A House I Would Like To Live In
by NATHAN JOLLY
Past the long, dipped driveway, proud hedges block the neighbours out, while a bent basketball hoop guards those big, barn-style doors you pressed me against the night I knew I loved you in a different, more permanent way than I had loved before. The inside of that garage is still as messy as it was that night, but at least now it's an ordered mess - we know which box the CDs are in, and that the remote control boat we've only used once is in the clear blue plastic box under the piles of blankets we push against the inside of the barn doors when the rain begins sprinting down our driveway.
We know exactly how sharply that driveway slopes because we adjust for this with our bounce passes, and you sprained your ankle that night after the drunken RSL raffle where we won the meat-tray and hosted a second raffle to offload, buying twelve dollars worth of chocolate with the proceedings. Our daughters know how the driveway goes too, because they sit on skateboards with their laces tucked into the sides of their shoes, and slide down those same slopes until they crash into the barn doors.
You're on a computer near the front of the house, annoyed and late for some deadline your boss secretly set two days early to allow for your hopeless internal clock, and the girls pretend they can't hear you yelling at them to go out into the cul-de-sac and stop hurting the poor barn door. The girls laughed the first time you ever said that to them, because you showed them how it looks like a sad face with droopy eyes and a mopey handle-mouth and now every basketball dint is either a cute dimple or a gross pimple depending on which daughter describes it first - Barney is now a character that the girls wave goodbye to when we drive 90 minutes up the coast to stay at your uncle's beach house, which is in a nice enough area to deal with the handful of self-congratulatory references he makes to his own generosity each Christmas when we see him: "It's a good life down there, isn't it mate?"
It is making him money just by standing there, he tells us. It is his reminder of where he'd rather be. He bought it with the life that won't allow him to visit. You started sending him postcards each time we were down there, because you realised he just wanted reassurance that it was a good idea to buy a fibro-cement house on the beach a little too late for a little too much, and that it is waiting for him to return, yet keeping busy entertaining visitors. “Anyway”, you asked him one afternoon with the straightest of faces, “why exactly is a 58-year-old guy holding onto money anyway?” You were right, and that was when I realised that maybe you and I were just getting started instead of settling in somewhere. Life is long.
This afternoon I am arguing that the dents in the barn door add to the charm of our entire house, our entire life. You made our grumbling babies stand against the doorway, skimmed a school ruler through their hair and tracked their growth with permanent markers every few minutes. The barn door is another permanent marker: of our giddy girls smashing trikes, of our doctor hitting a cricket ball from the cul-de-sac into our door - in surf-shorts. We don't need the girls breathing in paint fumes either, and neither of our next-door neighbours know us well enough for us to breathe easy dropping them off there for a few hours - it's too cold this time of year to bundle them into the car and drive aimlessly, too.
You laugh at my flimsy excuses not to paint the door and then push me up against up it, softly this time.
When we moved up the coast to breathe salt instead of smoke, to wake early by choice, and curse bindis again, we couldn't believe we could afford this house; we were fresh from the trap of city prices and sizes and stoops sold as verandahs. We couldn't believe the takeaway store down the road with its ancient arcade machines, and fish plucked that same morning from an ocean you could see. We couldn't believe there was one local policeman, and that we knew his first name, that he lived in a four-room plywood extension carelessly nailed and glued to a store-front federation-era cop-shop, and that we bought stamps and parcel packs from his wife, and didn't inherently tense up when walking past him - unlike those policemen in the city that could own you just to own you. We've seen him eat coleslaw at a backyard barbecue in faded surf-brand shorts, and now we know a policeman by name, and a fireman and a shopkeeper, and a doctor - and we've seen them all in surf-brand shorts.
We stopped talking to our old friends, then we stopped talking about our old friends; pubs and doorways and bus-routes faded like the Darling parents and the idea of inhaling breakfast while buttoning a shirt and rushing around looking for ear-rings and squashy heels started to seem faint and comical. One Sunday newspaper came with free carrot seeds as part of some misguided promotion; now have a veggie patch, which gives us a new, more natural gauge on how time passes.
There are secret, future plans for that veggie patch but for now it sits sagging over the path as a grown-over reminder of two months last summer where days stretched into each other and we drank coconut rum because a new season in a new town called for a new more postcard-friendly drink.Tomorrow I have to go back to the city. I know that it will try to coax me back, and I know that I will let it. Tonight, I watch my daughters sleep, and watch you watch TV, and eat potatoes grown just down the road.
Paintings by Alex Colville.
"The Prettiest" - Adna (mp3)
"Rain" - Adna (mp3)