Earliest draft: 8 June 2003
Reason missed her mother. She lay on her new bed in her new home missing her mum, Sarafina, so much it hurt. It was her first day in her grandmother’s house. She should get up, explore, do things, but all she could think about was how much she missed her mother.
In a corner of the room were several boxes of her things. She should unpack them. She made herself get out of bed. She opened the largest box, clothes, most of which she was rapidly growing out of. There was lots of shelving and her own walk-in wardrobe. No end of places to put everything away. She felt tired just thinking about it.
Her new room was was bare and unornamented as if her grandmother wanted her to turn it into whatever she wanted it to be. The walls were bare. She could put whatever she wanted on them. She was pretty sure her horse posters had come with her but she could imagine putting them on these walls. There were no rugs on the polished wood floor and the curtains at the windor were a plain off-white colour that would go with anything.
It was a large nearly square-shaped room ending in two double glass doors that opened on to a balcony overlooking the back yard. There were a further two doors on the right hand side. Last night she’d been puzzled by so many doors. This morning she’d discovered that the one door led into the walk-in wardrobe which was bigger than some of the rooms she’d shared with her mother. The other was a bathroom.
It was hard to decide which was the most wonderful. Her own balcony, her own bathroom, her own room. All wonderful novelties. Reason had never lived in a house with a balcony before, let alone had her very own balcony.
Reason had never lived in a house before and this one was huge. She’d only had a jumbled impression of it the night before, lots of wood, paintings on the walls, a twisting staircase. She’d been tired to eat even. Her grandmother had let her go straight to bed.
The room was not completely bare. There were flowers on the dressing table, hyacinths and fresh lavender in the bathroom, the smell was very soothing. Her grandmother had also left books for her, as well as a blue cotton dressing gown and slippers and some toiletries in the bathroom. Her bathroom. Her dressing gown and slippers. They were grown up looking, no little girl ribbons or flowers or bows. Reason liked them.
She liked the books even more. She took one of the books from the shelf. She wouldn’t unpack; she would read. The Wizard of Oz. It was a book she’d always wanted to read and now she had it she found it impossible to concentrate. Reason’s eyes went skidding off the pages. She couldn’t even see straight enough to enjoy looking at the wonderful illustrations. The book made her feel guilty. She knew Sarafina would hate it if she knew that Reason owned such a book and that made Reason feel sad and miserable and filled with missing her mother even more.
Reason’s mother, Sarafina, hated magic. She hated books about it or movies or stories. She hated fairy tales, hobbits, Walt Disney, Harry Potter, all of it. Most of all Sarafina hated her own mother, Reason’s grandmother, because she was magic too.
Reason’s grandmother had been able to use that against Sarafina in the court cases. It definitely helped her win custody of Reason. Not that there wasn’t ample evidence of Sarafina’s madness but her statements about her mother was what the pyschiatrists and the judges all kept coming back to in their reports. Her maniac cleaning, incessant repainting of their apartment (never finished), the fact that she had named her daugher, Reason (!), her inability to concentrate for more than five or ten minutes at a time, none of that held as much sway as Sarfina’s conviction that her mother was magic. The only thing that was real and not a symptom of Sarafina’s madness was what had lost her custody of her daughter and had her committed.
"Ree?" Her grandmother knocked on the door.
Reason jumped up to open the door. "Yes, grandma?"
"Grandma. Shudder." Her grandmother screwed up her face in mock horror.
"I’m sorry, Esmarelda." She emphasised her grandmother’s name. It sounded old-fashioned and weird to her ears. Also it was such a wicked witch kind of a name. It was funny though that both her mother and grandmother no matter how much they were convinced they had nothing in common, that they were absolutely nothing like each other, both insisted that she call them by their names, never ‘mum’ or ‘grandma’ or anything normal. "I forgot."
"Are you hungry? I could make you some breakfast. Wanna come down to the kitchen?"
"Sure." Reason wasn’t at all hungry, besides she wasn’t used to having someone making food for her.
She followed Esmeralda down the stairs. She’d never been in a house that had an upstairs. Her grandmother’s place had an upstairs, a downstairs, a cellar and an attic, and a huge backyard she hadn’t had yet explored. It was the biggest house she’d ever been in. The most beautiful too. The front door alone was enormous. Reason could’ve sworn it was wider than her and Sarafina’s last flat together. She couldn’t imagine how her grandmother managed to keep the house so clean. It would take forever just to dust it.
Her grandmother had a lot of money. She hadn’t really understood that until now. Looking at this house with polished wood floors and staircases and marble fireplaces and rich exotic looking rugs everywhere made her believe in her grandmother’s wealth more than her army of lawyers had.
