Breton Dukes (IIML, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)
She wipes herself with the tissue, then pulls the sheet to her chin. We watch each other. I shake my head. She sighs.
“I’ve no choice. I’ll be back in a few days.”
“Doesn’t Rotorua have girls?”
“Not like me, they don’t.”
She pouts and holds out the used tissue. I give her a cigarette.
“Do you want a drink?”
“Yes,” she says, sitting up and smiling. Her breasts are round and heavy. There’s a red mark above one of her nipples. She blows smoke at the ceiling.
I put the tissue into an empty cigarette box then pour wine into two mugs. I hand her the drink and sit on the bed. There’s a torn pair of her knickers on the floor.
“Not mixing it?”
“It’s a going away treat,” I say.
We sip the wine. It’s dense and sweet. I light a cigarette.
“What happened to the knickers?” I ask.
“They got ripped, you can’t wear ripped knickers.”
She takes a gulp then looks at the mark over her nipple. She frowns.
“I know, I know,” I say. “Sometimes I forget.”
“They don’t like it. I’m supposed to be untouched.”
I clear my throat and inhale on the cigarette.
“Don’t say it,” she says, “Don’t say it.” She leans forward and puts her hand on my shoulder, then squeezes the muscles in my neck.
“I’m having a shower,” I say.
She holds onto my wrist as I walk away. I don’t stop and she lets go. I hear her sigh.
Down the hallway the walls are flaking paint onto the grey carpet. The doors to the other rooms are closed. But for the occasional cough it is quiet. In the bathroom there is water on the floor from someone’s shower and strips of newspaper around the toilet. There is a small cracked window and cobwebs. I lift the seat with my foot and piss.
When I get back to the room she is gone. The torn knickers are in a heart shape on the sheets. There is money beside them. I dress and go to the front of the house. It is getting dark, but the air is still warm. There are no people on the streets. It’s a long time since there were cars.
From battered speakers high on the power poles there is static, then a man’s voice. He says good evening and asks if I have had a good day. He tells me of the progress made on the electricity shortage, and how, though the dog issue is essentially under control, I should stay inside at night. He encourages me to remain positive and exercise. He reminds me that this is a lull, not a depression. He bids me good night, then a woman with an Asian accent sings a song about a frown being a smile turned upside down, upside down, upside down.
I finish the cigarette and go into the house. There is a man in the doorway holding a candle; his fat body is wet from a shower.
“Shut the door,” he says, looking over my shoulder. “The dogs can smell us. We’re just meat to them.”
He goes into a room, closes the door and turns a key. The hallway is dark. I can smell the man’s soap and the perfume they make her wear. I take out a cigarette and strike a match. My hand is shaking; through the wall I hear the fat man drag something heavy in front of his door.
In our room I pour a nip of wine into a mug, then go down the hall to the kitchen.
A Polynesian woman is sitting in a chair. Huddling in the pen her long arms make with the table’s edge are three children. Another woman is spreading pieces of bread at the bench. She is white and smaller. She smiles. I say hello and splash water over the wine.
The woman at the bench makes the bread into rolls and gives one to each child. I take a sip from my drink and sit down.
“Just arrived?” I ask, trying to smile at the brown woman.
She nods, drawing the smallest child onto her knee.
“She doesn’t speak,” says the smaller woman. “She had a fright.”
I blow gently at the candle burning on the table, it flickers. The children chew quietly on the bread.
“Are you staying?” I ask.
The smaller woman sits down and slides a cup of water across the table.
“No, we’re going to the port tomorrow. There’s a ship.”
“Have you got tickets?”
She shakes her head and says sadly, “We’re just hoping.”
The mute woman reaches across the table and takes her hand. They raise their cups in a toast.
“Australia,” whispers the biggest child, looking at the women and then at me. A string of saliva joins her bottom lip to the bread. Her eyes glisten in the candlelight.
After two nights there is the sound of a government bus.
The front door opens, then the door to our room.
“Hello Sunshine,” she says.
She has a cold and a rash.
“It’s the air down there,” she says, “All that sulphur.”
She asks me to get her a drink. She’s brought chocolate and bread. We eat and drink. When the street-cast starts she tells me to open the window.
“I want to hear her sing,” she says.
When I wake up she is at the end of the bed. The window is still open, I hear dogs barking.
“I forgot to tell you,” she says.
She holds up a small piece of metallic paper. A bitten shape shimmers, it is Australia.
“For when?” I ask.
“This weekend, the draw for this weekend.”
She sits beside me. Her warm hand moves down my stomach.
“It’s for two. We could win.”
“Where did it come from?”
She pulls gently.
“One of them. He was starting up a church. He likes it here.”
“Of course he does, what’s not to like?”
“Fuck you. You take the money.”
The ticket glints as she goes around the bed.
When I wake up she is on her side breathing noisily. I get up and dress. The ticket is on the floor, the words glow,
A lucky country for the lucky few…
I go out the front door and down the driveway. The moon is bright. The road’s painted lines have faded. There are holes and patches of gravel. I cross to the field. The long grass shimmers, the posts tilt. On the other side the clubrooms sag like they’ve been shaken and dropped.
I go over the field and onto the porch. There is a doorway but no door. The stairs to the second floor are covered in a layer of broken glass. My feet crunch as I climb. Tipped over tables litter the floor, through the broken windows there’s a view of the field. A framed photo is askew on a wall. Sat between two older men in jerseys and ties are young men in yellow and purple. Above them are the season’s statistics, below their shining boots a list of names.
There is a scream. I look out the window. A figure is running towards the clubrooms, low fast shapes in pursuit. She gets to the porch, gasping, crying out. I run to the doorway and start down the steps. There is a different scream, pain not fear. The creature’s feet make a scattering sound on the concrete. Their mouths slap and suck. Piss dribbles down my leg. I turn, fearing they will get my scent. I could die. On my toes I go to the wall with the picture and sit down. I reach up and take the photo off the wall. I stare at the faces, at the clear skin and styled hair. Bradley Paku was captain and leading try scorer.
Below me they go through her bones.
I am woken by a light rain coming through the window. I have the photo close to my chest. I put it down and lie with my ear to the floor. There is the faint smell of beer, but no sound other than the drizzle and warm wind.
At the top of the stairs I listen again. Far away a bus changes gears. I pick up a wedge of glass, pull my sleeve over my palm and hold it like a knife. I place my feet carefully and point my ear at where the dogs would be. Nothing, just the bus getting closer. I go down the stairs. There is hair and a shoe, shit, flies, blood painted over the floor.
I drop the glass and run across the field. The bus stops outside the house. There are women on board and a brown skinned man with grey hair in the driver’s seat. Two men in blue tracksuits stand on the broken footpath. They carry steel rods, when they see me they move in front of the doors and close together like they are readying to scrum. There is a young girl in the front seat, she is drinking milk from a plastic cup. She smiles when I look at her. The driver stands and raises his eyebrows.
‘Hey bro’” he says, making a sign with his knuckles and fingers. There are feet on the gravel behind me. I look around. Her face is made up and smiling. She is wearing high boots.
“Couldn’t sleep? She asks, and then “Oh baby, what is it?” She puts her face near mine and holds my neck.
The men in the tracksuits watch us. Breath makes their nostrils go in and out.
“I have to go,” she smiles, “Whangarei.”
I look at her. “Please?” I say.
“I have to.” She hugs me. She’s crying too.
There’s a metallic ringing. The men are hitting their rods together. The brown driver is at the wheel looking straight ahead. The young girl has pulled her head towards her shoulders; the cup of milk has gone.
She squeezes me once and says, “Oh god,” then runs up the stairs of the bus saying,
The men stop their noise. They get on. The doors close.
The brown man fights to get the bus into gear. The bus jolts forward and goes past.
She sits near the back, presses the ticket to the window. She smiles. Australia sparkles.
Breton Dukes has just started his Masters in Creative Writing at Victoria University. In his spare time he enjoys spear fishing.