Eggs by Anna Trembath
Anna Trembath is a Melbourne-based writer with homes in other places dear to her – Timor-Leste and Uganda. She received joint first place in the 2012 Perilous Adventures Short Story Competition, and her work has been published in Perilous Adventures, Peril, Birdville and Arena magazines.
Occasionally I still daydream that greeting the dawn may be the key to redemption. I see early morning mindfulness and sunrise namastes. I envisage reviving ocean dips, the saltwater’s surface flecked with colour like a neo-Impressionist painting. Meditation music intones, birds croon, the bay rocks back and forth, gently shush-shushing. The Melbourne morning seaside of my imagination smells like the waves have licked and lapped everything clean. It positively reeks of a fresh start.
Only twice a year am I awake early enough for all that inner peace malarkey. There is a cruel humour about this unsuitable timing. For eight years now, my sleep routine has been almost perfectly consistent, if dysfunctional. Laptop beside me, having worked on my photos and blog, I finally fall asleep in the blue-black hours of the morning. Like a sleep-surfer, I must ride oblivion at the precise point, just as the swell begins to curl into itself. I wake as late as my day’s plans allow.
This is my nocturnal routine, with the exception of two nights every year. For eight years, I have not slept at all during the hours of darkness where Christmas Day fizzles and dies, and where one year meets the next.
At dawn this morning, the first of January 2013, I trudged along the St Kilda sand. I could not conjure even a little smugness about this. The quiet was not healing. My soul did not sing. I was not wearing loose white linen, sporting flowing tresses and circling, arms out and head thrown back in ecstasy. Instead, the ocean was listless, waiting for something or someone more impressive than I. The intermittent wind whipped me half-heartedly. The heavens were grimy with the city’s muck. Something stank, probably a festering dog crap buried in the sand. Remnants of yesterday’s mascara found welcoming bedfellows in the dark shadows of my eyes, my overgrown fringe was greasy, and last night’s pumpkin soup had left orange drips on my shirt.
Turning back to home, I stepped onto the bike path tracing the shore. A passing cyclist swerved and yelled back at me over his shoulder. I watched his angry calves pump up and down as he disappeared.
It was all fitting. Honest. What I deserve.
Now the pair nestles in the cool round indent. Nudging up against one another at their points of greatest girth, they are smaller than a chicken’s, creamy, ovular and warm. This time there is no speckled imperfection.
The eggs’ halfway house is carefully chosen, a simple Johnson Brothers bowl. It is a colour officially called Grey Dawn, which is actually more a dusky blue. The bowl’s edges arc into four segments, these china petals curving upwards.
Offset by the potted miniature cactus sitting behind, the bowl and eggs remind me of evolvulus arizonicus, a tiny blue flower with a white ovary. On our honeymoon hike in the Sonoran Desert, I had found the Wild Dwarf Morning-glory. When I pointed out the delicate and unexpected thing at our feet, Henry barely looked down. He resented the interruption to his gaze upon the sweeping landscapes ahead and the skies above. The momentum of one foot in front of another was what he wanted.
The still-life arrangement of bowl, eggs and cactus is aglow with the morning sun. If I were looking through my camera’s viewfinder, the scene would be perfect for my blog. The waiting rubbish bin below the kitchen bench would go unseen. But I am not going to shoot this.
Yesterday I swept the balcony and made it inviting with throw rugs, cushions and candles. Here, in this mindful space, she gathers the scattered parts of herself, my blog would read. The photos would followed by a homebrewed chai tea recipe prepared with fair trade ingredients and a snippet about the importance of honey and bees to the ecological system. Somehow, in preparing my New Year’s Day ritual space, I had missed the dying yucca tucked into a balcony corner. I’d only been keeping the plant for its blue pot deathbed, a heavy, glossed ceramic thing. Perhaps in my indecision about choosing something with which to replace the perishing plant, I had deliberately ignored it. Perhaps it was shame, for who manages to kill something so utterly lacking in need?
It was only this morning, returning from my walk, that I noticed it. I had not realised that I was sharing the balcony. I don’t want to, don’t want the mess and imposition of it. The last time this happened, I could not use my balcony for months, in case I made them nervous.
With an eighth of my vegan no-cheese cheesecake and a shiny coffee table book about landscape architecture in Bali homes, I settle into my own private outdoor/indoor area. Ahead of me, yet another batch plummet down the rollercoaster. More white paint peels off rickety timber tracks and a watercolour sky swallows the screams. Beyond, the smiling bay is now sparkly, razzle-dazzle, lit up to impress.
Here I will wait for her.
I know how images can be manipulative. Glossy recipe books contain my images of food that is, in reality, oil-brushed, fluorescent-lit, steaming with hot soaking cotton balls, doused in Photoshopped hyper-colour. Selling a dream, my editors say. Preserving a moment in time that is unreal or ephemeral, before the inevitable decline and destruction, before the next desire sets in. My online profiles of foodies in their carefully-curated creative spaces play to envy. Hipster vegans and organic-obsessed hippies leading delicious, responsible, on-trend lives. Women embracing a repackaged domesticity; men revered for meeting the minimal standard of knowing how to cook, no matter their narcissism or casual objectification of women.
