Friday, July 20, 2012


THE WRUITER'S TALE yet another editor regrets story Talk Back was especially scathing. “I ask you. How could a man become an icon of New Zealand literature, yet nobody, not family, not friends, not even the postman, realised he needed help. How could this happen?” Listeners blamed the education system, parents, television, lack of dietary fibre. Readers of popular magazines diagnosed schizophrenia, paranoia, chronic constipation. Publishers rushed out books titled, “The Dark Side of an Icon,” but there was little to tell. The writer had been a dutiful son, nursed his mother through her final months, kept her clean and her house spotless. His sister said he had always been a selfish little boy. She had severed all contact years before, after claiming half their mother’s estate. With his half the writer bought a villa on the corner of Poplar Avenue and Kowhai Road, opposite Singh’s Superette. He was no man for chatting over fences. High palings and sycamore trees suited him. He built a study in the attic, set the formica table from his mother’s kitchen in front of the new dormer window. From there he watched the comings and goings of the town. Glossy BMWs and Hondas whizzed down Poplar Avenue while old Cortinas and Toyotas, turning out of Kowhai Road, waited for the lights to change. In one story, never published, an insurance broker was stranded with a flat tyre. He stood in the rain, bewildered, wondering how to keep the rain off his new gabardine coat. Cars rushed by. Finally a solo mother in a bush shirt with a rusted Toyota full of children took her own tyre-jack to the car and changed the wheel. Twice every day, regular as the tide, the writer sat in front of his window. He watched trees in Poplar Avenue turn from bronze to green to yellow and back to bronze, observed the daily dramas of small town life. Children crowded into the Superette, spending their lunch money on Dinosaur cards. Later, children were replaced by mothers, pushing babies in strollers. The writer invented biographies for them. Like the little girl at number 6. He called her Lizzie. Her father, Sam, drove a front-end loader at the tyre factory. Her mother, Sheilah, worked in an accountant's office in the city. Sam and Sheilah married because Lizzie was on the way. Sheilah had aspirations. Number six was a stepping stone to something better - a villa in Poplar Drive. Perhaps Sam was also a stepping stone. Sheilah never walked to school with Lizzie. On wet days the writer watched the little girl, in yellow oilskins and sou'wester under a miniature umbrella, head to the traffic lights, trailing one yellow gumboot in the gutter, rearranging leaves as water piled against culverts. One Christmas day the writer watched as Sam taught his daughter to wobble along the footpath on a tiny bike with trainer wheels. Sheilah lounged beside a new, wrought iron lawn table, under a green and white sun umbrella, smoothing lotion over her legs, lighting each new cigarette from the stub of the last. When school started Lizzie carefully rode her bicycle to the corner, stopped at the traffic lights, dismounted, pressed the button, looked both ways twice before walking across. By this time the green man signal had turned red again but the driver in the waiting van smiled and waved her across. On the other side of the street Lizzie mounted and pedalled off to school. When the writer wrote about Lizzie learning to ride. Sam and Sheilah held her, one on each side of the little bike, as Lizzie wobbled along. When she finally stopped wobbling and rode the length of the block, squealing and shouting Sam and Sheilah hugged each other. In the Writer’s story Sheilah walked beside Lizzie all the way to school. The writer watched Lizzie graduate to large wheels. She swapped track pants and Turtle shirts for a kilted skirt and bright red jersey. The writer wrote stories about opportunities, about winning the hundred metres, about being chosen for the first X1 in spite of being a girl. His first novel told of marriage seen through Lizzie's eyes. The writer closed the tyre factory because of cheap imports. The more Sheilah nagged the more Sam drank, stayed out with the boys. Shouts and slammed doors at number six became frequent. Sheilah took Lizzie to a woman’s refuge for a while but came back when Sam found another job mowing lawns for the Council. The reviews were kind while maintaining a ‘here's another first novel by an unknown New Zealander’, tone. It made enough money to pay the rates while he wrote for another year. By that time Lizzie was wearing a grey skirt, red blazer, and doc Martens. Each morning she caught the bus outside the writer's gate. A weedy boy in grey longs and a blue blazer waited there. Each afternoon Lizzie and the boy stood at the traffic lights talking. Some nights they walked home late, from the pictures or a disco. The writer watched them clinched together at Lizzie's letterbox. He wondered how they managed to breathe while they kissed for such extraordinary lengths of time. At last the porch light at number 6 would flick on. Lizzie would run up her front path while the boy drifted back to the corner, kicking leaves and stones, almost dancing as he kept looking back at Lizzie's house. The writer's second novel was about adolescents' first sexual encounters. The Listener critic called it, "A waste of good trees," but Channel Nine bought it. There was enough money to pay off the mortgage and paint the house. One night the writer woke to a flash of light across his bedroom ceiling, a cacophony of running feet and loud hailers. From his attic he watched five police cars close off Kowhai Road. Shadows slipped silently through back yards. A searchlight played over the front of a house half way down Kowhai Road, Number 6. There was shouting and breaking glass. Finally the sound of three shots just before police raced across Lizzie's lawn. Later police carried three bodies, their faces covered, towards a dark enclosed van. The writer wept. Over the next month houses in Kowhai Crescent developed a rash of 'FOR SALE' signs. The writer rang a real estate agent. "Carole will call this afternoon," the girl on the phone told him. The writer vacuumed and dusted, washed a week's accumulation of dishes and wondered about Carole. She would be thirty, long