I forgot our goddamned blankets
and the bedroom smelled of rose perfume. The woman who once wore it had shoulder length black hair, which I know because I found one at the foot of the bed and a clump in the vacuum cleaner hose. No matter. It’s a clean-as-you-go, pack-your-own-linens kind of place, plenty warm enough this time of year to sleep in the open in regular clothes.
It’s late afternoon and the wind’s picked up and the sea changes colour under the clouds, green to dark green, blue to dark blue — what a travel brochure might call azure or peacock. The beach is crushed white grey oyster shells, the road black rock tar, the grass a summer butterscotch shade of burn, mossy white fence posts and rails keep the little boy confined to the front porch, itself newly-framed in untreated hardwood, dead straight lines of galvanized steel nails, and the song of an ice cream truck carrying on down the shore.
Figured we’d head to town and pick up a few things at the Maraetai General Store, but it was shut. That ice cream truck, parked up at the beach across the way, was still trading, so we each ordered a splotch of soft serve with some kind of chocolate dressing and took off on a walk down by the boat club and around the point, Charlie now covered in sticky vanilla.
Old fella with a scraggly dog called Shelly, old as each other I mused. Two stretches of mismatched rope knotted in the middle served as lead, and it drug across the sand and oyster shells, sounding like coffee beans poured in a tin. Old fella, beard bigger than his head, stained with food, a ragged santa claus. He grumbled some trivia about the islands on the horizon, surprised we seemed to know some about this southern side of Waiheke. We told him where we live, pointing beyond Sky Tower on the northern horizon — and I’ll be damned if you can see all that way from here. Wouldn’t have expected such a thing. Anyway must have been the accent and the camera fooled him, but there was no mistaking old fella and shelly as locals, lifelong. Can’t stand the city life, he said. I mean, I think he said. Between his general grumble and midcentury north island twang, didn’t quite catch every word. I mean I think they were words. Maybe just grumbles. That possibility I could grasp, as I’m prone to similar.
We walked back the way we came, through the boat club, back down the beach, next to the ice cream truck, still a thriving trade. Drove back to the Te Kuiti Cottage, here at Duder Regional Park on the outskirts of Auckland. As we swung the road gate open I saw a man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans walking the shore among the dotterels, carefully, and I wondered whether he might be a tourist like us.
Pulled into the cottage yard and I turned round the back to the carport and we unloaded ourselves. Opened up the cottage and started collecting ingredients for a sausage sizzle on the barbecue outside the kitchen window. I was fiddling with the gas tank when the man in the white shirt approached from across the field next door, behind the fence that says private.
He’s no tourist.
I walked across the yard and met him at the wood and wire fence.
Martin, he said. Here for a few days?
Nah, jus tonight. Passin through more less. Figured we’d try out a regional park.
Ah. On holiday?
We live north, north shore, four years now. Got the wife’s parents in town. From California.
And then the stories started. Born somewhere. Raised elsewhere. Worked London some years. Houses, jobs, people.
Charlie wandered out and Martin said hey and Charlie said hey and Martin said he’s got a little boy too. Six.
Ah cool. Charlie’ll be six come February.
Too bad you’re not here longer. Mine’s out with the grandparents tonight. Tell you what though. We’ve got a kayak his size and a grown up one too, if you want to borrow it in the morning.
And we went on to talk about clouds and rain and islands on the horizon. And I asked about this cottage we’re staying in and he told me the Duder family story and more of his story and I added some more of mine.
[Aside] I’m not telling you this because it was a riveting scene by any stretch. I’m telling you this precisely because it wasn’t anything special. To me and to Martin, this is one of the many ways to fill days. Conversation at the pace of the tides. This is the kind of pace he likes. Feels like he’s always belonged here. I suppose that’s why he steps so lightly around the dotterel, and suggests we do the same.
After our dinner of sausages and takeaway curries, the house settled down and I found myself thinking about Martin and his life and this life and farm life and the stream they say runs across the back, behind the old work shed they converted to a sleep out, must have been back in the fifties, judging by the windows.
Now it’s a lot of weeds. A couple years since old man John died and council took over care of the property. Just behind the sleep out, some pest traps, dead myna bird, and a discarded tractor tire under a tree that looks eager to get clumb. Inside the tire seasons of dead leaves and dirt, a busted hose reel, smashed terra cotta pot, some green some brown beer bottles. I lean up on a fence post, tangled number eight wire in a ball just over there, and I’m not the first to lean here and ponder night falling, the red barn the last bright colour on the west horizon, the brush pile that’ll burn sooner than later and its white perfume smoke will scent the beach behind, as it did from that farm down the way early this past afternoon, down where the sheep bleat at this hour, and their horse leans against a fence like this one used to be, and we’re sizing one another up and he knows and I know I’m Johnny-come-lately and I won’t be long.
Out in the field is a dead patch, must have been another little shed, a few square metres rectangle, a few seedlings sprouting, reclaiming space. The pukeko make a ruckus as I approach, like the oyster catchers had on the beach, sounding like a dog squeak toy amplified and taking flight. A couple hundred-year-old stumps on the stream bank,
and the horse is really lookin at me funny now
and there aren’t any mosquitoes, I’m surprised,
and I look back at the house
and the way dusk light picks up the tractor tire treads, looks the side of a zebra,
and a cow groans something fierce of a sudden as though a slaughter might be imminent,
and in a circle of parched weeds is a charred branch and a carpet of oyster shells
and tentacled super weeds like I’d pull back in California
and I never could get rid of those damned things there
and here I am and there’s a lone buttercup in among the weeds,
yellow’s answer to that red barn,
the sea twinkling black on the horizon.
I open my notebook and the bright white paper picks up the remaining light
and cuts the wheat weeds’ beige, sweeping in the breeze toward the sea.
Atop the page I write “I am not afraid.”
Atop another page, I write another misapprehension:
“I belong here.”
Yet I won’t sleep under a blanket tonight.