I. I first saw the man who lived on the edge of the garbage early one morning on the way to the beach. I was staying on a friend’s farm in the hills behind Mullumbimby. Each morning I’d wake with the sun, wake my friend’s son and we’d drive down to Brunswick Heads for a run and a swim. The peak of Chincogan would often be covered with mist and cloud that rainy month.
The night before, Neil had asked if I wouldn’t mind taking the garbage down to the dump on the way to the beach. “Chris knows where the dump is” he told me.
That morning we’d decided to drive along the Saddle Road to the highway instead of turning off at Uncle Tom’s corner. The low sun cut through the cloud and mist and shot beams of dusty light onto the melaleuca stands and through the dark mass of the giant fig trees. It was like that Elioth Gruner painting where the slanted early morning light shines through the farmer’s ears as he comes in with the milk.
“Turn right at the bowling club” Chris said. The green was empty of bobbing bowlers in white straw hats. The crazy paved slate front wall seemed especially ugly in the misty morning light. The Brunswick tip is past the bowling club, down towards a mangrove swamp. You turn a hairpin left onto a dirt road, and drive back up towards the highway about 500 metres. That’s when we saw him. A tall bloke in blue coveralls buttoned to the throat and wrists, dusty gum boots, a brown bush hat shoved down to his ears, bushy greying sideburns curling round a thin plaited leather chin strap.
He glanced towards us as we drove towards the tip. I nodded gidday as Chris took the black garbage bags from the boot and heaved them onto the mountain of rubbish. He nodded at us and then his eyes slid back towards the tip. I wondered who he was, and what he was doing there plodding through the pile of garbage so early in the day. There were a couple of signs painted roughly on little rectangles of corrugated iron nailed to poles and stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. One read NO STEELING BOTTLES, the other NO SCRONGING. Some pedant had painted a small U on top of the O. I liked the new word. I wondered if the tall bloke had painted the signs, and whether he was some kind of garbage warden. We left him still scanning the dump, arms behind his back, slightly stooped, lifting his feet high as he walked, the way you do in loose gum boots.
We ran along the soft sand at high tide, twenty minutes up, twenty minutes back, murder on the calves. I wished I was fit enough to run all the way to Cape Byron, a bit over 12 kilometres south. We ran towards the lighthouse just visible through the mist, along the swelling sand hills that hid the low banksia clumps and mangrove swamps. Here and there a purple patch of pigface lay on the yellow sand. Chris is fourteen and physically perfect. I watch his spare, lithe body running ahead of me and I feel old and sagging and short of wind. He humours me by running alongside for a while, then gets bored and sprints ahead at twice my speed, turns, runs around me, and tears off up the beach again. The little bastard.
The surf had been chopped right out by a vicious rip sweeping the beach from the north. A cyclone was hurling itself against the coast up around Maroochydore and the ocean down here was reeling from the backlash. Young Chris was disappointed, he was learning to body surf and wanted the good clean waves we’d had the past week or so. We splashed around and caught a few dumpers by the shore. There was nothing like the feeling of diving into the foaming ocean covered in sweat from a run. Your body felt like a hot frypan plunged under the cold tap, it sizzled with relief.
II. After breakfast I went down to the Snake Shed to work. It was named in memory of a family of carpet snakes that had lived there when Neil moved onto the farm, draping themselves round the hardwood beams, curling up in the warmth of the piles of rusting corrugated iron that lay on its concrete floor. There’d been a lot of rats in the house then, and the snakes lived off the rats. It was made of slabs of northern hardwood with an iron roof, no windows, but a big hardwood door that swung open on the farmhouse end. It was overgrown with lantana and blackberry and full of rubbish and spiders and white ants. When I came up to stay and said I’d like to write in the shed, Neil and Laura and Chris and I had spent three days cleaning it out and fixing it up. We chucked out the pile of rusting corrugated iron sheets, old aluminium picnic tables with missing legs, folding chairs with rotting cushions, and the scrag ends of rolls of fencing wire and broken tools.
Spiders the size of your fist scuffled round the underside of the roof, black and white ants by the millions swarmed in the cracks and knotholes behind beams and in the rotting planks, and one big old lizard scuffled across the floor and disappeared into the lantana. But we didn’t find one snake, not even a discarded skin. The snakes had gone with the rats.
