Rebecca was good with houses. Her life had been a series of them—homes, worlds—all remembered with intense fondness, as if the gains she made from those houses never wholly compensated for the loss each time she moved on. Whenever we talked about the past, Rebecca would refer to each house by name, in shorthand for that phase of her life. Northam Road, the semi-detached in Oxford that we shared, meant student days when the world was all before us. Then Hackney, the unrenovated carapace that was Rebecca’s first move into London property, a footing on a ladder that would climb to fabled prosperity for her generation. Montmorency Gardens followed, an elegant address for a difficult but creative marriage and a young family. Finally, Austen Road, North London. This was Rebecca’s blessed house for all seasons and kept on revealing new corners and layers, from basement to attic, as the years went by.
Austen Road was my favourite place to stay in London on visit after visit, until the day came when Rebecca began to talk about what to do next. Her grown children had moved out into places of their own. The husband was long gone. Even the two ancient cats had at last gone to heaven. Rebecca filled the rooms with lodgers who crept in after hours. Foxes climbed the wall from next door into the secluded garden and scavenged from the garbage bins. It was all luxuriant and grand, and had too much space to hold onto at today’s prices.
This summer the peaches-and-cream roses flopped indulgently from the high trellis and convolvulus sprawled luminous white over the stone walls of the garden beds. From the window of the upper room where I was sleeping I could look out on the patch of bright lawn at the back of the house, the outdoor table and chairs, the screen of sweet pea, pink as a cockle shell, and the embowering lime tree, the conifers, the angular housetops beyond—it gave a kind of protection to the scene of family life, the comings of friends, and goings of erstwhile friends, the nest of time. I loved the vista, the pattern of return.
But now Rebecca said she was thinking of moving. She had another house in mind. She would not be rushed, but she had started to imagine its creation and the financial benefit. The value of Austen Road had increased tenfold in the years she had lived there. That would offer some consolation for the richness she would be leaving behind, the stream of days and nights that were absorbed in the texture of its old brick, glowing tawny in the morning and holding its warmth in the shade of afternoon.
On successive visits to the house over the years I had slept in different rooms. That was one of the things I loved about it. When the house was full I slept in the attic, at the top of a set of twisting stairs. I held the rail when I got up at night and slopped tea when fetching a mug from the kitchen far below. The dormer window looked towards the heath and on winter evenings an illuminated church spire glowed like a lighthouse. On summer mornings the high horizon disappeared into thin blue sky. Rebecca’s husband had retreated to the attic before he moved out altogether. Then the two boys constructed their teenage lairs there. Later the elder son got a proper room downstairs. When he was away, I slept there, among his abandoned schoolboy things. The window in that room was wide and low enough to lean out of, or tumble out of if you leaned too far, or you could climb up from the garden below, clinging to the creeper as you scaled the wall, stealing in as intruder or lover.
It was a long way to fall. The land sloped down from the street at the front, making the back sunken and hidden. The steps up to the front door formed a space below for a basement that had been converted into a flat with a separate entrance. There was a path down one side to the back. From that second-storey window the suburb’s full expanse was visible as a subdivided park. Further up, on the third floor, was another self-contained flat that transients of various duration could use. I slept there on occasion too. And if all those bedrooms were occupied, there was a storage room full of books and boxes with a single bed where I was sleeping now because Rebecca had started to repaint the house. The door was inset with coloured glass and there was a window engulfed by the creeper and the rose that dropped creamy petals on the sill.
Rebecca apologised, when I came back from a weekend away, for going into the room in my absence to look through the things there. It had turned into a good old clean-out. She spent all Sunday, energised, sorting and culling. The cartons stacked by the front door and the line of black garbage bags down the side of the house were proof.
That evening at dinner she laid some-thing at my place. ‘It’s your story,’ she said. ‘I found it when I was going through all that stuff.’
There were a few pages held together by a rusty paperclip. It was a photocopy of a typewritten manuscript. I recognised the font of my old Olivetti portable, where I had typed the dedication, ‘For Rebecca’, then my handwritten addition, ‘with love, 22.7.77’.
‘That’s 40 years ago,’ I said, staring in awe as Rebecca poured our wine, ‘almost exactly.’ The time when you typed something manually and took it to a photocopy shop to make a couple of copies. It cost money and you did it sparingly. I must have kept a copy for myself and made one for her. My copy might be somewhere in the chaos of files and folders that I called an archive, if I still had it. I couldn’t recall seeing it.
