Sport 24: Summer 2000
Nick Williamson — The Olive House
My mother wants it olive, with a fresh black roof. It reminds her of cool taro leaves and bamboo beside the little stream that meanders through our garden, or so she is saying, laid out on the cane divan in the sunroom, a glass of sherry held up to the rain outside.
Mrs Rose from across the road understands. She moves the muscles in her face just enough to let us know. So high, so high and dangerous, my mother is saying. The top storey sways alarmingly when the easterly belts in from Little Barrier, beating Dad's sweetcorn and tomatoes, bending the bamboo like arms and legs. Dad pours more sherry into Mrs Rose's glass.
There isn't a ladder high enough, Dad says as he sits down on the velvet chaise longue. That's why he's never fixed the roof, why the carpet is worn through beside the door into the sunroom, where the subtropical rain drips disturbingly into a metal bucket.
Uncle Frank watches the rain. He's been drinking with my Dad. I notice the sleeve on his grey cardigan is unravelling in places, like the sodden carpet. He gets out a cigarette and winks at me, his brown hair curling in loose strands over his forehead.
Uncle Frank has gone over to Pall Mall. There are little squiggles of tobacco on his upper lip. You can see the red packet scrunched up in the pocket of his white shirt. He taps the smoke on the back of his hand. Then he hides behind the other hand and screws up his mouth and raises one eyebrow. It's quite an act.
My mother is talking about the Laurel and Hardy pair who came to give a quote; one was thin and the other fat, how the poor man could get up a ladder she didn't know but the interesting thing was that the thin man, who seemed to be of Eastern European extraction, his name was Frank too, a refugee no doubt, kept an opossum as a pet. Yes, an opossum. Had it curled around his shoulder if Mrs Rose could believe it. And it was so tame, such a lovely, friendly creature page 121 with soft fur, but the thing was you could never trust a wild animal like that. It'd turn nasty if cornered. Frank did seem to have a way with it though. And of course, Frank jabbered to it in such a strange accent that the poor thing could never really grasp English, so if Frank died it wouldn't understand a word!
Uncle Frank and Dad are looking out the window with big glasses of beer in their hands. Dad's white shirt has seen better days and he's forgotten to shave again, which he often does on Saturdays because he's winding down, like the grandfather clock in the hall which always runs ten minutes slow.
Uncle Frank's cigarette is burning towards his stained fingertip. He squashes the embers in a tin ashtray while Dad takes the top off another bottle and Mrs Rose wonders about the wisdom of letting so many of these poor Hungarians come here, so far from home and they've got to start all over again and didn't Hungary side with the Germans during the war? Opossums carry awful diseases you know.