Balcony

BalconyWhen Moody came round here for the first and only time he called this my ABBA balcony; I still don’t know exactly what he meant by that but it might have had something to do with the fact that the pediments and the rail continue along the front of the sitting room windows where there’s no place to stand or put a pot plant or anything else either: pure façade. This was after Chris and Paulene moved back to Enzed—he’d come around, triumphantly, to show off pictures of the house they’d bought, after years of living and saving in Bondi, in Dunedin. They still live there, I still live here. I mostly grow succulents because they’re tolerant of long periods without water and also take on interesting shapes and colours as they seek the sun. The aloe vera, for burns; the jade tree, for grace; the money tree, for prosperity. Lamb’s ears for tenderness. Donkey’s tail. Cactus. Others whose names I do not know. The hibiscus, which flowers into pink rosettes, is called a Suva Queen. That rock is a piece of quartz I picked up in Bendigo. I used to have a little two seater floral pattern sofa out here but the weather got to it and the wooden legs rotted and fell off. Then one day I saw outside the medical centre on the corner one of those tall beds with an adjustable head rest and a place to put your nose in when lying face down—they ones they use to do examinations upon. And in fact I think this might be the very one I lay upon while the doctor examined my prostate with one of his rubber gloved fingers and did not find there the roughness that is a clue to cancerous growth. Anyway my younger son and I carried it back here and you can sit upon it in the sun or lie upon it and read, if you want to, in the afternoon; as he almost always does when he comes to stay. The green metal frog my sister gave me sits on the windowsill that leads into the kitchen; it has a citronella candle inside its belly which, when lit, will keep the mosquitoes away. These days it’s so dry we hardly ever get them anymore; though there was one in the bathroom this morning, along with a big antediluvian silver fish, neither of which I killed or even tried to kill. Some years I’ve planted marijuana in pots out here but it didn’t thrive, becoming infested with red spider mites which suck the chlorophyll out of the cells of the leaves and make the plant sicken and go yellow and die. I first remember them from Thomas Street, Golden Grove, c. 1981, nearly forty years ago, and realise I must somehow have carried them with me, or at least their spores, ever since. To Glebe, to Pyrmont, back to Glebe; to Darlinghurst, to Pearl Beach, to Summer Hill. They infected the leaves of the frangi pani tree I had growing in a pot out here also and nearly killed another succulent, one with the spear shaped leaves and delicate purple flowers. Both are downstairs now, recovered from the infestation with blasts of clean cold winter air. This is also where people come to smoke, either dope or tobacco, or both dope and tobacco. I have a ceramic water jar with a few old dried out stems of banksia flowers in it and that’s where I direct them to throw their butts. I like sitting out here at night gazing into the noir. There’s the gothic steeple of St Andrews in the distance; an araucaria; a tall palm which has a spray of flowers upon it and is desperately trying to put out a viable frond of leaves as well: a daily struggle I observe but can do nothing about. The topiarist’s garden always looks mysteriously active at night, like a Robert Delvaux painting which has come to life, without the naked women but with a white cat; or one of Le Douanier Rousseau’s sculpted jungles. A black saloon car parked under the streetlight shines dully in the night, its windows like mirrors or like holes in the darkness. I know there’s nothing sinister about it but why then does it look as if it belongs to operatives who have me under surveillance? Men from Canberra? This longing for the significance that fancy brings is strange: I remember one Christmas night, home alone after attending festivities in Randwick, drinking the Green Fairy, I persuaded myself that I could see cuneiform letters inscribed in the sandstone cladding of the steeple in a place I called, for the purposes of that excursion, Sumer Hil. They painted the whole building a few years ago, that’s why the pediments of the balcony are still that splendid white colour. The single capital column too. A kind of red wasp used to hover among the branches of the Suva Queen, for what purpose I do not know, nectar perhaps; and there are any number of little skinks living in the cracks among the brickwork. They too encourage the nourishing of illusion, sometimes resembling dinosaurs as they make their way through their lizard Lilliput. They come inside too, once I found a dead one, limp and cold, in the creases between the cushions on the sofa. Garden cockroaches sneak under the door on hot nights; or, if it is open, fly through in that hectic blundering way they have which seems random but is perhaps directed, say by the smell of fruit from the fruit bowl or some other more arcane scent, some pheromone only a cockroach would be attracted by. I chase them out because if I don’t they’ll set up shop, either in the kitchen or in the bathroom, and begin to sing the song of generation there; which isn’t a bad song to sing, even in the diminuendo’d, uncultivated, heedless way my balcony sings it.

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