Friday 10 April
There are no hot-cross buns this Good Friday, but there is fish for dinner (the second-last package of flathead in the freezer). One of the very few – perhaps only – ways Luke is a practising Catholic (though he’s technically agnostic) is that he eats seafood on Good Friday and Christmas Eve.
I make pancakes for lunch, and we eat them with the raspberries and blueberries Luke ordered on a whim in our last grocery delivery.
I dress to do the gardening I’ve been putting off for over a week: overall shorts over a red-and-white checked shirt. Luke laughs when he sees me.
‘It’s so I can’t get out of it,’ I say, and I pose with a pitchfork for Instagram evidence.
Then I find the pliers that cut wire and make a trellis to enclose the verandah pole next to the climbing crimson-flowering plant that keeps trying to ensnare the oleander branches next to it.
I cut my arm wrestling the wire into shape, but it’s worth it for the satisfaction of making something.
Then I do the same for the pole in front of the garden shed, left over from when electricity was wired from the house. Mum and I had planned to plant bougainvillea here.
I dig a hole in the lawn for the potted bougainvillea, throwing all my weight behind the pick as it bites at the clay dirt beneath. I decide to expand the hole into a semi-circle garden bed.
Luke resumes last week’s poking at the lawn with a pitchfork, one-handed. I video him on my phone, while he’s not looking, then play it back to him.
‘Do you see why I said you garden like the Fonz?’ I ask. He laughs, and does not dispute it. I send the video to his sister.
Put your back into it, Luke!, she replies.
It’s a blue-sky day and the Bluetooth stereo is broadcasting our wedding playlist. We sing snatches of song as we work.
When Luke sits on a bench, on a rest from picking gravel from the lawn, Earth, Wind and Fire’s disco song, September, comes on. It’s on the playlist because it has the lyric, Do you remember / the 21st night of September? Which was our wedding date. Felix begged us to include it; he thought it would be hilarious. As it turned out, we badly misjudged the capacity of the in-house speakers in the Largs Pier Restaurant, so no one really heard it, nor got the joke.
I dance, in my dirt-streaked overalls and muddy knees: bouncing and contorting and twisting. I put my hands on Luke’s thighs in his black skinny jeans and leave handprints. He applauds at the end of the song, and I bow.
As dark falls, we have a new garden bed bordered with red bricks, planted with bougainvillea and a rosemary bush and flowering basil. Crimson flowers and green vines are encircling and climbing the verandah post, mapped to its wire cage.
Luke brings a cider from the fridge and we sit on the garden bench, music playing and night deepening, watching the mist and whir of the sprinkler under the Hills Hoist on the newly cored lawn. I rest my head on his shoulder.
Saturday 11 April
I am reading my Carrie Fisher biography on the back verandah, eating chilli chips and occasionally glancing at my garden, when my phone flashes with her name again, though I’d muted the conversation as soon as she’d paid me on Thursday. I feel sick, even though the first word I see on the phone is ‘sorry’, and I can also see that she had paid me the remainder of the amount on my original invoice.
‘LUKE!’ I yell behind me, into the house. ‘Luke, it’s her again! She’s paid me!’
I can’t read the email until he appears.
It’s a long apology, an explanation that she only just saw this email, the one in which I outlined in detail how much a completed job would have cost her, and how the amount I charged her was in fact a portion of that. In which I had reminded her that the initial missed deadline she was so angry about had been because my son was briefly hospitalised, in Melbourne. And had been blunt about the fact the hours I spent on her book were hours I was not with my husband, or doing my own writing, and in one instance, that I had taken off my paid work. That I deserved to be paid for them.
She went into detail about her own mental state and said she was sorry, that she had been overloaded and snapped.
She said that she had no problems with the quality of the work itself; that I am clearly a skilful editor.
And I am ashamed of how relieved this line makes me, how it is even better than the $500 she just paid me.
