Well, I made it through, although the angel fish didn't. While I endured three months of unremitting hell, Andromeda made revolutions of her tank that became slower and slower. Eventually she sank to the rocks at the bottom, her eyes disturbingly dark, and H buried her in the garden. He then bought me four more fish to cheer me up, but three of them died too. I am relinquishing my dreams of having a wall-length aquarium; I think a beagle called Basil will be a safer bet.
So, the thesis has been submitted and I am enjoying the unsurpassed delight of waking up and realising I don't have to go to the British Library. I have the leisure to read for pleasure not for study, to have a social life that involves going out more than once a month and also permits alcoholic beverages, and to contemplate, heaven forbid, finding a bloke who isn't intimidated by my possession of four degrees, including an (almost) doctorate.
I rewarded myself with a trip to San Francisco, and shopped my little heart out in Anthropologie, and stocked up on skin products and Benefit makeup. At a friend's recommendation I took the boat to Alcatrez, which I hadn't visited though I spent a year on exchange in Berkeley in 1999. I confess to enjoying the aloe garden more than the prison, which had an interminable audio recording (which I couldn't hear well) of men attempting escape by digging themselves out with spoons. I also stopped by Coit Tower and enjoyed the smell of eucalyptus in the morning heat. Then I went across the bay and stayed with a friend in Berkeley, though the poor boy had his orals the following week and I was anxious about disturbing him.
It was odd to be back in Berkeley. I visited the cafes I used to sit in and read, walked over the beautiful campus which was at its loveliest in the dying afternoon light, and contemplated visiting my old boss at Bancroft Library but decided against it as I couldn't think what to say to him. I also met up with my friend K and it was lovely to see him again, and he kindly drove me to the airport. On the flight home, which was half empty, I read Nam Le's The Boat which was one of the best things I've read all year. All of his stories, bar one, were flawless, and I fought with my usual feelings of jealousy.
I flew into Brisbane and was surprised, as I always am, by the friendliness of the people at immigration and customs. The latter even cracked a joke about rescuing my Pimms as it went through the X-ray machine. My sister and the kids met me, and over the next few days I attempted to sort out my jetlag. I met SP and the gorgeous boy bought me a bottle of champers and took me to dinner, though we were both exhausted and frayed. On Friday I flew to Sydney for L's 30th birthday. I stayed with Cousin A, and had emailed him previously to check that he was in possession of an iron. I was impressed to find, on arrival, that he had cleaned his flat, and he whipped out the iron, but unfortunately it leaked all its water over my Sacha Drake silk maxi dress. I was going to use it again the next day but found it, to my amusement, in pieces beside the kitchen sink.
It was pissing with rain as I stepped out, and the traffic in Sydney appears to be much worse. At Hyde Park I gave up and got out of the bus, but couldn't walk the rest of the way to Circular Quay because of my stupid (but pretty) stiletto sandals, so I had to catch the train for just one stop. Although I was furious by this point, I enjoyed the drama of gathering up my masses of black-and-white silk skirt and tottering across the road. Finally I made it to the Opera House bar and said Happy Birthday to L and caught up with H, whom I hadn't seen for two whole weeks. He was sick with the flu and had no sympathy for my rage at the traffic, but I ranted regardless. We caught taxis back to Kingsford for dinner at an Indonesian restaurant, and were overjoyed to see R. We made so much noise that L's father came and told R to quieten down, so H and I started telling 'My sister's deaf!' stories at the top of our voices. At the end of the evening we found we had overpaid the bill so L began distributing the change and R attempted to stuff $10 down my cleavage. I burst out laughing, and H later said to R that he was impressed he'd got that far. 'I'm mellowing, R,' I told him. 'Yeah, right,' he replied.
I caught the train home to mum and dad's to save on carbon emissions, which entailed an 8.5 hour journey, as opposed to one hour by plane, which cost just the same. I didn't mind it that much, despite being stuck next to a young mother with two wriggling kids, as I always like watching the landscape pass by.
Currently, I am writing fiction, enjoying the summer and drinking too many of the aforementioned alcoholic beverages, which is necessary to endure the cabin fever brought on by the descension of relatives at Christmas, the unbearably high energy levels of my sister and the kids and my family's complete inability to register any comprehension of the concept of privacy, which means that four people invariably walk in on me when I try to shower in the mornings. Yesterday everyone except mum and I went to a nearby amusement park, where they looked at a museum of taxidermed two-headed cows and lamb corpses found in ewes struck by lightening (yes, only in Australia) and played on water slides built with scant regard for health and safety regulations. I had a most pleasant day in the peace, fixing a short story and taking the dog for a walk to the video store, although said dog shat outside said video store and I forgot to bring a plastic bag, so I walked on unheeding.
In a few days we go to the coast for my birthday, whereupon I shall attempt to do something about my fluorescent skin, and continue to catch up on my three-month deficit of sleep. It is strange to believe that, after four years of dislocation and stress, I can finally have a life again. Bring on 2009, I say.