Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rebel without a clue: A true story from long ago

It’s not every day that that your flatmate moves their furniture out while you’re at work, disappearing for good. But it happened to me.

I don’t know what it would have been like to arrive home and be surprised by the empty room. As it was, I discovered her disappearance when I rang home to check my messages during the day.

This was my goodbye note, as delivered by Telstra Message Bank:

“Hi, it’s Rebel here. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve had to move out to go live with my sister because her boyfriend has just been arrested in London and she’s had to go over there to be with him, so I have to look after her house while she’s gone. She’s having to spend her savings on getting over there, so she doesn’t have enough money to pay her rent. So, I’ll have to stay living with her even after she gets back, to help her out. I’m really sorry about running out on you like this, but she is my sister and she needs me. And I had to move out suddenly like this, because it was the only time that Tom could help me move my stuff. I’ll call you again later and leave some money for the bills. Sorry. Bye.”

I hung up needing a cigarette. I needed to go outside and think. I definitely needed to get away from customers. How can you think about whether the new Tara Moss is out yet and avoid answering the question about whether it’s any good, when all you can really think about is what you’ll do to pay the gaping hole in next month’s rent?

Sitting in the alleyway behind Little Collins Street, I felt oddly relieved. I didn’t really like Rebel anyway.

She had been better than Bob, the sixty-something retired tradesman who told me he watched TV all day and had two girlfriends, one of them my age. (“Nice big screen,” he had said approvingly of the wooden 1970s box that Jason had bought through the Trading Post and left behind.) She had been better than the truck driver who had asked if he could park his rig in the street. And better than the (really quite sweet) student from the country who said the only problem was that she might have to move back there in a few months. When Rebel turned up at the door, sister in tow, twenty-something, chatty without being irritating and with only a bike to park, I’d been ecstatic to install her in the big front bedroom.

But Rebel was weird. Or maybe she just thought I was weird. I don’t know. The first thing that went wrong was on the day she moved in.


The room was empty, except for a freestanding six-door cupboard that almost entirely covered one wall. It was a truly monstrous thing, another relic of Jason’s hurried departure. Honey-coloured wooden panelling with mirrors plastered across its breadth, so that your reflection seemed to follow you around the room. Rebel loved it. So, even though I’d been planning to somehow get rid of it once someone took the room, I left it for her. While she was moving her stuff in, there was a splintering crash that drew me running from the kitchen, where I’d been deliberately staying out of their way. Three accusing heads (Rebel, her sister, their friend Tom) turned to look at me as I approached the mess that had been Jason’s cupboard.

“I just opened the doors,” said Rebel.

It was like it had torn itself apart at her touch. The flimsy chipboard backing had sprung free from the nails holding it to the frame and flung itself backwards. And worse, the body had tipped perilously forward, throwing open its outer doors and spewing out glass shards onto the carpet.

“It fell on me,” she said.

Luckily, she had caught it. Together the four of us tipped the whole mess backward and leaned it against the wall. I went to get the vacuum and a rubbish bag for the glass. It was easy to take the cupboard apart after that. Piece by piece, we moved it down the passage and stacked it in a corner of the shed. Tom and Rebel’s sister went home to get a wire hanging rack for Rebel. Exhausted, Rebel made chicken two-minute noodles in the microwave and took her dinner into her room.

She ate her dinner there every night after that, for the whole of the six weeks she spent living in Jason’s old room.


This is, as you'll probably realise, something I found while browsing forgotten folders on my computer. All true, even the names. Really, who names their daughter Rebel? What do they expect? I never got any money for the bills. And a trucker and his fiancee moved in after that. One night they saw me reading a book on the couch and responded with dumbfounded awe. ('You gonna read that whole THING?') I was glad to move out of there.

Another meme: 5 things

Helen tagged me for this meme - sharing facts about yourself, random and weird.

The rules of this meme are:
Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
Tag 5 people at the end of your post by leaving their names, and links to their blogs.
Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So, here goes ...

1. I don't like cooking or housework. I wish I did. So many people say they love to cook these days, including a lot of my friends. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a freak that I can't say 'me too' and join in with a recipe tip involving seasonal market produce, or mention the cuisine I'm currently hooked on. But I'm not like that, and I've decided I'm too old to pretend to like things I don't. I cook to eat, and sometimes I put in an effort, sometimes I'm really quite lazy. F thinks I'm a great cook, though, based on my pita bread pizzas with ham, cheese and tomato paste, my family pancake recipe that I copied from my parents, and the salad wraps I make him for lunch (pita bread again). Oh, and cheesy scrambled eggs - yes, scrambled eggs with cheese added. Genius. And there you go ... I have shared recipes, after all.

