(twi­light)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - He­len Bri­erty Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

More than 50 years ago, I fol­lowed a rit­ual for get­ting our two tod­dler sons ready for bed. Bath­time was 5.30pm, with splash­ing, rub­ber duck­ies, boats, wa­ter pis­tols. When I wrapped both those chubby lit­tle bod­ies in huge bath tow­els, ev­ery­one was laugh­ing, sweet smelling, and their day was end­ing on a per­fect high.

We lived in ru­ral Aus­tralia and their cat­tle buyer dad, be­cause of the huge dis­tances he trav­elled each day, usu­ally ar­rived home around 8pm, long af­ter the boys were asleep. So af­ter their bath, I cooked din­ner just for them. Then came bed­time, read­ing sto­ries, learn­ing new words, num­bers, colours. Tuck in, hugs and kisses, turn out the lights — such a happy end to their day.

Much later in the night, boys aslum­ber, my hus­band and I also en­joyed din­ner over can­dles and a bot­tle of wine, vinyl jazz disc spin­ning on the record player — yes, it was that long ago. We chat­ted about our grown-up ver­sion of the day — ru­ral stuff, droughts, floods, cat­tle prices, fail­ing crops, plus scin­til­lat­ing lo­cal gossip of who was hav­ing an af­fair with whom — al­though I don’t re­call our con­ver­sa­tion ever reach­ing the same vol­ume of gig­gles as ear­lier in the evening with my sons.

Tonight, at gath­er­ing night­fall, aware of our age­ing bones, my hus­band and I sit peace­fully on the ve­randa. Sip­ping a glass of wine, we lis­ten as our home pre­pares for bed­time. Floors and walls creak as they cool down from the trop­i­cal heat. Our age­ing dog curls up at our feet, eye­lids droop­ing. The phone rings. It’s one of our now mid­dle-aged sons, check­ing whether we have en­joyed our day and are OK. Re­as­sured, it’s as if they are pre­par­ing us for bed­time — the only things miss­ing are the yel­low duck­ies, wa­ter pis­tols and gig­gles.

Par­rots hang up­side down in the palm trees, fight­ing over cas­cades of ripen­ing red berries. Wild ducks dip and dive un­der the wa­terlilies, shake their cooled feath­ers dry, then round up the duck­ling chicks and herd them into the shel­ter­ing reed beds. A lonely pee­wee, so at home that it flies a fre­quent cir­cuit through our kitchen door and out through the lounge room, does a last minute cir­cuit search­ing for its elu­sive mate.

The karaoke frog ma­chine croaks it­self up, ready to ser­e­nade the dark­ness. Pos­sums scream and squab­ble over the best roost in the trees. A mul­ti­tude of in­sects be­gins to whis­tle and trill from the gar­den. In­side the house, geckos emerge, chuck­ling in an­tic­i­pa­tion at their spi­der din­ner. Jas­mine wafts its per­fume into the darken­ing sky. The can­dles perform a last, flick­er­ing pas de deux. Then, as if to sig­nal “lights out”, the kook­abur­ras burst forth with a tri­umphant last laugh. Time for bed.

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