- Published: 2 February 2021
- ISBN: 9780143775331
- Imprint: Puffin
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 240
- RRP: $18.99
IN WHICH A LONG WEEKEND GETS LONGER
‘It’s coming,’ says Stevie. ‘I just knew it. If it’s got to the city, it’s only a matter of time before it turns up down here. Matt Robinson says his aunt’s coming to visit next week, and she lives in the city. She could bring the virus to Hansen.’
‘Yeah, on her shoes and in her hair.’ Daniel screws up his face in disgust. ‘And I bet she tries to kiss all of them. Now Stanley Robinson will die!’ Daniel rolls on the kitchen floorin the final stages of Fake Death by Incredibly Painful and Invisible Means.
‘That’s enough, Daniel.’ Mum is not amused. She leans over Stevie’s shoulder and continues reading the newspaper.
‘We have to stay home,’ says Stevie. ‘It says here. We must stay home!’
Tessa sucks her thumb vigorously. She wants to know about the cats and the hens. ‘They’ll know what to do,’ says Mum. ‘They won’t wander far, and anyway, love, there’s no evidence that it will affect animals.’
Friday, 2 November
There was a meeting at the town hall tonight. It’s after ten when Mr Robinson gives Mum a lift home, and comes infor coffee. They are in the kitchen talking quietly. Tessaand Daniel are in bed, fast asleep. Stevie and I are in our bedrooms. I can just hear Stevie’s TV. It’s down real low. I betshe’s listening to Mum and Mr Robinson too.
I angle the mirror on my dressing table so I can seedown the hall and into a thin rectangle of the kitchen. I see Mr Robinson eating one of Stevie’s chocolate muffins.
‘How are your food supplies, Kathleen? Best to stock up for a few weeks. Just in case. There’s no knowing how this will develop.’
‘I’ve been working on that for the last two months. Just quietly.’
The kitchen door closes. I am suddenly very hungry.
Saturday, 3 November
Flaxton Field is closed. There is no cricket, no netball and no going to the mall for Stevie. Our whole family is in the kitchen. We stand round the bench and listen to the radio.They don’t play much music now. It’s News, News, News. And it’s the same thing – hour after hour – Stay Home!
The pandemic is coming.
Our whole neighbourhood stays home.
We can see the Thompsons’ big-screen television next door, flickering green and blue in their lounge window at night. Down the road Billy Teese sits in his dad’s car in their driveway, the car stereo blasting out around the neighbourhood,vibrating the fence lines like a hydraulic drill.
The music that Billy Teese plays up loudin his dad’s car+ Metallica & Iron Maiden & Black Sabbath
The music that Billy Teese plays softlyin his dad’s car+ Nothing
Sunday, 4 November
Okay, Sunday’s got to be one of the most boring days of the week. For starters, no one in our street gets up before lunchtime.Well, not that I know of, since I don’t get up before lunchtime. But this Sunday takes some beating. Even when I do get up, which is a record-breaking 11 o’clock, it’s deathly quiet. No cars go up or down Koromiko Street. There isn’t even the usual sound of traffic churning numbly in the distance, on the motorway. No aircraft grind overhead ontheir way to the airport.
Mum’s been told to stay home from work till it’s over.There are no kids at school to teach anyway. They are all staying home.
Daniel wants to know: ‘How long will this long weekend be, and can we sleep in Every Day, and can we have pancakes for breakfast again?’
Tessa says: ‘I want to go to school now, Mum, because Mrs Stephenson is going to growl if I don’t do my work.’
‘I’ve got no idea how long it will last.’
‘How long is a piece of string?’ says Stevie, and Daniel pokes his tongue at her.
Mum plays lots of board games and cards with Daniel and Tessa. Stevie and I do too, sometimes.
From the spare room window upstairs, I can see west, all the way to the mountains, over the roofs of Hansen, and north to the harbour and the black snake of motorway where the traffic is not groaning today, not even one car. Everyone in Hansen is staying home.
