“Baby, baby, did I ever tell you
that I worked out where I went wrong”
- The Calm Before The Storm, Pet Shop Boys
I’m in Bowrall, New South Wales, for a work conference. It’s a country retreat, and feels many miles further away from my home than it really is.
The Pet Shop Boys b-side above has been in my head. The song is, as the title might suggest, calm but resigned to its fate. The narrator sings of it not being long till “we get the news”, the detail of which is never elaborated on.
On Saturday, I found out that Aunty Colleen is not expected to live much beyond 24 hours. She has stopped eating, drinking, and talking for the most part.
I stare at my phone a lot, waiting for it to ring. While working, it’s in my pocket, and whenever it vibrates with a message I get anxious.
Last week I went to the cinema with a friend, and it rang – number unidentified. I picked up, and there was no-one. A few minutes passed until it rang again, this time with a bunch of giggling drunk schoolgirls, one of whom insisted I was her daughter and refused to get off the phone.
I’m in a room made of magnolia. From the brick walls, to the bed linen, to the curtains, it’s all bathed in that inoffensive colour. Calmness, comfort, colourless. It makes you feel like vaguely nothing. Actually, I can’t work out whether it’s making me feel like vaguely nothing, or whether I already feel like that. At any rate, the environs are not a stimulus for anything.
I’ve heard from home that family have gathered in Aunty Colleen’s room. There’s been talking, and crying, and sharing of stories. They’re waiting too.
I wish I was there, although I don’t think I’m emotionally able to withstand it. My taste of it a few weeks ago felt like sitting on a hot element.
In “The Calm Before The Storm”, the narrator waits till the very end of the song before uttering the line quoted above. The song ends on a neatly resolving chord. We’re never told what he thinks went wrong, because it doesn’t matter anymore. The storm is coming and there’s nothing left to do but wait for it.
In the meantime, there’s the distraction of medicated sleep. In the morning, there will be things to do. There will be people to interact with, all of whom are intelligent, lovely and diverse in their backgrounds and interests.
They’re psychologists, and they’re in the business of helping people to realise where they went wrong.
Sometimes it’s too late to worry about such things, though, and you can’t even learn a lesson for next time because there won’t be one.
The phone is still dark. The lights are still on.
The white bricks remind me a little of the walls in Aunty Colleen’s house. I try to picture her in that room, as I saw her a few weeks ago, a torch with its batteries slowly running down.
I’m having trouble picturing that. Maybe it’s the magnolia. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t want to remember her that way.