Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Lost Keys

I woke up and my housekeys were missing. Eventually, I found them in the front door of the house. That made me smile. Thinking of the sign down by the ferry wharf: ‘Thieves are operating in this area – do not hide your keys in obvious places.’ That made me laugh. Then I remembered the spider outside my study window. All this time I’d been keeping windows tightly shut to keep the spider out. And here I’d left the keys in the front door. The laughter froze in my throat.

Liane, with Charlie

My favourite game was called Imaginary Adventure. It was invented by my sister, Liane, and we played it with the neighbourhood kids. What happened was, Liane told an extraordinary story and, as she talked, we acted out the story. She directed us, very precisely. I once spent an hour trapped in a giant's ham sandwich.
If you want to play Imaginary Adventure now, you just read one of Liane's books. She has a new one, a children's book called The Petrifiying Problem with Princess Petronella. Her other books, for grown-ups, are Three Wishes and The Last Anniversary. I love her stories; she's so smart and funny.
Somewhere online, Liane once found a conspiracy theory that she and I are the same person. Think about it, the theorist said, they both come from Sydney. They're both called Moriarty. THEY BOTH WRITE BOOKS.
But I had coffee with Liane yesterday. So how can we be the same person? That's what I keep asking myself.

The Neighbours

I have met the neighbours. I arrived home late and the neighbours were emerging from their house. The light by their front door was in my eyes. I squinted, trying to see them. They paused by the fence, spoke to me, and told me their names. Their names, like their voices, were wistful. “I can’t see you,” I said. “The light -”
The neighbours murmured laughter in response. I shifted, and shielded my eyes. Charlie, in his pram, gazed up unblinking. A black dog was breathing by their knees. I looked down but the dog moved into shadow. Their front gate clinked, and they were gone.

I came into my study and wrote their names on a piece of paper. I looked at the names, tried to see them. The next day, the paper was gone.

Lessons on Cheering up Friends

I borrowed three CDs from the library, to teach myself French.

The first CD made me fluent. I was not allowed to concentrate. Just relax, the teacher said, and later chided gently: Please don’t try to hold on. Then he slid ice-cubes down my neck. It was a sultry day: the ice-cubes were soothing. Also, the ice-cubes were phrases. Unobtrusively, he built the phrases into sentences. Within 45 minutes, I was fluent. I was walking into French cafes and asking other patrons, "What impression – do you have – of the economic and political situation – in France – at the present time?" Or else I was confessing, "I regret – it is not comfortable – for me – like that." I let the phrases melt together and my French was very sighing, very languid.

The second CD, the teacher took my melting ice-cubes and tipped them out onto the lawn. He was kind but firm. He thought I should be reading the textbook. I said, Look, I’m trying to feed Charlie his berry-and-apple ripple here. But he only gave me more instructions. "You are in a market and want to buy some vegetables. Ask if they have any potatoes. Ask if they have any beans." Also: "Your friend is very depressed and you are trying to cheer him up. Tell him he speaks French better than you speak French. Tell him he sings better than you sing. Tell him his garden is more beautiful than your garden."

Once, he surprised me with a moment of educational levity: "And now, an authentic French tongue twister about the price of sausages."

The third CD was a collection of French songs. As soon as I put it on I began to tap my feet. Charlie, in his high chair, swung his legs back and forth. It was folk music. It was the perfect way to learn French! I would dance my way back to fluency! By track 2, however, I realised that the music was unbearable and turned it off.