A Cafe, Melbourne Cup

I spent all of last week doomscrolling twitter, wishing for it all to be over. Even though it was finally made clear at 3.30, I was up to watch at least some of it while it was unfolding. What a thing. What a relief. There’s still a lot of damage to be done on the way out of course, but it does feel like we’ve made a big step forward.

I am not quite back in the rhythm of blogging like I was. For example, I have not written about the woman I saw in the cafe on the day of the Melbourne Cup. The table was a long one–three small tables pushed together to make–twelve women in all, six down one side, six down the other and each of the ends unset.

It’s one of those cafes where no noise is muffled, and so the people shout louder and louder in order to be heard, and the louder they shout the louder they must shout, and why don’t cafes take as much care with their acoustics as they do with their menu? A conversation for another day, for now, I am focussed on the woman I saw.

This woman–the one I noticed–sat at the end of one row, her chair pulled slightly away. Everything at an angle: her body, her fascinator, her mood.

Her scowl morphed back and forth into a frown, the veil of the fascinator it seemed magnifying everything. The wrinkles of her frown, her eyeshadow, the crooked eyebrow crayon. Sometime before I got there, she had built a wall of silence, defensiveness and anger and now I had no way of knowing what it might have been.

If she were twelve, you would say that she was sulking. But this was something deeper than sulk. Invisible, but clear. I tried to think at what conversation might have happened to leave her sitting here past dessert and into coffee. Why had she stayed? Why didn’t she leave?

Around her, the other women talked. At some point they had accepted this behaviour and moved on. So alone, this fascinating woman walked along the path of no return.

If you need me, I’m on the couch nodding off, because I stayed up too late last night

I was in bed last night, thinking about this and that and the other. And in between these thoughts I was turning my light on and off and on and off, and reading Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy.

And all of this led me to the thought, the realisation:

I don’t know what I dreamed of becoming.

I thought of myself on the school oval at lunchtime, or on the benchseat leaning against the wall, or walking from class to class. I thought of talking with my one very best friend, of gossiping with the bigger group, of laughing on the year eleven camp. I tried to reimagine the conversations that we shared.

And I can’t pinpoint a particular aspiration. Not of mine and not of anyone’s.

I remember in year eleven, in our economics class, the girl who said to me she wasn’t worried about her job because ‘I believe that married women shouldn’t work’. I guess she said ladies not women. I was gobsmacked (I have tried to think of the word we might have used in 1984, but I don’t think there’s a gobsmacked equivalent) which makes me think it was an unusual conversation. I remember one friend did a modelling course one school holidays. I remember another came to Adelaide to do a secretarial course and one of our teachers said it was the worst decision any of us could make, but to me it seemed neither good nor bad, just something else I hadn’t known you could do. Girls left school to do hairdressing, but they were girls who were good at art and wore interesting clothes. It never seemed like something I could do.

I know that I have always carried an affinity with words, a knowledge that words are what I get. The same way some girls got hairdressing or some girls got netball or my best friend got maths. I got words. My ‘mock interview’ was at the local newspaper, but still and all the same, it never really occured to me that I could be a journalist. I didn’t know that journalist was something to become.

Perhaps I thought I would live my parents’ lives. Civic-minded teachers, surrounded by other passionate teachers and political activists. I remember telling the mister he should be a science teacher, so I guess on some level I was trying to recreate their life.

But my mum didn’t want me to have her life. Or more precisely, she didn’t want me to have the limits of her life. And the only thing she knew to say was ‘don’t become a teacher’.

And now, I’m back to where I was at two o’clock this morning. I don’t know what I dreamed of becoming. Which doesn’t matter. It’s not something to fret about or to add to the lists of things that keep me awake at night.

It’s just – as they say in yoga – an observation.

One of those rare thoughts that has remained as interesting in the light of day as it was at two a.m..

What’s the difference between a duck?

At yoga, we observe and do not judge and I like the wisdom of this. But all the same, and nonetheless, mine are kind of thighs when mixed with this mind of mine, which, once observed, are difficult not to judge. Especially in track suit pants.

So I like the part where we extend the spaces between our thoughts because this is something I can do, and it matters not that the space between my thighs will never be.


It has been six? no, seven? oh, eight! years since the cat has died, but the girl is still in the shop where they used to buy the mince (of kangaroo – and that’s what did the cat in in the end, and led her along the cat-prozac path – don’t feed your cat kangaroo).

The girl was young then, and not old now. Her nails are still chewed, her hair is still cropped short. Does the smell of roo mince follow her home? She wears an apron smudged with wipes of meat, a chain with a cross of gold, and the smile of someone who hopes, believes. There is more to life than asking: mince or chunks?