Spent yesterday painting every stump around the outside of the house Beth’s Shade of Charcoal – got completely bitten by mozzies and only just escaped a large spider. Exhausting. Then I painted the stump-toppers green (I will upload a photo, so this at least makes some attempt at sense) and then the gateposts. StOC hung out with me – I swear he is part dog. I did washing and visited M’s mother, whom we haven’t seen for over a month. There is a standoff going on, which I am all too aware of – which is largely to do with M’s inability to keep in close contact with his family – or to keep as close as they would like [sigh]. Anyway – I visited.

She is old and wily. I play young and ditzy.
“Hi!” I bubble, bouncing through her back door.
She is sequestered in her chair, opposite a flat panel television larger than our fridge.
“Oh Beth, hello darling…”
I wait for the thrust.
“…I thought you’d gone back to Melbourne.”
I look dumbfounded.
Really? Noooo. We haven’t seen you for ages, so I just thought I’d visit and break the drought.”
She looks as if she’s about to have another go, so I jump in, dangling an irresistible carrot.
“So – how’ve you been? Has your back been playing up?”
I get twenty minutes of crumbling vertebrae, dry skin, ankles so swollen that the doctor was afraid the skin would split open – interrupted only once by the bloke from next door, who drops around to say he’ll be in tomorrow to take the rest of the turf. The turf that was supposed to be for our house, that, because of the stand-off, we haven’t been around to claim. Now it’s gone.
“I told M that he could have it, but you never let me know, and I haven’t seen you for months, so…”
“Yes. Sorry about that. My Dad came up to visit…”
“So I heard.”
“…and we’ve been working really hard on the house.”
I’m aware of my lameness, but can’t seem to do anything about it.
“I don’t even ring you anymore you know. When I do ring I just get that machine, and I won’t speak to it. I won’t. I just hang up.” She is imperturbable.
“Well that’s just annoying,” I say, daringly. “I was underneath the house today, painting stumps, and the phone rang twice in the room that was above me and there was nothing I could do. Whoever it was just hung up. It’s a pain.”
She changes tack.
“Well whenever I have left a message, no one calls me back, so I’ve just given up.”
She slumps back in her seat and groans in a way that says her vertebrae are crumbling as we speak.
I have one more try. “I work every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’m right by the phone – my boss calls me all the time – you could just ring then. I always answer.”
“Oh, I can’t remember to call on particular days love, I have to just call when I need to call.”
We stalemate, and speak of other things.
On the drive home, I reach over to my bag and something falls on me and runs away. I indicate and pull sedately over to the side of the road, where I erupt from the car and dance beside it, lit up by the headlights of passing cars, trying to make sure that whatever it was hasn’t got stuck in my shorts. I don’t know how she did it, but I know she did it.