2. I have Asperger's Syndrome. After F was diagnosed last year, and one too many things sounded awfully familiar, I sat through four sessions and got my own diagnosis. It seems that my dad, my brother and probably my dad's dad (long since dead) have it, too, though they haven't been offficially diagnosed. How I feel about this depends very much on the day/week/month you ask me about it. Most of the time I'm not particularly bothered.

3. I am 32 years old and I don't have a driver's licence and will probably never get one. I don't know why, really, but I'm not mechanically minded, and that's part of it.

4. I got together with my husband at a work Christmas party over seven years ago. He worked in a bookshop down the road from mine, owned by the same people, and he used to volunteer to take the store transfers down so that he could talk to me. Later, he, his sister, me and my flatmate all worked together in the same bookshop at the same time. It was fun. A bit like high school, really. (Only fun.)

5. When I was young, I think about ten or so, I remember wanting to have a house by the sea with a tin roof and an open fire, so that I could sit inside on winter's days and listen to the rain. I'd still like that.

I tag Cristy, Redcap, Audrey, Eleanor Bloom and ThirdCat.

Easter break

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The price of fame

'I'm a bit tired of being famous,' he sighed, over an after-school apple at the kitchen table.
'I had someone ask me for my autograph today.'
'Well, they came up and told me they'd seen me in the paper. And I said,do you want my autograph? And they said yes. I was joking, but they were serious. I signed their hand with my pen.'

I try not to laugh.

'And people keep on coming up and telling me they've seen me in the paper. Some of them have even done it twice. And I'm like, I know!'
'Do you say that?'
'No. I think it.'
'I'm getting a bit sick of it.'

There is a moment's silence.

'I'm sorry,' I say. 'I tell you what, if the chance ever comes up again for you to be in the paper, I'll say no.'
'So, you'd WANT to be in the paper?'

'Well,' I say. 'I guess that's the price of fame. If you're in the paper, people will come up and tell you they've seen you. You can't switch it off when you want to. You either want the attention, or you don't. It's up to you.'
'I'll be in the paper. Definitely.'

Overheard at Flinders Street station

'I like movies about real heroes. Because that's what I aspire to be - heroic.'

Does it seem interesting to anyone else that she had an American accent?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Coming home

Do you think I was happy to wake up this morning to a gentle drumming overhead? To peer through the curtains at a grey day, spitting raindrops onto the street outside? To pedal madly through the rain, my thin summer jacket moistening to match my shower-damp hair? To wheeze a little as I went, cursing the way my limbs and lungs had grown lazy in just a week of under-use?

Yesterday, I was ambling across the lawns over the road from the River Torrens, a notebook and dictaphone in my bag, a straw cowboy hat on my head. The grass was dry under my bare feet, so dry it crackled under me as I lowered myself to sit under a palm tree on the hill. The sun caressed my exposed arms and legs, stung my eyes as I lifted my sunglasses to peer into the white tent at the base of the hill and the sea of people that spread from it in licks and waves; a tide rising up the hill and across the lawns. After a while, sweat bred under the crevasses of my knees and trickled to my feet in languid rivulets. I basked in the warm glow: the dry, enveloping heat a memory of childhood summers, a feeling like home.

This morning, just 45 minutes away on a plane, eight hours by road; I covered my body to leave the house, sheltering it from the elements. The grey sky overhead seemed to stretch forever, promising an end to summer, not just this summer, but the season, at least as long as I live here – as I have for 12 years now. I felt exiled.

Panting my way up a hill (its slope invisible to the naked eye, only felt by unfit cyclists running late for the end of school assembly), I spotted a snake of red and navy children following a tall brown leader across the asphalt. The tall brown leader was headed for F’s classroom. It was him!

I parked my bike and began struggling with the lock, wrestling it through the loops of the chickenwire fence. A figure broke off from the back of the line and came running towards me.
‘Mum, mum! It’s mum! Can I help you, mum?’
‘Hi darling.’ I blew a kiss through the fence, in front of all these curious spectators, and he caught it in his palm, clutched it tight, and drew it to his chest.
‘Sure, you can help,’ I said, knowing he couldn’t at all, but wanting to say yes. He drew closer, and stretched his arm towards the wire.
The lock was stuck; it wasn’t budging. The class was drifting away, only F now, standing expectant under an incontinent sky. ‘I’ll leave it, it’ll be fine.’
I had an urge, a compulsion, to touch him, to hug him, as soon as I could. He moved towards the gate as I did, his movements mirroring mine on the other side of the fence.
‘I’ll help!’ he shouted as I moved to open the lock.

