THE SPACE BETWEEN EXTRA AND ORDINARY
To get to Veronica Place you drive down Camellia Street and take a left. You may know this already because our street is famous on the telly. But if you didn’t see it on the news, it’s dead-end seventies weather board and corrugated iron. Built back when Think Big was still a small thought in Bell Block, Taranaki. An ordinary place with paint jobs all the same. You don’t plant anything because the dogs will only dig the stuff out.
This story is about Bob and Mary who live next door. You’re neighbourly but not close because bowls is your thing. Bob would more likely be drinking at the pub with the TAB. But you’re not soaks or anything like that. You both get home around six, when you know that Mary and Betty will be dishing up your dinners. You always wave out.
This story all happens on April seventh. The date sticks with you. The day that a street like Veronica Place goes from extra ordinary to extraordinary, just by removing one space between two words.
AT THE THIRD HOUR
You don’t get up early anymore. It’s nine o’clock when Betty pulls the side curtains on the lounge. She lets out a scream. You run to the window.
“Bloody Hell.” You don’t usually swear, but you’re shocked. “Shit, Betty.” You’re so shocked you pull the curtains closed and then have to open them again for another look. You can’t believe your eyes.
Overnight in Bob and Mary’s front yard someone has built a huge cross, exactly like a full-size crucifixion cross. And there is Bob Cross himself, mounted on the cross wearing nothing but a white cloth wrapped around his bits. Bob’s feet are supported on some sort of small platform and both his arms are strapped to the cross bars. On his head is a wreath made out of rosemary. You know it’s rosemary because it grows in our backyards on account of Bob Cross liking rosemary on roast mutton. Mary and Betty always share their plant cuttings.
You pull those curtains closed again real quick and look at Betty. Your heart is thumping. What do you do now?
For a moment you just look at each other, then Betty rushes to open up the front door. You peer your heads around the door and see the women of the street are gathering on the footpath outside Bob’s place.
“Blimey, I gotta see this.” Betty waves me back to get some clothes on as she disappears out the door in her dressing gown.
You rush to get dressed properly on account of all the ladies being there already, and then you go outside as well.
Just then the police turn up. It’s Officer Patterson and some young girl cop with long ginger hair tied back who hasn’t been long out of nappies. They get out of the car and the ladies make a gap so they can walk through the little front gate and up the concrete path to where Bob is standing on the cross.
Bob’s white stickman legs are folded at the ankles on the platform. Later you find out that the proper name for the little platform is a hypopodium. Funny the new things you learn in extraordinary times.
The cops walk slowly up the path in a controlled manner. You think, That is the way they are taught. When things are not normal, approach in a controlled manner. Bob raises his head, which had been hanging down to the side, and stares at the cops.
“What’s your name?” The cops wait for an answer in a controlled manner. “Who did this to you?”
Bob doesn’t move. He just keeps on staring at the cops. You are all as quiet as little mice waiting to see what happens next.
At that moment, Bob’s front door opens and there is Mary. She is wearing a long white flowing gown and her shoulder-length grey hair that is usually up on top of her head is flowing down. She pulls a shawl up over her head as she steps out.
The cops and all the ladies stare in silence as Mary walks majestically down the steps. She has a large piece of cardboard in one hand, and a letter of some sort in the other hand. She props up the cardboard sign at the base of Bob’s cross and then turns to the cops, opening up the letter.
Mary reads slowly, “I, Bob Cross, choose to use my front garden as I see fit. I am not harming myself or anyone else, so please respect my wishes. I only have one thing to say.” Mary pauses for a moment, and then continues. “Event plus response equals outcome.” She hands the letter over to the cops for them to see the signature of Bob Cross.
Everyone turns to Bob, who nods his head once and indicates the cardboard that is propped up below his feet. Mary walks across to turn the sign around and sure enough it reads:
EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME
The cops don’t know quite what to do. Eventually, after whispering to each other, they ask if they could go inside and speak to Mary. She nods and in they go. The front door closes.
Event plus response equals outcome. The women on the footpath whisper amongst themselves and several kneel down on the grass verge between the front fence and the footpath. The fence is made of short upright slats with a two-by-four plank running along the top. Just the same as the one in front of your place. Turns out Bob and Mary’s little fence is the perfect height for the ladies to rest their elbows on when they kneel down. It seems natural for them to bow their heads as well. More ladies join them. A hush develops out of respect for the kneeling ladies. Even the standing ladies begin to pull their cardigans up over their heads.
