Brisbane in the summertime is not a good place to have a hangover. As you inhale the hot air your lungs sweat. We had been to the cricket the day before and I had drunk more XXXX Gold than any self-respecting non-Queenslander should. I was paying for it. If it weren’t for the errands that had to be run, I would have still been in bed, not that rolling around in self-pity would do me any good anyway. Plus, we had a new bed to build.
The man with the timber’s father had died years ago, leaving him the house and a pile of scrap too large to comprehend. ‘He was a bit of a collector… watch out for the snake,’ said the man. He was soft spoken and frail. His eyes were sunk but his voice rather cheerful and lilting. He wore the short-shorts of a plumber. We talked cricket and heat while lugging lengths of pine into the back of the van. We never saw the snake.
The timber was a dollar a length. We spent thirty. The only solace for the heat was that the English batsmen were faring worse than we were.
The first jobsite I worked in Brisbane was a perennially-almost-finished block of apartments. My dad and I played with hardwood next to pools on good days. Unfortunately, most of our time was spent fitting out the halls and rooms with skirting; the ‘splat, splat’ of compressed air shoving steel through timber, glue and wall ringing in our ears.
From the Eastern facing apartments, you could see the city clearly, and imagine where the river ran. When it rained the view would disappear, the window becoming a slate of water. I liked those days, it drowned out the bullshit of the workers, the babble of commercial radio. Even the echoed grunting of men carrying unsafely heavy cabinets up the concrete staircases was muted.
My days there always ended with a bike ride home over the clunking boardwalk above the mangroves, the river breeze filtering through the holes in my helmet. It could have been worse.
The gurney spat out man made mist on another hot day, spilling and swirling on the breeze. Flecks of dull paint, blue, pink and yellow revealed old-growth. Bloodlines and memories shone red in the water.
The dog scampered in the damp grass, confused and thrilled by the activity. The air smelt like promised rain that never arrived. We drank cheap Korean lagers that my dad calls ‘beer that tastes like beer,’ which I suppose it did.
Miniature storms of saw dust spun around us. Occasionally a chunk would chip and bite a face. Our nostrils filled black with grit. The planer is not a fun tool, but it is effective. My dad leaning into the timber with smooth strokes, his sun speckled hands steady and strong is an image that holds true.
The drop saw made quick work of the pine boards. Each piece cut to length and laid out on the grass.
Another 36-degree day. I ran for the pub. My dad notched out the frame so that the headboard — a golden strip of Campha from a bed we built when I was 14 — could slip in seamlessly. The headboard had faded and moulded over the years in the garage but the soul of the wood still shone through. The frame was constructed of long maroon lengths of Merbau, a strong and eccentric timber which never fails to fulfil the roles it is asked of, not dissimilar to my dad.
The second jobsite I worked on had the same view only from a higher economic and geographic standpoint. This was the highest house on the hill. Three levels, three decks. From each level the skyline stretched further. The Brown Snake was present on all sides, wrapping and flowing its way around the landscape. Bridges crossed at intervals: a city forced to adapt.
Pine wrapped in the same Merbau that framed the bed clung to the ceiling and California Oak was ordered by the truckload for flooring. A Queenslander reborn, sort of.
Inside were an unrealistic amount of rock facades. the sweet fleshy smell of the nectarines we ate clashed with the mustiness of the grouters water. The house was at the same time beautiful and a waste; the rock walls unnecessary, to the outdoor ceiling of the lowest deck clung low-grade ply full of knots.
At lunch time we would drive down the hill to the house and drink iced coffee and eat leftover curries or stroll in the other direction for Banh Mi.
The sun settled into its last position of the day. Pink tufts of cloud melded to grey in the westerly corners. The frangipanis burst in resplendent yellow, white and pink again. Chickens cooed, the dog runs then stops, then runs again, content and crazy. Screws caught in pine, creating pockets of smoke that sometimes wisped into my nose. The cicadas were the loudest I had ever heard them in the city.
A plane flew overhead. I’d have to go back to Melbourne soon. It was time for dinner.
A few solo afternoons’ touching up the timber make the little differences. Headphones on, chipping and chiselling, screwing and unscrewing. Sanding, always sanding. The resident kookaburra cast a guard-like eye on proceedings in place of my dad, his chuckling and flapping a reminder of his presence
Another day with a wet forecast but dry air. My mission was simple: eradicate the mould. The months of labour work had done little for my strength, electric sander shaking my thin arms; my triceps flapping like leaves on the summer wind. Over time, new divots and patterns appeared in the golden headboard. Some mould stayed behind. My dad said it created character.
We drank from silver bullets of Asahi. My brother was home from Morocco. His hair had grown and knotted and his skin had turned the same dark gold of the stained Campha. Together, we worked with wood, apprentices of sorts.
My Final day in Brisbane was like most others: humid. The air had been fresh at six when we left, but by the time I returned from work a few hours later it smelt stale and wet.
The bed had been finished the day before, dutifully waiting to be shipped to Melbourne. Shimmering wet with finish, the headboard was even more vibrant than before. Swirls of black remained, they added character.
That afternoon we went to the Yayoi Kasuma exhibition and lost ourselves in the mirrors and lights that reflected forever and bathed in the state funded air conditioning. Pumpkins and never ending tornados of faces.
My flight was at eight-fifty. We had a final beer, and I was off. When I got to Melbourne it was raining.
The bed stands taller than I thought it would, towering over my small Melbourne bedroom, halfway between a top and bottom bunk. My dog here is bigger, uglier in a classical way of thinking; one-eyed and jowly, he fits underneath the frame but can’t jump up on to the mattress anymore. It’s winter here now and the bed plays a range of roles, eventually falling somewhere between a wardrobe and a sleeping place. The Campha headboard is a streak of gold on the old and creaming white, underneath the red light bulb its lines look more defined, rippling and weaving from the past.
Outside the window the wind whispers, harsh and cold. When I close my eyes and huddle under the doona, my hand holding the frame, I can hear the shuffling of chickens and smell humidity mixed with saw dust on the air.