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The Street, and What It Doesn't Say by Helen Patrice
A street of 32 suburban houses; a mixture of single and double storey
homes; red tile roofs which is the norm in Australia. The road is has two curves.
The average house age is fifty years, with a few recent redevelopment.
Why no sense memories of walking down this street? I did it hundreds of
times in the late 90’s and early 00’s, before we moved two neighborhoods
I’m walking the length of Fankhauser Drive. It’s Spring tide, and yellow
oxalis flowers glow up through lawns. ‘Sour-sob’ we called it as kids.
Yellow is my younger offspring’s favorite color. Back in the day, they
were my son. I now know differently, and there are no official pronouns for a
gender-diverse merperson. David is 29 now, a tall, thin human, with receding
dark hair, oblong spectacles, dark brown eyes, and a set of labels that
accompany them through doctors’ offices, and the National Disability Insurance
David often chewed on the stalks of soursob oxalis, because they’d seen
schoolmates do the same, and thought it was the thing to do. Did they want to
fit in? I have very little evidence of it. More likely, it was their close
observation of ‘oh, this is what we do when we see these flowers’.
The first two things David learned at Vermont South Special School were
how to spit on a sidewalk, and how to wee against a tree in the park if they
needed to go. At least they were learning. When they were three, I discovered
their idea of counting was 1, 2, 3, lots. They have a measurable I.Q. of 69, so I
didn’t know how far their knowledge would go. Pissing against trees was a win
in my books.
At the top of Fankhauser Drive is a house with a jungly front yard. The
previous owner worked hard on the garden beds, weeding every few days,
putting in more bulbs, and more, trimming back rose bushes and diosmas.
Spring was a feast of colors and smells. I used to steal petals from her garden
to iron between two sheets of greaseproof kitchen paper, and stick the result up
in windows as light catchers.
The new house owner doesn’t make that effort. The bulbs still bloom
daffodils and jonquils, with a few tall purple and yellow irises, and the rose
bushes bear, but other plants have died, or are straggly. The rosemary bush in
the corner of the yard is dropping branches in desperation to give its interior air.
We lived at 18 Fankhauser Drive. I decided it was the house for us,
because there was a Susan Court nearby, and my daughter’s name is Susan, and
a Ritz Court, and I ballroom danced at the Ritz ballroom. It was an awful, dark
1970’s family home given over to rental after the owner’s wife died, and his
kids grew up and moved out. The kitchen bench was bright orange melamine,
the floor speckled brown, green, and orange linoleum. Burnt yellow carpets
throughout. Dark exposed wood window frames.
David loved that kitchen. The orange benchtop was close enough to
yellow to please them. They learned to turn on the kitchen tap in that kitchen,
and spent hours twisting it on and off, entranced by the stream of water that
came, and went, and came, and went. What power for a small person who had
David and his sister Susie might have been the babies of the family, but
they were the power brokers. We couldn’t move out of the eastern suburbs
because David’s school was there, a short walk from our house. We needed to
be near services for their hearing aids, and Australian Hearing was in the next
suburb. I shared a car with my ex-husband, and we needed to live within
walking distance of someone’s school. Susie attended Mount View Primary,
one suburb away, which had a Hearing Unit within the school, to cater to her
Vermont South Special School dealt with David’s autism and intellectual
impairment, but the hearing impairment, and non-verbality garnered only
Visiting Teacher of the Deaf service. If they’d attended Mount View with Susie,
it would have been all ears and voice all the time, but the I.Q. and autism would
have been served only by a Visiting Occupational Therapist. Maybe. I made the
executive decision of Vermont South Special School.
I walked to and from Vermont South Special School five days a week.
Why don’t I remember? Not one sudden burst of memory, of David running
home ahead of me while I carried their school bag? Not one bending over to
look at yellow daisies that grew wild on nature strips? Not a single flinching
from both of us as next door’s dog barked savagely through the wood and wire
I remember the crappy, bricked in backyard of the house, and my kids
learning to roller skate in my kitchen. I remember them skateboarding in the
hallway when it was too rainy to use the footpath outside.
The man who lived on the corner of Susan Court had shaped the tree on
his nature strip into…well, it looked like a butt plug. That’s what I privately
thought of it every time I looked at it. He was a proud Macedonian man who
spent all day every day in his garage, or garden. He had a little hand-held
trimmer just for that tree. After trimming each branch, he’d cross the road to
look at his masterpiece from a distance. Sometimes it took him a whole day to
perfect his creation.
He was heartbroken when a bad fall, and diabetes saw his left leg
removed mid-thigh. His tree grew out of control, and his son hacked at it
New people in that house now, and the tree is left to its bushy self, with
no hint it was ever shaped.
A Greek family lived opposite us, and each of the four boys played a
musical instrument. The youngest loved his bongoes. Thus, we all came to
know his bongoes.
The garden is now refashioned with a stone Buddha, and a concrete
rectangle water feature. I imagine a Chinese family live there now. The décor
suggests it, with two golden lions guarding the front door.
It is fifteen years since we lived here, yet, at times, I catch myself writing
my old address on an envelope, and have to scratch out ’18 Fan-‘.
We moved in just as David received his diagnosis. We were there the
year my dad died, for the 2000 Sydney Olympics (we staged our own in-house
because we couldn’t afford the travel or the exorbitant ticket prices), for my ex-
husband’s rages and blackmailings, for my post-graduate studies, and me
stepping into teaching Middle Eastern Dance.
