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Notional Ekphrasis

Window 1The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, is of course ambiguous. Its source is usually said to have been an instructional talk given by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club in March 1911, as reported in the Syracuse Post-Standard: Use a picture, Brisbane said, it’s worth a thousand words. Later, after the war, when various advertisers (Printer’s Ink; the San Antonio Light) took it up, the adage was alleged to have been adapted from a Chinese proverb: Hearing something a hundred times isn’t as good as seeing it once. Leonardo da Vinci (a poet would be dragged to sleep or dead of hunger before being able to describe in words what a painter can show in an instant), Napoleon Bonaparte (Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours) and Ivan Turgenev (a drawing shows me at a glance what it takes a book ten pages to say) have also been quoted as sources or else just as people who at some point said something similar. The ambiguity lies in the fact that the sentence may also be read to mean it is worth writing a thousand words about a picture; which is the modus operandi I am following here. This is not ekphrasis however; or not exactly; for that would mean claiming that random snaps taken on my Samsung Galaxy 5 are works of art; which they are not. Or are they? Whatever the case may be, I make no such claim: what I am interested in is the image and especially the suggestiveness of the image. Indeed its ambiguity. Take the silver sheen on the glass of the four square sash window frame above: what does that suggest? Something inchoate, possibly generative? It was the late afternoon light pouring into the room which I was trying to capture; but that is not what the picture shows; or not exactly. Yes, there is that bar of light on the table top; and highlights on the collar of my leather jacket, slung over the back of the chair in the immediate foreground; but the subject of the picture is not what it shows but what it does not show. That silver sheen, or screen, becomes a seductive blank upon which any fantasy you like might be projected. Or look at the panel directly to the left of the main one: you would not know, unless you came here and looked (a look is worth a thousand words), that the dark presence at the far left is a wooden carving of unknown provenance which I have affixed with blu tack to the middle frame of the triptych of windows. It is probably from somewhere in New Guinea and shows a highly abstracted human figure—legs, torso, head, headdress—in a pose that suggests worship or perhaps abjection. Again, at the base of the upper right hand panel, there is a shape which resembles a bird with an elongated neck in the act of bending to feed or to drink. This is not what it seems. Some time ago, last year perhaps, the state government passed a law which instructed that all windows in all apartment blocks must be fitted with safety catches so that (when they are in use) the window in question cannot open far enough for a child to fall out of it. That bird’s head is in fact a piece of metal on a wire inclining towards a slot in which it may lock; not that I have ever done so, for no children live here and even when they did, my sons were never going to do something as stupid as falling out a window. The literature on ekphrasis (to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name) is, as you might expect, vast and confusing and goes back to the Ancient Greeks: to Plato’s theory of forms, for instance. Or, even further, to Homer’s description of the Shield of Achilles in The Iliad. More interesting to me in the discussions I have read is the concept of notional ekphrasis: mental processes such as dreams, thoughts, flights of fancy. Or the description of a work which is in an embryonic state, still forming in the mind. Or an account of the origin of some other work of art, how it came to be made, the circumstance of its creation. Or even an outline of an imaginary, a non-existent work, represented as though it did actually exist. If you look closely at the picture above, for example, you may see in it, as if in a mirror, the ghost of a traffic sign across the road; the ghost of the white fence of the former early childhood centre, which the Pilipino topiarist has made into a formal garden; the foliage of the trees outside, in this case a tallowood, which has been mentioned before, and a skinny palm whose botanical name, nor even its common name, I do not know. So if, as I said above, the subject of this picture is what it does not show, what is it that it does not show? What notional ekphrasis is depicted here? These are real questions but there are no real answers to them. David Mackenzie wrote to me to say that he was fascinated by the patina on those window panes. I wrote back and said it was probably the result of tree pollen, blown over decades against the glass outside, congealing and hardening to make a kind of membrane; but that does not explain anything either. I look at that silvery patina and see nothing I can put a name to: as if the act of looking, and of seeing, were an end in itself. As perhaps it is. So the pleasures of looking, and of seeing, may be the subject of this picture; that is what it shows and at the same time does not show. I could go on but I will not. I have reached my limit: a thousand words.

