Sally watches for the Golds and announces their arrival exuberantly. The Briggs’ rarely have visitors, and it’s exciting to have Europeans and a boyfriend come by all in one afternoon.
As a result of the visit, even Sally is kindly disposed towards Elsa; she too is showing increased maturity.
Frank and Elsa have a moment alone in the hallway. Elsa says he’s taller, and Frank blurts that he can’t write anymore. He’s also taking stock of the house and its contents, all of which he’s heard about many times but never seen. Elsa is delighted that he remembers all the things she told him.
It’s a little awkward to reunite so suddenly and under such different circumstances, but Frank’s sharp eye is a reminder of the complete intimacy he and Elsa used to share.
In the living room, everyone is awkward. Frank sees that Elsa feels at home here and “his stomach clench[es] suddenly at their distance.” Ida feels uncomfortable in the cluttered house and smiles formally; coupled with the fact that she’s put on makeup and curled her hair, this makes her very intimidating to the Briggs family.
Here, Frank and Ida are alike in their mutual unease. Both mother and son are better at handling drastic situations–declaring love, performing concerts, or scrambling for survival–than at navigating ordinary social procedures.
Margaret nervously pours tea. Her clothes are all disarranged. Jack feels embarrassed for his wife, whom he sees as “a sort of animal.” To him, Elsa’s stillness and grace is preferable.
Jack’s language is similar to Elsa’s earlier description of Margaret as a “mother animal.” But while Jack is harsh and unsympathetic, Elsa (despite the conventional beauty she possesses) is deeply attuned to her mother’s capabilities.
Meyer realizes that Margaret reminds him of his buxom younger sister, Roszi. During the war she remained in Balaton with their father, hiding in the forests. When the Russians arrived, they shot the old man and raped Roszi to death.
For Meyer, this is both a rare moment of identification with another Australian and a disturbing reminder of his sister’s fate. No matter how much he assimilates to life in Australia, he’ll always be hindered by the memory of what he endured during the war.
Ida thinks it’s strange that Margaret serves scones, which she thinks of as breakfast food, and that they were all asked to put their coats down in the master bedroom. She catches Jane looking at her and halfheartedly claps for the baby’s amusement; Jane cries and Margaret takes her away. Ida decides that the entire family is “highly strung.”
Ida deflects her general unease onto irrelevant household details. Her thinking is very different from Meyer’s abstracted reveries, but their mutual discomfort draws them together.
The Golds have brought a decadent cake from a Jewish baker in Perth, the kind of food they’re accustomed to from Europe. Jack Briggs notes that the cake must be expensive, but it’s a good offering and everyone relaxes a little.
Even though the cake is evidence of the Golds’ foreignness, it proves successful, showing that Meyer and Ida don’t have to pretend to be Australian in order to fit in.
Suddenly, it starts to thunder. Margaret needs to bring the washing in before it rains, so that Jane will have dry nappies. Everyone rushes to help her. The backyard, full of greenery, is beautiful before the storm. Marveling at it, Meyer imagines owning a tiny farm and cultivating vegetables just as his father had once done in Hungary. The sudden epiphany is a departure form his usual distant habit of hovering “over the surface of the earth like wind over a desert.”
For once, Meyer looks at the Australian landscape and is inspired rather than repelled. Since his memories of Hungary are so centered around his love of the land, this is an important milestone of adaptation to his new country. Finally, Meyer’s able to imagine himself as rooted in Australia, while still maintaining the traditions he inherited from his Hungarian father.
Elsa wants to be alone with Frank. She leads him into an old hiding place by the fence where hanging branches make a tiny room. Meyer notices them leaving but says nothing; Jack also notices and thinks to himself that “you can’t just switch a feeling off.” In the hiding place, Elsa and Frank embrace tightly, and Frank begins to shake. He’s at once overwhelmed by proximity to Elsa and very conscious that this moment will end, and he’ll return to solitude. In a little while, Elsa releases him and they return to their families, holding hands.
This is a cathartic moment of intimacy for Frank and Elsa; at the same time, they’re very conscious of its finite nature and the limits of their friendship. Being together, even for a moment, gives them the strength to calmly return to lives that are in large part defined by solitude.