We carved three wonky but useful windows through the walls to let the light and breeze in and opened up a view right down Whipbird Valley, across Wilson’s Creek, all the way to Coorabell Ridge. Later, I’d sit and look out across the open paddocks and eucalypt stands and the patches of rainforest that clumped along the edge of Wilson’s Creek and listen to the whipbirds cracking in the hot damp still of the afternoon, and try to count the shades of green in the valley.
I swept and scrubbed the concrete floor. Bought an old post art deco table in a second hand store in Mullum for twelve dollars. For an extra two dollars the bloke from the shop took it up the hill and helped me install it in the shed. I moved in my books, paper and typewriter, and the Snake Shed was a writing shed.
I’d go down there after breakfast with a big mug of coffee, feed a sheet of paper into the typer, push it aside, and begin writing long hand in a ruled pad. It wasn’t coming easily. I was supposed to be re-writing a story I’d had rejected by a men’s magazine. One of those magazines that spreads glossy nudes across its pages like thick yellow butter. The stories that held them apart had the gritty quality of wholegrain bread. I wasn’t sure I could write like that.
The publishers were toying with the idea of interlarding the acres of unctuous flesh with a little earnest social comment. They wanted a couple of stories in each issue that showed real men had emotions as well as erections. This was probably true. It’s just they probably didn’t want to be reminded of the fact while they were perving on Jeldi Chenille’s tits. We hadn’t actually figured that out at the time, so I’d submitted a list of story lines to the magazine. They’d chosen the most difficult one to do first. Tentatively titled ‘How to make love stay.’ Here’s a quote from the wrap up I gave them. ‘Anyone can screw around. But to keep one woman happy takes a special kind of man. With more and more women taking to heart Cher Bono’s oft quoted maxim that ‘men aren’t necessities, they’re luxuries’ how does a man keep the relationship going or the marriage intact if that’s what he wants and she doesn’t? What can he do to put the whole thing back on a solid footing?’
I rang one commentator on sexual politics, told her what I was doing and asked her for some quotes. She rang off saying “Good luck – better you than me.” Writing of love, respect and tenderness to such men is no pushover.
The editor took me to lunch the day he rejected the piece, a little Italian place around the corner from the magazine offices. We talked about the story, love, and living with women. I told him how I’d pitched the story, to the readers he himself had described as greasers. He told me he didn’t think it was intelligent enough, that I should have been speaking to the ten percent with measurable IQ’s. I told him they aren’t the people who need the information. We talked about how hard it was being male today. I sat there thinking about the nature of love, aware that I was talking to a man who edited a magazine for men to masturbate by. He paid the bill.
So now I sat shirtless in the Snake Shed in the middle of summer and sweated and wiped my brow with a towel and stared down the Brunswick Valley or into the sky or at the spiders and skinks scurrying across the hardwood beams or at my humid navel and sometimes, very occasionally, I wrote something down.
What I was doing was rummaging around inside my head for a clue, some gem buried beneath a ton of gleaned scraps, a tiny sliver of hope to hold out to some poor schmuck waking alone for the first time in twenty years, his violent or indifferent behaviour having driven out his exhausted or terrified woman. He has no idea what to do or say or how to behave to get her back. He doesn’t even know what it is that he’s done wrong. He’s confused and terrified and lonely. Men find it too hard to cope, to face up. They dive straight into bottle, work or fantasy at the first glimpse of despair. The city parks are full of mostly male derelicts. What could I say to this poor bastard anyway? How could I find the right answers? I was going through the same agony.
III. I was waiting for her to come up to the farm for a month. We’d been living together almost two years, I’d moved in one Valentine’s Day. The last three months had felt as comfortable as a broken fingernail being dragged across a nylon stocking. Our connection was so taut and fragile, I’d felt that any moment it would snap, twist back and one of us would be thrown over. I knew which one it would be. I still loved her. More than I had ever loved. I had handed her everything for safekeeping: my heart, my future, my hopes. In the beginning, it had been a mutual exchange. And then, almost imperceptibly, she had begun to fade away, until one day, I looked up, and she was hardly there. I waited patiently, thinking that love would bring her back. Now I know I waited too patiently, too passively. Sometimes you have to fight back. I never did. I bent over backwards – not a position of strength.
