#The Blue Isopogon
The say “every cloud has a silver lining” but when I got home and found all my bonsai thrown off the balcony, some of the pots smashed, pots my dad had bought me for birthdays and Christmases, some of the branches of my bonsai trees snapped off… well I couldn’t see any silver lining.
I packed them up into a plastic storage crate and got on the bus. I could have taken them over to Mr. Biasotto’s nursery but I knew he would have locked up for the day and gone home and anyway it’s right across town and I needed a few trips. Mr. Murray’s farm is closer though a long walk from the bus stop. I knew he wouldn’t be there, he was rarely there, and I was sure he wouldn’t mind me using his potting shed to fix up my bonsai plants.
It took me three trips back and forwards. On the last trip out I took some of my clothes and a blanket. I had had enough. I was leaving.
I had no friends and nowhere to go. I work for Mr. Biasotto and I was then apprenticed to him as a nurseryman but I wouldn’t call have called him a friend. I did’t realise how much he was. I’m studying horticulture at the local TAFE college and I’ve got a good relationship with my teachers there but it’s not like I could crash with them. I don’t even have their numbers. I don’t even have a phone.
The truth is I’m a bit of a loner. I’m diagnosed on the autism spectrum though “mild”. I spent most of my time as a kid alone wandering around the national park, identifying the trees and plants or working on my own garden at home. I can give the botanical name of any plant growing naturally in our region and rarely does an exotic stump me.
Things started to fall apart for me when I turned 18. My birthday present was a solicitor acting for my dad serving divorce papers on my mother. They’ve been separated since I was 10 and he lives a thousand kms away working as a truck driver in a mine. I only saw him once or twice a year. He always gave me bonsai pots or books as presents.
The house, including the garden I’d put years of work into, was sold. We moved in with Kevin, mum’s new boyfriend, a complete cunt, the guy who threw my bonsai off the balcony. He’d complained about them “cluttering up” the balcony but I had nowhere else to put them. The place is an apartment.
I spent the night in Mr. Murray’s potting shed. By the time I’d finished gluing my pots back together, the ones that were worth saving, and repotting and repairing my trees, it was after 10pm. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It used to be a dairy milking shed but all the equipment was sold off and Mr. Murray renovated it and converted it into a propagation shed where we could grow the plants needed for his projects for the farm. It has an office that we’ve converted into a lab for tissue culture, a toilet and a cold shower.
It was actually partly my idea though it upset Mr. Biasotto a little. When he got the contract for landscaping and nursery supplies I think he thought he would also supply all the tree seedlings Mr. Murray might need, not that they would be propagated on site. Though Mr. Murray’s ideas about what he wanted to do with the derelict dairy farm were never clear, he talked about a large scale reforestation and so anything other than onsite propagation was unrealistic. I knew that many of the plants he would need for restoration of the endemic bushland are not even commercially available. (Though it’s not a great idea to replant a large area with plants that are all genetically identical.)
So far, Mr. Murray, a man in his mid-50s, had concentrated on the renovation of the old Victorian farmhouse. He’d retained the elegance of the old sandstone house but built a large modern extension incorporating the original external kitchen, bathroom and laundry. (Most of the old Victorian era houses in our area had the kitchen and laundry as seperate buildings to the main house to reduce the fire risk.)
Mr. Biasotto’s nursery and landscaping company, including me as his apprentice, were employed building the gardens around the house and so far a few tasks on the huge abandoned farm, mainly weed control.
Mr. Murray spent most of his time in the city. The farm was his retirement project though he was only 55. He was some financial executive type. I didn’t know exactly what he did but he was obviously loaded. I got to know him when we went for a few long walks around his farm. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say about the trees and shrubs growing there, even the weeds, even my long explanation of why Callistemon and Melaleuca aren’t sufficiently different to qualify as different genera.
He took my advice about renovating and converting the milking shed into a propagation building as well as my advice that he might need a clean place to do tissue culture (a technique I’d recently learned at college), but I’m sure that didn’t give me permission to take up residence there. One night turned into two, then a week, then two. I had nowhere else to go. I wasn’t going back to live with that cunt in his cigarette smoke Erenköy escort bayan filled apartment. Mr. Biasotto wasn’t paying me enough to rent a place of my own.
