I jumped in the taxi out the front of the Edinburgh Castle Hotel in Sydney Rd, Melbourne. Although I would have been happy to walk home, the rain was steady and had been for long enough for a taxi to be the better idea.
Usually I am one to try and engage taxi drivers in conversation - or research for new songs as I see it.
On this occasion, for some reason, I was not in a research kind of mood. I did however remember this taxi driver as he had picked me up several years before from the The Cornish Arms Hotel, also in Sydney Rd, Melbourne.
I remembered him because just like the first time he had picked me up he had a long thin strip of brown leather wrapped around and around his left forearm and part of his hand. Like all those years before he was still wearing it.
I don’t remember if we talked the first time he picked me up. But I remember wondering on the earlier trip why he might have had the leather wrapped around his arm like he did. The only theory that I could come up with was that it might have been protection against a knife-wielding robber - similar to what a Roman Gladiator might use in battle. I remembered from the previous ride that it had taken the whole trip to come up with this theory and so for this trip home I didn’t need to worry about theories.
As I said, I usually like to talk to taxi drivers. When Melbourne started to get a lot of taxi drivers from India, I would ask them whereabouts in India they were from. I thought if I asked the question enough I might find one that knew of the place in Northern India where my brother Robert had got washed away forever down the Ganges River. None of them had ever been to the one place in the world I hated; but every one of them that asked why I was interested in this place said they were sorry about my brother but that the Ganges was a holy river to die in.
This driver though, was a Greek taxi driver. He was a talker and interested in Numerology. I looked out the window and rolled my eyes; and just as if he had felt the presence of a sceptic in his cab, he rose to the challenge.
He asked me all kinds of questions that were related to numbers - birthdate, how many siblings, what I did for work and how long I’d been doing it for etc, etc.
Now, once upon a time, I would always answer the work question with, “Musician”. But I had long since avoided that answer because of the follow up questions that always went like this: “Really, that’s cool, what band are you in”? Answer: “I just go by my own name”. Follow up question: “Really, what’s your name then”? I’d say my name and because they had never heard of me there were no more follow up questions and the subject quickly got changed.
So this taxi driver has no idea I’m a musician with day job. All he finds out is I have a proper job and how long I’ve been proper for.
He asked many more questions to work his equations out and finally arrives at my house. I check the fare on the meter and pull the money from my wallet to give to him. I try to hand him the cash but he’s looking out through the windscreen with his eyes fixed on something that I can’t see at the end of the cars headlights beam.
He continues to stare on up the road at nothing in particular then finally turns, looks hard at me and says that something is wrong with the numbers.
“Really”, I say, while opening the car door, and still waiting for him to take the money.
Finally, almost as if he’s forgotten where he is and why I’m trying to hand him money, he shakes his head, takes the cash, and then says, “It doesn’t make sense, the numbers say you were meant to be a musician”.
This time I was working underground - below the Southern Cross Hotel, parking cars. Apart from the car fumes, which at times I thought was affecting my singing voice, I liked this job as I sometimes got to drive fancy cars and meet interesting people. I’ve driven a Ferrari and a Rolls Royce, though crawling around a carpark in first gear is hardly driving.
I met Australian actress Jackie Weaver, who at the time was married to Derryn Hinch. He owned the Rolls. She was lovely and didn’t speak down to me like some did. Another time it was Andrew Peacock who I didn’t get to talk to as he couldn’t string two words together and struggled to walk straight. He and his wife had been to a function upstairs in the Hotel where the Liberal party often partied. Can’t remember her name but she was lovely to.
What I liked most about the carpark was the acoustics. So sometimes when I thought there was no one else around I would sing. One day a lady walked up behind me as I was singing and as I took a breath she asked me what I was doing working in a carpark with that singing voice. I turned around and shrugged my shoulders, so she offered me a job on her farm somewhere in the outback of NSW. "Be cleaner air for your voice," she said. She asked me if I could ride a horse. I thanked her for the offer but said I couldn’t ride. "No matter," she said, "we’ll teach you." I thought it would be good to know how to ride a horse, thanked her for the job offer, then said I wanted to pursue my music career and that it would be a bit difficult to do that in the middle of nowhere. She asked if I was sure. I said I was. She wished me luck and drove off.
