First, in my spare room, I swiveled the bed on to a
north-south axis. Isn't that supposed to align the sleeper with the planet's
positive energy flow, or something? She would think so. I made it up nicely with
a fresh fitted sheet, the pale pink one, since she had a famous feel for color,
and pink is flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish.
Would she like a flat pillow or a bulky one? Was she allergic to feathers, or even, as a vegetarian, opposed to their use? I would offer choice. I rounded up all the extra pillows in the house, slid each one into a crisply ironed slip, and plumped them in a row across the head of the bed.
I pulled up the wooden venetian and threw open the window. Air drifted in, smelling leafy, though you couldn't see a leaf unless you forced open the wire screen and leaned right out. She had been staying for months with her niece Iris, on the eighth floor of an art deco apartment block in Elizabeth Bay whose windows, I imagined, pointed due north over a canopy of massive Sydney figs, towards the blue field of the harbour.
The immediate view from my spare room, until I could get some geraniums happening in a window box, was of the old grey paling fence that separated my place from my daughter, Eva's. The sash window faced east, though, and the light bouncing off the weatherboard side of Eva's house kept the room bright till well into the afternoon. Also, it was late October, which in Melbourne is supposed to be spring.
I was worrying about her feet. The floor of her room was bare timber, except for a worn kilim full of rips. What if she snagged one of her long, elegant toes in it? What if she fell? Slippers were among the things she didn't bother with, along with suitcases, bras, deodorants, irons. I rolled up the dangerous kilim and threw it into the back shed. Then I drove over to a shop opposite Piedimonte's supermarket, where my friend Peggy, who knows about these things, said they sold tribal rugs. Straight away I spotted a pretty one: blossoms of watery green and salmon twining on a mushroom ground. The bloke told me it was Iranian, vegetable dyed. I chose it because it was faded. She would hate me to buy anything specially; to make a fuss.
Would she want to look at herself? It was months since I had last laid eyes on her: all I knew was from our emails. Every time the news sounded bad under her chirpy chatter, I would suggest flying up to Sydney. But she put me off. She was going out to dinner and couldn't change the date, or there wouldn't be a bed for me, or she didn't want me to waste my money. She might take it the wrong way if her room lacked a mirror. Behind the bookshelf in my workroom I found one I'd bought in an Asian import shop at Barkly Square and never used: a tall, narrow, unframed rectangle of glass, its back still equipped top and bottom with strips of double-sided adhesive tape. I selected a discreet spot for it, just inside the door of her room, and pressed it firmly against the plaster.
On the bedside table I fanned out some chord charts to have a crack at on our ukuleles'Pretty Baby', 'Don't Fence Me In', 'King of the Road'. I arranged the reading lamp on a gracious angle, and placed beside it a mug full of nameless greenery that I'd found near the back shed. Then I went along the corridor to my room at the front of the house and lay on the bed with my boots on. It was four o'clock in the afternoon.
What woke me, ten minutes later, was a horrible two-stage smash, so sickening, so total, that I thought someone had thrown a brick through the side window. I rushed out all trembly and ran along the hall. Nothing moved. The house was quiet. I must have dreamt it. But the edge of the old hall runner, halfway to the kitchen, was weirdly sparkling. I stepped over it and into the spare room. The mirror no longer existed. The wall was bare, and the Iranian rug was thick with the glitter of broken glass.
From The Spare Room by Helen Garner. Copyright Helen Garner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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