All morning I struggle with my story. It is hopeless; I am hopeless: how could I even think that I could write? (You know the stuff!) Then I remember that a long walk always helps: I will walk to the wild beach behind the dunes.
Today there are workmen everywhere. Graders, trucks and excavators block the street. The pier has been damaged by months of mountainous waves, the beach destroyed, the sand all washed away. I could cry! Of course it’s climate change. But it’s also because the powers-that-be have dredged the shipping channels so that bigger ships can carry bigger containers to every corner of the world. When will we ever learn?
I pass a posh person’s house—think Newport, Rhode Island—think BIG! There are enough bricks in the front fence and sweeping drive to build houses for an entire boat load of asylum seekers. I think of our Government and Opposition pandering to Australia’s underbelly of bigotry and racism. I am SO ashamed!
Fifty years ago, my husband escaped from Communist Poland in a sailing kayak and was given refuge in Sweden. He was not dumped out of sight in a desert camp, not detained on offshore islands for years on end, not sent back to face the terror from which he’d fled. He was applauded for his courage. He was treated with dignity and respect. Don’t get me started!
I come to Oleander Cottage. It is the cutest house I’ve ever seen. I’m sure the owners are not racist bigots or posh people. I think of my grandmother who said: ‘Never flaunt your wealth.’ Now I am a grandmother, it is my greatest joy. (And how I flaunt it—though never to my grandchild-less friends.)
I wonder if I’ve said anything my grandson might remember when he is older. Like, ‘Ignore the cult of celebrity. Celebrate yourself.’ Or, ‘Remember you are precious. It will make you strong.’ Perhaps ‘I love you’ is enough.
Still my story toils and troubles in my head. What happens next? And can I do it? And what if I can’t? And who do I think I am? Shakespeare? Steinbeck? If only!
Then I see a flame tree coming into bloom, its brilliant buds tipping the bare branches like exotic birds. Further on a massive ginger plant is covered in tight-pressed seed pods. And they too are RED. But there is more! Those scrubby trees edging the road are dense with bunches of red berries; they hang like decorations on a Christmas tree. Then I remember the red hot pokers on the cliff, thrusting their bold red spears into the morning air. All this RED in winter when the sky is grey and the trees are bare! How wonderful is Nature. How bountiful. How rare.
Closer to the sea, the wind is wild and woolly. It whips my face, stings my eyes and flattens my hair against my skull. The lone gull circling overhead must have the best view of my grey roots. Again I wonder: Should I let it all go grey? The time and money I would save! But vanity is thy middle name. Who would I become? A more authentic me? Or a stranger to myself? And my clothes? No more gorgeous purples, browns and burgundy reds. I would be someone who wears lilac, black and silver grey. No way! I am not ready to go grey! Not yet.
And here at last the sea, rolling in from Antarctica, icy cold, winter green, crashing onto the shore with an agonising roar before foaming up the beach. Yet there is a moment when it sinks back to eddy in the shallows—a moment before it is swallowed by the next devouring wave—when it churns a delicious whipped-cream white. It reminds me of pavlova mix, my favourite dessert—all that sugar floss meringue and whipped cream. Tonight I will make one as a special treat. I walk on, separating egg whites in my head, adding drifts of caster sugar, mixing, mixing.
Twenty-five years ago I used to run along this beach with my husband-to-be. We were so-o-o-o in love. We still are. Don’t think it’s all been easy. Love never is. Once I ran a marathon and he ran me in the last 12K: without him I might not have finished. Without him there is much that I would not have done, that’s the power of love. Now my legs refuse to run marathons. Now I walk and think. Thinking is my favourite thing.
Far ahead I see another walker on the beach. Closer, he shapes into a man wearing a black hoodie. He looks like a Hooded Plover, the skittish little bird that flitters about the beach on stick thin legs. A nearby sign tells me they are a protected species, close to extinction, and their eggs are speckled grey and brown to blend with the grainy sand. I am careful where I step. It is several months before the breeding season gets underway but perhaps there is a mother plover eager to begin.
Closer still, I see the man has a metal detector in his hand and he is sounding the sand like a blind man with a stick. What buried treasure is he hoping to find on this deserted beach? In the middle of winter? Gold coins? A lost diamond ring? Silly man. The treasure is all around him. This giant scoop of southern sky. This frilled feather in my hand. This piece of driftwood, wave worn smooth and faded duck egg blue. This red (yes, red!) cargo ship on the horizon making its motionless way to Tasmania. These are the treasures I will take home.
Back on the road, I meet a young man at the gate of a posh house with his toddler daughter. They are Indian Australian. He wears a blue turban and black beard. She wears a fuzzy pink cap and red gum boots on little feet. She is very cross about some toddler thing. She stamps her red gum-booted foot and bellows at her father. He tries not to laugh. I do too. She is adorable. I wonder how long they have been living in Australia. Did they come by boat or plane? Do they own the posh house? Or are they visitors?
Slowly, suddenly, I become red-faced angry with myself. What is all this stuff about posh people? This black and white? This either or? Of course posh people are the same wobbly, frightened, fragile, terrified-of-dying, sort of people as ME. (With expensive toys to distract them from the ultimate holiday in the sky.) Of course my prejudices about posh people are really about ME. About my fears. (Of poverty. Of losing everything. As my father did.) And isn’t that the truth? Isn’t fear the truth behind every prejudice?
I am almost home. I will bake my pavlova and fill it with strawberries and cream. Soon my loved one will come from the city with fresh fish for dinner. We will walk on the pier which has been miraculously repaired. Thank you workmen! After dinner we will cuddle on the couch and watch Miss Marple on TV.
Tomorrow I will know where my story goes.