Thursday, 27 March 2014

'Broadbeans' - A Short Story for Children

This is a short story I wrote for, The NSW School Magazine. Based on a true story, it covers the grief and confusion a child may experience when losing a grandparent.

Broad Beans
by Jane Bloomfield

Mum got the call one afternoon before school was out. Lucy and Ben had to wait with the next door neighbour. When she got home she held their hands too tightly and said, “Chester died this afternoon – I'm sorry.”
Chester – was our grandfather and the maker of swings and silly songs. He was also the grower of beans, all sorts of beans, most especially Broad Beans.
Over the next few days people kept bringing casseroles and lumps of meat. Lucy wondered who would eat them. She felt empty but she wasn't hungry. It must have been all those tears inside her.
“What's all that food for?” said Lucy to Gran, who was trying to stuff a piece of corned beef into the fridge.
“Darn it!” said Gran. She pushed her shoulder into the fridge door then slipped quietly onto the floor. Lucy curled into her lap and Gran gently rocked her, like she used to when she was a baby. They stayed like that for a while. Then, as if nothing had happened Gran scrambled up and said, “People always bring food at a time like this.”  
The next morning she overheard Gran saying; funeral and 1pm and church and wake at the cottage. When Ben yelled, “Luce, time for school,” his voice sounded different.
“I don't want to go,” said Lucy.
“We have to go,” said Ben. “Come on.”
Lucy let him drag her backwards down the path, while she kept an eye on more strangers arriving with plates.
At lunch, Lucy went to look for Ben. “Want your brother?” said a big boy swinging on the maypole. “He went home.”
The school bell rang the end of lunch. 1pm - church – funeral.   Ben must have gone without me. They've all gone without me. Everything became incredibly bright, as if the sun had pierced Lucy's eyes and was shining inside her head. The twirling maypole sprinkled white stars. A wild roar rang in her ears all the way home.
The little cottage was empty. They must be still at the church. Lucy crouched beside the grapefruit tree and waited. Soon cars started arriving. Men in dark suits and pale women in stiff dresses with matching hats filed in.
Chatting, laughing people spilled onto the front lawn. Gran handed around sandwiches and her Mum handed around drinks in crystal glasses. This must be the a-wake part – it's more like a party. Everyone was talking about the same thing, about Chester. They chinked their glasses for him. They said: “What a good joker he was” - “a real family man” - “loved his grandkids” -  “especially Lucy” - “a pity to bury him so young” - “I always hate the church bit” -  “poor bugger” ...
Lucy found it comforting listening to the grownups talk about Chester. But spying was wrong, so she made a run for it down the side of the house and hid behind the compost heap. The warm grass clippings sweated in the sun and gave off a strange musty odour - a bit like Chester's work socks used to.
          As the afternoon wore on she took shelter in the corrugated iron woodshed. Just as she'd settled into to her new hiding place she heard footsteps – and sobs. Ben appeared at the entrance of the shed and plonked himself down on the chopping block. His back was towards Lucy hidden in the shadows, his head hung in his hands.
Lucy had been so busy feeling sorry for herself; she hadn't thought what anyone else might be feeling. “Do you want to borrow this Ben?” she said, offering him her soggy hanky.
Ben jumped up. “What are you doing here? Why aren't you at school?”
“Why aren't you?” said Lucy.
“Because I'm older,” said Ben. “I guess.”
“Does that mean you don't get sad,” said Lucy.
“No,” said Ben, sucking in his tears and spitting into the dust.
“You're only ten,” said Lucy.
“I know,” said Ben.
As the last of the mourners left the cottage through the front door, Lucy and Ben appeared at the back, their faces smudged brown with dust and dried tears. The fronts of their shirts bulged with broad beans.
Gran was putting some leftovers into the fridge. “Any lemonade left, Gran, I'm really thirsty,” said Lucy.
“Yes dear. Hot day at school by the looks,” said Gran.
“Yep, really hot,” said Lucy. “Ben helped me pick some beans for Chester. I'd like to go and see him,” said Lucy.
“You mean see his grave, up at the cemetery?” said Gran.
“Yes, his grave. To say goodbye,” said Lucy.
At that moment Mum walked into the kitchen and hugged Lucy and Ben close.
            “We'd probably all like to say a quiet goodbye now, wouldn't we,” said Gran.
So Lucy and her Mum packed a bottle of lemonade and some leftover sandwiches into a wicker basket. While Ben helped Gran back out the Holden. Then they drove up the hill to the cemetery – as the sun set they scattered Chester's beans on the fresh mound of dirt. And said goodbye.
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Friday, 21 March 2014

My Perfect Mystery Weekend

We were at a birthday party, sitting at the head of the table, side by side. It was his turn to speak. About me. He said, we’re going to Sydney tomorrow.

