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There’s no one on the beach the night 2020 arrives. The fireworks have been cancelled. We break out a few boxes of sparklers and write our names in the air, comet tails mirrored in the wet sand. Seagulls wheel over us. We laugh at the empty beach. Not even any teenagers roaming the sand for a random pash. Someone suggests zombies, the apocalypse. We can’t smell the smoke yet.
In January we download the air quality app. The grey sea disappears into the grey sky. We see the picture of the masked little boy in the boat, set against the reddest of skies. We drive back into Melbourne and point at the haze hanging over the city. A lone ibis flies across the sky just above the KFC as we turn the corner to home.
In February the rust-coloured rain stains our house, the washing, the leaves on the fig tree. My friend and I make plans for a playdate with our babies. It’s a smoke day, so we sit inside a cafe. My friend is late, he’s been in a meeting at uni about the developing situation. They’ve “OFFICIALLY LOST THEIR MIND,” he messages. “Although, it is kind of serious. The colleague who normally works next door to my office is in quarantine …”
In March I lecture my dad for trying to hug me. We turn our baby’s bedroom into a classroom for the kid. We make a timetable and an “Our School Values” sign. What a nice idea, we think. The novelty of finding teddy bears in windows lasts two days. We scream at each other every time it’s time for a walk. The kid throws his shoes.
In April it’s too much and also oddly comforting to experience this collective catastrophe. Correction, anticipate catastrophe. We will be fine, we just don’t know it yet. So many won’t be and that is a fact that’s still hard to fathom. We ride our bikes as part of our permitted daily exercise, to stand outside our friends’ house and wave. Rainbow lorikeets eat the last of the figs.
In May our baby turns one. In a perfect piece of timing, the family comes over, because they’re allowed to. “What a joyful way to mark the end of all this!” we say. Our baby pretends to wipe her hands in a very specific way. She’s pretending to put on hand sanitiser. I start an online embroidery course. I sew a picture of my dog. Wtf, I think.
In June our kid turns eight. We have a birthday cake. The candles set off the smoke alarm. There’s a photo of him frowning at the sound. I put it on social media. “2020 amirite?” There’s talk of “hotspots” in the northern suburbs, including where our school is located. We hurry down the coast to see family. We meet on the beach in the freezing wind. We watch the terns dive-bomb into the water. My mother-in-law puts on a paper mask before she reaches to hold the baby. The baby cries.
In July the towers are locked down. We watch residents upload Instagram stories from stairwells. We learn about the “ring of steel” to keep us from coming back here. The kid and I flee into the freezing sea. A pair of hooded plovers watch us. In the morning, we drive back in. The government construction on the skyrail at the back of our house ramps up. The noise booms off the back of our house at 4am. We string up fairy lights off the fig tree. The flashing sequence times in with the drilling sound. The baby rips through the new basket of masks at our front door and wears one like a hat.
In August our kid asks to go for a walk. “To see the ibis.” We chuck in school and head up to the lake, blessedly within our 5km limit, to what’s been labelled “Bin Chicken Island” by a wag on Google maps. The island is teeming with the things. He stares at them. He sends his teacher a map of the park and the first of the many lists of birds he’ll make over the coming months. “The Tawny Frogmouth are in the Big Peppercorn Tree near the toilets, but there’s no garantee [sic] you’ll see them.”
In September we stop phoning people. I take a photo of a sunbeam in our loungeroom, watch the way the light tracks across our house, upload the pictures. A friend sends me a photo of a rainbow on her wall. Another of their dog basking in a patch of sun. Someone texts a video of dappled light on a pillow. A coffee cup in the morning sun. A chair. A playroom. A splice of light in the shower. My messaging platforms are full of photos, little gifts, birds for the kid and sunlight for me. The world is tiny and enormous, with nothing in between. It’s the light on my wall and a hospital ward in New York.
In October the baby takes her first steps.
In November we paint our front door blue. The numbers look good, but we can’t bring ourselves to believe them. We step inside our friends’ houses. We peel off our masks outside, marvel at the bottom halves of faces. “How was your pandemic?” we joke, but not really.
In December we’re already starting to forget. The warm night is baked into the concrete and the red velvet roses and the neighbourhood is finally turned inside out again. We’re all sprawling on porches, out past dusk, the old Greek couple in the driveway kiss their grandkids goodbye, just for the night this time, drive safe. The Christmas lights are out early. We start to dare to plan. We watch footage of Londoners on the first day the vaccine rolls out “couldn’t get a park …” Miraculous and mundane. The figs start to bud. And then suddenly, we’re back studying internal borders, rebranded hotspots (zones), traffic light systems denoting who can be together for Christmas and who can’t. We drive back down the coast. It pours with rain. The town is empty again, so we walk through the bush, and stop. Finally stop.
What’s next? The kid hears a kookaburra. He runs ahead into the valley to find it, shouts to follow him. So I do, I follow him, into the valley towards the birds, towards the year ahead.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: My 2020 in Melbourne has been tiny and enormous, with nothing in between | Australia news