My Sister Margot


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.

What Would You Do?

A few minutes ago a man approached me in a city street. He secured eye contact, moved in close,  closer, a craft securing its mooring.

I’m on the streets.

A lined face, folds of loose dark skin, lightly whiskered, serious. I recognised the approach; he’d be after money. I felt in my pocket for the two dollar coin, a lazy two dollars.

I’m looking for money for a room for the night. I need forty nine dollars.

This was something new. The quantum, specified. It rang true.

We held each other’s gaze. The man neither shrank nor dramatised himself. He added, The room is booked. I need to find the money, and something for a feed, some laundry…

After a pause I asked – unaccountably – How much is the room?

Eighty-nine dollars. I’ve got the rest.

Two dollars felt too lazy. I found a large note, handed it over.

The man looked at the note: God bless you, mate.

Exultation is

Exultation is 

The going out

Of an inland soul

To sea

The train leaves Southern Cross right on time at 7.10. No queueing, No Security. No fumes.

The price of a cup of coffee at Southern Cross does not amaze the buyer nor does the drink disgrace the bean. (The cup is of paper; you can’t have everything.) Once aboard, no safety sermons, no-one forbidding standing or moving about the cabin, no weight limits, no serpentine lines of tired, tense travellers with toddlers to repress.

How old fashioned this iron caravan. The carriage rolls, moving in its jazz rhythms forwards, side to side, moving as it did in the rides of childhood, in those long slow rides across time, across the wide, dry land, singing clickclack past silent mobs of kangaroo, putting to flight soundless pink-grey clouds of galah, slipping past indifferent cows looking at me in philosophic enquiry, rolling past stands of eucalypt, no two gumtrees the same, every one the same – whether elegant, smooth and pastel, or scarred, twisted and greygreen – every gum tree declaring I am Australia, I survive, I thrive, I endure, every gumtree bearing, proffering vital knowings.

Only the cabinet has changed. Gone is the sign requesting passengers not to use the appliance while the train is standing at the platform. A press of a button, an airliner’s hiss, and everything disappears without trace.

The twenty-first century city, where they’ve gone about as far as they can go, the city, with its looming concrete overpasses, its car-teeming freeways and tollways, its roar and bustle, its gouging, its uprooting, its foetid air and gritty, its smoking and choking, its babel towers rising up to the heavens, its pavements grey; this great, enfolding and alarming home to millions and to me; this violence, this violation, this nature denying, this horizon hiding, this coded mute cry, this city slips away. And I ride.

The ride beguiles. It seduces. It invites nostalgic romancings of the past, endless retrogression, convenient forgettings of how railways were themselves violators of countryside, the out of control, accelerating agency of dangerous change.

The train to Albury accelerates, exhilirates into the green.

And for all that nostalgia is malignant – 

acceleration is/the going out/of an inland soul/to sea

Past the houses, past the headland/to deep eternity…  

A nod to Yeats, a filching from Paterson and a bow and apology to Emily Dickenson.