Yesterday, our playgroup at Hyde Park was rained out, so I decided to take my three year-old little guy to Beaufort Street Books. I was on the hunt for Susan Midalia’s collection of short stories, An Unknown Sky. We parked on a side street and waited; the rain was coming down in torrents. I could see that the deluge wasn’t going to abate any time soon, so I told Lewis to climb on my back; we were going to make a run for it. We tore along the street, splashing, laughing as the rain pooled in our shoes. He yelled, “Giddy up!’ and cracked his whip and it was one of those moments, those rare moments, when you feel like you’re right in the middle of life; you’re living and you know what it’s all about. Good short stories are like that; in one moment, or many, something is elucidated; something unknown or unseen or forgotten, becomes perceptible again.
We arrived at the bookstore dripping and the lovely bookseller welcomed us inside, raindrops on our eyelashes, feet all a-squelch. I found the book quickly, and the woman at the cash register nodded with approval.
‘Susan Midalia is a beautiful writer,’ she said, before handing my boy a green jelly baby and waving us goodbye.
Lolly in mouth, splashing all the way, Lewis was an image of childhood pleasure as we headed through the drizzle to the car. I tucked my brown paper package beneath my jumper, as yet unaware of the treasure held there.
I babysat my friend’s three boys in the afternoon, so I didn’t get a chance to look at the book again until 7:30pm when the house grew silent. My boys were asleep and I felt nothing but relief. Oh, the joy of being alone after a long day in the company of children!
I was so very moved by Susan’s stories. There were goose bumps involved. After reading The boy with no ears and An Unknown Sky, I was compelled to go and take a look at my two sleeping boys. They have a bunk bed but they always end up intertwined on the bottom mattress. I watched them sleep: their baby-soft features stilled, their bodies wrapped up in each other. I kissed them. I sniffed their shampoo-sweet hair, with the knowledge that one day, they will be gone. Those little bodies will grow and they’ll be out in the world; this will be nothing but a dulcet memory.
When my eldest clambered into bed with me in the night, I didn’t shoo him away; I held him and gave thanks for the moment: my boy, nearly eight years old, head nestled at my neck.
Midalia’s stories gave me a new lens through which to look at my life. Such is the power of fiction. There is kindness at every turn in this collection; I particularly loved the forgiving portrayal of a vulnerable and desperate mother in The boy with no ears. There is a sentimentality that never feels gratuitous; Midalia teases at the heart strings with subtlety. Her prose is beautiful, every sentence carrying the perfect weight. I’ll certainly have to savour the last of these short stories.