Yet people still live here. A man limps out of a shed and lifts his battered fedora to scratch his head. He replaces the hat with a slight forward tilt to shade his eyes from the weak afternoon sun. Surf breaks on the nearby beach, the sound as permanent a part of the yard as the fowl run, the shed's bleached weatherboards, the patch of ragged cabbages with its joggling white butterflies, the paling fence stained black with waste sump oil, the Albany Surprise stretched out along that fence, its dense green foliage revealing glimpses of sweet, dark grapes swelling in the afternoon warmth — oh that delicious muscatel taste! The eyes of a cat peer from shadows behind leaves.
Someone speeds up a pot-holed driveway on a bike and dismounts on the run, dropping the bike by the concrete steps as he runs inside, slamming the door. Three youths, observed, quickly cover something with an old sack. A face peers from a glassless window and calls out, then withdraws into a dark, unknowable interior. The hazy sun and relentless roar of surf oppress a world full of hidden things and things hiding; a world of desperation on the fringe of violence, where authority carries no more weight than a challenge.
I wake and remember this line of broken-down houses, which I know is in a suburb by the sea, a real place — a place I could visit. What I don't know is whether these houses and driveways and inhabitants are memories or dreams.
1. Albany Surprise was the distinctively flavoured grape that grew in every New Zealand quarter-acre section in the mid 20th century. It's still available, but not as common as it once was.
1.Once, years ago, this housed chooks.
2. Part of the ANZAC memorial on No. 4 Line, Pohangina Valley.
Photos and original text © 2009 Pete McGregor