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Study Window

dust 2In cities there are places which become lost in time; they disappear and remain invisible until someone happens upon them; they are usually lost again soon afterwards. They are both portals and dead ends; the most reliable indication of their presence, or nearness, is their anonymity. I saw quite a few of them when I was a taxi driver, usually in the buttery late afternoon light falling on sandstone down the end of some forgotten street; or in a stark black and white-lit cul-de-sac on a dark night. They would appear and open and wait and then they would be gone again. I remember one in the warehouse district in Zetland. It was late and after I dropped off, and was turning the car around to go back to the CBD, my headlights illuminated a painted sign fading from a brick wall. It showed a pair of 1940s style red high heels; with the legend Gay Shoes inscribed below. Another time I was dropping off in Fig Tree Lane, which runs beneath the west wall of the Waverley Cemetery in Bronte. The wall is made of massive oblong sandstone blocks which, on the night in question, seemed to be oozing gore from the massed graves above. Henry Lawson is buried there; so is Henry Kendall; and Dorothea Mackellar, who wrote I love a sunburnt country and was admired by Joseph Conrad (for her person, not the poem). Again the visitation, or vastation, happened as I turned the car around. My headlights shone into a garage where a fantastical pair, a man as tall as the wind, a child a quarter his height, both dressed in white, with white faces, turned from their work to look at me. They were taking down, or hanging up, white masks, white puppets, white marionettes, from hooks along the interior walls; and looked like motile theatrical props themselves. I know there must have been some rational explanation for this uncanny sight but I have never been able to figure out what it was: because of the fear that gripped me, because of the baleful way they looked at me, because, it seemed, they were custodians of the ghosts of the many dead—more than eighty thousand—buried up above. The third example is more mundane than either of those two and yet, for that very reason, more resonant. I have one out the window of my study. One of those dead ends, I mean, one of those portals. It’s the chimney of M’s terrace house, made of pale brick with carved zig zag ornaments, a sober crown, and three semi-circular ceramics, like parallel pipes, instead of chimney pots along the top. It’s only on certain afternoons that this portal opens, when the westering sun catches on the brick and lights up a path into the time, more than a century ago now, when the terrace was built. When this was a street of boot-makers and grocers, of undertakers and florists, of carpenters and plumbers and stone masons. Of course I like to visit the past as much as anyone else; but there is something even stranger beyond, something unaccountable. It has to do with the clay the bricks are made from; the sandstone that has been carved to make the ornament. The portal opens, courtesy of those grains of sand, of the quartz, the oxides and the organic matter in the clay of the bricks, into an inconceivably ancient time when all of the land upon the earth was gathered in two great masses: the Old Red Sandstone Continent, sometimes called Laurasia, and our place, Gondwanaland. There the great Agathis stands; there the flightless Cagou bird roams; there the lizards walk upright upon their hind legs; there croaks the parrot half the height of a man; and the eagle large enough to carry off any walking bird flies. I see all of this, more like a vision than a dream, on late afternoons when I swing my chair around and look out the window. There are the heads of two palms behind, a Bangalow and a Tharawal, side by side, green-gold against the glowing sky; and the red tiles of the roof of the apartment building opposite, which is a kind of mirror of this one, with a Juliet balcony made of the same white pillars as my Abba balcony is. Of what use are these portals? Are they not also dead ends? Did I not say so myself? Yes, that’s true; but it’s also the case that the prism I have hung in front of the cruciform window captures images streaming from this portal and refracts them into the room where I sit, day after day, tapping out words just like these ones which you see before you now. And words themselves, as everyone knows, are portals too: not just to the past but into the future as well. Do you not believe me? Take tallowood, which is the common name for the eucalypt that grows outside the window. Tallow is an ancient word, from Proto-Indo-European *del which means flow. In Middle Irish this becomes delt, dew; in Old Armenian, a word for rain. The tallowood, when milled, is greasy to the touch; it is one of the trees upon whose leaves the koala feed; not that there are any of them around here now. One more thing: M, along with other residents, fifteen years ago persuaded Council to plant the row of tallowoods that stretches the length of the street. M whose chimney opens into the infinite. M who no longer speaks to me in the street and may not know about the portal on his roof; nor of the flows of time which enter my window and direct my fingers towards the composition of fantasias like this one, of a future, no less than a past, that we make up as we go along. How else are we going to do it?

