Last week my friend gave me a mother. While I was staying she divided hers and then fed them both. They sat, the two mothers, on the bench by the Aga and doubled in size. By the time I left my mother was fierce. She smelt potent, alive. Put an alarm on your phone, my friend said, that way you won’t leave her behind. As if, I thought.
I drove up the road, the mother in my capacious handbag, and arrived at my next friend’s house just as she got home. We unloaded the shopping and I brought in my bags and placed my new mother on the bench. What’s that? she said. A mother, I’m attempting sourdough. She shuddered, visibly. You’re so brave. I’d be afraid I’d let it die. I looked at her, then away. Of the many things we share, the deepest is our motherlessness.
I put my mother in her fridge.
This last week, away on a book tour of the Central West, I’ve felt drenched in old friendships. I’ve been recieved as if I’d never left. It’s different of course. Drought and flood have changed the landscape in subtle ways that jolt me with a feeling of discomfort. Until I realise, I’ve changed too. I’m older, more wrinkled, a little pudgy round the edges, creased I think, by life. But then I walk into the embrace of a school friend. We look into each others faces and laugh because all we can see are the girls we still are.
I take my new mother with me when I leave the district. I drive familiar roads. Arrive at a place that has become dear in the past decade and there at the door of my step-daughter’s house is a woman I’ve known since I was 8 years-old. The house is full of moving parts. They are putting on a book launch party, the last on this little tour. Amidst this madness my step daughter tells me she has put an alarm on her phone to remind her to pick her daughter up from the school bus. I laugh as time spins by and think, clever.
I put my mother at the back of the fridge. Set my alarm too.
The evening is a joy. I meet a friend in real life for the first time. We’ve spoken on the phone, emailed, worked together, but this is the first time we’ve actually met. I hug her as if I’ve known her for years, and I have. My own daughter is there, a little bleary-eyed from the long drive.
The focus of the evening is the book, Graft. I do some readings, talk with Skye Manson backwards and forwards about the process of writing a book. Someone asks about the title and I feel a tightening in the back of my throat. It’s this, I want to say - THIS. My childhood friend, helping my step-daughter put on this beautiful event. Her children, my partner’s grandchildren, in and out of legs, staying up too late. My daughter lying on the floor reading bedtime stories. It’s all there - the pain of grafting, the raw risk of it, the effort it takes to splice one life into another - the reward when the graft takes.
I got home on Sunday night. I took the mother from my bag and put her into the fridge, (though in all honesty the house is so cold I need not have bothered). The mother is smooth and a little lifeless.
In the morning my breath makes small halos. I pull on a woollen beanie, an oilskin vest lined with sheepskin and take the dogs out into winter’s dawn. We walk and walk until the blood runs hot under my skin. I have scales over my eyes. Through them I see mountain ducks arc in a diamond formation away to the east. A young wedgetail is startled and rises, clumsy, a faltering heartbeat into the sky. There are swans on the dam and clouds of tiny birds. Rain spits. I turn for home beneath a rainbow’s arc.
In the kitchen I measure 50g of flour, 50ml of warm water and mix this into the mother. Then I leave her by the fire. By evening, she is fermenting and fierce once more.
Georgette Heyer. In one of my signing sessions at Hobart’s most eclectic bookshop - Cracked and Spineless (their FB page makes FB worth visiting) - I spied a newly acquired shelf of hardback Georgette Heyer’s. They were $7.50 each. I bought four (which seemed an extravagance but now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy the whole collection). I’ll take them up to the shack, but not before I reread them. Also, Deborah Levy’s new novel - August Blue. I read a couple of reviews about this and thought - ho hum, it’s Levy so I’ll read it, but I wasn’t rushing to order it. Then on my travels I picked her book up in a bookshop and bought it after reading the first page. I’m LOVING it. Two essays - this one written by embedded journalist Luke Mogelson on war in Ukraine and this one on Seeing beyond the beauty of Vermeer by Teju Cole. I read them one after the other and both felt urgent. I’m a sucker for then and now portraits. Revisited this little essay by photographer Josephine Sittenfeld of her college classmates recreated.
Ordering We Come with this Place by Deborah Dank. Dank has been shortlisted for the ASL medal and won FOUR categories (book of the year, non fiction, new talent and indigenous) at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. In other news I’ll be cleaning the house, pruning roses and catching my wild horse.
The incredibly talented Michelle Crawford is hosting Sadie Chrestman and I in conversation for afternoon tea at her wonderful old home The Bowmont. Tickets include a scrumptious tea and a book.
If you can make it out to the tip of the Northern Beaches, Jane Grover is hosting an afternoon tea in her Palm Beach kitchen. Tickets include a book, a full belly of delicious food and an afternoon of laughter.
In August I’ll be at Canberra Writers Festival and Byron Bay Writers Festival.
Events are being planned behind the scenes for Adelaide and Melbourne - stay tuned!
Thanks for reading Sitters.