Sport 22: Autumn 1999
The goldfish seem a little nervous in their new environment. I try to calm them with tales of my childhood visits here.
That guests came around, helped themselves to drinks, which the grandfather was always happy to give, provided he matched them drink for drink. There was an open fire, the guests stayed a little longer, and dinner, which the grandmother had cooked, was held up. The guests were invited to share it. More guests arrived, uninvited like the first. There was only enough dinner for a mouthful of food each. The children asked their grandmother for more. The grandmother said: ‘In good time, in good time.’
The next night the situation was the same. Hundreds of friends and neighbours were hidden in a landscape that seemed only to bear page 19 sheep and thistle. The children learned to do without food. They dug an underground chamber, cooked mud and rocks there, and managed to survive. The feet of the guests muddied the paddocks and the grandmother's garden and lawn. The church was demolished. Only the sheep, the thistles, and the headstones remained.
And then, of course, there is the reason for coming to this house, which is to discuss the accident.
The funeral took place within the strong lines and muted colours of a McCahon, oil on canvas. I recognised a woman, who met my eye and came to talk with me. It was Jan, my personal banker. She is a middle-aged woman with a nervous demeanour. Her eyes are tiny, like the tips of two ballpoint pens.
Jan said, ‘That's a very nice coffin.’
I was not sure what to say. Jan said, ‘This will sound terrible. I mean I know it's a sensitive topic, but I've seen such awful things.’
I said, ‘… Yes …’
Jan said, ‘I like to be as involved with my clients as possible. Up to a point of course.’
I said, ‘You were Jon's personal banker?’
She said, ‘Oh yes yes. And really, Jon had the best cover possible. Actually it's quite fortunate that I ran into you here. I've got to talk to you. I mean, have you got a family yourself, J?’
She said, ‘Well, phew! Ha, I mean, that's fine, that's OK, that's easier. I know it's upsetting to talk about this, but have you ever thought about, you know, what would happen if … A funeral costs a lot of money. Three thousand dollars, minimum. This would have cost a lot more, nice coffin like that, and all. And his kids are well set up now. But as I say, he always insisted on the best cover for everything, health, life, superannuation, you name it.’
I said, ‘Yes …? Then, Jon had children?’
Jan said, ‘Yes yes. Now, would your parents or loved ones, say be able to afford a funeral? And, people get very upset. Oh really, some people really get upset when someone dies. Need counselling and all sorts of things. I've seen some awful stuff, families devastated by grief page 20 and so forth, and not covered, clients who just said, no thanks. I do my best, but it's their decision. I mean, it's your decision. With your income, as a, well you're a beneficiary aren't you? You can still afford basic life cover. You really should have that I think.’
I said, ‘Yes. Or, well, my folks are fairly well off …’
Jan said, ‘Good. Good! Really, I don't like to mention that. It's awful. Really rotten.’
I said, ‘No, it's fine. You must understand that this isn't the best time?’
Jan said, ‘Death is an economic event. And it makes me so ashamed. God. So ashamed. I mean I like to do my best for people, but it's all just … ah God. This is so sad.’
A few tears rolled upwards over her forehead, and fell up into the sky. As they fell, the drops turned to snow, then to cloud.
I said, ‘Where are Jon's children? And his partner? That is, if …’
Jan smiled, then said, ‘I can't tell you that. They're not here. I'm sorry I can't discuss the details of my other clients. I'm sorry, I really am, I mean, sorry. Here, take this—I worked this out for you. Basic life cover for just $3.85 per fortnight. Think about it.’
I said, ‘Is there something wrong with Jon's children? He never mentioned them to me.’
She started to move away, making eye contact with a smartly dressed man.
She said, ‘You should forget him, J. His account is fully balanced now.’
And she walked away.
The fish are casting looks upward. Towards the top of Mount C, behind them. Towards the lid of the fishtank
Somewhere up there, an avalanche occurred. I witnessed the death of my friend Jon. Or: I witnessed an avalanche, and Jon disappeared underneath this. The avalanche was in the shape of an hourglass. From the slopes above, I watched myself walk over the moving surface of the avalanche, which bubbled like surf.
I dug holes in the avalanche looking for Jon. But since the avalanche was moving, the holes were also moving and it was difficult to keep page 21 track of them. As one hole moved past, I caught a glimpse of Jon's face, glowing with enthusiasm for the minimalism of the mountains. But it moved past too quickly. I kept searching for my friend.
I was right there. The avalanche was silent, for the sound took some time to reach me, like the hammer fall in the distance preceding the sound of its blows. The sound continues to travel, taking the long way around, and it still hasn't reached me.