THAT MAGNIFICENT OLD monkey-apple tree shading the butcher’s shop lodged in my mind through a strange trick of memory. There I was in that slow, tranced state of childhood, staring up into its layers of shining green, deep in thought, the dry cleaners hissing and banging behind me. Years later, that exact moment came back to me with all the force of a hallucination while I was writing a passage for my first novel. The writing fell into something so good and clear, with such an exhilarating rush, it was as if I had already thought it out all those years before at that moment of gazing at the tree as a child. The experience was so vivid it was like time travel; for that second I went to live again in my childish body, think with my childish mind, experience again that intense moment. My thoughts as a child were the carriage and connection between child and adult self across the gulf of years.
Maybe I was already laying the foundations for my writing life from an early age, long before I knew what it really meant. I learnt to trust those rare flashes, especially when I was writing. Even now when I read certain writers, the flashback happens strongly and clearly. Reading Saul Bellow, for instance, regularly elicits a flash recall of me standing in the middle of the Mathesons’ vegetable garden looking down at the curly leaves of lettuce in the rich brown volcanic soil. Yeats is centred around Margaret’s garden, with its scoria rocks edging the sunken lawn, the pipes and drain at the side of the concrete path, a butterfly stuck on a pin left to die there by her brother. I must have been thinking a lot when I was at their place; maybe there was more clarity away from home, or was it just that I liked the garden with its high cool hedge, green dampness, the stone steps running down from the footpath, rocky outcrops of bubbly-looking volcanic scoria?
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