I make my traditional Norwegian Buns. They are oozing with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. They are Nigella’s – queen of sweets. It is a two-hour job, begun before the house is fully awake. There is the kneading, the rising, the rolling, the rising again and finally the baking. The rings on my fingers are glued to my skin with sticky dough. The stainless steel taps get coated with the stuff. Unctuous. The dishcloth becomes unusable. It is usually a messy affair with lots of flour across the floor but this year it has been better. Uncle Dave comments, Not So Messy, ah. The dog is doing an excellent job, tongue to the floor.

Easter is not a church-thing in our house. Graham barely knows Good Friday is the day of the crucifixion and Easter Sunday is when He rose again. Dead three days, Not bad, says Jasper. How is it that Graham can get the days confused? He is poorly educated in religion. And so too is our son. Neither do we do Eggs or Bunnys. What we do is watch the seasons change. Normally Easter signals the start of cooler nights. There might even be rain. Dew in the morning. A cardigan is retrieved from deep in the drawer. The leaves on the Robinia are dropping. The Western Corellas head North. The dog can wear his “doggy jammies” when he is put out at night. The fan goes into the attic, and down comes the gas heater and the donnas. The sun is still shining, but its heat is toned down. The roses will need pruning soon. The dome of blue is at its most brilliant. Best of all the wind has gone. Still, crisp air. A leaf let loose from its twig, free-falls straight down.

This year the boy is injured. A buckle fracture of the distal radius means he has a blue half-cast on his arm. It is cleverly made by Amanda the OT out in the burbs, with an electric frying-pan full of hot water and a hot air-blower. It has been three days since he tripped in the playground on a ball and came down on his hand. Three days since the phone call from the school where the assistant teacher told me, “he has washed his face and has ice on the injury, but still he would like his mother to come pick him up.” The green stick fracture is barely visible on X-ray. A mere blip on the periosteum. On the third day; the throbbing has gone away and now it is just inconvenient. Or else part of his make-believe armour in a game of Iron Man vs Batman. Reborn as Superhero. Alas; no skateboarding, no Footy, no tennis.

The neighbours have gone South. The houses around us are empty and quiet. Hollow of people. The clothes lines are nude. The bins are already out on the street, waiting. The mini has its car cover on.

My mother telephones in the evening; I’m in Agony. Agony. You must do something.

Her indwelling urinary catheter has blocked. Again. Unexpected. It is something that is happening to her more frequently these days. It is supposed to only need changing every six weeks, but lately it decides it will stop working somewhere around the four-week mark. When it blocks acutely it means her shrivelled bladder, the size of a walnut-shell, is asked to stretch. It doesn’t like it, so unused to being a container. The small muscular organ is not accustomed to filling. Its nerve endings fire off, indignant. It gives her great pain, as her ungenerous bladder expands, and yet the staff at the nursing home are slow to swing into action and get the thing changed. So she rings me. This can’t happen again, she says.

I ring the nursing home but no one is answering the nursing station phone. Perhaps they are eating Easter Eggs. Sucking the chocolate between their teeth.

She rings back. It’s sorted. The catheter has been changed. What a relief. I can hear the return of perkiness. A nurse appeared with a trolley. Hands washed; sterile gloves snapped on. Once the task has been started it is over in three minutes; a nurse has whipped out the old one and threaded up the new. The bag has filled. The bladder has wilted and wizened, back to its peach-stone pip-size. Huddled down into its pelvic bed. Back to slumber.

But it will block again. It is the nature of the thing. The bladder is irritated by the catheter sitting in its lumen and a biofilm (a nice word for gunk) forms around the eyelet of the catheter. Then the drainage gets poor and eventually it blocks, and no urine can drain away into the bag. The catheter needs to be changed for a new one. But it is only a matter of time before that too is coated with the cellular and inflammatory crud that plugs the catheter opening. Bladder failure is what she has. And there is nothing medicine can do to replicate the ingenious functioning of a normal, healthy bladder.