When they reached the kitchen she automatically walked to the bread bin on the counter and was about to find a knife.
"Ree, I’ll make you breakfast. Grab a stool and sit down."
Reason sat. "I don’t mind making my own breakfast."
"But I’d like to make it for you. What do you feel like? Eggs? Toast?"
"A sandwich," said Reason cause that was something easy.
"Okay," her grandmother opened the fridge and stood looking at the contents, opening and closing drawers. It was full. Reason had never seen such a full fridge. The vegetable and fruit drawers were overflowing.
"Cheese?" she turned to Reason with four different kinds in her hands. "Soft, hard or blue?"
"Blue," said Ree because she liked the idea of a cheese being blue.
"How about cheese with rocket and tomatoes. There’s some basil here too. What do you think?"
"Okay," said Reason wondering what rocket was.
"I made this capsicum salsa. Would you like some of that? It’s a little bit hot."
"Hot like a curry hot?"
"Okay." Reason liked the tingle of chilli on her tongue.
Her grandmother put the sandwich makings in between them on the counter. By a process of elimination Reason figured out that rocket was a kind of dark lettuce. It didn’t look too foul or anything.
"Pepper?" asked her grandmother.
She closed the sandwich and handed it to her. Then made one for herself.
The kitchen was very light. The floor had terracotta tiles of reddy brown, that were deliciously cool underfoot in the summer heat, and the cupboards were all made of a light coloured wood. It felt airy. Even the stainless steel of all the kitchen appliances didn’t take away from its airy feeling. She wondered if it would be as warm in winter as it was cool in the middle of summer.
There were windows on all three sides facing out onto the enormous backyard. There was a huge fig tree, four or five tall gums, as well as wattle and bottle brush. Lots of bushes covered with flowers. Reason couldn’t tell what all of them were. The fig tree looked very climable.
"Did you sleep all right?"
Reason shook her head. "Not that I remember."
They were both quiet.
"I love my bedroom," said Reason, feeling that she should say something. "I mean it’s beautiful."
"Thank you. You know you can do whatever you want with it, right? I was going to have it repainted for you but then I realised that I didn’t know what colours you like."
"I like reds but not on the wall." Reason thought about the red room her mother and her had painted. "A soft blue might be nice. I’d enjoy painting it."
"We can go through some colour charts so you can choose a blue. Would you like to look at some magazines to get some ideas? Maybe you’ll want to have each wall a different colour."
Reason smiled but she knew she wanted all the walls to be the same soothing colour.
"And so many books," she said to change the subject. Reason almost started to say how pleased she was about being given all the Oz books but that felt like a betrayal of Sarafina.
"I want you to be happy here." Her grandmother smiled at her. They looked a lot alike, Sarafina and Esmeralda. They had the same smile. Right now her grandmother was smiling at her the way Sarafina would when she had some new fun scheme for dying all their clothes green or going outside to see how far they could walk in a straight line without having to stop.
"I love Sarafina." Reason still hadn’t taken a bite of her sandwich. Neither had her grandmother.
They both looked down. It was weird. Reason had heard about her grandmother all her life. She starred as the wicked witch in almost all the stories Sarafina told her. Yet, from the moment Reason first saw her when she was six years old before the court cases had begun, she’d liked her. Even back then at a distance she liked Esmerelda with nothing to judge from but the way her body moved and her smile. Of course, she never told Sarafina that.
"I miss her."
"You can visit her whenever you want."
"I know." Reason had already visited her several times in the hospital. Sarafina was sad and angry. It made Reason cry.
"How do you keep your house so clean?"
Her grandmother laughed. "Cleaners. Rubia, Marta and Lina. They’re Spanish. They come Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. I have a gardener too, Portia—she’s Portugese but understands Spanish. Her assistant, Tommy’s an Australian boy doesn’t speak Portugese or Spanish. Portia comes three times a week too but her days vary. She doesn’t much like routine. You’ll like her, I think.
"I’m hoping that you’ll agree to go to Saturday Spanish School. I’d very much like you to learn."
Reason nodded. "Okay."
"Your mother didn’t talk to you in Spanish at all?"
Reason shook her head. "No. She said it was a nasty sounding language. I like the sound of it though. I want to learn."
Her grandmother smiled but it was a sad smile. "I’m glad." She took a deep breath. Reason could tell she was going to say something she thought was important. "I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about your mother." She paused. "I think it would be bad for you to feel that you had to keep anything hidden or locked up inside yourself." Her grandmother touched her hand to her chest, Reason felt a weird prickly sensation all over her body. "Your mother is still your mother and she still loves you. I don’t want you to feel that you have to forget that. I’m not going to try to be your mother."
Reason nodded. Her eyes stung. She felt like she was going to start crying again. Her grandmother reached across the counter to brush one of her tears away and Reason felt a little warmth flow into her.
"I wish she could’ve remembered to take her medication. Or that she didn’t hate you so much."
Esmeralda nodded. "Ojala . . ."
Esmeralda had errands to run. Reason wanted to go with her because she felt nervous about being alone. She wasn’t at all used to it. It felt especially weird in such a big, old house. Not that it was a particularly scary house. It smelt clean and fresh and was light and full of air. But she didn’t feel comfortable asking her grandmother if she could tag alone. Reason felt embarassed admitting how much she hated being alone. She would’ve liked to have gone out to have a look around the neighbourhood a bit—Esmeralda had given her a key for the front door—but she was still too nervous about the city. So many cars and people and noise. Everyone she’d ever known growing up in country towns had emphasised how dangerous cities were, particularly Sydney though Sarafina had always said that was nonsense. Reason was worried that once she went further than the few quiet streets where her grandmother lived there would be a scary explosion of city everywhere. Overwhelming. So instead she did what her grandmother had suggested, she explored the house.
She went straight to the kitchen. She was going to climb the huge fig tree. It was at least ten metres high. She turned the door knob but it wouldn’t turn. It wasn’t sticking or one of those door knobs that are tricking to turn. The back door was locked.
She looked around for a key but there wasn’t one in any of the obvious places. She really wanted to get into the back yard. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was out, there were hardly any clouds in the sky, just a big exapanse of blue, only the very lightest of breezes. The fig tree looked so climable.
She tried the door knob again, with both her hands. She could feel her face going red with the effort. "Bugger." She shook out her hands and looked around the kitchen. The whole back wall, other than the immoveable big wooden door, was windows. Two of the windows were already open. Reason climbed up onto the counter, unlatched the window over the sink, and pushed it wide open. She climbed up on to the sill and sat there a moment surveying the yard, then it was an easy drop on to the wooden verandah.
The tree was not as easy to climb as it looked. The first branch was further above her head than it had looked from the kitchen. [TK her climbing the tree]
Reason started. The voice had almost scared her to death. She looked down but couldn’t see anything.
"Hello." The voice called again a little louder this time. The voice seemed to be coming from the yard next door. She scooted further along the branch tillshe was over the fence. A boy about her age, she guessed, was looking up at her.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi," said Reason. She lay with her belly against the branch so she could hear him a bit better. He was a fair way down.
"I saw you climbing out Mere’s window. I was wondering what you were doing."
"Oh," said Reason realising that it must’ve looked odd. "I’m not a thief."
The boy laughed. "Didn’t think you were. Are you visiting with Mere?"
"You mean Esmeralda?"
"That’s her full name? Huh. I never heard her called anything but Mere before. Are you relatives? You look alike."
"Yeah. Esmeralda’s my grandmother."
"No," said the boy with total disbelief. "Bullshit. No way."
Reason didn’t know what to say.
"Wow." The boy shook his head.
"Don’t you have a grandmother?"
"Huh? Yeah. Of course. I’ve got two of them. But they’re really old and smell kind of funny and they don’t wear gorgeous clothes and they’re not beautiful."
"Esmeralda’s pretty old. She’s like forty or something."
"That’s not old."
ed. Forty was old to her. Then she realised that he couldn’t see her shrug from down there.
"Can I join you?" the boy asked.
"Sure," said Reason before remembering that this was the city and she shouldn’t be talking to strangers. It was too late anyway the boy was at the top of the fence and had jumped up to wrap his arms and then his legs around the branch next to hers. He swung himself up. Reason swivelled her legs round so she faced him.
"That was quick," she said. "You’ve done that before."
The boy grinned. "Sure. Mere’s been letting me play in her yard since forever." The boy smiled at her. "I’m Tom," he said, extending his hand. The branches were pretty close together.
"Your name is Reason?"
"Uh huh." Reason was used to this response. "Most people call me Ree."
"Yeah. My mum’s crazy."
"Yeah? Mine too."
"No," said Reason. "I mean really crazy."
"Yeah," said Tom. "Mine too. She keeps trying to kill herself. Then one time when I was little she tried to kill me and Cathy too. So she’s in Callan Park now."
"Wow. My mum’s in Callan Park too. She’s manic-depressive but refuses to take her medications."
"Yeah mum would never take her medications either," said Tom. "She thought it put devils in her head."
They sat quietly for awhile.
"So are you going to be living with Mere now?"
"Cool. Great house, eh?"
"Yeah. I’ve never seen a house so big."
"Biggest one in Newtown. I mean take a look at my backyard."
Reason did. It was barely even a quarter of the size of Esmeralda’s.