I looked at my glass. And drank it.  

It’s a shopping trip, he said. But it wasn’t really. It was time alone. Together. Two souls co-joined by oceans for not much less than half a century. Away. Childfree.

More people spoke. About a blond I didn’t know. She sounded all looks and no substance. The girl next door. And later, I should have stood up and talked about your story. The story about your brother. It made me cry, I should have said…

We danced in the living room till late. Then got up and packed.

Then there we were. And there we weren’t.

We were in Sydney. At the Crown Plaza Coogee Beach (cuh-jee), with a balcony and beach view to the north. And a chip packet under the bed.

It was 60 hours.

Starting now. On a suburban beach with an enormous Lusi leftover swell. We watched foolhardy bodysurfers spear tackled by the dangerous shorebreak. It held them down and exfloliated them. Spat them out. We got in and out unscathed. There goes age and experience. 19 degrees of refreshing.

Night one - we ate room service, I had sword fish on cous cous with orange salad. He had the beef burger with beetroot. We were rocked asleep by the Tasman, at 8.30 local time. Tuckered out. Salt water dripped from his nose. 



We woke to a radiant sky. The water sparkled over the land. Sat outside café Barzura was like being inside a diamond. Princess cut. Pure brilliance. Sun rays reflected at every angle. Even off the man who appeared wet from the sea in his budgie smugglers and went upstairs to yoga at the Livingroom.

I should have ordered organic coconut water $5 but I had a skinny flat white instead and house muesli with berry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt. Then a postprandial stroll south along the cliffs. 

To the women and children only baths. McIvers. Put 20 cents in the box. Wear swimmers. A woman was doing downward dog on the steps. It was a crazy high-tide. To swim right then in that ocean filled pool would have been a dice with disaster.

Wait half an hour, said a damp woman, drying her folded flesh with a pink towel. I brought my husband in once. It was winter no one was here. He was dying to have a look.

Mine waved from the cliff above. 

We taxied to town. The H needed a wedding suit. She was the best sales girl. A visitor from Hawkes Bay. We got the pants, the Russian Blazer, the Russian blue pants that went with the blazer, a shirt and a belt. He looked hot. It was mix and match heaven. At Callibre, Third Floor, David Jones.

In the basement food hall, we bought half a kilo of king prawns, a huge juicy mango and grapes. And went back to our beach.

Night two - We ate in, with the back drop of hotel pool and golden blond beach beyond, serenaded by waves and an Irish song mix on Fox. It was St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, 2014. 

The tide turned. Life went on.

To another jewel encrusted seaside Barzura breakfast: banana porridge with sultanas and toasted coconut.  Then straight to the beach to sunbathe in a 10am Sydney autumn sun and a dip in the old briny. Bob. Both bobbing in the dying swell. On our backs, toes to the east. Smiling.

We had a lunch date at 12.30. 6 kilometres north at Bondi. We walked the coast. Past beaches and ocean pools and an imposing clifftop cemetery from: Coogee, to Clovelly, to Bronte, to Tamarama, arriving at Bondi on time. 

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. It was 28 degrees.

We were ushered to our window seat at, Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, with its uber cool ocean ambience and its waist to ceiling louvered windows, framing the surf break beyond.  Quietly we drank ice cold soda with a wedge of lime, as the fresh breeze dried the sweat on our backs.

We watched the roll of the ocean and the lap swimmers in the Icebergs ocean pool below. Then we ordered chargrilled tuna with cuttlefish, celery orange and pine nut salad. Prawns with pistachio and almond crust. And Bloody Marys; because we could. It was divine.

We talked about growing old. I don’t have a bucket list, I said. I think they’re dumb. I just want to do loads of good shit. 

Finding the perfect woman was the only thing on my bucket list, he said. 

We had our last swim back at Coogee. Almost towel to towel with other tourists at 3pm. Then we played tennis at our hotel, until the grip-less tennis racket made his palm raw. 

Night three: We hoofed it 15 minutes up the hill, inland to Randwick, home of the Art Deco cinema, The Ritz. And wall to wall eateries of every nationality.

We watched the Dallas Buyers Club. Not exactly old honeymooners fare perhaps, but a film that needs viewing all the same. It was still warm outside walking home in the dark.

We departed early the next morning. The beach was already covered with boot campers, surf lifesavers running drills and ocean swimmers in a dim morning light.

It was 60 hours in Coogee. Together. It was heaven.