‘I read it,’ Rebecca said. ‘It’s a very good story.’
I put the pages down. Half the letters had faded from sight, either from the old typewriter’s keys being worn or dirty or the deficiencies of photocopying back then. The technology was a world away from the laptops, laser printing, electronic copying of files and emailing of attachments, the Save As, at our fingertips today. I would read the story in the morning, I decided, in better light.
When I came down for breakfast the story was waiting for me among the crumbs on the rucked tablecloth and Rebecca had left for work. That evening she came in late, lugging home bags of papers and catalogues. It was my turn to pour the white wine and serve the dinner of fish and rice that I had cooked for us. I told her about my strange reaction when I read the story.
The most likely response when you read something you wrote long ago is embarrassment as you realise how awkward, how raw and how arch you were. You are amazed that the thing was ever published. What was the editor doing, exposing your naivety and weakness, giving false encouragement to your hopes of being a writer? In that situation you can hardly refrain from wielding the blue pencil as you read it over, though it’s all too late. That’s why my usual practice is never to look again at something I’ve written once it has appeared in print. The other possibility is to be so dazzled by your youthful talent that you wouldn’t change a word. You’re struck by the brio and an intensity that is impossible to recapture now. Ah! the promise gifted to that earlier self, who is someone else.
But this was different to either of those responses. I didn’t recognise the story at all. It was utterly unfamiliar as I started to read. The typescript was dated 1977. The book in which it first appeared came out in 1980, a collection of my short stories that happened before I knew anything about publishing. It was my first book. I had sent a handful of stories to an editor at a press that specialised in new fiction with a covering letter asking if he would consider them for publication. He wrote back saying yes. He liked these ‘compressed novels’ and found their ‘striking contemporaneity … both unusual and promising’. I had no way of gauging my good fortune. Not for me 100 rejection slips. Not yet anyway. I was 25.
The editor, C., and I struggled to find a title for the collection and by default the title of this particular story became it: ‘The Possession of Amber’. Amber is a good luck charm in the story, and so it was for me in having my first book accepted. That extended to the cover image. It came from a magazine article titled ‘Mysteries of the Mundane’ about an exhibition of German art from the New Objectivity movement of the 1920s. The press had paid for permission to use one of those paintings on the cover of a new book of stories by Peter Carey, whose first collection, The Fat Man in History, was a breakthrough in Australian fiction. When the colour transparency arrived too late, Christian Schad’s intriguing work became available for my book.
I must have read ‘The Possession of Amber’ through multiple times in proof back then. It was branded on my brain sufficiently for me to know that this typewritten version of Rebecca’s was different. There was no copy of the book in the house for me to check the published version against this earlier draft, but I was certain. This had a different feel. The changes that had been made along the way were small, perhaps, but they added up. What I experienced felt like discovery rather than recognition. I seemed to like this earlier version better. So what had happened?
The house in Northam Road that Rebecca and I shared was on the wrong side of Oxford. That strengthened the camaraderie of our group. We came from all over and formed the intense bonds of a self-selected de facto family. Friends mattered more than anything to us in that phase of life, in our early twenties. On weekdays, when our housemates went off to the laboratory or the library, Rebecca and I stayed at home trying to finish our theses. We sat at the black oak table in the centre of the house where we ate our meals and drank endless cups of tea as we talked about what would happen in the future. We worried about what we would do next, what we would become. We talked about our families, our parents and our attitudes to relationships.
We were both quite wary of ties. Rebecca had an intellectual boyfriend she eventually dumped in favour of a dashing young man with whom she would go travelling in South America. I had a relationship with a woman in London who intended to go back to Australia soon, and I would go with her. That was the plan. Things were fluid—our ideas, our commitments. People slept around, trying things out. But Rebecca and I didn’t, somehow, not with each other. Were we not interested, or were we already protecting a different kind of friendship that we sensed could last a lifetime?
We each had siblings. Rebecca had brothers, I had sisters. I suppose that made it easy for us to fall into a sister–brother relationship. I was not her type romantically and I didn’t know what my type was. The dashing travelling companion was Rebecca’s type. In Buenos Aires they famously joined the club of people who read to the blind Borges because they had the right accent for Swinburne and Robert Louis Stevenson. That was not me, not then, though later when I met other members of the club, and discovered Borges for myself, I wished it had been.
