That winter at Auntie’s was a lesson. She and my cousin Wiremu live half an hour from town on a scrubby piece of land that gives them nothing. Their house is at the top end of a long steep gravel drive. This driveway connects to the road on a real sharp corner. On the other side of the road is a rocky ravine edged with rough boulders. Right on the bend is a pole with a convex mirror halfway up. It’s so you can see if any cars are coming before you get on the road. I tell you all this so you know how easy it was.
Like I said, their place is in the middle of nowhere. They only run a few sheep on account of the soil. Auntie has a job three days a week in town. I catch a ride with her to do my report-ins and go to my Hort course – as if I don’t know how to grow stuff! Wiremu is in Year 11 but he mostly hangs out in town. He’s not meant to live with me but his dad kicked him out. I tell him to stay at school. I want him to stop looking up to me for all the wrong reasons.
At night me and Wiremu go spotlighting to get him some possums. We wait till it’s dark enough then we walk around the edges of the paddocks. I shine the lamp into the macrocarpa trees and Wiremu shoots the possums hypnotised by the light. He’s been making good money out of the skins – almost has enough for a car.
This one night we were spotlighting but got nothing, so we wandered down the drive. The moon was really bright so we turned off our head torches. There was only the sound of the gravel crunching under our boots and the white, white moonlight shining on us. We sat down near the end of the drive and had a smoke. His Swanndri is too big for him and I was cracking up. He was counting how many more skins he needed. I told him I only have 12 days to go then I’m out of here. I couldn’t see his face in the hood of his bush shirt but heard the sharp intake of his breath. In the heavy silence, we could hear the car from miles away. Before I knew what was happening, Wiremu had picked up the spotlight beside me and sprinted five metres to the bend in the road. Just as I got to him, he shone the light full beam at the mirror as the car came around the corner. I felt my life go to hell again.
When he first came here, I wanted him to see me, really see me. Instead, he tried to control me. Tells me the right choices to make. Mind your manners. Go to school. Don’t smoke dope. Does he think I’m stupid? Doesn’t he think I know why he’s here? Late in the night I hear him and Mum talking at the kitchen table. Their voices low and muffled, always stop when I open the door. Telling me to go to bed when I come to sit down. Telling me to speak nice to my own mother. Coming here and being the man. So, I was stoked when Ihaia jumped up and ran with me. First, I thought he was back to what I’ve heard about him. But he didn’t want to know. Stuff him. Well I can be more than he ever was.
Driving in the dark all I could think about was Jude. Where’s the love? And the trust, for that matter. And how could he betray me with his ex like that? We’d been up the mountain skiing. He had made all the bookings, our little chalet was so romantic and the snow was bright, white and powdery. Everything was just perfect. Sitting in the bar earlier that night, I thought we must have looked like a ‘real couple’. But appearances are deceiving.
He took ages to get the drinks in and when I found him, he was out in the foyer, bent over her in a tight embrace. She saw me first and smiled her sickly smile. A look passed between them and I knew in that moment that it wasn’t coincidence that she was there. I didn’t make a scene; I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction again.
Back in the chalet, we argued. I didn’t want any more lies. I gave him an ultimatum: “Come back with me right now or forget it.” But he’d already made arrangements to get Monday off – for more snow … or so he said. How blind does he think I am? Now it makes sense why he’d insisted on me taking my car. I rang Mum and she said to stay put, get another room if I could, and drive back in the morning when I’d calmed down. She repeated her mantra – leopards never change their spots.
It was in that windy bit when it happened. I’d glanced down at my phone just to check for coverage and in that split second a wall of light blinded me. I slammed on the brakes and bounced side-on to the rocks on the roadside. My car stalled and briefly all I heard was ticking from my cooling car and very faintly, in the background, water trickling over rocks. Then yelling. Through the windscreen I saw two men running towards me. The bigger one was screaming and punching the shorter one, then he turned back into the darkness. The short one ran up to my window. Under his hood I saw he was just a teenager.
“You alright, Miss?”
“I-I-I-I-I… Did you see that?” I stuttered
Before he could answer, the other man yelled out to him.
“Taihoa,”* he said, and ran off.
I repeated my question when he returned but he just told me to steer my car off the road, to the end of the driveway on the left. The sound of scraping and graunching metal splintered the night air.
“Hey, Miss, you okay?” It was the taller man. He stood by my window; his voice was soft and gentle.
“I don’t know. What … what happened?”
“It was just some idiot,” he said. He didn’t meet my eye but stared at the younger man.
“Can you ring the police?”
