By Ian C. Smith
Ian C Smith's work has been widely published. He writes in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania..
Like being drawn by a soaring choir to an ancient cathedral high on the ramparts of an enchanting city I am in thrall to scungy streets replayed in my mind. I see lampposts disappear into fog in my early boyhood near London, austere images reminiscent of Whistler. My mother who is old, heading for forty, wears a headscarf, her walk always hasty. I hustle, little legs jogtrotting to keep pace. A petrol smell can trigger this memory. My father’s workman’s flat cap shades a spare thin cigarette tucked behind his ear he rolls from tobacco with a gadget; my gimcrack birthday present from Woolworth’s for him. Strident cockney humour drifts from a neighbour’s wireless. These eked days resemble happiness.
I see our house online in a street on our old estate where all the houses look alike, enjoying finding it, but not wanting to live there again. A black and white purring cat’s paws prick my thighs. We have just enough food, nothing wasted, but few books. In our back lane the little girl next door and I show each other our genitals, outraging my mother who catches us. Walking down the main road approaching the gasworks where she told him to take me for creosote to protect the chicken coop my lungs fill with tar fumes. Oh, that heady cold air! From dark sheds wide-belted men, all vanished now, call out my father’s nickname, Smudge, the same as mine.
A street meeting the terminus of a city railway line in Australia, my past rushing at me: the station’s platform ramp emptying into a bus stop and taxi-rank, is where I, a recent immigrant schoolboy, earn change on weekends toting travellers’ heavy suitcases, a porter without a trolley. This is where scenes about the world’s end would later be shot. These are not days of heaven at home. My struggling mother, homeland abandoned, my father a disappointment, thought our location appropriate for a dystopian tale. Between train arrivals, fantasising about being invisible, I smoke cigarettes I roll without a gadget, plotting my escape to all the glittering cities, to a swaggering long life.
After many streets in interesting places throughout this world I find the smell of bitumen after rain, lights in small windows, evoke those first streets I feel remote stirrings towards: the ways, avenues, and closes of childhood. There in the scullery is my mother home again from shopping in drizzling rain, sipping brewed tea she prepared even before removing her winter coat, where, gasping, she soaks her chilblains in a chipped bowl. Her swollen feet. Outside, a drift of leaves I love to kick through piles against our fence. Next door, our kind neighbour, midwife at my birth in our front room, cares for her disabled adult daughter. In a puddle’s reflection I practise faces, the future mysterious. Recall includes rationing, and, yes, glimpses of sun through that constant drizzle. A kind of beauty. Yes.