1958 was a good year for us.
My work was getting noticed, and Scotty and I were living in an apartment once part of a huge old house. Ground floor with a tiny garden inhabited by weeds that neither of us could bring ourselves to pull out. There were gaps in the wrought iron fence through which a parade of local cats and dogs would come and visit.
I wrote at all hours, but mostly at night or very early.
I’m not a big fan of mornings — it’s against my religion, or that’s how Scotty would phrase it.
On those occasions when I woke up early with words spilling out of me, I’d take a break and eat breakfast with Scotty before she would go off to be a nurse in search of a patient.
Her work kept us going while I found my feet. She did it with grace and charm and never a moment of recrimination.
She was a better writer than me, but I couldn’t get her to pursue it.
“I’m happy being a nurse and I’m happy being your wife.”
I was living in a future where I could carry the financial burden, and she could take it easy.
Scotty was living in the present, “We must live in this time now and have every moment of it.”
She didn’t say it exactly that way, but Mrs Hemingway’s words are close enough.
The couple living in the apartment next door were glamorous and mysterious. I made up stories about them, and Scotty would laugh and say that they were probably spies or jewel thieves.
I would say that spies and jewel thieves didn’t live in a converted mansion for six dollars a week.
We invited them for dinner one night, and they came immaculately dressed at least half an hour early.
It was cold that day, so I was working off our kitchen table, not sitting in the garden. I gathered my papers and put my typewriter on the kitchen cupboard as they wafted in.
Our kitchen/dining space was tiny, and it took a bit of inelegant dancing to move around the room with four adults in attendance.
We were young and didn’t worry about our less than wealthy existence.
Our guests were relaxed and unfazed by our chaotic kitchen.
Two large multi-paned doors gave us a view of our tiny garden with the wrought iron fence, giving the room the illusion of more space.
Our kitchen was warm because of the roast in the oven. Scotty can cook, and her roast lamb could tame the most unruly of souls.
We ate and drank and laughed, and the boys did the dishes. The girls whispered among themselves while occasionally looking at us in our aprons.
Our conversation was mostly about sports and work, but he didn’t give much away, and I didn’t push. Something about ‘acquisitions’.
He asked about my writing, and I was equally vague. But, of course, people always ask to be polite but rarely want to know more, which is okay with me.
After too much wine (the bottle they brought cost more than our dinner set), we said good night. They walked, arm in arm, the few steps to their apartment door. We stood and watched, and before they went inside, they turned and looked at us. She had her hands in her coat pockets, and he was smoking a cigarette I had not seen him light. We stood and stared at each other until his cigarette was finished.
They seemed to be silently summing us up, and I guess we were doing the same.
Scotty was in bed by the time I got there, and she cuddled into me as I put my arm around her.
“That was a good night,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said.
“It might be the wine,” I said, “but I’m wondering why they are living here, next to us. Everyone else in these appartments are either on their way up…”
“Like us,” said Scotty.
“… or on the way down,” I said.
“Spies or jewel thieves?” said Scotty.
“Worse than that — bankers,” I said.
Checks from major magazines arrived with continuing regularity, and my agent found a publisher for my book. I’d lost count of the number of rejections I’d received. Still, I guess my agent had more leverage since the string of magazine articles.
Someone pushed a card under our door. An invitation to a ‘going away’ party at the little Italian restaurant on the main road – red and white checked table cloths and tiny little lamps on each table.
We went there when our budget would allow — the food made you believe that life could be worth living.
Our stylish neighbours were moving across the country and wanted to say goodbye.
It was a small gathering, and apart from having a good time (the wine seemed much better than usual), we didn’t think much about it. Tenants came and went as their circumstances or relationship status changed. This was just another one of those times.
I’d been writing most of the morning, but now I was lying on what we laughingly called grass playing with a black and white Cocker Spaniel of indeterminate ownership when they came to our front door.
It wasn’t the first time police officers had disturbed our tranquillity— this isn’t an upmarket part of town.
Usually, it was something like, “Did you notice a removal van here over the last few days?”
“Yes. We thought the people in number five (quiet and heavy smokers) were moving out. It isn’t uncommon here. People come and go.”
“Wife seems to have moved out while he was at work and taken everything with her,” said the young policeman who probably would have prefered to be somewhere else.
“Shit,” I remember saying.
“Yeah,” said the policeman, clearing the wax from his ear with his pen.
This time there were two of them, and from my vantage point, lying in the grass staring through the fence, I didn’t recognise their uniforms.
“Sorry about that, the door sticks,” I said, and the insignia on their uniforms said ‘Federal Police’.
“And you are?” said the male officer.
“Trying my best?” I said, and the female officer smiled, despite herself.
“The couple living nextdoor,” said the male officer, ignoring my comment.
“Moved out,” I said.
“Did you know them?”
“He was good with a teatowel and she was elegant. Apart from that we just said hello. We had them in for dinner once and they invited us to their goodbye party.”
“Did they say where they were going?”
“Western Australia, I think. Maybe Fremantle, maybe Perth?”