I used the second lounge room as a dance area, where I created simple
choreographies for my students, did my own rehearsals, and on occasion, held
David’s Year 3-4 teacher wanted to learn to dance, and brought her
sisters, and her friends to a Wednesday night class I ran at home. David was
thrilled. Susie and David stood in the kitchen the entire lesson, watching
through the big hatchway, until it came to the last fifteen minutes of class, when
I’d advance the school term’s choreography another couple of steps. It was a
veil dance. David could not read or write, but Susie and David knew this dance
off by heart. They each had their own yellow hip scarf with attached gold coins,
and their own yellow chiffon veil. They took their place next to me and did the
choreography with us, flawlessly, completely, without hesitation. A gold medal
standard for sure.
They thought it hilarious that their school teacher couldn’t keep up.
Sometimes they held up scorecards to rate each of my students. No one ever
scored more than 4/10.
Fifteen years later, they still remember the dance, without practicing,
whereas I have forgotten most of it. They play the music and giggle at me when
I try to replicate the old steps, and can’t. But they no longer jump up to show
me. They’re not children anymore, so dancing has mostly gone by the
wayside. It's more amusing to play Mum’s music and let her start dancing, then
turn the music off and send her from the room. That’s funny. That’s power. It’s
a game we play, and I act outraged, and pretend to beg.
We now live four streets away from Fankhauser Drive, just up the road
from Vermont South Special School. We moved back to the neighborhood
eleven years ago, just as David was finishing high school, and no longer needed
to access the special school buses that serviced both Vermont South, and
Heatherwood Special High.
David takes a lot of local walks. Susie and David never walk down
Fankhauser Drive. The old house has been demolished and new grey, sharp-
angled house has taken its place. The low roof, dark grey rendering, and the
careful arrangement of the property’s basalt rocks indicate another Asian
family. I hope they feng shui’d the hell out of the house, and got all our grief
ghosts out. We left an emotional stain on the land there. All the crying, the
puzzlement over David, Susan’s teenage angst, my own failed relationships and
money fears. The night I sat on the back doorstep and thought about cutting my
wrists with a kitchen knife so blunt that, to quote my mother, I could have
‘ridden to London on it’.
I walked down the street again yesterday. I looked at number 18. I
remember chasing Susan up the street with a rolling pin when I realized she’d
been stealing from my purse. I remember the afternoon we tie-dyed every shirt
and pillowslip we owned and I had to make extra clotheslines in the front yard
to hang all the washing.
But I don’t remember a single thing about walking David home from
school. There are yellow flowers everywhere. Surely we would have stopped to
look at something. David loved picking flowers.
It’s funny what trauma can do. Let me sit at my computer to deliberately
write a piece of my memoir about them, and my mind says: “You have no child,
you have no past. Nothing has happened to you until this very moment. You can
access nothing.” I have to come at memories slantways. I am the queen of Post-
It Notes. I have pads of them in every room, in my handbag, in the car, in every
coat and jacket pocket. I bought twelve keyring pens off eBay. I have a clear
deodorant stick in the shower in case I want to make a note on the screen door.
When I’m walking the dog (that David doesn’t like because it is small, yappy,
and unpredictable, and they’d much rather Rexy be a dinosaur), gardening,
bathing, or shopping, ) the memories come. I’m a well-known storyteller if
there are no stakes beyond ‘oh hey, I can speak to that conversation topic’.
Let me try to deliberately remember, and my mind says no. The past is
hard. There were a lot of tough years. I walk down Fankhauser Drive, and
perhaps my mind says: no, you didn’t want to be dealing with autism, you
didn’t want to have to take David to a special school, so let’s just erase that.
Maybe my body says: you were so tense all the time that no breeze, color, or
scent could get through your armor. You just got on with it, and marched
home, mostly staring at the footpath, or eagle-eyeing David to make sure they
didn’t run across roads without you.
Maybe my head was always in the future, worried about dinner, money,
or what day it was, and therefore which community house I was teaching in that
It’s a nice, quiet enough street. I once lay down in the middle of it in the
hope that a car would run over me, I’d die, and that would be an end of bearing
up under impossible weights.
I walk to the other end of the street. Around the corner used to be a
dilapidated dance studio that advertised hip hop and krumping. I once made
inquiries to teach belly dance there. These days, the land hosts a brand new set
of apartments, ready for letting. No one is buying during a pandemic.
David and I know our neighborhood well. Eighteen months of rolling
lockdowns and a restriction of being no more than five kilometers from home
have meant walking as exercise, as sightseeing, as a desperate ploy to get out of
the house. We just never seem to go down Fankhauser Drive. Too many
memories, or none at all?
It’s Spring, and the blossoms and buds are out. There’s yellow in every
yard. That should be enough for both of us. It’s certainly enough for David. But
I’m looking for deeper shades, more colors, more hues. A great deal more
texture. It has to be there, if I just look long enough.
Helen Patrice is an Australian writer living in Melbourne. She is the sole author of two books of poetry: A Woman of Mars (Stanza Press), and Palaeontology for Beginners (Finnlady Press), and one of four poets in collaboration in She, Too.
Helen's short work has appeared in numerous literary and genre journals in Australia and the USA, and is currently a columnist for the TravelnRavel website. She is working on a memoir called How The Light Gets In.