An overcast morning. I open the kitchen door to survey the street. The block of flats across the way has done a big “hard rubbish” purge. An old mattress, metal ironing board frame, wooden clothes rack, dead TV. Actually, it looks like someone has moved out. That’s the second family this month. Chris said the building’s owned by the church – they house refugees there for up to six months at a time. A man shuffles past the pile of junk, noses around, selects a plastic mop, and continues on his way. Without warning, Drazic appears at my feet. Has he been out all night? I scoop some grutz into his bowl. He wolfs down his breakfast.
And now, I’m sitting in the dark, with a cup of lemon and ginger, typing. All is quiet.
So far so good.
On the way back from Yoga, I bump into Pete Van Vliet. He’s picking up some furniture from a friend on Terminus Street. Pete’s moving in with his sister in Coogee, and they’re cobbling together a household. I would never have expected to see Pete in the ‘sham. He jumps out of his car, his face beaming. “Oh it’s a pleasure to see you!” he says. “I saw the article in the paper. Man, you are a GENIUS!” We shake hands about a dozen times before parting company.
I collect Luciana, and we head north to Lucy’s. Some wonderful smells are coming from her kitchen, filling the whole house. She’s baking a cake. It was supposed to be ready for our morning tea, but, well, she’d gotten waylaid because the radio reception dropped out. Lucy had spent the morning lurching around the living room with her stereo system, trying out different positions in an attempt to pick up her favourite Spanish station. The radio is an important presence in her house.
She seems pleased to see us. “Lucas tells me you are a very busy woman!” she says to Luciana. “You must try not to work too hard!” They speak in Spanish together. I can follow what they’re saying, but I reply in English, throwing in the odd word like “guapo” every so often, just to show I’m hip with the lingo. Luciana, on the other hand, speaks five languages fluently.
This week, Lucy’s been painting her children’s bedrooms. It’s turned out to be a bigger job than she expected. Moving the furniture, preparing the surfaces, selecting the colours. “Did you know, my son’s favourite colour is actually baby blue?” she says. Her children are both overseas, and not due home any time soon.
She’s also thinking to cover the ceilings in wood panelling. The house, at the northern end of Palace Street, is on a hill, and the foundations are unstable. When they shift slightly, cracks begin to appear in the plasterwork. Lucy’s theory is that the wood panelling will be able to flex and accommodate these minor seismic movements. Quite a few surfaces are already clad with pine. We laugh. By the time she’s finished the place will look like a Swedish sauna.
Lucy puts on the tea, and I open up the take-away container of Tiramisu I’ve brought for us to share. It was made by Fiona at the Big Bowl. We sit on an overstuffed yellow leather couch, surrounded by the furniture from Lucy’s children’s bedrooms, the sounds of Spanish radio, the smells of the cake in the oven. We talk about religion, about the mystery of Easter Island (now owned by Chile, who don’t want to grant it independence), about the origin of European Languages, about Greek mathematicians. I point out that Pythagorus was a vegetarian. From memory, I think this was some kind of political statement. It’s a good story, but I must verify this fact before using it again…
After our tea, I ask to see the garden. It’s a big rambling mess of flowers, succulents, plants for eating, citrus trees, grape vines. Lucy points out each plant, caressing it with her thumb and forefinger as she names it, describes where it’s from, what kind of flower it produces, how long it’s taken to grow. At the front of the garden plot is a row of plastic pots where she’s “propagating” – a skill she learned in horticulture courses at TAFE. Each type of plant needs a different treatment. A lot of the little shoots in these pots are gleaned cuttings from gardens around the neighbourhood. She smiles cheekily: “You know, I pinch them! And they grow up pretty good.” There are even pomegranate seeds ready to be planted. She’s got big plans: to uproot a whole tree that’s too close to the lime, replant it somewhere else, and to overhaul a fallow patch. Plastic blocks of sugarcane mulch lie about, ready to be spread over the ground. “This way, you see, I keep active. I keep my figure!” she says.
Back inside, the cake is ready. It’s an enormous orange and poppyseed. Lucy cuts us a huge slab which she puts in the Tiramisu container for us to take home. A Cake Exchange. We invite her to come and find us on the south side next time. We could sit in our garden, drink tea, and she could give us advice on our raggedy vegetable patch. Lucy is becoming our Petersham Auntie.
On the way home, it occurs to me: Lucy keeps talking about “keeping busy”; Luciana, on the other hand, is one of the busiest people I know. And me? For a little while longer, my business is simply drinking tea.
* * *
Mick comes to visit. We take Wolfie out for a walk. There are dozens of dogs at Petersham Park. They get all excited and tangle up their leashes together. Sheepish owners chuckling and extricating their canines. Even though some dogs are hulking beasts, and some are tiny fluffballs, they all recognise each other as dogs. Why is this?