After my mother’s sudden death, I needed to spend a few days at the family home in order to sort out a few legal matters before her burial the following week.
It had been a long day finalizing funeral arrangements, meeting with her solicitor, and dealing with the real estate agency. Fairly buggered, I went upstairs to bed soon after I had eaten my take away dinner.
Upon opening the door, I saw that little had changed in the twenty-eight years since I last slept there, apart from an Ikea table that held mum’s sowing machine, along with the swivel chair from my father’s study.
The walls still wore the blue and white patterned wallpaper that had sworn my allegiance towards the Geelong football club, and you could tell that there had once been Cats posters pinned to the wall, by the rectangular patterns of brighter paper that lingered behind.
I opened the doors to the wardrobe to find more of mum’s sowing things, and amongst them I saw remnants of my teenage years: my old Kentucky Fried Chicken uniform, a pair of hardened footy boots, and my ancient Commodore 64 computer that I played Space Invaders on instead of studying.
I also saw a couple of cardboard boxes on the upper shelf, but decided to check them out later, as I really needed to sleep.
In that special thinking time between snuggle and sleep, I contrasted the largely unchanged state of my room against the ongoing changes to my life.
It began with my deleting of old emails on our home computer, and shocked to find one from my wife to a work colleague bemoaning the loss of ‘T’, and how much she missed loving him. With suspicions of infidelity raised, I checked her phone while she showered, finding it hard to fathom the sext messages that I found from this ‘T’ person.
She denied nothing, and before the kettle had boiled we had agreed to a divorce, which had bade my return to Melbourne.
I slept soundly in my single bed, waking up not long before dawn. I decided to get up and open the curtains to follow the changing light over my old suburb. I stood by the window and watched as the blackness gave way to a dull grey sky, as if someone was tweaking the knob of a light dimmer wired to the sun.
From my second storey eyrie, my old neighbourhood slowly began to reveal itself as waves of terra cotta roof tiles amid green nature strips; the still bright lights that marked the passage of the freeway; and the new multi-level apartment buildings that had shot up above the train station.
Then, looking down into our backyard, I saw my wonderful liquid amber tree as it emerged out of the half-light to greet me. It hadn’t changed a bit – I could still see some links of chain that dad had used to hang an old truck tyre from one of it’s boughs for a swing.
During a family barbecue, I would crouch down behind it playing hide and seek with my cousins, and when having too much fun – but needing to go – I would sneak a piddle on it’s trunk instead of going all the way into the house to pee.
When I was bigger, my teenage brother Graham told me that in the olden times it was called the hanging tree, and that Ned Kelly tied a rope to it to hang monsters from, and that their ghosts came out at lunchtime looking for little kids to eat, but if I kept my eyes closed they couldn’t see me.
After I tripped over the tap and sprained my ankle, mum told me at the doctor’s to think for myself and not to believe every silly bloody thing he told me.
It had also been my escape place for the times my father would return home from the local RSL, after drinking with his old army mates. Seemingly stirred up for battle, it often didn’t take long for him to find some fault with something my mother had or hadn’t done, and the trouble would begin. Mum would usher me straight out through the back door before his mood turned to anger.
Quicker than a monkey, I skedaddled up to my refuge, the leafy upper branches of our liquid amber tree, where I would sit on a bended bough, and look at the world below, imagining mum, Graham and me, together in another house across the way, with the happy-ever-after people who lived there.
When his storm had been spent, my mother would call for me, and tell me that everything was alright now, he was sleeping, and to please come down before I hurt myself, that dad had too much to drink which made his Vietnam memories come back.
I came home from primary school one day to find my Aunty Pam in the kitchen. She told me that mum had bumped into a door, and hurt her eye, and was resting for a while, and that she would make our tea. She said that my dad had gone to live with grandpa, and then asked would I like a piece of her chocolate cake as I watched TV.
After I turned thirteen, I grew out of playing kids games, and spent more time with my next door neighbour Kathleen, who was a year below me at school. I started playing kiss chasey with her around the girth of the tree, and after she let me catch her a few times, we would sit behind the trunk and I would show her mine and she would show me hers.
But the next time I called over the fence for Kat to come over, Mrs. Ryan strode across to me and and said that Kathleen would NOT be coming over, and that I was NOT to see her anymore, or she would talk to my mother.
I started smoking when I was sixteen, choosing Benson & Hedges cigarettes because I liked their TV add that said when only the best will do. Also, they came in a shiny gold flip-top packet that matched my gold flip-top cigarette lighter. I wanted people to see that I wasn’t a kid anymore. I would sit under the tree in an old camping chair, and have a quiet fag beneath its dappled shade, while I listened to my favourite bands on my Walkman.
When I was eighteen years old, I left home to shed the eastern suburban life, and moved into Uni digs in Fitzroy.
As the rising sun struck my face through the window, I returned to the present and headed downstairs for breakfast. I had little doubt that the old weatherboard house would be bulldozed, as it was on a big block, and well suited to build townhouses on. It would be a sad thing if the tree were cut down by a profit driven property developer.
So later that morning I rang the council, and they said that any new development would need a special permit to remove established trees, and that as my Liquid Amber was on a back corner of the block, then it would most likely remain.