May thirteen 1949 my sister emerged as the sun set and the sabbath arrived.
The doctor from the next town, nineteen miles distant, did not arrive – the Murrumbidgee had broken its banks and a sea separated Narranderra from our town of Leeton.
Dad was an accomplished accoucher. The other doctors in our town did not come up to his standards so Mum had to give birth to her firstborn and to me in the City. Third time around Dad had chosen that doctor in Narranderra – apparently he was competent enough to bring Dad’s children into the world.
But the waters held him distant.
So Dad delivered my parents’ third child, their first – and as it turned out – their only daughter.
She had red hair and she grew freckles, but my parents overlooked those abnormalities and rejoiced.
The baby’s name was Margot.
I look at the watercolour portrait of Margot that we grew up with and I see now she really was beautiful.
I could not see her beauty back then. She attached herself to her older brothers and wanted to go everywhere with them. One day when she was fifteen months old Dennis and I had urgent business at Iano’s Milk Bar. Margot, mother naked, wanted to come. We said no, closed the gate behind us and set off, ignoring her cries.
At Iano’s someone said: Is that little girl your sister?
Margot had run across wide Wade Avenue and chased us three hundred metres. Here she was, unclothed in her girl way, and embarrassing.
I said, I’ve never seen her before.
Margot grew taller and her golden hair grew longer. Eventually it hanged down to her freckled bum. The photographer from Melbourne Herald sighted all that flowing splendour and the photo appeared on the front page of the paper.
Margot married. In her innocence she was unaware her husband was a genius. She could not foresee how his talent would drain them from Australia to America where successive chairs in neuropsychopharmacology awaited his brains.
When Margot removed to New York our mother did the maths: a year was a twelvemonth; Mum had four children. Twelve divided by four equals three. Mum would spend three months of every twelve with Margot and the tribe she was creating in America.
Dad stayed at home and worked and missed his freckled girl.
In my novel, ‘Carrots and Jaffas’ I create a titian-haired woman with freckled, sinewy legs who lives by the Hudson in Riverdale, New York. She runs like the wind and never tires. She is good to her brother.
She’ll turn sixty-six this may thirteenth.