So that was January. How unrelenting it was. As if the school holidays might never end. Of course there was the weather. That didn't help. So patchy. And oh how we've complained. On and on. Peter Dunne even started a petition. Reclaim summer! Shift the holidays to February! Of course out there, in the big wide world, the far right has been gathering forces, drawing sustenance from Trump and Brexit.
But never mind. Down here, we've got other stuff on our minds. For me it's all just been a backdrop anyway. I've spent January lost. Lost in a world 720 pages long. For almost two years I put off reading Hanya Yanagihara's novel, A Little Life. Like War and Peace, like The Luminaries, it felt too big to take on. Insurmountable almost. And in truth it's been unrelenting, but now I've finally begun I don't want it to end. A story of the friendship of four men; a story of horrific sexual abuse, in no way has it reflected my summer, and yet somehow it has framed it.
I have read it noon and night. On the beach and in my bed. Scrawling its words on magazines and across maps. Last week I wrote this on the back of a bill for the Northern Gateway Toll Road I'd neglected to pay in my haste to get to the sea and home again.
Fairness is a concept taught to nice children: it is the governing principle of kindergartens and summer camps and playgrounds and soccer fields ... Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
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And then this happened: Standing in line at the icecream shop, repeatedly asking my daughter to make her choice, "Goody Gum drops or Gold Digger? Quick, decide!" My son said, "Look, there's $50 on the ground". And before I could think what to do, he was tapping the shoulder of the man in front of us.
"Excuse me," said my son. "Have you dropped some money?"
He hesitated for a nanosecond, this man. He didn't say, "Yes, I think I have. Thank you." Or, "No, not mine." What he did was lean over and, with a small, ferrety movement, slip it under his phone.
And instantly I knew that $50 was not his. If he had looked down on his luck I might have let it slide, but there was nothing impoverished about him, and so loudly I began asking the people around us if anyone had lost some cash. And still he said nothing. I expected him to scurry off, but when he took his icecream to a table outside I told the girl behind the counter that if anyone asked whether any cash had been handed in, that man there, the one with the cap, had it. I assumed that would be the end of it, but outside I found my daughter crying, a young couple trying to comfort her.
She'd dropped her icecream. Sighing, I went back for another scoop, and when I returned my son was asking them if they'd lost $50, telling them the story, pointing out the man.
They were stupendously good looking, this couple, in that overly groomed way you see on reality TV, but seldom in reality, and somehow I wasn't surprised when she pulled out a wad of cash. She couldn't remember how much she'd had to begin with, or work out how much she had now, and patently that $50 wasn't theirs either, but brazenly her boyfriend announced he was going to go get it.
As he strode over, I looked away. I wanted no part of it. My children, though, were fascinated. "He got it," they reported gleefully. Stunned, I wondered what he would do. Would he render it to the shop to await its rightful owner, telling those overworked, and presumably underpaid, young women scooping mint choc chip and cookies and cream all day long, that if it was unclaimed they should share it among themselves? Or would he say to my son, "Finders, keepers, buddy," and split it between them? But walking past us, arm draped possessively around his girlfriend's spray-tanned shoulder, he did neither of those things. No, he gave us a big thumbs up, and carried on. My son turned to me, dismay upon his face. "That's so unfair," he said. And all I could think to say was, "Yup".