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Bitter Sweet, 1986

Page 4

Gillian Barnett

They start their search. But now directions given by Max’s father seem vague. Where is north? Hard to tell in such far-reaching shade and they must remember that in this hemisphere, the sun swings in a southern arc. Colonnades of tree trunks and headstones stretch in every direction. Avenues branch and branch again.

Finally a coda from her last miscarriage drags at Claire’s womb. She says she will rest on a bench here, at an axis. She reminds her husband to look behind him as he continues his quest. They have not thought to bring a spool of twine or breadcrumbs to find their way out of this woodland labyrinth. She imagines herself left unclaimed and joining the statues here.

Branches above and lanes all around, branching narrower and narrower. She tries not to dwell on the likelihood of her husband’s family tree narrowing to her and Max, a dead end. Final Solution merely postponed.

Two women walk past, each with a harnessed dachshund trotting sedately, so unlike manic Bran, whom she misses. It is high summer. Shafts of sun spear through leaves to make a few burning spots on her skin. She is transported to summer in Melbourne where the sun packs a similar punch. She did not expect it here.


Summer at home. She and Max pack their car for weekends on the Mornington Peninsula. Bran’s shrieks always intensify as they drive up Oliver’s Hill. They shout to swap stories of childhood family rituals ascending the steep seaside slope that, in those days, signalled the end of suburban sprawl.

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