Authors: Georgia Blain
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Georgia Blain has written a number of novels for adults including the bestselling
Closed for Winter
, which was made into a feature film. Her memoir
Births Deaths Marriages: True Tales
was shortlisted for the 2009 Kibble Literary Award for Women Writers.
In 1998 she was named one of the
Sydney Morning Herald's
Best Young Novelists and has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, the SA Premier's Awards and the Barbara Jefferis Award. She lives in Sydney with her partner and daughter.
This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012 First published by Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Melbourne in 1999
Copyright Â© Georgia Blain 1999
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
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ISBN 978 1 74331 312 1 (pbk)
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Many people have helped at various stages in the writing of this book. In particular I would like to thank Katrina, Louise and Anne for their insightful advice, and Anthony, Andre and Madeline for taking me back to Candelo.
Thank you also to Ali Watts and Julie Gibbs at Penguin, and Fiona Inglis from Curtis Brown.
Finally, a big thank you to Andrew and to the beautiful Odessa Stella, who came into our life just after the final edit was completed.
My mother, Violetta, has always believed that there is a division between right and wrong, that it is possible to draw a moral line.
I'm not talking about morality in a puritanical sense
, she says,
nor am I talking about petty daily entanglements
And she isn't.
She is talking about something much larger than that. She is talking about the big issues, about taking a stand with an honest awareness of how each action will impact on the universal, about not being afraid to speak out, to battle for what you know to be right.
, I say to her, with a certain measure of sarcasm.
She is usually easy to rail.
The problem with your generation
, she tells me,
is that you expect others to do the fighting for you. You are quite happy to sit around and talk about what's wrong with the world, but you won't do anything about it â unless there's something in it for you
She beats her fist on the table. She is on a roll.
, and she lifts her eyes to the ceiling in disgust.
There's no concept of united action. You get a modem, call yourself a grrrl and you never look beyond your own backyard
I tell her that I have never called myself a grrrl.
I should hope not
, she says. She barely draws a breath before she continues.
What about cuts in health care? Education? Unemployment benefits? When was the last time you did anything other than sit around and complain? If you came to any of the few marches still being held, you'd see that it is predominantly my generation out there protesting
I wish I hadn't got her started.
Fighting for others has always been her life. For as long as I can remember. She sees inequality, she sees injustice and she is in there, battling for what she believes.
I'm not talking about the general
, I say.
It's just that it is not always easy, on a personal level, to know what is right
, and as I speak, I can see her rolling her eyes.
If it isn't huge, if it isn't political, then it isn't real to you
She looks at me without blinking.
It certainly isn't of as much importance
, she says.
When Simon, my brother, came to tell me that Mitchell had died, I was, once again, enmeshed in the personal. And even in that arena, even in my own
petty daily entanglements
, I was managing to shift that line, draw it anywhere in the sand, and justify its placement to myself.
I was sitting on the back steps to our building and looking at the work I had made Marco do. Four days before I had asked him to move out.
It was during the last rains that the stairs had started sinking. As the mud slid down from the hill behind us, the bottom steps slipped with it. Already rotten, the wooden posts and landing began to shift, the boards breaking under the strain, leaving only a rickety backbone of what had once been there. Enough to tiptoe carefully, from upstairs to downstairs, but only just.
Like everything in this building, they remained unrepaired.
The owner, Mr Wagner, lives in Germany and we do not know how to contact him.
Mouse once told me that he left the country because he had buried a woman in the backyard,
under very sus circumstances
, and he winked, knowingly.
For whatever reason, we have never seen him. We just pay our rent into a bank account, and the disrepair continues. Even when it is as dangerous as those stairs were.
And that is how they would have stayed, if I hadn't begged Marco to fix them.
It's not like we ever go up there
I told him they were life threatening. That they, Anton or Louise, could kill themselves.
Well, let them do something about it
, he said.
, I told him.
And they wouldn't. Anton, I think, liked the romance of it all. He bought himself a rope ladder and kept it near the bathroom window. Louise was too obsessed with the slow dissolution of their relationship to notice.
When I wouldn't let up, Marco wanted to know why it concerned me so much.
I couldn't tell him the real reason. I couldn't tell him that I did, in fact, go up there. As often as I could. Waiting until he had gone off to work, waiting until I heard Louise's footsteps on the stairs and then, when it was all clear, knocking on their door.
I just kept on begging him, until, finally, he gave in. Four days before he packed the last of his few possessions into a box and carried it up the path to the road, slamming the door behind him as he told me that I would be sorry, that I would regret my decision. Marco fixed it all; all except the bottom step, which, still rotten, had collapsed into the dirt below.
And that is where I was sitting on the day my brother, Simon, came to tell me the news.
I had been sick again. A dull nausea that had left me unable to make it to my front door. Too listless to move, I was staring out past the coral trees, out past the morning glory, out past the sea, while from above me, I could hear them, Anton and Louise, arguing again.
I am sorry
, Louise would say when she knocked on my door late at night after fights such as these.
I shouldn't bother you. But have you got a moment?
And I would always let her in, my desire to know what was happening stronger than my ability to do what I knew was right. I would drink the scotch she had brought with her and I would watch the ice condense in the glass until the palm of my hand was cold and sweaty. Never lying but never telling the truth.
I heard the door slam upstairs, and I jumped.
I heard Anton tell her to calm down.
I heard her open the door and slam it again, the whole building shuddering with its impact, the windows rattling, the tremor travelling down the railing to the stairs as Anton no doubt shrugged his shoulders in helpless indignation at Louise's fury.
I began to pull myself up and, as I looked down at my feet, my ankles, my legs, cramped from sitting for too long, I failed to see him. My brother. Coming down the path towards me, the pale blue of his bus driver's shirt normally letting me know who it is before he arrives.
But not this time.
When I looked up, he was there.
And he had come to tell me that Mitchell had died.