WE WAIT FOR the bell to ring. Mothers form a loose line outside the kindergarten, they are blonde and lean and so Balmain in clogs and long skirts. Siblings too young for school uniforms cling to their legs; they run sporadically to touch another pair of legs, giggle, then run back. The school gate is bruised from all the collecting and dropping and you forgot your lunchbox Tommy! So many different pairs of arms will open and close that gate. There’s the man that always wears a blue suit who nobody ever talks to, and the hot dad who I noticed on my first day of nannying, stirring honey in his coffee with a little spoon.
Baz and Lu are mine in our afternoons together. Their parents must get jealous, thinking of the moments I steal. I’m the one who greets their faces when they’re plump and chorine-y from swimming lessons. I’m the one who knows their rants and silences on the walk home from school, those intense sulks about nothing in particular that form clouds and float above us. I get news when it’s fresh and will never be fresh again; there’s a new boy in my class who’s really cool. In a week I will miss this. I already do.
The playground smells of lipstick and strollers. I think of getting my moleskin out but am not sure what to write. Sometimes I jot down funny things the boys say, like yesterday when Baz told me, “fish can’t have blue eyes ‘cos then they’d be the sea.” I write lists of what I eat for breakfast and TV shows I want to get into. But mostly I don’t write. I imagine what I could write. Descriptions of the boys’ faces that I can never quite muster, or the bus ride over the Anzac bridge and how it makes me happy and sad at the same time. None of these things seem to connect. Maybe I need to be away from home in order to write about it.
We go straight to Gladstone Park after school. I sit with Baz on one of the new wooden benches and peel an orange with my teeth while he eats a leftover chicken sandwich from his lunchbox. We watch Lucien play tips with his friend Mark, they run in circles around the fluorescent play equipment. They have recently lost both front teeth and look like mad scientists when they laugh, they laugh at a boy as he climbs through a big yellow tunnel. He gets a hell of a kick out of his own echo.
I break the orange into segments and white pith gathers under my fingernails. I ask Baz how it was visiting Angie, their old nanny, last week. He takes a bite of sandwich and says ‘Good.’ I say ‘Is she the same as you remember?’ and he says ‘Yep.’ He pauses, swallows, and then, ‘Except, actually. Did you know she makes the bath really low?’ He looks at me incredulously. I smile and eat some orange and love that I am familiar to him. I look across at Lu as he climbs down from a tree. His arms are tanned from summer and reach above his head to hug a branch. He lets go and jumps to the ground; his school shirt untucks itself from his trousers as he lands and he messily tucks it back in and runs to another tree. There is contemplation in his every move, a quiet observation of himself, and for a moment I see him as a man.
Later, Baz falls off the tyre swing and hurts his head. His cheeks are blotchy and wet in a second and he cries for a while on my lap, but is distracted quite easily. I ask him about his day and what he’d like for dinner. His face calms and dampens with conversation, his eyes seeming bluer, wider with every word.
“Did you know once I stepped on an oyster shell?”
“And. I didn’t even feel it.”
“Really? Didn’t it bleed?”
“Yeah! And I didn’t even feel it.”
“Very brave. I sure hope I never step on an oyster shell.”
“Well I hope you do, because you don’t even feel it!”
The evening quickly becomes grey and bright because it is daylight savings. I use the toilet as a chair while the boys have their bath, supervising like a lifeguard. They face each other in the water like two pairs of scissors, Lu’s seven year old legs are not much longer than Baz’s five year old ones. They play with rock monsters, which Baz explains to me matter-of-factly as “part crystal, part monster”. They make them have battles in the bubbles. Lu plays with his influence gently; he is kind even in small moments of control. I can see he loves Baz’s wildness as I do.
“Haha! And then! I kill you!”
“Yeh! But Baz, just pretend…you don’t?!”
I hear spits coming from the kitchen and catch the smell of salt. I think of the time I burned the chicken schnitzel and set off the fire alarm. Baz wouldn’t stop wailing and Lu whispered he just doesn’t trust you yet. I quickly get up to check the grill. The sausages are brown and almost ready, the skin beginning to split and curl. I turn them over and call out, “you guys alive?”
The boys get dressed and I finish preparing dinner. I cut the sausages into tiny pieces and drain the pasta and sprinkle cheese over so it melts. I cut up raw carrot for Baz and steam broccoli in the microwave for Lu. They are particular with their food. Lu has an actual phobia of lollies—he would get so tense and quiet in those early days, it took me weeks to realise it was the smell of gum on my breath. They like plain flavours, like vanilla and salt. I still get it wrong sometimes, even after a year.
“What the heck is this olivey taste?’
“I only like green capsicum.”
“Lucien has tomato sauce, not barbeque sauce, ya dummy!”
The boys play Lego in the lounge room as I shape their food into faces on their plates. I hear Baz sing a wobbly tune, Puff the Magic Dragon, broken by laughter and shooting sound effects that make them sound like beat boxers. The fan hums through the house, I can almost feel it breathe up their pyjama shirts onto the pale white skin of their backs.
I never feel like making dinner for myself after nannying, who wants to cook twice in a night? I could eat with the boys but I don’t feel like it so early. I will probably end up getting Thai again. I should buy a slow cooker when I get to Melbourne and have dinners that are warm and ready when I get home.
I visited Melbourne once before I thought of moving there. The boys’ Mum is from there. She met their Dad in a share-house in Carlton. They went to the same uni I’ll be at. When I walked through the leafy campus with Mum I saw every kind of face reflected in her sunglasses, and somehow felt intimate with them. I also felt a softness towards my home in Coogee beach, a softness I had never known before.
On my last day Baz is sick. His mother asks me to look after him while Lu is at school. He throws up four times in the toilet. I stand next to him and coo nice words in his ear and wipe his mouth with toilet paper and flush the toilet and hold his hand and lead him to the couch and then back to the toilet. I carry his limp, hot little body to bed, covering him with the cool doona with robots on it. He is brave and he needs me. I read him that cat book with the funny pictures. I stroke his back and he closes his eyes. I stop stroking his back and he turns to check if I am there. He smiles sweetly right in my eyes, then farts. We laugh and laugh and then he rolls over and goes to sleep.
I ride the bus home over the Anzac Bridge and get the feeling of being pulled in two directions. I get out my moleskin and write ‘Lucien has beautiful skin.’ I write ‘Sebastien has a crooked smile.’ I write until I realise I forgot to press the button and so I get off at the last stop at the beach and walk up the hill to get Thai and pack a suitcase.