Next thing the door opens and the cops come back out. They walk out the gate. You catch Officer Patterson by the arm as he is about to get in his car. “Officer, what are you going to do?”
From habit the officer twists himself out of your grip. “Nothing we can do, mate.” The officer jumps in his car and speaks to you out of the window. “It’s a free world. A man’s allowed to stand on a stool in his own front yard wearing his swimming togs. Bob Cross is allowed to stand in his own front yard of his own free will. He’s not hurting anyone.”
The cops drive off.
“Shit.” You don’t mean to swear in front of the ladies. Several frown and shush you.
Stepping away, you look around for Betty. “Betty!” There she is, kneeling with the other women with her dressing gown pulled up over her head. “Betty, come home!” You shove through the crowd and grab her by the arm, yank her to her feet and prod her back inside your front door and slam it shut.
“Jim, let me go, Jim.”
“Bloody hell Betty, what’s come over you?” You sit her down on the couch.
“But don’t you see, Jim?” Betty looks up at you through her tears. “Don’t you see that Event + Response = Outcome? I knelt down and straightaway it made me think of the last time we ever saw Jason. The day you told him to never bring that slut around here again. Don’t you see, we need to change our response.” She rushes to the phone. “Jason? Is that you, Jason?”
That’s it. You jump in my car and head for the bowling club.
“Bloody old stickman Bob Cross.” You have a couple of beers by yourself. After all, how do you explain to your mates at the bowling club that you live next door to a lunatic who is allowed to stand practically naked in his own front yard? Bob Cross trussed up on a cross like a skinny old turkey. They will just think you’ve got your wires crossed and gone loopy. Too hard to explain.
AT THE SIXTH HOUR
At exactly 12 noon you turn back into Veronica Place. Betty likes to have lunch at twelve on the dot, so you’re never late.
“Shit.” You nearly hit a car. Cars everywhere, people everywhere. Slowly you creep into the mayhem. What. . .a TV crew. . .what. . .a helicopter. . .what?
You slowly pass the Cross’s place. People with scarves over their heads are quietly lining up for a turn to kneel at the fence. You can’t believe it, men are lining up as well. You can just see old Bob Cross’s head and shoulders above the crowd. Arms still trussed, eyes closed, rosemary all crooked, head resting on his left shoulder.
“Where the hell is Betty?” What. . .it starts to go dark. “What is this?” It’s just like a cloth falls down over the face of Veronica Place. “What is happening?” It’s getting bloody dark in the middle of the day.
You park the car and run into the house. “Betttty!” You find her kneeling in the lounge. You sit together holding hands, waiting for this thing to pass. You don’t turn on any lights.
AT THE NINTH HOUR
It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A cry goes up from the crowd, who have sat through the darkness. There is a terrible weeping and shrieking. You peep through the curtains and as it lightens you see the fire brigade come and cut Bob down off the cross. They start CPR. The ambulance arrives and the CPR stops. No one is in a hurry now. They lift the limp form of Bob Cross slowly onto a stretcher. Mary climbs into the ambulance. The screaming crowd fight each other to keep a hand touching the ambulance and move with it as it slowly tries to negotiate what was once our quiet street.
The sky lightens some more and things returns to normal. The crowd returns, flowers appear, covered heads take turns to place flowers at the foot of the empty cross.
Nothing much changes. There’s a huge open-air funeral with dignitaries attending. The crowd keeps coming every day, trampling your front verges, kneeling, crying, laying flowers, taking photos of themselves. They say it is something about the videos on YouTube. Bob on the cross disappearing into the gloom of the darkness. It seems to really get to people. They come from overseas now as well.
Bob returns in the shape of an urn which is placed with ceremony on the hypopodium at the foot of the cross. When there is no space left to kneel in front of the cross’s place [P12] they use your front fence as well. You’re used to it now.
Eventually the inquest comes out. It says he died of a sudden onset heart attack. You think they called it a myocardial infarction. The sort of thing that can happen to anyone at any time. Not just because Bob was standing in his front garden in his underpants when the lights went out. You don’t have an opinion.
Mary is kept busy managing the flowers. She has taken to walking along the fence line, putting her hand for a moment on each bowed head and then placing a small piece of paper into their cupped hands. Of course it reads you know what.
While you don’t have an opinion, you do know that it is good to have Jason over for Sunday lunch again. That girl of his comes as well and usually brings dessert. You get to like the tart. Even Betty thinks she sure makes a mean chocolate brownie.