So what did I know about making love stay? Me with one failed marriage and a relationship breaking up around me like an icecap in summer? Use your pain, they say. Not me, not in the middle of it, surrounded and engulfed by it. I’m not cool enough for that. I’m impressed by that quality of cool. I remember a friend telling me about breaking up with his girlfriend. The last big fight, while she was yelling abuse at him, he was scribbling down her words to use later in a story. My feelings get in the way. Towards the end, I couldn’t even talk to her without tears streaming down my face. I hated them. I wanted to put my case to her, to explain the love I felt for her, but they’d just well up out of nowhere. This holiday was supposed to be the beginning of our new life together. At least she’d agreed to try that. Away from her kids. Just the two of us. She wasn’t there yet. I lay alone in my single bed and watched the swelling moon through the flyscreen. She would come. Wouldn’t she?
IV. Late one afternoon Neil and I hitched the trailer to the car, put on boots and heavy working gloves, filled the trailer with the rubbish we’d cleared out from the Snake Shed, and clattered down the mountain to the tip. He was standing there in the falling light, gazing out across that stretch of coastal garbage. We pulled up some distance from him, and started to hurl our trailer load onto the pile. At my feet was a large painting of a clown, lying there smiling sadly among the rusting cans and broken furniture, smeared with dirt, the frame smashed.
A sad end, even for bad art. I pointed it out to Neil. He guffawed with laughter.
“Perfect” he said “the fool on the hill.”
”Pity it’s so knocked about” said a flat nasal voice from behind us. We turned and he was standing there, stooped, holding his arms behind his back, scrutinising the painting like a valuer from Sothebys.
“You must get an awful lot of valuable stuff tossed out there” I indicated the tip, taking a punt he was a professional scrounger, maybe even the official Brunswick Scronger. He shook his head slowly from side to side, a bemused look on his leathery face.
“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. You wouldn’t believe some of the things they chuck out.” As he spoke, his eyes meandered over the dump, picking through it.
“Jest a couple of weeks ago, this feller and his wife come down. Lost a two thousand dollar opal ring they tell me. She’d tossed it out, by mistake like. Engagement ring she told me. She useta keep it in an old tissue box. Now, coupla weeks before, I remember pickin’ up an old tissue box, shakin’ it. It rattled, but I said to meself, nah, it’s jest an old bottle top. I heaved it back in there. Somewhere.” His chin jutted out towards the pile. We groaned in sympathy. “Me own fault, me own fault. Always have a squiz I’ve always said to meself.” He shook his head ruefully, allowed his eyes to slip to the ground at his feet for a few moments. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. You wouldn’t believe the stuff they chuck out.”
“You here this late every day?”
“O bloody oath. Yer gotta get here at sparrow fart, leave with the light. My word. Take yesty morning. Got here at six. Ten past, bloke from the phone company drives up. Dumps a pile of copper tubing. Tells me they told him to take it to Bangalow Depot. He couldn’t be stuffed. Worth a good fifty dollars that tubing. Now, supposin’ I wasn’t here, some other bugger’d get it, sure as hens lay little eggs. Soon as they see me truck’s not here, they’re down like a shot.” His chin pointed out a dun coloured dust covered pantechnicon. It looked like it was bulging at the seams. It’d be as jampacked with geegaws and wigwams for goose’s bridles as the window of George Warnecke’s old junkshop in Paddington used to be. “They come down nights with torches too, the buggers.” He shook his head reflectively, bent down gingerly, like a man with back problems, picked up a sliver of barbed wire delicately between thumb and forefinger, inspected it absently, and threw it carefully onto the acre wide pile. “Yairs, scrounging. Fair gets in your blood, it does.”
I looked out across the great mound of garbage and it looked, of a sudden, like a pile of unimaginable wealth, a king’s ransom, throbbing and pulsing with hidden treasure, you needed only take the plunge and dive in, deep down, swim around with eyes wide open, breathing in the foetid stench, waving off the swarms of flies, always searching, picking up and turning slowly over, rattling, weighing, evaluating, sorting, sifting, accepting, rejecting, extracting order and value from the chaotic and worthless.
I could see so easily how it would be to spend a life here, picking through the ever changing sea of refuse, oblivious to the shiny modern world, living only on and in and for the garbage. It’ll be there, under the next can, inside that carton; the old filing cabinet is stuffed with banknotes, gold and pearls, rubies; that broken column, it’s hollow, a treasure in sovereigns has been waiting inside it for a hundred years. Partly it’s a matter of luck and persistence, this scrounging, partly knowing what to look for.
