Sport 7: Winter 1991
Although I had the address of the writer written on a piece of paper inside my wallet and although I looked at my brother's map of Melbourne in his house in the suburb of Brunswick and found Falcon Street, in the suburb of McLeod, I had no real intention of visiting the writer. Before I had even left Wellington, several weeks before, or perhaps even several months before, dating back to the time when two friends had returned from their honeymoon in Australia and given me the writer's address, I knew I would never find myself walking down Falcon Street, McLeod.
Shortly after my return to Wellington but before I received the phone call mentioned in the first sentence of this story, I learned from a letter the writer had written to my newly-married friends that the writer's house number had been changed by the local council; that what had been the last house number on Falcon Street was now the first and the first last and so on, so that every house had the number which had previously belonged to another house in the street. Setting aside the no-small-matter of the residents' anguish at this change, it occurred to me that if I had chosen to simply go and look at No. 22 Falcon Street and not approached the writer's door but merely made a pass of the house and studied it casually from the pavement so that anyone who happened to be walking down Falcon Street or even looking from the window of a nearby house would not have guessed that this was my objective, I would have been looking at the place where only page 29 some distant neighbour of the writer kept house. I would have been furtively looking at the house numbered 22 which had, until very recently, been numbered 48, or 56, or 74. 1 would not have seen the actual backyard in which I believe some of the boyhood scenes of the writer's life were recreated for film.
While considering my plan of walking down Falcon Street I became aware, firstly, of a feeling of dread which is the familiar accompaniment to my thinking about any interview, appointment, or public engagement, a feeling which communicates itself to my bowels. Secondly, I was aware that of all the houses of writers I have visited, I have never failed to enter those of writers who are dead, that is, I have never simply walked past the house of a dead writer, but that I have on several occasions walked past the house of a living writer without going in. I have often looked in the phone book for the addresses of living writers and planned and carried out exactly the sort of walk-past I was planning on my fourth visit to Melbourne, while studying on my brother's map the streets of the suburb of McLeod.
I then remembered reading an interview with an American writer who was asked whether he had ever met an older, more famous writer who had since died. The American writer replied that he had perhaps seen the other, more famous writer from a distance but that it was his everlasting regret that as a young man who wanted to be a writer, when he had had the opportunity to visit the famous writer in his house, he had not been able to go through with it. He said he had chickened out. He said he had sat in his friend's car outside the famous writer's house, while his friend, a young man with no intention of ever becoming a writer but who was merely studying the books of the famous writer to earn his degree, spent almost an hour inside the house, drinking the famous writer's whisky, the whisky which was finally to kill the man outside whose house the only young man who ever truly loved his books was waiting with everlasting regret in the car of his friend.
Yet I remember thinking that if I was to be stirred by this lesson in everlasting regret and not merely walk past but enter the house of the writer on Falcon Street, I would somehow be suggesting to myself that the writer whose house I had entered was now dead and not living.
I saw myself again as the boy-actor in the film about the writer, bending over the racetrack I have made from twigs and leaves and dirt in the backyard of the house in which I am growing up. The sticks I am moving around the page 30 track have brown-coloured flanks and the finishing-post, which I have painted gold, is the rounded piece of wood from an old ice-block. I am being looked over by the writer, my father, who is instructing me in the meanings of silks.
My father is telling me that his personal silks would be a combination of two colours, lilac for the sleeves and brown for the body; lilac for a special country blue sky, and brown for the soil. His breath smells of the beer and whisky which he drinks for three hours every night before going to bed. Drinking, he says, which will lift him from his own pages, deep into the lilac sky.
I remember thinking, while studying the map of Melbourne in my brother's house in Brunswick, that by acting on this lesson of everlasting regret I, the only young would-be writer who truly loved the books of the writer whom I sometimes imagined as my father looking over my shoulder as I moved the words of my sentences by applying pressure to the brown coloured flanks of letters, would be killing him, or at least wishing him dead. And I also imagined, then, that I would receive the news when I had returned to Wellington that no more books would ever appear which carried the writer's name and that the news would come by telephone.