For sale. Will save your back. Solid wood, two shelves underneath, locking casters – all in good condition. Slightly scuffed, tooth marks halfway along top right-hand rail, faint stain on middle shelf. Bought from a baby shop on Parramatta Road on a warm August day, our first baby-shopping expedition. We quashed our diffidence about buying baby things (counting your chickens before they’re hatched, we felt) and spending money on all that stuff we had no idea whether we would need. For my bad back we splashed out on this magnificent change table – floor-stock, on sale – and a packet of three muslin wraps, pastel-coloured yellow, green and blue. Not sure how we fitted the change table in the Toyota Corolla, or the crowded little terrace house in Glebe where we were living. We drove up and down Parramatta Road that day and it felt like we visited dozens of baby shops. Maybe just three. Exhausted. Already. Parramatta Road was hot and gritty. Spring was in the air, the sweet, heady scent of jasmine. The jasmine bloomed and burnt before spring and our firstborn arrived in October; all of a sudden there was a heatwave and it was already summer.
It was still warm when we got back to Glebe with our change table and our three muslin wraps, then the phone rang. It was my sister and she said something unusual like, ‘Are you sitting down?’ before she told me that our brother had collapsed and died, at home, while he was celebrating his 47th birthday.
I was neither joyous nor innocent on the day we bought the change table but I cry while I am cleaning it because we bought it on the day my brother died and we bought it before we knew my husband had a tumour in his neck. I cry because things have changed and I want to be the person I imagine I was on that day: a 32-week pregnant woman looking forward to having a baby, my husband and I seeing our future as fairly straightforward. I was never that woman and only now, after things have changed, do I see that I might have had the potential to be that woman.
The change table has sat in our bedroom for the last few years, covered in used plastic bags, and dust and clothes we don’t wear very much and miscellaneous things we don’t know what to do with, like my guitar and the old orange-crystal doorknob from the house we moved out of five years ago. It is clean and inert and inanimate and will not bring trepidation, loss or expectation into its new owners’ lives. It shows no evidence – apart from the tooth marks – of the babies who gazed and smiled and played and played-up while they were being changed (was our firstborn ever that small?). Or the unparalleled, unexpected, tremendous joy and arduousness of caring for them, the complete innocence of us all, mother, father and once-babies, about where this love would take us.