NB. Ever since I tried to photograph a semi submerged hippopotamus in a greasy green river in Kenya while on safari in 1990, I've fancied myself an intrepid travel writer. You can read more cool travel tales on: #TravelTuesday
Happy travelling!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Aging Disgracefully As Best I Can

Ten years ago when I turned 40, there was a catchphrase doing the rounds:  ‘40 is The New 30’. It must have been dreamt up by an ad-man, who had not just weaned his third child, with a 2 year old and a 4 year old at foot. I did not feel like the hedonistic party girl that I was at 30 when I turned 40, I just felt knackered.

The people in charge must have realized, you cannot suddenly wipe ten years of aging from the human body, so no one is trying to tell me:  50 is The New 40.

Fifty is plain fifty.

I’ve watched friends freak out over this f-word. Almost take to their beds with an attack of the vapours at the mention of the word. Fifty. One clever friend has even coined the phrase, 40/10.

I’m sticking with Fifty. Fifty fifty fifty.

Truth be told, I haven’t been that bothered about turning 50. Let’s face it; the alternative’s not great. Instantly forgetting what the children have just told me and plucking half inch, albeit blond hairs, from my nasolabial-folds (laugh lines) doesn’t worry me too much. I have my health. My family. My friends.

It’s not having to buy face-cream, for the  last denoted age bracket that gets me, it’s the fact that I’m now IN that age bracket. I probably only have 15-20 good years left to get the job done. I have plans. Plans that require my fully functioning faculties.

Walking along the shores of Lake Wakatipu on Sunday with one of my besties, I had a light bulb moment. Well, it was more of a lightning strike.

I’d pictured all my girlfriends and I in the future. Our children would be at university, we’d be empty-nesters together. We’d be jolly, childless and carefree, relaxed in our skins, resigned with our craggy bits. Less critical. Less vain. Less ambitious. Content.

I pictured us, in back country huts in Fiordland. Drinking bladder wine after a knee-aching 54 kilometre/three day walk.  We’d be uniformly dressed in polar fleece and Icebreaker leggings with Katmandu easy dry shorts over the top. (Actually, Michelle F would be in Nom-D pantaloons and Caroline would be legging-less due to her hot-leg problem. And Sal would be at homing finishing a novel).

However, we’d be playing dare, truth or command, eating soggy almonds. Swapping hilarious tales we’d already told. Skinny dippy on sand-fly infested beaches. We’d be giggling like school girls till our stomachs hurt, us runaway carefree mums. At least twice a year.

‘But it won’t be like that,’ said Michelle T. ‘We’ll never all be at the same stage.’

I was so wrapped up imagining futuristic freeze dried tramper’s meals and good times; I hadn’t thought it through properly.

Because it won’t. We’ll always be slightly out of kilter. Most of us had our children in our mid to late thirties/early forties. As well as missing out on, Tramping for Old Bats, we’re likely to be old grandparents.

I did the math(s); if my children have their first child at the age I had them, I'll be 69, 73, and 77, respectively.  We had our twenties unlike our mothers. But I’m not sure now, who’s better off.

Soul searching and bucket list making aside, a post about turning FIFTY wouldn’t be complete without some helpful tips, so I did a little research and found:

11 Mistakes Women Make In Middle Age

I've added my own response under the sub headings:  Feel free to add yours. 

‘Not realizing You need to change’

**Done. Dusted. I’m ahead. See last week’s post. I wear smart clothes to town. I AM my Nana.

‘Not spending enough on your clothes’

**Not guilty. I’m buying quality made garments to last me to the END. See above.

‘Comparing yourself to you in your 20s’

**Why exhaust yourself telling your kids you were hot back then?

‘Skipping exercise’

**I love exercise. Sitting is working. Say no more.

 ‘Not getting enough sleep’

**Okay guilty. I haven’t been sleeping through.  It’s my darn cat bringing offerings at 3am, even if he is keeping the rodent population down, it’s making me look worse than usual in the morning.

‘Ignoring your teeth’

**Look, TBH I’ve thought of having orthodontic work to rein in my wandering pegs. Then, I envisaged the pain and looking like an old person with braces. Dental hygienist annually.

‘Overdoing anti-aging efforts’

**What like Goldie Hawn? I’m not at the I-need-a-facelift stage of my life yet. But I’d do anything to stave off marionette lines (Nana had them). Then I found Facercise – it obviously works, check out this smooth lady.

Thinking there are hair "rules"

**‘Mum, when are you getting your hair done?’ asked daughter 13, this am. ‘It’s looking really purple, and grey.’ (Nana again).  ‘This afternoon,’ I replied.’ ‘Get something modern and sexy,’ said the H.  No pressure.

To me there are no rules to joining Club 50, I’ll wear red lipstick even when I look like Robert Smith from the Cure.  And a bikini if I want to. To me getting old is not a drag. It’s time running out that is. 

So when you hit the magic number, gather your girlfriends and get walking, there are plenty of mountain passes to climb, just don't forget your tweezers.

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