They bought the house in the early 1950s. It was the second-to-this house to be built on the street, it stood very grand – 2 levels and state of the art – boasting what was predicted to be the newest trend: ‘art deco’. Rounded corners, odd angles, chrome and linoleum. Oranges, lime greens, black fake marble. Long windows with caftan style curtains. Chocolate brown. Swirls. Indoors, the furniture was purchased to suit the style was chosen with much care. 3 legged tables with chrome feet, saucer style chairs, canisters and containers in shiny coloured aluminium. Over head cabinets which angle away from the wall. Big vinyl recliners. Direct from the Sydney glossies came designers, containers and crates.
The house has not been altered in almost 60 years.
The first thing we did when we moved in next door was install a 6 foot fence along the side.
Then we planted a border of tall, fast growing natives.
Then we looked over at the weed infested, trashy yard and flaky peeling painted home and wondered how long it would be before one of them died and the house sold.
Then, we didn’t know her story.
The wife was young, and really quite beautiful. She came from a family of wealth, a family who disowned her when she left the large ancestral estate in the country to marry her handsome young truck driver. He was beneath her, they said. He was a drinker, a smoker, bawdy brave and boastful. He was common, they said. But she had stars in her eyes and the romance of rebellion. He filled her head with dreams, promises and stories. She ran away from her roots, her and her truck driver, to build their dream home by the sea.
In due time, the stork delivered, and the boy arrived, grew, thrived, and was the apple of his father’s eye. Like his dad, a love of anything motorised was his passion. Fast cars, fast motor bikes. A fast life rapidly cut short at just 17.
After an argument with the truck driver, the boy rode blindly head first into irony. A truck, right at the end of the street.
Devastation filled the Art Deco house. The truck driver turned to alcohol and drowned his grief. Alcohol induced Alzheimer’s and took his liver, his mind and eventually, his life.
The woman was left alone to deal with her ghosts.
We have lived next door just over 7 years. We went to the funeral 5 years ago with a sense of duty. It’s only been in the last 5 years that she has left the house. She visits the cemetery every Sunday. Geek boy mows her lawn once a week and skipper and I put out the rubbish. Slowly, we have gotten to know her. We call out over the 6 foot fence and talk through the fence posts. I take over hot meals and make sure she has milk. We keep her spare key and let her in and out when she loses her own keys.
I have shared a growing number of cups of tea in her 1950’s kitchen, and listened to her life story over and over. She tells it with misty eyes and a slightly shaky hand. She shows me his room. Like the rest of the house, in her eyes it is unchanged from that horrible day in late 1971. She doesn’t see the cracks in the window pane or the peeling paint. She doesn’t see the faded curtains, peeling wallpaper, cracked brickwork on the path. She sees her son in his prime and her strapping young truck driver. She sees them. She remembers and she cries.
Who would she have if she didn’t have us? she says. I nod and pass her a handkerchief.
Today, I have the chore of going over to tell her we are moving. It’s going to be hard.