Des thinks about Melbourne and London and prepares for his Mother's funeral.
Melbourne was much the same as he had left it and apparently unaffected by his experiences in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The two lions, replicas of the ones outside the British Museum, reminded him that London reminded him of Melbourne and vice versa. He would walk for hours across the length of the city, or just get out random underground stops. He had moments where he was sure he had been there before, a feeling he never had in Paris or Rome. Looking at the two lions, and at the night street, he felt again his connection to Melbourne. During school holidays they would travel down from the farm and he felt like a country boy in his R.M. Williams boots and cowboy shirt. He was tall for his age, big and athletic, and to leave the Windsor Hotel on his own and explore the city streets filled him with an indefinable sense of excitement. And the way those pretty daughters of old family friends treated him - like an especially lovely big dog or something more human. He felt the sunlit possibility of it all.
Standing in front of the statues now, he grinned at his own cluelessness. Had any boy in the history of humankind been as clueless as he was? He was grateful that those moments of discovering something completely obvious were behind him.
His family sat in a huddle. The senior surgeon, in a white coat, walked towards them. Des' father stood. Des looked at the surgeon approaching then turned and looked out the window into the small alley way formed by the back of the main building and a smaller one. He had watched orderlies push trolleys with the white sheets covering the bump of someone’s face through a door which he had a pretty good idea was the morgue. He turned and looked at family, arms crossed. Nurses in fresh white uniforms, no doubt sweet smelling, passed in pairs or threes. Memories reloaded; memories piling on top all the others. The crucifix on the wall reminded him where he was. As if he needed reminding. It provided a pin prick and only added to his rising tension. His grief had cut through his libido. He took a sip from his coffee cup and turned again to the alley which for some reason reminded him of the alleys formed between the sound stage in a Hollywood studio.
On the day of the funeral the sky was steely grey. He thought about the day he left for London. Everything passes and ends. New Guinea will end. The Golden days of Hollywood ended and the Roman Empire. Just wait long enough and everything will be over, like his Mum's life, over.
A cold wind carried bits of rain across the street outside. The day before he was at the funeral home looking down at what looked like the mummified corpse of his Mummy. It had never been so clear to him that once the life force had gone all that was left was a bag of bones. The makeup, the rouge and lip stick seemed to have been slapped on making his beautiful mother look like a dead madam or a vaudevillian second act. At least her outfit looked fine; small mercies. Her eyes were closed and sunken and the skin on her face hung across her skull. There was absolutely no life there. Her head was wrapped in a scarf. The room in the funeral home felt like a warehouse, with disproportionately high ceilings and the walls too far away.
And now was the day and Des was glad he had his good suit and a crisp, new white shirt. The feeling of being tossed up in the air was still with him. He pulled the curtain back further so he could see the rectangle of cement between the house and wrought iron fence. The rain was now falling in great sheets onto Rae Street and onto the glass and metal of the cars all lined up on the street.
The funeral service was at 1pm which meant he was up much too early. After the heat of Port Moresby, Des was glad to be again in a cold climate where he could wear his charcoal grey wool suit and woolen socks.
He was surprised by the steadiness of his feelings for Melbourne. Even the rain delighted him. It was so different from the bucketing tropical downpours which would pound on the corrugated iron roof, pouring off it in lines, mini waterfalls, shaped by the corrugations. He would sit in the living room, with Mahler playing on the stereo, and when the wind blew up he would catch a spray of rain through the open louvres. The balcony would be damp from the spray. By the next afternoon, after a morning of bright tropical sunlight, the garden would seem to have grown like some plant in a stop animation film.
During these downpours he would walk through the house enjoying the protective cocoon of its white walls and dark wooden floors. Today the rain was cold and damp and landed with reluctance. The wind carried it in every direction.
He sat on the bed and examined his shoe. He then opened the tin of shoes polish, laid an old newspaper on the bed, and began to polish his shoes.
Clinton De Vere