We were living in a flat in Paddington, Sydney, and the burglars were giving us a good going over. They were beating a path down from the Cross and climbing in the windows or jemmying open the front door and making serious inroads. Not that we had much stuff, but we had a lot less after they had done us over.
Then the yuppies moved into the terrace houses on either side of us. Stereo renovations! And all the cockroaches moved in with us. Then both couples had babies. Stereo babies!
So we bought this little old ramshackle place in Merrimba dirt cheap. Called it Elsewhere. From Coriolanus—”There is a world elsewhere.”
First night in the place I got pregnant. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or Martin. Last thing on our minds. How did that happen?
I had dreamed of Italy in Paddington. But woke up wondering why we were both wearing gumboots. Martin suggested that maybe we were in Venice. But we did make plans for Italy. We were very close to booking air tickets. So we could wander around and I could study the drama of everyday life in a Tuscan hill village, or maybe somewhere down south, some sun-bleached hot-bed of family connections. Martin was going to concentrate on the travelling part of it. That is what he likes. Moving around and seeing the world without having to come to any conclusions. And then home again, home again to Elsewhere. Eventually.
But I was pregnant.
So instead of Italy, we are hunkered down in Elsewhere. Growing a baby. Wearing gumboots out in the paddock as protection against the snakes. Mostly red-bellied blacks. At least the gumboots are true—I thought.
One of the eight kids (very fertile place, this) who were raised here dropped by to see the old place.
He said—”My father built this house from timber growing on this land that he milled himself.”
You’ve got to admit it, that is impressive! It also explains why the cabinet maker was nearly driven into frenzies when we got round to fitting a new kitchen. “Nothing is right angles!”
We still had the same cracked old garden path. The child of the house stared at it as if he knew it better than anything else in the world. As if he could almost walk up it again, climb the front step, go in through the front door, and call out and …
Well. Of course. Nobody can do that.
He turned to us and said—”Do you know this place used to be called Verona?”
Oh! We are in Italy!—I thought. Staring down at our industrial strength gumboots. I could just see the tips of mine because my belly had got as big as a forty gallon drum.
I asked—“Because your parents honeymooned in Italy?”
“Because the two eldest kids were called Vera and Ron,” he replied.
Did I mention we are Shakespeare fanatics?
“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”
So we called the place what it has always been called. Screwed an ivy-entwined name plate onto the front gate. Verona.
Though several old identities call the place The Shanklins. “Oh, you live at The Shanklins,” they say. “On Hungry Hill.”
Shanklins are noted for being tight so the little rise in the road is called Hungry Hill. Ever tried to sell raffle tickets for the local school at the Shanklin Family Reunion in the Hall? Prising precious dollars out of Shanklin pockets! Hard yakka!
Verona is a very happy house. It is. We have had many more visitors, since the first, who want to check the old place out. The last was a grandchild who had spent his Chrissy hols here, and he wanted to see if the big old wombat hole by the back fence was still there. It was.
This place is inhabited by memories.
When I had the baby I was carrying, I would leave him sleeping and go out into the garden. Then I would hear a baby crying and go back inside. He was still asleep. I would go out, and again, I would hear a baby crying. Until I learned the difference between Stephen and the ghost baby, I was like a yo-yo.
There was also a young man who would inquisitively lean in at the back door as if he was wondering who we were. One day he came into the bathroom when I was cleaning the bath. I felt his presence but thought it was Martin. When I turned round I gave both of us a fright. The next time I saw him he was sitting at the picnic table under the apple tree looking quite at home, quite peaceful. And that would have been difficult for him as the table hadn’t been there in his time. After our second baby, Alice, we built an extension on the back of the house, and the back door he knew was no longer there. And neither was he.
Just two of the memories of the house that came with the house. You buy a lot more than a house, when you buy a house.