Caren has Monkey and Sparrow safely strapped into the double pram. She walks with me to the foot of the stairs and then heads off, all intrepid, down the grassy hill towards Birrarung Marr. The playground there is amazing and Monkey (we both hope) will love it. Sparrow is due for a sleep, but he’s gazing around and waving at everyone and yelling to the morning. They’ll meet me at 11 so I can feed Sparrow before the next session.
I probably look impossibly cool (or pretentiously Melbourne) in my sneakers and jeans, a piece of curled bone through my right ear lobe, a MacBook Air settled on my lap. No one would guess that I had to pick a dried Weetbix smear off my neck and make sure both sides of my maternity bra were clicked up (I have been through entire mornings without realising I have one breast swaying) before heading in to the Cube for The Morning Read.
Jane Sullivan read from Little People. In 1870 four little people came to tour Australia and were treated like rock stars, they had groupies, this is based, she says, on truth. And this: “A soft voice, and clean hands, and the smell of peppermint”.
Abdulrazak Gurnah reading from The Last Gift. He stands and moves to the microphone and then speaks to the techs. “Would it be possible to turn the music off? There’s music coming out of the speaker here, the kind of music you hear when you call the bank.” His is a book about a man who is unable to speak, but wants to speak. The last gift is that he is finally able to speak. It is a story about secrets, and their corrosive nature in intimate settings. “This was in the days when Mogadishu was still a port, and not a slaughterhouse.” “It was the way he looked, like someone who had been places and done things.” “And when his eyes were open, she thought he was someone who liked peace.”
Marion Halligan reading from her short story collection “Reading the Fox”. She says it’s funny having to choose from short stories that are also short memoirs, trying to manage in advance what we’ll think of her. “She was sure she would recognise him. There was the photo, and he said he would carry violets.” “Edible wasn’t a word that came to mind.” “…the air was frostily sweet.” I thought we were hearing something from a long time ago, the description of the train station, meeting a stranger, mothers and children. Maybe it was the violets? I pictured wartime, lost people; I heard sepia. But suddenly there are emails and computers and I have to shift in my seat, to shift time. “Words through space, in emails and telephone calls.” “I like short stories. If you look at my novels, they are really bunches of short stories that serve one big story.”
Tess Gerritsen reading from The Silent Girl. A crime writer, her American accent and the way she reads and the noir story from the first sentence makes me feel like I’m listening to a voice over, instead of an actual, live, voice. “In San Francisco even summer nights are chilly.” “Cold and hunger eventually disperse the last of them, leaving only the girl who has nowhere to go.” “I hear the floor creaking, I smell burning candle wax.” “She has raw talent and she is fearless; two things that can’t be taught.”
Three seats down from me are a couple. They hold hands. There are bells pealing from the church across the road. They hold hands, hers on top, their fingers laced. His right thumb is tapping on her forearm. His eyes are closed but the lids are fluttering. He is listening blind, he is tapping a story into her body. I feel the relief of having no person, no body, pressing up against mine. I breathe in the space and words around me like the scent of something clean, like grass, like newly brewed lemongrass tea with cut ginger, like me.
- The Glue of Good Fiction (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)