Title: Mixed Blessings

Author: Christine Johnston

In: Sport 32: Summer 2004

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, December 2004

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Prose Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 32: Summer 2004

Christine Johnston — Mixed Blessings

page 171

Christine Johnston

Mixed Blessings

From my bed I see the sky, red as blood at the end of the harbour. Not Armageddon, but a shepherd's warning, mild enough as warnings go, even pleasant, a sight to warm the cockles of a shepherd's heart, and mine, and mine. This is the first blessing of the day.

#2 The harbour channel markers blink green and red, as merry as a Christmas tree. I will rise and try to shine.

#3 Warm running water. The rain has filled the lakes and the turbines are churning out the electricity. While showering I check my breasts for lumps and find none #4. Just a burn scar where my heart should be.

I turn on the wall-mounted bathroom heater #5. (I recall the candle in a tin cup on the rim of the bath in the after-thought of a bathroom, tacked onto the weatherboard wall. From candle power in the 1950s to heat and light in the new millennium.)

I am clean #6, I am clothed #7. I have toast for breakfast #8. (After a year living in an attic in Frankfurt, I do not take my toaster for granted. Not one toaster could be found in a city of 600,000 souls.)

Patch, the Labrador cross, sometimes called Crosspatch, rises from his bed and greets me. He has liquid eyes and velvet ears, bless him. He is #9. He is #1, the Love in my Life, the dog of my second husband, the Love of my Life, recently deceased.

#10 is Twinings Earl Grey Tea in a favourite mug.

Outside the air is fresh, cold and still rosy with the rising winter sun. I walk across the road, the dog trotting obediently beside me, behind page 172 the safety barrier and down onto the causeway, man-made to convey the train more directly to the port. We continue beside the railway track as the sun appears above the hill. The dog has his head down sniffing the grass but I must shield my eyes with my hand. There is a furring of frost on the little wooden bridge. I see a heron, ardea novaehollandiae, #11. In the channel the tug precedes the Rubin Bonanza. Its size and speed are impressive feats of engineering. Its name suggests prosperity and largesse. Ships are marvellous.

Patch is lifting his leg on selected plants and structures. He drinks from a puddle. He evacuates in the long grass. I put him on the lead as we wait to cross the road. A log truck rumbles past, a car-carrier, a school bus. We are not struck, not dragged, mangled or disembowelled. We cross safely #?

We proceed up the hill towards home, passing a solitary boy walking to school. As usual I greet him and as usual he ignores me, refusing even to make eye contact. Patch displays no aggression or illwill towards the child, thank God. He never has, but what if? Children rarely walk to school these days; the world with its streets and houses, roads and footpaths is considered too dangerous. Most treacherous perhaps are middle-aged ladies with witchy hair and large black dogs.

I hear a bellbird, anthornis melanura. Think of a number—17?

The walk has warmed me. At home there is coffee #18 and the newspaper with its tales of houses burnt to the ground, skirmishes in Iraq, and floods in Timor. I see the baby face of the Bali bomber, the distraught face of a Palestinian mother, the identikit face of the rapist.

I read my horoscope. ‘Your creative imagination is stimulated today. This definitely makes you more sensitive to everything in the world around you.’ That sounds like a mixed blessing, but I decide to log it on the positive side, #19.

I scan the deaths, noting that the winter is carrying off the octogenarians page 173 —‘Andrews, Douglas (Butch), 15842, Gnr, 14th NZ LA.A Regt, 2nd NZEF—peacefully…’ He is no one I know, mercifully, #20.

My father would be 88, if he were alive. I know now that he died young, though it didn't seem so at the time. He was younger than I am.

I read the paper in all its parts—its editorial, columns, articles, trivia before I turn to the ‘employment wanted’ pages. The Southland District Council needs a ‘waste minimisation officer’, someone with ‘a passion for the cause of waste minimisation’. Medlab wants a medical laboratory scientist haematology to join their ‘friendly, enthusiastic team of dedicated employees’. Carpenters are required in Queenstown and a leading manufacturer of quality veneer products is looking for a trainee operator, night shift.

I want to recognise myself in one of these advertisements, but I don't. I am a late Victorian. I am from another planet.

