18 October 2009

Memories, dreams

Waking, I remember a line of broken-down houses, hardly more than shacks. I remember derelict 1950s houses with broken windows, mouldering sofas on rotting verandahs, old cars being slowly consumed by rust and lichen on what were once, long ago, front lawns. Weeds grow along rutted driveways; vines smother walls and lever guttering from peeling, corrugated iron roofs that bang in the wind and leak into ceilings full of dust, forgotten boxes of old magazines, abandoned wasp nests and silent spiders. In a back yard, fowls scratch and dust-bathe among straggly weeds in a run fenced off with chicken wire and posts of desiccated macrocarpa, some as thick as a wrist, others the thickness of the lower leg of a horse. A scrambling rose entwines one end of the run, its faded pink flowers incongruously bright against the grey and brown fowl-scraped soil, the silvery-grey of the wooden fowlhouse, the dull yellow-green of the withered weeds.

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