- Published: 2 March 2021
- ISBN: 9780143775539
- Imprint: RHNZ Vintage
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 288
- RRP: $36.00
Not many people shift house because the dog killed the neighbour’s cat, a blue-eyed Himalayan worth a thousand dollars, but that is what we’re doing. Not the only reason for the move but certainly a motivating factor. That is, the murder of the cat on a midsummer day in 2018 is a major motivation for leaving town. Not the next day or even a few weeks later. A whole year. Lawyers have been involved. A court case was threatened. Money changed hands. At first I defended Muzza. Of course I did.
‘It wasn’t our dog! Look — there he is, under my desk!’
But someone had managed a blurry shot on a phone. A flash of teeth and bulging eyes I would never have recognised but had to accept in the end. Muzza is a complex character. Certainly he’s never shown that side of himself before, though he’s not keen on Davie, growling if he comes too close to me. Not that that’s a problem, since Davie doesn’t, hardly. Certainly not as much as I’d like and even less since the crime. Bouts of longing come in at me like a train on a car at a level crossing.
Like now, while we follow the removal truck to our new life. Why doesn’t he look at me, say something about the future, how he relishes the prospect? Or dreads it? He could take my hand, smile with anticipation as the car passes up the cracked concrete driveway to the long narrow building lying along the crest of the mountain, the highest peak of the ranges.
I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking that he’s failing to meet an expectation, that there is something he should be doing or saying — God knows what — and that I’m sad because of his failure. He’s thinking I want him thinner, without a stomach that presses up against the base of the steering wheel, or in a t-shirt without holes. But I don’t care about any of that. I’m just glad that he’s here, that we’re on the journey together, that we’ve survived, one of the few marriages of all our friends and acquaintances that has. Thirty-three years. Thirty-three fucking tumultuous years.
And there it is, our new home, coming into view as we climb the steep corner and take the right-hand turn. From the real-estate agent we learned that it had once been a motel and dining room, then it was just a tearooms which had struggled to survive stiff opposition from a better café on the other side of the highway. After a few years people stopped coming because of the hard access and bad food. Eventually it was abandoned, left to rot. There is a cavernous basement and a rickety second-storey open deck. The door opens into a long room of musty brown carpet pocked with multiple dents from vanished chairs and tables. The kitchen lies on the other side of the counter. I picture it even as I shrink from it and all the work that lies ahead, and the waking hours Davie and I will spend cloistered here, and how I don’t know, truly, if I love him like I used to.
But if the tide goes out, then it comes in again, sparkly and fresh. Always has. Always will. Trust. Have faith. How could you not love him after all these years? Of course you do. Even if he shows you less regard than he would a goldfish in a tank, a few crumbs of affection sprinkled on the surface now and again. At least he’s here, isn’t he? Unlike the husbands of half a dozen friends in Auckland. You love him to bits, really.
Stop working your mouth like a deranged old woman.
When he parks the car under the deck and pulls on the handbrake I reach for him. A low growl from Muzza in the back seat — too close! — and Davie pulls away, as if he is obeying the dog, as if he has no will of his own and no more love to give. He gets out of the car and on cue— I shouldn’t think of it like that, but I do; I do, really, in spite of myself — on cue our daughter pulls up behind us. She climbs out, straight into Davie’s embrace.
‘Fa-ark!’ she’s saying. ‘You said it had views but this is unreal!’ She’s turning away from him, her pregnant silhouette against the great gulf of sky. Davie draws close again, pointing into the hot, gleaming north, and I join them so that we can stand there together for a moment, the three of us, looking down from the peak of the ranges to distant Bream Bay and blue Whangārei Heads, down to the farms, the cluster of roofs that make up the nearest coastal town, the small remaining swathes of native forest and the million-man march of the pine trees in regulated lines up the flanks of the hills towards us. Giant pylons stride over gorse; a troop of tourists takes selfies at the lookout with their backs to the view. Our nearest neighbour is the other café, now an empty private homewith the owners domiciled overseas.
‘Wow,’ says Liv, perfumed ponytail swinging. ‘Just wow!’
Muzza bounds off, barking, and I turn back to start unloading the boot, then think better of it. The removal truck guys will need guidance about where to put things.They’re going up and down the shuddering stairs and dumping stuff on the deck.
‘There’s a river down there somewhere too,’ Davie is saying.
‘And this is the highest point!’ says Liv, stretching out her arms. ‘You trulyruly are King of the Castle, Daddykins.’
Davie gives a short laugh, more like a bark. ‘Pimpleon the elephant’s arse, more like,’ and there’s sadness in his voice.
As I pass, Liv turns to face me, and looks deep into my eyes with that expression she’s perfected since she was quite small, nine or ten: Have you been arguing with my daddy? Usually it enrages me but this time — blame exhaustion, blame excitement, blame the recent soul searching — I find myself meekly shaking my head, so Liv hooks one of those outstretched arms around me and the other around her father and heaves a huge sigh of contentment.
‘I’ve got a really good feeling,’ she says. ‘This is going to be chill.’
Then she releases us, takes out her phone and snaps a picture of the view. I say nothing. Of course she’s brought her phone with her. What did I expect? It was a choice between that and leaving her behind.
Discarded medical equipment litters the floor: surgical tools blistered with rust, broken bottles, jars, the scratched spine of an old invalid chair.
As the new year of 1910 moved closer to its second month, the world marvelled that there had been so few deaths in Paris when the River Seine rose more than eight metres and flooded the city.
As I reach for the doorbell, my phone bleeps with a text and my head instantly fills with a roll call of possibilities.
By the time Eliza Maxine Olivia Miller was eleven, she had lived in eight different country towns.
In that crowded city, she had worked for a haberdasher and presided over the slow death of her mother, after which she’d discovered in herself an unexpected yearning to leave Ireland and see the world.