But nurses changing it quickly, when an old woman cries out, I’m in agony, might be a good place to start.




She is a new cleaner. Her name is unpronounceable to my mother. It is the word for “snow woman” she tells us. She says, making a gesture at her neck, that her country gets many feet of snow. Snezana – with a saucer of a moon over the z. But she is blonde and so the name makes sense and I can imagine it sticking for my mother. You can call her Snow. She squats down next to my mother’s chair to greet her. When she has emptied the bins and sprayed the bathroom sink and has gone my mother says, “It’s important to remember their names.” She didn’t say that it humanised her to them. But that is what she meant. If she remembers their names it shows them she is not like all the others, who don’t recall their own name, let alone someone else’s. Maybe they will answer her bell, when she rings it, believing she really does need something. Maybe, if she calls them by their names, they will treat her nice. Like she is their captive and she is softening them up, making ready her escape when their backs are turned.

Mother tells me they all have Alzheimers here. And she is right about a lot of them. One man lights up when he sees Jasper and speaks to him in an excited foreign language. He is always in the corridor, with his slippers on, his hands clasped behind his back. He loiters about the intersection of the corridors as if he is on a street corner waiting to cross a busy road. Sometimes he sings softly to himself. He has large, unblinking eyes.

My mother’s nails are beginning to deteriorate. They were strong and clean most of her life. Despite gardening. Often they were expertly painted a soft pink. They are the long slender fingers of a piano player. Is it a sign that she is deficient? She eats two bananas a day. Egg sandwiches every night. But she does tip the protein drink down the toilet. Sometimes I do it for her.

I have to cut the right hand for her. She can do the left herself. I don’t like to do it because it is difficult. The nails seem to shatter as they are cut and she makes out like I am cutting her when I am not. Careful careful. Today she has a reddening at the side of her finger. I go out into the corridor and find a carer walking past. One who cares. She is svelte. Jane was a dancer. She moves like someone coming off stage. She calls the thing on my mother’s finger a whitlow. Mother winces at the cutting of the nail. Her hands are barnacled. Fixomul covers something that has recently bled. The hands don’t hold a pen well these days. They can’t seem to work the battery cage on the hearing aid. They can’t manoeuvre a hearing aid into the shell of her ear. They have lost their strength to do up a seat belt or turn on a tap. They have forgotten about buttons and zippers.

Telling the Time

For a long time Jasper has had trouble with reading the analog clock. Everyone reads the time off the microwave. 6.50. Little fluorescent squared numbers. Marching on without tick. Without tock. 7.30. Help! 8.15. Shoes on. Didn’t I tell you already. Have you done your teeth? Shoes! It doesn’t help that for most of his life our antique kitchen wall clock has been stuck on ten to eleven – a beautifully in between time.

Recently Graham got the old clock going again. It has a loud tick tock. An incessant heartbeat – a clicking tongue, a real reminder of lateness. It is invasive, but a chance to learn to read the time. An essential skill that seems to have slipped through unlearnt. 20 cents for each correct telling of the time.

We haven’t had dinner. Graham isn’t home. What’s the time Jasper? Ten to eight. No. What time does dad get home? I dunno. How could it be ten to eight. Look at it again. Is the hour hand before the eight or the seven?

Before school the same routine. What’s the time? 8.30? No. How can it be 8.30? What time do we leave home in the morning to get to school? I dunno.

For I am the keeping of time in our house.

Always the one to harp – are you ready? We should go! We should go now. In every house there is a clock watcher. I get it from my mother who kept time for my father. Call Dad. Tell him we are leaving in five minutes. Still she is a keeper of time. She has an egg timer that she sets constantly and while you visit it goes off. But there is no cake to get out of any oven. No sprinkler to move to another patch of grass. Perhaps it is telling her you have been in attendance ten minutes. Or perhaps it is telling her it is fifteen minutes before her lunch. To take the role of clock watcher one vows; Never late. Always early. Always waiting for other people. This is what my mother passed on to me.