It’s a sublime afternoon, the sun is shining over the balmiest day of the while. I’m sitting in our backyard watching her try her hat(s) at gardening. Our garden is a good size, filled with potted plants and higgled stone paths albeit not quite higgled enough. An hour ago her hands cautiously caressed the damp soil - she is planting carrots, 13 of them, she has no fear of superstition, but who she thinks will eat all these carrots I don’t know. Her fingernails are now broken, the summits of her knuckles stand out like the age-naming-circles within a tree. Stained dunklerot by the Earth, she punches the roots into darkness.
We live at the edge of town. Beyond our low wire fence, nature lollops as far as one can see. The land glistens amber, green, cultivated, intertwined, ragged, pristine then yellow, blue all the way to the sea. We see majestic deer sometimes wandering the foot of our garden. I often tell Lauren if she were an animal she would be a doe. Both nimble and elegant yet skittish like a follie. She has a permanent fear of the jack-in-the-box, suddenness does not cooperate with her. Her hair is doe. Today she is wearing a headscarf of intricate design and neutral tones, but the tentacles have sought escape. A warm and gentle breeze blows through the air. I watch as it entangles the soft curls of her head, it lifts them up and down as if it were twirling the follicular extensions by hand, preserving the longevity of her curl. Nature’s very own hair rollers. I take a drag of my King’s cigarette, all the way from Denmark it has travelled. Yet it plonks me back in my chair, my support, form, reality, space, space-time directly before the arrow of time.
I should really be enjoying this lovely afternoon and I was before the weight of excessive tar pulled me down-present like a led balloon. I’m expecting the monthly call from mother, and until she does telephone expectation lingers rather like clockwork oh she and I. When she telephones, when she’s in person, or penned by her hand she’s always riling about something. For the past few weeks she has been vexed at Papa for dying, she seems to think he had some sort of choice in the matter. I’m not being overtly insensitive either he passed five years ago and it’s only recently she has acquired this accusatory attitude. A stubborn cow who thinks she is going to cheat death by choice. The telephone rings. Lauren looks at me, mischievous eyes, she finds my discontempt rather amusing
So here I am on the phone to my mother. It’s one of those conversations one can um and ah and oh-yes their way through for the noise is not seeking quip. It surges through the wires and for a whole ten minutes I stare at myself in the mirror at the end of the hallway, phone press-balanced between my ear and shoulder. I trace the contours of my breast bone and the curve of my lofting belly, it seems the angularity of men diminishes to softness with age. And I have concluded: age has been terribly unkind to me.
Eventually mother said goodbye - good riddance. I pour two bourbons, one ice cube in mine and three in hers. I’m back in the garden, but Lauren isn’t there, she must have gone inside. Her shoes are discarded carelessly, the trowel upright like a monolith for the ants piercing the reddened earth. I sit down and - but she would have walked past me - sip my drink - the car is still here - I light up another cigarette - she must be in the garage.
My eyesight lingers lazily on the garden-horizon, it certainly isn’t what it used to be. I stare at the hedge lost in a reverie of vision, foresight, knowledge and age, at least that’s what I tell myself. I’m sharp again as I cast my eyes into the view but something catches me, a nagging in the corner of my left on the other side of the hedge-fence. I lift myself from my seat and take the second higgled path from the left to the bottom of the garden. It is her scarf, caught by a rose in the breeze. Reaching forward I disentangle the delicate material from the grasp of the roses’ fine claws. Holding it close to my eyes I inspect its delicately decorated surface. Brocade, the colours shine like a doe’s coat who gorged on sweet-ripe fruit the previous morning.
I drive up the long road. It is a blah driveway for a beautiful home. The late afternoon sunshine glistens the wet road, blinding with diamonds. The trees all but clutch onto the last of their leaves. Side by side against the dramatic rain clouds billowing above, the orange hues of autumn never looked so orange. Winter lingers on the horizon.
I am in, on, at the end of the driveway. Tyres crack on the gravel, the car stops. I gaze in the review mirror, catching only the crows feet that have accumulated around the corners of my eyes. I can’t help thinking how unkind age has been to me. She is already here, perched like a robin by the front door. When I get close I see she is wearing a gold necklace, it dances like a mirror ball in the sunlight. For the life of me - I struggle with her name I’ve always been terrible with names, she greets me with a big smile, perhaps too big. The house is old and needs work but its brutal state lingers in my lobes. The ivy winds its way around the outside like a cocoon. Protected, I would be safe here. She tells me the current owners are about to fill the basement.
Through the door she takes off her red shoes, they are high heels, so I assume she’s uncomfortable but she says the owners insist. I don’t want to. I have holes in my socks perfectly inscribed above the middle toes, I call it the toe-fliping-you-off look, it does great for self-esteem watching your own toes flip you off. I wonder if they’re taking their carpets with them. There are bees inside the house, which is unusual this time of year. Shelley will make me kill them. I like bees - nature wouldn’t be without them. There are even more in the kitchen, she stays in the corridor - claiming allergy to their sting. Not that I can particularly enter the room either. The kitchen sits above the basement and there is a gaping hole in the floor intervened with thin wooden beams - for tightrope riders only. She says that the hive is nearby and the owners are neutralising them and that sounds good one less job for me.
