It's not as if there's anything missing - more that the invisible pieces are not given a fair airing. I have been a clown, comedian, actor, playwright, father, son, husband friend, teacher, community arts worker, manager,tourist ..... "My Missing Life" is me the writer, the photographer, the storyteller.
A collision in the kitchen loomed ominously. Six adults in that kitchen would be disastrous. We’d end up wedged between the kitchen sink, the stove and the feature wall, spinning on the spot, multiple handshakes and cross conversations bumping into each other and accentuating the lack of, what every kitchen needs, space.
I headed off the big personalities in my company and steered them towards the cross roads, that tiny point in the house from which five of the six rooms could be viewed. The epicentre.
It was only a matter of two steps and we were in the main bedroom. In mum’s bedroom, now empty save for the oversized wardrobe with the dodgy sliding door which lined the southern wall. It had been assembled in this room and was now too big to remove.
Absent was the nuptial bed of fifty years. The bed on which, presumably, I’d been conceived and the bed on which I’d inadvertently seen as a seven year old, what I realised years later was my father’s old fella in a pose I didn’t recognise. Every night for my whole life the door to this room had been shut tight from ‘kiss goodnight’ time; not available again until the house stirred at dawn to prepare for dad’s early morning start at the smallgoods factory and the quiet voices of my parents drifted into my consciousness alongside sounds of prebreakfast ablutions and the crackling of frying bacon.
I don’t know how I came to enter the private chamber that day but it was an afternoon and I’d interrupted preparations for a Sunday ritual that I was not part of - except as an outcome many years previously in 1949. My catholic mother and less committed catholic father had practiced the sin of ‘coitus interruptus’ on hundreds of occasions in that room only allowing the passion to overwhelm the pragmatics a half a dozen times. Once each for my brother and myself and the others following a sad pattern of miscarriages - one of which came close to term.
’Little Albury”, as he became known to us, had a deep effect on my mother and it was my first encounter with real pain, deeper and more enduring than any thrashing I got from my father in punishment for my serious misdeeds of insolence or disobedience.
This was also the bedroom and bed in which my mother had died, nursed to her last breath by my father. Her final weeks in this room were marked by a stream of visitors, old friends, relatives, her sons, their wives, her grandchildren and the Blue Nurses on their daily visit to minister their palliative care. Only the latter had any real understanding of how quickly the end was rushing towards us all.
Only once did I cry. Only once did I share the name of death in her presence.
While my mother had always been a non stop talker, this was one topic which was never mentioned. Was it stoicism or stubbornness? I never fully understood, as my need to bring it into the open welled deep within me and was everywhere shared except on entering that room.
And now here we were, four intruders in this private space inspecting the ceiling, with its 1960s light shade, fancy cornice and off white stain, the walls, the dusty corners, the stuck windows, the empty wardrobe, the polished wooden floor.
Voices in the front yard alerted us to the arrivees. My heart quickened. I checked that the feature wall was intact, rearranged the papers on the table and headed for the front door.
There were two broad inquisitive faces on the second step of the front porch. Both were blonde, one much younger than the other and both sporting broad smiles displaying Sunday teeth and hungry eyes. At the same time male voices boomed from the driveway, then from under the house. It was a pincer attack. The women were at the front door, the men circling around to take us unexpectedly from the back.
I had a moment of resentment. How dare they presume to go under the house without my permission or me as an escort. The comments of an older voice were sharply critical, fault finding. He was already building his armoury of negotiating points.
He’d found the front stump which stood unattached to the house. He observed that the driveway, with its concrete strips leading down from the front gate, kinked at the last moment before it found its way under the house. There were concrete gaps beside the concrete stumps. Gaps never repaired after the old timber stumps had been replaced. I hadn’t yet sighted him, but already I didn’t like him.
The hungry eyes and smiles full of teeth stepped towards the sun room reaching out hands as if they were old friends. I extended my hand, clasped theirs, one then the other, and smiled with my mouth. Behind my eyes, wariness whispered stories to me of caution - beware of blustering blondes.
I was acutely aware of the fact that the last time, to my knowledge, that the timber veneer walls of the room had been French polished was in the mid sixties by Uncle Phil, who was not my uncle, but a relative of my fathers and as I recall not his uncle either. The smell of linseed oil and a fog of toxic fumes leapfrogged over more relevant thoughts into the front of my consciousness. Luckily the fumes had dissipated after forty odd years.
The louvres, which had a habit of rasping and sticking at the half open stage, had been preset to avoid the need to demonstrate their finer points. The sun streamed into this aptly named room and I began to relax.
Joyce, the older blonde, had eyes like a hawk and the nose of a spaniel. Everything visible and invisible was captured on her radar. Yes, the two fat, flame shaped chandeliers were indeed original, and yes the plaster wall had been recently repaired. I breathed a sigh of relief as all six bulbs came to life as she flicked the light switch at each end of the room – testing testing testing!