Rebecca and I look like twins in a black-and-white photograph taken on the back balcony of the house in Oxford one weekend afternoon by G., our housemate, who was trying out her new camera. I say ‘balcony’. It was the space on top of the kitchen roof above the narrow strip of soil that ran along the concrete path. We dug it for radish and spinach. At the end of the path was a wooden fence, a ditch, trees and a playing field, all silvery in the image, under a cloud-darkened sky. Rebecca and I turn as if interrupted in conspiratorial conversation and smile with hazy affection at the woman behind the lens, a little worried. We have almost identical pageboy bobs, thick with the joy of big seventies hair. Our hand-knitted sweaters are two of a kind. With pale skin and dark eyes we squint at the light, like the mistakable brother and sister of Shakespearean comedy. There is an expectation of change in the turning motion of G.’s composition. This is close to the last time we will all be together as a household at Northam Road.
On those weekdays when we procrastinated over tea in the room with the window that looked out at the brick wall next door, Rebecca and I talked about how we wanted to live. Somehow we worked it out. There were values we shared, a determination to live well, to live fully. We came to a resolution from which we drew strength and a sense of certainty, the recognition that we would need to be steadfast in order to overcome our shadows. We made an unspoken pact, sitting at that table. Life would batter that vow, that bond, but it would persist.
I wrote my story then, ‘The Possession of Amber’, and dedicated it to Rebecca. The typescript had an epigraph from Pericles, the late Shakespearean romance in which a lost daughter is found in the fifth act welter of reunions. Marina, girl of the sea: ‘She is not dead at Tharsus, as she should have been …’ My story is about a sister–brother relationship, forbidden love and the removal of the child that results. It is Jennifer’s risky quest to find the child that was taken from her and to recover the possibility of love: a big, condensed, implausible story set in Alexandria in Egypt, mythic behind its quasi-realism. That was signalled in the quote from Pericles, expressing wonder against reason in a tale of miraculous return, of coming back to life.
In Oxford that summer when I was trying to decide what to do next, Rebecca helped me. I would finish my doctorate soon and there was the possibility of a job back home in Australia. But I felt at home in Britain too. I was publishing stories, writing reviews, teaching. My friends were mostly moving to London for the next stage of their careers. I could do the same. I could pass, more or less. I knew that the return to Australia would be a wrenching dislocation. Yet I knew I would go. My mother was ill, for one reason. I had been away so long I did not appreciate the seriousness of that. She got worse in the period after my return, and died not long after. It was a terrible time. My girlfriend was in Sydney: fearless, brilliant, original. She saw things in me I was not ready for. Eventually she saw that we were not right for each other, that we were each a fantasy for the other that would not survive transplanting to this side of the world.
Yet this was my world and there was something else I could barely articulate. I thought that if I stayed in England I would come to be an English writer and that would always be suspect. No doubt I misread the situation. But there were other things I wanted to try. That’s what I was struggling with when I wrote ‘The Possession of Amber’ and what Rebecca helped me resolve with her immense, enabling belief.
The editor at the press liked the fact that some of my stories were set outside Australia. They were the travel stories of a lucky, travelling generation. Rather than ‘the enigma of arrival’, they were about the mystery of departure and return.
A number of my antipodean friends became teachers of English as a second language on their travels. They worked for an ever-expanding organisation called International House that trained them and sent them out. For non-EU passport-holders that meant out East, as in the days of empire. That’s how I came to visit Egypt during my time at Oxford and got mixed up in the expat situations that inspired those stories—power relations, sexual politics, the two-way manipulation of incompatible desires. The oil shock had changed the balance, disabling Britain and bringing new discontent to the Middle East. I saw how they hated us, the West. It was an important lesson to learn for what would come in the next half-century. The same young men we were hanging out with and who wanted to get stoned, dance disco and fuck by night were those who prayed devotedly by day and fasted when required, their souls in anguish. The contradictions were great. Some migrated, some disappeared, some put on weight, some blew themselves up, or their children did, a generation later.
But that was not the story I told. Egypt was still a romance for me, a world created from literature. The Mediterranean, Alexandria. In Adelaide, where I grew up, there was a sea that might have been that same sea, its waves breaking timelessly on the shore of exile at the end of a suburban street where a Greek migrant family sold sweet dark coffee from a shady interior when the light outside was blinding and the blue water dimpled with sequins.
