This is my stop. The light is bright outside the antique-shop as I step off the bus. I blink into the windows, at the jumble of tables and whatnots. The bus grinds away from the kerb, leaving its little diesel fog.
When I turn the corner the atmosphere is different. The air is sweet with frangipani. In the terrace houses, lights are waiting behind mysterious doorways. Ahead of me walks the grey, balding man whom I have noticed on the bus. He dissolves suddenly, becoming part of the darkness of a doorway. I can hear keys rattling and scraping. Quickly a door is opened, and just as quickly imprisons the escaping light. Above, a stained-glass rose glows garnet in a fanlight. I hear voices calling.
On Friday nights he always had chocolates in his pockets. We would dig deep into his grey overcoat to find the Jaffas for Luce, the dark chocolate for me, and the milk and caramel for Ginny. When I kissed him, his breath was like dead fire. I took my chocolate outside and I stood at the far corner of the front veranda, swelling my chest with an intake of cool air, and counting the stars.
Luce had advice for me. She had become my adviser when I was born. She said, You cry too much, Olive. You whinge, Olive. You annoy me, Olive, with your pale skin. She said, You should not cry. You should not whinge. Here, Olive, you should read this book, it is so good. You should see this film, it is so good. You should train for something. You should make yourself marketable, Olive. You should buy property. It is secure.
Luce looked at me with her brown eyes. She covered them slowly and spoke to me as she looked at her plate.
‘What has gone wrong, Olive? Why do you hate me so much?’
Her children were sitting in the courtyard. There were baskets of warm bread rolls and jugs of orange juice and lemon squash and Sangria. The palm trees danced in the sun.
‘You remember the old brick house. And Dad. Don’t you remember the year we had no presents at Christmas?’
‘I remember him and the way he liked the dog races. I remember how Mum tried not to cry and how she made you your favourite jelly. What sort was it? Will you have milk in your tea?’
‘I remember you, Luce, and what you said. You said, It doesn’t matter. There are other Christmases.’
‘There were.’ Luce looked at me and widened her eyes. ‘There were.’
‘You didn’t care about me, about how I felt. You didn’t care that that was my Christmas.’
Mother had hugged me and said, Lucille has her lovely Dorothy, this year it will be your turn. Will you choose a name for your doll?
‘She will be Olive,’ I had said. ‘She’ll be a magic me.’
As we sat silently and stared into our baked beans and soggy toast, Mum had smiled.
‘You like strawberry jelly, Olive. This is especially for you.’
I had looked at Luce’s Dorothy, propped on the settee, its blue gingham pinafore neat and bright. I had wanted to smash those monster eyes of artificial blue, to smash them into sand.
‘You never remember,’ I said to Luce. ‘I never take milk. It upsets me. It has always upset me.’
‘You never remember,’ I said again to Luce.
Her daughter gave a sigh and began to clear the table. I sipped my tea and looked at Luce over the rim of the glass cup.
‘You forgot again, didn’t you?’
‘I suppose I did,’ said Luce. ‘I can only seem to remember birthdays. Never the day of a death. Not even Mum’s.’
‘These notices are morbid,’ she said.
I ignored her.
‘I remember all,’ I said. ‘I never forget.’
I thought of the cards I sent to Luce’s children six times every year. Luce put down her cup and stretched. Above her, a festoon of purple bougainvillaea dipped and rose rhythmically.
‘I was washing my cardigan,’ she said. ‘I thought the grey hairs were from a stranger. They were mine.’
Luce looked at me with still eyes.
It was warm, the beginning of spring, and inside me was a feeling like a serpent stirring.
‘Grey hair,’ Luce said. ‘We’re all older. Wiser? I don’t know.’
Paul came through the courtyard gate. It clicked softly behind him. Paul was always neat and careful. I saw him slip through the back door and put down his doctor’s bag. One of the children came running to him.
‘No surprises. Kit,’ he said. ‘Wrong time. Wrong day.’
I heard them laughing.
‘What did Dad say on Friday nights?’ I asked Luce.
‘Say?’ Luce frowned. ‘When he came home?’
‘Remember. Try to remember.’
‘I remember the Jaffas. Hi-ho? Was that it?’
I could tell that her mind was trying to swim down.
‘Could it have been Hello all?’ I suggested.
‘No. Give me a minute and I’ll remember,’ she said.
‘I have to go. Sunday bus timetable.’
I pulled my straw hat down tightly and went to the bus stop. Twilight burnished the house windows.
My marmalade cat, Mozart, waits for me beside the gate. He has been watching for me, moving his pale amber eyes along the line of the hedge. Mozart rushes ahead of me. He hurls himself at the welcome mat and attacks it furiously with his claws. When I catch up, he is sitting patiently, flicking the end of his curved tail. I open the door and he goes towards his chair.
Luce and I shared a flat, once. Every day a letter would come for her from Paul, away doctoring in the islands. I waited and hoped, but every day there was a letter in the box. One day I arrived home early, but all Luce said was ‘I found Paul’s letter behind the azalea. How strange!’
Mozart rises and walks to the kitchen. He sits in front of his empty dish. His pink tongue darts in and out. When I open the cupboard he prowls up and down in front of his dish, over to the sink, and back again. I select a can and tap it with the spoon.
In the living room the telephone rings. It is Luce.
‘Thought you’d like to know. I just remembered,’ she babbles.
‘Yes,’ I say patiently.
‘He didn’t say anything, Olive. He used to whistle. He’d come up the path. Such heavy strides. He’d whistle. Three notes. Remember? Two short and low — one longer, higher.’
I listen to more of Luce’s talking. Mozart is still hungry, and the cupboard door is not shut. I would like to hang up, but I don’t. If I do, she will remember for a long time. I put the receiver down on the floor. From the kitchen, I can hear her voice twittering into the mat.