I pulled my eyes away. I could feel myself sinking into it. A couple of seagulls overhead cawed in the gathering gloom. “Yeah” was all I said. We waved goodbye and drove up the mountainside in silence.
V. She’d sent a telegram saying she was arriving the next morning, by train. The Gold Coast Motorail pulled into the platform fifteen minutes late. Tired and crumpled second class passengers heaved cardboard suitcases held together by rope onto the platform. A fat lady in a floral dress gingerly lowered one foot from the train, hanging grimly onto the hand rail. Nervously, I paced the platform, still wondering whether she’d be there. Maybe she’d missed the train, changed her mind. Then I looked up and there she was, and all the love I felt came welling up. She was pulling a suitcase on wheels, dressed in grey overalls and a sloppy pink T shirt, her old striped hessian basket slung over her shoulder. Filled, I knew, with crumpled tissues, loose make-up, dried out felt tip pens, scraps of papers with notes and phone numbers, her old wallet stuffed with junk, some seeds, a packet of lifesavers, a half empty contraceptive pill container, a spare jumper, photos of the kids.
I gathered her up in my arms and held her close to me, drinking in the perfume of her sweat. I kissed her, held her back and looked into her eyes, those curious eyes that turn up at the corners and hide far more than they reveal. She smiled a thin smile
“I met an amazing bloke. We talked all night. He got off at Byron.”
My heart did a bellyflop. I had a sudden flash of her and a big surfing hippy rooting on the floor of the railway carriage, in the dust. I looked at her overalls when I bent to pick up her suitcase. They were clean. Perhaps they did it on the seat.
“Oh” was all I said. I saw her looking at me sideways, aware of my stupid jealousy. Later that day I admitted my feelings about the bloke who got off at Byron. “Yes darling, I knew” she said indulgently.
Funny, she always called me darling. Right up to the very end, as if she meant it. The last Christmas card, only two weeks before, read `to my darling, with all my love’.
There was no one home when we arrived. Neil and Laura had taken Chris to pick up their second boy, Simon, who was in tennis camp. I made a cup of tea. She changed and unpacked, and we went for a walk along the ridge towards Coorabell. It is awkward, and has been since she arrived. I bite my tongue, and stop from saying what it is I really want to say. She absorbs my silence and reflects it. We talk small, about the camphor laurels that have taken over the roadways, they and the coral trees, from the natives. We try unsuccessfully to find a road to take us into a patch of rainforest on the creek’s edge. We turn and walk back. By the time we arrive, Neil and Laura and the boys have filled the house. I’m relieved we are no longer alone. She is tired from the trip she tells me. I understand. We sleep apart in our narrow single beds.
VI. The next morning I am back in the Snake Shed with my cup of coffee. I sit and stare at the clouds billowing in the southern sky. Where just two days ago I sat covered in sweat, today a cool breeze blows and I must shut the window at the southern end of the shed. A storm is brewing, and there’s tension in the air. And I have decided to meditate today upon the nature of love. Perhaps an explanation of this will help my abandoned reader, waking in his cold bed. How about this?
`What does love mean to us? It begins in desire, it’s born in fire. Like a ceramic bowl, the rough clay is glazed, and put into the kiln. If it survives that initial fire, if it cools without cracking, it emerges as a precious and fragile object to be cared for. If it’s dropped, it can be mended. But the cracks will always show.’
Sure. Excuse me while I jerk off. I rip it out of the machine and fling it in the overcrowded bin. The first globs of rain hit the tin roof of the shed like the gathering drum roll in a fanfare, slowly, then with staccato rapidity. The lantana bends under the force of the rain, the red earth boils and kicks up. Now there is no valley outside my window, only slanting shafts of silver rain. I reach into the memory dump, and dredge up a handful of scenes.
VII. The first year. We are in Spain, she and I and her ten year old son. She has only just arrived, we had been apart for a month, and the reunion, so far, is a happy one. We are, on this day, walking the back lanes of the nearest town to our village. We have been to the market, and our baskets bulge with yellow skinned chickens, goat cheese, bunches of baby leeks, tomatoes, kilos of oranges from the valley, and bottles of local red wine. Now we walk with these laden baskets past the little bric a brac shop. Amongst the prints of saints and plates from Valencia hangs a heavy cotton pleated dress for a baby girl. She insists on buying this and I bargain with the shopkeeper.
