TOComing home to a heat wave, I open the front door and see that the house has swelled from the heat. It is an old miner’s cabin built on earth, without adequate foundations. It seems to breathe and change shape depending on the weather. Remember that scene in Willy Wonka where Violet Beauregarde eats the forbidden gum and turns purple then expands like a blueberry? My home is Violet Beauregarde.
The skirting boards have been dislodged and detached from the wall, a deep crack has appeared in the ceiling, and the ceiling and wall appear to have parted. Will the house split in two if the heat wave continues? And if so, what does that mean? That I have to do?
There has been a streak of 37 ° C days. I take cold showers at night and sleep with a damp cloth on my head. Air has weight and thickness. Breathing feels like inhaling something that is heavier than air. I buy some fans and am dismayed to know when I open the box that I have to assemble them myself. Making a fan seems too complex and important a task for a layman. I worry that my friends in the guest room will be killed at night, beheaded by a fan blade that flies through the air as it separates and rises through the air.
WWe are in a liminal zone: the days between Christmas and New Years. Who even knows what day it is? Time seems to stretch, a week drags on, and purposelessness invades. It’s always been that way, but Omicron gives this loose week a sinister edge.
The debris on the kitchen table reflects this new place where we’ve found ourselves: the plastic swabs and solution bottles, the result windows, and the accordion instructions for rapid antigen tests. I drink Rats, my friends take Rats, we send each other photos or screenshots of our negative Rats or we inform ourselves by group Whatsapp of a positive Rat, up to a point, just after the New Year, where there are no Rats, but they all seem to know each other. someone who is sick, or who themselves are sick (itchy throat, dry cough …) or are isolating or waiting in a queue, somewhere, a PCR, until after hours and hours of not moving or the center closes, leave.
But on New Year’s Eve we are all negative, and there are some reasons for hope. 2022 will be better. This year is almost over. We do not have that. We are not locked up. We can go out.
THEn the last day of the year we walked up a hill, over the dry grass bushes where last year I saw a brown snake cross our path, and we refreshed ourselves by jumping into an old quarry turned into a reservoir. It’s like a Frederick McCubbin painting. The last hours of the year we sit under a tree, share a bottle of wine and say what we want from the new year. The wishes are modest. This is the third year, after all, and no one dreams big.
Two days later, a taxi driver comes to take me to the train station. The house is still swollen. Maybe when I come back I will have two houses.
When the cab pulls up, I’m outside with a glass of water, and instead of spilling the water, which I intend to do, the glass slides out of my hand and dramatically crashes against the porch. It looks like the operatic gesture of a madman, as if he had just come out and threw a nonsensical glass. It’s one of those heavy crystal glasses; the fragments will be trodden on for years.
The taxi driver helps me clean it and tells me that houses like mine are evil: “They only serve to keep the animals out.” Every year, the people of the city fall in love with them “because they are cute.” They spend a summer there and realize that “it’s like sleeping in a hot tent,” he says. “They flip them pretty fast after that.”
I do not. I love my sweat lodge.
“The house is swelling,” I tell him. “It’s coming apart at the seams. The other day the ceiling broke off the walls. “
On the way to the station he tells me about his house, which has double glazing and a split refrigeration system. We say goodbye and then he returns to the station because, inexplicably, he finds my credit card on the road. Come back a third time, just before I get on the train, because I left my phone in the back seat.
“The heat makes me crazy and forgetful,” I say.
On the beach, I meet up with friends who have been out of Australia for more than two years and had to delay their return because they contracted Covid.
They have been living in the UK and are pasty and jet lagged. The wind is sickening and hot, from the south that is pulling the seaweed from the shore and tossing it in huge piles onto the sand.
When we get to the beach, one of my friends kneels in the sand and says, “The beach, the beach.” I’m not sure if he’s being ironic or real, but I quit. Despite the bad conditions – sand circling, jellyfish particles washed into the sand, a recent sighting of a bull shark – he runs out to sea and comes back smiling with joy.
I take a three and a half hour train ride up the west coast. The coast is cold and windy and the heat and my swollen house seem like another country. I visit my friends in isolation and bring them coffees in the morning. Other friends visit me and send me screenshots of negative Rat tests. Other friends cancel visits due to positive Rat tests.
But the wheels are falling off faster in 2022, which is itself an extension of the Christmas / New Years liminal zone. In this popular tourist city, restaurants and cafes are closed, unable to get staff, or because workers are isolated. No one can buy evidence anymore. Many people are sick now. Even last week’s modest resolutions and hopes for the new year seemed outrageously ambitious and out of reach. We’re only in four days … but still.
On the coast, I am caring for a dog that eats the plastic decorations from the Christmas tree. It just jumps in and swallows them whole.
It is the least strange of this summer.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism