Monday, June 15, 2009
Riding Ahead Of The Reaper
I haven't done any work since I flew to Melbourne on Saturday. Before I left, I spent the day at my studio, drawing and adjusting lines as well as confirming major areas of colours to be painted. My days here have been spent visiting doctors and hospitals with my father, who has been diagnosed with bone cancer. We walk slowly to appointments, no matter how far away they are. It soothes his anxiety. And mine. There are injections to be had or coarse liquids to be drunk sometimes hours before tests. Every muscle in my body aches with fear and tension: I worry about how he must feel, especially with the extent of his disease still being mapped – and the prognosis uncertain. My father took me to see the classic, custom-detailed Harley Davidson he ordered for himself a few weeks ago. It's street-elegant and loud. He rode bikes during his youth, leaning hard and fast around corners, making sparks fly as the metal exhaust pipe ground against the road. We make jokes about how awful it would be if he'd died before riding it. We share a dark sense of humour – what can either of us do right now but try to laugh as much as possible? – but I remind him that he's not dying yet. The Harley shop is staffed by rough-looking stereotypes of bikers. My father knows them all and introduces me to them. TV screens drop from the ceiling, playing endless tapes of bike shows and strippers. Laminated photographs of the bikers are pinned to a cork-board next to a communal coffee machine. I am drawn to the ones with children riding pillion. I know the kids are very ill – the opportunity to ride has been created for them by the Make-A-Wish Foundation – but they look happy and grubby. Their faces, painted like skulls, are smeared with melted ice-cream. I can't help thinking how fun it must be for them to be wild and unruly, to take risks and impersonate death while protected by a burly outlaw. It's how I used to feel, as a child, with my father. But right now, it's his turn to ride pillion as we navigate a way through this uncertain time.