Not that long ago, Monday at NYWF was called Monday Comedown and it was at a bowling club and people would do readings and blearily play barefoot bowls. These days we have our own version of the Monday Comedown, if doing something two years in a row warrants calling it tradition. We gather on the grassy hill in Pacific Park, under the sprawling fig tree. We spread out beach towels on the surprisingly damp grass (foreshadowing) and lean backwards on our elbows in the sun.
Sophie and I talk while our boyfriends go to get food. Sophie and I have the kind of friendship forged in the fire of working on something as intense as NYWF. We have both talked the other down during a panic. We shared a life affirming pizza at the end of a very long day. Once we spent five hours in an Officeworks together. Spending that long trapped in an Officeworks is the kind of thing that makes a friendship unshakable.
Casey arrives. We do a crossword. We start at 1 down and work our way through the list. Sophie is incensed. She insists this is absolutely the wrong way to do a crossword. “I never knew what terrible people you were!” she shouts, “This is utter madness! You’re monsters!” This only serves to make Casey and I more insistent that our method is the correct one.
By the time the others get back we are quite hysterical and have made only moderate progress on the crossword. Bethbrings her enormous picnic rug. Kalinda and Andrew arrive. They’re friends from Newcastle and soon they are moving to Belgium and it’ll be strange to come back to this city and know they’re not in it. Nick is still waiting for food and I tweet him crossword clues. “Seven down,” Casey shouts, “blank-blank-blank-L-blank.”
Without warning all the sprinklers turn on. Water arcs into the air and in one movement we all leap to our feet and sprint for cover. We clamber onto the large raised circle of bricks and eye the sprinklers suspiciously. We spread everything out again, jumping slightly every time the beams of water nick the edge of our refuge.
Eventually, against the odds, we finish the crossword and begin a second. If anything, we take this one less seriously. One clue is “to fight” and we write in “upsmashs” and refuse to change it long after it becomes a serious impairment to actually finishing the crossword.
It is nice being together in the sunshine, tired and giggly, doing puzzles, shouting nonsense, using up the last photos on a roll of film. We invent a game called “Bus” which involves guessing how long it would take to get somewhere using only public transport and walking. The key aspect of Bus is that Google doesn’t recognise most regional public transport and therefore suggests we walk all the way to Toowoomba. “I can’t believe we’re spending our final minutes together playing Bus,” I say and Casey laughs.
People peel off, toward the airport or the train station. We hug each other and say goodbye and it’s sad but the comedown never hits me right away. It seems impossible that we can go from lying on the grass doing crosswords to being thousands of kilometres apart so quickly.
And then we’re back where we started – surrounded by plants in Beth’s lounge room. She makes tea. I make a note in my phone and start a list of all the key moments from the weekend, tracing the scaffold that will become my blogs. Alex and Fin engineer a police chase in GTA involving half a dozen police cars and a blimp. I don’t want to leave and go back to the real world but I can feel the NYWF universe unravelling around me.
At the airport our plane is delayed. When we finally board, it is delayed again. I share a moment with the baby beside me, who deeply relates to how cranky I am to be stuck on this plane. A pressure hose on the luggage truck has burst and the truck cannot move until they fix it. We miss our window to take off. “Due to the delay,” our pilot says, “We may have to hold over Melbourne. This means we need more fuel. Unfortunately, the fuel truck is out of fuel.” The baby and I have reached a state of resignation. You should be careful what you wish for, I think. I wished that I could stay in Newcastle forever and now I am stuck indefinitely on the tarmac at Newcastle airport.
Finally, we prepare to take off. “Flight time to Melbourne,” the attendant announces, “is unknown.” The baby and I are both deeply asleep before we’re even in the air.