Monday, February 28, 2011


I remember when Charlie died. It shouldn’t have been as traumatic as it was, considering I was raised on a farm where death was a necessary and demonstrated way of life. Chickens were beheaded and plucked, on demand; pigs were slaughtered and strung up on hooks; rogue brown snakes had their heads blown off with a .22, and kangaroos lay bloated and mangled along the highway. These occurrences were known and accepted, but Charlie was not like the other animals. He was one of us.

Charlie, an affectionate ginger tom, fathered most to the farm cats that inhabited our yard, along with many of the feral varieties that squealed in the scrub in the night. Charlie was the only pet allowed inside, and could be found sunning himself on a bed, bathed in a shaft of light thrown by half drawn curtains. The burnt orange fabric casting a glow about the room, making his ginger fur alight like the sun.

Of a winter, he would bask in the warmth of a crackling fire and he would lap up the endless stroking provided by my younger brother and I; content to hear him lulled into a melody of gentle purring.

He was my mother’s cat, but he surpassed my history, so I remember him as ‘ours’. It was my mother who found him that day.

‘Dead’, she said.

‘Old age’, she said.

I was six, and in the middle of my evening bath when she appeared in the doorway to tell me the sad news. It was the first death-of-a-loved-one I had experienced, and I suddenly felt more naked than I had been only moments before.

‘Charlie’s dead. He died of old age’; as simple as that.

She left me there to wallow and wail; exposed and alone. No comfort was offered; no hugs through shuddering tears. I was in the bath. What could she do? Her timing was like months old milk.

I remember calling for Charlie the next day. Shaking a carton of dry cat food like a maraca, I did so in the vain hope that a promised meal might lure him from hiding. It did not.

Charlie seemed, quite simply to have vanished. I had not seen him dead. We had not buried him together, and my mother did not think to talk to me about my understanding of death, despite my obvious distress. Neither did I seek her wisdom on the matter, although an independent wondering about the afterlife began to fester in me; a theme that would become a considerable fixation some decades on. A fixation stemming from that timelessly puzzling first question, ‘but where did Charlie go’?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

magic garden

“You appear to have yielded a crop of green umbrellas”, teases my husband on the way to watering his prized roses. “At least vegetables are useful”, I scoff after him, rolling my eyes. This is my patch. Travis, being the experienced gardener in the family, reluctantly surrendered the daggy part of the garden for my project.

I gaze at the apparent “umbrellas”. Their edges ruffle in the light breeze, like elephant ears mindlessly swatting flies. Many leaves have flopped, exhausted from heat; remaining upright only with assistance from tubular stems; the leaves, hanging over them like a sleeping toddler draped over the shoulder of a loving parent.

An organic aroma hangs in the air; earthy and pungent. It smells of comforting things; blue skies, flitting white cabbage moths and crumbly soil.

A phallic-shaped object peeks out from a jungle of leaves. With great anticipation, I wrap a quivering hand around its firm shaft and give a gentle twist. I am quite unsure of what I am doing – virgin gardener that I am.

My arm grazes a plant stem. Fine prickles irritate my skin like an old man’s beard during an obligatory greeting kiss. The discomfort forces me to acknowledge the mother plant, while my hands wrangle among her leafy petticoats.

The fruit comes away in my hand with a satisfying snap, leaving a warm green object to lie across my palm. Moist, white flesh lays exposed and glistening from whence it had been torn from its parent.

Delighted, I go in search of others, and find six more playing hide and seek in the thicket. Possibilities for tonight’s dinner file through my mind; saucy and sweet.

With my haul clutched greedily in hand, my plants suddenly appear even more despondent. Guiltily, I utter some token words of gratitude, though my guilt is fleeting. Ratatouille and zucchini cakes simply do not make themselves.