Meyer leaves the factory after his shift and feels invigorated by the unusually mild weather, which reminds him of Lake Balaton, where he spent his childhood. He decides to walk home. Even though he’s grateful to be safe in Australia, he still longs for the city in which he grew up. Despite his nostalgia for Budapest, he thinks he’ll never again “feel at home as he once had,” anywhere in the world. Moreover, he feels that to love any place too much is “a vanity,” especially since he’s a Jew.
There’s an acute tension between Meyer’s longing for the country of his birth, and his bitter understanding that his country has cruelly turned on him. Not only does this betrayal make it impossible to live in Hungary, it makes it hard to trust any society enough to feel secure or at home, making him feel fundamentally isolated.
Even though he thinks of Perth as an “innocent” city, Meyer can imagine the streets bombed and bodies littering the steps of public buildings. Caught up in his imaginings, for a minute he sees his brother Janos lying dead in a heap of bodies.
Meyer’s experiences in the war have disillusioned him with the possibilities for social order of any kind. This only increases his isolation, since it prevents him from committing to any new community.
Meyer shakes his head to dispel the memory. When he remembers his dead family now, it seems as if he always knew something bad would happen, that they were “marked out” to die. Suddenly, he wants to see Frank, and he starts walking to the Golden Age. He doesn’t care that parents aren’t allowed to visit during the week.
For Meyer, the only antidote to isolation or longing for his murdered family is the one son who miraculously survived the war. Meyer’s quiet and unstinting devotion is touching, but his lack of other sources of happiness explains why Frank often feels oppressed by his parents’ intense love.
Meyer walks past the prestigious Perth Modern School. Even though Frank spoke no English when they arrived in Australia, six years later he won a scholarship to that high school. His parents were overjoyed, celebrating with the neighbors and sending Frank to buy fish and chips. Later, they wondered if he caught polio in the crowded store.
Just as the Holocaust destroyed the Golds’ security in Hungarian society, polio threatens Frank’s assimilation into Australian society by hindering his education.
Arriving at the Golden Age, Meyer finds Frank reading One Thousand and One nights. Frank is delighted to see his father, and Meyer feels humbled by such a loving reception. Even though Meyer missed much of Frank’s early life, father and son get along very well. Frank tells his father he’s started to walk by himself, although Meyer suspects this is a lie.
Frank’s obvious love for his father, despite the fact that they haven’t spent much time together, is a testament to the strength of filial bonds, which can withstand and even thrive on separation and hardship.
Meyer has endured many things, but Frank’s polio has been the hardest for him, since it emphasizes his inability to protect his son. He’s glad that his own father died before the war and never knew what happened to his own sons. Soon, Meyer rises to leave; Frank knows that he can’t whine for his father to stay, as the other children do. After Meyer leaves, Frank remembers he wanted to tell his father that he’s a poet.
Both Meyer and Frank are conscious that their relationship is unusual. Unlike other fathers, even before the onset of polio Meyer was bitterly aware of his limited ability to take care of Frank. Similarly, Frank knows that because of the hardships they’ve shared his father requires more maturity from him than most parents would.
As Meyer is leaving he runs into Sister Penny, who’s dressed up for a play at her daughter’s college. Meyer’s always been drawn to Sister Penny, but he finds her more attractive in her competent uniform than dressed in street clothes. He struggles to make conversation with her, but by talking about Frank she makes him feel at ease. Meyer sees a messy woman running into the hospital, who reminds him momentarily of his sister, Roszi. It’s Elsa’s mother, Margaret, who begs to be allowed to see her daughter.
Meyer is attracted to Sister Penny as a woman, but his preference for her uniform suggests that a large part of this attraction lies in her skill and competence in her work. Notably, these are also the qualities he respects most in his wife. Although they’re very different women, the seriousness with which Ida and Sister Penny approach their vocations establishes a sense of similarity between them.
As he walks home, Meyer feels different, more kindly disposed to the city and landscape he normally considers harsh and unwelcoming. He attributes the change to his interaction with Sister Penny, whom he considers fundamentally like himself, “vibrant with life” but at the same time “solitary.” He feels that they’ve both understood each other, although they chose not to draw any closer.
On his way to this hospital, Meyer was convinced of the inescapability of isolation; however, Sister Penny has reminded him that people who don’t feel at home in conventional society can build lives of contented solitude. As it will be throughout the book, Meyer’s new optimism is reflected by a more sympathetic eye toward the landscape around him.
As the train pulls into the station, Meyer remembers walking on the beach with Ida and Frank shortly after their arrival in Australia. Ida and Frank ran in the waves while he lay down in the sand, exhausted. He felt peaceful and lonely at the same time. He thinks about the phrase “lie down with me,” and then wonders where it came from.
Even within his own family Meyer struggles with feelings of isolation. The phrase “lie down with me” suggests he craves increased closeness to the wife and son from whom he was separated for so long, but his inability to articulate his feelings any further shows how hard this is to achieve, even within a loving family.