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Telling Aurelia

  • 11 May 2020
In the week following my mother’s funeral I wake up knowing I need to begin cooking again. For all of January my mother’s death has been my whole world. But now the gifts of home-made food have slowed. It is time to come out of the cocoon I have wound around keeping vigil and arranging the funeral.

In the small hiatus between the bushfires and the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve had the privilege of a communal farewell. Now I need to enter the world beyond my door. It takes me until lunchtime to coax myself out from under the doona. I will walk up to the local shops for bread and vegetables.

The Italian fruit and veggie shop has an open storefront facing the street. I recognise Aurelia as she stands in the aisle, lightly stacking gleaming fruit. She has worked here for as long as I can remember, though she only appears to be in her early 40s. She wears a navy blue uniform stitched with lime green highlights. It bears the names of the brothers who own the business.

As I approach her in the narrow aisle, Aurelia is deftly placing plums. Her coral pink fingernails flash amidst the dark purple. She turns towards me with a bird-like quickness in the movement of her head. Her hair is full of impish drama, the top sticks straight up, the sides are close cut. When Aurelia cocks her head to one side, her bright eyes meet my gaze.

I realise I’ve felt on my guard coming out into the world again, but here is curiosity and kindness. Aurelia’s eyes are alive and alert, undimmed by years of customer interactions.

The colour and sheen of the shop are open to the street and the weather. I have been feeling hidden, but Aurelia’s presence welcomes me back. Her face is mobile, attentive, there is no risk her strong make-up will mask her loveliness. The clean lines of her eyebrows, cheekbones and lips are accented and clear. ‘Hello,’ she says, ‘how are you?’ Aurelia stands back and rocks on her heels as she says this, then grounds her two feet slightly apart. Her ready stance tells me she means the question.

'Sometimes this would feel patronising, but not in these moments. I am one of the motherless now; the gesture is instinctively soothing.'

I realise I want her to know that my mother died. I don’t need her to do anything, just