Why am I telling you this? The short answer: this summer, I’ll be returning, with partner and kids, to this site of childhood humiliation and intermittent joy. The Victorian Government is handing out travel vouchers as inducement for us to holiday-at-home. It seems logical to stay put, bribes or not. For one thing, if the plague returns the state borders are likely to shut again, leaving us stranded in some place with inferior coffee.
For another thing – I suspect there’s been a shift in the Victorian psyche. Or in mine, at least. The lockdowns forced an emotional reckoning. Stuck inside my home, my five-kilometre locale, my family, my head, I could no longer blot out grief or fear or yearning with busyness and travel and half-arsed plans for “the future.”
I was agitated and despairing. And profoundly, exquisitely grateful for the blessings I’d managed to accumulate while not paying attention. For the place in which I found myself.
Now I can roam the country. Now I don’t want to.
My father stopped coming to the beach house when he became too frail to climb the shuddering stairs. The building is almost caving in with sheer loneliness. Sagging cobwebs. Peeling paint. Clumps of lichen. The sea-view has been largely obscured by trees and rooftops. The shopping strip has sprouted cafes that can more than hold their own in smashed avocado and coffee.
I do a dash to the local shopping strip for one of those Brunswick-standard coffees before the small parade of tradesmen and junk collectors are due to arrive. As I get back in the car, cup in hand, I’m struck by a feeling something odd just transpired. Then I twig to why: the cafe staff weren’t wearing face-masks.
Back at the house, Evan and his sidekick come to fix the dog-proof fence.
“Houses like this tell a story, you know?” Evan says. When he was in high school, his friend had a summer house just like this one. The two would travel by train to get there.
“We went there every summer. Every summer. You walked in with sandy feet, it didn’t matter. None of the furniture matched … None of the plates or glasses matched. There was a black-and-white TV. But that’s what a holiday house should be, you know?”
John and his sidekick come to tackle another aspect of the dog-proof fence. John tells me he and his wife had to cancel an overseas cruise this year. Fingers crossed they can go in 2022.
“Still, you gotta be grateful you don’t live in the US, right?” John says. “I can’t even look at that lunatic anymore.”
My mother’s flannel quilted dressing gown is still silky on the skin. On its surface, flocks of brown, black and orange birds are in flight in a beige sky. Even now, the garment evokes motion. Whimsy. One of the sleeves is badly fraying, the stuffing falling out. I notice a faded bloodstain on the inner lining. How long has it been there?
On the balcony, I drape the gown, wide open, over a chair. I take a photo of it like that— splayed out in a decadent pose, hem spilling to the floor, soaking up the sunlight and air. It cannot grasp the inevitability of its fate. “It’s OK,” I say to myself. The others will also cry when I tell them.
In the carport, I lay the gown to rest on top of the junk pile – metal radiator, rickety table, bags of battered shoes, moth-eaten bedspreads, all kinds of baggage.
Mitch and his sidekick come to remove the junk. They also remark on the house. “So retro,” they say, or words to that effect. I’m conscious of the gown on top of the junk pile. In a few minutes it will be gone.
“Yes,” I say. “it’s my holiday home”.