The property sits alone on top of a hill overlooking the town. Its isolation acts like the do not disturb sign on a hotel room door or the loosely strung sock, hat, underpant, amulet, necklace that offers the universal signage of intimacy. I want this house. I want this town. A new town, new people, new asphalt, a new atmosphere. Squinting my eyes through the kitchen window I tell myself I can see Lola and Ryan wreaking havoc amongst the grass. And squinting my crows feet tighter there is a tree at the bottom, a gnarly tree apt for a treehouse.
Shelley and I have never spoken about having children, but that’s probably because we have never been truly alone. Before the front door once more, I slowly reattach my shoes to my feet. She stands perfectly poised with her slip ons - was that...did I discern the smallest of foot taps? She locks the door, we say goodbye. I’m walking to the car. The sunshine has ceased, the evening is upon and the sky all a-grey. I get in the car and as I put the car in reverse I watch her through the rearview mirror kick her shoes off and go back inside the house once more.
I’ve always liked her, she’s easy to listen to and she doesn’t grind my gears. I’m waiting in the garage, the door’s already open and I stare longingly at the vista I am soon to drive out upon. I watch her enter the garage, I can see her, she disappears. She is sitting on the driving side peering in the rear-view mirror. With clear navigation, she guides that rouge lipstick over the contours of her face. We must be going out alone, she only puts on those lips when he’s not coming. Lauren likes me too. I make her look good, I make her look flawless, expensive. I’m a great conversation starter. We hit reverse and venture out into the twilight. The headlights light up the overhanging trees always one step ahead of us. We are guided through the tunnel, onward to our destination, running into the town, we hope out the other side. Oh we must be going to see the other him, the one only I know about. I’m glad Lauren is driving, I don’t have to pay attention to the road, to the other cars, to the fluffy shapes of bunny rabbits hopping in the headlights, I can look at Lauren. She’s tied a waft of delicate green silk around her head, a graceful attempt at identity protection. Shame everyone and anyone will recognise me. It’s a warm night so we are driving with the windows down. Little coils of her hair have started to fall from the scarf they whip this way and that in the channelled air. She looks happy. We’re really cruising now, Lauren fumbles for a cigarette in her purse. I sense something new as we approach the corner. A new engine, something I haven’t seen before. The twilight is gone and night has fallen. I feel it before I hear it, a deep warping in the depths of my engine. The darkness lifts for the briefest of seconds. The light is racing towards me, and I am towards it. There’s a corner coming up here, she should slow down now, now, right now. The darkness falls. She is gone and I am flying, her hands no longer touch my wheel, nor do her feet caress my pedals. In a split second there I am wrapped around a tree my metal flanks twisted and deformed like an incestuous baby. Smashed glass, crushed metal, the bitter smell of burning, an inflated airbag that protected no one. Feebly illuminating the dark trees my hazard’s blink gently.
Dreaming of celestial spheres daylight twangs at the corner of my eyes, falling, soaring I land on a soft pillow. Velvet tentacles wrap themselves around my ankles and tug at my legs, harder and harder. I dosily explain to her that I had to sleep somewhere, I’m not a couch guy. Morning haze, sleepy dust, blocked nose, dry eyes but somehow I end dressed, sat in the front seat of the car, phone pressed to my ear - she’s watching me from the front door, I watch her through the rearview mirror going back inside the house. Right, left, right again, on the phone, in the car, another day, another death, another life, another body.
I’m sitting at the drive-thru. It ain’t even open yet, it’s too damn early. It’s cold this morning, the coldest day so far, my breath gathers into temporal bursts of cloud in the low light, my hands are stuffed under my armpits and I gently shake to the beat of the cold.
I order two coffees and a muffin. It takes too long. This is supposed to be fast food. I drive up the road to the outskirts of town, the others are already here. I get out the car, the place is an icy mess. I sip my second still-steaming coffee and pass under the tape. Morning, morning. There used to be a big house here, well it’s still here just in bits and pieces. When I was a kid an old couple lived here, my mum used to buy her soap: Shelley’s Homemade Lavender and Honey Soap. I used it every day, a whole other life. For a moment I swear I can smell lavender and honey.
It’s been years since they died and the house stood empty. I heard a Mr. Money Pots recently bought the land. I bet a pony that he’s building a doomsday bunker, all the rage these days - over here chief - I carefully pick my way through the rubble, a door handle, lintel, power socket, shattered memories of all the souls who lived here. I look up, God, never let me live long enough to see my own home demolished.
There she is. Exactly as described on the tendrils of that ungodly telephone call this disgusting morning. Amongst the disintegrating boulders of elephant grey cement, there she is. Mangled bones splay in a shroud of dusty red. Clothes and bones are all that’s left, the flesh long absorbed by inanimate concrete. I get the strangest feeling that she is watching, that she is finally free, thanking us for this release. I get closer, and hanging between her ribs, where her heart once sat is a golden necklace with a L inscribed on the back. We have been looking, everyone has been looking and for quite some time as well. I sure hope Mr Money Pots ain’t superstitious.