Words to get by

Rhonda Dredge

If you live in the CBD everything you need might be just a block away. 

Your morning coffee is a one minute walk up Flinders Lane. Your half-price Monday movie is a short tram ride up Collins St. Groceries can be carried in a shoulder bag.

If you have a walking stick and one side of your body is paralysed, these things count. If you can’t really speak to strangers, a friendly barista makes all the difference.

Peter Davidson moved into the CBD three years ago. He rents a studio apartment and lives on $12,500 a year.

To make the move in the CBD he had to leave behind 4000 books. He couldn’t read them anymore anyway. He spends a lot of time listening to music but if you ask him which composer he likes he can’t really tell you. Words are difficult to capture.

He uses a paper napkin and a pen as props for his speech. He writes down five letters – VEILE. “Ah. Verdi,” he says with a smile. “Music is fabulous.” It registers in the right side of his brain, his good side. “The left is dead,” he says, touching his head.

Limitations govern the former architect’s life. He once lived with journalist Jill Singer but she died two years after his stroke in 2010. He writes 2012 on the napkin. He is still good with figures. They come from the right side of his brain. 

The cross-over between right and left preoccupies Peter. His right leg and arm are numb. His hand lies uselessly by his side but if you touch it there is pain. Right brain, left body – these are his good working parts and he has to make the most of them.

Daine Singer, a small gallery, has mounted six exhibitions of his drawings and watercolours. He had to change to his left hand. 

It is easier for Peter to sketch than speak. He draws a plan of Swanston St with a rectangle and then begins to cross it out. “Demolition” is a word he can’t use but he cares about what is happening to Federation Square, given that he led the team that designed it.

A man with no voice can hardly object. 

Anyway, life itself is too much of a challenge. “It’s the way it is,” Peter says. He used to play cricket, batting with one hand and bowling with the other. He thinks for a while and gets a flush of pleasure when the word “ambidextrous” appears as if by miracle. 

Small pleasures seem to keep him going. He’s apologetic upfront so you have to persevere.

“It’s terrible because I know but can’t say it. It’s gone.”

He has to count the months on his left fingers to figure out which month his next exhibition will be – July or August?  Hopefully, then the words will get to his mouth.

“I have difficulty in finding the words because nothing – the brain just nothing. I can visualise and music is in here.” He taps his right brain. “This side is more sensitive. I didn’t know it before. I think about it a lot. I’m trying to develop this side.”

He likes the little neighbourhood around Flinders Lane. “I don’t go a lot further.” It’s an area in which he can feel at home. 

The final words he writes are Moor St in uncertain lettering. That’s the address of Daine Singer, the gallery, which has now moved out of the city to Fitzroy, just another difficulty he will probably manage. 

It’s surprising how few words you need to get by.

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