Even before I wake up properly, lying warm and somnolent in the cave of the bed, I’m composing a text to send to Bob explaining why I won’t be working today. Because Maggie has whooping cough (true) and therefore I have to take her back to Newcastle (false). There’s an epidemic of pertussis in NSW, an antibiotic resistant strain, and you hear people coughing uncontrollably all over town. You can immunize but the immunity doesn’t last longer than about ten years . . . she got her dose off Ella, who must have picked it up at school. You can cough for up to three months.
I walk up the road with Ella to buy pancake mix and then back here to make them. She has hers with maple syrup (she is obsessed with Canada and all things Canadian) while we have whipped cream, sugar and lemon juice. Then she starts playing with a bag of milo tins, cakes of chocolate, cereal packets and so forth, all miniature; ninety items she says proudly, and some of them, eg the tins, you can take the lids off of. Bob doesn’t answer my text so, after breakfast, I call him up. No problemo, we have a brief chat then I say, see you Wednesday. No, he says, all serious. Not Wednesday. Tomorrow. I hang up wondering . . . tomorrow is Wednesday – isn’t it? Unable to solve this conundrum, I retreat to my study to write, Maggie sits next to me editing photographs on her computer and so the morning passes.
After I finish my writing I go out on to the deck for a smoke; there’s a chubby youngster down in the street whining into his mobile phone, I can’t help but hear that he’s talking to his mother, trying every form of emotional blackmail to get her to do whatever it is he wants her to do – probably come and pick him. I get more and more annoyed with his behaviour and in the end yell out: You shouldn’t talk to your mother like that! He gives me a furtive look and scuttles off up the street.
We’re due over at Cremorne at some stage, Ella’s going to be spending the night with her grandparents. They live in a penthouse in a building on busy Gerard Street and the lift up is mirrored in such a way that you see images of yourself and your companions regressing towards infinity. Once, in that lift, I saw the back of my head and realised the hair on top is thinning and ever since have found the progress to the thirteenth floor somehow analogous to the ascension to the scaffold. Though the trip down doesn’t bother me.
In the apartment I see a book on the table which I think is called The Arts and Crafts of Voodoo and I wonder what Ruth and John are doing with that. Later, sitting with a cup of tea and a bun and my glasses on, I realise it’s ‘Morocco’ not ‘Voodoo’. John shows me a picture of a rug and explains that they have one just like it and got the book from the library to try to learn more about its provenance. I leaf through at random and find this: A maallem is a poet who does not write on demand. He uses but the humblest of materials, for what is required is imagination, and imagination knows no enemy but time. It’s the epigraph to a chapter on, of all things, leather, wood and metal work.
On the way home M tells me that, in Canberra, she met a woman who told her why her favourite Moroccan restaurant, a place in Drummoyne where she used to work, and where we have dined a few times, has changed: one of the sons of the owners was in a nightclub, the police came looking for someone, a group of them fled, a shot was fired . . . he was killed. The family has never got over it; perhaps the father was involved in some kind of criminal dealings, gambling, who knows? And the son too became implicated. And the mother has not forgiven the father . . . like that. Police killings in NSW have a dread regularity and most look, in retrospect, like this one, entirely unnecessary.
Back at my place, it’s already 3 pm and we still haven’t made a start on the commentary for M’s film. I thought we were doing it together but M says no, you do it, I’ve got to start assembling the images. I spend a happy hour or so with it and, very pleased, print it out and give it to her. I’ll go shopping for dinner things while you read, I say, and off I go. When I come back she doesn’t say anything and, when I ask, tells me it’s useless, a waste of time, nothing like what I said I was going to do. This provokes a fairly robust reply from me and, in the ensuing fall-out, I learn she hasn’t read it at all! Just half the first page. Directors. It reminds me why I swore I’d never work in film again: they want something from you but they never know what it is, only what it isn’t . . .
After two further attempts and one bottle of wine, we have a version she’s happy with . . . I cook a pasta sauce garnished with basil from the pot on the balcony, we drink some more wine and try to watch one movie, then another, on DVD; but somehow both of them pass us by. Much later, in the dead of the night, I’m woken by the half-grown stray cat that’s been hanging around, screeching unearthly like a soul in torment. I’m alone in the bed and I can see, by the blue light coming from the sitting room, that M is poised over her computer, battling against the imagination’s only enemy. Her film has to be finished by Friday arvo at 4 pm.