Unmoored

ImageWe landed within hours of one another at Melbourne Airport, arriving from opposite ends of the earth. My sister was returning from Denver, her other home, having been called back to handle a work crisis only she could solve. She flew west through California, crossed the Pacific, the equator, and the international dateline to return to her apartment.

Meanwhile I flew east, stopping in Bangkok, one 10-hour flight after another, heading east and then south to join her in the steamy mid-summer of Melbourne.

We were each exhausted in different ways, droopy eyes blinking in the blinding sun. She trundled in to work that first Friday, pushing past lack of sleep to greet her colleagues, bring them news of the ailing project back home.

“I’ve left some bags of clothes I’m going to donate,” she said before she left. “Feel free to take anything you want.”

Curious, alone, I pulled out the bags, emptied their contents onto the couch. Bright green tops and sleeveless blue tanks and flowing white dresses surrounded me, so new and barely worn, impossibly bright. Being around the same size, I tried on one after the other, made a small pile to keep, set aside others I’d never dare wear. I wondered, as I returned the bags to the closet, when it was that I’d traded out blue for gray, teal for olive, in my own wardrobe.

I’ve taken over her home workspace. I pick up where I left off in Berlin, scratching away at someone else’s work. I skype across the dateline. I picture her in an office across town, a rare woman in a sea of men.

On Sunday we walked into town and wandered through the state library, pausing before oil paintings of bush landscapes and Aboriginal encounters. We climbed the stairs to the reading room she loves, a dark wood village of carrels under a glass dome. I make a plan to take my laptop there in the coming days.

I take a tram into the city on Monday in her teal t-shirt and my shorts, row with my appointed partner. I wander through the Exhibition grounds, sit on a bench in the shade and read a chapter of my book. I drift toward who I’d be if I stayed here, a member of the rowing club, a tram rider, a ‘flat white’ drinker.

My family is tucked away in England, sight unseen. Their news updates are too infrequent. I long for their anchor.

Yesterday I walked to the cemetery in her neighborhood where the prime ministers are laid to rest, all except Harold Holt, who dove into the surf and never returned. It’s a fading beauty, this graveyard, with rusting iron gates and listing headstones. Some of the planks of stone laid over the graves have heaved and cracked, drained of support beneath them.

M proposed to me in a graveyard far more modest than this, in the rolling hills of Zionsville.

It’s odd how every last one of us can be reduced to the same few details, date of death, next of kin. Beloved this or that. How uninspired are our words tapped out of stone, a panoply of requiescat in pace. A tower for some, a pedestal for others, cracked concrete and broken headstone for the unlucky ones, long forgotten, untended.

I set up the toppled flowers where I could, a strong breeze pushing in from the coast. I considered but refrained from climbing onto a marble stab to right a metal urn, its flowers thrown across the grave by the wind.

In the morning I will set aside her clothes for the time being, return to my soft grey t-shirt and better-fitting jeans. Plunk my brown cap on my head, find a new way into the city. I need my own places to haunt, my own way to be.

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