Then one day a little red Renault sped down through the entrance to the carpark and a girl with beautiful long dark curly hair jumped out and asked me if I could park her car as she was running late for work. This happened often, but never before had the car been driven by someone like this. I stood by the open car door and watched her walk hurriedly towards the lift. Whether she sensed I was watching her, or whether she wondered why she couldn’t hear her car being moved straight away I don’t know; but this girl with the long dark curly hair looked back over her shoulder, smiled, walked into the lift and then stood facing me, still smiling as the doors of the lift closed.
I took as many shifts as I could just to see Deborah again. She would speed down the driveway entrance to the carpark and I’d be there at her usual arrival time. I’d try to avoid any other customers, even if they wanted their Ferrari or Rolls Royce parked, just so I could walk her to the lift or park her little red Renault if she was running late for work. Later in the day, sometimes if I was lucky enough to not be busy elsewhere in the carpark, I’d make sure I was in the vicinity of the lift. Sometimes the doors opened and she would be there smiling and I’d walk her back to her car. We’d walk slowly and talk. She didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get home. Sometimes I’d pretend to forget where I had put her car just to make the walk last longer, but this didn’t seem to bother her. Eventually I would see the car and think that she would surely have seen it to; but never did she say so. I got it in my head that these walks were heading somewhere.
After a week and half, her smile, the warmth in her words and the look in those dark eyes made me do something stupid. I parked her car, then ran up onto the street and bought a single long stemmed red rose, hid it under my work coat so my workmates wouldn’t see it and placed it on the passenger seat for her to find when she returned.
Every day since Deborah had begun parking her car at the Southern Cross Hotel had become special. But what I hadn’t realised when I bought the rose, was that this particular day of the year was so special they would call it Valentines Day.
Here I was, thinking my sprint across the street through speeding traffic to the florist and back, then placing a rose on a car seat was the most romantic, original and clever way to give a girl a flower. But obviously, this clumsy heart hadn’t noticed all the shiny inflated hearts on the end of plastic stems that must have filled the florist.
It wasn’t until later in the day and after seeing too many women coming back to get their cars carrying flowers that I twigged. I decided I wasn’t going to give a flower to a girl on the same day that millions of girls around the world are given a flower. Deborah would get a flower on a day when she least expected it - and not on a day love and affection had become crass and commercialised. I’d wait until Valentines Day had faded and been forgotten - a few days at least.
Anyway, it was way too early for this kind of madness. Some may say it’s never too early for this kind of madness, but I raced towards her car hoping she would not come out of the lift before it was too late. I made it in time and the secret rose was hidden under my work coat again. Casually, I walked to a rubbish bin, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then gently placed the red rose in the bin. I’m glad flowers don’t have feelings, but it did look a bit sad and neglected lying there wasted amongst the rubbish.
Even though I’d managed to avoid what I thought would have been a mistake, when Deborah walked out of the lift and up to me she seemed to be searching for something in my eyes which made me nervous. Surely she couldn’t know about the rose, I told myself. We walked to her car as usual but we didn’t say much. She seemed to be angry about something. I can’t remember what I said but I tried to make her laugh. Instead of laughing she stopped, looked straight at me, and rebuked me for not taking life seriously. I wasn’t sure what she meant by this and should have just asked her what was wrong. But stupid as stupid is, I tried to read a woman’s mind. I then said something about trying to create a little levity whenever it was needed and she smiled a little as she got into her car, put her bag on the passenger seat where the rose had been, and drove off.
The next couple of days there was no little Red Renault speeding down the entrance to the carpark. On the third day I was about to ask my boss to give some of my shifts to others when the familiar squeal of her tyres echoed through the carpark. She was running very late for work again, got out of her car, rushed past me and said we’d have to talk later.
While thinking about the discarded rose, I worked my whole shift rehearsing the simple words, “Would you like to have a coffee with me?” Over and over and over, trying to get it right.
