Story for performance #201
webcast from Sydney at 08:10PM, 07 Jan 06

it will be better
Source: Tracy Wilkinson and Maher Abukhater, ‘Palestinians predict chaos’, LA Times in Sydney Morning Herald online, 06/01/06.
Writer/s: Cynthia Troup

‘You’re appalled, aren’t you?’ Your daughter smiles her glistening, nineteen year-old smile, and takes another spoonful of trifle. She’s using a soup spoon. Someone else’s left-over trifle for breakfast, before eight o’clock in the morning, yes. You are appalled.

You lean against the kitchen cupboards and keep watching her, wondering again at her quickness, her complete lack of hesitancy. Really that’s what’s been inspiring fear, suddenly, this summer. ‘You’ll get a headache’, is your reply. ‘It’s so I don’t get a headache—haven’t you heard of hair of the dog? Anyway, there’s fruit in it.’

She heaps the spoon with more pinkish custard scraped from the sides of the dish, licks it clean, uses it to stir her coffee. ‘I have to give the bowl back.’ Then abruptly she’s gone. And you must decide about the best way. To do everything.

Consequently, you sigh, as she would have predicted too. You stand there at the sink for a moment, still in your nightie, listening. Should you wash the bowl?

You open the refrigerator and notice the red net bag of oranges in the crisping drawer. You slide the drawer open. They’re very cold, heavy with cold, and just moist. The glow of their peel is faintly withdrawn; they seem shrunken. You take an orange as it fits in the curve of the palm of your hand, and place it on the diagonal of sunlight that’s falling across the sill of the kitchen window.

They’re South Australian Riverland oranges; prices are changing because of disease outbreaks in Brazil, and, in Florida, hurricanes.

Tracy happened at Christmas time. 1974, tropical hurricane Tracy. That November, when she’d been home from hospital a week, your mother rang to say that she’d forgotten to make the pudding. ‘It’s too late’, she’d insisted, nearly crying; she was so insistent, ill, and exhausted that year, shadowing herself restlessly behind the long blinds in her house. Everyone rallied, to say, ‘never mind’, to offer to buy a pudding, or make one—how about one of those ice-cream puddings, anyway, something easy that the kids will eat? Cyclone Tracy, right.

You have your mother’s Mrs Beeton’s, inscribed to ‘Nancy’ although she was ‘Ann’; the same compact, hard-cover volume, still sturdily bound, Thoroughly Revised. There followed the usual arguments about the family lunch. So at the last minute she surprised you, she surprised everyone, absolutely, then, by producing a trifle that she’d made for the pudding. Instead of the traditional pudding.

It was inedible. Lurid, slushy and nearly acrid with the sherry. You turn to the recipe amongst the ‘Cold Sweets’, and, since they’re in alphabetical order, on the same page-opening as Syllabub, Tipsy Cake and Vanilla Blancmange.

18 Savoy biscuits
12 almond biscuits
raspberry jam
1/2 a pint of custard (see CUSTARD, BOILED)
1 wine-glass of sherry if liked
2 tablespoonfuls of milk
1 oz. shredded almonds
2 whites of eggs
castor sugar

METHOD—Make the custard as directed, and let it cool. Spread jam on half the biscuits, cover with the others, and arrange them with the almond biscuits compactly on a glass dish. Mix the sherry (if used), and the milk together, pour the mixture over the biscuits, stick in the shreds of almonds, and let the preparation soak for 1 hour. Then pour over the custard, and pile on the stiffly-whisked, sweetened whites of egg on top. TIME—About 2 1/2 hours. SUFFICIENT—For 6 or 7 persons.

Her trifle had none of the light reasonableness of Mrs Beeton’s; rather, it had a desperation. She’d used jam-filled Swiss roll from the supermarket, and improvised with tinned peaches and pineapple, and a carton of Paul’s ready-made vanilla custard. The stomach-turning result was grandly—even fiercely—hopeless and unashamed. You remember the spectacular failure of your mother’s trifle that Christmas, and the shrill mood of the radio news and updates about Darwin.

You’re less appalled now. Still in you’re nightie, it’s almost nine o’clock, and you’re sitting reading an old cookery book. Hair of the dog that bit you. Both elbows are on the table. You gather up your daughter’s breakfast dishes, and, remembering your own breakfast, you look over to the window. There are no cicadas trilling yet. There are no hurricanes, no tidal waves, but now the insurance bills, and always, it seems, this war or that, for which reparation is forever impossible.

But your orange on the sill! It seems so new; so honest, sufficient, beautiful, yet as though it has always shone in that glance of light, and will never have left a trace of itself on the world! That orange is this morning, simply opens it out, and each of your pores and your hairs, and each cell of your lungs noiselessly responds with complete certainty to the orange in the sun, with the few roadside tree branches quivering behind. It will be better.

You recognise, again, that you are not so limited yourself; predictable, or unsurprising. Though the orange is nearly perfectly round, in all its shades and brightnesses of orange it seems multifaceted—to contain and harmonise all sides of the question. The orange on the sill! The question of being appalled, and of being able to be appalling; of the scope of what should be done; of the best way to reach from yesterday and last night into this instant and the future that is your daughter’s; about a proper breakfast; the question of this mixture of feelings. Which includes gratitude, for the smallest thing.

Adapted for performance by Barbara Campbell from a story by Cynthia Troup.