Friday January the 14th.
I wanted to see my house alone, nobody else just me. It was going to be a very private moment. This is the house that I personally renovated only 3 years before so it had to be that way.
The radio suggested the water was dropping fast so there were no more excuses. Since finding the escaped drawers I had accepted that the house was lost, based on the simple logic that these items had been stacked high on the back deck, at least five metres above ground level. The thoughts that were running through my mind centered on how high the water had gone on the second floor. This was the builder in me preparing for the repair phase. Silly, stupid thoughts but if it was less than 1200mm above the floorboards on the upper floor then that was a win. Why? Well a sheet of wall plaster is 1200mm wide and that would mean the ceiling and the upper half of the wall would be intact. Maybe “Polyanna” had returned after a good nights sleep but that’s the way I was thinking.
Apprehensive, hopeful, a little bit shaky, I drove back over that still angry river. The water had dropped in the surrounding streets but in doing so the nasty work of that insidious stuff was revealed. Down Oxley road past the White Lady funeral parlor, now with dry feet, and right into Leybourne.
There was that ugly house on the right, standing high on four metre stilts with dirty, multi-striped watermarks on its side at least a metre over the floorboards. The stilts did not help at all and it looked uglier than ever. Cars nose to tail and nose to nose ignoring the road rules. In a funny way it was refreshing and more human. We have too many rules. People standing in groups hands on chins or cheeks a sign of shocked individuals literally trying to hold themselves together. Others with shiny buckets and cleaning cloths as if they were washing the car on a Saturday morning, more symbolic than useful. This didn’t look too bad.
Past the Sri Lankan shop and onto my house at the junction. I drove to the top of the drive, well what I thought was the drive since the ground was covered in an ugly brown ooze. That’s the only way I could describe it, ooze. There was still a metre of water through the bottom part of the block and Pete and Anita and little Adams house, my house, Bryn’s house and Craig and Belinda’s house seemed united in this ooze. I sat in the car for a few moments trying to absorb it all, resigned to what I would see when I opened the door but not really knowing what that would be. After all I had never experienced a flood before.
And the house.
Somber, that’s the only word I can think of to describe the place, lifeless and somber. It had lost its heart and was no longer a home just a very sad lonely building. I cannot really convey my feelings with words on a page. You have to be surrounded by it, enveloped by it overwhelmed by it to really understand the deep, deep sadness of the image in front of me. And in a very strange way I was detached from it all almost as you might imagine an out of body experience might be.
I had to wade through calf high water to get to the steps and I’m sure that Billie would not have coped with the water let alone the ooze. I turned and looked over the front garden and that insidious water was like an oily mirror merging with the ooze, everything was a dirty grey-brown.
The layered watermarks on the walls of the front porch told a faltering story of stop start movement over the previous two days while in contrast, the floor was covered by a continuous layer of that ooze. Welts on the ceiling a sign of being submerged.
I sort of expected what I might see but the images that I remember were not of the space as a whole but of the details, like the sedimentary layers on the porch or the welts on the ceiling.
The key in the door that had to be forced. Why would you have to use a key to experience sadness, doesn’t that come for free?
The TV on the floor at the front door and not where it had been placed on Tuesday, stripes and blots merging on the wall, the hose of the vacuum cleaner and the computer chair fighting off the sofa. And, the clean ceiling. The water had not reached the ceiling and in a weird way my eye was drawn to the ceiling rather than the chaos that was once the lounge.
A bit further in and there was my silky oak stool on its back, legs in the air as if at some stage it was too tired to swim any more and had given up. A tea caddy next to a plastic box with no obvious signs of water inside and the ultra shiny surface of the glass coffee table in the middle, covered in a thin layer of ooze.
Before I show the next picture I want to show you an image of my kitchen taken just over three years before. I loved my kitchen, it was light and airy with a bit of class but not too uppity and it held many many happy memories of good food, good wine and great friends.
Billie would lie on the floor, always in the way, hoping that a few good bits would escape from the bench. This was a kitchen not a showroom, the heart of the house warm and inviting.