I feel cold and turn on the heater. There are clouds passing in front of the sun. They are the clouds of grief and come from the South. I think that I will need to grow some extra layers of skin before I can go back out there into the workplace.

Returning to the paper, I read wildly and randomly. The role requires a customer service focus, apparently. Heavy lifting is required. You must be a team player and be positive and self-motivated. A forklift licence is essential.

I decide to do some washing. A pair of jeans and some underwear. My mother washed sheets in the bath when the old copper gave out. When the wringer-washer arrived she would sing at her work:

Still I'm happy with what I've got;

I've got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

When I am hanging the washing I see a low-flying pigeon, hemiphaga novaeseelandiae # something, hear a tui, prosthemadera novaeseelandiae page 174 # something and one. The sun is shining again. I hear the rumble of an approaching train. As it passes I see that it is hauling containers—Nedlloyd, Hamburg Sud.

My first husband was German. I found it fascinating that he liked to eat a breakfast of bread rolls, hard boiled eggs, cheese and salami. Then I discovered that all Germans eat such breakfasts. No such thing as toast and Marmite. And don't assume that Germans eat muesli; they don't.

It is possible that I married Thomas to provoke my father (Gunner, 14th NZ LA.A Regt, 2nd NZEF), but I don't think so. One of the problems with loving a foreigner, and there are many, is that it may turn out that you are besotted more with the country of origin than with the countryman. Either way the infatuation is short-lived. After he tried to live here and I tried to live there, we gave up.

Last week I visited the employment agencies and filled out the forms. A woman photographed me with a digital camera. I took a test to establish my competence in Microsoft Word and achieved 39 per cent, possibly the lowest mark of my life to date. Everyone I met was younger than me.

I return to the employment pages. It jumps out at me again. You must be a team player and be positive and self-motivated. I tell myself that I do not lack motivation. Nor could I be called negative. Here I am, playing at Pollyanna.

I am pacing the floor, looking out over still water. ‘Gutted’ is a word you hear a lot. I used to loath it, but now I think it describes me well. I suffered burns from my seat belt. Geoff, unharnessed, went through the windscreen.

I utter a strange cry. Patch, who has been watching me, comes to my side and nuzzles me. We are a pair. He still goes every evening to watch for the white Toyota Corolla that went to the scrap yard.

Back to the newspaper open on the table where I see an advertisement for cruise ship staff. Yes, I say aloud. Perfect. I am suddenly in a whirl page 175 of excitement. An 0800 number and a website. I have seen those vast sea palaces, resembling nothing so much as the Titanic. I can picture myself wearing a tag with some new version of my name—Patsy or Patti, perhaps—a variation of myself, chatting to rich octogenarians from New York. In this fantasy I am able to say: ‘I am a widow, too.’

Patch lays his head heavily on my knee.

Oh, Crosspatch, what would I do with you? I stroke his ears. My dear boy, don't worry, I would never leave you. You are the Link. (Patch was spared certain death because he had been in a foul-smelling pond and in spite of repeated bathing would not come clean. We could not bear to have him in the car.)

I wipe away a few hot tears with my fingers. If only I could cry properly, really weep and wail.

How long do I sit at the table, staring blankly at the classifieds? I must get up and go out, take Patch to the river, go shopping, have lunch at a little café where couples meet for coffee.

When the phone rings and I answer, my voice crackles and breaks. It is Emily from the employment agency. Am I interested in a part-time position on reception in Doctor Green's Surgery?

‘Who is Doctor Green?’ I ask feebly.

‘He's the heart man,’ she replies. ‘One of the best.’

‘The heart man?’ I echo. ‘A cardiologist, is he?’

‘Yes, that's it.’

Can I come in tomorrow to discuss the position? I say I can.

I have lost count of my blessings, mixed and otherwise; they are so numerous. I have the offer of a job #101. I have a faithful dog, alert to the clinking of car keys #102, in the garage a shining new Toyota with a sunroof #103, a CD player #104 and airbags #105. I can drive with the wind in my hair, singing as I go:

With the sun in the morning and the moon in the evening I'm all right.