"Are you from Sydney?" asked Tom.
"Nah. I was born here but, um, we moved around a lot. Never stayed anywhere for very long. We were in Coonabarabran for 6 months that was about the longest."
"The bush. Huh. You been in a city before?"
"We were in Brisbane for a bit. Not as big as this though. I mean from what I’ve seen. Sydney seems really big. Much more crowded than Brisbane. Houses closer together and stuff."
"When d’you get here?"
"Wow. Wanna go for a walk? I could show you around our neighbourhood."
"Okay," said Reason. Tom didn’t seem particularly dangerous. He was about the same height as her but skinny. Much skinnier than she was. Skinny like she used to be before she started getting lumps and bumps. That’s what Sarafina called them. Reason knew about puberty, what menstruation was and why it had happened to her. She knew about breasts, hips pubic hair, the reproductive organs. Sarafina was very determined that her daughter’s head be full of facts. Information. Reason. Even so, she called them lumps and bumps. Sarafina felt the phrase was more descriptive of their disruptive power.
The street looked just as narrow by daylight as it had last night. There were cars parked on either side even though it made it impossible for cars to pass. Every time a car needed to pass one of them would have to back up to where it could pull over so the other could get by. Reason wondered why it wasn’t a one way street. Maybe because it didn’t get much traffic. There were trees planted all along on the already narrow footpath, making it tricky for them to walk side by side. They moved out on to the road.
"Wanna go to the park? There’s a cemetery. Have you read Great Expectations?"
Reason shook her head though it rang a bell.
"Me either. It’s by an old English guy. Shakespeare maybe?
"Dickens," said Reason. She could see the book, now. It was one of the ones her grandmother had given to her.
"But I saw the movie. There’s this crazy old lady. When she was young she was going to get married but the bloke never showed up. She was really rich. So the whole house was decked out with flowers and there was this huge cake and stuff. And everyone was just sitting around waiting for him to show up but he never did and she never took off her wedding dress or let them clear away any of the wedding stuff. Not the cake or the food or anything. It all stayed like that till she was really really old and she adopted this young beautiful girl and trained her to be mean to all men. You know to get vengeance on men cause of what’d happened to her. Anyway all of that’s about this lady who really did have the groom not show up and really wouldn’t let them clear the cake away. Her name was Eliza Emily [TK her full name] and she’s buried at the cemetery."
"Here in Sydney?"
"Yeah," said Tom sounding very proud of it.
The cemetery was beautiful. An oasis amidst closely packed streets of houses, shops and cars and a park full of people and their dogs and babies in prams. The cemetery was cool and quiet with lots and lots of trees. Big old trees that the sun kept flittering through making patterns across the tombstones. Many of them were broken and the letters faded. Most of the people seemed to have drowned in Sydney Harbour. There was even one big grave for a whole bunch of people who’d gone down on the one ship, the Dunbar. Everyone in the cemetery seemed to have died in the 1800s. Such a long time ago.
Eliza Emily[TK her full name]’s grave was nothing special. It was a faded marble cross. It wasn’t even all hers. The big top part had her father’s name on it. In big letters. He must’ve been someone pretty important. Reason wondered what the East India Company was. Eliza’s name was down the bottom in smaller letters. It was very faded. You had to lean close to be able to make it out properly.
"Another crazy lady," said Reason crouching down and looking at Eliza’s name at the base of the cross.
Tom crouched down beside her. "Yeah. Like mum."
"Did she hurt you badly?" asked Reason. "When she tried to kill you?"
"No, dad got there first. She was waving the knife around saying that she would kill us. Cathy has a scar on her shoulder but it’s really little."
"Is Cathy your sister?"
"Yeah. She’s heaps older." Tom stood up. Reason stood up beside him. "She’s studying at film school in America."
"Pretty cool, huh?"
"She’s studying at NYU. That’s New York University in New York City. When I finish high school I’m going to go study there too."
"You want to make movies?"
Tom shook his head. "Promise you won’t laugh if I tell you?"
Reason nodded. "Course not."
"I wanna study fashion. I want to make beautiful clothes for women. I want to have my own label like Chanel or Balenciaga. "
Reason hadn’t heard of either of them but she liked the idea of making beautiful clothes.
She opened the back door and found herself looking at a street. She blinked. No back verandah. No fig tree, or gums or wattle. She was looking at a row of browny grey houses all pressed up together with no gaps in between. All several stories high. All with steps leading down on to the footpath and people bustling along it and cars on the road. She was standing at the top of just such stairs. There were trees but they were dead-looking. They had no leaves and they were down on the footpath with metal cages around them.
That wasn’t the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing was that there was snow everywhere.