Two men next door with an FM radio addiction came this morning and took half the lovely garden away. Distressed by the noise at first I went over to the fence in my rumpled tent of hair to ask them would they mind turning the music off. “Turn it down?” one guy called back, raising his head from the battered rusted skip they were filling with sawn trunks. They both wore identical dusty boots and ankle petticoats of puckered nylon. “Off would be wonderful,” I yelled back, waving my hand at the new house to show them, “I’m just… Right there.”
I know asking such a question I have no right to it, it is merely a staining imposition, we have now a right to noise and sexual explicitude and self-expression and sweet silence is a concession, embarrassing to want, awkward to ask for. And I remember being of an age and golden brownness when such men would do such a thing, just to please me.
They turned it off and I went back indoors to my page. This afternoon the machinery all stopped and I went outside in the pining light, carrying the cat. The next-door yard looks plucked and shorn. The big white house stands exposed with its weatherboards stained where the tiny claws of vines have clutched at it so long. All around the water tank bushes are slashed to sticks, where little purple flowers used to drop on the mesh over the dark reservoir and geckos rested, pulsing their throats.
This garden was a repository in my mind of olden spaciousness, leafy tranquility, domain of clover and birds and bees, privacy. This was the garden I hid in when I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, puberty had me in its prickly ferocious embrace and solitude was the only real empire of mine. This garden was ours then, we planted those trees, I have watered in those shrubs and bent over the ground covers and lost things belonging to me in its grasses: thoughts, ideas, whole afternoons, rustling and resting and waving things.
I thought how the trees seemed to belong to themselves, not to anyone human, and wondered why ‘our’ garden, long ago sold to this nice bluff man who smokes on the verandah at night and who likes everything to be pared and pruned like a fruit basket for hospital, seemed not in fact to belong to him the minute he set out to cut it. I told myself, I grew up there, though this is in fact not true, much of that was done on an island well north of here, itself a fruit basket, itself a hospital. There is a camphor laurel, unwelcome intruder but so leafy, so green, so generously spreading and which has the long-ago beams of our teenaged treehouse buried in its trunk. I put the cat up on a high branch where she could see into both properties. I said: this was back before real estate investment spread its cold dry hands around even the smallest, most natural town and took our homes from us.