Pavle Radonic ~ Smooching Like There Was No Tomorrow

A soak­ing tub was need­ed. How long had it been the fluffy white tow­el remain­ing unwashed, six months? a cou­ple years? Remember the last rushed stor­age, think­ing, next time, it can wait. Finally the Viet place in Paisley Street was recalled. Op Shops didn’t car­ry such items. Teta Maria had bought Bab the impres­sive gift for a birth­day and it had passed down. After a decent wash­ing, rins­ing and wring­ing out on the line it looked to have regained its fine bone colour, if not quite purest white. Two full days were need­ed for a thick, heavy weave like that to dry. A short while lat­er, how­ev­er, the dis­coloura­tion had returned. Not long after that too, by osmo­sis more or less, there you were on the first land­ing of the Studio stair wash­ing your feet in the tub rather than show­er­ing, the oth­er tow­el and soap brought over from the bath­room. Ah, yes indeed. What else? In child­hood the old bri­quette and wood boil­er had only come on for Friday wash-days. The rest of the time it was wash­ing of face and feet before bed-time—in the same tub and of course prop­er order, you sil­ly lit­tle Duffer!… Raw onion, spring and shal­lots. Garlic. Bread. Thinly cut cheese and oil. Tatters not as yet man­aged, though you were hun­ger­ing for them too, cut in halves and in their jack­ets. It was the unwashed ones that should be pur­chased. The large sauer­kraut jar from the Circle remained unopened on the shelf. (The con­tain­er would come in handy for stor­age of oth­er foods.) Another ele­ment too was the bicy­cle. More than a tri­fle absurd grant­ed a man now in his mid-six­ties glo­ry­ing in the pushie around the streets. Worked pow­er­ful­ly sub­ter­ranean that. Gardening did the trick always. Of course you were a total­ly fraud­u­lent gar­den­er, but not to wor­ry; among the younger gen­er­a­tion a posi­tion as mae­stro was yours for the tak­ing there. Weeding was well with­in com­pe­tence, like­wise prun­ing. Shortly, in the Spring, info from the Net would extend that to some plant­i­ng. Finding the sharp pur­ple creep­er alive and well, drought tol­er­ant clear­ly, arrived like a telegram. Unique it had been in that neigh­bour­hood and a sur­prise indeed to find the very same up in the Tropics. The ragged sleeves on the old ther­mals fit­ted the bill; there was great reluc­tance to dis­card that item even with the threads hang­ing so loose. In the vil­lage it was not the Savici, and most cer­tain­ly not the Radonici, who were reduced to wear­ing ruti­n­je, rags; though exact­ly what sort of an assem­blage of fab­rics and cuts was man­aged there could only be guessed. How long it had been since a knit­ter had mea­sured across one’s shoul­ders, using her hand span or nee­dles? In youth Bab had knit­ted gar­ments for her younger sib­lings and con­tin­ued with her own chil­dren out in the new coun­try. Down at the State school her kids were not the only ones either in those years lit­tle more than a decade after the war, turned out in the rude­ly home-spun. Washing the clothes by hand felt vir­tu­ous and hang­ing on the line, stretch­ing up toward the clouds, the echoes could almost make one cry. Aglio olio for sup­per, pre­pared for the first time in almost ten years. Old Bab’s culi­nary skills had nev­er extend­ed even that far. When young King Peter came to dine in the neigh­bour­hood, over at Steel Street at the Croat Royalist Janko Krizmanic’s house, Bab had not been one of the ones asked to help in the kitchen. They couldn’t even trust her peel­ing spuds prop­er­ly. Didn’t she cop it all through teen years for her woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate cui­sine, always the same time after time. Disgraceful real­ly. Taking the dish­wa­ter out to the back gar­den and rins­ing the plates under the tap was get­ting near too, cozy­ing up close. Some poor sods were nev­er giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make amends and con­tin­u­ous­ly cas­ti­gat­ed them­selves for their wild, intem­per­ate words and behav­iour. You though gave thanks to Dragica in the next street for her exam­ple when she came round to vis­it her dear old friend. Visitors had large­ly peeled away by then; Bab had out­lived many too. Drage’s spec­tac­u­lar ten­der­ness and warmth came as a great sur­prise. Shows of that kind of feel­ing were extreme­ly rare among our lot. The first time Drage was seen show­er­ing her kiss­es there was a kind of lunge from her in the begin­ning. The woman was total­ly indis­crim­i­nate, rain­ing down her affec­tion on the cheeks, on hands and shoul­ders, on the top of a snowy white head. Everywhere. Babi had squirmed and winced a lit­tle, twist­ing her head girl­ish­ly under the storm. We our­selves were nev­er kissers; luck­i­ly Drage showed us how. Dragica had her chil­dren mind­ed by Bab in the ear­ly years, tak­en to school, fetched and fed. We feast­ed on Drage’s fine pitas, cakes and bis­cuits days after her visits.

Melbourne, Australia May 2020


Australian by birth and Montenegrin ori­gin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years liv­ing and writ­ing in SE Asia has pro­vid­ed unex­pect­ed stim­u­lus. Following a return to Melbourne forced by the Corona Virus, the past rushed back in unex­pect­ed ways of its own. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary jour­nals and mag­a­zines, most recent­ly Panoply, Modern Literature & The Blue Nib.