The Summer House

I was in the Ancient Briton last night, talking to a friend, when the subject of cubbies came up – not a word we used in my childhood, we were more likely to speak of dens – and suddenly I suffered what might be called a coup, a blow of memory . . . I mean that’s what it felt like, a rushing, invasive sensation that contained as much regret at the lifetime’s loss of the image as celebration of its return. How could I have forgotten the summer house? And how can I remember it? It is fugitive, a thing of shreds and patches. I cannot, for instance, recall where in the garden at Burns Street it stood; and this is a garden which, like a memory theatre, I have reconstructed again and again in my mind over many years. I think it was made of punga logs and had a roof of palm leaves; low wooden benches built around the inside, a central table that may have been round as well. Small and dilapidated, with holes in the roof; already in an advanced state of disintegration but we still sat in it sometimes . . . and then I look at that description and wonder: palm leaves? That means the brown spears that fell continuously off the old cabbage tree on the lawn and were piled up, for no known reason, in a shed of their own that we called, naturally, the palm shed. Earwigs lived in there and once our cat had kittens in a nest she made in the side of the great sloping pile of these things, that went all the way up to the roof; I remember looking at the blood and mucous of the afterbirth staining the leaves. But you couldn’t have built a roof out of cabbage tree leaves, it must have been some other kind of thatch. Even the punga logs which, wired together, were often used to build ephemeral structures, may be a later invention. The benches and the table . . . yes, I think so; and the tears in the roof through which the jagged light fell; and sitting in there on a wet day and feeling the water dripping or raining down. The summer house – its return is confused with images I have seen in films, of a young woman or a young man sitting alone in some pagoda or gazebo like structure down by a pond reading a book and waiting for their lover, or destiny perhaps, to arrive. Ours was not like that, it was small and decayed and probably home-built, most likely by the fellow, I think his name was Davis, who’d owned the house before us and planted the orchard trees: the almond, the greengage, the nectarine and the quince; the gooseberries and the black currant bushes; the logan berry and the yellow climbing rose that grew alongside the palm shed. And now I think of the old, crumbling, half over-grown asphalt tennis court that was out the back as well and wonder if the summer house stood somewhere near to that? Beside the almond tree, then, where once I saw, perhaps for the first time, a tui on a flowering branch open its throat and sing; yes, that must have been it . . . or, if it wasn’t, will now be as I begin to augment with half-invented detail the image of that half-forgotten, now unforgotten, if not exactly remembered, summer house.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Summer House

  1. Did we talk about cubbie houses? Yes, we did!

  2. kayte

    I could hear your voice as clear as day just there. 🙂

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