The streets of Fremantle are largely deserted except for the homeless and depauperate. They mill. They don’t maintain social distancing. They don’t comply. Their benches have been plastered with signs saying CLOSED but they peel these off and sit anyway.
White cockatoos are masters at mass gathering, from the lemon scented gum to the olive, eating the fruit and partying. Mess makers. Squawkers. Marauders.
It is Easter and the church services are happening online. The annual street arts festival has been cancelled. The town is eerily quiet and the streets invite being walked on, smack down the middle. Our own street is usually busy with pool-goers but it has been idle so long that we feel we own it. We walk on it, skate on it, play ball on it, the dogs even sleep on it. The side walk has not been blown of seed pods so it is carpeted by the crunchy droppings. At night, as the street lamp catches them, they shimmer like discarded fish scales.
We experience the hottest April day ever and the beach is very enticing. People go, of course they do, but they spread out. They veer from each other, as everyone is perceived as potentially contagious, carrying the lurgy, deceitfully in their sputum, on their hands, in the vapour they emit. A friend tells me it took several years following the Spanish flu for people to begin engaging freely with others again. How long will it take for us to remove the “stand here” lines from the supermarket floor after this has passed? When will the Keep Cup be allowed to touch the milk frother’s nozzle? Will cash be ever handed to you again?When will you no longer wince as some one extends a hand towards you or offers you a receipt that you then refuse?
But as much as people try to avoid each other, they also crave what they are missing – companionship is deeply healing and people want to say hello. They want to smile and have a conversation unfettered by perspex and closer than 1.5 metes. Somehow the replacement virtual world has yet to feel tempting. I prefer to brood, unhelpfully.
My own anxieties have switched focus from disease to loss of income. I don’t fear becoming ill, but I do vex as pay checks dwindle and income seems to be out of my control. I think of anxious dogs and how I tell clients anxiety is so much worse when an animal feels a lack of control and predictability. I am such an animal now – my life has lost its rudder, and one week can be very different from the one before. As a list-maker, as a person who loves order and routine, I find myself all-a-jangle and sometimes close to weepy. My son tells me it is Easter and I should stop fretting. But this goes by unheeded. What’s wrong with you Mum? That oh-so-helpful question to the ill-at-ease. We argue instead about what happened to Jesus on the various days of Easter while eating more baked goods with cream from a spray can. At night I can’t sleep as I lie awake with the machinations of the various ideas I have to make my income more reliable. I try to stop thinking, but immediately find myself at the beginning of the spool once more, working through the same problem. Graham tosses and turns too but he is sleeping. He is reading Camus’ The Plague and I wonder if he dreams of pestilence.
Our neighbourhood has been baking, and all sorts of sticky cinnamon creations, eggs and sugar, are divvied up to be tasted, smuggled across the no-mans-land of the driveway. Covid contraband. Yeast is toilet paper, when it comes to scarcity, and Kate discovers that her current yeast is only expired by 8 years in the midst of the buns supposed rising. Not rising. Paul has bought ten kilos of flour. Food Works has yeast – he has a kilo of it now. We bake, despite the weather. Ovens heat kitchens. Tommy spins with sugar and chocolate.
We finish watching Tiger Kings but is has no soul. In the end it lacks warmth. There are no human characters to care about. The demise of the people, fuelled by their own greed and narcissism, is souring. At the very end the lead character, Joe Exotic, is remorseful that he has deprived two chimpanzees of each other’s company and physical touch for ten years. He has caged them separated from each other. One of the last shots is of the apes, finally rehomed to a better zoo, embracing, their hug so human it hurts.
Graham and I watch A Ghost Story and I am moved and nurtured by the beauty of the long slow shots, by the lack of dialogue, by sombreness, by the strange unfolding. Film and story wrap around me. I remember that story is everything. Weave with words, with images. Afleck mumbles. Rooney eats. They nuzzle. Lips, softly, on nape of neck. It is surprising and spectral and fitting for the Covid times.
Then comes the call for Pavlova on the narcos’ driveway.