"Here is her small front garden; its tall lemon palm, its fragrant frangipani tree, a border of unruly flowers, two giant monstera plants darkening one corner of the fence. He's late, and they've been waiting for him. He sits at the kitchen table feeling uncomfortably like a husband. Marita begins to serve dinner, banging pots and plates in that distracted way she has ... Soon, when Camille has accepted him here, he'll take over in the kitchen and then the energy in the house will begin to change for the better. He will bring calm. He is confident of this.
"Camille glares at her plate. 'Yuk brown rice again,' she says. 'Why can't we have chips?'
"After too many nights of take-away pizzas, Marita wants just one year off to look after her daughter, Camille. Then she meets Stephen, a public servant in the complex process of reinventing himself - rejecting his European heritage and seeking salvation in a dojo in Japan. As their relationship grows, so does the drama of parenting Camille, in this elegantly crafted, warmly appealing novel of contemporary life by acclaimed novelist Amanda Lohrey."
In the kitchen of a small house in Leichhardt, a young woman is dancing with her eight-year-old daughter. It's winter, and dark outside. A dish of lentil burgers sits warming on the hotplate and the strains of some exotic Latin tango strum insistently from a large black tape deck that stands on top of the fridge. Mother is clasping daughter in a parody of adult coupledom, each awkward and jolting with laughter as they stride, with exaggerated poise, up and down the skillion kitchen, sweeping across the black and white chequerboard tiles, heads tilted back, arms outstretched stiffly in the arch and demonic thrust of the tango. Dum dum, da da! da-da-da,da dah, dum dum da da! The mother is chanting time, pouting with mock seriousness, her cropped black hair standing upright in silky spikes of dishevelment and impatience. In her arms, her slight, fey, fair,haired daughter, hair drawn back in a French plait, her thin legs in dark green stockings and black lace-up school shoes, alternately mimicking the fierce concentration of her mother and erupting into loud, raucous schoolgirl laughter. For a moment, she breaks away to perform a dizzy pirouette on her own. 'See this step,' she says. 'You go, one two three four ... and then you go ... '
The telephone rings.
'Don't answer it,' says her mother. 'I'm sick of the phone. It's no-one we want to talk to. People shouldn't ring at mealtime. Mealtimes are for dancing.' But on these last words she is drowned out by a loud droning thunder as a low-flying 747 roars directly over the kitchen roof, its blinking tail lights creating a flash of momentary illumination in the small courtyard outside. The windows shudder and rattle in their frames but the two figures go on dancing, breaking off now into an improvised jive before the mother falls, feigning exhaustion, into a chair.
From the Angus and Robertson hardback edition, 1995.
This novel was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 1996.
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Last modified: May 10, 2002.