The Path to Paradise

On the corner of the block, at the meeting of two streets, at the end of the lane lived Veronica and Dorothy. Non and Dor, as they were known to everyone in the neighbourhood, were two delightful older women who shared a home. They’d been friends for most of their lives, and when Non’s husband died, Dor moved into her house for company.

Every week, three times a week, I would trudge home from school, collect a Tupperware container of curry, or Indian sweets, or whatever other delight my mother had made, and wander over to Non and Dor’s for afternoon tea. Off I’d set through the gap in the fence – less a gate than the space where the fence took a breath, held it for double the width of my father’s Holden Kingswood, then exhaled to continue its journey around our yard.

Stomp to the left, dust lifting in puffs, past Old Harry’s back yard where I’d hear him shuffling around in his perennial attire of pyjamas, housecoat, and slippers, a Trilby perched on the top of his head. Regardless of weather or time of day, Harry would always be dressed the same. When we’d first moved into the neighbourhood, Harry had shuffled over to the concrete steps at our back door, knocked on the door and invited himself in for tea, biscuits, and a good long chinwag. He made the same pilgrimage every week for the rest of his life.

Then a sharp left turn where Harry’s fence met his neighbour’s, where the laneway forked into two. The path to Non and Dor’s house looped between our house on the left and Girl Gallagher’s on the right.

Margaret ‘Girl’ Gallagher had lived in that house since she was a baby – Harry told us so. She was a woman in her 50s, but Harry, who’d known her all her life, only every referred to her as ‘Girl’ Gallagher. Girl lived on her own, though her children would visit regularly with their children in tow.

When my eldest brother brought home a stray cat, a scrawny unpleasant creature, my sister’s fat sleek beautiful tuxedoed cat, offended by the skinny interloper, moved in with Girl. I would regularly scramble up the broad trunk of the giant Japanese pepper tree in the bottom corner of our backyard, then shimmy along a sturdy bough, to catch a glimpse of my sister’s cat sunbathing under the rotary clothesline in Girl’s back yard. The cat would deign to look up at me once in a while, twitch her whiskers, and then return to her intense grooming while furiously ignoring me.

Further along the lane, next door to us on the left, opposite Girl Gallagher’s back porch, lived the three brothers; Max, Ian and Rod. From my perch in the Japanese pepper, I’d watch them play backyard cricket. As I walked past, I’d peek into their garage. If Max had just arrived home on his motorbike, he’d always wave me over, prop me on the pillion and ask me about school. Ian would wave and smile, but rarely talked to me, and Rod was too cool to consort with small children.

Right next door to the brothers, was Non and Dor’s place. A well-oiled metal gate opened soundlessly to their cottage garden; an unruly crowd of delicate flowering plants on the right of the lawn, facing off against the regimented rows of vegetables on the left.

Sturdy, practical, wearing a floral dress and Wellington boots, Dor harvested silverbeet for me to take home. And framed in the doorway, a frilly apron around her waist, smelling of lavender and just-baked chocolate chip biscuits, was Non, a plate of biscuits in one hand and a glass of milk in the other.

 


This was written as a response to a challenge to “give directions for walking the road based on other events” by YeahWrite editor, Rowan Beckett Grigsby. Click the badge to read other entries for YeahWrite’s NonFiction grid #363. Don’t forget to comment and vote while you’re there!

10 thoughts on “The Path to Paradise

  1. I loved meeting all these great characters along the way. You really made them come alive.

    But man, why are there SO MANY posts that highlight food this week? This is going to wreck my willpower to stay on the diet! LOL

  2. I loved getting to know these neighbors but it made me wish I’d had more interesting ones growing up. Your writing made me feel as if I were right there with you!

  3. There’s a rhythm to this essay that is both soothing and compelling. The whole time I was reading I thought about how much I would love to hear you read this out loud. Gorgeous work, my friend. GORGEOUS.

  4. Your opening line read like a fairytale, and it gave the rest of the piece a dreamy quality. I loved that because it’s the kind of street I read about in books or see in movies and didn’t think existed.

  5. Thanks, y’all! I was lucky to grow up around some really incredible people, all of whom had such vivid personalities. There’s no doubt that they populate my writing now.

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