This mirror can be brutally honest first thing
in the morning. The lines on my brow and fleshy, wrinkled undersides of my
arms. The window full of light and luminating the sight of me. Gah!
Skinny Gran looked into this mirror once, long
ago. Then her son built her a house in the House Paddock, next to the Apple
Tree paddock. It was said her husband, Viking stock, went away to war a good
man and came back a bad one. North Africa campaigns. One of the Rats. She
survived the car accident, when her drunken husband and some of her children
did not. Her son survived it too and left school at ten to go to work. He
became adult, slicked back hair, weekly dances at the community hall, shearing
teams. Skinny Gran moved with him here, to this house, when he married the
daughter of a Dutchman and they staked all of their money into a patch of dirt
on the south coast.
Skinny Gran died quietly. The men here die
violently as a rule. The women are taken by a more interior means – clusters and
squamous cells. For decades, a lifetime, Skinny Gran’s daughter in law, a
merry-eyed woman with tight curly hair inspected herself in this mirror before
making tea in an aluminium pot in the mornings, quiet time before the children
awoke. Listening to the bulls and the magpies. Curly Mum’s daughters were
babies and then suddenly they were teenagers, the oldest wielding a
tight-lipped authority over her squally middle child brother. Sometimes when
she looked in the mirror, she could see the straight brow and nose of her children’s’
genes, the Dutch, the Swede, the hard scrabble life land.
Sometimes I wonder, as I look in the same
mirror, whether Curly Mum thought of the farm as unceded Aboriginal land. It must
have been a silent reckoning and certainly not of the times. The work, the
constant work and interest rates and carting water for the cattle in the dry
years. Her son was old enough now, angry enough and strong enough to take on
his old man. Her son went away at fifteen.
Her youngest, who idolised her big brother, sat
on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror and cried as Curly Mum stood behind
her, cutting her hair into a blonde crown of curls. If only they wouldn’t
fight, she said to her mum. Why do they fight? It was a Saturday and the midsummer
light through the window was fierce. She was starting high school in a week.
Her mum reckoned that there is always a week between a bad haircut and a good
They tiled the bathroom, took out the bath with
its lion claw feet and installed a sliding glass shower cubicle. No one had
baths anymore anyway and the water pressure was improved with the new electric
pump. Curly Mum stood in front of the mirror, a towel around her waist, right
arm raised and crooked over her hair, her left hand feeling around her boob,
seeing if the lump was visible to the eye.
Two years later and, stepping out of the shower
in the mornings with bright light shining in, confronting again the scars beneath
her absent right breast. So … an Amazon now. Silences from her husband and
fearful looks from her daughters. Trips to the city were a necessity rather
than privilege. Clearances, cleared, remission. Twenty years. Her son returned.
Her son’s girlfriend was a sturdy, uneven girl
who already had a daughter from another man. Curly Dill (‘daughter in law, love’)
would seek refuge in the kitchen with Curly Mum when the two men, now bonded in
mutual recognition after all those years of antipathy, became intolerable to
her in the shed. Curly Mum found this kid’s activism around the forests and
feminist thought tilting at windmills and pretty quaint. She’s pregnant, her
son said to her one day. How do you feel about that? Curly Mum asked her son. I’m
not sure, said her son.
Curly Dill gave birth on the side of the road
on the way to the hospital. Not long after that, Curly Mum had a proper
hospital bed delivered to the house, and a nurse, so that she could die at home.
Which she did.
Grannie Violet had been sweet on Curly Mum’s
husband from the days back when Skinny Gran was a single mum and her son was
slicking back his hair and going to dances. So when Curly Mum died, Grannie
Violet moved into her house and soon became grandma to the expanding progeny of
this family. At first there was resistance from them, then acceptance as they
realised she was staying for the long run. She would see herself age in the
bathroom mirror, over the years. She kept her own house and worked still,
cleaning houses and government department buildings, as her partner grew older
and his heart condition worsened. Grannie Violet went into the house two days
after he died to ‘collect her things.’ I’d like to think that she stopped in
front of the bathroom mirror but maybe she didn’t.
Curly Mum’s son took over the farm when his
father died. He worked full time at a sand carting company to pay back the loan
incurred by his father’s lack of a will, and spent his nights in the calving
season with a calf-puller, a torch and his four-wheel drive. He looked drawn
and shadowed. The next woman to look in the bathroom mirror brushed her teeth,
inspected her fringe, eyebrows and hair, before rushing her daughter off to the
school bus that rumbles along the gravel road past the gates, every morning. She
hoped for a future, any future. At the gates sit concrete casts of a pair of lions,
an Italian plea that the people within own this piece of land.
Yesterday, Curly Dill looked in that bathroom
mirror, remembering this history. She first looked into that mirror when Curly
Mum was still alive and she was 24, and in love with her son. If she looked a bit emotional
in the mirror, it’s because the farm is about to be sold after the
death of her own son’s father, Curly Mum's son, and so this whole story comes to an end, of sorts.