I last said goodbye amidst a symphony of umbers, that time when strangers on trams turn to each other and say, “Well, at least in Melbourne you get seasons”. When new mothers jog around the park with prams in their outstretched arms and the movement makes it look they’re trying to pull their children in closer and push them away at the same time. All the while leaves fall.
It was a turban autumn, a few days after I noticed my hair was falling out in clumps. Seemed a sigh of wind was enough to pull each strand from its root so I put on the hat and the dress to go with it. Mum made both of them for herself almost three decades ago. Arrived too early for my doctor’s appointment so I went for a walk.
Sat in the park and phoned my nieces and nephews to say goodbye. Tried to explain what Turkey was, that it’s far away and has wonderful food. “So it’s like Mexico?” they asked. Mexico is the only other country they’ve ever been to. “I guess it’s sort of like Mexico.” Everywhere else is sort of like Mexico if the only other place you’ve been to is Mexico.
Another aunt long ago. My great-aunt Daphne, unmarried, independent, a traveller. On Christmas morning in 1953 my grandma got a phone call from Tangiwai, New Zealand. A bridge had collapsed, 151 dead, everywhere darkness and mud. On the last day of the year the Canberra Times reported Daphne’s body had been found.
An Australian woman was identified to-day. She was 32, of a Sydney address not known here.
Killed on Christmas Eve in a foreign country, back when today still had a hyphen.
Today—one word now, no hyphen, no space. Closed up. Progress. It was Easter when I left, kids on school holidays, smiling dads in leather jackets pinned with Anzac Day poppies bright as death, chim chim che-ree clouds swept up by sooty sunshine; lacunas of sky. And Mum’s turban so I could be my own fortune teller. Clinging tightly to pages and pages of medical test results but not to stop them from blowing away.
Fifty-eight sad Christmases in a row. The leaf-yellow newspaper pages stuck into grandma’s ancient scrapbook; they’ll fall out eventually too. An aunt who didn’t get to say goodbye, a train hurtling forward, a disappearing track. A disappearing hyphen like a bridge, closing everything up, a reminder that time and distance are the same thing, that shortening and lengthening is the same thing.
Always wondering why words need so much time, wishing it could be easier to see the long and slow journey they have to make to become what they are today, for example a word like thank you, a word like thank-you, a word like thankyou.