When I was a kid I never understood why grown-ups obsessed over little details. What about the big picture, huh? Why not talk about Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love? Now I am that grown-up, and I have long conversations with my mother-in-law about how sad we are that the majestic bougainvillea that used to grow up the front of the house on Cooper Park Road had to be cut down. The tree surgeon who carted it away said it weighed three hundred kilograms.
I was genuinely grieved to hear it, and worried that the house would look raw without it. In fact it just looks different: barer, sure, but you can also see its lovely clean Frank Lloyd Wright-ish lines. I’m quite surprised at how happy I am to be here. We got married in the park across the road and had our reception here, so the house is full of joyful memories of floating around in my fantastic ivory silk-satin Reva Mivasagar wedding dress, drunk as a lord on champagne. Jan bought the Marimekko shower-curtains at Crate and Barrel on Union Square in San Francisco, and from where I am sitting in her office I can see no fewer than six photographs of Miss Claire, taken at our old place on Alabama Street and in the garden in Villerouge. It’s a temple of Claire, and I approve.
I’d also forgotten how much I love Sydney. The weather is humid and overcast – both very kind to my chapped and tanless skin. I forget how delicious the garden smells. I’d forgotten the heavenly quiet. Right now all I can hear is the wind in the leaves of the palm tree next door, and a butcher bird.
This morning we had the obligatory Big Brunch at the back table at Petit Creme. As we approached the cafe a large stranger approached me with open arms; it took me full seconds to recognize Mark Pesce – a far slimmer and more muscular Pesce than I have ever seen.
“This city suits me,” he says joyfully. “I’ve never loved a job so much. I’m not leaving till they kick me out.”
He asks me how’s tricks, and I tell him about the new apartment and the deal we got on the mortgage, and he starts to laugh.
“You can take the girl out of the Sydney real estate market,” he says, “but you can’t take the Sydney real estate market out of the girl.”
At which point Miss Emily turns up with her Jeremy, and I grill her on their new place.
“Two story two bedroom in Rozelle, back garden, gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and Smeg appliances…” she begins.
Mark is laughing his head off.
“Shh,” I say. “We’re downloading.”
The conversation turns to politics: Jeremy L. asks if we think Kerry will win. Mark blocks his ears and sings “La la la, I can’t hear you.” I ask if Latham will win, and we wonder whether he will be disqualified on account of man-boobs.
Adrian and Sam arrive with the adorable Korben Hugh; our coffees arrive and I take my first delicious sip; Barney arrives and cuddles his niece; Mister Bennett arrives and we begin, with relish, to insult one another.
“We like each other really,” says Mark Bennett to Mark Pesce.
“He likes me,” I say coolly.
Bigman arrives and I give him the gift of Ebola – a plush figure of the celebrated virus, brought with us from the States. Moira and Richard arrive with the perfect William John, and the conversation takes a yet more visceral turn.
“Korben eats only boob,” Sam brags.
“Hey! We got through half an hour before starting on boobs!” I say.
“No,” says Jeremy, “there were the man-boobs.”
I am chatting to Moira in an undertone about weaning Claire, and fail to notice the silence that falls around the table halfway through this story:
“I frightened the piss out of myself one night when I found a lump in my breast, but then I squeezed it and got a jet of milk in my eye.”
I look up to see everyone staring at me, my fellow parents tolerantly amused; the childless heterosexuals and gay men frankly appalled.
“So,” I say gamely, “how about that real estate, hmm?”