Mrs Lelo lives alone, next door. She’s sort of old, I think, though once I saw her riding a bicycle down Koromiko Street, and sometimes I hear pop music coming from her windows, so maybe she’s not Really Old. Mum rang her yesterday. ‘Just to see that you’re doing okay,’ said Mum.
Mrs Lelo moved here last year. She’s from England. She sits in the sunroom at the back of her house each afternoon,drinking tea from her favourite china cup, and nibbling shortbread. She waves out and smiles at us. Mum gives her the thumbs up.
There’s a gate in the fence between our house and Mrs Lelo’s that Jerome’s father built, when he lived next door. Jerome was my friend but he lives in Australia now. Sometimes, Mum leaves a couple of eggs on Mrs Lelo’s fencepost, beside the gate. The next day there’s half a dozen piecesof shortbread for us in their place. They are delicious.
Mr and Mrs Thompson live next door, on the other side of our house. Mrs T is weeding round the beans that climb over a bamboo trellis. Mr T’s in the backyard too, digging in his vegetable patch and planting late spuds. His plumber’s van is in the driveway. It’s been there all week, like it’s broken down or run out of petrol. He says he’s not going out again till it’s over. ‘It just isn’t worth the risk,’ says Mr T, talking tous across the fence. ‘Mavis (that’s Mrs T) and I have put aside some supplies, just like they said, you know, in that booklet that they sent us. And we’ve got a stack of vegetables here.Sing out if you run short, won’t you, Kathleen,’ says Mr T.
Our place+ 29 Koromiko Street+ Hansen+ South Island+ New Zealand+ Planet Earth+ The Universe
Our family – The Flints
+ Tessa (7) is a bookworm. She loves Honey Puffs and Harry Potter.
+ Daniel (8), aka Spiderman II, is going to be a stuntman one day. He can already do lots of different versions of dying.
+ Stevie (14) used to be Stephanie; now she’s a vegetarian, and bossy sometimes.+ Mum is Kathleen.
Dad is not was James
+ Oscar & Lucinda, the cats.
+ Janet & Joy & Margaret, the hens.
+ Willie Wonka is our goldfish. He swims crooked.
+ Me, Zac Flint (12), aka Man-of-the-House. Yeah, right.
+ Oh, and Rex. He’s Daniel’s pet rat. Rex lives in a wire cage that hangs above Daniel’s bed on a picture hook.Rex has black eyes, shiny like gemstones.
+ Mrs Lelo lives on the south side of our house.
+ Mr and Mrs T (for Thompson), Mavis and Dave, live on the north side of our house.
+ Mr Strongman lives on the other side of Mr and Mrs Thompson, but we don’t know him very well.I used to deliver the The Hansen Evening Mail to him.Sometimes I can hear his little dog barking, like a door slapping back and forth in the wind.
+ Billy Teese and his dad, Mr Teese. They live down the road. They used to live on the West Coast. Now they don’t.
+ The Robinsons live in Hunter Crescent. You get there through the alleyway across the road. Stanley Robinson is Daniel’s best friend. Stevie really really likes Matt Robinson, but she’d kill me if she knew I’d told anyone. Their mother died from cancer before they moved here. Mr Robinson is called Hugh. He makes jewellery and sells it at the market. He has yellow hair like a surfer. He smiles a lot, when he comes to our house.
+ Colonel Mustard is this ancient French dude. I can’t pronounce, or spell, his real name, but it sounds like Mustard. He wears this funny little hat, and hasa black moustache. I don’t really know what a real colonel looks like, but I think they would look like this. He lives up in the old farmhouse on the otherside of the reserve. He’s got lots of grass but not many animals. One day Colonel Mustard’s farm is going to turn into trees again if he doesn’t watch out. Mum thinks that he was once in the army. He looks like this other French man in my Social Studies book called Napoleon Bonaparte. Perhaps they are cousins?