The lounge room looked good. The recently added wooden blinds framed the old casement windows nicely and the room, which had a north-easterly aspect, felt clear and light and cool. The afternoon sea breeze had kicked in, having arrived after its journey from Moreton Bay, up the river, and then slipping over and around the gentle hills of Murarrie and Cannon Hill. The atmosphere was thawing.
I began to shift my attention back to the task at hand. Get a sale. Get a good price. Split the money with my brother. Retire early.
Motivation returned. The younger woman, the daughter, Jackie, was the prospective buyer. She was married to one of the male invaders. He was lurking below us somewhere, but in some convoluted way she was intending to invest independently in, extend, and live in a cottage very similar to this. Perhaps even this very one. Her husband, ‘invader the younger’s’ story remained a mystery.
I was tempted to share the image of my mother on her knees waxing the floorboards each week by hand, her skirt tucked high into her large nylon undies, showing off her jelly thighs, but decided to relegate that story to the vault with Uncle Phil.
Today the floor gleamed, all thanks to a coat of two part epoxy, a bucket of water and a dash of methylated spirits. My mother would be turning in her grave. Twenty years on her hands and knees polishing, followed by twenty years of carpet to avoid polishing and now we’d gone and ripped up the carpet and returned to the beginning – minus the wax.
The male war party was now at the bottom of the back stairs engrossed in talk of structures, bearers, beams and concrete cancer. They’d discovered the concrete stump which had chosen this year to start to pop and fart.
We’d begun to win the war upstairs but we hadn’t even begun the battle below.
Just had a four day break at Maleny and Caloundra with our friends the Wards. Saw Neil Murray (My Island Home/Warumpi Band) at Finbars in Maleny. Great venue - intimate friendly great pizzas. Mooched around maleny and district on Friday. Spent Sat Sun Mon at the beach, with a short half day foray to Mapleton and the pub where Andrea spent an excruciating few adolescent years in the 60s. The Wards are from the deep south so this was new territory for Ian in particular. The water was great. Love winter water. So calm and clear - and everyone assumes its cold so I have the ocean to myself. Bliss.
One o’clock came and went. The street was empty. The sun beamed down its February rays from a clear sky. Neighbourhood motor mowers sputtered and roared in the distance. The giant eucalypt stood silently in the backyard waiting for an unsuspecting victim to stand too ong under one of its over-extended branches. No breeze. No voices. No visitors.
Tired of guarding the front louvres, my brother joined me in the kitchen. We stood surrounded by ghosts.
The neighbourhood was changing. On the surface things gave the appearance of being the same. Only one of the neighbours bordering this sixteen perch block remained. As if to reward my patience Mrs Balcock made an appearance at her rotary clothesline. I had an urge to make my way to the back fence to resume a twenty year long conversation between she and my mother, but I hadn’t spoken to her in thirty-five years and the once bare fence was now overgrown with creepers and wild undergrowth. What once had been a connecting point between neighbours had become a barrier.
She looked the same and I could hear her strange nasally voice repeating familiar phrases in my head. And then she disappeared.
The Hebleys and the Bubblers had gone. As had my beloved Dawn, the blonde girl of my childhood dreams. Dawn, my siren. Dawn who had seduced me at the age of five with a game of ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ in her mother’s bed one night during a sleepover while my parents went to a wedding.
That was my one and only sleepover. But it had worked its magic. Perhaps my parents saw something different in my preschool eyes the next morning and knew that I was hooked. For it was then I suspect that they put in place a subtle management plan for I rarely ever ventured over that side fence again -though I hurdled the back fence to wrestle with the Balcock boys every day for the next decade.
Dawn, my blonde siren, representing all women, had me mesmerised. My sexual orientation was defined. My secret ten year infatuation had begun.
From time to time I would find an excuse to play with her in her backyard. Occasionally on a lay day in our backyard test series cricket there she’d be bouncing a tennis ball off the side of the house nearest ours, clapping once, twice, three, times and so on between each throw and catch; her bouncing pony tail flicking and challenging me to match her skill.
Invisibly, silently, I’d climb the fence and join in. Words were not necessary. The mere sharing of a concrete path and a mouldy tennis ball satisfied my longing.
Of course eventually my brother or the Balcock boys would emerge calling for me to come and play. Sometimes, hidden from their view, I would guiltily choose Dawn ahead of the bike ride and momentarily be overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and then one of immense pleasure at the audacity of my choice.
It was the beginning of my fascination with women. Still fifty years later I reluctantly admit that no game of cricket, no bike ride, no wrestling match has ever quite measured up to that game of catch and clap.
Dawn was older by eighteen months and as time passed she showed no interest in my puppy love, no acknowledgement of our almost consummated night as five and six year olds. She was always a step ahead. Just out of reach.
She grew to be a tall blonde beauty who fell pregnant (much to the shock of the neighbourhood) at the age of seventeen and disappeared from my world. Sadly I knew that, deep down, my love for her could have saved her from teenage parenthood. My love, while carnal, was ultimately of a much higher order.
Abruptly my brother interrupted my dream. ‘Someone’s here’ he said.