My father is putting away the dry things from the dishrack. He’s already laid them out on the bench: long-handled objects side-by-side like fissures in rock, pale crockery layered like limestone cliffs, a conglomerate of containers clustered at the end. I am watching him from the upstairs balcony, crouching unseen behind the half-wall.
He picks up a wooden spoon and looks at it, turning it over and over in his hands. He wanders over to the kitchen drawers, bends, opens the top one, peers at the knives and forks, looks back at the wooden spoon and again at the cutlery and then places the wooden spoon in the drawer. He frowns slightly, takes it out, opens the other drawers, looks at napkins and placemats and tea cosies and finally nestles the wooden spoon on top. He shuts the drawer and goes back to the bench and clasping his hands, looks for a long while at the objects and finally selects the ladle.
When I was a little girl, I went with Dad to his teaching laboratory. I gently opened the thin drawers of fossils and minerals named like Old Testament peoples - ammonites, graptolites, trilobites - inhaling their musty-dusty ancientness. While my father prepared his next class I gazed upon these treasures, glassy sheets of mica, gleaming metallic galena, whispering their names…gypsum, malachite, quartz.
Dad collected most of the samples himself, striding into the bush and cracking open rocks to find secret seams of minerals, slithering down dunes and easing fossils out of beachside cliffs. He told me how the cliffs were once the sea-bed, made of ocean animals, little creatures who lived millions of years ago, whose bodies drifted down to the sea floor, and rested on beds of clay-limestone rock. A skeletal record of little tiny lives. When it was time to go, I slipped the specimens back into their boxes, carefully labelled in Dad’s neat handwriting, slid the thin drawers shut.
Now Dad’s motionless, staring at the bench. ‘You’ve got to wind him up, fire up the engine’, the neurologist tells us. ‘Get him started, encourage him. Keep expectations low’. I watch my father puzzling over the everyday kitchen objects and silently urge him on. Delays between actions stretch out, there’s more peering, more clasping of hands.
Imagine being halfway through putting the dry things away and suddenly wondering if a ladle isn’t actually a knife. My father could tell the story of the Earth. Now he calls his peas ‘greens’ and can’t remember where the spoons live.