As I left my house this morning, my hand drifted up, as it often does on my leaving home, to touch the mezuzah on the doorpost. I kissed my fingers, as I often do, but this time quite consciously. I was visited by unexpected thoughts: I hope this house is still here when I return. Will I find my loved ones safe and well this evening?
Musing, I walked to the tram.
It’s December seventh today. Indelible date. A baby in my arms, born three months ago, named Aviva for the season. Small, pink, warm, her lips a rosebud. We return from a week in the wilderness, wife, the two older children and the baby, two days ago. Back at home the hot water tap runs cold. And stays cold. We call the plumber, he calls the electrician, he replaces the thermostat.
December seven I am up first. I go to wash for the dawn prayers; a clanking in the pipes, steam issuing from the hot tap. I think little of it. Back in the bedroom I remove the wedding ring that bears Annette’s inscription: ‘Howard, with love, Annette. I enfold myself in ritual gear and recite sleepy prayers. The family is up now. Annette sits in an armchair, breastfeeding springtime baby, while the three-year old and the five-year old sit and wait for Sesame Street. Kisses goodbye and I am off to work, leaving my wedding ring on the dressing table. The hands on the bedside clock point to 0745.
Work is busy, absorbing. Quickly I slip into country doctoring. Families, wives, children, snot, cut legs, bruised feelings, breaking hearts, then a phone call from our neighbour: ‘Howard, I think you’d better come up home. There’s been a small explosion.’ I know the neighbour, an excitable person. There’s no rush. I see a few more patients before a voice says ‘go home’. I do so.
It’s sunny and pleasant. The warmth beguiles me as I drive up the unmade road that twists and turns on the way to number 43, Deering Street.
I turn into the steep driveway. Ahead I see the carport, tall, stout, ugly. The carport is empty. To the left I see the brick walls of our home lying flat on the rough grass. Grey oblong bricks, Besser Bricks, they call them, I don’t know why. The wooden house frame hangs drunkenly, the roof sits skew-whiff above the frame. A moment of amazement. Then a warming, a drenching flood of relief. The carport is empty. No-one is home. Annette, the kids, they’re safe. We have lost a house but I have lost nothing.
In the hours that follow I trace Annette to her sister’s house and tell her. She has to drive, to arrive, to look, to sift through rubble before she understands the import of the excitable neighbour’s ‘small explosion.’ A mother has lost her children’s nest. Our son loses speech for the next six months. One goldfish has lost its life, the second survives in the millimetre of water that covers the floor next to the shattered fishbowl.
In the bedroom the bedside table is a shatter of toothpicks. Of my wedding ring, no trace. Ever.
margo sent this to me. very powerful and moving, as stories of gratitude always are
Good morning good blu
I sit here reading your most welcome note in a remote hamlet in the south Australian outback
Annette and our children are dotted around the holiday coast while I enjoy this deeply rewarding near-desert isolation
I shall send you a story about the town which subsists under sentence of death
I chanced upon Annie proulx’ account of here isolated house in Wyoming and recognised similar landscape and kindred deep joy in the silence
A relief from a too noisy life
My son in law and three grand boys will join me today
I cooked seasonal crepes. In anticipation
With warm thoughts to you and to Yitz
And thank you , margot
My heart was in my mouth Howard!
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To bring you up to date
The three children have acquired spouses
The total of offspring now numbers eleven
The surviving goldfish died
One child acquired aplastic anaemia – a fatal disease – and relinquished it
One parent acquired leukaemia and thought better of it
I started with one wife and one wedding ring
I am now wearing my third wedding ring and the same singular wife
The posterity continues to increase
I – we all – excepting the goldfish – have been blessed
And my son recovered the power of speech
But no-one noticed