Yesterday I was moved by a bucketful of sunflowers. They were leaning on each other; their bespeckled faces pointed cheerfully in various directions. Tall. Joyful. Those thick-stemmed blooms sparked a golden chain of connected thoughts that led me to sadness. They led me to lovely lost-to-us Liam.
For years, Liam Davison and I were colleagues. A smiling, gentle man with an expansive manner, he had faith in me and in my skills. I admired his immense talent with words. And people.
So, I decided to share an extract of his work with you. And I hope it inspires you to seek out what he wrote for us all to keep.
In one of his haunting short novels, Liam captures time and landscape and character in his imagining of the story of the mysterious White Woman, who, legend says, was held captive by the Kurnai People of nearby Gippsland in the 1840s, the time of early settlers.
The narrator took part in an expedition to find the woman. Forty years later, he tells his tale to the un-named son of a fellow traveller, who has come in search of the truth about his father’s role in the event.
It’s odd how memory serves you. Or how it fails. Before you arrived here tonight, knocking surreptitiously at my door for answers to your half-formed questions, I could barely recall your father’s face. Oh yes, I could conjure up the vague outline of a man if I put my mind to it (large, heavy-jowled, a solid jaw) but of course there was never any need. He belonged to his own past, you see, as much as mine. Nowadays, no doubt, you’d make a photographic print to hold it fast, the image of him as he was then, as if you had to fight against the past to keep him from slipping into where he belongs. Yes, I’m right aren’t I? Memory’s not enough. Tell me you haven’t sat in front of the magic box yourself and winced at the phosphorescent flash.
Yet now, with you sitting here before me, the outline sharpens; it takes on your features, your voice, your manner of holding the hot tea to your lips. Your father is back before me. All the years before have gone and I find, yes, I do remember. I remember what he was like. I talk with confidence about the things we did. The events fall easily into place, day follows day, night follows harrowing night. I open my mouth and it all comes tumbling out as if it happened yesterday: the search for her, the first signs of your father’s presence, the journey up the river… Almost without thinking, it finds its undeniable shape.
But I worry. If it was somebody else who knocked, somebody else who walked impertinently into my shabby little room to claim association with my past, would I have just as readily recalled a different face? Would things have moulded themselves just as comfortably to accommodate a different set of features, different questions, different expectations? Would I have found myself recounting a different story about a different past? And if no one had knocked…?
The White Woman, p. 73
How did smiling sunflowers lead me to sorrow?
|Photo from abc.net.au|
Liam and his beloved life-partner Frankie were on MH-17.
Only his words remain.