On Sunday I went to a 70th birthday celebration for one of my aunties. It was held at Kooyong Tennis Club, where she's a member, in the prosperous Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn. For half a day I was one of the privileged, eating barbecued chicken on a huge balcony with a timber pagoda hung over the long dining table, a pagoda that my sister told me was designed by architectural firm Six Degrees. The balcony overlooked acres of tranquil green tennis courts where prosperous middle-aged folk in their whites practised their serves and competed politely, the courts surrounded by dense parkland that rose up around them and obscured a view of the city centre.
It was one of those sunshin-y summer afternoons that last forever, champagne the colour of pale gold gently hissing in the long frosted glasses, the charcoal-y smells of the meat and the tasteful contrast of the green salads, the tall male cousins squinting and slouching in the sun in their wraparound sunglasses, tailored shirts and structured haircuts but still beer drinkers at heart, the cousins in frilly summer dresses and the aunties in their expensive finery, little girls in smock dresses ganging up and charging down the concrete steps to disappear into the courtside area where they would have to be retrieved for the happy birthday.
I was rich. I am rich. I do love my cousins. The last is not a trivial observation. When you've been clannishly close as children the separations that work, priorities and age differences create can result in giant resentments, simmering bitternesses and feelings of betrayal when you don't get invited to designer weddings for only 70 guests. One of these cousins disappeared to Canada and married a Canadian in a lush lakeside ceremony, and I was convinced I would never see him again. Yet there he was, larrikin-handsome, tall and laidback, with his old hugely pleased, welcoming grin. 'I've been married off!' he said. He shared some of his pains and worries and told us that he and his wife planned to eventually come back to Australia to live.
Everyone but me – I don't drink – was mildly sloshed by the end of the afternoon. They did not stagger about but their mouths did not work properly and their smiling eyes held a veiled, lackadaisical contentment. I envied them their temporary suspension from reality's hard edges but not their probable hangovers.
I am not rich. The rent is going up again, the second time in less than 18 months. More money for the owners that they won't know what to do with (they own the place outright and at least two other properties); less money for me to buy necessities. If there's logic in there I can't find it.