The smell of paper yellowing in Classic Orange Penguins

It is the week between Christmas and the New Year and it feels like all of Perth is deserting the city to go South. We get meat pies wrapped in cellophane from a service station and listen to the Boxing Day test on the drive.

In the Kombi pace is slow. It is noisy. Like being rolled down the road in a tin can. The speakers are making an unbearable buzz. The louvres are held open with an elastic tie, allowing the warm air to rush in. A hair dryer on your face.

Jasper has got his pillows with him. It could be the same drive we did as kids. A mid seventies car. No air-conditioning. No decent music. Just the braile of the road. A father shouting back the cricket score. The sweet smell of jubes and the not pretty sound of my mother sucking them.

Jasper and I have a packet of orange flavoured Tic Tacs. To pass the time one is the prisoner and one is the guard. The inmate must conceal the Tic Tac (tablet given to subdue) within his/her mouth and pretend to swallow, open and show tongue, just like in the movies, but instead hide the Tic Tac within the mouth, usually between upper lip and gum. This amuses us endlessly.

Then there is always “I spy”. In response to my “Something beginning with H” Jasper says “Hope”. No, of course not, I say. I am thinking “Hat”. Next guess, “Happy?”

We stay in a borrowed house in a coastal town. Just yards away lives the man who hammered it. He has a wife and four cats. We are high on a hill with a view out to the ocean and the inlet. On the distant fields black Angus cattle graze. First slowly moving one way, then the other. They are so far away that they are like cracked pepper over pizza.

The house has been moved from its original location in Napier Street, Nedlands, to rest on Myer Mountain. In Perth it may have been knocked down to make way for a new home or else slowly crumbled and died. I imagine it on the flat green suburban street, surrounded by heavy gums, sloppy gutters filled with leaves and bark, spongy floorboards sagging towards the dirt. Slowly returning itself to the earth.

Then it is reborn.

A mid life crisis. New boobs. Chin lift. Tummy tuck. New Man. Sea change.

Every weatherboard is numbered, every bit of pressed tin marked and then reconstructed by two brothers. She is sturdy and strong. Her floorboards wonderfully level and smooth. Her verandahs have been widened to make ample space for swags to be laid down. Her encircling shade sweeps around her like a ballooning skirt. Now on the hillside the wind whips through and around her. She is remade. All straight. What does she think of her new home?

At night frogs are loud and incessant, starting as the sun goes down and continuing on through the night. In bed Graham and Jasper see clearly the Southern Cross in the black sky through a triangular window in the attic.

The dawn arrives insanely early. The light is blaring. No window is spared.

Double hung sash windows, which open from all the rooms like doors, move slowly with their lead weights. The glass in the windows is old and rippled turning the fields to green ocean. The corners of each sash holds a myriad of spider webs, their pantries overflowing with the husks of insects. Flies find no peace here. Jasper counts the Daddy Longlegs in the toilet. Twelve. Big ones, mum.

In one room lives Mr Ginger. He is a fighter and cannot be out when the other cats are loose. A paw pokes out from under his door. A plaintive meow to be released. Later Mr Ginger, it will be your turn. Freed, he roams the rooms tail high and stiff as fencing wire. He loves the sound of the ukulele and takes up position on the chair arm beside Graham while he plays. Petting delights him and sets him dribbling.

The mother of the brothers keeps her books in this remade house. Beloved. They are in shelves in every room and in boxes in the hallway and in the lounge. Mr Ginger has marked the boxes with his claws. Mine. Mine. Books are this mother’s weakness. Note to self – stop collecting. Consider a kindle. She has old cookery books (ones with the most unappetising photography), novels, many classics, world books, non fiction and an impressive collection of How To books. So many skills to acquire, not enough time – Want to Make a Kite, How to make a Rocking Horse, Soft Toys, Craft from Wind in the Willows, Natural Dyes, Making Masks, Sleeve Puppets, Just Bears, Silkscreen, Pottery, Furniture Upholstery, Crafts of China, Quilting and Patchwork, Joys of Spinning.

Feeling like I am in a Tim Winton story. Sea and jarrah boards. The smell of paper yellowing in Classic Orange Penguins. The sound of a boy and a father playing ping pong in the garage.



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