Max and Maureen and Everyone in Between

7 June 2017


I wasn’t around when Max was a pup, but there’s a photograph of him and my grandmother Maureen up on the fridge. Max is small and spotty with floppy ears and sits on Nana’s lap. Nana’s eyes crinkle at the corners. The picture was taken when Nana and Pop drove their caravan from Adelaide all the way to Kununurra to visit, Mum says.

Max is bigger now, and likes to crawl underneath my house to escape the afternoon sun. He is independent and uninterested in children, so I don’t get to pat him often. He is very handsome, though, and he protects my family.

One afternoon, when I am age six, Max doesn’t emerge. We place his stiff, curled-up body in a hole beside a mango tree and I cry because Mum and Dad are crying. I peer under the house the next day, expecting to be greeted by Max’s wagging stump.

He isn’t there.

“He’ll be in the ground forever,” Mum says.

Puzzled, I check for him under the house for quite some days after.

Bob, a plover with dysfunctional wings that we’d adopted from the local vet, was Max’s right hand man. With Max no longer around to protect him, a clan of bigger birds maul Bob in the backyard. He is placed in the ground with Max.

I’m not sure where my pets have gone.

Aside from a few mice and fish, the next to go is my grandfather. A cranky old conservative with an everlasting beer in his hand, I lack many fond memories of Pop’s time alive. When he passes I am age fourteen and have just come home from school. School is tough, but not as tough as dealing with death. Mortality is not a concept that can be learnt by rote.

I rush to my room in tears.

“Why exactly are you upset?” Mum asks.

I am disgusted, and loudly let her know that I am upset because Pop died! She suggests that I didn’t know Pop all that well, and that maybe I’m upset because all of the grown-ups are.

But my tears are not a confused imitation now, as they were over Max’s passing. They’re the product of realising that my time with Pop has come to an end. My time to make any fond memories with him has come to an end.

A week before he died, we’d visited Pop in the hospital. His liquor-filled organs had called it quits and it’d been showing for a while now.

“You look more beautiful every time I see yah,” says Pop.

I cry some more at his funeral (my third after Max and Bob) when I realise that I forgot to say I love you at that last visit. I was ridden with guilt for many years, until finally I decided that family does not automatically equate to love.

Pop was uninterested in children too, and he treated Nana like a servant. Like Max and Bob, he was once a part of my life, and now he is not. And perhaps that is that.

I am age seventeen and all grown up and at a music festival when Nana passes away. She is a plump little lady, usually dressed in floral. She begins to tap her feet whenever music plays, regardless of the genre, and she chuckles like melted butter.

Cancer is a bitch and left Nana so frail that a fall in the kitchen kills her.

Festival reception is sparse, but we’re able to speak briefly on a mobile. I tell her I love her and she says she loves me too. We mean it. My tears fall for Nana, the first person in my life to pass whom I will truly miss. My tears fall for the rest of my loved ones, who one day, will pass too.

Mum doesn’t speak for three days. Maureen was my father’s mother, but my parents were middle school sweethearts, so she’s been present for most of Mum’s life. One day my mother will die. One day, so will I. And nobody knows which one of us will go first.

I finally understand, and I am frightened.

Pop’s ashes had sat in a plastic can under Nana’s bed since he’d been cremated all those years ago. There’s another tin now. It’s a windy day by the South Australian seaside, and I have just turned eighteen. My family wade into the water, salt from our tears mingling with that of the waves. We huddle in a pool of ash, Nana and Pop sticking to our legs. They don’t want to let go.

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