I’m going back to my aunt’s place. Irritable at being disturbed, the gate will flick its flakes of copper rust at my feet as I push it open. Hushed reproaches are spoken by the bamboo leaves: tsk-tsk-tsk will sound the note of tacit reproval.
Arriving, I hear the neighbour’s car cough as though in acrid disgust at my return.
Yes, I will collect Harry’s things . . . words said in sighing consent. . . They’ve been there for so long . . . I echo my sister’s commiseration, pitying Harry’s portfolio, his slouching schoolbag, the serge shorts of his uniform, for their protracted stay at my aunt’s.
The house is fleshy, corporeal: its dense red brickwork blotched with purple veins. It is like skin in which anger or embarrassment surges into visibility. Once, with its stout sides of brick, it might have seemed a bulwark of domesticity. Only now the windows are opaque and train livid eyes upon the neighbours.
From behind its walls silence swells, threatening to envelope the garden. A tui sings, desultory, sorrowful. Autumn leaves exhale a generous pungency into my nostrils, symptom of their seasonal mortification.
Once, in a school play, the role of parent was assigned to me, “Teenage boys and sleep, I don’t know.” In retrospect, it struck me how such phrases, said with a roguish air, were often on my aunt’s lips. A friend would come around on some evenings and my aunt, loudly forbearing to concern herself with fuss (for such is the privilege of people who are devoted to their homes) would regale her with such remarks. For though my brother was pale, silent, with eyes the same grey shade as catkins, he assumed a very different figure in the eyes of his carer. Her mind warm with wine, her face crimson, she discoursed freely, threatening to “sew his name tag into his underpants. Return them to such and such an address.” In these playful moments her hands flew into the air, as if she were painting an image of her vision, afraid perhaps that we found her words insufficiently vivid. We smiled weakly in response, as if in distant admiration of her wit, but finding such levity beyond us.
I am not sure if my brother realised his prominence in these conversational vaudevilles, of which my aunt was the impresario. I imagine him looking with cold wonderment at her inebriated freedom. Through eyes the colour of rinsed sand.
Perhaps she scented a kind of criticism in his silences, and found in his diffidence accusations of lewdness of which she was implicitly aware. But his secrecy, the sheath of privacy that was stretched across his face like a balaclava, prohibited even the most tentative inquiry as to his emotions. He would look away from you, as if one glance were enough to scrape his body to nakedness. Timorously he lingered in his bedroom, listening to the thumping pulse of pop music, endlessly replayed. Nipped, uncertain, he had not even the private confidence to peek at strangers: rather the stale tarseal absorbed his sight. Others, to him, were imposing monoliths.
Yet now he is simply one denizen in a city in which neither silence nor privacy exist: part of the turbid tide of bodies, daily irrigating the streets. He would be perplexed by these parcels of clothes, as though the sender had forgotten he was now grown up, still recalled him sentimentally, images inaccessible to him. Relics of adolescence, a period for him of stagnation rather than growth.
The silence in this neighbourhood lingers, so it has almost the pathetic feel of a derelict place. The air of a person drugged, insensible to any appeal one might make. Life within the houses retreats behind their stiff facades and seethes within, unseen.
The gate, scabrous with rust, grates open.
This article was first published in POINT issue#35. 10-16.JUL. 2013