I was taking a picture of the oleanders cascading over her front fence when she walked out and said, “Hello. What are you doing?”
At first I thought there was something accusatory in her tone, and felt my hackles begin to bristle. But she was just being inquisitive. She came over, past the piles of rubble that had been accumulating since they began gutting the interior of the house, a few doors up from mine.
“Taking pictures of the flowers,” I answered.
“Oh, are you a gardener?”
“Yes, but not a practising one at the moment. I’m living with my parents.”
“Oh, at the marina?”
“No.” I pointed out the house as her husband came out, in paint-smeared clothes, dried-paint dust in his hair.
The woman introduced us. “He’s living at his parents’ place — how long have you been there?”
“Er…several years. I’m…er…an English teacher.”
“Oh, really!” She nodded knowingly. “We just got back from China. I taught there for six years.”
I told her my vague plans for next year. “Oh yes, it’s supposed to be spectacular there,” she agreed, and went on to tell me their story. They owned the house, but had been renting it out while they were overseas. The original tenant had been good for a couple of years, but then “something happened”, and “a bunch of freeloaders” moved in, taking over the place, turning it into a dump, attracting the attention of the police and the ire of neighbours, and moving friends into a boat they moored in the creek behind the house.
“Oh, yeah, they were infamous in the area,” I said. “They used to go to the toilet right off the back of the boat.” And I wasn’t talking about number-ones.
“Yes, we know all about them shitting into the creek. And poor old Albert next-door — he’s 91, and he said the language in there was just unbelievable.”
“Yeah, they were something, alright. There was at least one motorcycle being revved at all hours, and great big piles of garbage all over the footpath here.”
“Yes, he’s down behind the marina now. The boat’s there, and his motorbike. We had to get the police in — they were happy to throw them out.” I remembered the police, the flurries of gossip in the neighbourhood, the relief when the party was moved on into some other poor suckers’ neighbourhood.
“Of course, Social Services intervened and told us they had rights!” She laughed. “We had to pull out two bathtubs they had in here. Cooking crystal meth, I expect.”
“Yes, no doubt. But if you think they were something, you should see the dirtbags who’ve moved in opposite my sister, around the corner.”
“Oh, which place is that?”
“The one with six or seven cars parked there, the piles of junk in the yard, the shipping container they had moved in and dumped next to the house.”
“Oh, yes, that one.”
The place de-evolved by the day like Pig Pen accumulating dirt over three Peanuts frames: weird and pointless assemblages of timber erected in the yard, car wrecks, dirty improvised curtains behind which abuse, bad music and drunken laughter barked as I came home from night shift. Sometimes a feral mutt would run out onto the street to threaten me; one of the residents was heard instructing his infant son to “get back inside, dick-head!” Quality people.
“Well, it was nice to meet you,” the woman said, and as I walked off, she added, “See, you don’t have to go overseas to experience the Third World! You can see it for free right here!”
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote