Sometimes during the long days, they played marbles with the smoothest of jagged stones, pick-up-sticks with broken gum tree branches or talked about what used to keep them awake at night…dormant volcanos suddenly erupting, the inescapability of black holes, or what happens if you fall into quicksand.
The slide was that old-fashioned kind – metal, with chipped blue handrails. On a hot day it could burn your legs, but on a day like today the thermal conduction of a winter sun on its surface kept them warm and its aspect sheltered them from a bitter wind and whirling sand. It was Monday. They knew this as the last two days blended together in seamless monotony. The bell reminded them of times when going to school, packed lunches and swimming lessons were just a part of everyday life. Marco and Pip met in kinder and now nine years later, they were as close as family. With the others now gone, they were family.
To honour their feelings and stories of the easier times, when the school bell rang Pip would fix Marco an after-school snack of food foraged and scavenged. Today, the spread included some stale crisps, a jar of gherkins, mallow cheesewheels and pig face daisies. The daisies tasted like figs reminding Marco of riding his bike with his Mum to backyard laneways picking fruit that hung over fences in the summer. Pip and Marco had a deal. They could only talk about the easier times after the school bell. Too much talking about the past and questioning only led to nightmares which neither of them were keen to seed by reflections and old memories.
In his early years, Marco remembered being picked up from school by his Mum. Each day, she would surprise him with a new snack – a jam donut from Crusts, a mango from the market or a purple jelly snake from the lolly stash she kept in the car’s glovebox. She would kiss him on top of his head and wrap her arms around his back holding him long enough to almost take his breath away, before taking his Paw Patrol lunchbox from his hands and swinging his Bluey backpack over her shoulder. She would take him to her studio to draw and paint, before heading home to prepare dinner. Oh, how he missed her honey-soy chicken wings, sticky and crisp, reading in the bathtub, and warm lavender scented wheat bags tucked with him under the doona on nights like these. What he didn’t know back then, was how his Mum spent many nights in futility attempting to reconcile with his father who became lost in the global economic fallout. Only once, did she have a slip of the tongue with him in earshot saying that his father chose the easier way by leaving…by disconnecting from all his relations. Since Marco could walk, his Mum taught him that the law is in the land, not in man. All humans are related to all other lifeforms in an unbroken chain that linked millions of years ago, and it is our role to accept the reciprocal responsibility for care for one another and all sentient beings, even if it feels like the hard way – something foreign, uncomfortable and/or unknown. “Begin with humility and curiosity, my son. Don’t let fear be your poison”, she would say.
Pip tossed mallow cheesewheels like popcorn into her mouth and began talking with her mouth full. Pip’s
big sister Meg went to the same school. Meg would meet her at the bicycle shed, cycle home and fix her a Vegemite sandwich before retreating to the study for homework. Pip would lounge on the sofa, scroll ABC Kids programs on the iPad and snuggle with Banjo the cat until her Mums came home. Pip’s Mums were ‘ists’ – all the ists she could think of – activists, artists, unionists, socialists, antiracists, altruists and anti-materialists. Some said alarmists, especially when they were organising rallies to demand action on climate change, chaining themselves to the entrance of Woodside’s Karratha LNG plants, striking for human rights and advocating for a universal basic income. Unlike Marco who was bathed in serotonin and oxytocin from sunrise to bedtime, Pip’s household was a hotbed of cortisol and adrenaline. At least her Mums tried to make a difference and taught the girls about the value of social participation, caring for Country, and to never forget that at the heart of capitalism was misogyny.