The Tretchikoff Man

The man who knew Tretchikoff passes down the street again, his beret on his head, his walking stick in his hand, a white canvas bag slung under his right arm; he must be going to do his shopping. Hard to see from this distance how bad he’s shaking today. I once had him confused with R A K Mason but that was before I heard . . . not confused, conflated. In the same way that I conflated the other fellow with Bernardo Soares. He (Bernardo)’s been looking happier lately, as if his comb-over’s thickened up a bit, or his back become less painful. Are there days when Parkinson’s is milder and you shake less? Is he (his name is Alan) an artist too, is that the meaning of the beret? Where had they met? Singapore? Jakarta? Cape Town? Who knows, it’s only a rumour and now I can’t even remember who told me. The building next door is advertised for rent, both the upstairs and the downstairs apartments for the same price. After I saw the For Lease notice hammered over the Sold sign I went online to check and found myself both appalled and ashamed at my former neighbours’ taste in furnishings, decor etc. How could they? They seemed like such stylish, if loud, people. Maybe that’s the clue, their loudness. Then I felt upset, strangely, and for at least a quarter of an hour couldn’t work out why. I think it was either because I want to move in there (the upstairs flat) and can’t; or else because I want someone I know to move in there and she can’t. I indulged a brief foolish fantasy in which we both lived there, upstairs / downstairs. The image of that magpie I saw in the car park out at Kingswood keeps coming into mind. It was lying in the woodchips and dust under the native shrubs, a mess of black and white feathers, and I thought it was dead. Went over to see and it morphed into a bird again, only it couldn’t fly and had its beak wide open as if suffering heat exhaustion. Dragging itself off into the bloody shade of a flowering bottlebrush. It was hot but not that hot; today’s hotter and you can feel the heat gathering already in the corners of the rooms of this flat. After all these years I’ve starting closing the blinds in the day like true locals do. That Sudanese fellow from last night comes back too, the way his face twitched and one eye went into a weird squint when I asked him if his family was still in New Zealand and he said no, he’d lost his parents . . . it was years ago, he went on, I’ve got over it. I started to tear up, involuntarily, I think he probably saw. You never get over it, I said and his face did that thing again. He was young, he must have been just a kid when it happened; I had the feeling he’d seen it. I liked what he said when he got out: So we’ll see each other again? You never do except the other day I did: in Franklins, the Maori busker and his girlfriend, whom I took into the Landsdowne on Monday night. Course they didn’t know me, why would they? The Irish always say Taximan. Sydneysiders used to call you Drive but that’s more or less gone now. There goes the Tretchikoff man back up the street with his things. The two bottles of red for twelve dollars that he used to get from Summer Hill Cellars might have stilled the trembling long enough for him to paint something. Draw something. I wonder where his amanuensis has gone, the young woman who held his arm. I wonder . . . why is it that the more you know of the world the more mysterious it becomes? I can hear the wattle birds clicking their beaks as they chase each other through the gum tree out the window. Nothing mysterious about that. Or, everything.


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