juliette gillies

Just Yesterday

Waiting for a cab
to travel for hours
just to see your face
a smile melted
sunny side up
on a plate
of glass
through a window
eyes will meet
but they will be hollow
as I watch you laughing
sipping your coffee
made just how you like it
by some other girl.

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Bronte

     A little piece of my heart will always belong to Bronte. My cousins lived next door to the cemetery and when we were kids we would sneak in and scare each other. When I was a little girl my Mum would take me to the safe shallows of the rock pool at Bronte Beach where I would bounce around in a green bikini and a pink sunhat.

     My Grandpa grew up in the Eastern Suburbs and would tell us stories from when he was a teenager. How he and his friends took command of the sand dunes from some older boys with only their determination and an air rifle. When he passed away a few years ago we placed a headstone for him in Waverley Cemetery. The first time I went to visit I stopped by the beach and packed some sand into a little glass jar. I buried it at the front of the headstone so that he could be closer to the beach he loved. It was the smallest of gestures but it meant a lot to me. I was at the hospital when he died. I saw him after he had taken his final breath and his body looked empty. It was like his spirit had been set free, back into the universe to be reincarnated or just add to the positive life force of the world. Whenever I visit Bronte I feel closer to him, which is both a blessing and a little bittersweet. I don’t know what it is exactly but the road down MacPherson Street, the cemetery and the beach feel like a hug. Like big, open arms welcoming me home.

     I spent a really nice day there recently. Hubs and I made our way along Anzac Parade and past the massive expanse of Centennial Park. We parked and had lunch at Three Blue Ducks. We window shopped and watched some cheeky birds steal grapes from a grocer’s fruit stand. We bought Iggy’s bread and even though we were already full we managed to chomp down two sourdough rolls (best bread ever). We walked through the cemetery taking photos, visited the grave of Henry Lawson, and my Grandpa’s headstone. I don’t know if you have been to Waverley Cemetery but it is a beautiful cemetery that sits on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hubs and I sat down to chat for a moment and just happened to turn our heads at just the right moment to see a whale breach the water. It was surreal to be sitting amongst the graves and headstones, watching whales play in the sea.

     I still think about my Grandpa quite often. We had an unspoken fondness for each other. We shared a love of photography and music. He loved to sing and I’ll never listen to an ABBA song (or Rolf Harris for that matter) and not think of him. I remember the stories he would tell about when he worked for the picture theatre. And how he would offer us kids rather dubious looking old Minties from the car glove box as a treat. He used to sometimes wear a yellow skivvy and my Grandmother would yell at him when he came to the dining table in a singlet. He was an electronics man with a workshop and every kind of tool imaginable (though often broken or second hand). He let us kids use his pool table and his ping pong table. He loved birds and going for long walks. He had two heart bypasses and after the second he got very into Tai Chi.

     He was at my 21st but died before my wedding and I’ll always wish he could have seen me get married. I think he liked my now husband very much and even gave him one of his old (broken) ukuleles. He would have adored our little dog and been fascinated with DSLR cameras. I think he would have probably joined Facebook.

     The second last time I saw him I knew it was getting near the end and I said something to him I had never said but had always felt. It wasn’t until for a brief lucid moment when he looked me in the eye and replied, “I love you too” that I realised that we had never needed to say it. We had both always just known. I think that even if I never achieve anything significant in my life that he would of been proud of me anyway. I think he would have been proud of all his family.

grandpa     Grandpa and me, 1980

Spiral

     I wake up and my mouth is dry. My pillow cradles my heavy head and I can smell that my hair is dirty. Like, really dirty. I try to sink deeper into the little body groove in my mattress. I can’t squeeze my body down any further and my throat starts really killing me. Somehow I lift my blanket and dislodge myself from my quicksand bed. I stumble into the bathroom in the pajamas I wore yesterday and the previous three days before that. My throat feels like it’s on fire. I drink two glasses of water and it tastes so rusty I can barely swallow it.

     Somebody calls my phone and I answer it, ignoring the face on the screen. I can hear noises but I don’t know who it is because they sound like they are in a bubble and I feel like I’m in a bubble. I stare out to the trees beyond my window and as they sway in the wind I sway too. My vision blurs and a spiraling begins in my head. It starts like a pinprick in the middle of my brain and like a black hole grows larger sucking everything in. My knees buckle a little so I open my eyes again.

     There is a bird on a branch staring at me and I want it to go away. Then I remember I’m on the phone and the words sound like chirping and for a moment I think the bird is talking to me. There is a long silence and I realise I have been nodding in reply to the sounds I refuse to comprehend. I don’t really feel like talking anyway so I hang up and when it immediately rings again I turn my phone off.

     Back in the bathroom I mechanically brush my teeth wondering what the point is since I’m not going to smile today anyway. Not today or any other day for that matter. I collapse in a sullen heap and sit cross-legged on the cold bathroom tiles, an indignant protest to no one. My ass goes numb and I just start to enjoy the painful pins and needles in my feet and legs when someone taps lightly on the bathroom door. I hear my Dad’s voice say my name a few times before telling me I have 20 minutes. I don’t respond or even look at the door and when I know he is gone I drag myself over to the toilet and throw up.

     Rinsing out my mouth at the sink I catch my reflection. I barely even recognize myself. The dark bags, pale lips and hollow eyes all belong to a stranger. I’m a mess and I shouldn’t look like a mess. Not today. I quickly shower. I even wash my hair. I blow it dry very carefully. It takes me ages to do my makeup because I want it to be perfect but its not and I almost cry but then my mascara would run so I break my eye pencil in half instead.

     I stand in front of my closet for a long time. Door wide open I contemplate crawling inside but I know there is no Narnia in there or anywhere. Nothing in my wardrobe looks like it belongs to me and I wonder how someone else’s clothes got in there. I choose the darkest pieces of material I can find. My skirt feels strange and too short and it clings to me like a foreign object. In the mirror I look small and faded like a shadow. I can’t focus my eyes on my face.

     I hear my Dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs and he knocks on my door. I open my mouth but it is full of cobwebs and dead moths. He is standing in the doorway angry because I’m taking too long. Finding my voice I scream at him because I can’t find my hair clips. He screams back at me then immediately apologises with tears in his eyes. I apologise too and silently wish that Mum was still here but she isn’t and that is just tough shit. My Dad leaves and I hurry to get ready as fast as I can but the burning in my throat is back. I ignore it and go downstairs.

     My Dad is waiting on the footpath and I approach him with my head down. I’m wearing Mum’s coat and when he notices I don’t want to see his face. My eyes follow the asphalt all the way to his shoes and I have never seen them so shiny. For a second I remember that not too long ago my life was shiny too but not anymore. The big black hire car pulls around for us and my Dad reaches for my hand. I let him take it for once because the spiraling has started again and he squeezes it all the way to the cemetery.