While anxious aesthetes attempt to overcome alienation through Instagram filters, in less coveted postcodes, asylum seekers eke out tasteless charity offcasts and the working class gets fat on takeaway. On a popular television culinary competition, the sole non-white face belongs to a woman born in Eritrea. She is initially lauded for the authenticity of her spiced dishes, and accompanying cultural stories are demanded of her. Later, she is dismissed for insufficiently reproducing that Aussie-forgotten-hyphened-Anglo classic—the pavlova.
Before what happened, I may have bought the basic premise, if not the petty particularities, of white middle class foodie taste. Now this pretentious shell of cultural representation that I inhabit is simply a means to an end; somewhere to pass the time, exhausted, while I wait for the nothingness.
On the day that we left the hospital, the thirtieth of December 2005, the park looked postcard-ready. The beclouded sky of the previous week had fought its way to blue freedom. Some teenagers threw themselves off a yellow cliff face into green and brown-gold waters below. I could hardly bear to look as I could see the shallow bottom of the river right near them, and I wanted to shake the adults urging the kids on. But they knew precisely the point from which to launch, exactly where to land.
We passed in cool forests with mossy stone carvings through to hills a show-off shade of green. Crossing a bridge slicing the pond in half, some guy standing on the hill above us snapped the scene. Just a few minutes earlier he had been lying prone on the banks, like a satire of a wildlife photographer. The ducks were unsure of how to act, perplexed by the attention. When I saw the amateur pointing his thing at us, I hid my face behind Henry.
Perhaps, from a wide-angle viewpoint, we looked normal. Perhaps the photographer even thought that our trio – woman, man, small boy – perfected the pretty scene. If he had zoomed in, visual glitches would have emerged. The man wore a brace curled around his right hand, extending to a mid-point between wrist and elbow. The woman was alarmingly bony, with black eyes, a broken lip, and three tiny plaster strips like train tracks on her forehead. Only with the child was there nothing apparently amiss. Between running off to inspect this and that, the boy would return to pull at one of the woman’s hands. But it was the man who spoke to the child’s chubby upturned face, smiling and entertaining his little wonders.
What the camera could not have seen was the shadow, the lack. Sometimes the man reached for the woman’s free hand, but she would let it drop.
On New Year’s Eve 2005, I lay curled on the Hamilton motel floor, watching my youngest son play with a soft toy given to him by a nurse. Strange, he did not seem to compute Toby’s absence, and yet he idolised his older brother. I was relieved that Toby was—had been—kind to Elijah. Even just after Eli’s birth, there had been no sign of jealousy in the three-year-old. Toby had marvelled at his baby brother, tenderly stroking his tiny nose, ears and toes, smiling down into that alert little face. Eli, in turn, had crawled and walked well before schedule, just to ensure he could be with Toby at all times. He had cried when Toby began school, and was always dizzy with excitement upon the afternoon return of his hero.
And yet now he did not even ask after his missing brother. Perhaps it was some protective block in his little brain. Or maybe he was taking cues from his father about how to be a man, how to suppress and conceal, a how-to guide to masculine shut-down stoicism. Henry was getting on with the job of fathering Eli, and he not uttered a word of blame in my direction. In fact, he had been carefully striking a balance between tenderness, matter-of-factness and levity with me, trying to prevent any outbursts or even mentions around Eli. The previous day, Henry had been the one who had insisted we go to the park, when all I wanted to do was draw the curtains on the motel room and pull the floral bed covers over my head. I nurtured the anger that Henry should have felt towards me and directed it back at him. Eli was just Eli, as loving and contented as always, and yet without his favourite person. It all confounded me.
During the day, I had carefully arranged a few of my things into a small backpack, slowly so as not to draw Henry’s attention or Eli’s questions. And then, when I was sure that they were asleep, I dressed in the bathroom, and left my envelope there next to the sink. It felt like a cliché, leaving a note, but how could I not? Even though it would be the last time that I saw them, I did not dare to kiss them.
There was no longer any rental car to drive the hour or so to Auckland, and in any event I had decided never to drive again. I sat outside in the dark and called a taxi. When we passed the spot where it had happened on Christmas Day, I lifted my feet off the floor, remembering some childhood stories about graveyards and the dead. Changing my ticket at the airline desk, I explained that the others would board the original flight to Melbourne, but that there would be two, rather than three.
I have counted thirty-nine rollercoaster rotations by the time she arrives. As she flies in, she spots me and appears to veer slightly in the air, unsure for a split-second of whether to continue. Plain, without the iridescent breast and underwing feathers of the male pigeon, I would describe her colour as Grey Dawn. She lands on the railing, just about at the yucca, and then hops down to the nest.
It is empty.
I watch her skip back up onto the railing, take flight and disappear. Perhaps she is checking that she has the right balcony. Returning quickly, she walks around the nest a little, nodding down into it, before settling to its side. She does not look at me. We both gaze across the bay.
In the kitchen, the eggs have cooled.