small satisfactions – books on shelves, cooking at home, things just so. But you mentioned none of that.
living in a small town means I have to be well behaved all the time outside, so the space I have is an opportunity to seclude myself. Having had all my stuff in storage for months, unpacking has meant surrounding myself with smells and sounds of mine.
When I interviewed Kath, she’d just moved out of a busy share-house. Her housemates had been old friends, or else they’d ended up that way. Now, in her new flat, she had space and quiet. It was what she’d wanted, but it still felt strange.
“The first night, it felt a bit cold, a bit intimidating, but then I heard the sounds of people upstairs.”
They were strangers, of course, but she still found their sounds comforting. “People feel very close,” said Kath. “I was worried that I’d get lonely, but I’m not. At least so far.”
Here I am again, retelling a story that was told to me more than 12 years ago.
This time it’s based on a conversation with my sister Carmel and her daughter Cade, about the house they’d shared since Cade was born.
Now, I don’t trust myself to retell my own stories with unwavering accuracy, let alone anyone else’s. But I attempt it anyway.
I begin by writing down what I remember from that long-ago conversation. Then I return to the transcript of the recorded conversation (knowing that it’s been so many years since I made and edited it, that I can’t remember what I chose to keep, and what I left out). I pull words from that, too, and rewrite the story until I think it sums up what was said – until it feels ‘true’.
I’m kidding myself, I know. How could anything like a true story emerge? Memory is unreliable. Like that transcript, it’s filtered by selection and omission. And maybe a bit of distortion, too.
Still, somehow, it feels like the attempt matters.
“There are holes in the floorboards and the basin doesn’t really work and the oven’s pretty crap,” said Helen. “It’s almost perfect.”
The second Helen I interviewed in 2003 was telling me about her flat above a shop on Melbourne’s Smith St, “off a dodgy-looking alleyway, rubbish everywhere”.
She’d been there about six months, and couldn’t quite pin down why it felt so perfect – something to do with size, she thought, and the feeling of secrecy that came from slipping though a back entrance behind a busy commercial street, climbing a staircase and finding a private space and a garden of geraniums, succulents and creepers, all in pots.
She lived there for 13 years in the end, and was just moving out when I got back in touch about this project. The timing, she said, was strange and perfect. For me, there was something even stranger: I’d barely remembered Helen talking about this much-loved flat, although she did – eagerly and effusively – throughout our interview.
I remembered something else entirely: a big, light-filled warehouse Helen once lived in, and the out-of-focus photos she took of it when she left. And so that’s what these postcards memorialise – a snippet of the story Helen told me back in 2003, and some photos she’d forgotten about (until these postcards turned up in the mail).