By Yvette Roelofse
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There used to be nothing here but sea and salt and sand; the cries of seagulls, the rush of wind, the curl of cold water around my toes. Now there is a marina, houses, holiday rentals. The beauty and innocence of my youth has been traded for currency and commerce, and I am angry and sad and not a little vindictive.
A pristine coastal-resort style house now stands where Uncle Herbert’s old blue, wooden house once rested. It has just the right Mediterranean feel to bring in the money, but nothing to bring in the love. The swath of grape vines in the back are gone; replaced by more perfect and less practical horticulture. The tangled vegetable garden, once barely restrained by a vine-ensnared fence, is now some kind of hybrid-never-die lawn. The stone-dotted dirt track that led straight to the front door has evolved into a serpentine curve of expensive paving. It looks so beautiful and stately; the house calm and serene as it overlooks the lagoon -- an elegant lady sitting on her too expensive blanket on the shore. Everyone points and smiles and dreams of living there; and I….
I hate it. I want to tear it down brick by brick, and let the wild vines take it over. I want the old wooden outhouse with its spiders and newspaper and the hidden bucket I didn’t dare to think about. I want the wild strawberries that overtook the pumpkins and squash and beans, and that we ate whether they were ripe or not. I want the yeasty smell of hot homemade bread that mingled with the salty breeze from the lagoon. I want to dig for shrimp and run from crabs, and slip and slide across the sea grass at low tide. I want to see Uncle Herbert sitting on that old wooden bench, smoking his pipe, his eyes laughing; his dog dozing at his feet. I want to take the picture from my wallet and my heart, and hold it up against this new skyline until it spreads from the tattered paper and becomes reality again.
But I can’t have what I want. I can’t bring this fading photograph to life any more than I can run again along the banks; pig-tails flying, childish heart in love with life. I have become this house: this carefully created image of perfection, modeled to draw just the right amount of admiration, designed according to the plans of those who know me no better than I know myself. I hate this house because it doesn’t match my memory; because it shows me all that I have lost; because it brings before me all that I have become. And yet…
There is the creek. It washes in from the lagoon and settles just outside the new borders of this house. Once a part of the old place, it is fenced outside now; too undignified for such a resplendent residence. I remember the little creek and the creaking jetty; the small rowboat that leaked one summer night and drove us back to shore before we caught a single fish. If I walk past the fence, I can still reach that creek; can still see where it once split and sent a part of itself curving back into a little pond. The pond is filled with costly compost now, covered with exotic plants; the little inlet kept firmly off the land by a metal sluice gate. And I wonder: What would happen if I open that gate…if I let that water seep back into this barren fertile ground? Would it change it as it touched it; would it bring back the life and soul of this beautiful spiritless house? Would it restore the simplicity and innocence that now dwells only in my memory?
A child’s laugh skitters across the surface of the lagoon; small waves wash against the sluice; a salty breeze breathes air into my empty lungs. For a moment, time does not exist; memory and moment are one; longing and reality meet. Silently I stand before this creek as another woman once stood before a well, wondering if there really is such a thing as living water, and if it can truly change me.
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