+ Stella Hohepa lived next door to Billy Teese until her mum married Pete Glasgow, a carpenter from Bulls. He built them a house in the new subdivision on the other side of the motorway, and they moved away. Stella’s old house is still empty. Sometimes we chat online. She says the new house has got a big lounge for Pete’s television, but they had to sell the trampoline.
There are other people in Koromiko Street, but they go to work all day, and watch television all night. We don’t know their names.
There’s an orange cat that visits us, and makes our hens clatter like someone walking on the roof, and there’s a black dog with half a tail that sometimes snoops round our mailbox. I don’t know where they come from.
Other stuff about our neighbours
+ A man way up the road drives a car transporter. He parks it in Koromiko Street when he has to leave for work late at night. I don’t know what he looks like, but his truck is as big as a house.
+ A logging truck sometimes visits Billy Teese’s place. His Uncle Samson from the West Coast drives it. Sometimes we see him asleep in the truck’s cab, with his boots up on the windscreen and the windows all fogged up.
Monday, 5 November
It rains, heavy. The wind picks up and rattles the trees, knocking some of the plums to the ground. They are still green, and hard. Daniel collects a pocketful, and plays plum-marbles on the floor in the lounge. We stay indoors for three whole days. It’s really cold for November. Daniel and I have a gameathon.
Games that we play
+ Skip Bo
+ Paper, Scissors, Rock
+ Snakes and Ladders
+ Poker (Daniel cheats cause he doesn’t know the rules)
+ Guess Who?
When we play Fish, Snap, and Snakes and Ladders, Tessa plays too. Stevie is very busy and can’t play. She is in her room brushing her hair. She does a lot of hair brushing. Mum says she will play soon, but gets held up in the pantry, looking at the food. Again.
When Daniel gets a runny nose, Tessa cries. Mum gets Daniel some red medicine that smells like black jellybeans. Daniel smiles when Mum fills the spoon a second time. Tessa is watching, her eyes full of tears. Tessa says, ‘It might have arrived, the Pan-demmy. Daniel might die.’ Tessa cries till she gets a runny nose too. Then she is very quiet, for the whole day.
Wednesday, 7 November
Mum is standing on a chair in the pantry when it happens. She’s looking up into the top shelves at old preserving jars, and a whole civilisation of spiders. Her mobile phone rings. ‘Zac, I’m in here.’ I pass her the phone, just as the chair wobbles. It’s not Mum that falls to the floor, it’s her phone. The sound of aluminium and glass on porcelain tile is not pretty. The damage looks insignificant, but looks are deceptive. Mum taps at the screen like a blackbird. Waits, taps again. This time it’s more like gun fire. Machine gun. She shakes it even. Nothing.
‘That’s the last thing I need.’
Thursday, 8 November
The sun’s out. Daniel’s in the garage, before Mum gets out of bed. He’s building a trolley. Tessa says, ‘I bet you were just faking it all along, Daniel Flint. I bet you just did it so Mum would get you that yummy medicine, and you could have the Whole Couch to yourself.’
‘Yeah,’ says Daniel as he holds his throat with both hands pretending to choke. He does his Fake Dying Act, again. He falls to the ground, and this time he pokes his tongue out and rolls his eyes before lying very still, and Not Dead At All.
‘You are all Hollywood, Daniel Flint,’ says Tessa. She walks off, her chin in the air.
Friday, 9 November
When the phone rings it’s Stanley Robinson. He asks if Daniel can go and play. Mum frowns. ‘It’s against the rules, just now,’ says Mum. ‘Maybe next week.’
They were still 400 yards from the strip of white beach and the crammed jungle behind it when the fighter planes came.
In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek had been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once had the Rules of Baby Abandonment been broken.
There’s a story I’ve heard many times about how my brother Jason got the scar that runs above his left eye, almost parallel with his eyebrow.
At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis.