they can wing an ice-cream or a sweet lolly.

Sometimes there will be a surprise in the chalet like a new coat of paint. This year there is a photograph of a sunset at The Basin adorning the wall.

Otherwise it is like returning to your own home. Few things are different. They have decided to give you more dishwashing liquid, but anyway I bring my own. The scrubber is still crap. Don’t worry I bring that too. The single tea towel is still inadequate. I have several. They have dispensed with the enormous stainless steel pot big enough to boil a whole crayfish. Shame. They still only give you one roll of toilet paper. Tight. Over the years the beds and pillows have improved but we still bring our own foam eggshell and our latex pillows. Because that’s the thing about Rottnest. It is a little bit of home. For the people who go there regularly, it is just an extension of chez-moi. We have friends who take their own elaborate coffee makers and their Thermomix. They make sure everything is just so. Someone might have the ritual of tying a red ribbon to their gate latch for the littlies to know which is their chalet. Someone else might set up a table for cards or scrabble or jigsaw puzzles. Someone might set up a sun shade on the beach and leave it flapping there all week, like they own a bit of Longreach.

Operating Theatre

I am in holding zone awaiting my surgical procedure. My surgeon comes past to tell me there is a slight delay. There is a back log in recovery. We women in our forties are lined up to be spread apart and peered into. There is a dairy cow feel to it. But no elbow length gloves. We pretend it is dignified, but really we are just another biological system that needs to be understood.

I watch the ceiling as I am wheeled in my bed and now I lie looking up. The white cotton blanket has the smell of a large commercial laundry. I am good at being in hospital. I know what will be done here. There is nothing to surprise me. The delay is not unwelcome. It is not unexpected. In hospital everything is wonderfully out of your control and to surrender to that feeling is strangely comforting.

The theatre is gleaming in every way. Spanking white white walls. The operating lights are a dark shiny blue. In the corner, on a stool, my surgeon waits while I shuffle across to the table. The operating table. He has his head in his phone. His down time between patients. Perhaps he is signalling his late arrival home. His legs are crossed and I notice his knee high white wellingtons. It gives him the look of an abattoir worker. Someone expecting to be splashed upon.

For now I am in the hands of the anaesthetist. Equally attired. Everyone is costumed up, including me, but, I suspect I am the only one without my undies. Like the courtroom with its wigs and robes, the operating theatre has its look too. Scrub tops and pants, hair caps and shoe covers. Even the word theatre; what role, what performance will be on today. How will we all play our parts?

Who is the villain, the hero? I have the bit part. Non speaking role. Who else converses with people as they lie on a slab. Leaning over. No wonder there is a power play between doctor and patient. No one else sees you like this. In a ridiculous gown that has no buttons. Splayed.

We only have a few moments, the anaesthetist and I. Soon I will be away from them all. In a space that is a void. He talks jovially about the Jackson Juice he is delivering. First he tells me there will be a short sharp pain. Indeed he is pushing hard as he delivers the anaesthetic. The theatre nurse is placing a mask across my face.

I love Bananas

I am working in the library close to the children’s section. Bad choice; lots of distractions. A child of four or five stands in front of the shelf with the children’s DVDs. He wears camel corduroys and has similarly coloured hair. He is awash in beige, with milky skin. He has a cowlick. Beside him stands a groovy Grandmother, he calls Nanna. He has selected Bananas in Pyjamas. She says Oh no, not Bananas. I love Bananas, he says. She selects other DVDs and hands them to him but he keeps hold, in one hand, of the Bananas in Pyjamas. On the cover are the two yellow Bananas in their blue and white striped Pyjamas – what fun they are having.  His response to every DVD she shows him is, I love Bananas. She says Bananas is for little children.

Oh NO, I love Bananas, Nanna.

She shows him Peter Rabbit. This looks fun. Nanna says, You can watch Bananas on Television. Let’s get something different. Bananas is for Babies.

No it’s not, he says. I love Bananas. I sense a foot stamping coming on. The Bananas are dancing on the cover.

Nanna lays out the six choices she has made on the stool in front of him and says they can select three. She chooses. Still holding the Bananas he says, Bananas is for babies and puts it quietly back on the shelf. She turns, sees me watching and gives me a wink. She thinks I am a colluder. I want to say I love Bananas.

Hawaii – Part 5

We drive on towards Volcano and the National Park, where our accommodation is on the outskirts. It is getting dark and the place is hard to find. The Crater Rim Cabin is cute and neatly done out. The hosts, Barry and Jim, are rightly proud of their redwood cabin in the lush tropical garden. Barry greets us like royalty, shows us around inside and is impressed with the manoeuvrability and compactness of my chair. He wants to hear how his place compares with the Cliffhouse and is eager to tell us he offers chocolates too. That we never met the hosts he believes is an oversight- for greeting the guests is why he runs his accommodation in the first place. We note the tea towels under the appliances and between the saucepan and their lids. It is here that Jasper discovers Frosties.

That night after dinner at the Thai restaurant we drive out to the viewing platform to see the distant glow of the volcano. It is orange like fanta, fizzing and smoking in the distance.

The next day we explore the National Park and Jasper completes a work sheet that will result in him becoming a Junior Ranger and getting a badge. The promise of the badge makes him realise he has lost or misplaced his badge from Pearl Harbour. He becomes sulky in the way he does when he loses something he has coveted – and somehow it becomes all about the lost thing. As the mother always asked to carry and look after the stuff it irks me that he has not looked after it in the first place. I can see it in my mind on the back seat of the last rental car. The car that no one can remember checking for lost things. Who knows where the thing is? We will all be forced to look for it to rid Jasper of that face. Let it be a lesson to you to look after your own things. Look after your damn things.

In the afternoon the boys do a hike across an extinct volcano crater, stepping lightly across honeycomb rock. I watch video footage of Jim in the 1980’s at the height of his volcanologist career as he leaps about filming rivers of lava – getting the shot. I watch whole landscapes change as lava engulfs them, whole townships disappear. Some residents slice their house in two and take it away, other evacuate and let it be consumed. From the cabin I can see Barry working alone in the garden. He works with a shovel diligently, swiping away mosquitoes as it gets darker. I can’t help but imagine he is digging a grave in which to dispose of the Jim we have not yet seen. Then we meet Jim and learn Barry is slowly ridding the garden of a noxious plant.

Returning the hire care we check on the possibility of locating the missing Junior Ranger badge. Not likely. On the flight back to Honolulu the woman next to me tells me her husband is heavy. She has his ashes in her carry on luggage and is taking him back to Wisconsin. She has fibromyalgia and is too weak to do her seat belt up – perhaps I can assist her she asks.

The last two days in Waikiki we must spend without Graham as he meets Jon to organise the final preparations for the sailing trip to Samoa. We are staying in the Sheraton with its generic resort feel. The days are stretched to breaking point with boredom. Even Jasper is over the whole affair. Over the pool with its slide and landscaped fake caves and rock pools. Over the room with its myriad of channels. Over the marbled shining shops with trash. Over the super air-conditioned malls and hotel rooms. Over the thin as sticks Japanese and fat as butter Americans.

We buy a ukulele for Jasper and I to share and go to lessons in a shop in the foyer. We watch King of the Hill and Tron from the double bed in the hotel room. If I smoked cigarettes I couldn’t do it in the hotel but it is the kind of thing I feel like doing while looking out from the balcony at other bored persons on other resort balconies.

Jasper and I get a taxi to the yacht to see the boys off. Already the men have a smelliness about them. Already without shirts, leaping skilfully on and off the yacht. The boat looks sea worthy, ready with lots of diesel tied to the deck. Jasper gets a tour of below deck but within minutes claims to feel seasick. Farewell photos are taken. Jasper has a final swim with Graham before we say good bye. In the last embrace his body is cool from the ocean, wet and smooth. I miss him already.

Jasper and I have shave ice and walk slowly back towards our hotel. On the way we visit the huge shopping mall that is a reason why some people like Waikiki. We find a Barnes and Noble and Jasper is excited beyond belief. He has inherited my love of  bookshops. A man sits in the coffee shop inside the bookstore with his headphones in, a large bucket of coffee in front of him, and a pile of beads and jewellery making equipment with which to work.

I am sick on the final day and Jasper must amuse himself most of the day in the hotel room. He manages to do this with a cardboard tube, paper cups and a few toys -pretending to annihilate an imagined enemy with explosions and all manner of arsenals. We make numerous trips to the laundry on the 18th floor, bless the Sheraton for its infrastructure and its fully functioning disabled room and take more immodium than is good for you. I locate the previously disappeared and now magically returned Pearl Harbour Junior Ranger badge and receive suitable accolades.

Hawaii – Part 4

We fly to the Big Island. I am pleased to finally be able to pronounce a place name. We collectively decide that I would never be able to live on Kauai because I cannot say it correctly. We are sad that here there are no free roaming chooks which give an island that run down, lay back feel of Kauai. The inter island airports are small and have a sixties feel. The furniture is retro cool, the floors spanking polished vinyl.

In Hilo we are on a mission to buy Graham’s Kanile’a ukulele before finding the Cliff House further up the coast. Hilo has a rundown, Cuban feel to it. The weatherboards are harassed and shops disheveled. Flaky paint and uneven sidewalks. No Honolulu high-rise, no condos. It is altogether a different, better feel than Waikiki.

The music store is perfect. A ukulele paradise. Floor to ceiling instruments. The storeowner has a sister who lives in Fremantle. He has been around. He’s played and drunk with ACDC, back in the day. Now he’s sober. He advises on the best instrument for Graham while we all have a strum and a pluck. A concert Kanile’a is chosen made of solid koa wood.  He restrings it for a left-hander. We ask him for his recommendation for somewhere to eat lunch and have a great meal, although slow, at Ocean Sushi in Keawe Street.

We have a bit of a drive to the Cliff House in the Waipio Valley. The drive is lush and tropical, a reminder of Northern New South Wales. We collect the keys from the Art Gallery and make our way to our accommodation down a grass driveway, past another house and a paddock with two chestnut horses. The host has prepared the house with fruit and chocolates and a pantry with many essentials. The view is so magnificent that we decide to stay in for dinner and cook on the BBQ. We ring Richard, the owner, and he suggests we drive into the town shop for some Spencer steak. After all the Big Island is known for its ranches and herds of beef cattle.

The house is all-alone on the cliff face. It stands on stilts, a twelve-step haul for Graham, but is on the level once inside. A verandah faces the ocean and the sitting room has an enormous six-foot square window that frames the Pacific Ocean hundreds of feet below. Whales can be seen often from this vantage but we are staying at the wrong time of year. There is mist and storms further out to sea and the horizon is smudged and indistinct. There is the distant sound of the ocean on the shoreline below. The valley is an ancient, sacred place for the Hawaiian people.

We feel privileged and lucky to have found this special place. Everyone who stays here feels the same. Reading through the visitors book are the oohs and ahs of welcomed travellers. Graham is straight away on his ukulele. It is an instrument suited to him. Easy to hold, to carry, to transport. It makes you smile. It is happy, joyful, friendly. Jasper is writing an adventure tale, based roughly on the travelling he has done so far. It has vomiting in it.

We have homemade fruit salad for breakfast made from all the in-season fruit left to us by the owner. Pawpaw, pineapple and banana. We are driving today around the Northern part of the island and will check out some beaches. First Jasper and Graham do a hike down to a black-pebbled beach while I read Joyce Carol Oates in the car. I watch as car after car stops and people pile out to do the trek and then return sweaty and red faced an hour or so later. We have lunch in a small town, green mango salad and chicken kebabs.

The beaches give the impression the hotel and condo complexes that line the coast privately own them but they can be accessed. We can get reasonably close and then Graham piggybacks me the final way across the sand and into the ocean. It looks like he is about to dump me on a rock submerged beneath the surface as my unspectacled eyes detect a dark shadow. But then a mottled head appears and we realise we are right next to a giant sea turtle slowly making its way along the coast. The ocean is clear and warmer than we are used to back home. The swell is gentle and mild.

The sand cannot compete with the pristine whiteness we are used to and take for granted. Here the world is new, geologically speaking, and the sand still fresh from its volcanic beginnings.

We check out some other beaches and stop on our way home at an art gallery to see a famous painting by Herb Kane of Captain Cook and his landing on the Big Island. We stop at the supermarket and are appalled at the lack of quality fresh produce, but then again we are only in need of Spencer steak, potatoes, onions and red wine before driving back to our cliff house for another night of BBQ and ukulele on the verandah. Jasper has made friends with the horses and we need a carrot to hand feed. A horse quality carrot can be purchased, luckily. As well as the much needed exercise notebook to write his adventure story. Leaving the car park the Stop sign reads Whoa.

We leave the next morning and on the way out of town have the local Hawaiian donuts so heavily commented on in the guidebook and visitors book. Plain with cinnamon sugar voted best.

We are heading for Volcano, the other side of the island, and are going to stop at Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook met his death. We take a long road down towards Napoopoo pier to a car park where some locals have kayaks that they hire out to tourists. Kayaking across the bay is the only way to reach the secluded spot where the Hawaiians bludgeoned Captain Cook to death and where also some of the best snorkeling can be done. Jasper is both cautious and eager. You can see the tug inside him. Yes I want to see what Dad’s talking about, his interest in Captain Cook’s voyage spurred on by recent readings on this Hawaii trip, but the look of the choppy ocean in the bay and the dots that the kayaks turn in to as they disappear across the water holds his enthusiasm back. But Graham gives him no time to focus on why not. They are out of the car, they have warm gear in a waterproof bag, and they are off.

They are dumped in the ocean off the jetty and are paddling. Jasper sits in front, Lord Muck and Graham paddles from behind. I watch as the orange boat bobs along across the bay. I get a wave. Beside me in the car park various pick-ups come and go. Locals have a few kayaks they must try and rent out in between beers. More men, more beers. Special hand shakes. Fuckn this, Fuckn that. Board shorts, cap backwards, tight brown belly. Islander life. The man who Graham got his kayak from comes to check on me, like he’s concerned for me amongst the swearing locals. Xcuse me Ma’am, you ok? Just checking on you. They are not doing much trade with their kayaks. They sit in the open tray of the pick up. Mother fuckn Billy the Kid. A postcard is handed around and a discussion about how he died ensues. Burps like a blocked drain clearing.

I watch as kayaks returning come into focus. I can detect two paddlers. Not them. Eventually I spot them, making good ground across the choppy water. Yes they stood where Captain Cook fell. Snorkeling was luscious. Fish with yellow and blue stripes. The monument to Captain Cook had been defaced….

to be continued…