My friends and I danced on the sand there at night, below the esplanade, laughing, singing and hugging each other. Teenagers, students, casting ourselves as larger than life archetypes. We read The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell as if it were a directory for our lives, identifying with characters that were technicolour projections on a drive-in screen. Our desire to escape and the dreams it produced were powerful forces. We knew the poem by Cavafy by heart about never being able to leave, about always taking this city with you, wherever you might go. But he was writing about Alexandria, not Adelaide.
So here I was, flying to Cairo to visit my teacher friends, and then taking the train through the Nile delta on a side-trip to Alexandria, notebook in hand. I had an asthma attack in the Hotel Cecil that first night of arrival. I couldn’t breathe. I started wheezing as soon as I lay down my head. I blamed it on the pillow. I don’t know what it was stuffed with. When I told the story afterwards I exaggerated and said the pillow was filled with bloodied bandages from the local hospital.
I had left Australia with a friend from Adelaide as the great travelling adventure unfolded. The open road was our choice. We were living experimentally, with no model outside books and poetry. I still have the copy of The Cockatoos by Patrick White that we bought together in an English-language bookshop in Milan and inscribed ‘Present mirth hath present laughter.’ The romance of Patrick and Manoly, transported from Greece, from Alexandria, to suburban Australia, was one example we recognised. They were soulmates, as we were. Then I had gone on to Oxford and my friend S. was teaching in Cairo. The quote goes on:
What’s to come is still unsure …
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
It’s the jester’s song from Twelfth Night.
I realised on that trip to Egypt that S. was the traveller and I was going back, even though when we left Australia together I imagined I was rejecting the place forever too. This was the fork in the road, and I felt left and solitary. I was scared in the Hotel Cecil, sitting up all night on the edge of asthmatic panic. Then dawn crept over the sea, visible from the balcony, as reliably rosy-fingered as ever.
I said goodbye to Egypt, keeping my histrionics private. It was a life-changing realisation and a relief. The story I wrote tells it differently, with a faith in eternal return and the union of the broken halves of the soul, as in Plato’s fable of love. Twins joining hands under the sun in the tarot card image. Viola and Sebastian reunited after the wreck in the happy ending of Shakespeare’s play. Which is he, which is she? It’s still unsure. A misprision for life.
I remember my reading on that Egypt trip. As the plane bucketed down into the heat haze of Cairo, longed-for after dim, damp London, I was racing to the end of Joseph Conrad’s story ‘Youth’, needing at least that degree of completion. Next morning, when S. went to work, I sat at the table in the empty flat and copied out the concluding words, letting their sententious, ironic cadence, coil around me: ‘our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone—has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash—together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusions’. Words like the layers of an onion.
I was becoming a scholar for whom references were a way of passing messages in code. When my story was published, the epigraph from Pericles was dropped. That wasn’t the only change. If you will allow me to act as textual critic for a moment, let me compare the typescript I gave to Rebecca on that dark oak table at Northam Road—which she had kept for 40 years before returning it to me at the dining table at Austen Road one Sunday evening—with the version published three years later in Brisbane.
I was in Canberra by then, teaching in the English department at the university. I taught the great tradition, but I had found some living writers who spoke to me more personally: Joan Didion, Muriel Spark, Natalia Ginzburg—an odd, lean mix. And David Malouf, whose novel Johnno, in paperback, I got as a birthday present before I left Oxford, signalling a different kind of Australian prose from Patrick White’s. UQP—the University of Queensland Press—was publishing fiction that was more deracinated and ambiguous than what had gone before. I wanted to go in that direction. It meant removing superfluities and giving my stories a sharper edge, even if that was contrary to their original impulse. I felt impelled to strip away the upholstery.
The whole first page of ‘The Possession of Amber’ went. A new opening cuts to the chase. Reading it now it feels a little abrupt. The earlier unfolding is more mannered, conjuring up a vague ‘she’ who is at first a spectral subject/object. There are adverbs to specify gradations. ‘She entered the foyer holding her flimsy grey scarf nervously.’ She’s observed by two women in the tour group—‘She’s not a happy girl,’ says one to the other. She moves closer to silence them. Her out-of-placeness is overstated. ‘She hated old women.’
The editor could have cut more. The protagonist, Jennifer, could have landed straight there, in Alexandria, but for the problem of crossing the threshold. My recurrent character is someone who crosses on a ferry alone without giving much away, sometimes by day on a calm radiance of water, sometimes on a cold, dark night. Jennifer is one of those, already on the move. It takes some shuffling and juggling, some fumbles.
