Tuesday, 5 February 2013


The afternoon breeze whips up from the bay. It rattles through palm fronds by the house and brings an air of seaweed to the garden.  Standing at the veranda rail for a moment I enjoy the wind in my hair and the call of gulls flying over the beach below. This outdoor room has seen many happy times, family gatherings for watching whales, boat races and sunsets.

Grasping both arms of a deck chair I lower myself into the seat,  groaning slightly, more from habit than discomfort, I tell myself.  The wickerwork creaks as it takes my weight, it’s become a snug fit lately and I know chairs don’t shrink. I think about buying a larger seat. I am thirsty, but comfortable here for the moment, in the breeze with the birds. The sun begins its downward path and I welcome the shade growing out from the house.

The whine of an old gearbox tells me the school bus is crawling up the hill. It stops at our gate, vibrating noisily and I wave one arm in greeting  just in case the driver is looking. The lid on the letter box slams and my princess is on her way up the path,  joggers crunching over gravel. Her backpack, slung over one shoulder, jingles against her hip. The solitary part of my day is over. 

Thump, thump on the steps. Scuff, scuff over the decking. “Arrhhh, isn’t it hot?” she
says.  Her book filled pack thuds to the floor by my feet.
“No, this isn’t hot, it was hot at midday. This is cool.” I laugh at my joke and she kisses me on the cheek, her long silky hair falling across my face.
“You'd be cooler if you tie your hair back,” I say.
“It was tied back, but the clip broke on the bus.”
The screen door slams. I hear her walking through the house. Water pipes hiss and bang in the wall, drowning the song of magpies in the camphor laurels. I rest and wait.
“You want a drink Nan?” she finally calls from the kitchen.
“Yes please. There’s coke in the fridge.”
“Got it,’ she calls.

The screen door bangs again. She trails a scent of pink soap and washing powder. I feel her touch on my shoulder and a cold can is pressed into my hand.
We open our drinks together. Pssstt.
“I hope you left your uniform in the laundry.”
“Yes fuss pot, I did.”
“And you found your clean clothes in the laundry basket under a pile of folded linen?"
She laughs. “It’s so good to be home, Nannie.”

Humming softly she taps her fingers on the veranda rail and turns her face toward the ocean. “Will Mum be late tonight?”
The words blow back to me on the breeze.
“I don’t think so.”
Her voice is louder as she turns toward me. “That’s good. I’ve got to ask her about the school camp and she won’t feel like talking if she’s tired.”
“Was there any mail Princess?”
“Yes. Three for Mum, I left them inside.”
“Good. Now tell me about the camp.”
“OK. I’ll find the note.”  Pouncing on her backpack she rips open the zipper.
"It’s called Late Summer Camp."
The paper crackles in her hands as it unfolds. She is crouching on the floor by my feet.  “March 20th to 30th. That’s ten days, much better than a week.”
“Yes, especially if you’re having fun.” I put my drink on the deck. She leans back, against my legs and I stroke her hair, twisting strands into brushes to tickle her dainty ears.
“We take our own sheets and things. It’s not in tents, they have little cabins, AND they have a dining hall.” She slaps at my hand, like swatting a fly and I wonder if the note mentions washing dishes.
“Sounds very different to last year's camp,” I say.
“Yes, it doesn't rain in March!” We laugh together, remembering.
My finger finds the tiny scar below her ear.
“It all sounds good. What is it you have to ask Mum?”
“To pay for it of course.”  Her slim little hand strokes mine.  “Can you talk to her Nan? I really, really want to go. I just have to go.”
“Of course.” I sigh. It always comes down to the price tag. 
“She might phone your Dad for this one. It could be an early birthday present, he never knows what to send, and fourteen deserves something special.”
“Good idea. If you suggest it she might go for it.” Her head lies on my knee and she plays with my fingers. “I love you Nan.”
“I’m glad princess.”
Her fingernails are strong and neat. Mine were chewed stumps at her age.

She springs to her feet and stretches. I remember doing that, once upon a time. 
I climb from the chair and lean on her shoulder. She is so tall today - this child of my child, full of energy and eager for life.
“Homework?” I ask.
“I want a swim first.”
“Go then, but don’t forget to shout once in a while, just so I know you’re still there.”
“Come down with me, you can sit on the sand.”
“No baby, not today. I have to refold those clean clothes.”
“Whatever you want, Nannie,” she says and laughs. Taking my hand, she presses it onto the back of the chair. Her joggers slap the steps as she jumps two at a time and I hear her on the zigzag path, skipping down to the beach.

The afternoon is moving around me, warm air stirring, tree sap rising, remembering other summer afternoons. Walking around the chair I feel with my feet for the backpack. She’s left it open, of course. I step over the pile of books and clothing. My outstretched hand finds the door and I go inside, letting it bang behind me.  I can still do that, all by myself.

by Janine Camm  (C)2006


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