I count the grains of sand

The plastic streamers had faded. Once festive blue, red and green, they’d turned a faint and depressing orange in the thirty odd years since I’d last visited the Oracle.

As we walked to the park entrance through the tall, rusted gates, I saw the streamers trailing in the light breeze – and there was a sudden and intense memory flash – running between the trees, my older brother chasing me, laughing. I turned to Rachel and I could tell she’d felt it too, just as intense, but then her memory flooded my cache: picnicking with her sisters and mother, eating onigiri on plastic plates, dappled light. She squeezed my hand, smiled.

Walking along the entrance road with its familiar orange gravel, everything else seemed to be more or less as it once was. The picnic areas were still there – fake caves with their windows and dank picnic tables inside – the toilet block built to resemble a castle still stood – and the winding paths toward the Votive niche trimmed with bush rocks. 

But as we walked toward the ticket booths, you could see that the ornamental gardens were a little less colourful: weeds were sprouting in the cracks of the winding paths and a fountain, now turned off and dry, was filled with leaves.

I had the drawings in a roll in my shoulder bag. They had been in our family for generations, passed down, rare and valuable examples of images rendered by hand. I once asked my mother how these strange pictures had been made but she had waved away my question with a smile. It was only later, when I went to University and studied near the campus art museum, that I’d shown pictures of the drawings I had on my phone to a curator. 

She was a woman in her late 50s and had smiled faintly as she pinched up the screen. Early 21st century most likely, she’d said, quite rare. 

What did these images show? There were men, engaged in some form of work, but it appeared that large sections of the images were missing. On those occasions when my father would take the drawings out of the hall airing cupboard where they were stored, we’d lay them out on the dining room table and I would pore over the details. The only explanation I could think of was that there had been some kind of pixel degradation in the image and, after such a long period of time, they’d resolved with large black blocks in the areas where the information had been lost.

When I was 12 we’d come to the Oracle for information on my missing uncle. He’d gone south for work and we’d lost contact with him. Leaving behind my aunt and three cousins, he was never seen again. My mother, desperate for information, took us on a day trip to the mountains.  

The Votaries had been very kind to us. A female dressed in the uniform of a Novice took my brother and I to play on the swings while my parents went forward in the line. Eventually, their tickets purchased, we unpacked our bags in anticipation of the wait. The ticket numbers would be announced via loudspeakers hung from gayly painted poles. Our number was 115. After about fifteen minutes 18 was called, and we realised it could be a long time before my parent’s turn. 

I don’t really remember much about the wait but I do recall how cold it got in the night, even under heavy travel blankets and near a fire. The next morning we ate boiled eggs and buttered bread, and drank tea. Our number was called in the late morning.  

My parents returned from the niche and we could tell from their faces that they weren’t happy with the response. Of course now with modern caching, we’d have known instantly what their experience truly had been, but thirty years ago most everything except raw emotion was offline. 

As the return train headed toward the city, we were anxious for information. The ruined landscape of the city fringe eventually formed itself into houses, factories, and high rises. My mother sat back in her seat and announced to us that the Oracle didn’t know where my uncle was, but only that he was happy. Was that all? 

My mother showed me the text she’d received from the Oracle:

I count the grains of sand on the beach and measure the sea; I understand the speech of the dumb and hear the voiceless.

These days the ticket booths staffed by Votaries have been replaced by are ticket machines. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, things change as you get older, and you get used to visiting places and seeing things you knew well and find them alerted by time, neglect or intention. 

There was no line either – we walked straight up, waved our bands at the machine and were issued with a number: 29. They were up to 12 and so I imagined another day and a half wait. We sat on a park bench and looked at the people milling around the kiosk. There couldn’t have been more than fifty people waiting, and by the look of them, they were much like us – city people with soft shoes and careful hair cuts.  

A man who looked vaguely like someone I’d been to school with was taking photos of woman in a straw hat. She was wearing a green sundress and flat shoes, leaning back against a railing and smiling. The man leant toward her to take the photo, carefully balancing his phone in his hands  – ‘that’s great’ I heard him say, and he leant back. The smile disappeared from the woman’s face almost immediately. 

Just then Rachel came back from the kiosk with two plates of fresh onigiri. I could smell ginger as she handed me a plate. ‘Just like when you were a girl’, I said. ‘Yeah, couldn’t resist.’ A number was called: 18. It wouldn’t be long now.

Text: Andrew Frost, written to accompany Two Treloar’s Black Geometry, Andrew Baker Gallery, Brisbane, 2016.

Image: Teo Treloar, Black Geometry 2, 2016. Graphite on Arches® 640 gsm hot pressed paper 21 × 21 cm

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