It became a routine. I got up after sleeping on the hard floor wrapped in a blanket, ate a few biscuits, had a cold shower and then caught the bus either to my college or to Mr. Biasotto’s nursery. Afterwards I’d go to MacDonalds for some cheap food then go “home”, take some cuttings or collect some seeds from plants around the farm or just look after those I had growing, work on my bonsai, rinse out my clothes and go to bed. My mother asked Mr. Biasotto after me. I don’t have a phone. I told him I was staying with a friend though that would have confused her. My mother knew I didn’t have any.
Then one morning, I got out of the shower, shivering from the icy water, ran to get my towel. He was standing there.
“Mark? What are you doing here?”
I thought he would be angry but he was smiling curiously. I wrapped the towel around my waist conscious that he’d seen me naked.
“Mr. Murray… I’m… I’m sorry… I’ve just been staying here…”
“Just get dressed and come over to the house. You must be freezing out here!”
He left me to get dressed but he went over to the seedling tables and looked at what I’d done. Over the nearly three weeks I’d been living there, I’d done quite a lot of work though most of the seed trays were yet to show any sign of germination. When I was dressed, I pushed the rest of my clothes and my blanket into my plastic crate and walked to the door. He followed me out and then led me over to the house.
“How long have you been sleeping there Mark?”
“Oh, about a week… and a bit… I didn’t have…”
“Let me make you a hot chocolate and get you a decent breakfast.”
“Oh… thanks… I’m really sorry…”
I followed him over to the house. He had a nice wood fire going in the back room where he’d added a modern kitchen/dinning room to the old house.
“Tell me what’s been going on while I get some food on.”
I told him the whole story, basically what I’ve told you above. He gave me food. A hot breakfast. He ate as well. He didn’t say anything until I’d finished.
“So what happened to your bonsai?” Was his first question. It wasn’t what I expected.
“Well, they are over there behind the propagating shed. They are mostly ok. The Azaleas are the worst shape. Their branches are so brittle…”
“And what have you got on the tables over there?”
“Oh, I’ve planted seeds from Kurrajongs, Illawarra Flames and Jacarandas I collected from trees in the park in town. There are cuttings from a few shrubs like… I thought…”
“Hold on, I heard Jacarandas aren’t actually native to Australia.”
“Yes, I know but you said you like them… and… I like them too. They are kind of an adopted native tree.”
He smiled beautifully at that. Something about his smile made me feel something I couldn’t explain. It not only put me at ease. It excited me. I wanted to see him smile at me like that again.
“And what about the Kurrajongs? They don’t grow naturally around here do they?”
I was confused. He didn’t seem concerned that he’d caught me squatting on his property without his permission.
“Well as a matter of fact they do but they colonise small areas within Eucalypt forests. The amazing thing is if a bush fire comes through, all the Eucalypts get burned but the Kurrajongs seem immune to fire. The Eucalypts regenerate faster than the Kurrajong seedlings so they never spread very far from the parent trees though. Early settlers saw this and planted Kurrajongs around their houses. I thought if you want to reforest this place, Kurrajong fire breaks might be a good idea?”
I realised I was very enthusiastic about trees and that often I bored people. I usually realised that after I’d already made a fool of myself but there wasn’t much else I could talk about. It was either trees, shrubs or silence.
“I better go. I have to get to my classes. I’m really sorry. Thanks for the breakfast. I got up and went to pick up my plastic crate with my stuff in it. I will…”
“Hold on Mark. Where are you going to stay tonight?”
“Oh… I don’t know. I will have to go home to…”
“No please don’t go. At least stay tonight. I’ve got a spare room here. Then when you get back this afternoon, we can talk.”
“I… I… Are you sure? I shouldn’t impose like this…”
“Don’t be silly. Come on. I’ll show you.”
I followed him into the old part of the house, down a hall with one of those ornate plaster ceilings and then into a bedroom.
“Put your stuff here. You can sort it out later. Would you like a drive into town? I’m going in to the hardware store anyway?”
I didn’t know how to take such kindness. I guess I was used to being disregarded.
“Yes please but Mr. Murray, I hope… I really… I feel embarrassed…”
“Hey, Mark. I like you. I find you interesting. You’re kind and gentle. Escort içerenköy I want to be friends. It’s Henry ok?”
“Thanks Henry… really… thanks.”
