Saturday 9th January 2010
Gestation: 15 weeks, 1 day
One year ago.
Suse picks up the Melways, flicking to the index page.
“So where is the Basin?”
“Near the foot of Mount Dandenong.”
“And that’s a place?”
“It is, love. It’s a suburb.”
I glance across at her, momentarily caught by the sarcasm. There hasn’t been much room for humour over the last couple of days.
Funerals have never made me laugh like they do others.
There’s something wrong with me.
I drive along, heading vaguely east, in the general direction of our friend’s farewell party; a celebration of a move north to greener and sweatier pastures. I await further instruction on directions, but no better than to push Suse when she is holding a map. She begins to flip, back and forth, between pages, sighing at shorter and shorter intervals.
“Is there anything I help with, love?”
“Not unless you can tell me why the pages aren’t consecutive.”
I look across.
“Well…” I pause, thinking carefully. “They won’t be vertically. But they’re in order horizontally.”
“Yes. I know that,” she says sharply, “I’m not thick.” She waits for a response. I don’t breathe. “And yes, horizontally, most of them are consecutive. That is, until you get to the Basin on Map 65. And then, Map 65 and 66 join Map 122 and 123, which joins Map 307 and 308.” She throws her hands up. “It’s ridiculous.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because back in 1966 Melbourne only went out as far as page 66. Only since then have the outskirts kept growing.”
“But why can’t they just re-number it? Make it all neat again?”
“Because that would change the map numbers.”
“What do you mean?”
She’s gone from frustrated to intrigued; no mean feat with a map in her hand.
“Well, if people want to look at Glen Iris, they look up Map 59. No matter which edition. It’s always fifty-nine.”
Suse frowns, looking suspicious.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Who can remember that?”
“A lot of people.”
“A lot of people remember all of the maps in the Melways.”
“No, they don’t.”
“The CBD is on Map 43 and 44,” I say. “It has been since 1966.”
Suse flips to page 43.
“You’re so weird.”
* * * * *
We pull up smack in the centre of Map 65. Over the fence of middle suburbia, we can already hear the screams of happy children.
Both of us know that through the gate there will be dozens of kids, all running between parents, by now mostly oblivious to their miracles bestowed; only now aware of what they have not. It’s a wonderful trait we humans have.
I look across at Suse. She practices her brave face.
We exit the car, hold our breath, and enter. And sure enough, there they are – squillions of children. They’re strewn all over the place. Some are on the dance floor, in front of two huge speakers, bopping away to the music. Others are running around on the grass, playing tiggy. Several continue to pull at their parents’ hands, having not yet gathered the courage to mingle.
It’s like a pro-parenting television commercial.
Suse grips my hand tight. We take another breath, and then we walk around, catching up with friends. Everyone of them seems to have a kid. Or if not, they’ve found one for the evening. Again, we chat lightly, skipping from conversation to conversation, avoiding discussions of the places we’ve been, both physically and metaphorically.
And we steer clear of the vowels. We never mention the ‘A’ word. Or the ‘E’ word. Or, for that matter, the ‘I’ word. It’s all to avoid the ‘O’ and the ‘You’.
Abortion. Ectopic. Infertile?
Oh, my god. You poor thing.
* * * * *
The night grows dark, and with it, the children’s moods. Somewhere, at an unseen table, little paper bags are dealt to the kids. Their moods escalate in response, hitting an invincible high, before plummeting back to earth. Refined sugar is the smack of the pre-schooler.
Bodies are pushed, knees are grazed, lolly bags dropped, and tantrums ensue.
And that’s the adults.
Suse and I sit, having found our safe ground: watching the kids on the dance floor. A group of girls, spanning across ages, spin freely in a circle by the speakers. Next to them is an adorable African boy, his hair a frizzy mess, grooving effortlessly to the music. And then to his left, is a skinny white kid. He remains slightly behind, his eyes fixed in concentration, valiantly attempting to copy the older boy’s easy moves. He is earnestly, hopelessly, utterly uncoordinated.
Suse looks on wistfully, smiling frequently, lost to the conversation.
And then she suddenly rises, and heads towards the kids.
I sit there, talking to my friend, and I begin to watch my wife. Instantly, she is enveloped by the group; the tall kid, the free spirit, the Mary Poppins. The energy of the group re-doubles, delighted by the appearance of this grown-up with a child’s heart.
One of the girls takes her by the hand, and they begin to dance in a spin. After a few moments, Suse pulls her across towards the skinny kid, jack hammering on the fringe. Graciously, she rolls out her delicate hand, offering it to the un-co boy.
He goes still, his mouth open. He looks like he’s just been picked by the Prom Queen.
And then they dance. My beautiful wife, the grinning girl, and the agitated boy.
Their mouths open in laughter, holding hands, bopping away, giving in to the spirit of the game. One with no rules; a pure connection of innocence.
I smile. At my wife. Bathing in her youthful energy; a woman ripe for her own children to nurture.
Just aching to nurture.
* * * * *
After a while, Suse returns.
“You looked like you were having fun, love.”
“I was,” she grins. “How has it been over here?”
“Great. I’ve been watching you have fun.”
She sits down, hugging herself tightly to me. As she does, a woman leans across the grass.
“You looked great out there,” she says.
“Oh, thanks,” Suse replies, slightly self-consciously.
“You’ve got such a beautiful energy about you. The kids adore you.”
I smile at the woman, noticing the deep rings beneath her eyes.
“Which are your kids?” I ask.
Proudly, tiredly, she points. “Those two there.”
“Awww. I danced with him,” Suse beams.
“And he loved you.” She grins even more. “Do you have kids?”
“No,” Suse replies, catching herself, her grin halving. “We were pregnant, but…” She pauses, stopping herself. “But, no.”
Suse looks back towards the dance floor. She follows the woman’s boy with her eyes.
“No,” she whispers once more, the smile having left her face.
* * * * *