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My Christmas cake friend

  • 12 December 2014

On Christmas Eve I will deliver, for the twelfth year in a row, an iced, naively decorated fruitcake to my oldest and dearest Australian friend, Enid. I will pull up into the driveway of her brick home, set post-war style beside a neat, suburban stretch of lawn.

She will open the front door before I have even knocked, and before she’s even kissed me hello will tell me how beautiful the cake is and how she couldn’t possibly cut into it. She will take the cake in her delicate hands, walk over to the ornate wooden dresser near the window with the venetian blinds and the view of the leafy street on which I, too, once lived, and will place my offering on a crystal cake stand; and then she will ask me to take a photograph of it. 

Enid has tried to sway me from this ritual in of late – 'You’re not to make me a cake this year, you have too many other things on your plate!' – but I will not be deterred, for this is not merely a Christmas gift or a sweet treat designed to heighten the season’s celebratory mood. No, this is an object that contains within it the story of a friendship between two women almost forty years apart in age; folded into it is all the joy and delight and love she’s given me over the years, and which am now returning to her.

I met Enid 13 years ago when we rented the house next door to hers. We had recently arrived in Australia, an immigrant family moving hazily through each day, rabbits frozen in the headlights. She was at our back door in an instant, offering in her unobtrusive way information about milk delivery and rubbish pick-ups, recommending dentists and doctors, insisting we use her tumble drier during a spell of seemingly endless rain. 

With no children of her own, she happily tolerated – welcomed! - my own three as they romped across the fenceless boundary and into her garden, used her front lawn as an extension of their cricket pitch, and hid out behind her garage during games of cops and robbers. She would make plates of egg sandwiches and serve them with bottles of icy ginger beer to the crowds of children dangling from the tree in our front yard. 

But our children’s merriment concealed a deep familial unease: despite our