He gave me that smile again. It made my body buzz.
I’m not really a car person. I’d seen his car parked in the driveway before. It’s a beautiful car but being in it, being driven into the TAFE College car park in it…. Wow. It is called a Maserati Levante.
He waved to me and beeped the horn as he drove away. I caught his smile again. Wow. What?
He is tall man though what you might call beefy. Not fat, just solid. On our long walks around his farm, he was several times interrupted by phone calls. His voice seemed different when talking on the phone with his office colleagues I assumed. Deeper, more assertive though always polite. Eventually he told someone that he was in a meeting for the next hour and that he would be unavailable, even though he was just talking with me. He’d actually asked me to call him Henry previously though strangely, Mr. Biasotto never did so I didn’t. Also, he spoke to Mr. Biasotto with his phone voice.
He has black hair flecked with grey and brown eyes. He had no problem keeping up with me on the steep hills of his farm. All day at my classes I thought about him. I wondered how my life would have been if he’d been my dad. I wondered why he didn’t have a wife or any children of his own or if he did, why he never mentioned them.
I got the bus back out to his farm that afternoon. I forgot to make my usual stop at MacDonalds. Not sure why. He was in the front garden brushing spider webs off the verandah posts. I felt like running to him when I saw him but that would be silly.
“You should have called. I would have picked you up,” he said when he saw me. That smile again.
“No. It’s not necessary,” I said, smiling uncontrollably back at him. Again my body felt like it was buzzing all over. I couldn’t explain it.
I went into the house to put my bag into “my” bedroom. He’d put my clothes away, sprayed some kind of air freshener and fixed up the bed, with my blanket on top.
“Hey Mark? Come and have a beer with me? I’ve got a proposal for you.”
“Yeah ok, thanks.”
I followed him out onto the back terrace overlooking the hills of his farm. He got two cold long necks of beer from his fridge and we sat to talk.
“So Mark. I had a talk with Mr. Biasotto about you today. Don’t worry… don’t worry… I didn’t mention that you’ve been staying here. I want to offer you a job here. You would still be formally apprenticed to Mr. Biasotto until you finish your apprenticeship but you would be working part time for me. How does that sound?”
“That sounds perfect but what would I be doing?”
“Well you can continue with what you’ve been doing over in the shed but the main thing I want you to do is come up with some concrete ideas for this place. I’m having a detailed topographic map of the farm made. There’s a guy flying over tomorrow with special radar equipment. You can consult with Biasotto as well, but I like the ideas I’ve already heard from you so when you get the maps, start putting it down on paper.”
I could hardly contain my excitement. Ever since I lost my own garden I have been fantasising about what I could do with Henry’s land. Now I could fantasise and get paid for it.
“That’s amazing! I’d love to! I already have so many ideas about this place!”
“And of course you can stay here as my guest while you’re at it.”
“Oh Henry… you don’t know how happy you’ve made me today.”
He smiled again. I had to stop myself jumping up and hugging him… that would be weird?
“So I have to be heading back to Sydney late tomorrow but…”
Why did the bottom drop out of my world when I heard those words?
“I will give you a call when the map is ready. You will be able to look at it on the laptop here though I’d prefer to see something on paper so I’ll get Office Works in town to print some on a2 paper for you to work on. It should be some time late next week before you can start.”
“Cool, but when will you be back?” I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice.
“I won’t be back for two weeks. We’ll set up a time, how about 7pm on Thursdays? I will call you to talk about your progress.”
I don’t know why I felt disappointment taking the edge off of my excitement. He was treating me exactly like an employee. I guess that’s what I was. Why did I feel this way?
“Though, I don’t actually have a phone. There is a land phone here I guess?”
“You don’t have a phone! You must be the only young guy in Australia without one!” He was laughing. It hurt.
“Well I have an iPad. We can text but only when I’m on wifi?”
I felt quite embarrassed but I’d never needed a phone. If I ever needed to call anyone I could either use my home phone or a public one. Actually, my mother always talked me out of getting one. He seemed to realise that he’d embarrassed me.
“Don’t worry about it. We can go Tuzla escort out in the morning and get you one. I’ll have to give you the wifi password and set up an account for you on the laptop too. Do you have any plans for tonight? Do you like Chinese food? Do you want to eat out?”
Again he was giving me that smile.
“Yeah, I’d love to!”
“Get changed and we’ll go to the old Chinese restaurant in town. Let’s celebrate!”
“Cool!” I said but again I had that stupid embarrassed feeling. Get changed? Into what?
In my bedroom, I looked through my clothes. I did have some good clothes but I’d left them at home. I had my best pair of jeans on. I found another shirt but it was stained on the front. I hadn’t really washed any of the clothes I had properly since I’d left home and I obviously hadn’t ironed. I looked at myself in the mirror. I needed a haircut. I needed a shave. I washed my face and combed by hair but that was it. I came back out to the living room as I was.
He’d dressed up. Nice country style clothes, polished boots and a beautiful clean soapy smelling cologne. He must have noticed I hadn’t changed but he didn’t say anything.
We drove in his Maserati into town and parked outside the restaurant. The New Moon Chinese restaurant is where my mum and I went to celebrate our birthdays. I ordered what I usually ordered. I’m a creature of habit. Henry got a bottle of wine.
The conversation was one sided obviously. I mainly listened. As I said, I didn’t have many topics of conversation. When he talked about his work, I didn’t understand much of it. Who knows what reinsurance, capital planning, risk management, due diligence, hostile acquisitions, things like that are? Well he does but I noticed when he talked about it, his phone voice started again and the smile in his expression faded. I saw why he wanted to retire early.
When we talked about the farm or Mr. Biasotto, my apprenticeship or what I was studying at TAFE, his smile returned, his face relaxed, his voice changed, my body started buzzing again.
”Mr. Biasotto said that we’d first need to understand the water on your property. Especially why that land down near the road is so wet,” I said.
“You mean where all those Tea Trees are growing and the blackberries are out of control? Yeah, it’s a problem. Maybe you should have a talk to Jim Grainger. I heard from the estate agent that he’d done some work on drainage.”
“Who’s he?” I asked.
“He’s the previous owner. Well, before the bank took it off him. He wouldn’t talk to me because he was still angry but he might talk to you. He’s old, in his eighties but still lives in that nursing home up the road.”
“Oh ok. That’s a good idea. I will do that… Do you know why the bank took his farm?”
“I gather that when the supermarket milk wars drove down the price farmers were being paid for milk, he couldn’t make enough to make his loan repayments, though plenty of other dairy farms around here are still going.”
“It’s a shame, though fortunate for you.”
“Yes. I’ve always wanted to live on a farm, in the country, clean air, cold early mornings. I hope…”
He stopped talking but he was looking right at me. He was thinking something.
“Oh nothing. Yes it would be great if you can have a talk to Grainger. Get some idea of the history of the place.”
That night we went through two bottles of wine. I got a bit drunk. Well very drunk. I’m not used to alcohol. I remember him putting his arms around me. I put my arms around him. He was just helping me to bed. Did I kiss him? I think I kissed his shoulder.
In the morning I had a hangover but as I laid in bed, half awake, half asleep, I dreamed about him holding me in his arms. I was an 18 year old boy. Of course I jacked off, nearly every day. I don’t think about anything really. Not girls. Certainly not guys. Henry is a man. Three times my age. I did.
I showered, put on a tee-shirt and sweat pants and came out to the kitchen for a glass of water. He was sitting there in pyjamas and a dressing gown holding a pen with a pad in front of him. I almost turned and ran. But he smiled. He was obviously delighted to see me. I smiled back. It wasn’t something I could control even if I wanted to.
“Hungover much?” He asked, still looking that way.
“Yeah. Sorry. I drank too much.”
He just laughed.
“I guess just toast for breakfast then?” He got up and put two slices of bread in the toaster.
I got a glass and filled it with water from the tap. The new kitchen looked out over the farm. There was still fog down in the valley.
“Coffee?” He asked.
“Yeah. That would be great,” I moaned.
“Today you work for Pete? What time does he want you there?”
It was the first time I’d heard him call Mr. Biasotto by his first name. Actually it’s not even his name. His wife calls him Pompeo but I’ve heard other people call him Pete.
“I only need to get there by 10. He opens late on Thursdays so I stay there till 8pm.”
“I’m going to ask him to give you an advance on your salary. That’s obviously to get yourself comfortable and back on an even keel. Any expenses related to the farm you should either go through him or keep the receipts and he will reimburse you.”