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  • Published: 31 May 2022
  • ISBN: 9780143778561
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $36.00

Winter Time

Extract

Eddie had been the only one not to leave Lake Matariki. First to go was Gerard, his father, followed a few years later by his mother, Janey. Different causes: the first because he was a selfish bastard who thought only of himself and his own pleasure; the second the result of illness. Once the remaining kids were old enough to look after themselves, his oldest brother, Roland, took off to university. Better late than never, he said. Not long afterwards Casey, his only sister and twin to youngest brother Isaac, moved to the city. Hardly surprising, given her passion for shopping and partying. Isaac went next. Unlike the others he stayed in the region, going only as far as Kurow, where he found workat the Aviemore Dam. Friends from school disappeared over the course of several summers. True, some returned when work, university or marriage didn’t live up to expectations. A couple more bought sections, built holiday homes, rented them out, made money, re-established connection — but these seldom lasted more than a few months. In their eyes he was a bit of a failure, someone lacking ambition and get-up-and-go.

Less than ten years after his mother died, his father followed her to the grave. They heard about his death through his solicitor, an honest, decent bloke who wanted to do right by the kids. It took almost a year to sort through the mess of Gerard’s finances but in the end it was okay. They each came away with a few thousand dollars. And they still had the house; Janey had already seen to that when the divorce came through.

Then, the unimaginable happened. Casey was diagnosed with an aggressive melanoma and didn’t make it past thirty. The next summer Isaac vanished, presumed drowned, while out fishing on Lake Matariki. Privately, Eddie felt there were still a lot of unanswered questions. Something about Isaac’s disappearance didn’t sit right with him. But he wouldn’t burden Roland with his qualms. His older brother had never got over the death of their mother, let alone Casey, and it didn’t seem fair to torment him further by going over what might or might not have happened out on the lake. They would never know. The most important thing now was to take care of the living, and support each other. They’d had too much tragedy for one family. They’d suffered enough.

The family house was set back from the highway, near the top of the hill. Eddie had been told by a friend who knew a bit about architecture that the house was originally designed by a guy named Humphrey something. It had started life as a simple holiday home for a couple from Christchurch. Back when it was built, it occupied a space outside the settlement. By the time Eddie’s parents took over, the house was being nudged by new homes dotted around the outskirts of the village. Now it was surrounded by new subdivisions. Eddie resented the intrusion on his space — the sound of bulldozers, diggers, roadworks, building sites. A decade ago it had been the pounding of hammers, now it was all nail guns. Only the radio station played over the boom-box never seemed to change: the hits of the seventies and eighties, the news, the meaningless banter, the competitions, the phone-ins, the constant commercials. The unrelenting noise, and with it the destruction of the stillness, peace and silence, bothered him more than anything else.

In the old days he’d smile and say hello to out-of-towners when he happened across them at the petrol pump or in the store. Now he didn’t bother. There were too many of them. The ratio, the balance, had changed. Once the minority, now they had taken over. From his deck he could look down on the church. At one time it had been nothing more than a smallstone building and a statue of a sheepdog, with the milky-turquoise lake beyond; now it was awash with tourists. One Saturday, he counted five wedding parties, and that was only during the hours he remembered to look. Who knows how many more got photographed while he was out the back, working in the garden. They destroyed the heart and the soul of the place. Drove in, tied the knot, took a photo and buggered off. On to the next place: the Mount John observatory and café, the wild-salmon farm on the hydro canal, the view of Aoraki from the Lake Pūkaki comfort stop, the multi-coloured lupins growing wild on the side of the road. His home was nothing but a series of photo opportunities.

Two days before, he’d been driving down the road, on his way to give Colin a hand with the rabbits, when he’d had to slam on the brakes because the guy in the campervan in front of him had stopped dead in the middle of the road. Didn’t look in the rear-view mirror, obviously. Didn’t pull over. Simply stopped, leaned out of his driver’s window, took a photo, pulled his head back in and continued on his way. Completely oblivious to traffic. Could have caused a major accident; wouldn’t be the first time. In the past you could practically drive from Matariki to Omarama by memory and instinct alone, tune out and look at the view, listen to the wheels thrumming along the road. The gravel pinging against the hubs and mud flaps if you got too close to the verge would be enough to get you back on course. Now, it was dangerous to sneeze without first checking the road for tourists.

‘Listen to yourself,’ Roland had said on the phone. Eddie had paused and then replied, ‘I’m not being racist, if that’s what you think. These tourists happen to be bad drivers. They’re all over the place. Left side, right side, down the middle, stop, go: it’s all the same to them. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t even have a driver’s licence. I tell you, someone’s gonna get killed. Guarantee it. You just wait.’


Winter Time Laurence Fearnley

Set in the Mackenzie Basin, this vivid novel is about familial love, friendship and how our lives touch, connect and impact upon one another.

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