I managed to time everything perfectly - avoiding all other customers to be near the lift as she emerged. We got to her car and as she opened the car door I asked her out for coffee.
Deborah turned around and asked, ”Are you Jewish?”
I wasn’t prepared for this question and my heart hit the oil-stained floor of the carpark hard, leaving anger and sadness in its place.
I’d met a beautiful, funny and intelligent woman with long dark curly hair who was serious about life, but who was chained to tradition.
I disguised my anger and sadness and replied, “I don’t know." Frustrated, she asked angrily, “What do you mean you don’t know? Where are your parents from?” I could tell that this would be our last conversation, but continued to betray my Anglo/Celtic ancestry and answered, “History goes back a long way Deborah, you never know”. She said sorry, quickly got into her car, and disappeared. I often wondered where she parked her car after that.
It is sometime in 1992. I’m in Studio 2 at Platinum Studios in Melbourne finishing Slow Runners—my first proper studio album. We had already recorded the drums and bass months earlier at Periscope Studios, also in Melbourne, and would need only a few days to add everything else and mix it. I would much rather have been in Studio 1 but it was far too expensive for my budget. I’d saved just enough for these few days in Studio 2, organised the engineer and other musicians then booked annual leave from my real job.
A couple of days in and everything is going to plan. We are now in the middle of mixing and my dream of having a proper recording is almost realised. I’m constantly aware though that in a few days time my annual leave will be over and I’ll be back in the real world and my day job.
Then the engineer gets called out of the studio and is gone for some time. While I’m waiting for him to return, through the control room door I see all these beautiful flowers being delivered. I poke my head out and see bowls being filled with all kinds of delicious looking fruits and placed within reach no matter where one might be standing.
Still waiting for the engineer to return I sit down between the speakers and desperately want to continue listening to the song that has been interrupted. I wait, and wait, and wait. I start to wonder about the flowers and fruit. I’ve been here for a couple of days, we’re almost finished, and all of a sudden the place is being fancied up.
Finally the engineer returns and tells me Prince is in town and has booked the studio. I don’t even have time to think about the possibility of meeting the man when the engineer says that when the studio gets the call that Prince is on his way we have to leave immediately!
I protest in the strongest possible way—I’ve taken annual leave to do this, I have a launch booked, and everyone’s got it in their diaries. I have to finish Slow Runners!
I promise that I won’t go anywhere near Studio 1 or touch the fruit or look at the flowers. The engineer reminds me that Prince has booked the whole building and there is no chance I’ll be allowed to stay once the call comes through. I said, they’ll have to drag me out and he says, they will.
I walk out of Studio 2 into the now turned florist shop to remonstrate with the studio manager, but he is nowhere to be found. I imagine he is probably out trying to source a purple coloured SSL mixing desk to replace the existing SSL mixing desk in Studio 1. Instead of the studio manager, I find the receptionist. For the last few days she has shown up to work looking like she has just got out of bed wearing the same clothes she slept in. But now she is looking much different. I can’t see what is covering the bottom half of her body because the desk she is sitting behind obscures the view. But the suit jacket she is wearing is all that appears to be covering her upper body. As ever, I’m distracted by a woman’s beauty and forget all about remonstrating and ask her what has happened to the rest of her clothes. She trembles nervously and says unconvincingly that she has spilled coffee down her front and the suit jacket was all she could find.
I walk back into Studio 2, tail between my legs and think about the power Prince has over us mere mortals. We get back to work trying to finish mixing with the shadow of Prince and the imminent eviction lurking. I think about how many times I had played the guitar intro to the song we’re mixing, trying to get it perfect and it’s still not good enough. I can’t focus on it anyway as I can’t get Prince’s feeble, but perfect guitar intro to track 5 on the second disc of his 1987 double album Sign Of The Times out of my head. I’d always loved it.
The call to say Prince was on his way never came.
Thanks for the songs, the fruit and the flowers sir! Oh, and thank you for the “spilled coffee” down the front of the receptionist’s top. She made herself look real pretty for you.
