The cracks are showing.
It begins at 6:15am with an angry text: *Put on some headphones!!!*
A violent whump from the pillows in the bedroom. Another forceful text.
Trying fruitlessly to fall back asleep on the sofabed, I glanced over at my son, who’s deep in a group presentation for his English class. Both of us are desperately hoping the wifi doesn’t cut out before he finishes.
Raising eyebrows, he puts on headphones and settles in for the rest of the class, while I give up and make coffee.
Halfway through my 7am Zoom meeting, the argument begins. Why didn’t you wear headphones? But I told you in advance. That doesn’t matter, you woke me up.
It’s going to be a long 14 days. Maybe games will help.
I rootle around in my sister’s suitcase. I suggested Boggle and Scrabble; she added Bananagrams, cards, an indoor basketball hoop, badminton racquets, a soft Frisbee, indoor ping-pong and something called “100 Board Games.” Wow.
I pick up a racquet and start playing badminton hacky-sack. Nobody else joins in.
After morning class – which includes, ironically, an incomprehensible professor panel on abolishing the prison system – we tuck into lunch. Mum calls from the hospital where Dad’s doing a treatment – every conversation is like another puzzle piece into their world of living with cancer. As we chat, I sit on the balcony where the fierce Australian summer sun is settling inexorably in for the afternoon.
It burns my pale, Northwest-winter skin, the perfect recipe for melanoma – just like Dad.
I go inside.
We try more games while my daughter chats on her physics lab. After a near-miss with the TV and the Frisbee flying into the laptop, I give up and do some yoga. Then a little flute practice on the balcony, which is the furthest I can get from my kids. (I brought my flute over to play duets with Dad, maybe, if he’s up to it.) It’s probably still incredibly annoying to them, especially the high-register F# major scales, but the passersby down on the street look up and smile at my Bach.
Even the myna bird comes to listen – triumph!
“We got him onto the railing yesterday without even trying,” says my son, without looking up.
Next game – balcony spitting. The kids join me outside, and my daughter takes a full swig from her water bottle. Then, mouth full, she shoots me a mischievous glance. She’s been practicing massive burps all day, and I wouldn’t put anything past her. A flashback to the time we were all thrown off Notre Dame Cathedral after my son started long-range spitting off the edge wafts through my brain.
“Don’t you dare.”
“Why – what are you gonna do?” teases my son, picking up the bottle. “Make us leave?”
“I’ll take a photo and put you in the blog!”
They just laugh.
I look down. Luckily nobody’s passing. With a final glint of her eyes, my daughter spits a less-than-graceful arc over the railing. It falls onto the gravel, far away from anyone else. Still:
“Oh my gosh! This is a massive Covid security breach, you guys. This is why they lock us up, imagine if – “
“Oh, chill. Jeez.”
I’m left alone on the balcony, except for the myna bird, which has stayed to watch the entertainment.
4pm – workout time! I’m really hooked on this dance workout gal (Kyra PRO on YouTube, if anyone wants to follow along at home) and today we bop along to oldies from “Shrek” and “Grease.” There’s a rare family moment where we’re all doing ‘50s arm-wiggles and singing along with Olivia Newton-John, but it evaporates pretty quickly after dinner.
“All right, I’ll do these dishes now, but you’d better start doing your own.”
“I do my own!”
“No, you don’t! And you take forever in the bathroom.”
It escalates. (It doesn’t help that they’re now both taller than me.) I try to make peace, then I just try to escape, but there’s nowhere to go. I wonder if the hotel staff are used to hearing loud screaming fights from quarantine family rooms. And I think about the next 11 days.
In my Mum’s family there’s a tradition: If you’re cross, you go out for a long walk.
I head out to the balcony, which is rapidly turning into a kind of sacred space. The wifi doesn’t work out there, you can’t really hear what’s going on inside, and despite the constant rush of industrial traffic there’s a kind of peace, a reminder of life outside and beyond. Out there, we’ve had some pretty deep conversations: dreams, hopes, life, death.
Now, in the humid summer darkness, the cicadas are ringing in the trees. A bird sings a silvery coloratura. High above, a fruit bat wheels and shrieks, a black triangle cutting through the night haze.
The Moreton Bay fig exhales; I can almost taste its green oxygen, almost feel its halo of soft, leafy air. A lone cyclist whirrs by. I think about the sad Facetime call we had earlier with my husband back home and two miserable dogs. I think about Dad, and about all the millions of people out there in Sydney living a great life, virtually Covid-free – so starkly, unbelievably different from the pandemic life people are living back in America.
I take one more long inhalation, as if I’m about to start the Bach.
Then I go inside and slide the door shut.