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.