The story proper starts halfway down the second page of the typescript in a passage that has moved up in the printed version. The more leisurely original explains Jennifer better, showing that she knows what she is doing. But ‘splendid’ isn’t right for the harbour. It’s a guidebook word that was camp by 1977:
The first thing was the balcony view. The porter had opened the shutters and left the curtains hanging. Yet only when she was alone and unpacked did she feel disencumbered enough to slip out through the curtains and behold the splendid harbour. There she breathed rhythmically before the sea and sky, unable to stop herself feeling miserable. Life’s continuance, the crazy dry-skin palms, a monkey-man who amused, tenements and mountainous crimson lovers on the billboard opposite: all making do. How the city tried to remain substantial! She laughed aloud, briefly and gaily, clutched her scarf, sunglasses, handbag, documents, and hurried out to the streets.
The protagonist is a revenant in this world, soliciting contact then pulling back. She puts herself at risk, or is that a projection? Her search for amber seems like an excuse, none of which makes her very believable. She is standing in for something. The story is already unreal, or about something else. The anachronisms of the original wrap it in an uncertain atmosphere. The revised version is wound tighter—jagged, inexplicable, voyeuristic—making underlying motivations harder to guess.
Jennifer accepts the mediation of a Libyan hotel guest who takes her back to the amber merchant she had called on the previous day. That’s where Bill emerges, the stepbrother she loved ten years earlier, whose child she had at the hospital in Alexandria, the child her mother made her surrender. Jennifer’s visit to the hospital the day before was intended to lay those ghosts to rest. Instead she has joined the living dead. The lack of escape is her fate. Resigned to that, she encounters Bill. There is nothing to keep them apart any more. And with that knowledge he reveals that their daughter is alive and well. She has been raised by the nuns there in the city.
It becomes a story of wished-for self-completion, managed in a far-fetched way rather than achieved and deserved, a dream version of the random pick-up that enacts a fantasy of transcendent consummation. In Oxford that’s what I shared with Rebecca as we were preparing to say goodbye on our separate journeys. Giving shape to shadows in order to dispel them. Wondering if the myth of wholeness could make sense. We affirmed each other. How knowingly it’s hard to say.
In the story the politics of Africa takes Bill away from Jennifer, his adventuring as much as what she came to see as her pathology. It’s a story about displaced selves and their persistent shadows, and the readiness that must exist before light can enter. That is the hope in the possession of amber.
‘Nothing remained but to take what was offered.’ The summary sentence is missing from the close of the revised version. The passive made it unwelcome, I suppose. The ending of the last paragraph was cut too, as if out of impatience to get the thing over. The reunited lovers stroll hand in hand along the street. They’re heading for the convent where they will recover their long-lost child. Leave them to it.
It might all be an invention, something an onlooker has made up while observing a couple of strangers. The published version pans to an everyday world: ‘Otherwise their walk passed unnoticed among the diverse transactions of the street.’ Otherwise? Other than for them in the story imagined by a writer who stays with them in the original version: ‘their walk … would take as long as anyone could project into the future’.
Was the writer me? There’s a further deleted sentence: ‘And Jennifer would get her message through to the capital saying she’d managed in Egypt.’ She has proven the capacity that was promised at the outset. She’s the writer. If it’s all in her mind, it’s in her writer’s mind, her shadowed, divided, incomplete self. I narrate through her, she/me. I shape my speculations. I fix what I feel. I type her out. In The Possession of Amber she is one among many such figures. This is the work of youth, strained and suspenseful, threatening to topple over. The cuts and changes made in the editing only tauten the high-wire.
The most startling phrase in the concluding paragraph in both versions is added onto a list of impressions of people in the street: ‘and the dying old’. Now there’s a viewpoint of youth. How old is old? We are all dying, as Shakespeare’s Antony says to Cleopatra under the Alexandrian sky, ‘dying, Egypt, dying’. Jennifer may hate ‘old women’, the managers of propriety, but she has no conception of what’s to come. Which is natural at 25. I forgive myself. ‘The dying old.’ It’s not a phrase I would write now.
