It’s when she cracks. When the sky falls from her eyes and the earth from her limbs, I hold her. It’s when she stares, and the empty space inside her is an arc I can put my hand in. She washes plates in spiral time—without ending. Tinned pineapple weighs down her shopping bag, but not bread. She doesn’t harbour herself at home, and I see her in the square, arms high and curved like wings twirling to the symphony only she can hear.
It’s when she pops. Hugging me. Whispering my name. Her bones are scented with paperbark trees and deep roots and autumn leaves. It’s my birthday. She bakes dark velvet cake and ices it with thumb-high frosted sugar and black banana. Together we blow out candles. We make a wish, and she walks up the street in her unbroken shoes and hauls next door’s cat over her shoulder and smiles into the sun as he purrs.
It’s when she stops. And I see every fall and trip she made over a kerb, rock or a wall battened down in the softness of her eyes. The colours and shapes she talks about are fresh from pockets she’s emptied and filled more times than can be counted. Now I’m smart enough to listen. Stories of ancestors with luminous hair called Alinta, Moose and Banjo. Stories worn like jewellery made from precious gemstones. My timeline blossoms in her skin.
It’s when she’s lost. But I know where to find her. She’s down at the water watching birds. Her creped hands hold each other like lovers. It’s when they drop and I take one in mine, and we gently turn away. When we walk she tells me a knock- knock joke but can’t remember who is there. We giggle it off then take turns guessing who could be at the door – Santa Clause, The Queen, Bob Marley. The way she laughs makes me laugh. It’s when laughter leaks out tears.