Sister Penny always leaves the door of the Golden Age open. While the children are at the sea, she comes into the unlocked entry to see Meyer standing there with a crate of soft drinks which he had brought over as a treat. He brings them down to the kitchen and opens a bottle to share with Sister Penny, telling her that he’s changed jobs, and is now a driver for a friend’s company, Bickford’s Cool Drinks. He loves the new job because he gets to work alone and explore the city.
Sister Penny and Meyer often run into each other when they’re expecting to be alone, but they’re always happy about these encounters. Their similar personalities allow them to feel contentedly solitary even while being together.
Meyer tells Sister Penny that he’s beginning to understand Perth, meanwhile admiring her “incongruous” beauty–he’s surprised to find someone so beautiful in a country he’s come to think of as provincial and ugly, and especially in a polio hospital. He likes her solid body and the aura of health she gives off. She reminds him of people who had helped him during the war, like his brother’s Christian girlfriend, Suszi. In light of the things he’s witnessed, such goodness seems “extraordinary” to him.
For Meyer, Sister Penny both embodies Australia and, through her strange beauty, helps him see it in a better light. While many things remind him of the losses he endured during the war, it’s notable that Sister Penny brings to mind rare instances of kindness that allowed his family to survive.
Looking at Meyer, Sister Penny is struck by the sense that he’s lost a lot. She’s reminded of Ida, whose face is “sharpened” by grief and fear.
Just as polio leaves its marks on the children’s bodies, Sister Penny senses that even Meyer and Ida’s faces have been indelibly altered by the effort of surviving the Holocaust.
Meyer asks Sister Penny if she has a home of her own, and she tells him that she lives in the hospital. To be alone, she says, she goes to the ocean and swims or walks along the sand. The phrase that occurred to Meyer when he thought of his own family at the beach, “lie down with me,” returns to him. Sister Penny hears Fabio crying and leaves the kitchen briskly.
While Meyer felt uneasy and alone while walking with his family on the beach, when Sister Penny mentions the same activity he’s able to see it—and even the strange refrain that has occurred to him—in the happier light of intentional solitude.
Meyer drives away from the Golden Age still thinking about Sister Penny. He doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything wrong; the “meaninglessness” he experienced during the war has liberated him from “conventional virtue.” He’s no longer bothered by the heat, or by the long flat road stretching in front of him. Briefly, he wonders if “there’s a poet growing up here somewhere.”
The abrupt collapse of order and morals Meyer experienced during the war means he can never feel at home in a society, like Perth, that’s completely oriented around conventional morals. It’s ironic that he wonders about a poet, since in fact the poet is his young son, inspired by the very landscape which Meyer finds so unlovely.