“Tiene cien annos esta traje senor”, it is one hundred years old I translate for her ” y vale solo mil pesetas”, and it’s only a thousand pesetas. We buy it. “Who’s it for?” I ask thinking it a gift for a friend. “Molly” she replies giving the name of our future girl child. Later that same week she tells me “we’ll have the baby when I finish my course. It’ll stop your mid-life crisis. You’ll be too busy heating bottles and changing nappies.” Our baby that will never be. Where did her love for me go? Where does love go when it leaves? Is there a dump for love? Old, broken, down, tired, worn out love, lorn, unrequited, heartbroken, unspoken. Her love for me was chucked on it, wherever it is, and it shuddered like a corpse dropped from a charnel house truck.
VIII. Outside the rain has gone. I can see it sweeping up the valley, heading north towards Brunswick, a dark smudge of rain hanging beneath a black cloud. Right now, it would be soaking into the garbage in the municipal dump. He’d be sheltering in his dun coloured truck, peering through the rainstreaked dust on his windscreen. Outside my window, a whipbird sings in a strangler fig to celebrate the passing of the wet. He ends his elongated song with a double crack. He is answered by his hen `choo! choo!’ Mine is silent in the house. I have found no gritty pieces for the magazine. No words of wisdom for the lonely men. A writer’s block that’d stretch from Circular Quay to Central Railway has settled on my shoulders.
IX. “How’s it going?”
“No bloody good. Nothin’ but junk. I dunno, maybe those bastards are sneakin’ in at night and pinchin’ all the good stuff.”
I heaved the black plastic garbage bag onto the pile. He looked at it morosely. He chewed his plaited leather chin strap. The flies flew round his head. He kicked at the ground with a dusty gum boot.
“Yeah” I agreed, “I know what you mean.” I drove back up the mountain. Too bloody hot down on the flat.
X. The morning it ended I lay on my side in my narrow bed. We slept side by side in two single beds. Before she came, I’d chosen the single beds, knowing she preferred hard beds, and knowing my snoring irritated her, and wanting this, our summer holiday, to be perfect, a time for healing and reawakening. Anticipating again. “I never anticipate” she once told me “that way I’m never disappointed.” I lay awake, peering across the chasm that separated our beds, at her sleeping form, lying on her side, her back towards me, her thighs swelling to the perfect curve of her arse, thinking of the silken velvet feel of the inside of her thighs, desire flooding through me as it always did at the sight of her. I slipped as quietly as I could from my narrow bed to hers. It was late in the morning, and although her back was towards me, I guessed she was awake, and hoped for some small crumb my Odette may flick my way. My arms slipped around her. My hand cupped her breast beneath her nightie
(a present from her mother, for a year she wore nothing, telling me she had never slept naked before, I didn’t mind the nightie, it was somehow rather spicy, to lift the nightie, memories of Mummy, the forbidden sight, who knows?). I felt her stiffen. An annoyed and exasperated sigh. She flipped suddenly on her back and stared at me through cold and narrowed eyes.
“It’s gone” she said, “you know that, don’t you?”
“The sex. The love went when the sex went. You knew that, didn’t you?”
Of course I did. But I lied to myself. I pretended it had only gone for a walk outside to look at the moon, that it would tiptoe back inside any day now, crawl into bed with us, wrap around us to keep us warm. It was the last thing I expected to go. In the beginning, for the first time in my life, I looked at no other women. I remember the sheer wonder I felt at this phenomenon. If Penelope Cruz had walked into the bedroom and offered herself to me, begged me to take her, I would have politely declined. I would, when parted from her for any length of time, masturbate to her image. I would fantasise making love to her while making love to her. My marriage had had everything but sex. This one, I would tell myself, had nothing but sex. It was the last thing I expected us to lose
“It was you who told me how I feel. You said `you know intuitively what you want.’ It came to me like a flash. I’ve been trying so hard to love you because it would be perfect if I did. But I don’t love you. I can’t love you.”
“I love every part of you. There’s not one little piece of you I don’t love. I love the wrinkles round your eyes. I love your lips.”
“My lips! You can’t love my lips. Even I don’t love my lips.”
