I started a game on weekend afternoons with my brother:
Let’s play detectives. You spy on mum and I’ll hide in the garden and watch dad.
Dad would be where I expected him to be like an old fruit tree,
silent except for the sound of watering. The air smelled of basil,
jasmine and the opening of a story. Each of his flowers flourished.
Soon, he’d move to the undercover garden and I’d sit on the ledge
that encircled it. He’d say with certainty, You’re a special breed, Eleanor,
sticking to the name he chose for me at birth. He would then mimic
one of our neighbours: Georgina yelling at her husband to get inside
or Little David who’d stand at our gate hollering my brother’s name
until he emerged. His accent curled around his words like a hand hold.
She never listens, he’d sometimes say. I would ask why he married her.
I’d ask her the same. He’d talk of his six-year-old self, Little Paolo
who’d get into trouble for questioning the Sunday school teacher.
How the first years of his life were running from one air raid shelter to another.
How he’d save all his coins to sneak off to the cinema to see Bogart
and Bergman. And how the priests ran the village, how you could not
say a word against them; how he swiftly left the island to join the Navy.
Then one time, motioning to the house: You know, she never asked why
I am the way I am, his eyes narrowing to the nearest expression to hurt
he’d allow himself. Beneath his words and the watering, black crickets
began their chorus. He had interrupted the quiet so slightly yet surely,
he was almost at one with it. Our notes from the detective game
were brief. A mention of mum humming an indecipherable tune
over the kitchen sink and dad giving his petunias, daffodils
and geraniums all the tenderness he was afraid to give to her.