the peppercorn trees
ice weed. thick green frost-crusted starfish on the pad of moss against the grey, ochre-lichened wall, and douggie trelorne said any cow would eat that, scoop it up like a steam shovel, go squelch, crunch, slurp with the cold juices sluicing out through the splitting membranes and the busting ice blisters and jetting hard against the roof of his mouth if he were the cow, and running down the sides of my chin, green and trickly all over my big, purple twisting tongue if i were the cow, and he looked at me with benevolent, brown cow eyes, did douggie trelorne; but it was only his ghost.
the flesh and blood of douggie trelorne was nearly a man, but his brother adrian was in my class at school and looked like him, only smaller. both were thickset and pinkish with fairy faces with deep folds in the flesh of their foreheads, curving downwards from where their feelers would be down to between their long, slanting eyes, their little piggsie snouts moist and pink, and their rosy little mouths all puckered up for kisses. in his flesh and blood douggie trelorne only once spoke to my mother while i was there, and he said nothing to me. he was going to be a solid slab of a man, my mother said. my biggest brother gerald knew him pretty well at high school. adrian could do the barn dance, and the military two-step and the military three with the grown-ups, steering big, middle-aged women round the floor like a man. but then, a lot of the moonah boys could.
ice weed. jady-aqua, like a lakeland coloured pencil colour, and as big as your face, with little chunks of clear, pure ice, like tears on cheeks, blisters of clear fluid under the waxy membranes. what a find! what a treasure!
but it’s the pepper trees that win me, great cascades of spicy green heavily tasselled with bunches of pink beads, and i can spend long hours underneath them without anyone calling me home. i’m trusted.
there is one very old one in our yard, but it doesn’t reach the ground. the ones outside along the side wall are like willow trees, with their dark ferny fronds cascading like a fountain all the way to the ground. their fallen berries make a pale, pinkish-grey pebbly river of the footpath there that no one ever uses but us.
i look out through a curtain of beads the colour of . . . oh, colours you don’t find in any pencil box, not in the subtle dreams of lakeland, not in the voluptuous blood-colours of staedtler, not even in the zany élan of the double-ended norris. nor was it ever in any paint box. only plastic is ever as perfectly pink and translucent as the beads of a pepper tree, or cellophane.
the long, voluptuous bunches mingle in her cascades of green tresses like the threaded beads in the head dress of the . . . oh, look! shaman! who suddenly stands, nearly naked, a nearly visible film in the air, red-skinned, but no, green -of the tree’s own deep and subtle shade-green luminosity. he has a broad stripe the colour of vegemite over his nose and cheeks. he is the curved pink film of the bead itself, suspended elegantly in the air like the long twist of the shine a leaf, like an accidental shine without its leaf. like the tiny pink, broken eggshell berry skin on my fingertip. perhaps he sees me briefly, though i can’t let my self see him yet.
the peppercorns, though, when the pink shell is broken, are sticky and thoroughly unpleasant within. they make me feel cross, just to smell their fruity, sticky old-sauce-sticking-in-the-bottle-neck smell come streaking through the pure, clean, white sheen of the odour of the leaves, which caught up your heart in its clear, cool hands, and caught up your eyeballs as if they were two little hearts, and held them like a naturalist would, as if they, our hearts and eyeballs, and our little dormant wombs, were frogs between their respectful, scientific hands; and they made me a bit wild with remembering something so heart-touching, so eye-holding, so womb- and foetus-cherishing, that lived more deep than heartwood under the high, soul-thrilling artistry of its fawn and silver slivered and scruffily scrolled bark.
no, they’re not food; they’re not peppercorns. you can’t eat them, but you can wear them in your hair, braid them into your plaits.
oh, yes, at the time i believed i could have lived there in the green, ferny palaces among their worshipping branches in the perfectly swept rooms within its swaying walls with their pink beaded curtains between me and the world, or resting upon the soft, deep, eye-soothing black and russet carpet of the leaf litter further in. i was always so contented under those trees.
and sometimes, when i reminisce, and i feel again the sudden cool slap of a frond against my bare arm, catch the sharp, rasping odour of the berries and leaves in my throat, feel the warm press of fallen fronds under my hands and knees, i truly believe that i never really left, it will always exist there, and i will always find contentment in those luminous green rooms under the pepper trees.
(this is excerpted from a longer work)