The locals call our house The Hippy House, which strikes me as inept and inaccurate code for goings-on. For orgies and bong haze and other phenomena that some in the Wakamarina Valley clearly perceive their lives to be deficient in. They have no idea how lacking our household is in the most basic stimulants – television, Coca-Cola, instant coffee, white sugar – let alone opportunistic sex parties. Don’t they realise my father is a puritan? Pooling our isolation in the wooden house propped unsteadily on five-o’clock-shadow lawn, abstaining from mainstream entertainments, it is just the three of us, alone together again.
Then, an explosion of hooves around the bend in the valley road: The Manaroans! Come to break their journey north or south at my father’s, they arrive by collective noun: by horse-drawn hoop and canvas wagon as if directly out of a Western or Eastern European saga; by power of thumb, in ones or twos; or solitary by steed. But, however the Manaroans arrive the air is charged as it is right before an extreme weather event. A weather event inside and outside my head.
There are no photographs of Eddie Fox that I know of. I point my borrowed school camera at him once, but he shows his teeth in warning smile and says that tribal people are correct, a photograph steals your soul. I shoot him with my camera-eye instead. A few of those likenesses survive here.
Eddie Fox walks on the balls of bare high-arched feet, wearing band trousers caught with rope at the waist, a thick red stripe down the profile of each leg.
The whites of his eyes flash like an animal’s on high alert. A whinnying laugh does nothing to dispel the impression. Eddie prides himself on his vigilance, approaching his surrounds with the mystic outlook and deliberate movements of a well-disciplined paranoid.
A gallant who doesn’t like other people all that much. Welsh but black Irish in looks. Central casting for gypsy. Did I mention the limp?
Not long after Saratoga John has ghosted through, I encounter Eddie Fox in the shadowlands of the hallway. He has come to break the journey from Tahuna, a commune on the outskirts of Nelson, to Manaroa; to rest and graze the chestnut horse he rode in on this afternoon. At my father’s suggestion, Eddie Fox follows me back down the hall to build a fire in the front-room hearth.
Eddie preaches the pyramid technique, screwing each sheet of newspaper into a twist, then stacking the kindling into a meticulous tepee so that oxygen can circulate and fan the flames. I look on, interjecting with the occasional question. Eddie reciprocates. In this way, as the fire is ritually constructed so is my arrival at my father’s house and the raw acts leading up to this event. If no one has taken such an interest in my history – or my vocabulary – up until now, that’s probably because he’s earnest as an adolescent, Eddie Fox. A bit Socratic. Perhaps my account of leaving 46A touches some childhood leave-taking or other out-casting of his own. He’s just the kind who might have run away to the circus or the sea or to join the military.
As for my father, Eddie Fox gets his goat. Ah bullshit, I hear him think as the limping alpha splits a pile of kindling in competitive seconds but fails to help with the dishes or clear his drained mug from the sofa arm. The Welshman is so reliably doctrinaire that my father – physically approximate always, not given to rhetoric or showmanship – is reliably provoked. Perhaps autodidact Eddie reminds him of his didactic dad. He keeps his distaste to himself as best he can. Hippy hospitality is sacred.
For his part, Eddie Fox is not as obtuse as my father believes. Soon enough he finds an excuse to drift out into the overrun garden to check on the horse and the aromal night; mine is the apple for Lenny the Horse with which I follow.
The visual drama of the visitor goes conspicuously unheeded by father and youngest daughter. Young and un-pheromone-clouded, my sister is too haughty to be interested in such a male display bird. She glides by, eyelashes lowered, definitive chin tilted. Distant royalty on the move.
No matter. Eddie Fox and I develop a friendship of sorts: unlikely, provisional, no-strings, Q-and-A-sustained, underwritten by the amusing prospect of what the other will do or say next. By Eddie’s deliberation and my impulse. By our mutual verbal pomp and swagger.
Thanks to Eddie, to this day I can nurse a fire through the rickety stages where infant mortality is high, through blustery, smoky adolescence and into full flagrance.