Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Shadow Puppets [May 14]

The traffic was terrible. But that was okay because I’d spontaneously taken the day off and driven to a bay beach. This is the sort of thing you can do when you work freelance and have no children. I swam out to the yellow buoy and back then lay in the sun reading a book set in Iceland. The author’s name was Laxness (is there a term to describe the phenomenon of an author’s name matching the activity their book encourages? Nominal behavioural synchronisia? There is now).

On page 17 of the book by Laxness there was a sentence that made me reach for my dark glasses to hide my leaking eyes: ‘On such a day the sun is stronger than the past’.

On this particular day, that statement seemed to be true.

On the way back the peak-hour traffic was terrible but that was okay because now I was all salty and calm from my unscheduled daylong holiday. At the traffic lights I pulled up behind a little red car. Because of the angle of the sun the back seat passengers looked like shadow puppets swaying behind the rear window.

A head turned and I saw in profile a long sharp nose, almost a beak, a bird-woman with the blurry chin line of the elderly. Staring at that shadow-nose I saw the woman’s arms reach out to hug a tiny form hidden behind a child’s car seat. Her movements suddenly became jolly – that’s the only way to describe it – a jolly kind of bouncing about in the back seat as those tiny arms poked out from behind the car seat and clutched at her.

When the two hugging forms separated, a third shadow form emerged from the gloom, peering backwards from the front passenger seat. The same long nose, the same jaw line, but tauter. The daughter of the mother and the mother of the child. Three generations of lucky beak-nosed shadow people all together in their red car, all feeling jolly in the peak hour traffic jam.

And in my van, behind the darkened glass of the windscreen, I took one hand off the steering wheel and put it on my breastbone and cupped the past where it hurt. I watched the light glinting off the rear windscreen in front of me and tried to remember just how strong the sun could be.


(This column was first published in the Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald on May 14th.)