6th April 2018.
Whereas The Fall of Gondolin, JRR Tolkien’s “first real story” set in Middle-earth, out for the first time as a stand-alone book was proper news, I considered Friday’s “Sorry you were out. See card for collection details” text message fake. I’d been in. All afternoon. And bollocks had any StarTrack driver stuffed a card under the door.
To top that, there was no ruddy notion where my packet got dumped. Calm down, I thought. Apply common sense.
Consider the gent from Optus who rang a few days ago. What if, instead of updating his business records, he got distracted? By a redback, perhaps. Or another Commonwealth games gold medal celebration. That would mean my abode was still ‘Leaky Shed’. Where over six months – three with a broken toe caused by a chair and a watermelon – I’d adjusted to Aussie life after an incautious arrival, almost four years ago now.
To confuse things, Mrs Leaky was my landlady. Which wasn’t her real name either. Just it stuck after she drew immodest attention to her menstrual cycle. “It’s my bleeding. Gotta change my rags,” said the lissom, frizz-blonde, alternative-spirit. Much too loudly. In a hushed cafe. Had my new found friend Son-of-Calcutta pop-eyed, choking on his Welsh rarebit.
Anyway, now I couldn’t help a nostalgic twinge for the place a pizza delivery lad had called “kinda magical”.
A lean-to, Leaky Shed loomed via an arched heavy wooden double gate between a cycle shop and a pilates studio, and up a narrow brick-sided alley draped with fairy lights. Placed where the outer office wall of Mrs Leaky’s other half and the pilates studio met kept it separate from the family residence around the corner. “Nobody really knows you’re here,” was how Mrs Leaky put it.
Agreed to online, the missus impervious to a Wiveliscombe barn owl’s cautionary shrieks, the erection rested on a concrete slab fit for a chook house and appeared rude. The front was tin sheeted, punctuated by a door and three windows; the exposed end clad with comely wooden shingles. Rusty corrugated iron served as a roof. Where a hole, through which pee dribbled during nightly possum percussion and rain dripped, gave grounds for the ‘Leaky’.
A zillion wheelbarrow loads of straw and horse poo, plus bucketfuls of Mrs Leaky’s manky, kitchen slop compost had transmogrified an erstwhile car dump to organic garden. Bougainvillea trailed from a bald tyre four-stack. A rotted 1980s sedan’s. Citrus and herbs did their obliging best. Roses tried. And agapanthus grew ecstatic.
The showpiece was big and circular. Gravel pathways, pebble-edged. Painstakingly laid. A ‘Firebird’ – some fab crystal – buried middle for diddle. Sum total: a labyrinth. Endowing super positive energy. Revenue from thirty buck per bod perambulations. And a loo for Blossom, a gutsy bichon frise.
Rising above the whole, a towering gum tree. From where rung my dependable dawn alarm: a currawong’s exotic ‘jabawok! jabawok!’
A few feet away from my pillow was Mrs Leaky’s ‘Space’. A superior shed that odd people would visit. Above the heads of the bald she’d wave branches of burning sage. Asphyxia was a risk, but sunny Melbourne days absolutely meant I open my door. Or melt in an outsized oven.
Drifters sneaked in. A sketchy bloke wearing a bowler hat was one. A strutting myna bird another. Making mellow liquid notes, it exited through a window of its choosing. Cockroach and skink pitched camp under the room temperature fridge. And given brazen snails made a maze of trails, dodgy spiders did at least help limit flies. Any whinge on my or the missus’ part got met by Mrs Leaky’s beatific smile.
Certainly it was worth giving her a shot about the packet . After a rummage I sent a text. The reply was surprisingly quick: “Sorry. Can’t help. I’m in California! Hubby’s at home though…” She gave his number followed by “xxxx”. Wowza, how time can heal.
Tall as Tolkien, Mr Leaky, a goatee-bearded lawyer, cherished an Akubra, a perfect blue feather in its band. A man unto himself, he took his Jewishness badly, instead romanticising about Aboriginal life. Homage paid through an elemental totem – a burning joss stick and a tiny bowl of water sat on a sand-filled plate – perched on his office self.
In the first days he taxied me and the missus for a mingle at a Macedon ranges’ mutton roast. Flukily I bent his feather. Still, sometimes we shared the wicker seat outside the shed’s door. Chat about life. Often he’d pull Blossom off my leg. He’d deliver my post, including a mail order, battery powered safari kit: a pull-trigger spider grasper, a vacuum bug sucker and a mozzie zap racket. At his dinner table we’d swap anecdotes. Like the tail he saw hanging from a hole cut for a light fitting. A tug, and both ceiling plaster and a possum landed on his noggin.
He observed I called out the elephant in the room.
“Ivan Andreevich Krylov actually wrote ‘museum’ rather than ‘room’,” I replied. To which he retorted, “In each man is the greatness of all men.” Sparking a failed attempt to recruit me into his open circle of New Age Warrior training. Popping two bucks weekly into his hat to cover the office electric before baring my soul to a huddle of men – reforming drug addicts, alcoholics, and the low on confidence – in preparation for role play as a dolphin and to scream at the outback hills wasn’t really my thing.
However, Mr Leaky did merit a huge “Bravo!” for preserving my integrity. Blossom’s bout of “the shits”, he swore, came from gobbling an oodle of Mrs Leaky’s stinky compost. Rather than the binned congealed curry under my kitchen sink. And he confessed his taking my whacking wodge of rent money out of Mrs Leaky’s hand to put somewhere safe. Adding she really should apologise for the dog poisoning accusation and writing such a nasty letter about not being paid the dosh at all. Nevertheless, a tedious rift occurred.
Receiving the message from America saw me text Mr Leaky immediately, saying: hello again, who I was, and asking if he’d found a StarTrack card with my name on it.
The answer was prompt: “Yes.”
“Great. Please leave it in porch. I’ll pick it up first thing Monday.”
“Not convenient. Come now. Knock hard when you arrive.”
Fiddlesticks. My supper borsch came off the hob. Next was hitting the Nepean Highway rush in the dark. Double the time, I thought. “Will do. Give me 20 mins.”
On the button Mr Leaky looked me up and down with zero recall. “Did you use to live here?” he asked, handing me the card. His goatee, I noticed, had grown lengthy as a wizard’s. Had I disguised myself? What with badger turned eyebrows and having long stopped walking with a limp.
Crystal clear was after the weekend I can go jog and get my packet. A new phone for the missus.
Text & illustration © 2018 Zum Beamer/ Charles Wood.