We are not sure what they are doing to the block at the end of our street. Or, we are sure of what they are doing to the block at the end of our street, but we are pretending not to be, to allow the possibility, which is really a hope, that we could be wrong.
And it is not really our street, we are staying with our friend, whose street it is not really, because this man could never own a street. Also, he is not really my friend, he is his, but he is fast becoming also mine – though it is not ownership in the same way a man can own a street.
They are taking out the old, so when we walk past we can see clear through the windows to the sky on the other side. They are filling it with new, so when, in future, we walk past, we’ll see richer people than us living better lives than ours. Their cupboards and showers will be silent and stylish and their floors will be wooden. This is pattern recognition not prophecy.
It is not clear, though we suspect, and suspect we suspect rightly – which is to say we are somewhere beyond inklings and hunches but not quite at knowledge or proof – that the short flat pediments hovering beneath the long narrow windows aligned neatly on each floor, are not as we hope, but do not admit we hope, shadings for the spaces below, little hoods for the windows underneath; but rather the bases of balconies which will be built upwards. It is precisely this space, above what we hope are the hooded shadings, through which a sliver of sea is visible. It is this space which will soon, we suspect, be filled with new balconies, meaning the sliver of sea visible from where I am sitting writing this, will be blocked in and the sea will be blocked out. We will see instead the scissoring of tanned legs and the flares of designer beach towels being snapped over the balconies. Our hearts start to feel metallic in preparation. They think of the word ‘wrought’.*
From where I am sitting writing this I can see a temptingly sketchable network of lines. Closest are the feint grey horizontals of my notebook stretching to the edges of the page, which rests on a fake bamboo mat comprised of narrow yellow sticks in an approximation of naturalness bound together by thread. The mat is a little too big to sit within the confines of the black, glass-topped table so writing on it is uncomfortable and almost impossible unless I tuck one of the mat’s long sides against the edge of the table and leave the other side sticking out and over, and tuck my notebook on top, using it to hold the mat in place. Removing the mat and simply using the table top to write on is not an option since the table top is filthy and cleaning is not today’s task. I tuck my notebook on top and continue.
Lifting my eyes I see the grey wooden slatted horizontals of the base of the chair opposite which has vertical slats of the same kind for its back. It is a new chair and it was a bargain. I am sitting on one just like it. Two for €10. Unheard of. The grey grew on us and now looks bluer on account of the blue sky all around it, and on account of a general bittersweet optimism brought on by peach skin and equivocal yearning. The chair opposite touches the vertical black metal railings** of the balcony.
Behind this begins an exciting web of diagonals that comprise the washing line, echoing exactly the telephone wires slicing neatly through the suburban sky we will admire upon returning home, and that I have admired before in a room full of people refreshed by psilocybin. Our clothes hang with vertical surity from the equally vertical clothes pegs. Every time we hang our clothes we clutch them with extra consciousness and vigour, not looking down, not imagining their spectacular and irritating flight to the ground floor should we drop them, should they slip from our hands, greasy from good snacks, drunken and distracted by the fact of the little sliver of sea we do not want to take our eyes off.
The neighbouring balcony has a sheet metal roof supported by black metal L shapes whose verticals and horizontals are interrupted by a wild spray of flowering and not flowering plants, nobly reaching beyond their confines and out into the world. A little spark of envy ignites in me, they are capable of some motion I cannot access. One plant is heavy with drooping pale green phallic heads, another is replete with flowers of bright red, their papery petals swaying but unbending in the occasional breeze. What did the neighbour think when she was purchasing these plants? Was she drawn to them because of their sexual parts? Or did she plant them from seeds only to find them pornographic on her balcony years later? It is nothing new to think of sex when you look at flowers of a certain type.*** You can make a whole career of it.
On the other side of the street a regular facade of balconies and windows, flowered, not flowered, peopled, unpeopled, with or without laundry, plants, surfboards, tourists, chairs. It is between this building and ours that the sliver of glittering blue sea is visible. Everything depends upon the sliver of glittering blue sea. Its edge, the horizon, comes up just above the top of potential balconies. If they build balconies here, which we suspect they will, or are, the sliver, or the visibility of the sliver, will be compromised. The palm frond before it takes up quite a lot of space. Perhaps, we fantasise, we could talk to the city about cutting it back? We could say, don’t you see, everything depends upon the thin sliver of glittering blue sea. Probably they would laugh at us, and we would laugh at us, and our dictionaries would fail us, or us them. We would also laugh at ourselves for our depending so upon this sliver of glittering blue sea.
The balconies won’t be up before I go. But they will be by the time I return.
It is not of note that there will be another place where the sea is not visible from.
* produced or shaped by beating with a hammer. The origin of the word is Middle English, 1200-50, wroght, a metathetic variant of worht, the past participle of worchen: to work.
** At a party, J, lucid with amphetamines, told us how, upon the loss of her husband, Queen Victoria ordered all the railings in London to be painted black as an expression of her grand and expensive mourning. Whether this is rumour or fact, the image is powerful enough to imbue the city in a centuries long state of shared nebulous sorrow, unnecessary seriousness and continued resentment of the monarchy.
*** The first time my first boyfriend visited my mother’s house he brought with him a pretty little pot plant, flowering in a brain-like network of velvety dark pink wriggles, folds and enclosures.
Read Mira Mattar’s story, “Homemaker,” published here in July 2012.