When I wake up the next morning, early because I’ve got to get over to Claris to see Gael again, Bruce is gone. I feel quite low, and reasonably tired, but as soon as I get up, put on Death in Vegas (Track 4 is amazing) and eat some more spaghetti (it’s all we’ve got) I feel much more cheerful. I seem to have lost weight; either that or my jeans have stretched a lot. Carl and Aiyah, who came up here at some point but I can’t remember when, said they’d swing by and give me a lift over to Claris this morning; I’m not sure if they’ll remember, but I’m waiting around until 9ish just in case. After that I’ll start walking and stick my thumb out. For those of you who don’t know who Karl & Ayah are....Karl is a friend of Dad’s, small, skinny and half Tongan, known for his annoying laugh, wearing dresses, and losing in fights with me. (I cracked a couple of his ribs, apparently. I don’t remember this. We were only messing about, but the balcony’s broken too.) Ayah is his newish Czech wife, who’s got a reputation as a nag or whatever, but I get on with her very well. They draw up only a little late and honk outside.
‘YOU COMING GIRL?’ yells Karl out of the window.
‘YEP!’ I yell, double check I’ve got everything and leg it down to the car, sweaty and pulling gloves on. K&A drive me over to Claris, bickering; they’re off up to Okiwi for more diving or fishing or whatever it is they do. I sing along to Prince and watch the clouds go by. When we get there, I jump out and go to see Gael – she’s there – and then go over to the library, which doubles as the council buildings. I’m really nervous; I think I might be a little hungover. What was I drinking last night? The woman behind the counter is reasonably impatient with my clumsy stutterings, but I manage to sign myself up and then hide myself behind some shelves to calm down and choose books. There’s actually quite a good selection and I find myself some reassuring kids fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Dianne Wynne Jones) to read, pack it into my bag and set off for the Texan cafe, commonly called Claris, Texas. (See what they did there?) I heard they might have some jobs going, but when I go in there the guy seems frankly terrified and says reluctantly that they might have something over new year, when I’m not there, but probably not otherwise, and advises me to come back later. He won’t employ me. I trudge back to Claris – it’s a surprisingly long way – and then onwards back towards medlands and tryphena. The sky is low with turbulent clouds, black and brooding above me, threatening the defiant peaks. I get a lift back to Medlands after a while, from a bearded, shifty-eyed redneck called Randy or something, and then one over the hill from a pleasant man in a minibus.
I swing into the post office at Stonewall to see about getting my mail held for me there, and the woman, upon hearing that I’m a Nathan, falls on me like a missive from God and begs me to please get a box for me, dad and Bruce, because the entire pigeonhole system behind the counter is swamped with their unread and uncollected mail. I do, 84, take the keys and then before I know it I’m trudging back over Millers towards Hapuka. It’s still only about eleven.
The sun comes out, just while I’m walking, successfully rendering me sweaty and lobster-coloured again, and then gives way to rain as I come down the hill. Bruce still isn’t around, so I take off my damp clothes, eat some more spaghetti and read Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. It’s really good, kind of unsettling. You don’t really notice it at the time, but it stays with you afterwards, creeping around the dark places of your mind. I’d definitely recommend it, and it only takes half an hour or so to read. I read Billy Thunder and the Night Gate as well, on the sofa, looking out at the rain drizzling down onto the bay. I don’t have any firewood in. Damn. I’ll have to do that as soon as it stops. My spirits are flagging slightly, although I’m pretty content, and I wonder if Bruce is still angry with me. At some point in the afternoon, he and Blue pull up and Bruce jumps out.
‘YOU HUNGRY BUB?’ he yells up to me.
‘WHY?’ I call down.
‘I’M ASKING THE QUESTIONS, NOT YOU!’
This irritates me somewhat. Why can bloody Nathans never give a straight answer?
‘NO’ I call down honestly; I’m full of spaghetti.
They leave again. I watch the traffic coming past, guessing who it is. Most of them I know. It’s nice. TT comes past ten times, honking cheerfully for the first six; he’s driving different trucks each time, but I’d know those arms anywhere. A lot of people beep out, actually. Many of them probably think Dad’s still here, but it’s nice to think some are doing it for me. I’m sick of dad’s shadow. Just as darkness threatens, Bru and Blue pull up again, and uncle Bru comes upstairs.
‘It’s raining’ he says. ‘I’m going to spend the night up Blue’s, you want to come? He has electricity.’