I look at the ocean from the balcony of a unit on the twenty-fifth floor. The light is the same creamy peach as the roses in Rebecca’s garden, mixed with the same cockle-shell pink of her sweet peas, only here with an acid-green edge that comes as sunrise edges up from below the horizon. I left London on the longest day of the year and, 36 hours later, wake to almost the shortest. The sheer expanse of the Pacific stretches before me, while at my back the serpentine waterways of the hinterland wind through glossy vegetation towards spun sugar mountains in the distance. I watch as day begins on this side of the world.
Rebecca and I sat up late on my last night. The gloaming lingered after ten o’clock. The air was warm and we stayed outside in the garden, drinking wine and laughing with Rebecca’s children and their partners who had called in to say goodbye to me. One of the couples is expecting their first child, with the baby due in three months. It turned into an impromptu family conference. Rebecca has announced that she intends to sell Austen Road.
Far below a pump is chugging as it sprays sand from offshore to keep the beach looking good. A giant pile of sand has been excavated on the construction site next door where a shopping mall and apartment complex in the shape of three gigantic crystals is rising to be the grandest thing on the Coast. There are five cranes in view, higher than I am, flying the Eureka flag. It’s a union workplace.
Day begins with a port-a-loo swinging through the sky. The bright green cabin is retrieved from atop the concrete shell of the new structure and swung in stately dance to the ground, where it is dislodged and replaced with a clean one for the working day. The portable toilet then soars back above the building site to be manoeuvred into place on high. Priority business first thing, putting the call of nature first, acknowledging the workers’ needs.
The operator is visible in his cab, driving the great proboscis of the crane with the utmost skill. The waves break steadily on the beach. A lone surfer negotiates the break, finding it hard to get a ride. I salute his patience with the gentle, underperforming swell. It’s worth it for the moment of perfect attunement. Both tasks look hard from where I am, the work of the man who sits stationary in the cab while he dangles a cabin through the sky, and the dream of the surfer suspended in motion on his board. There are no shadows here yet as the sun rises towards this east-facing shore.
Here at the sheer edge
of a continent …
Precarious as weed
… the moment
Of touching …
Words from a poem by David Malouf that might have been inspired by this place, might have been written in it, observing a coast where, in as many years as a man has gone from youth to age, scattered shacks were conjured into the corniche of hazy towers that curves away south, where a beach erodes and is repaired daily, as bulldozers push sand around and dig enormous holes.
Last night a poet at the conference on environmental humanities I am attending here said that the civilising machine is a bulldozer. We were upstairs in a bar at Surfers Paradise. That machine is certainly in action next door this morning, relocating sand in its determination to implement an idea. The process stretches from the foaming shoreline, through the mangrove waterways, on roads, tracks and freeways, slicing the mountains to the other side, changing the country on a vast scale, reshaping it, way out of sight.
To float high in air here is to hover in time too. The paperclip I peel off the typescript that Rebecca has returned to me is rusty, like the rust that has overtaken the shrubbery in the garden of the hospital where Jennifer lost her child in the story: ‘that terrible lush rustiness’, a phrase that sets rampant growth against decay, like a rusting metal thread in silk brocade. We revise ourselves, we revise what we write, how we read, what we see. Habits form, encrust and erode us. That’s change too. We chip and flake. We are only ever incompletely ourselves, in the way that a story may never find its final, perfectly edited form. It, we, are always pulling this way or that. There are always threads. The period of composition can be quite extended. Of decomposition. Here, it’s 40 years before this reckoning.
Rebecca has sold Austen Road and become a grandmother. She has downsized and moved into something low-maintenance and modern. She has always kept up with trends and gone with the times. Now she wants a dog. I had a chance to re-edit the story I dedicated to her for a reprint, incorporating some of what was cut into a new version that seeks to strike a balance between styles, between anachronism and fashion, between then and now, both of which depend on where you’re coming from. I wish to preserve a moment that in retrospect anticipates time to come, in which we became other selves and yet our friendship survived, as if unchanged, taking us along across the span of years.
It was beautiful on that evening of the solstice to sit in the garden in a light that was changing so imperceptibly we did not realise we were sitting in the dark. Then Rebecca said that what she wanted was a dog and we all groaned. Would it be another spaniel as she had as a child, or a Jack Russell, a designer dog, a rescue animal, a mutt? What would it be, this next step into the new life?
Nicholas Jose has published novels, short stories, a memoir and essays, mostly on Australian and Chinese culture. His most recent book is Bapo (Giramondo, 2014). He teaches at the University of Adelaide.