Originally Published 22.4.16
Spent a day and a night in the Malvern Police station cells years ago.
Not the first or last time I would sleep with one filthy blanket on an even filthier steel bench with a stainless steel toilet pretending to be another piece of furniture.
I was there because I didn’t have the money to pay some fines. So quite rightly I refused to pay the fines. Stupidly or not, I also still retained my youthful defiance, fuelled by an accurate or inaccurate belief that the fines were unjust.
I also had some gigs coming up. So, just in case the police came for me with a warrant or picked me up randomly and saw that my name was on the blue-coloured list of the defiant - I’d checked my diary, made sure the gigs were far off, then handed myself in. I might have missed the gigs otherwise.
I got to share a cell with a nice bloke.
Of course, initially, I wasn’t sure if he was a nice bloke, as we had to get to know each other first. We had time. Small talk from me - grunts from him.
I eventually won his trust when the copper on duty came to our cell to give this bloke, my cellmate, a cigarette. He’d been politely yelling out for hours to get a smoke but had been rudely ignored. But the new copper on the new shift finally relented, came down from the watch house, reached through the bars of the cell door and let him take two smokes from a cigarette packet. I had given up the smokes by this stage but the cop, not knowing this, turned to me and offered the open cigarette packet to me as well. I accepted and slowly drew from the packet twice as many smokes as my cellmate had taken.
Mr. Plod said nothing about my greediness, but my cellmate shot me a deadly glance and said, “Go easy!”
You see the smokes belonged to him. He must have had them on him when he’d been arrested. We weren’t allowed to keep the lighter so Mr. Plod offered a light to the owner of what would be six chain-smoked cigarettes, and then departed back to the watch house. Once Mr. Plod had gone I handed my ill-gotten smokes to my cellmate and told him I didn’t smoke anymore. He smiled. Apart from the bonus of getting extra smokes, he was sharing a cell with someone prepared to trick a policeman.
He stopped grunting and we got talking.
Like my old man, my new friend was an electrician - when he wasn’t locked up.
Amongst other things electricity related, we talked about crawling under houses and inside ceilings laying wire.
I never wanted to go to work with Dad. But he couldn’t tolerate me staying at home, “wasting your life playing that blasted guitar”, while he had to go to work.
So with no say in it all, like my two brothers before me, and the two after me, I found myself crawling under houses and in ceilings.
With hindsight I now know that it had nothing to do with wasting my time playing the “blasted guitar”.
It was all about him having had enough of years crawling through dark, spider webbed infested, filthy, cramped cavities; and anyway, why would you do it when you had a son to do it instead.
To be fair though - the old man never let us do anything dangerous until we had learned how to do it safely.
I told my cellmate how Dad nearly got killed once when the mains power blew the tip off his favourite big screwdriver. Dad had pushed the screwdriver down the back of a dodgy switchboard, attempting to lever older wires out of the way to make room for a new wire that we had installed to get electricity to a newly built granny flat at the back of the house. His screwdriver must have touched the live bare mains wire that shouldn’t have been bare. Like I said, dodgy. Nothing is out of sight, out of mind when 240 volts is involved.
I heard the bang from where I was working in the granny flat at the rear of the property, ran around to the front of the main house where Dad was standing in a haze of smoke, staring at the burnt, blackened, smouldering and now mangled tip of his favourite big screwdriver.
He’d always had a good tan, but he was quite pale for a few minutes.
After he’d regained his colour and composure and had stopped laughing crazily, like you do when you’ve just narrowly missed the last appointment you’ll ever keep, he showed me, just as any good teacher should, exactly how to feed a new wire into the back of a switchboard - especially a switchboard that you hadn’t wired up yourself and therefore couldn’t trust.
You do it like this. No other way but this, even if you ruin your favourite screwdriver in the process.
My cellmate said, “Your Dad’s a smart man”.
We also talked about real jail time in a real jail, as he had done, as opposed to this present inconvenient and temporary loss of freedom.
He thought it was a bit weak of me for handing myself into the coppers instead of getting arrested properly - but agreed that missing gigs would have been worse.
