Yesterday at the soccer, meandering back from the kiosk eating a bacon and egg roll, a ball that just missed the goal shot past me and into the bush behind . . . ancient, gnarled banksias, venerable paper barks, native cutty grass. In the act of retrieving it I stuck my head into the web of a St Andrew’s Cross spider – I think. Or it could have been a golden weaver (not illustrated; and, whichever it was, not dangerous). The sight of this fat arachnid, millimetres from my eyes, scrambling through the ruins of its city, nevertheless made me feel that involuntary lurch of fear in the pit of my stomach, the prickling of sweat in my palms and armpits, the urge to strike out or run . . .
I don’t as a rule mind spiders too much but this was the second time in a week I’d had one of these shocks. The other was early one morning when I was stumbling out to the deck for some reason and saw, by the door, a huntsman in the act of navigating from the wall onto the venetian blinds, which were shut. I saw this spider, in filmic terms, in ECU – extra close up – perhaps because I was barely awake, perhaps for some other reason; and the sight filled me with loathing. The hairy limbs, predatory mandibles, strangely articulated, bulbous body . . . I think I struck out at it but didn’t actually hit it. It retreated behind a small painting of Lion Island, by Peter Baka, that I have on the wall there, I pursued it ineffectually for a while then let it be.
Naturally, it’s still here . . . in the kitchen when I get up Sunday morning I see it crouched behind the stained, faux lace curtain and remember that such intruders are actually an asset, among other things they feed on the mosquitoes which, after all the rain we’ve had, are starting to cloud the humid evening air. One bit me on my little finger last night while I was sleeping. Ella is lying on the folded out sofa bed reading Judy Moody Saves The World, we make an omelette together (she prepares the mixture, I cook) and then I start on the hash browns, the bacon, the scrambled eggs. The lure of breakfast gets Jesse out of bed before midday for once and, afterwards, he surprises me by saying he’ll come for a swim . . . hasn’t done that without cajoling for ages.
Leaving Maggie bent over her camera, photographing stones, we drive in the direction of Ashfield Pool but on the corner of Victoria St and Liverpool Rd are stopped by police (one in a lime green unmarked hoon’s car) and have to wait ten minutes while an Anzac Day parade goes by. It’s led by a brass band and tailed by a pipe band, includes two or three WW2 jeeps and the usual collection of lumpy-bodied old soldiers most of whom, I think, must have been from the wars of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s . . . though I can’t actually recall where, and against whom, the Aussies might have been fighting in the 1980s. I’m also unclear if this is a rehearsal for Wednesday or the real thing but guess it doesn’t matter.
At the pool which, like most Sydney pools, is a complex with several options (Olympic pool, polo pool, kid’s pool, indoor pool) there’s a surprising number of people lapping up and down so we do our splashing and ducking and talking in the side lane reserved for recreational walkers or some such. Despite, or because of, the age difference (six years) Jesse and Ella have always got on well and they play happily together while I do my customary hesitation at water’s edge before diving in at the deep end and swimming a couple of laps freestyle just to prove I can still do it; I’m not going to attempt my usual 20 (1 kilometre) today though I’m quite sure, despite the smoking, that I’d be able to complete them. After our dust-up yesterday Jess is clearly making an effort to engage and we have a good long chat, in the water and out, about matters past, present and future.
Back home I look at the photos, which Maggie has already installed on my laptop but, despite the use of a better camera, they don’t seem to have quite the resonance of those from the first session – maybe she was a bit rushed? Maybe her night of broken sleep, during which she was obsessing over a poem about fig trees she’s writing, has had an effect? Anyway, we have plenty of time, she’s going to take them back and look at them on her big Mac.
And then, in a whirl, she announces she’s going, she has to be in Newcastle for the opening screening of the Film Society there, it’s the Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about painted Chauvet Cave in France, I’m envious but can’t go. Jesse decides to catch the 1.28 from Strathfield as well, so I drive them all up and we get there just as the train’s pulling in . . . and suddenly they’re gone. I come home to an empty flat, feeling a bit lonesome, and apply myself to picking up the various threads of my writing until Garth calls from Armidale to say he’s coming down in a couple of weeks and would like to catch up. Also that he’s finally turfed out his dysfunctional flatmate so that if I want to go up there sometime, there’s a bed, I’m welcome.
Garth, from Taumarunui, is an ex-cab driver whom I met when I started driving for Bob all those years ago now. He’s older than me and used to drive full-time, had done so for twenty years . . . it was taking its toll upon him, he was burning out. He left the job at one point and went to live in the Blue Mountains but that didn’t work out and he came back, moving into a boarding house in Summer Hill, not far from here, and seemed gradually to be falling into dereliction – psychological, not economic or physical. Some of the stories he told me about boarding house life were hair-raising; he reached his nadir when the mattress factory on the corner burned down. So he bought an ex-taxi for $1500 off Bob and, a couple of years ago now, took off for Armidale, where he has established a whole new life for himself as a youth worker. Much happier, much more fulfilled.
Anyway, he’s calling on a landline not, as he usually does, on his mobile, which means we’re able to have a proper conversation; and after a good old natter I’m feeling better too. We hang up and I go back to talking to spiders . . .