What the camera doesn’t see

You’re in cognac diamonds and a midnight blue silk dress, striding around the vineyard in the howling wind. And then, pretending to prune fuchsias in hot pink silk while the rain drizzles relentlessly. A friend has asked you to appear in a media article and send over some glamorous pictures. The photographs look beautiful but as they are nothing but a fleeting instant in time. A celebration, not a summation, of life as you know it.

If the camera were to pull back and the frame extend to the edges, it would show the tangled mounds of bedclothes, half-filled cups of water and soft toys on the living room floor, for the children have been sleeping next to the fireplace since the boiler gave up the ghost four days ago, precisely on the coldest day of the year. You can see your breath hang in the air and smell the tinge of sour milk from Finn and Dylan’s 4 day-long stomach flu experience.

There is a dead rat decomposing at a leisurely pace in my bathroom wall, and another one, stuck and mummified in my bedroom air conditioner, henceforth christened the Rat-con, waiting for the electrician to get around to him sometime next week, always next week. In the meantime we turn on the rat-con to take the edge off winter’s bite. And then we turn on the air purifier to take the edge off the dead rat smell. And then we go to sleep praying we don’t die from hantavirus in the night.

Under my dress is a blotchy mess of yellow, blue and purple bruises under my arm and ribcage from when I slipped on a huge puddle of dog urine in the living room after the greyhounds decided that it was too cold to relieve themselves on the frosty ground outside. Mark heard a loud crash and came running, startled to see me on my back, the ends of my hair floating in the dog urine, looking up to the ceiling, quite still. Just like a beetle, he said.

And don’t talk about the horror of the mail which has piled up on the dining table, lying in huge wretched snowdrifts, bills, taxes, scams, advertisements, crumpled and smoothed over, sodden, waiting for our attention when we have more strength, good humour, lighter hearts and are able to feel our extremities again.

But this afternoon, I sat in a chair by the window, bathing in the welcome heat of a sudden sunny spell and watched a little thrush hop from branch to branch of a magnolia tree, every hop fluttering the masses of pale pink blossoms, the colour of satin ballerina shoes. I returned to my book but I kept looking up to see it splashing in the birdbath, the little sprays of diamond droplets glinting in the sun. So much depends on a little thrush playing in the sunshine.

And I thought of Mary Karney, the octogenarian pioneer woman who built our mudbrick house by hand more than three decades ago. Mary visited us this week, in our week of epic squalor. I apologised for the lack of central heating and she shot right back at me “Oh that’s perfectly fine. I never had anything other than the wood stove when I lived here anyway.”

Then she told me a story of a little thrush who used to sit on her shoulder when she lived here. “I used to feed it leftover beef mince, it would eat out of my hand while I sat on the porch. They’re carnivores, you know, the thrushes.”

And Mary looked me in the eye and said “Do you like it here?” and I said, I love it.

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p.s. You can read my interview here http://www.gnossem.com/women-we-love/crystal.html

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