I asked him if you were allowed to have a guitar in a real jail and he said yes.
But then added that most likely someone would eventually take it off me or smash it into pieces just to put me in my place.
I said that surely if I was friendly and didn’t piss anyone off that they’d leave my guitar and me alone. But he insisted that someone would do as he’d said. They play games he said - either the screws will or the other prisoners will.
I remember briefly thinking about my main fear I’ve always had about real jail.
I hadn’t seen Shawshank Redemption the movie yet, because it was still 10 years away into the future, but I had certainly heard about the things that can happen to you. Scary things.
I then found myself thinking long and hard about which of my guitars I would have to choose and possibly sacrifice if I happened to end up somewhere worse than the Malvern Police Station cells. Which precious guitar? I couldn’t choose back then. Still couldn’t.
We were released at the same time the next day, shook hands and walked off in very different directions. I hadn’t walked far when a dark green, white roofed, 1968 HK Holden sedan pulled up beside me. My new friend was sitting in the front passenger seat. He leaned out the window and told me to jump in…. “Get in, we’ll give you a lift home”.
I hesitated momentarily - thinking I might be embarking on a proper life of crime. But he just wanted to give me a lift home and introduce me to his wife, who was driving, and their three little kids that were bouncing around on the back seat.
No talk of our next job - just a lift home. I never saw him again, but a few years later I did end up owning a red ’68 HK Holden sedan with a white roof. It was serendipitous at first until it turned out to be just another shit heap.
Originally published 9.1.16
I lived across the street from Kath.
Kath always smiled at me even though I’m not sure how much of me she could see.
If I came across her walking down the street I was always the first to say hello. I’ll never know if she was half blind and might have walked on by without noticing me, because, as I said, I always said hello first and she would stop and have a proper conversation - smiling as she listened to me, smiling while she talked.
I only ever saw Kath in a blue coat and a nightie - blue coat in the street and nightie inside her house, as it should be I suppose.
I would see her on the footpath coming toward me in her blue coat.
For some reason Kath walked in angles - zig zag like.
She would start on one side of the footpath and slowly walk a diagonal, straight line, to the other side of the footpath. Then, when there was no further to go but into the gutter, she would hesitate, point herself straight, start walking again, but then head back in another diagonal straight line to the other side of the footpath, until a fence or a shop-front got in the way – always moving forward but not directly.
Kath would tilt slightly to the side as well with her head leaning forward. This gave the impression she was being blown along by the wind; but it was actually more like watching a yacht tack into a headwind.
As well as bad eyesight, I think Kath had a balance problem - but we never talked about it because she didn’t seem to mind that she looked like a yacht tacking into the wind when she walked.
Other people in the street were careful to manoeuvre around her as she walked across their path, seemingly unaware of their presence. If she were tacking like a yacht on the footpath these days, the same people would probably be on a mobile phone, not notice her, trip her up and snap her mast, or hip.
Kath’s blue coat was always a bit grubby around the cuffs, but she didn’t mind that either. I occasionally did some weeding for her because it never occurred to me to offer to wash the cuffs of her coat. Kath probably never noticed that her cuffs were grubby anyway. But then again, if I was right about her eyesight, she probably never noticed that her garden needed weeding either. I guess even if she couldn’t see the weeds Kath knew that weeds always grow and should be pulled out, whereas dirty cuffs are not a forgone conclusion when wearing a coat.
I saw Kath in her nightie too.
I would get home late at night after a gig and Kath’s front door was often wide open. I’d unload my guitars, amplifier and other gear from my HD Holden panel van that had been a Paddy Wagon in a former life, carry it all into the house, then walk across to Kath’s house. I’d knock on the open door and check to make sure she was ok. Then, when satisfied she was ok, I’d say goodnight, close her front door and go home.
Most of these times she was in her bed in the front room, right next to the front door. She was always still awake. Kath would say “Yes I’m fine”, then say goodnight to me, and that would be that.
Sometimes though, Kath would be in the lounge room deep in the innards of the house. Her voice was faint from there so I would walk up the passageway just to be sure, find her staring at the gas fire and then lock the front door as usual when I left.
