Early afternoon. Warm. No wind. A perfect day, one of the ones you dream about.
I walked east along Woolley Street on the way to my sister's house. Nothing stirred. They say the Melbourne Cup is the race that that stops a nation, but you don't really believe it until you walk down a street anywhere in the country an hour before the race. Anyone who is going anywhere has already arrived and anyone else is staying right where they are.
Except me. I walked on. Across the road, a gate clicked and in the silence it sounded too loud, like in a movie. Further along, from a darkened open front door, the muffled wheeze and strike of a clock. Two o'clock.
I reached Mt Alexander Road and crossed the first half of the road to the median strip where the tram line runs between stands of old palm trees. A tram came out of the palm trees rocking gently from side to side and slid down the hill, under the railway bridge and out of sight. It was empty except for the driver. He would have had a radio glued to his ear. I finished crossing the road and walked on for another five minutes and knocked on the door at my sister's house, an old Victorian shambles partially hidden under far too many mature trees of various types. My sister tries to have a life in between sweeping leaves. But it's all worth it when you sit under the canopy in the back yard on a warm afternoon, she says.
We sat under the canopy in the back yard around a couple of tables and out came the drinks and then out came the food; platters of cut fruit and savoury snacks and small quartered sandwiches and hot pastries and little cakes. All the usual Cup day fare. The two resident cats, huge overfed things, dozed on chairs in the sun.
We went inside and watched the race, crowded around the television screen near the old fireplace in the lounge room. The grey horse won. Did anyone catch what one of the owners mouthed as the cameras were on him? I did.
The cats were still dozing on their chairs in the sun when we went outside again, but a couple of pastries were missing.