“…ah the tipsy wee small hours of insects that jive upon the crippled grass blades....” and, “It was a place of white manuka and a river pool of brown ice and hills of green iron; with a cloud crossing the sun, to send down a silver picnic rain like a new pin to be picked up, later, in the sunlight, in the tussock, or the bald feasting-place charred with old fires and strewn with yesterday’s picnic paper and bottle and sardine tin...”
no Dad sits each morning
on the satin-smooth
“Are you Janet?” I said. Stupid. I knew it was Janet. No question. Her face was permanently painted in the picture-library of my memory.
“Yes,” she said. A light, almost childlike voice.
“I’m Grahame Sydney. I’m an
“Oh, I know who you are,” she said, smiling at me. “I’ve two of your paintings on my walls. In fact, I always felt bad that I’d never written to thank you for sending me those reproductions. I did mean to, but I never got around to it. Isn’t that awful of me?”
“It’s not awful of you at all,” I said. “It’s perfectly understandable.” I thought of my unsent letter to her, still cowering in the desk drawer. “But how are you? I’ve been told you’re having a tough time with your health, and I’m very sorry to hear it.”
“Oh yes,” she said. “In fact, I’ve just come from the oncology department across the street. They tell me the disease is winning, and I've got three weeks left.”
She was cheerful, comfortable, matter of fact. The shoppers streamed past in front of us, the odd one brushing our knees.
“Three weeks of treatment?”
“No, no,” she said, quite untroubled. “Three weeks left.”
What do you say to someone who has just been told they have three weeks left? Let alone to Janet Frame. That helplessness flooded back.
“Oh, they must be wrong,” I said. “You look so healthy. Surely they’ve got that wrong? I hope so anyway...” I had no idea what else to say.
She rescued me. “They may be,” she said, “but I doubt it. I’m not worried.”
She looked up at me from the supermarket bench. “No, no – thank you!” she said cheerfully.
Photos by Mike White