Occasionally Kath would ask me to make us a cup of tea and we would sit by the gas fire in the lounge room and have our proper talks.
We had many cups of tea, but I only remember one conversation, and it never explained why she was always smiling.
I had wanted to ask her one question many times before but hadn’t. But this time, I did. I asked Kath if she had ever been married. Kath said, “No, never married”.
I thought it was a bit rude to be asking my elderly neighbour these kind of questions but ploughed on because it was 3am in the morning, a proper conversation, and anyway, I had watched her tack in the wind, always said hello first, noticed her dirty cuffs, weeded her garden and still hadn’t gotten a song out of any of it.
So, I asked her if there had ever been anyone.
Kath held her outstretched hands toward the gas fire, smiling as usual, and said that there had been a man once.
She whispered it slowly in a way that made me feel that I was the first person in the world to ever know this and that I wasn’t to tell anyone else. But it was probably more likely that most of the people she had ever known in her long life who knew about this had since died. What was not really a secret just wasn’t remembered by anyone anymore.
Only Kath remembered.
I asked Kath what his name was. She said, “Paul”.
I had never doubted Kath’s memory, but at the time I was sharing a house with a fella named Paul. I suddenly thought, after all the times I had checked on her and all the weeding I had done, that this long-gone man, whom she had never married, named Paul, had somehow morphed into my housemate. To my knowledge he had never noticed her front door was open in the middle of the night and checked on her. I wanted to ask Kath if she was sure his name was Paul, but of course I didn’t.
Instead, I asked her what happened to her Paul. Kath answered, “He was killed in the war”.
Before I could ask another impertinent question, Kath added, “There was no one else.”
We both stretched our hands out toward the gas fire and sat there in silence for a long time. I was thinking Kath could see her one and only, long-gone, young man’s face in the gas flame, and I didn’t want to stop what I thought she was seeing. So I said nothing. I didn’t want her to stop smiling.
I did however sneak a look around the semi dark room for any old photos that would have looked similar to the professionally taken photo I’d seen of my baby-faced father dressed in khaki; but if there was one in the house it wasn’t in this room.
Eventually though, and even with the long silence we had just shared and the sheer truth that I’d certainly had long enough to find the right words - as always - I say something stupid.
I was thinking about the enemy in the war that had killed her Paul and said, “Why does there have to be bad people in the world?”
I didn’t expect an answer, but Kath scolded me. She said, “There are no bad people in the world; only people who want you to think there are”.
I wanted to say that at the very least those people that want us to think that, well they must be bad people!
I was confused as to why this kind old lady who always smiled, walked in angles zig zag like, left her front door wide open for anyone to enter at anytime in the middle of the night, and had lost her one true love in a war would say such a ridiculous thing.
Nowadays I think Kath had long since decided to believe in everyone, no matter what.
People weren’t weeds to be pulled up and discarded.
Childish – I don’t know. Naïve – still don’t know.
Kath wouldn’t make the kind of world leader who sent the young to war. But she always smiled, left her door wide open, and I had been scolded, so I said nothing more.
One of the last times I had the pleasure to check on Kath and lock her door she was in bed.
Our routine of me knocking on the open door and calling out, “You ok Kath?” “Yes, I’m ok thanks, goodnight” followed, by me locking her door and going home, would be much different this night.
I knocked and called out the usual, “Are you ok Kath?” A long silence followed. Finally she replied, “No, no I’m not ok David”.
I remember thinking this is serious. But selfishly I was also aware that she had called me David, which I thought permanently lay to rest any notion I may have had that she thought I was my housemate who had the same name as her one true love.
I walked in and stood at her open bedroom door and asked if I could come in and she said, “Yes, please come in”.
I fumbled around in the dark until I found the switch for the lamp by the bed.
Kath was lying on her back. Her blue-veined hands were clutching the blanket tightly up to her chin and she was staring at the ceiling. She had stopped smiling.
I asked her what was wrong and Kath replied, “I think I’m dying.”
I said, “Well, I’ll go and call an ambulance!”