And here it is a few short years later not classy at all just a clammy white lifeless corpse.
The fridge had obviously refused to be constrained and had flipped belly and feet up with contents revealed. On its way up it had punched a hole in the ceiling.
There are those computer cables on the bench on the left, the ones that I forgot to take and the fallen wall cabinet containing my nice wine glasses fighting the fridge for floor space.
In the main bedroom the mattress had floated to the ceiling taking one blade of the fan as it did. A pristine sheet matching the pristine ceiling.
In the en suite my theory about bath plugs and bedside cabinets had clearly failed and the floor to ceiling tiles were starting to pop off the wall. So much for a wet area. A plastic box had wandered in together with a clothes basket and I’m sure the slotted grey container contains my important documents that I should have taken when I left.
Out the door and into the second bathroom trying not to slip on the floor, a casual glance I knew what to expect now and then through to the second bedroom.
The bifold doors onto the back deck were open and the bentwood chairs had obviously floated up before settling once more onto the bed while the sofa in the lounge was now blocking the door. Tide lines on cushions leaving the upper half clean and the lower half stained. It was that insidious, still water again calmly going about its destructive work not raging like the river just across the road just calmly and methodically changing lives.
The built in wardrobe was open and the same lamination’s as on the walls were on the hanging clothes. There were my 1930’s tails I had bought in the U.K some 20 years before. Blankets and hangers, shirts and carpet, chairs and bed, all layered with ooze.
My footprints left on carpets, something unexpected indoors.
Out through the open bifold doors the view matched the melancholy of the house. Still and lifeless with the water stretching to the other side of the park. A freezer sitting on top of Bryns hot tub shelter and what looked like a mattress floating up against the hedge. Once bright green and yellow and exhuberent it was now a dirty grey-brown with its top struggling to breath. Everything that had gone under was that dirty grey-brown.
Next door in Anita and Peter and little Adams house the swimming pool had disappeared and the dirty grey-brown surrounded you even at this height. It’s hard to comprehend that the water at its peak went over the gutter in this image that’s five to six metres above the ground. People in boats and canoes pushing and paddling around my rooftop. I’m glad I cleaned the gutters the week before.
And the back deck. The place I loved to sit on a hot summer evening after work with a beer and Billie by my side. The place where friends came to dinner. The place only finished eighteen months before. The place and space that defines life in Queensland.
What had been a pile of clothes and furniture hastily moved that Tuesday had mostly vanished. The piece that had held the drawers found floating on the waters edge on Richardson street the day before had gone. The wardrobe and sideboard had simply vanished together with the fridge. Fridges float really well it appears. Clothes and shoes and what was once a big heap of everything was now reduced to a few scattered jumbled items. The Weber still tethered to its bottle, upended. The wicker chairs still there reluctant to leave their space..
The heavy wooden outdoor table had floated off the deck and was now wedged at the bottom of the stairs and what appeared to be a fitted bottom bedsheet was draped across the top stair.
At first I could not figure out what the next image was but now its easy to see. It’s a toy elephant that must have been fetched from downstairs and left to its fate. Seemingly frozen in time with twisted limbs twisted trunk and no eyes to look back at you.
And finally the red shoe.
In the ugliness of the moment and the space sat this exquisite symbol of defiance and beauty. Proud and upright, vibrant and crimson. It took my breath away.
At its side lay its lifeless pair covered with the grey-brown ooze.
That was my house, not a home anymore just a lifeless melancholic space with a single burning image. The only image I will ever need to trigger deep hidden disturbing memories now fading.
When I look back at the time stamps on these images I was staggered to see that I had only spent a period of just twenty one minutes and twenty nine seconds in the house. I just wanted to leave – to slough off the dead skin that the house now was.
Out in the street there were more cars and more people all experiencing the same feelings sights and smells. There was Anita and Peter and little Adams house, my house, Bryns house and Belinda and Craigs house standing together abandoned, waiting.
That was Friday the 14th of January.