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The Johnston family heads South

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My friends often accuse me of having a male brain. They do this partly because I struggle to accept emotional arguments unless they’re also rational (several of my friends would have other phrases for “struggle to accept”), and partly because I can only focus on one thing at a time.

My entire childhood was spent buried in a book. If I didn’t have one on my person, I’d read cereal boxes, instruction manuals, washing labels. Bills. Lists of ingredients. Road signs. I wasn’t picky. If I finished my book and didn’t have another, I’d flip to the front and start it again. Possibly because she never saw me WITHOUT a book, my mother soon learned to talk around the pages constantly covering my face. If she’d waited until I stopped reading to tell me things, she’d still be tying my shoes today. Honestly, she probably only recognises the top third of my face.

My family talk a lot in general, and they do it with exceptional persistence. Since they refused to leave me alone while I was reading, I learned to tune out my environment completely. It worked for us — I could read unhindered, and my family members could talk unimpeded. Even now, if my concentration is directed somewhere, I am ABSORBED. You can have an entire conversation directly in my ear while I’m watching TV, and I won’t even realise you’re there. It amuses my friends and frustrates the shit out of my workmates, since they have to say everything to me twice, after they’ve thrown something at my head.

My mother, however, has years of experience in dealing with this. All our conversations sound like quizzes — “What did I just say?” “Who are we talking about?” “Repeat the second word in that sentence!” — liberally interspersed with forced eye contact and enthusiastic poking at my person. When you are being poked in the ribs it is VERY HARD to concentrate on anything but being poked in the ribs.

(I do, for the record, realise that my mammy got a VERY RAW DEAL in the Great Daughter Lottery.)

Last Wednesday I spent three hours on a ferry with my parents. I spent two of those hours reading — my mother spent those same two hours talking.

After an hour spent re-reading the same page while learning more than I ever wished to know about Great Aunt Whoever’s medical woes, I gave up and retreated to the cafeteria, where I managed to chop a whole chapter in blissful silence before Mum came to find me. As she sat down beside me, a middle-aged lady settled herself heavily at our table.

“Long trip,” she said, popping open her container of fruit salad. She had sensible sandals and smelled faintly of religion. “I’m pooped already.”

We nodded politely. I lifted my book higher, in case she hadn’t seen that I was BUSY.

“I’ve come all the way from Hamilton this morning,” she continued, craning her neck over my literary shield. “My mother isn’t well. LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT.”

HALF AN HOUR LATER, Mum and I managed to extricate ourselves from this woman and her infirm mother and her FUCKING FRUIT SALAD. “Oh my God,” I said as we climbed the stairs back to Dad. “I thought we’d never escape!”

“She was VERY RUDE,” Mum said, shaking her head. “Who starts a conversation with someone while they’re reading?”

—–

Later, in the car, my father asked me if I “dig Lady Gaga”.

—–

The day after the funeral we went to Pegasus Bay for lunch. Pegasus Bay is beautiful and expensive and refined, like a big pink castle in the country. The antipasto platter is $75 and the chardonnay is delicious. It was, essentially, exactly how I imagine heaven.

As we sat down to eat, the chef lumbered past us towing a huge leg of pork. My brother, who never lets a lame joke pass, tried to order it. “I have to smoke it first!” the chef chortled, kindly pretending to be amused, and trundled off to a little shed behind our table.

Twenty minutes later, as we were tucking into our insanely expensive (and totally worth it) antipasto, there was a massive BOOM from behind us. The chef blew backwards out the door, somersaulted into the garden, and leaped to his feet, beating frantically at his head and arms.

The smoker had blown the roof out of the shed — and the crotch out of the chef’s pants. His hair and underwear smoked gently in the summer breeze. My father and brother rushed to help as the staff turned the hose on him. I sipped at my delectable chardonnay, and forked up another stuffed zucchini flower. I was busy.

My brother ran back to the table. “He’s okay,” he said, grabbing our water jug. He hesitated. “…Think it’s too soon for a dinner and a show joke?”

It kinda was.

Oh well. At least he didn’t tell him he’d saved his bacon.

Pegasus Bay is super classy.
 My brother and I, however, are not at all.


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Writer of things. Annoyer of cats.

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