Soup bowl

Life Unfurling

By Ellen Lewis


Chicken Soup

The bank is steep, cold and wet. Her little hands and knees have scraped against the gravel, and there is blood seeping into the blue of her pyjama bottoms. She looks up at me, her eyes wide and shiny with tears. I kneel by her side and carefully pluck the leaves from her hair before scooping her up and carrying her across the stone steps. I cradle her head against my chest and feel the heat of her breath as it tickles the nape of my neck. Slowly, we trek up the hill towards home.


At home, she perks up a little.

There is soup on the stove, and the dog greets us at the front door. I dab at her grazed knees with a hot cloth, gentler than the way my mother did for me. The dog licks her fingers and nuzzles her furry head into the soft flannel of her little shirt.

I wipe carrot off her chin, and her brown eyes glow while she grins up at me. We sit together at the kitchen table, me and my pint-sized companion, a little life unfurling on this square of earth I call home.


In the evenings, I pick her up from creche and listen while she chatters away in the back seat. Outside, the sky is purple and gold, and the people on the street shimmer, then melt in the twilight haze. She points to the things that excite her; an Elvis impersonator waiting at a tram stop, a fat golden Labrador tied up outside a supermarket, a blossoming Wisteria vine creeping up the side of a Fitzroy terrace. Sounding out the words she sees on the billboards as the roads carry us home. M-A-G-I-C. Magic.


At home, I put another pot of chicken soup on the stove and watch while she intently colours in the book her grandmother bought her for Christmas. As her brow furrows, furiously blunting the ends of her crayons, I wonder at her verve, that sense of vitality my mother made sure to dull in me. I make a mental note never to tell her to be quiet.


Eventually, I watch as she toddles off toward the gates of her very first school. The red suede runners I bought her the week before look funny with the green check pinafore that hangs loose on her tiny frame.

The teacher smiles at me and ushers her inside the classroom. I watch through the doorway while she hangs her bag on a hook and disappears into a milieu of nervous classmates.

The sheen of a morning sun shower covers the roads while I climb into the quiet of the car. Wet streaks stain my cheek, like the glistening tyre marks that dry, crusty and sad onto the dirt of the unfinished driveway.


In the hallway, the dog greets me, as does the bittersweet smell of chicken soup.




Fluorescent Light

The elevator is still, the only assurance of its descent comes in the form of an occasional shudder and a clang. Down, down, down, down. The sound of her laboured breathing follows me out into the carpark, onto the train, and then home to my cold share house.


Morning. Her sheets are hard and crisp, and the skin hangs off her arms. A nurse tells me there are more fluids coming, then a doctor furrows his brow as he reads a chart. I hear the rattle of her breath in the shudder of the elevator when it once again carries me downward, toward the ground where I’m forced to smile at the receptionist.


The fluorescent tubes make the place look grey, like everyone is dying, even the doctors.

My skin looks sallow in the bathroom while I run the tap, waiting for the water to turn warm and comforting. Sweet soap masks the smell of mashed potato that lingers in the hallway at lunch.

The sound of the beeping wakes me up in the early evening, just as the nurse rounds the corner and gives me a look that tells me it’s time to go.


Her windows look out over the city. Cars, people, roads that stretch far and away into the haze of suburbia where lives are being lived as if the earth isn’t giving way beneath our very feet.

The man at the canteen asks if I want sauce. A strange question that I can’t seem to find the answer to. The nurse tells me she’s having a scan and will be back in half an hour. The sausage roll tastes dry without sauce.


Morning. She’s awake and talking. She says it’s Cousin Sammy’s birthday today. I say we should ask if there is more orange juice when the lunch people come around.

The smell of mashed potato doesn’t quite mask the lurid stench of stomach acid. The smell follows me home and lingers in my nostrils while I make small talk with my housemate.


The fluorescent lights give her headaches. I buy a sleeping mask from the pharmacy downstairs and sit with her while she sleeps for three and a half hours.

When she wakes up, we do the crossword together. She asks if I remember the time I fell and grazed my knees in the park when I was four. I say I do, but only because she’s told me the story so many times. She laughs and falls back asleep again. The sound of her laughter follows me home, echoing in my ears while I drift to sleep.


Aunt Julia has come to visit from Adelaide. She says the traffic was heavy, and the aeroplane smelled like tuna. I leave them giggling like schoolgirls.

The fluorescent lights in the bathroom make my tears glitter like they do in movies. An older lady at the sink next to me pats my back and hands me a tissue that smells like lavender. She tells me she hates the smell of this place. I choke out a sob and tell her I do too.


Morning. Aunt Julia cries to me in the hallway. I pat her back and invite her to dinner.

We all do the crossword and laugh until the nurse comes in again and ushers us out. The glow of fluorescent lights follows Aunt Julia and I home. My housemate hands us a box of tissues. I hold the tissues while Aunt Julia holds my hand, and my housemate makes us chicken soup.



Last night M told me the plant in his bathroom is very emotive. He said it looks sad when he doesn’t water it. He said the leaves droop and look like the stooped old Italian ladies we see every Sunday at the fruit market.

Today the plant looks happy. A fresh curly bud has wiggled its way into the world overnight and is reaching up toward the sun that is peaking over the line of corrugated iron visible just below the window. Last week M asked me why I don’t smile anymore.


Tomorrow M will tell me he loves me when he leaves for work at eight thirty-five. The stiffness of his white collar will pop out over the neckline of the blue pullover he wore when he picked me off the pavement and held my hand outside the hospital.

I’ll hug him goodbye and spend the next three hours crying under the expensive doona cover my mum gave him when she cleaned out the house for the last time. The boxes in the garage will sit still and continue to gather dust. I won’t open them, even though I told M I would.


Last week M told me he’s worried. He said my eyes look grey, and he doesn’t want to spend another weekend on the couch watching old Disney movies where everyone ends up happy, and the animals can talk.

I told him I loved him and that the pillows in the boxes in the garage would hold their shape just fine. He said what about the moths. I ignored him and went upstairs to bed.


Yesterday morning the hospice called me and said they found mum’s necklace. They said it had fallen into a crack between the heater and the wall. They said it was policy to throw away items if they remained uncollected for more than seven business days. I said thank you and asked if they had found her the patchwork quilt yet. They said they hadn’t, but if they did, it was policy to call me within three business days to inform me of any uncollected item.


This morning I think about my mum, and her dry hands and the way she made me hot water bottles and the way she hummed along to the Paul Kelly compilation album my aunt bought her three Christmases ago and the way she sometimes rubbed olive oil into her palms to help her think. I wonder if I should do the same…I wonder if I should try to think.


A few months ago, my mum asked me why I didn’t smile anymore. I told her it was because her eyes were grey, and she was starting to look like the scary lady at the diner in Mulholland Drive. She laughed and told me she loved me.

I chuckle to myself. I look out the window at the sun, the corrugated iron and the tiny curly bud wiggling its way into the world. I feel the corners of my mouth twitch, and M sees me smile.





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