Rottnest lived up to its name. The house appeared to have tried emulating a grand manor but had covered itself in an explosion of rampant vegetation. Seemingly out of embarrassment at its overall lack of style. It boasted ornate chimneys, some of which appeared to be in a state of semi-collapse, half-empty sacks of grain slouching at precarious angles, and innumerable windows, small and large, giving it a rather schizophrenic appearance. There was an inconsistency of forms that made it quite impossible for the untrained eye to fathom which century it had been constructed, and Peter Dawes would have sworn it was a recent folly of some altogether fantastical imagination - had it not been for the ornaments eroded shapeless like soap too long in water, and tangles of ages dead wisteria that appeared to be all that held the crumbling dwelling together. But it wasn't an unpleasant combination. The facade was the palest honey blonde in the early evening autumnal sunlight.
The pathway though, what a nightmare. Nettles, thistles, that bloody hogweed stuff, and huge too. He was going to end up covered in scratches and stings. “Thank God for denim jeans.” He had given up dragging his small case on wheels and now lugged it in both arms. He was hot and sweaty and desperate for a drink. The lower portion of his trousers was damp and chaffed against his shins; it must have rained earlier as the route had been punctuated with moisture – the walk across moorland had consisted of soggy patches of bog or marsh, he didn’t know which. But it was, he assured himself, going to be worth it. Closer to, the house looked as though someone had begun weeding, but become bored and wandered off.
“Someone doesn’t enjoy gardening.”
Struggling the rest of the way; the whole journey had been damned laborious, he put his valise down. His fingers went to the left pocket of his M&S peacoat and pulled out a cassette tape. The case was scuffed and cracked, the word ‘Karsten 115’ scrawled in fat, black lettering on the inside card. He’d had to buy a cassette player to listen to the damn thing - who listened to tapes these days? He hadn’t been aware that they still made them. But he’d heard nothing like it before in his life, it was glorious. If he failed, then that was the end of his unremarkable career. He kissed the cassette, “C’mon you beauty,’ and shoved it back in his pocket.
The front door flew open and a young man - looked to be in his early twenties, bounded down the steps.
"Hoy. Grab that shovel. C'mon, don't dawdle."
But the fellow was off around the corner already. Peter picked up the mentioned shovel. He grabbed his overnight case but abandoned it again as the vegetation grew thick. Stooping between overhanging branches and rampant ferns poking from the brickwork; a kind of tunnel made by an animal, he emerged at the back of the house. Not as weedy here, but wild nonetheless, the plant life had encroached quite some way, and the trees loomed. Hadn’t he read somewhere that oak can live for hundreds of years? The first thing that caught his eye was the many mounds of piled earth.
“Here,” instructed the young man, who began digging furiously. “C’mon, put your back into it.”
Dawes's requests for a cuppa were ignored, and so removed his jacket and joined in the dig.
What on earth was he doing? What would Antonia think if she could see him now? Antonia. He wondered what she was doing right at this moment. Not that she’d be giving him a second’s thought, of that he was quite sure.
Antonia Brierly, she of long hair, longer limbs, and sweet smile. She who had stolen his heart. Then bloody well stole his one chance at making it big in the industry. He still pined over the lost opportunity. He could be the one working for Mojo. He could be having after-party drinks with Gerard Way, Adele, Radiohead, or Simon Cowell. Actually, you could cross that last one off the list, he’d never been a fan of Cowell’s gargantuan influence on an industry perpetuating mediocre pop music for mass consumption. Opportunities like that didn’t come along every year and one needed to strike whilst the proverbial iron was hot. Peter never was much of a striker, always on the verge of something, always tantalisingly close. Last night he had looked up Antonia’s profile on social media. She’d aged well, better than he had. If only, Peter thought as he shovelled dirt for some reason unknown to him, he hadn’t been so naïve. If only he had run with the story as soon as it had been suggested. He’d spent his whole life lunging for the story, only to find it out of reach. Or some bastard came along and whipped it from under him.
“Life’s just one big fucking carpet being pulled out from under you. Repeatedly.”
Realising he’d said it out loud, he looked up at the youth, who hadn’t heard, or was being polite and letting him wallow.
“Right,” his excavation companion straightened, rubbing a forearm across his brow, smearing dirt through a flop of tangled hair. “In you get.”
“I beg your pardon?” Peter stared at the hole, now about three feet wide and three deep, then at the young man.
“I need to see how much further we need to dig. Climb in.”
“You climb in. This is a Paul Smith shirt I’ll have you know.”
The young man looked at him blankly. A female voice broke the impasse.
“Hoy, Magni! What are you doing with him out here?”
Oh, thank God, thought Peter and dropped the shovel. His hands were sore. He regarded the pink palms. Writing, that’s what they do, not physical labour.
“Hey,” the young woman advanced with her hand extended. She walked like one of those jolly, but strident women in a Wodehouse novel. Long hair flapping behind. “Namaste. This way. I expect you want to wash your hands first.”
She made her way back the way she came. The one named Magni didn’t object, just scowled. Peter’s pleasantries were deflected by a flow of words containing jargon like heavy, downer, and far out, he only half caught what she was saying but was too polite to ask her to repeat herself. Besides, he reasoned, I need to keep on the good side of prospective clients. She kept up a constant stream of babble about the alignment of stars, or some such gibberish, but, he reminded himself, these artist types do have their little oddities and mannerisms that the untalented mortals accepted as though they were dealing with precocious children at a party, and everyone was obliged to smile and nod. Through a side door, along a short, tight passage of flaky paint and blackened ceilings. He was slightly out of breath by the time they stopped.
“She’s had them for about a fortnight. Not sure what they are.”
The place smelt damp and musky, and something else, but he couldn’t put his finger on what the peculiar odour was at this moment.
And she turned and left.