Jiff at Midnight

By Lahiff, Carmen | Hecate, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Jiff at Midnight


Lahiff, Carmen, Hecate


My four-year-old son starts kinder tomorrow. He is ready.

I am not ready. So, like the women of my family I am in the kitchen at midnight scrubbing pots with Jiff.

All the women in my family scrub our troubles away. I search through the cupboards and every pot I find I scrub until they all sparkle, and then I scrub the stove. After the stove I start on the cupboards, then the fridge and the table, then the washing machine and the dryer. I would scrub the bath but I cleaned it earlier today.

'But Jiff is a chemical, that's why you both had cancer, all the chemicals you use', I say.

'No cara', Nonna says shaking her head pityingly. 'Jiff is no chemical'? I can tell she thinks I am useless, again.

My house is usually a big mess and the family are nervous when they come here. I think they must think I am mad and all my troubles are bottled inside me instead of scrubbed out at midnight all over my house.

One time mum brought Nonna to visit me and I offered her a cup of tea. Her eyes darted all over, her head bobbed frantically on her shoulders. She almost screamed at me but managed to say angrily enough 'Tea! I don't want tea, look at your windows!'

That was the first time Nonna had been to my house and she was so appalled she could barely sit on my grubby chairs. Mum drove her over. She has her own car but only drives as far as Glenroy and Brunswick. She doesn't like to come the extra three kilometres to Coburg.

She always refers to me, but only within the family, as the dirty one. Having a dirty family member is a secret. A taboo. When my cousin had lice Nonna told my auntie not to tell anyone because tutti would find out and then tutti would think she was dirty.

I have always loved her dearly.

When I was a little girl I was practically raised by her. I lived in a caravan with my mum and dad at my nana and pa's place. When mum was at work she liked me to go to Nonna's. She knew I would be clean and well fed when she picked me up. She was convinced my nana would kill me with her Australiana cooking.

When I learnt to play guitar Nonna said 'that's nice darling', in her distracted way. But she was pleased with me.

When I fell pregnant and my partner and I thought she would be delighted if we told her first out of respect, she said 'that's nice darling, I can't give you any money'. But she was scared for me.

When I wash my clothes and I pull them out of the washing machine I shake them like she told me to so they are easy to fold when they come off the clothesline. Then they don't need to be ironed. She irons everything and tries to convince me that I will end up with bugs in my underpants if I don't iron them away.

Everything she does is meticulous, especially the way she carefully smoothes down the front of her clothes when she sits down and stands up.

She is a rake thin nonna, because about a decade ago she had stomach cancer. The doctors cut out her stomach and replaced it with a bizarre sack where her food goes.

She acts as if she is genetically blessed with thinness. 'You're too fat cara, not thin like me, must be from your father's side'.

'Your tits are very fat' she tells me over a family dinner, still piling my plate with food.

'But I'm breast feeding' I protest. …

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