Sunday, 13 November 2016

Tenderness

When it flooded people would come from all around the district to see the valley full of quiet brown water.

We strangers to one another, lived on the top of the ridge, with its five houses, an old pub and two street lights.  People wondered why any of us were there, why such a grand hotel, surrounded by sprawling queenslanders with elaborate gables and six paned windows lined a road that swept down into a valley in the middle of nowhere. 

There was a time long before mine, when we were the town before the town up and left and moved to higher ground across the river.  There’d been more houses but over time all but ours had collapsed, their concrete slabs freely and my guess permanently snuffed out by the lush tropical vegetation.  No one was coming back out here.  They might stop at the pub for lunch or a beer garden band on a Sunday afternoon but that was the extent of it.  Because of the floods mostly.  The rain was so heavy some days you couldn’t see the house across the road.  It was no wonder the river that ran beside us burst its banks three or four times a year.

Our back road was a handy detour for people looking to stay out of sight.  Truck drivers with dodgy log books,would take the risk of high water and slowly push through to avoid the town limits.  Get through it early enough and they could clear the deepest part.  Cars would come over the ridge and then slowly come to a stop wondering where the road was, why the white line had vanished.  They’d be nearly rolling into the water before they stopped.  Some outlaws would inch forward, then think better of it.  There was no light out there, pitch black on a cloudy night.  And none of us were coming in to that warm black water after you.  There were snakes in there.

For most of the flooding, we wouldn’t even lose power thanks to who ever had granted us an above ground power supply.  A large transformer standing at the highest point of the ridge was probably going to give us all brain cancer, if any of us had been alive enough to think that far ahead.

On the sunset side, our two houses – theirs green, mine yellow - were the same design.  Just a guess.  I couldn’t see most of their house for the overgrown ferns between us.  You could have parked a bus under both our houses, we were that high among the tree tops.  It would have to be a hell of a flood to reach our floor boards.

Their wooden shutters gave slivers, clues to their existence.  There were two of them, two men, but after three years I still couldn’t be sure.  One fat, one thin.  They believed in recycling.  They’d tied a piece of string to their bin lid, and each morning it would be pulled up like a drawbridge and the nights empties lobbed in from up high.  The bottles smashed on impact.  I got used to the sound. 

I need to mention that due to a quirk in the landscape a person could use their inside voice while sitting on their verandah and they’d hear you from as far as across the road and two doors down.

I’d said to my guest on a rare occasion, I wonder if the neighbour’s power is out too?
Yep, said the old lady of the white house, her response drifting plainly across the road. 

The brown house across from mine was another old lady who had a younger bloke – the son I suppose, who came to mow her lawn to dust every Sunday morning. Grudgingly. 

Day life was slow. But at night, we came alive.  The weather was perfect most days, but oh the nights.  We were night people.  Our houses were so large we could live in their soaring ceilings with their vast windows, with our front and back verandahs all the outside world we needed.   I could have lived by the light of the street light and merely a lamp on my desk, if not for the spiders that were liable to crawl through any window, left open for nine months of the year.  As big as your hand, they were less threatening in rooms with a low watt glow.  I’d smash the spiders to pieces on the polished wooden floors with a broom.

It was clear the drinkers immediately next door spent their nights in silent contemplation because I never heard them as both our lights burned for most of the night.  In fact, I only ever heard them that one time, that one day.

Tenderness can come in the most unlikely of ways.  This time, of note, it started with a loud banging.  It was enough to draw me away from my manuscript.  There were two police cars parked outside the middle house across the road.  They must have smashed the front door down I guessed correctly. 

The middle house was the lowest to the ground. The sole occupant, he would park his tiny blue car underneath his house as well.  It still must  have been a squeeze to get into his burrow.  He drove very slowly, his shoulders filling his car.  He wore his car like a flatcap, pulled down low over his eyes.  He only came out at night and before long, if a person was paying attention, they'd hear his gently purring return.

And now the police had smashed down his front door first thing in the morning.  Not a good sign.  

And then another police vehicle arrived.  He wore a dark grey jumpsuit and carried a large black box.  The four that had preceded him came out and walked around and looked at this and that in an unhurried way. 

We had a beautiful day more often than not around those parts. Nearly every bloody day, a warm honey sun slid over the horizon and through the trees, across my verandah and through the curtains and pooled on the floor at the foot of my bed.  

That morning I was sitting on the verandah watching the scene across the road.  

It surprised me that instead of an ambulance, a large black bus with no windows rolled smoothly up the road and slowly backed into the driveway.

The undertakers immaculate vehicle glided to a stop and both alighted.  Both dressed in black suits, they moved exactly. 

There was none of that hideous beep-beep-beep as they'd reversed, I'd noticed.  I wondered if they got a special exemption for that.  Come to think about it, that sound would be wholly awful at the church. At the grave side. Pretty much any where.  Or had they modified their vehicle and if the police noticed, just let them be?  Had anyone ever been run over by a reversing undertaker?  An observer had time to think about this, while there was nothing else to see.


The first in an occasional series….to be continued between NaNoWriMo 2016 installments.

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