The tv is too loud for me to talk over the top of after a day of teaching but it is a vexation to my mother’s spirit if I ask her to turn it off. Or even down. There are depths to my mother no one has ever survived diving into. My mother talks over the top of the tv, yet wants me to engage, respond, listen, say yes, no, nod, establish eye contact, and all over the top of Ross and Rachel and Kramer and George. Are you listening? she’ll say suddenly, furious. There is no way to reach someone who’s only alive behind a screen. Kramer bursts into the kitchen and joins us at the table. These vegetables are excellent, he says, smiling at my mother but looking at me. He leans into me, shoving his face right into mine and says: Why is your plate still filled with green?
II. Friend 1
The time she said my email to the Group meant I thought my restaurant was better than the one she’d suggested. The time she said Please bring pink roses. And then said I haven’t heard back from you – can I count on you? And then said I am very offended by your silence. The time she said If you communicate with me in any way after I’ve asked you not to, I’ll have to contact the authorities. The time she sent me a text saying In spite of our limited interaction of late, I shall never forget how you were there for me. The time she said we were kindred spirits, connected souls, so similar (!), that we had this special, this soul connection. And the time she said There’s nobody else I can talk to like this. The time she said Anne of Green Gables. And The Sound of Music. And Sinatra. My Fair Lady. Moliere. And Louis and Ella. The time she rang me and said Listen to this and played Louis singing It’s A Wonderful World. The time she told me about pink flamingos she’d seen in Slovakia. The time she said Life is a gift, a miracle, we have to be grateful and make the most of each day! The time she said What is the ‘good cause’ you refer to? And Who is Julian? And Is he a Judge? Of the Supreme Court? Isn’t he just a lawyer? Do you know what you’re signing up for? You do know he’s a Green and the Greens have voted for death duties? And said I won’t be going to Julian Burnside’s house nor any events organised by this Human Rights Arts Festival but thank you for thinking of me. Then there was Greta Thunberg. She said She should be in school. She said We’re all adults, she’s just a teenager, why should we listen to her? She didn’t say any of that to me, she said it to Friend 2 and Friend 2 told me, and all of this was in separate texts, each question, one after the other. Friend 2 said We don’t talk about politics, maybe it’s better not to know – I don’t want to know. Friend 2 laughed but I didn’t. It’s time, I thought, it’s time. Every cloud is a clock; every hand a knell.
We passed a new Coles in the suburb of Elsternwick, which is close to Elwood, which is close to Brighton, and on the other side, St Kilda. Which are all close to the sea but some are closer than others. Brighton is salubrious. St Kilda, become gentrified (though there are still the streetwalkers, as Friend 3 calls them; and the druggies, Friend 4). So we pass this Coles. Shiny thing! Shiny thing! My father was excited. I said It looks like a sparkling department store. My father said What do you want it to be? Dark and dingy and dirty? (He actually said that, the alliteration is not deliberate). It’s not evil he said. I was silent. I thought about capitalism, neo-liberalism, the have and have-nots (I’m both), supermarkets, Chadstone, empires, expansion, greed, climate change, crisis, floods in Venice, bushfires in Queensland, New South Wales, Sydney, bright lights, chandeliers, tinsel, Christmas, shiny things! It’s like a paean to conspicuous consumption I said. But the line was stolen. It was a line my Best Friend (ex-partner) had used to describe the house of Friend 3 (who is Best Friend to Friend 2) and who lives in a house in Brighton which everyone pronounces beautiful. It’s not evil my father said. What’s wrong with enticing people to eat and bright lights and a brand-new sparkling store? Quite a lot I said to the moon outside the window. The moon was full so I was silent, fearing madness, fearing fear.