Ana (Australia)

dusty

I’m at Ana’s house on Ontario Avenue, Mildura, and I am sitting on the sofa opposite Ana, listening to her talk about her father and how her Maori family celebrated his death.
‘The body is laid out in a big room,’ she tells me, smiling and opening her arms and waving them around, showing me how big, ‘and there are mattresses all over the floor and that’s where we sleep or sit,’
I am looking and smiling at her and I say wow and she continues with her story.
‘The family don’t do anything,’ says Ana, who is wearing a white and dark blue patterned sun dress, her hair in a straggly pony tail and a fake bubble gum packet tattoo stamped on her arm, ‘we just sit there and the rest of the visitors take care of things, like cups of tea and food and so on,’
‘Wow,’ I say, ‘so your dad just stayed there in the middle of the room?’
Ana says yes, and that he stayed like that for three days, with people coming and going and sitting and sleeping and crying all around.
‘My cousin came in,’ she tells me, ‘and my dad was like a dad to her, and so she picked him up and cradled his head and kissed him and then laid him back down,’
Ana tells me she was very moved by that because she’d had a distant relationship with her dad but her cousin had had a close one.
‘How is the body after three days, though?’ I ask Ana, imagining that it must have been going off in some way, beginning to decompose, going rotten.
‘A little man comes in, the undertaker, and he takes out a little brush and powders the face,’ Ana says, laughing and demonstrating how the undertaker had operated, ‘and tidies him up and he looks fine,’
Then she tells me how her daughter, Holly, had made the mistake of removing dead flowers from the coffin, but that everyone in attendance had been very forgiving of the faux pas.
‘She also walked through the middle of everyone into the kitchen, eating sandwiches which is a big no-no,’ Ana says laughing.
Later on, it’s time to leave and I am sitting on the back porch looking up at the overcast sky while the dusty yard is whipped by hot winds, and Ana comes to speak to me again about death, this time the death of her child.
‘I came out into the backyard in the middle of the night and started to wail,’ she tells me.
I sit looking up at her while she points down to some place in the back garden.
‘And I never want to leave this house,’ she tells me, ‘because I dug a hole and wept into it,’
I don’t say anything about this, but I look down the garden and just keep listening.
‘And my beautiful neighbour came in from next door and asked me if I was okay and I just wailed and tears fell into the hole I had dug and my neighbour hugged me and then said “it’s 2am, I’m going back to bed”. Then the next day I was at the supermarket and Holly said to me, “Mummy, are we buying shoes?” and I looked down to see that I was wearing one slipper and one shoe,’
At this Ana and I both start to laugh.
Ana looks across the dusty yard to the place where she let the tears for her dead son fall.
‘It’s funny what grief does to you.’ she says softly.

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