Martin Edmond

diptych: the future in the past


We were out late dancing the night before, in a gay bar on K Road that didn't seem to have a name. It wasn't until some time the next day that M found she had torn the hem of her dress while genuflecting to the gods of sexual excess on that boy-haunted floor. In the taxi back to the hotel delirium rode with us. And in the lift. And ... in the breakfast room we talked with authors of young adult fiction as if we are ourselves young adults; as perhaps we were. In the rain washed morning, under the heavy concrete of the portico, we stood beside the coach's throbbing engine waiting for some New Yorker to join our party; much later we found he had been sitting on the bus all along. No matter. The festival director would not meet my eye, I had asked for money the day before, she had not given it to me. The former archbishop of a Scottish diocese was gracious and attentive as he bent his long body and lowered his head in conversation about the eccentricities of those who discuss philosophy on such inadvertent occasions. On the way to the former psychiatric hospital, as the bus filleted rush hour traffic a pony-tailed man briefed us, with gravitas, on the visit we were about to make to a house of learning. And told some well-worn jokes. I knew and did not know what he was saying; have been on buses like this before, on excursions such as this one was. Neither native nor foreign, not at home but not a stranger either. Weary of my ambivalence yet willing to assert it too. So it was (not) a surprise when the karanga caused tears to start from my eyes. We took our shoes off and went in to that house of learning. The learning was the house, the house as encyclopaedia and dictionary, as compendium of knowledge. A lifetime is not enough, we know that already, what could an hour or two add? I felt again the affliction of memory, the affliction of forgetting: how will you? Not? Actually I remember everything but most I cannot recall now. That's both nonsensical and true. After the speeches and the songs, the explanations and the looking, the reverential jokes and the joking reverence, we were slow to leave to go across the lawn to where the tea and coffee, the pastries, cakes and fruit were served. A chap we had not seen before was talking, he had built the house although he had not designed it. The thought of that man ... ! he said of the one who had. Let me show you ... There were subtleties I never would have noticed: the house arrowed towards the past but if you went and stood with the ancestors and looked back you would see the future. The double helix figured as a tiki, rongo rongo script found in a cave on Hawai'i, 5000 years old, on the tiki next to that. Binary numbers on the barge boards, some inscrutable code, all the 0’s blacked out because the future is unwritten; the 1's resplendent in their multiple singularity. As we walked across the round green a young black-backed gull swooped and the three pukeko there stood up in warrior poses; and then again. Those vast ancient logs, the branches not the trunks of trees, burnt in a fire, waiting to make a bridge; the hidden water; the surveyors on the other slope, practising. On the way back I fell to talking about sheep with a joker from the Rangitikei; and offended another fellow, from Jamaica, who wanted to hear the rest of the explanation of what it was we had seen. M was sleeping, her head against the window of the bus. I could feel the arrow of the past, contracting away from us; and the future opening the way a river does when it meets the sea.

long life light

In the kitchen the dim light of the future discloses a practical infinity of meals: fish pies, legs of lamb, Mexican sausages, chicken curries, pasta sauces, potato bakes, rump steak with garlic and mushrooms, pork chops served with broccolini or sugar snap peas, tuna salads, satay sticks, omelettes plus all those uncountable sandwiches, cups of coffee and tea, glasses of wine and whatever else will pass through here. It is of course the same looking in the other direction, towards the past that was more brightly lit but otherwise unattainable now, its food and drink having performed their casual alchemy. Cooking is perhaps what made us human after all, fire unlocking the extra nutrition so that our brains could grow. On the high shelves, a putti, a glass jug with a deep crack in it, the base of a kerosene lamp with swallows flying around on it, a bowl made out of the wood of the jackfruit tree, two disused telephones, an empty packet of Gudang Garam, paints and brushes, methylated spirits, a folded Chinese lantern, a jar of 1 and 2 cent coins, a sandwich maker, a bottle of Ant Rid, a coffee pot and who knows what else? Laughing Buddha attended by wishbones, ginger jar with broken lid, that little pottery ball-in-bowl toy that Toon Borren's sister Anika made four decades ago now, two handleless cups from Malacca and a spiral shell lined up along the white tiles of the sill above the sink. And on the wall, kid's pictures below the big painting Lexie did of my sister, the photos she took it from yellow-tacked up next to that. The calendar in the shape of Australia stopped at the date of her death, 28.06.75, thirty-four years ago now. The tape machine and the box of Irish tapes. Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes. My authority card and a pad of the forms a taxi driver must fill out every time s/he begins a shift. I'll be using them again come Monday. Unpaid bills stuck with magnets to the fridge, a scatter of words, likewise magnetised, they all have something to do with psychotherapy: Stuck With Fear In Deep Past, one sentence reads. I Lash The Manic Animal says another. Will Her Fast Love Gut Me? is a third. They sound good but mean nothing much. Just chance arrangements of the available words. Like this. A bowl of stones and a ceramic cat. Tennis rackets, flippers, a soccer ball and another that looks like it's for playing gridiron. That walking robot that doesn't walk any more. The ironing board and the iron, the brush and pan, a bag of rubber bands, where does all this stuff come from? (I know.) And that's not the half of it. A Rubik's cube with some of the coloured panels gone. The dry pod of a jacaranda tree that still, sometimes, lets a papery seed capsule fall. Candle holders in the shape of stars. One day I'll wash the floor, make those black patterned yellow linoleum squares shine again. One day I'll remove the patina of grease that covers everything with sticky. I'll clean out the fridge. One day ... but not this day, which is given over to contemplation of that bright and empty past, this cluttered present and the dim future, illumined only by the thin glow of an ecologically sound long life light bulb in which I will cook the meals I have cooked before and eat them elsewhere, out there, in company, at the table in the sitting room where the facetted windows give onto the west and secret air that will be even more luminous then than it is now, replete, I’m sure, not just with more than we know, but more than we can know.

Martin Edmond's new book, Zone of the Marvellous, is being published by Auckland University Press in September.

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