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If you live alone, as I do, you spend quite a bit of time at the sink. Several spells a day, anyway. Making juice and tea in the morning, breakfast, coffee, lunch, the dishes, wine, dinner. Mine has a window above it that looks out at the brick wall of the two storey Deco apartment building next door; you can see the sitting room windows of the top floor flat and also the rippled glass of the bathroom window. I  have a green gauze curtain over my window, which gives the exterior a blurred, hazy, out of focus look, as in a painting by Clarice Beckett. Sometimes I see a bent over figure behind the stippled glass of the bathroom window; my neighbour at her ablutions. I try not to look too much into the sitting room; it’s none of my business. And yet however hard you try, or don’t try, you still end up knowing things about your neighbours. The ones before the woman who lives there now, with her young daughter Alice, were a couple about my own age. She knew I was a writer and was effusive if we met in the street; while he glowered and spoke not a single solitary word. They were something in the arts. Theatre perhaps. There would always be expensive flowers in a vase on a dresser by their bedroom window, which they usually kept open. If I ever went out onto the balcony to smoke, a moment or two after I lit up the sash window would come crashing down. And yet, not long before they left, I found out that he was a heavy smoker himself and that accounted for his miserable demeanour and drained grey pallor. Neighbourhood dynamics are complex and largely unspoken. There’s another couple, with children, who live two doors up. Wealthy, they’ve been renovating for the last two years and have just put in a pool for the kids. When I used to meet her in the street she would always smile and say hello. So would I. So would he. But if I met the two of them together, they ignored me. Was I a secret they each kept from the other? God knows. A Sparky owns the next door building, the son of Greek immigrants. The old man still shows up now and again with a small electric saw with which to trim the hedges. It’s annoying and goes on for hours. Otherwise, Sparky does all of the maintenance on the building himself. It’s his pride and joy and he has it in pretty good order. He’s a pleasant friendly fellow but you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him in a fight. Proprietorial too. Bobbie told me that, when she and Elayne lived there, Sparky, whenever he wanted to do something in their flat, would just walk in. I had a Greek landlord like that once, he would let himself in when we weren’t there and sit in the sitting room reading the newspaper. I know this because he did it one Saturday morning when I’d gone out and my girlfriend was still in bed. She stayed there until he left. The woman and her daughter go off each weekday morning on a bicycle, the woman peddling and Alice sitting up behind in her green helmet with her arms around her mother’s waist. Perhaps she goes to Summer Hill Pimary; and then her mother goes on to work after that. A couple of months ago I saw them in the street one day with grazes and scratches and bandages after a cycling accident. The mother’s wounds were worse than the daughter’s. When they first moved in I used to leave gifts by the letter box for Alice. I was having a clean-out at the time, getting rid of old things. I never knew if she received them or not; or, if she did, if she knew where they came from. I didn’t mind; I wanted them to be like magic presents; and perhaps they were. I sometimes wonder who her father might be—she’s young, only six or seven years old—because I’ve never seen anyone who might fit that description around here. When people see a shot of a lighted window at night, through gauze, and with a suggestion of something going on behind white lace curtains, they think of Alfred Hitchcock; but at the sink I’m always reminded of the opening scenes of Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, with Susan Sarandon and Burt Reynolds. He watches her after work ritual—she serves in a fish shop at a casino—washing her naked torso with lemon juice at the sink under the kitchen window in her apartment; later they become involved in a cocaine deal gone wrong. It isn’t so much that you watch as that you notice; and then you might watch. Living so close together, you become, almost involuntarily, intimate strangers. Of course I am under the same scrutiny, there must be people around here who have worked out my habits by now. Michael, for instance, writer, theatre technician, handyman, who lives over the road. He and his wife Pleasance moved up to the Blue Mountains a few years ago and left the house to their kids. But Michael is back now, looking older and frailer and more determined, while Pleasance is still in the mountains. She visits sometimes and looks more or less as he does, only even more determined. The reason I’m thinking about Michael is because he seems to have decided not to have any more chats with me in the street. A friendly hello and a wave, but no more talks. How have I offended? He’s a Christian; god knows. And sometimes I am aloof. I was on the deck the other day when the woman and her daughter came home on their bicycle and she looked up with a sweetly whimsical, almost hopeful look upon her face; but I don’t think she saw me.

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Notes to self re : unpublished works  

the-printers-devilLion & Virgin should never be published – rather, destroyed. But I can’t do it just yet.

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Terminus Motel missed its moment – those puritans at Titus. It’s alright but nothing special.

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White City too studied to convince; may still have its moments. Should be re-titled Posthumous Life.

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You Must Remember This may be salvageable but how? The best parts are already in print.

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Mortal Things needs illustration and that is expensive. Plus, ‘it lacks the materials out of which biographies are usually made’. Tho that lack was a premise of the writing.

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The Road to Entepfuhl has too much I did this I did that. Boring travel narrations. And it’s been eviscerated anyway for the essays in Living in the Everywhen.

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Marlow’s Dream may be worth another look.

