Sometimes when the phone rings at ten minutes to six I think it is my friend, Andie. She knew how much I hate cooking the evening meal, that I usually start around 5.30PM after uhhhm-ing and aaahhh-ing for ages before deciding what is on the menu. She used to quiz me about what I was cooking, crack jokes about how much of it I would burn and how much of it everyone would refuse to eat. She always managed to get me out of my grumpy why-do-I-have-to-cook mood.
For years Andie would ring me once or twice a week at ten minutes to six. It was a little joke we shared. Sometimes I can’t bear the fact that she will never call me again and joke about my lack of finesse in the kitchen. Sometimes when the phone rings around the time she used to call I am so disappointed it is not her that I feel myself falling forward and have to steady myself on the furniture. Sometimes I forget that she died three months ago.
If only we could sit as we used to – watching the garden, talking about how quickly the plants grow in the Australian sun, cataloguing clouds, closing our eyes and trying to recognise bird calls. Sometimes I search for her when it is dark and the shadows stain the ground a deep green. I try to convince myself she is hunting for possums or listening for the scramble of fruit bats – but I know in my heart she is gone.
How to stop the yearning. That is the thing. How to tell yourself, convincingly, that you have reached the end. That you will not meet a dear person you loved, again in this life. How to not rage and wail and gnash your teeth at the realisation. That is the hard part.
Tonight I cooked rice. I happened to glance at the clock at ten minutes to six. The phone didn’t ring. The rice almost boiled over. I stomped and thudded around the kitchen and then I laughed as I heard Andie saying in my head: ‘What’s cookin’, Chick?’ And I knew, as the starchy scent of boiled rice rose, that in some small way she was still with me.