Because the part of me that was rattled so hard that I couldn’t sleep at night, that propelled me out of the house to walk for the first time in weeks, that made me feel sick when I see the client’s name, or think about her, is professional shame at the thought of having failed so deeply. Despite all the logical arguments I’d presented to her that I had not.
It takes me a while to focus on my book again.
First, I write back to thank her for her apology, and to … not forgive her, exactly, but invite her to let it go and move on.
No hard feelings.
Sunday 12 April
This afternoon, Luke watches James Bond movies inside while I work on the garden. I weed and dig out the garden beds around the fig tree, along the fence.
Then I empty the plastic cube stacked with slate tiles that has sat under a tree against the fence since I moved in, ferrying the tiles into the garden shed. Luke comes outside as I’m getting rid of the half-decayed sleepers bordering the garden bed; he helps me carry them away, then sits on the bench on the verandah to watch me re-border the bed with red bricks.
He goes inside, then comes back after I’ve planted seaside daisy seedlings along the bed, with sage and kale and transplanted thyme at the far end of the garden. After I’ve watered it all, he replaces the hose nozzle with a sprinkler and sets it in the middle of the lawn.
We sit on the bench again, but don’t drink cider tonight. We’ve only got two bottles left.
Monday 13 April
I use almost a whole packet of gluten-free flour making tortillas for dinner, to eat as fish tacos.
After I’ve mixed and kneaded the dough, and separated it into ten balls, I can’t find the rolling pin I was sure I owned, so I unfurl the baking paper from its cardboard roll. It crackles and billows across the kitchen floor like a bride’s veil.
I roll the long cardboard tube over the flour on the counter, pressing it over the dough balls. The resulting tortillas are scrappy and misshapen – not quite circles, their edges ragged as cartoon teeth – and tough. According to the recipe I googled, the tortillas should rise and lightly brown after being pan-fried for a minute on each side. But they don’t, not really.
We sit down to eat, and I watch Luke bravely spread one of the stiff, heavy tacos with mustard, then line it with flathead and lettuce. His face is carefully blank as he chews.
‘You don’t have to eat it,’ I say. ‘You don’t have to be one of those sitcom husbands who eats their wife’s terrible cooking.’
He laughs, and eats until the taco is finished. He doesn’t protest when I get the store-bought tortillas from the fridge, and heat up the sandwich toaster, and he waits until the proper tortillas are on the table before he assembles another taco.
We both agree that I really tried.
‘I’m just upset because I used up so much flour,’ I say. ‘And it’s hard to buy.’
But I’m also upset because the kitchen is covered in flour and I spent an hour making the tortillas and they’re awful.
Tuesday 14 April
The garden bites me this morning. I’m standing in the grass, barefoot, wearing a purple floral dress and make-up, ready to interview an author for a live Zoom event for a library in an hour. I still have to transform the notes scribbled in pencil on the book, into proper questions. But it seems important to water the fledgling garden first.
My foot suddenly burns, and it doesn’t stop. I can’t see anything on it, though I lift it to look, teetering awkwardly, one foot in the grass, the other cradled in the arm not holding the hose.
I finish my circuit of the potted plants and herbs on the verandah, and the seaside daisies planted in the newly bordered beds by the fence, and the sage and thyme and kale, the lemon tree by the shed, and the bougainvillea and wilting alyssum and stoic rosemary.
I limp inside, leaving the hose sprawled the length of the dew-damp lawn, and inspect my foot at the bathroom sink. What at first looks like a grass blade on my toe is in fact a bee sting. I gently extract it, using my long fingernails as pincers.
At my desk, I whine like a kicked dog, my foot wrapped in a tea towel and pressed to a lemonade icy pole in a plastic packet.
It stings, I call to Luke across the hall. I limp over to the bedroom and lay my head on his arm and kiss his forehead, just visible above the sheets.
‘What if it swells and it won’t stop hurting and I have an allergic reaction and I have to go to the doctor?’ I ask.
‘It won’t,’ he says.
