Anahera Gildea

Te Whare Ngaro

Her father disapproved of decay.

‘No,’ he answered, not looking up from the holes he was digging in two straight rows, painstakingly measured out to plant roses in. The pursed flowers on the bushes were small ovals, each a hot red burst in first flush. They were being planted in neat lines between the driveway and the house, and the backyard was already filled with them.

‘That house is an embarrassment,’ he snapped. ‘You are not to go over there. It’s not safe. There are broken windows and God knows what else in that overgrown grass. Someone should complain.’

All day, she stood vigil as the infantry of rose bushes went in, one eye on her father’s rigid back and the other looking over the fence into the forbidden house. Through the gate, a small tree dropped cherries and stained the ground as though someone had been butchered beneath it; the pickets of the fence reaching up, each a pointed stake ready to receive a head.

Corralled in the backyard, she conjured up and clung to the memory of her mother, pregnant belly round and ripening, preparing dinner, rubbing the goosepimply skin of a chicken with oil and salt.

The smell of her mother’s roast bird permeated every breath. Peas and orange carrots floated in swirls of melting butter while the potatoes formed a tumbledown wall, holding them all in. The chicken waited, its proud chest puffed out in the centre of the table, crisp and ready for her father to cut the shine from it.

She knew the scene by heart. They would eat quickly, loudly, and then recline, overfull.

‘It’s getting dark.’ Her father’s voice broke her reverie. With every root covered, fresh soil at each base, he went into the kitchen and sat, eyes fixed on a short silver teapot, shiny and fat like a steamed pudding, its long handle touching the table for balance. There was nothing unusual about the table’s veneer, nor its round edges, nor its long lathed legs. The foundations of the house were slowly sinking into the dirt.

At the house next door she felt the first trickle of her own unfamiliar womanhood. Her father would be enraged if he knew she was here, peering into the windows of another life.

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