 

23.07.19

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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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Sitting Room Windows

Sitting room, afternoon

The sitting room has three wooden-framed four-panelled sash windows looking out over the street and then into the west. The Venetian blinds were here when I came, in this and in the room next door, which is the larger of the two bedrooms and which I use as a study; but the ones in the study fell down and are now in the laundry down below. The blinds in the sitting room, however, I still use, even though their fins are encrusted with dirt which is mostly the result of tree pollen, petrol dust or muddy rain water blowing in the windows during southerly storms. I’ve thought of cleaning them but the labour would be immense and would have to repeated at intervals in the future; whereas if I leave them as they are they won’t get any worse or not much. The table under the window is where I sit to eat and where I entertain guests, if I have guests. From the chair at one end I can see out into the street below and watch the passing show. I’ve been here so long I know most of the locals by sight and many of them to talk to too. I also remember those who aren’t here anymore, having shuffled off this mortal coil, or just moved elsewhere, into aged care perhaps. Alan, who shook alarmingly with Parkinson’s and, with his big head and obdurate stance, resembled the poet R A K Mason, used to make his way down to the wineshop most afternoons and come back with his canvas over the shoulder bag clinking with specials. He was a war correspondent and a stone mason who’d known Vladimir Tretchikoff in Jakarta in his youth. Or the fellow (I never knew his name) who’d worked as a mercenary in Rhodesia and walked around with his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans and his skinny body leaning backwards in a kind of rictus. You hear bits and pieces of conversation rising from the street: once one of two wog boys said to the other: Look at us, a couple of sad fucks, walking through Summer Hill. When I first lived here Cosmo, a retired Cossack dancer of Greek ancestry, used to park his big green Rambler Classic out the front and run the motor for twenty minutes or so every few days to keep it in tune. Now Lucy the Florist’s grey Hyundai iLoad van parks there and, if it has to move, one of Lucy’s sons brings his black BMW saloon to act as a place holder. The van is quite new but filthy and covered in dings; when a branch fell out of the tallowood onto it last winter I went and told Lucy I’d seen it happen and would testify if she wanted to make a claim on the Council; but she just looked at me. Obviously they don’t consider cleaning or superficial repairs necessary to the maintenance of the vehicle. There’re apartment buildings either side of this one and over the road as well. Mostly deco, built in the 1930s; or, like this building, slightly later, from the post-war era, perhaps the 1960s. You wonder what was demolished to make way for them. Once I met a man in the street who grew up around here; he was showing his wife where their impromptu cricket pitch had been, leading from the driveway of this building across a dirt road to a grassy space between the former Early Childhood Centre where the Pilipino topiarist lives with his sons and the old Undertaker’s and Embalmer’s building which an IT guy, his wife and their five kids have now. People come and go constantly from these apartment buildings, on six month or year-long leases: young couples saving up for a deposit perhaps, other itinerants with more obscure agendas. Just up the road is a boarding house where single men rent rooms. Ian is tall and thin with a penchant for wearing tight black jeans, leather ankle boots and blue-lens sun glasses; and a loose, rocking walk. He was born with two club feet and endured years of hospitalisations, a series of operations, before he learned to get around on his own. Years of derision and abuse. He’s full of stories, many of which culminate in a stand-off when he gets out his shotgun and sends someone on their way. He’s a skilled and meticulous artist who copies imagery from mainly Japanese sources and reproduces the faces of Samurai, of Kabuki actors, of chrysanthemums, which he’ll show you photos of on his phone if you ask him. He keeps notebooks full of rhyming slang, which he speaks fluently, and also acronyms he’s invented to describe the various makes and models of cars you see upon the road. Among those who aren’t around anymore is Phil, an Englishman who lived upstairs at Number 4 for a while. He was a song writer, Tin Pan Alley style, whose unachieved ambition was to write something Cliff Richard might sing. And indeed Phil did in his person somewhat resemble Cliff. He used to buy his own uncured rolling tobacco and would occasionally bring some over for a smoke. He fancied Jules, the stylish French woman who runs the Red Door gallery up the road but she couldn’t stand him. She thought he was a creep and maybe he was. He told me once, without shame, that he used to go and masturbate beneath the Brazilian’s window when he was fucking his girlfriend(s). Phil, who had money, moved up to Thornleigh to live with his son; he used to call me every few months for a chat and then one day he said he had some kind of cancer and after that there was just one more phone call. Whoever built this building also landscaped the plot it stands upon. Hibiscus trees, a bottle brush, camellias, a palm, the people’s rosemary, jade trees, even a pomegranate (dead now) and a whole lot of bush rock sculpted into not very interesting shapes around the dry pond. It also has a name, a piece of twisted black lettering on the brick wall below the study window which I’ve never been able to make out. Blacklock? Blainey? Or is it Baiame? It must have some meaning. Maybe I should go back to the Deeds, maybe the name will be there; and then everything else would fall into place as well.