Just like she had done that once and only once before, Kath scolded me, “No you won’t, I want to die here, right here.”
Sitting down on the edge of her bed I took her hand and asked her if she was in any pain, “No, no pain David.” So, having no first aid training whatsoever and realising I had no idea what to do next, I asked, “Well what does it feel like then?” Kath’s answer, and she repeated it was, “I can’t explain. It just feels like I’m going home. I feel like I’m going home.”
I said, “Well Kath, please let me call an ambulance to give you a lift.”
Still no smile – only a shake of the head – “No.”
I thought my attempt at humour might lift her spirits and allow me to make the phone call, but it had failed. Now I was positively sure that I had no idea what to do next.
So I sat there thinking, thinking, thinking – I have got to do something.
When Kath dies - and she says she is going to – what will I say to those that ask me, “What did you do?” “You just sat there, held her hand and cracked jokes!” Yes I did, but she wouldn’t let me call an ambulance!
I had never had to call an ambulance for any reason before and I’m sitting there, confident that an ambulance was appropriate, and then I’m forbidden to call one by the very person who says she is “Going home.”
I sat there some more and nothing was coming to me. Where would it come from anyway?
I needed advice.
I made an excuse to Kath that I had to go to the toilet. “You won’t call an ambulance?” “No I won’t, I promise.”
I ran across the street to my house because Kath didn’t have a phone. As I dialed the number I thought I was wasting valuable time. I should have been calling the ambulance, but instead called my eldest brother.
John was living in Tasmania at the time and the call would cost what was for me in those days a small fortune. I was thinking about the cost of a phone call to Tasmania compared to the call for an ambulance that would be free when John answered the phone.
I told John about Kath going home and that she wasn’t in any pain. But nothing came to him either, except to tell me to follow my instincts. Great! “Should I call an ambulance though?” I asked. “Maybe, but just stay with her and follow your instincts”.
I went back and took up my position next to Kath, holding her hand until the sun started to shine around the edges of the curtained window.
We hadn’t talked much through the long night. I tried to focus on my instincts buried deep within me. But they may as well have been in a foreign country in a language I couldn’t understand.
I managed, “How are you feeling?” “Can I get you anything?” or “I’m still here Kath”. Which was followed by her replies about going home, no I need nothing, or, oh that’s good.
Through the night Kath had occasionally looked across at the window at the soft light gradually getting brighter. Sometimes, I thought she was checking to make sure the light was natural and not red and blue and flashing.
As soon as it was as bright as it was going to get she took a deep breath; then suddenly discarded my hand, threw back the blankets, got to her feet, walked to the window, wrenched the curtains aside, then said, “Well it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere today. Do you want a cup of tea?”
I watched her walk out of the bedroom in her nightie, leaving me sitting there on the edge of the bed where I’d been sitting for hours waiting for her to go home.
I squinted at the sunshine, half blinded by it, thinking about instincts and the uncalled for ambulance, when I heard Kath shout out from down the hallway.
“Come on, what are you waiting for?”
A few months later I was staying in a town called Mt Beauty having a break from the city. I can’t remember how he got in touch with me but my housemate sent word that Kath had finally gone home.
Not long after Kath’s first aborted trip home, I was in her front yard weeding when one of her former nursing colleagues dropped around for a visit. She still addressed Kath as “Sister”. Then she said to me, “So, you must be Paul.” I tried to smile politely, pointed to the open front door and resumed weeding.
Kath’s friend and former colleague had somehow known about Kath’s nocturnal rendezvous with the young man who lived across the street that went by the name of David and sometimes went by the name of Paul. She thought either of us might want to go to the funeral.
But the news had reached me too late to get back to Melbourne in time.
Pity, I would liked to have known if Kath had died alone; or if someone else had followed their instincts and called for an ambulance against her will. If so, it hadn’t helped and I hope hadn’t hastened her trip home.
Originally published 6.2.16
Where’s the place you go
When you’re breaking
Tell me so I’ll know
To be waiting
I’d never let you break alone
(Excerpt from the song- All You Good People)