limbed, not too thin. She would have hair the colour of butterscotch tied in a plait down her back. She would have small beautiful teeth and her tongue would be pink and pointed as a kitten’s. She would wear a severe black linen suit but with a silk blouse beneath it. When the writer got to know Carole well he would enjoy untying the thin black ribbon that held her hair, loosening it until her face looked suddenly younger, vulnerable, tender. She would inspect the house and the garden, making notes on her clipboard with a black and gold ballpoint. He would follow her up the steps while she looked in the attic; her high heels level with his eyes. She would have dimples behind her anklebones. In his attic study Carole would tap windowsills with her pen. They would compare computers. Carole would be impressed with his confident use of Microsoft. In the kitchen she would crouch to look at the plumbing under the sink, skirt riding up tanned thighs. He would offer her coffee. Carole would sink on to his sofa, patting the rose patterned cushion beside her, invitation in her eyes. “My God!" she would exclaim, "How could you ever think of selling? All my life I’ve dreamed of a house like this." They would undress each other, slowly, Carole and he. They would make love there, on the axminster rug in front of the gas fire, twice. His third novel would be about meeting the one and only person and finding old fashioned love. It would not win critical acclaim but he and Carole would be able to travel, perhaps to Mentone. The real Carole was touching fifty, weighed twelve stone, wore a terylene dress and elastic stockings. Carole kicked at the skirting board in the hall, looking for borer. She sniffed for dry rot in the laundry, inspected the rooms as though someone had left a dead mouse somewhere. She told him the house was too old, people wanted double garages and nobody would buy in this area, especially after what happened at number 6. He could consider a back fill but access would be a problem. She stayed less than an hour. He wrote a story about a beautiful young woman whose mother ruined all her relationships. It won the Mansfield later that year. There have been other characters. Each morning and afternoon the writer sits at the study window and writes about people who pass by his house or walk through Kowhai Road. The real Carole became Irma Gedge, widowed editor of the Rimuville Chronicle, insatiably curious about Court reports and District Council debates. She uncovered corruption, solved crimes, struggled against Bureaucracy and her own increasing weight. The twelve Rimuville novels developed a following. The writer uses a pseudonym, amused when reviewers accuse him of being both Fiona Kidman and Maurice Gee and readers identify Rimuville as Naenae, Ponsonby, Flaxmere, Mosgiel. On the writer’s desk in the study is the latest letter from his publisher, “Your outline is fine. Great idea to kill off Irma Gedge. Readers want nastier protagonists. They seem to enjoy getting into the mind of serial killers. Suggest you let Horatio Banner’s obsession with roses show him to be brilliantly clever and totally mad, rather than deliberately evil. Stay away from cannibalism, it’s passé. Looking forward to the draft.” At this moment Kowhai Crescent is empty after the tidal rush of children hurrying home from school. Spring sun called out the first blooms on the Kowhai trees and a scatter of daisies on the writer’s lawn. But now houses huddle under corrugated iron and concrete tile. Chimneys stand, incongruous, forbidden to smoke. Even letter boxes look cowed. Televisions flicker behind front windows. Mothers are scraping potatoes, defrosting mince. Both Kowhai Road and Poplar Avenue are empty. Not quite. Twice the writer has watched a woman, in striped tights under a green smock, come out of number 6. Each time she has stared at both ends of the street, standing with the wide footed stance of the heavily pregnant, before shrugging and heading back to the house. This time she comes out of her gate, slamming it before heading for the corner. She has a red shower coat around her shoulders but has not changed her slippers. The woman could be Darnel, the writer decides. She lives with Jason, a sculptor of sheet metal who is waiting for his talent to be recognised. They hope the Housing Corporation won’t raise the rent again. There is one child, Darnel’s. Darnel met Jason at a Karaoke evening in the Rimuville Tavern. He gave her a ride home and has been with her ever since. Darnel is not certain about the father of her expected baby. It is probably Jason’s but could be Terry’s, Jason’s footy friend who called round a couple of times when Jason was exhibiting his sculptures at the North Shore alternative festival. Darnel stares across Kowhai street towards the school before disappearing into the Superette. Moments later she emerges followed by Mrs Singh. Darnel hugs her arms across her belly. Mrs Singh holds her elbow, trying to assure her. The writer has not given Darnel’s daughter a name yet. It might Petal, Boronia, Emily. This morning he watched her head for school, a brisk little girl in her yellow coat, orange pack on her shoulders. Later, after the children had rushed home, he cleared his mailbox, read the publisher’s letter while he stood in the last patch of sunlight on his porch. There he had seen the child, sitting under his lilac bush, coat and backpack discarded as she concentrated on slitting daisy stems with her right thumb nail. She wore a circlet of daisies in her brown hair and was fashioning a neckelace, which she held up to the writer, trusting and innocent. Now the writer watches a police car pull up at number 6. Darnel, with Mrs Singh in tow talks to the constable. The writer notes the cleanliness of the car, how it shines in the dusk, the immaculate uniform of the policewoman. She settles Darnel into the passenger seat and they drive slowly towards the school, looking into front yards, down drives. Soon there will be detectives at doors asking questions, wanting to search. How long before they investigate the boots of cars, any out of season digging? What would Horatio Banner do? Thank you if you have read this far. I would appreciate feed back; positive or negative, to

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