I’m about to say no but then I think of my laptop, and realise I could plug it in.
‘Sure’ I say. ‘Awesome.’ I’m already in my PJ’s so I just grab my jacket and laptop and jump in the truck. Blue lives up at the top of Blackwell drive in a small house, 2 rooms, that leaks and has an incredible view of the whole of tryphena. It has the feel of a glorified lookout. I like it. I find myself a spot, plug in my computer, and type out blogs (Uncle Henry’s place) while we watch Heavy: The Story of Metal. This episode is all about the NWOBHM bands, and it’s wonderful to see all the old footage; I also get to witness something I’ve always wanted to see, but thought I never would: two Judas Priest fans finding out that Rob Halford was gay. I didn’t think there were any left who didn’t know, but apparently no-one told Bruce or Blue. As if you need telling, for fucks sake, look at him. Still. It was hilarious. A priceless moment I will treasure forever. After this we watch some film, Blue stretches and hobbles off to bed, Bruce collapses noisily onto his mattress in front of the telly and I bury myself under a duvet on the sofa. Bruce watches telly, snoring, and Blue swears softly in his sleep. They don’t go to work in the morning because it’s raining, hard, soft grey waves of it driving in across the bay and dripping through the roof, so we lie there in the pale light not wanting to get up. Eventually we do, and they drop me off at home.
The rats have eaten all my soap and some of the candles. The food was safe in its tins, though. I get up and head over to Claris again, this time to take some forms to the post office. I drag myself over Millers and then Linda gives me a lift over to Medlands, cheerful and sunny as ever, and talks to me about meat. Davey’s supposed to be killing this cow for the wedding, and everyone wants some of it, and no-one knows where it’s going to be kept or how we’re going to get our chunk to the mainland. Linda is awesome. Another person gives me a lift as far as the school and then I’m picked up by a minibus full of round Maori girls who turn out to all be people I met on Saturday at the party. (The girls with Matty, aggressive drunk girl, etc.) They stare at me in sullen bewilderment as we climb the hill over to Claris, hungry black eyes taking in every detail.
‘I thought your hair was blonde’ bursts out one of them, clearly unable to contain her curiosity any longer. I’m not about to apologise for her mistake, so I shrug and say something about salt water and hair dye. Eventually they drop me outside Gaels and I go on my way; I think that was ok. Gael’s on her lunch break for the next hour, so I walk up to make sure of where the post office is. It’s pouring with rain. I sit on the deck outside the post office and listen to my MP3 player, waiting for the time to pass; I need photocopies from Gael before I can do anything at the post office. A French girl comes up and talks to me for a while; she and her boyfriend are staying down at Medlands and working where they can. She doesn’t seem impressed with the weather, or anything really. Her boyfriend doesn’t turn up to give her a lift, and she’s stranded here in her disgruntled frenchiness. Eventually she gets a lift from someone, and I set off through the rain back to the community centre to see Gael, who doesn’t turn up for quite a long time, so I steal a Milly Molly Mandy book and read it, crouching on the one dry spot on the deck while water drips down my back. Eventually she comes back, I get my photocopies and then go back to the shop where I manage to get the forms stamped and sent off. The woman is lovely, and helpful. Then I set off to trudge home through the rain.
As I squelch wetly back towards Claris, I realise that I’m happy. Not excited, smiley, jumping-up-and-down happy, not even particularly cheerful; it’s just an underlying basic base-happiness that I’m so not used to. I realise that even though it’s pouring with rain, I’m tired, I haven’t slept well, I look like shit, and even after I trudge the miles home through the rain all I’ve got to go back to is a damp, cold, empty, rat-infested house and a half-eaten candle, I’m still basically happy. This is new and incredible, and very weird. I get a lift back over to tryphena with a shaky old man in a yellow jeep, who drives so slowly I want to strangle him; at the top of the hill on a sharp corner we meet TT coming the other way in his massive blue truck, which nearly gives him a heart attack, but somehow we manage to get down the other side without incident. I check my mail, drag myself back over Millers, getting soaked, and spend the rest of the day staring wistfully at my wet clothes, not getting any drier, reading and staring out at the traffic. I realise to my horror that I’m actually moping a little from the lack of company. TT doesn’t honk today. Why do you care? I ask myself angrily. He’s not even that interesting. This is true, but I still haven’t undone the shoelace he tied for me.I’m so sick of cold spaghetti.