Of the few remaining flashes of imagery that remain from my early childhood, the most prominent would be grape hyacinths. They were a fascination, and I would pluck them ardently from the wild flower beds that popped up in spring. So much so that my mum became completely fed up with these perennial presents to her. Their rubbery purple bulbs clustered neatly around the green stem, scattered in clumps on the slopes of our property. Flowers were of no interest, but these hyacinths—bulbs I thought, seeds, forever youthful—were different, never blooming. We didn’t bloom, but ceased, happily stagnated on hyacinth hills. They bounced amiably, jelly jiggling in the hilltop wind. Scattered beds soon grew, turning the gradient into a purple haze – psychedelic, without psychedelics. Their somber grassy musk became overwhelming with numbers. This is how it has settled at least; the image becoming louder, busier, more purple and more grand, since that time.
Eventually bulbuls would droop, sagging and desiccated. Dripping off their shoots, a carpet of tiny, deflated balls stretched across the grass. They’d squish underfoot and stick to my gumboots, bleeding from my soles. I’d smear an eviscerated paste with every step, the musk now rotting the air. Then the hills, snaking with a vile purple river, flood the fading scenery being dragged away.
The house was a hundred years old, you almost expected to find cave like drawings on the outside, but there was just fading yellow; chipped paint flaking away. Despite this, the building sits vivid and proud inside me.
It overlooked the entire city; from the Hut, Somes Island and across the harbour—where radio tower lights jovially winked back—to Happy Valley and Island Bay, the latter bleeding just out of sight. The panorama stretched endlessly, my silhouette on its backdrop. It rushed up to the ancient house, and tumbled back down the other side. The yellow, and then purple, washing over the landscape in an acrylic trip.
The former owner was an old woman, a housewife, whose border patrol husband had died while vacationing in Scotland. She returned to sell the house, before joining her husband, dying a few days later in a nursing home.
The property was a mess, and my dad soon began the arduous process of tidying up the tangled shrubbery and dense macrocarpa that strangled the backyard slopes. There was an old dilapidated garage amongst all this, which he decided to tear down. He soon discovered, through the back wall of the garage, a secret hiding place dug into the hillside, filled to the brim with spirit bottles. It turned out the previous owner didn’t like her husband drinking, so he would sneak off to the garage at night, drink surreptitiously, and then stash the empties in a little dug out cavern. Dad was sure she had some idea of this prohibited activity—as all good wives would—but feigned ignorance for the sake of their marriage. However, dad was convinced she was oblivious to the next discovery. In another nook, in a deep corner of the macrocarpa trees, he found a second hiding place. Again it was filled with glass paraphernalia, but not liquor bottles. Instead, they were skinny, corked tubes with powdered residue inside. This soon brought the cause of the man’s recently fatal stroke into question, as, by all likelihood, the old man was a coke head. His closet secret lingered in those hideouts, knowledge adopted by my father.
When we moved away a bulldozer levelled the backyard. The new owner proceeded to build another house that, although squished vapidly close to the original, held fortune bringing potential. So the hyacinths were dragged away under the roar of the machine, and the crusty yellow was eventually painted white. The acrylic trip suddenly dead.
Although paining, this allowed the exaggerated illusion to remain, my mind’s romancing of the period had an excuse to stay. Memory with severed roots, allows it to soar. The stories—the ambiguity—behind things like acrylic hills and hyacinths, behind constructed thoughts, faux grandiosity and dusty ghosts, becomes the truth. I left the dull reality in hillside hideouts, hauled away by bulldozers.