I lay there with my arms around her knowing this was for the last time and hoping that this moment would never end. I sought scraps from our past to comfort me in this our last naked time together. I took off her nightie, she didn’t stop me. I caressed her one last time. I rubbed my hand along the length of her body, around her perfect thighs. I parted the lips of her vagina with my hand and explored its folds one last time, remembering my many voyages of discovery there. She looked down at me, horrified and fascinated.
“What are you doing?”
XI. The last morning I drove to the beach alone. The sky and the sea were two shades of grey, merging to black on the horizon. The tide was high and the surf had shaped up magnificently. Long curling left and right slides swelled up from a glassy sea, an offshore breeze sent spumes of spray against the waves as they rolled in long lines of elegant symmetry into the shore.
I ran in a blind fury along the beach. A man and his son were surf fishing, their legs braced apart as they faced the booming waves. The father turned to yell at me as I ran past. “Don’t give up!” I waved back at him, the grin on my face hiding the pains in my heart and chest.
I ran as fast as I could and then collapsed, bent over double, hands grabbing for support at my legs, sucking in great gulps of air, my heart pounding. Crouching, gasping, squinting out to sea, I saw something that made me forget my pain and bought my heart leaping into my mouth.
Right in my line of vision a porpoise leapt straight out of the ocean and into the sky, its huge body shuddering and straining against gravity, its tail breaking the surface. It curved mid-air and plunged headfirst into the water sending up a shower of spray. Again, it shot shining into the thin sunlight like some huge silver bullet aiming for the stars. Then I saw another dozen fins heading north beyond the breakers.
A powerful wave swelled up, its inside edge a pale grey green as it gathered bulk and momentum for its rolling journey to the shore. Then another porpoise (or was it the same one?) sprang out of the water, twisted against the sky, dived back under, and burst head first out of the face of the unbroken wave. It flew ahead just as the wave broke, hung suspended in mid-air a fraction of a second, then twisted to surf down the long left break, sliding and turning, its sleek body shimmering against the surface, slipping back under the wave as it petered out.
I wanted to swim out and away with the porpoises, to leap and surf and swallow whole the little fishes. My feet sinking deep into the soft sand of the shore reminded me of the burdens of humanity and gravity. I had to go back to the farm, pack, drive with a woman who no longer loved me back to a city covered by a poisonous green cloud.
XII. “Well, see you then.”
“Back to Sydney.”
“Too bloody right. Gets in your blood, eh?”
“Too bloody right.”
XIII. We drove the entire trip, eight hundred kilometres, in almost total silence, exchanging perhaps twenty words. We sat side by side in our separate cocoons of thought, me in my agony of indecision, analysing each possible statement as it left my brain, rejecting them all before they made it to my mouth. Everything I thought of saying seemed dangerous, perhaps destructive. I couldn’t get out of my mind the possibility that there was something I could say that would make it all right again. But what?
So I said nothing. She sat and stared out the window, more of a mystery to me than ever before. And then I began to feel relief, as it gradually sank in that there would be no more tension, apprehension, searching for feeling and meaning from this tangential, secretive, elusive woman. Perhaps I could learn, given time, to say what I meant again. And then I began to feel the horror of separation, the agony of the wrench, the bloodcurdling sound of live flesh being torn apart reached my ears and I screamed in silence. I scrounged around inside the junk heap of my memories,
I searched and searched. I held up scraps of evidence for inspection. Hundreds of empty tissue boxes (handfulls of tissues used after lovemaking) twenty four empty contraceptive pill boxes (low dosage tailor made) sweat stained sheets soaked in the juices of love, the clean smell of semen, the rich warm smell of ripe vagina, old airline tickets, broken wine bottles, a terracotta amphora full of spring water, the scent of orange blossom around the Alhambra, a bloody foetus, torn up letters never sent, poems filed in a white steel cabinet, a broken Lalique perfume bottle smelling faintly of Joy, one or two broken promises (remarkably few of these after two years) but I found nothing of real and lasting value, nothing I could hold onto and polish up.
And in the painful silence of that car somewhere just north of Taree I recognised that I had no idea of what I was looking for, and that the golden rule of scrounging is to know at least that before you begin your search. Otherwise you shall bypass gems, two thousand dollar opal rings the least of them. I never did finish that piece for the glossy magazine.