by Peter Nelson
Coming home to find Judy’s finally up and she’s got the teakettle on and a big stack of hot buttered toast ready.
Today is Judy’s birthday so it’s off to the shop ‘cause we’re going to have this magnificent tea. Everybody’s rushing around buying this and that and the kids are hypnotized by that big display of lollies. A stop at the bottle store for some sparkling burgundy and a bottle of dry red. Crayfish fresh from the briny with lemon butter and large steaks and wholemeal bread and baked potatoes with cheese sauce and green beans and corn as we raise our wine cups to the simple life. Then fruitcake with orange frosting and orange pudding and hot coffee. Playing cards by candlelight because the generator down the road shuts down at 11. Huddled together around the table. Everyone cheating furiously as we polish off the wine. Trish dives into the bedroom to search for her roach clip and its precious cargo of fat Mexicanos.
Next morning, Nicola sitting on my lap in her long brown corduroy skirt. Her tiny warmth. The elfin enchantress. Heaven please never let those brown eyes ever ever grow sad. With her felt-tipped pens drawing on my arms. A sunlit scene, a red house, and a little girl with orange hair flying. Do not draw on my shirt please, Sweetness.
Nicola can I put you in my pack and carry you away with me across all the distant seas. Brown eyes growing even huger. Oh yes please Peetah, oh Mummy can I go. Anne smiling indulgently.
Michael the village bohemian, lifts his guitar whenever he sees us in town, flashes the peace sign, and starts singing, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” OK, so our untidy communal cottage seems to have been designated the local freak zoo. On boat days, when the ferry’s in, Michael runs a tourist service, zooming over all 12 miles of road on the island, his small blue van packed with sightseers. And now our house is one of the sights pointed out to visitors. So when he drives by grinning and honking, a couple of us head out to the porch and do something suitably freakish.
Being as we are only a mile from town, traffic can be pretty heavy. Sometimes we see as many as two cars per day. But once you get down the track a bit, you’ll never see a car. Or anything resembling a human being. Sometimes a horse wanders alone on the beach. Or a couple of wild-looking sheep dart out of the bush. The beaches, the trails, the seacliffs, the skies — all are perfect, all are empty, all are yours. We talk about skinny-dipping. Haven’t done it yet on account of the rather chilly water, but you certainly could anytime without worrying about someone coming by. This place is empty of everything that makes noise and full of everything that makes peace.
Listen man you have to get down here. There are some fantastic tracks, some incredible winds, some crazy birds, some deserted beaches, some lovely people. The sunsets are so spectacular that the Maori name for the island is Rakiura, “Land of the Glowing Skies”. I don’t know how much it costs to stay at either the pub or the tourist lodge, but you’d be crazy to stay there anyway. Our cottage rents for $10 a week during the holiday season, or $1 a day otherwise. John Leask at Leask’s Bay, a mile out of town is our landlord. Coal for the stove is included in the rent, and since he’s a fisherman, he’s always bringing us fresh crayfish or blue cod.
Or you could camp on a beach or along a track and no one would bother you. Only I suspect that within a month or two, the sandflies will be coming on pretty strong, so sleeping out might be a bit uncomfortable. And the weather is shall we say changeable.
Well we’re off to see the wizard, so it’s toujours gai and toujours gai. Goodbye Keri, goodbye Annie, Nicola goodbye. Blowing me a kiss as the ferry backs away from the harbour leaving me in exile upon this island. Exile, yes. Island? Is this not Trieste circa 1890? The Piazza della Borsa? Where then are the drays drawn black, the men in bowler hats, the yellowing cobblestones. The big clock frozen forever at twenty minutes past ten. No, instead, we have this soporific heat and a black dog chasing seagulls and a cheese sandwich with way too much butter.
Soft soft Andalusian nights where the stars come out slowly a-twinkle until the wind blows them all away. Keri and Nicola how could I have let you go. If only I could have fallen in love with your mother. Who was a jolly lady yes and quiet but perhaps too much of a shadow for those of us lacking in our own substantiality.
O my shining stars and body