There’s an old yellow bach at Hudson’s beach with a rusty green roof and blue window frames. Aloe vera, flax, and pink flowers grow under the deck. There are feijoas, mandarins, and lemons growing in the backyard and two Norfolk pines tower over the roof. A bookcase is full of picture books like Peter Pan and Robert the Rose Horse. Guess Who, Monopoly, and five decks of cards sit in a pile. Splotches of blue paint stain the golden carpet, names in pencil mark the wooden door frame by the kitchen and mismatched crockery fills the kitchen cupboards.
If you look past the rusty roof and chipping paint, you might see fairies dancing under flower beds, and treasure glistening in the sand.
You might see a girl with knotty, blond hair and missing front teeth, singing in the shade of the Norfolk pines. You could let her make you lemonade with oranges and grapefruit. Then she’d teach you how to ride down the hill on a rusty bike without fear, carry towels down the hill just as high tide says goodbye, and to swim in that tide like a mermaid.
She’d teach you to smile in your muddy t-shirt, faded blue shorts and matted hair, tangled with leaves. How to crash her brother’s four-wheeler into the side of the bach, to camp in the backyard telling ghost stories with cousins, and climb to the top of Crab Rock, without wondering how to get down.
She’d take you by the hand and teach you to swim in the middle of winter without feeling the cold. How to catch fish and hold them up by their wet, slimy lips; how to jump off rocks without looking down. She’d show you how to find crabs under rocks at low tide, and climb the tree in her neighbour’s backyard; how to toast marshmallows on the bonfire, draw pictures with sparklers and play spotlight late into the night.
As summer passes her hair would grow longer, her skirts would get shorter and her two front teeth would appear. She’d teach you to cry over boys who don’t love you, and to speak with a voice so soft it floats away with the waves. She’d teach you to swim again, only this time, conscious of your body in your bikini; how to apply black mascara, and straighten your wild, curly hair. She’d teach you to roll your eyes at your mother, waste hours at the beach scrolling through your phone, and to gaze in the mirror, noticing every imperfection. She’d teach you to lie to yourself, to sneak gin from your parents’ liquor cabinet and to complain that the bach is too far away from the city’s bright lights.
Today, the pale yellow bach doesn’t feel magical. Maybe everything looks magical when seen through a child’s eyes. Or maybe love mutes our senses, making us blind to the cracks on the walls and the sand in the sheets, and deaf to the airplanes which fly overhead in the night.
The new owners have taken the garden out, pulled off the railing around the deck, and painted the window frames white. Other than that, it’s still the same sixties bach with a rusty green roof and a light blue door.
The bach made time stand still, but my childhood years have passed and I’m not the same girl I was then. All of that time washed away the second the new owners held the keys. And with it, the girl who found fairies in flower beds, believed her legs were a tail and ran around with twigs in her hair, she washed away too. I’m no longer the girl that ran barefoot on the prickly grass, saw pictures in clouds, and wrote songs in the shade of the Norfolk pines.
But if you look hard enough, you can still find traces of her. She’s hiding in the hole in the side of the bach. Her name still marks the wooden door frame, and the back of a crumpled Monopoly dollar. You might even find her hiding in my eyes, when I make a sarcastic remark, or see her hanging from a curl in my hair.
I miss this place, it’s true. And I miss that little girl I left behind.
This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are: