Cherry Avenue By Will I Am
The Dibley Primary School playground hasn’t changed much, although the cabin of Stinky Thomas’ father’s prawn trawler has obviously succumbed to white ants. The construction pipes that were delivered when I was in grade two still remain. I’ll never forget the excitement and the anticipation as the workmen carefully put the pipes in place. Bathtub Bryant barked instructions and claimed his Dad smoked a pipe at home and this was good enough reason to assume an advisory position. There were five pipes in total, all of various sizes and they’re all still here, relics of a time when I still thought there was someone inside a radio.
The pipes became a rite of passage. The trick was to take a running jump and hit the top of the pipe without falling off. The bigger the pipe, the bigger a man you were. The advantage of living next-door to the school was I could spend many hours perfecting my running jump without fear of ridicule. Despite my lack of running and jumping ability, the many hours of practice meant I could be proudly call myself a man before the next challenge came along.
I tried a running jump and landed on a medium-sized pipe that seemed like Mount Everest when I was eight years old. I reached for my hamstring and realised age was catching up with me. Content that my body had survived a sudden burst of energy, I surveyed the playground and smiled and thought about the summer of 1979 when I kissed Glenda Forbes in the exact pipe I was sitting on.
Everyone clapped and thanked Charlie Evan’s father for donating the pipes. Little did we know that Charlie would spend the next four years reminding us that legally his dad still owned those pipes and they could be taken away at a moments notice. We never listened to Charlie as a rule but the pipes became an important part of grade four social life, so we kept sweet with Charlie just in case his dad had any thoughts about taking the pipes back. Charlie’s dad was in construction and I reckoned it must have been bloody big construction because the pipes were huge. Bathtub Bryant said they were sewerage pipes and that’s why they stunk so much. I didn’t think the pipes smelt and I thought they couldn’t be sewerage pipes because I knew there weren’t any turds that big, apart from maybe old Bathtub.
The pipes were big enough to house six of seven grade fours and a bottle.
As fate should have it, the bottle spun and twisted its way around for what seemed like an eternity before it landed in my direction.
There was confusion over whether it was pointing towards Holly Phillips or me. It was bordering on being a liner but the angle-of-a-dangle according to the leader of the gang, David Watts, meant that I was up.
‘Truth or dare?’ Tommy Wilson said with a menacing look in his eye.
I scanned the faces in the pipe. I thought the only thing that would save me now was a massive flood of turds racing towards my friends but I knew Bathtub Bryant’s theory was flawed.
I was sweating and it wasn’t just the prospect of performing a daring act. It was February, the days when February was hot. The days before the ozone layer was stuffed and you could get a shit-load of mixed lollies for twenty cents. My body still hadn’t come to terms with the searing heat of a Perth summer, despite the fact I’d graduated to running around in bare feet.
The decision of truth or dare was an easy one. I had a problem with the truth. I was partial to tell, as my mum would say, a few pork pies. I couldn’t help it. My father and his father before him and so forth had come from a long line of pork piers. But as my dad said, they were just white lies and not the sort that can change the course of history.
‘Dare,’ I said as a bead of sweat rolled down my forehead.
Glenda Forbes sat cross-legged and looked her usual innocent self. Glenda was the most popular girl in grade four. I had secretly admired her since grade three when I hit her in the head with a sand boondy. Glenda Forbes was a babe I wanted to kiss so I leaned over and puckered up as a state of excitement and a pinch of anxiety gripped my body.
I kissed the air but Glenda wasn’t there but I swear I could smell her sausage roll and cheese stick breath. I began to cry as the wind rustled the leaves in the trees, I wondered if anything would be the same. I wanted to be nine years old again but when I opened my eyes I was twenty-five, single and crying like a baby.
They say a song can bring back memories. It can mark a place in time, a long hot summer, a young romance or a time of sadness.
For me, a place brought memories and this was why I was sitting on a pipe in my old Primary school, a place that held so many happy and terrifying memories. And next-door to my old school was a place that contained my family’s secrets, a house which had cried with us, laughed with us, wobbled in the heat of February with us and moved in-sync with the beating of our hearts. Twenty two Cherry Avenue was more than a house, it was a living, breathing manifestation pretending to be bricks and mortar but at the bottom of the garden, next door to the washhouse, near the compass heap, somewhere near dad’s tool shed, a soul lurked.
Twenty two Cherry Avenue still stood proudly and in harmony with the Dibley Primary School. For over seventy years the two had been next-door neighbours and even the most sensitive of ears would have battled to hear a word of dissent. In summer, both buildings would crackle and creak under the fierce rays of a Perth sun. Their cries of over-heated anguish were answered by a sea breeze that went by the strange name of the Fremantle Doctor, the friendly wind would cool buildings and people alike. At times the Doctor threatened to knock down the seven almond trees in our backyard that I greeted and chatted to every morning when I was eight years old.
It had been ten years since I‘d lived in Cherry Avenue but as I leapt off the pipe and jumped the fence and faced the house that held so many memories for me, I could feel it reaching out and drawing me closer again. I stared at the house for several minutes until I saw a face appear at the bedroom window, the bedroom that my sisters Lizzy and Prue used to share. I must have looked like a weirdo or maybe a prospective buyer, but there was no FOR SALE sign, so I casually walked away. The face hid behind the curtain and kept a careful watch on me as I tried to walk in a non-threatening, non-weirdo way. There was a Mercedes and a Jag parked in the driveway, a far cry from the days of Dad’s old Holden Kingswood Station Wagon.
I slowly walked away as the face at the window slipped behind the curtain.
I began to walk down Cherry Avenue towards the beach. I remembered how verges used to be called nature-strips, or that’s what mum and dad called them anyway. The nature strips on Cherry Avenue were generous and almost to the point of over indulgence. New suburbs now would never waste space like they did in those days. Now the driveways all had squeaky clean four-wheel drives sitting idly waiting to be dared onto a beaten track. Many of the older houses had been knocked down and replaced by units competing for space and solving the problem by reaching for the sky. These new buildings were so clean, so formulaic and so ugly.
As I walked along Cherry Avenue I wanted to find things I could recognise, I wanted to hold onto something, a time when things were good. At university one of our tutors talked about nostalgia and said how misleading it can be. Nostalgia is manipulative and can distort history and the truth but its something we can’t get enough of.
Why do we crave nostalgia, why do we assume everything was ‘better in our day?’ Why was I so young and craving nostalgia?
But I knew why I was here. I stopped at the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Erica Street. My sister Lizzy was waiting for me. Lizzy wiped a tear from her eye ‘You ready?’ I nodded slowly and looked back towards the street. ‘Remember how mum said.’
Lizzy smiled and interrupted. ‘Fate brought us here.’
We both smiled and I hopped into the car.
‘Geez it’s hot hey.’
‘Hot enough to melt yah willy off,’ Lizzy laughed
We were both silent for the rest of the trip. A funny thought crossed my mind but I didn’t mention it to Lizzie.
This was the first time I’d ever been to a funeral.