Creative writing and drawing #3: Neighbours
To celebrate the release of The Wattle Tree in August, author John Bell and I will be doing a series of creative exercises over the next week or so. Each day, we spend half an hour responding to a theme. Today’s theme is “Neighbours”. Here is my response.
Here is John’s response:
She turned off the highway, marvelling at how little it had changed. The same modest houses, the same fanciful street names that had delighted her as a little girl: Inconstant Street, Cleopatra Street, Hat Hill Road.
Of course the street names hadn’t changed; why would they? Maybe because this place was so much a part of her childhood. Once the child is gone, grown, someone usually sweeps her toys away, repurposes what used to be her room.
She had come here every Christmas with her family, with Howell and Sophie and Mum and Dad. The air was hot and dry, the gums restive, as if it would be a relief to go up in flames. Now Mum and Dad were both gone, and this is what they had left her – the house where they spent their summers. She felt it as a reproach; she had little time for them in later years.
She turned the corner into their street and edged the car forward. She saw the house slide past in her peripheral vision. She did not turn her head, as if she were a tip-toeing princess and her gaze might wake something slumbering. She stopped in front of the house next door.
Their neighbours at Christmas had been an old Slavic couple. They bought presents for each of the children and she remembered trooping into the house with her brother and sister to receive them. The old man was severe; even gift-giving was an occasion for chastisement. Each of them had to name some instance of wrongdoing before they could receive their present, to make them remember they were not perfect. Mum and Dad seemed to regard this laughingly, as an interesting eccentricity.
Once, she had refused to bow to his authority, refused to confess. She ran out of their house, yelling, “I don’t want his stupid present!”
Now the house lay empty.