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Stairwell Window

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In September 2006 I moved upstairs into the flat directly above the one where I’d been living for the past eighteen months; which had just been sold. I was quite upset but before I could look for a new place I had to go overseas for work; when I came back, on a Sunday night, there was a note under my door from the woman upstairs saying her parents had bought her a place and she was moving out and would I like to take over her apartment? Well of course I would. Curiously, she had the same surname as I do, only with the addition of an ‘s’ at the end. I saw her again, years later, when she pulled into the taxi base I drove out of in Haberfield in tears one afternoon after someone side-swiped her car on Parramatta Road. I don’t think I’d ever been up the stairs until I went to view her flat, which had exactly the same layout as my one down below; without the massive built-in wardrobes in the bedrooms but with the inestimable luxury of a bath tub in the bathroom. I remember the stairwell, and especially the corners of the high yellow windows halfway up, wreathed in ancient webs. I also remember solving two mysteries. One was the identity of the person I called the Coughing Man—not a man at all, it turned out, but a retired ACDC groupie and biker’s moll called Gillian (hard g) who spent half an hour each morning clearing her lungs of the gunk accumulated during the previous day’s smoking. She lived in #5, next door to me. And next door to her, across the hall in #6, was the person I called the Fucking Man and he was indeed a man, a tall handsome young Brazilian whom I hardly saw but heard regularly. Or rather, I heard his girlfriend, or girlfriends, whom I hardly ever saw either, having rhapsodic sex with him. Come in me! I want you to come in me! she cried one sultry night. I think what happened next was his apartment, which he rented, was also sold and he had to move on. The first I knew about it was the day I came home to find two old silent people with buckets and mops and brooms cleaning spider webs and leaf litter and other accumulated dust and dirt from the stairwell. They were mute because they were deaf. They were not the new owners, however, but the parents of one them, either the large Irish woman or her husband, a thin, northern Italian with designer glasses called Fabio who was at first thrilled by the quietness of the building, he said, but turned out to be a Noise Nazi almost as bad as, if not worse than, Gillian. Both of them, at different times, called the police on me when I was playing music, not loud, on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning. Taj Mahal, probably, or Little Axe. Blues, anyway. When the Irish woman gave birth to a baby boy it seemed that grace descended upon them; but after a year of blissful quietude they embarked upon a course of controlled crying of remarkable savagery. Some nights the kid cried hopelessly for so long that he was hiccoughing sobs, as if fitting and about to choke upon his own tears; and still they would not go to him. Despite this nightly atrocity unfolding, Fabio continued to police the neighbourhood, spitting with rage at Josh, the clothes designer who lived next door when she had one of her parties and the queens and the rest of them screamed and laughed and played music until dawn. Eventually Fabio’s ménage moved on as well, though he still owned the flat, which he rented out to another couple with a child, a daughter this time, a charming and fanciful little girl called Frankie who used to light up the hallway. Now two young women live there; I thought they might be gay but one of them seems to have acquired a boyfriend. They might still be gay of course. Emma’s a Green Activist. As for Gillian, she made such a nuisance of herself, complaining about the noise from the café over the back as well as the music coming from my flat and who knows what else that Lisa, the English woman who owns the flat beneath hers and is a power in the Body Corporate, arranged for her to go into a home around the road which specialises in housing single older women. When Gillian died, not so long ago, of lung cancer, her husband Russ, who’d been a drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band and later a postie (‘letter carrier’, the Americans say)—he didn’t cohabit with her, before he was forced to re-locate to Ashfield he had his own flat in the building next door on the other side—breathed a sigh of relief and went back to live with his brother in Madison, Wisconsin. Sharnie was in Gillian’s old flat for ages but she’s bought a place in Croydon Park and moved out there; I don’t know who has it now, only that he drives a late model VW Golf. Once I knew everyone in the building. Lisa moved to the Blue Mountains, Mr and Mrs Long went to Stanmore; when their son married his wife didn’t like the apartment so they sold it to a woman who is an events manager and whose boyfriend drives a black Hilux. I think she keeps rabbits. I don’t really know who the people are in #2 either although I do know the guy’s name is Martin. #1, my old flat, was renovated by the new owner and then renovated again by the new new owner, who works for Qantas and makes jewellery. These days the Body Corporate employs people to clean the common areas of the building at the same time as they mow the lawns. They even wash the stairs. The spiders the deaf people cleared away never came back again.

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