As the gate swung open, he threw himself into my arms with a look of pure joy, a smile that radiated from his eyes and lit up his being. We held each other tight, kissed, and hugged again. He took my hand and we walked into the classroom together.
‘I brought ALL my book club books mum, for your house,’ he said. ‘And the Pokemon book you let me take to dad’s.’
‘Good lad.’
I sat on the miniature chair at the back of the classroom, towards the edge of his table – my chair. One of the girls from the reading group I work with, the ones who are still having trouble getting the hang of this reading thing, turned and beamed at me. F’s friend, L, waved a navy clipboard.
‘Hi Ariel! I’ve got a clipboard, too, now. See? For my petition.’
‘I did TWO lots of homework, mum.’ F came around the table and hugged me again. Reluctantly, he stood back, ready to return to his seat.
‘I do hope you had a nice time in Adelaide?’
‘Yes. I did.’
‘Good. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I thought was: Mum’s coming home! Mum’s coming home! And I got up and got dressed and ready for school STRAIGHT AWAY.’

He’s right. I’m home. Of course.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Quirky kid meme

For once, I'm being quick on the meme uptake (thanks, Cristy).

First, here are 'The Rules':

1. Link to the person that tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog
3. Share 6 non-important things/quirks about your kid
4. Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs
5. Let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
6. Let the fun begin!

1. F bought me a stuffed dog for Valentine’s Day this year. The Husband bought me a dog for Valentine’s Day two years ago, and when he was in Mexico, F became very attached to it and started taking it to bed at night and carrying it about the house everywhere – to eat dinner, read stories, watch telly. So, it became his. About a week before Valentine’s Day, I was putting him to bed and kissing him goodnight, and I gave the dog (Puppy) a hug too, saying ‘it’s my only to cuddle him since you stole him’. Ten minutes later, he was up, saying ‘I’m really sorry, mum. You’re right. I did steal him from you. I’m going to save up my pocket money and buy you another dog’. I insisted that I was only joking and there was no need to spend his money, but a day before Valentine’s Day, he asked the Husband to take him to buy me a dog. His name is Sidney and F is very pleased that I like him. He likes to check in the morning to see if I slept with him. I brought Sidney to Adelaide with me for company.

2. F has an imaginary friend named Dexter. He’s eight years old and he’s a scientist. One day, a few months ago in fact, he told me that Dexter had been alive for a million years, and he had been eight years old for nearly all that time. He found a crystal that was cursed and it killed his parents but gave him everlasting life so that he had to live on without them. There was an elaborate story that went with it about Dexter’s adventures through the ages. A few days later, he told me that Dexter had admitted it was all ‘a myth’ – he really was just eight years old; no everlasting life. He said he’d made it up to tell his teacher as part of a school assignment and had just trialled it on F. Dexter has come and gone over the past few years. Sometimes he rides with us to school, or eats breakfast with us. At one point, Dexter had an evil twin brother named Bexter. He used to follow us, or suddenly the Dexter eating breakfast with us would be revealed to be the evil Bexter instead. I wonder how long he will last.

3. Last week, F very solemnly came up to me as I was getting him ready for school and asked if I would put Surf Wax in his hair and spike it up and then put eyeliner on him, so that he’d look like Billie Joe from Green Day. I compromised and just did the hair. I didn’t think his teacher would appreciate the eyeliner. After school, I put the eyeliner on him after dinner. He posed with his electric guitar we bought him for Christmas (lucky child, I know!) as we enthused over him and then I washed it off and tucked him into bed with some books.

4. F loves doing homework. He’s in Grade Three and it’s new to him. They get the homework on Monday and hand it in on Friday. After the first week of school, he wrote a note on the back of his homework paper saying ‘Dear [Teacher], Please give me homework every day. Sincerely, F.’ I watched him give it to his teacher and point it out. His teacher laughed. He doesn’t give him homework every day.

5. F doesn’t like sandwiches. I make him bread-and butter sandwiches (which are acceptable) with sliced carrot sticks, cucumber and cheese on the side, or said sliced items with seaweed rice crackers and BBQ shapes for school lunches. His dad makes him wholemeal bread sandwiches with cheese or ham, often with ziplock bags with sliced tomato and cucumber on the side. He NEVER eats them. Ever. He brings them home in his lunchbox or in his bag, whole and perfect and untouched. I asked him why he doesn’t tell his dad he doesn’t like them. He said that he did tell him - and told him what I give him - and his dad said ‘FORGET it. I will never make you something like that for lunch.’ I guess I remember that I wouldn’t eat sandwiches either, and threw them under the transportable classrooms every day for a year, until someone found all my mouldy sandwiches and called my parents up to the school. My mum started making me crackers and salad for lunch. The circle turns ...

6. F gave us all verbal report cards for parenting the other day: me, the Husband, his dad, his stepmother. We were marked in categories: healthy eating, active, general parenting, and book learning. We all scored well. Me, the Husband and his dad all got five out of five as parents. This was done in the schoolyard before the bell went. The Husband’s Active report began: ‘He’s very active. T is very agile at football. He flies through the air to catch the ball and he usually gets it ...’ I don’t know why he decided to do this. But it was really interesting.

I tag ... ThirdCat, Helen and Penni.