The wedding season is over for the year. My cousin S. is now married; the first female relative in my generation to tie the knot. Another cousin, four years younger than me, was married a few months back. It’s starting to feel a bit like dominoes falling.
The ceremony was held at a park by the water. The weather had been touch-and-go all week, but they decided to press ahead rather than move to a venue indoors. It is a cold, blustery affair. The bridal veil whips about like a bird caught in a net and the celebrant’s voice is a thin, reedy thread, caught in the teeth of the wind. Women in spiky stilettos sink into the damp earth, clutching thin pashminas about themselves for warmth. But my cousin beams throughout the whole thing and hardly anybody notices the weather.
The reception afterwards is at a vineyard down the coast, two hours drive away. It is a perfect setting; an elegant scatter of heritage buildings complete with croquet court, spreading mulberry tree and formal lawn edged by lavender bushes. Fields creamy with clover unfold like a quilt around it. Willy wagtails and dragonflies dart about in the bushes.
The reception is a happy haze of dinner and speeches and dancing. My uncle reads a poem by Banjo Paterson where a man or woman promises to love their sweetheart just as long as their eyes are blue. Afterward, the guests spend the night in various harness rooms, servants’ quarters, stables and convict cottages. R and I sleep in the dairy, which thanks to a modern refurbishment, sounds more romantic then it looks inside.
The next day, the weather has perversely cleared and everything is bathed in sunshine. The day has a bright festival feel. Over breakfast, we hear that a heavy leather and chain harness had come crashing down onto my cousin’s pillow that morning, where her head had been just a few minutes before. We all suck in our breath in horror, but on such a day find it hard to believe in the real possibility of disaster.
We stop at Kiama on the drive back home, the town where R’s parents spent their honeymoon back in 1945. We spend a few hours wandering around the seaside markets, immersed in tinkling wind chimes, straw hats and old china teacups. We buy an armload of grevilleas and statice from an old man, peach jam, fudge, a brown sunhat and broadbreans curled up like sleeping babies.
We watch the children play with the animals in the petting zoo; a neat, dignified black piglet; foppish-looking frilly chickens, one with a weird skeleton wing picked clean of feathers; an importunate rust-coloured goat who thrusts his snout into the children’s bags of feed before they have been offered. Eager starfish hands stretch out to stroke limp-eared rabbits. A curious Chihuahua sniffs a lamb through the chicken-wire fence. The stall-holder bundles squirming guinea pigs into the arms of plump children. Seagulls bob blithely in the pale green water beside us. One lone hook-necked pelican sails further out, an imperious old admiral keeping a watchful eye on all.
In the main street, we pass a man in a floral shirt who sits on a bench playing a banjo. A woolly-haired teenager approaches him and asked if he’s busking. ‘Nope, not really mate,’ the man replies cheerfully. ‘Oh,’ the boy says; ‘well, did you want some money anyway?’ and he leaves a few coins on his music case.
We climb the grassy hill, gulls wheeling around our heads in the boom of blue sky. Families are gathered on picnic blankets and tables to feast on fish and chips. We pass a Middle Eastern family, an Italian family, a large Indian family with women resplendent in bright silk saris. ‘The whole world’s here!’ I hear one woman comment.
A fat white lighthouse stands like a stout English nanny at the top of the hill, the broad cornflower sea stretching before it. A group of American girls crouch on the rocks, posing for photos. ‘Too much knees,’ the photographer instructs them briskly. We join the crush of tourists pressed against the fence at The Blowhole. Again and again, we watch the routine, hypnotised: the sea coursing through the rocky aperture then thrusting into the air like an angry white fist or spear flung high into the sky. A frozen cloud hanging suspended, then a scatter of white globes flopping and breaking on the dark rocks. Spidery white rivulets opening like veins, and sucked back in seconds into the writhing squall below. Young children squeal at the whoomp and boom of the sea. Frail rainbows tremble to life in the thin mist left behind.
Afterwards, we lay on our backs eating ice cream, with the dropped leaves of the Norfolk pines scattered around us like armoured monkey tails. R falls asleep in the sunshine. I sit shuffling the deck of the future and past, watching the young girls in their filmy dresses coyly not-watching the boys, and think of a young woman walking there with a new husband, nearly seventy years ago.