‘But that happened last time a bee stung me,’ I say. ‘I had to get antibiotics. I wasn’t sleeping at night.’
Luke hugs me.
I go back to my desk and finish writing my questions. By the time I am finished, my toe, which had swollen to twice its normal size, is shrinking again. My foot is sticky with leaked lemonade.
Zoom events are weird. I have to concentrate on not being distracted by my own face mirrored on the screen as I interview the author, who has cleverly positioned herself in front of a huge poster of her book cover. But it seems to work smoothly, and I can see at the bottom of the screen that 39 people are here, in the event.
We have a conversation about the novel, then the event organiser feeds the author the audience questions they’ve typed into a chat window only she can see.
The event finishes on the hour, and the event organiser reminds us all where to buy the book (from my bookshop, online), and then we all say goodbye and the screen goes blank.
It’s strange, to not have a conversation about how it went, or even exchange pleasantries, at the end. In that way, it feels more like a radio interview than a live event.
I feel like I’ve learned a new trick, though I don’t feel entirely comfortable until after Katherine calls from the bookshop. When I ask if my eyes looked funny, if I seemed to be looking in odd directions (because it was hard to figure out where to look as we spoke), she says, ‘no!’, briskly, as if telling me not to be silly. Exactly like my mum would have.
Luke and I watch The Plot Against America after he finishes work, and he brings six squares of caramel chocolate to me on the couch.
In bed, I ask Luke to tell me three things he misses, and three things he doesn’t. Then I’ll do the same.
He doesn’t miss getting up early to go to work, or the fluorescent lighting there, or hearing people’s conversations all day in the background.
He misses walking to get the groceries, and going to the soccer with his friends.
‘And sport?’ I ask.
I don’t miss the strict schedule around work, though I’m at my desk at the same time or earlier now. I guess I don’t miss getting to work, or the moment where you have to get up and go home, and it’s over for the day – which I always prolong for some reason, finding more things I need to do before I leave. I don’t miss my desk, and the windowless room full of boxes and wine bottles I work in all day.
I miss the conversations I have throughout the day with people in the office, and talking to Poppy about books and writing and life. I miss drinks in the concrete corridor outside the warehouse.
I miss going to the market every week, I miss being able to go for a walk or cycle without the stress of running into people, I miss going to Muratti’s for coffee and biscuits with a book or my laptop, I miss lunch at Lucia’s, I miss walking around the bookshop and browsing the shelves.
I miss meals I didn’t cook.
I miss the beach.
I miss my membership at the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, and the way the water sluices off my anxiety.
I miss overhearing other people’s conversations on the bus, and incidental chats at the bookshop and the markets.
‘All I have to write about is you and me,’ I say.
We laugh in the dark, about how the things we miss are not the same.
Wednesday 15 April
I feel agitated today, as if I’ve done something wrong and I’m not sure what it is yet.
My foot is swollen and itchy, and I wonder if the bee sting is infected after all. I stubbornly scratch it, though I know I shouldn’t.
Luke talks excitedly about the arrival of bread with this afternoon’s groceries. It was left out of last week’s order, and though he’s been trialling bread recipes, we’re running out of flour.
I cook couscous with vegetarian chilli for lunch, because I feel like I haven’t eaten properly, apart from last night’s marinara pasta, for days. Looking for a podcast to listen to while I cook, I search for Plot Against America, hoping to find an interview with David Simon about making the series, and discover the show has a companion podcast, with Simon analysing every episode, week by week.
I eat lunch on the back verandah, overlooking the garden, the Episode One podcast playing on my Bluetooth stereo. I am happy, I think.
An email comes through: nearly half the groceries I ordered are unavailable, including Luke’s bread. I swear at the computer.
‘I think I understand why people are nasty to grocery store workers’ I tell Luke. ‘Not that I would ever do that, or think they deserve it. But I understand it.’
