The Red Bucket by Cecily Niumeitolu
Cecily Niumeitolu is a PhD candidate researching Beckett’s archives at present. She has had three excursions in Philament, her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, Eclectica, Australian Reader, and she received the Henry Lawson Prize for Prose.
The Red Bucket
Hatching, in a red bucket, all the silence.
At the front of a California bungalow the bucket sat. The bucket was plastic and red. Accounting for the lawn, the lawn is concrete, beaten from within, its decay is visible in the cracks, symptomatic of its weakening aggregates. Beaten from without, fifty years fade white to grey. This could only be aggravated by the position of the house at the bottom of a slope. There is scant irrigation, due to the concrete, due to the brick, so debris has nowhere to go but stain.
The old man built the concrete lawn when his hands were young and tough with muscle. Steel reinforcement, gravel, cement, water. What beauty in the process, a form invisible until the mixing, stirring, pouring, folding the cream, letting it set, slapping his kids over the head when they tried to jump into it, meddle about with their curious paws. He paved a paradise. In the afternoon he would sit with his wife on the front porch and they would watch their children play in his paradise, his concrete paradise. The woman, the wife, approved. She was also Greek. They became an item, the man requested this item sending letters, many letters, to relatives back in Athens, she was a distant cousin, she came by boat and he collected her at the wharf. They went to church for union.
Then the babies came, four, including the loss. The man had his back to the pram getting the boys out of the station wagon. Gravity rode the pram down the slope of road. The car had nowhere to go but forward. The woman, the wife, lost her drive. When he touched her she saw her daughter’s hands.
His boys rarely visited. He didn’t hold it against them. He had constant arthritic trouble in the back, upper, middle, lower. Pain was full-time, scant time between finding ways to position one’s behind and opening cans of dolmades to think of such lapses.
Should have had another daughter. Sons would leave you. So would a wife. It was his own cross. He woke up, and his wife had turned stone. He prodded hard, prodded her right in the middle of the back. Said her name. He loved to watch her pendulous breasts when she had her way with a broom. She made dinner every night at six so they could sit and stare into space in quiet abandon.
The mattress keeps her body’s inlay, a white cave sleeping beside him. Now it was as if he had constantly forgotten something — he would return to a room only to leave again knowing. At times he was too reckless with her. He knew that. Her heart had grown stone of him and then in time, it weakened, then out of habit a kind of garden. Perhaps, now, a paradise in his absence.
The lawn’s entrance swells with succulents, some jutting, some hanging, some snapping atop two white necks of cement cast Corinthian columns. Medusas guarding their yard of stone. The woman tended the succulents as a way to travel to Athens. Now, ten years on there are skeleton weeds that revel in the cracked lawn. The old man cannot bend to tend the concrete. He can give a hand job to her medusas. Their heads at pelvic level. He often forgets, scares him, this. As if she were a different life, husband.
Six months, and the man does not know how the red bucket got there. It was there one day, had been there. It sat on his lawn, plastic and red.
He thinks of the red bucket.
It can take the man five minutes to walk ten metres but with a third leg, a cane donned Constantin, mobility is less vulgar. He tries to think where he went wrong. They are Greek kids, he should live with them, they should visit, that is how it should be. Then his spine delivers a hit to his parietal lobe, and he is back again, back in the present. It was as if it was another life, father.
When it is still dark and the birds crook in song, so the walk begins to morning prayer three blocks south. And then he walks homeward, slow and hooked with the Greek newspaper in one hand, Constantin in the other. In the afternoon he will unfold his homeland, flipping in the Morris chair that forever sentinels the porch, overlooking the concrete lawn. The bucket sat, plastic and red.
There is less certainty, he feels.
It was a member of the Greek congregation that notified the eldest son, telling him the silence was warning. The son found his old man in a room packed as if someone was moving house, wearing a stiff grin that said no and meant yes on the far end of a lumpy double bed. He had starved himself over a period of two or so weeks, the doc said to the son it was will power to cast one’s life that way.
The bedroom remained a high pitch dart of screams, it was, to the son’s great annoyance, mozzies suckling to make room for their young. Nobody understood why the bucket was beside the bed, and the sons could not say what the significance of the red bucket was. It just sat beside the bed, plastic and red.