“Do you have a phone?”
I hunted around in the console and on the floor but I couldn’t find it in the dark.
“No use to you here anyway, after the gorge you get coverage.” he said.
“Will my car make it?”
He stepped to the front grille and, frowning, said, “You might want to look at this.”
Gingerly, I stepped out of my car and the coldness enveloped me like a shroud.
I slipped the hood of my puffer on. We must have looked like mates if anyone had been watching. But there was no-one else there. I thought of Jude and what he would have been doing. His expression had been inscrutable when I stormed out.
“Hey, Miss, don’t cry your car will be okay.”
Our breaths mingled in the unspeakably cold air. The right-hand front of the spoiler was hanging on the ground. The younger man kicked it.
“Settle down,” growled the bigger man.
With animal ease, he crouched down and shone a small torch up under the front wheel cavity. Then he slid onto his back, part-way under the front. That’s when I saw the ankle thing.
I felt like I was going to be sick. Something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t work it out. It was too cold to think straight.
“Is the engine okay?” I heard my voice, high-pitched and breathless, give me away.
The light on the ground shone up into his face and hollowed his cheeks. He looked haunted or hunted, I didn’t know which.
Slowly standing, he answered, “Yeah it’s okay. There’s nothing leaking but this spoiler needs to come off.”
Straight away, the teenager karate-kicked it and the spoiler crashed noisily to the ground.
“Ah shit, settle down, Cuz.”
I could feel tears pricking my eyes.
“You got a tane**?” the younger man asked, as he looked me up and down.
He stood with his feet wide apart with one arm restraining the other. The fingers of the held arm slowly opened and closed. The older one looked ashen, motionless, like a man covered in grey paint busking as a statue in a shopping mall.
“I just want to go home,” I whispered.
“Home!” he snorted, like it left a bad taste in his mouth.
The tall one spoke authoritatively then, “Hey, Cuz, open the back and help put the spoiler in her car.”
He complied, opening the back, then the rear passenger doors to drop the back seats. He took his time and rummaged around. Together, they pushed and pulled the spoiler until the hatch could shut.
They both stood together at the driver’s door as I got in.
They looked like a mum and dad seeing their child safely off on an adventure.
“You have a good drive now, Miss,” said the young man as he chewed on one of my mints. His mood had changed. He was mocking me.
“Don’t go bouncing into any walls, eh? Never know who you might meet,” he joked.
He laughed as he turned away and I saw the light from a phone shine in his face.
“Just ignore him, eh, Miss? He’s just young.”
“Sure,” I said. My car started immediately, and I had never been so happy to hear the engine.
Before I put up my window, I asked his name.
“Me? John … John Brown,” he said with a shy smile.
“Thanks for your help, John,” I said, as I put my car in gear.
Like I said, it was a lesson alright. Times past I would go along with things other people did. But I see now where that’s got me. Doing nothing is still making a decision – so Auntie says. I didn’t know what Wiremu was up to, but I wanted none of it. But this time I had to follow, even when I felt like going in the other direction. She was blonde and tiny like a 10-year-old. All pink and gold and smelling of marshmallows. She played it cool with Wi though. I give her that. She would have known her phone was gone. Gone, like it was in another country.
I waited till she drove around the corner then I grabbed the phone off Wiremu and threw it as far as I could into the water. I wish I could say I heard it smash into a million pieces against the boulders but it’s probably still in there if anyone wants to look. Straight up, there was a time I would have been stoked he got the phone and that. Now I wanted it as far from me as possible. Just so you know, this is no confession; I did nothing wrong. That chick made a dumb call, driving like that. Auntie would have told her to stay put and chill. Wi was still cursing me as I picked up the empty possum sack concealing the letterbox, and started walking up to the house. It was like I could see a clear way forward and what he was saying meant nothing.
Anyway, I have a job up north now working in forestry and my nose is still clean. I choose my own shit from now on. I’ve changed when many said I couldn’t. But check out Wi. He was sore with me for a long time, till finally he could see I wasn’t who he wanted me to be. He stayed on at school and got his NCEA Level 2 and now he’s up here as well. He did a construction course and has a job on the roads. You might see him sometime. He works a lollipop sign and decides if you stop or go. What a crack-up!
* Taihoa = wait, don’t be in a hurry
** Tane = man, husband
About the Author
Lucy Tomlinson is a keen reader and writer interested in human relationships and how we communicate. She has a B.A. in English Literature and Education which has supported her work as a librarian and her love of literature for children and young adults. She plans to study creative writing and get more chickens.