Before today’s depleted groceries arrive, I call Schinella’s, the nearby supermarket with no website, and ask if they have gluten-free flour and bread. We talk for a while about the ingredients of the various kinds of gluten-free bread, as she checks ingredients against Luke’s allergies. Finally, we find something that will work, and I hang up to place an email order. It will arrive on Friday.
‘You have bread!’ I tell Luke, who smiles at his computer.
Then I find a way to order the corn tortillas out of stock at the supermarket through the suppliers, in Victoria. They’ll probably arrive in two weeks. I buy two packs of 37 tortillas, and pay $15 for postage.
It’s nearly 5am and I’m awake, my foot burning, when Luke roars beside me in the dark, and keeps roaring. I scream in response, my body lagging behind my brain.
‘It’s okay,’ I say, when I’ve stopped screaming. I stroke his side. ‘You’re having a nightmare, Luke. Wake up!’
But he’s submerged in sleep, and jumps to straddle me, grabbing my head and shaking me into my pillow, yelling incomprehensibly.
‘GET OUT!’ his words say, as he continues to shake me, hard and fast, through the dark.
I shout at him to stop, terrified now.
‘I’M YOUR WIFE!’ I shout, repeating it until he takes his hands from my head and turns on the bedside lamp. His face is briefly terrifying, a rictus of rage, but flickers and melts into shamefaced horror.
He cradles my face again, gently this time, and collapses into me.
‘Someone was attacking you,’ he says. ‘I was beating them up.’
‘You were beating me up,’ I say, though he didn’t hit me at all, and he melts further. ‘My face hurts.’
‘There was a presence in the room,’ he says. ‘I heard noises. Something was on us, and then it was on you. I was saving you.’
We lay together, shaking, for a long time, before he turns the light off again and we offer ourselves up to sleep.
Thursday 16 April
I let myself sleep later than I’d planned, and get up at 8.30am. I’m sitting on the brown velvet modular couch in the sunroom, on the tiles outside the kitchen, marooned in my bathrobe and marking up a book with a pencil, when Luke ambles by on his way to the bathroom.
He bends to hug me, and comes to sit beside me on his path back, to the kitchen to make the first coffees of the day.
‘I’m thinking maybe we should cut down on watching The X-Files before bed,’ I say. ‘Last night, when you said you felt a presence, I was really scared, even though I knew you were dreaming.’
I expect him to laugh, or tell me not to be silly.
‘I was thinking of The X-Files too,’ he says instead.
The episode we watched last night was about an evil doll, but there have been lots of aliens and monsters before bed lately.
Today is another Zoom interview, and it’s more immediately comfortable than two days ago. I’m used to the changed format already, I think.
It helps that today I’m interviewing Poppy Nwosu, my friend and colleague, whose YA novels I love. We have a Zoom meeting every week, and it feels familiar, three weeks in to working from home, to be having a long on-screen chat with her.
I text her after the interview, to tell her how much fun I had. This feels more natural than the screen going black and everything being over. The event organiser sends us an email to thank us, and then we exchange emails about payment for the authors involved in this series, and plans for the next interview.
It feels good, like progress, like a version of business as usual.
Luke finds two antihistamine tablets at the back of the medicine basket in the pantry, and I take one after dinner. Then I smear my foot in Manuka honey and swathe it in bandages.
Luke laughs when I sit beside him on the couch.
I insist I’m not tired, but I can barely pick myself up from the couch to go to bed.
I wake up and can’t get back to sleep, but lie awake, tensed against the slightest noise. A leaf crackle outside, the rustle of the quilt as I move my leg.
Luke twitches in his sleep and before I know it, I am on him, holding him down, screaming. He shouts aloud and I shout back.
‘IT’S YOU, IT’S YOU!’ he is shouting.
‘IT’S YOUR WIFE!’ I shout back.
‘I know,’ he says.
I let go of him and roll away, then into him, my whole body shaking as we hold each other tight. Our breathing mirrors each other: shallow and fast.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say.
‘That’s okay,’ he says, and kisses my forehead. ‘You were dreaming. You were asleep.’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I wasn’t.’