And Tai, escaping the cool atmosphere around his home, when he requests more-of-the-same-he-had-yesterday, slams out the door and has a defiant meal in Kenny’s with his mate Sam. And hears about the suicide, a man he’d been fond of. Hears that someone dumped someone in Aus, and the dumpee went to the cops in revenge, and that a whole lot of unravelling’s going on. Hmmmmm.
And Gracie doesn’t stay the night at Jo’s. Once Vita’s sleeping, she walks home. Down Cuba, down Courtenay, past Kenny’s (that Tai in there?). She doesn’t notice Ivan right behind her, (making for Kenny’s, to talk to Sam) and anyway she’s homeward bound and strides on, along Oriental Parade, past the pohutukawa trees, to her parents’ place. Looks in on Lisa, sits with her for a while, cries a little again, recognises that everything has changed for her after Vita’s story, falls into bed exhausted. Just before she drops off remembers that she still hasn’t told Jo about the fuckwit-with… Or the conversation with Firefly and Tai.
Ivan’s delighted to see Tai.
—Slumming it mate? What can I get you?
Tai’s not so thrilled to see Ivan.
—I’m right. No, hang on. Maybe a cake? One of those Lamingtons? No. Make it two. (He knows Ivan’s delight to see him means he wants something, why not make him fork out a little, and two lamingtons is VERY little.)
—And a custard square? More tea?
—Whatever. (Tai raises an eyebrow at Sam.) Same for you?
Ivan drops a loaded tray on the table. Pours himself a tea. Tai reaches for a lamington from the cake plate, pushes the plate towards Sam.
And Ivan, after a single sip of his tea, gets down to it.
—You heard about that death?
Tai nods, his mouth full of lamington.
—He was a good mate to you.
Tai nods again.
—You know the cops could end up at your place?
Tai takes another bite.
—And you know to keep your mouth shut. Just like your mate here.
Tai nods yet again. Sam looks blank.
—That’s all you need to know.
A final nod. (Tai has of course already heard the whole shebang about what’s been happening, not ten minutes ago, from Sam. Knows how and when to keep his mouth shut though.)
Ivan remembers he has a message for Sam. Delivers it (nothing that couldn’t have been texted, but Ivan likes the personal touch from time to time.). A ‘date’. And then he’s off. Places to go, people to see, pleased with himself that he’s stayed on message and hasn’t mentioned Firefly (Ivan’s saving himself for that promised drink, man to man). Tai’s sad. He cared about the guy who died.
—Let’s do something, he says to Sam. Let’s go to the beach.
So they walk down Allen Street, across the supermarket car park, pick up a shopping trolley in the little playground across the road, take turns to push each other along Oriental Bay’s deserted promenade. Tai pushing Sam, they rattle opposite Gracie’s window across the road just as she thinks about the fuckwit-with…
And then Tai speeds up and pushes the trolley hard, straight down the five concrete steps to the beach. The trolley falls on its side. Sam is flung on the sand. He leaps to his feet and seizes Tai, backhands him.
—You little shit.
For a moment nothing happens. Tai’s shocked. How come his mate’s channelling Ivan? Then he leaps on Sam. They wrestle, briefly, half-heartedly. Then they fall onto the sand.
Tai reaches in his pocket for one of Firefly’s joints and they pass it to and fro in silence for a while.
—He used to ask me what I’d like to eat.
—And what game I wanted. And there it’d be, next time.
Sam stands up.
—I’m going home. Coming?
They walk across the road, up the zigzag path towards the monastery that overlooks the bay, along the track in front of the monastery, down through the pohutukawa trees to a little old shed with views to die for. Sam’s cosy here, along with an alkie (who’s not here tonight). They eat some Anzac biscuits. And then sleep. Restlessly, both of them.
Jo wanted a debrief with Gracie. But she’s also glad that Gracie’s gone home, and Vita’s sleeping. She needs to be alone. Wants a fag, desperately. She’d cleaned up while Gracie gave Vita that foot massage and organised the bath etc., so she can’t distract herself with that. And she knows that the bum-on-seat small movements of handwork won’t do it for her. She needs big, all body, action. So she goes back up to the roof and shoots hoops and bounces and runs with the ball till she’s exhausted. She’s heard some terrible stories from her dad, who knew his history, from before and after European settlement, and from Rebecca. But Vita’s story’s so raw, so immediate. So HAPPENING NOW. And being Jo, of course, she wants to put things right.
Around 4 a.m., Jo checks the fridge, thinks about Vita’s breakfast menu. Summery and nourishing; if she’s not hungry, it could just be some of that special miso with a few herbs on top, a couple of tiny sourdough soldiers, a fruit plate: can dash over to Moore Wilsons for anything else requested.
Sets her alarm for seven.
There’s a first time for everything; Jo sleeps through the alarm. And when she wakes up, all that’s left from Vita is an empty water glass on the draining board and a note: “THANK YOU. Will be in to Hemingway’s soon”. Disappointed, she makes herself some Venerdi toast, slices cherry tomatoes on top, and rings Gracie. Through the toast crunches they agree: Give her some space. That must have been very hard.
And Jo goes over to Rebecca’s and tells her the story. Rebecca is not surprised that there’s ‘a story’ of course.
And Rebecca reminds Jo of stories she’s already told her, and adds new bits, about the different ways those people dealt with their terrible experiences, over years and years. Sees Jo’s longing to jump on her white charger, and strokes her arm, takes her hand.
—All you can do is be there for her.
And Vita’s glad to be ‘home’. Relieved. Looks forward to telling the story again, to her therapist, in a few days. The storyteller in her wants to explore it now. From every angle. She gives the new techie a big smile and lots of time, telling him wild tales about her early life in radio, just up the road on the Terrace.
Down the road, Firefly makes his way through a longish list. Confirms his and the boy friend’s travel arrangements for New York. Worries at what to do about Tai and the apartment. Is it a good idea to leave him alone, starting a new year at school? He shelves that problem. And then crosses Vita off his coming out story list.
Stretches, decides to cook. Realises he hasn’t seen Tai this morning. Looks in his room. It’s empty.
Tai doesn’t stay in touch. Doesn’t come home for two days. When he arrives, he’s filthy, rude.Feral, Firefly thinks to himself. Back where he was before. He thinks again about going away, about coming out. Maybe this is the moment to cut Tai loose. Let him self-destruct.
Norman rings Gracie. Maitre-de-bitch has met a farmer in Taupo, fallen in love. Will not be back. How would she like to become permanent? Gracie says she’ll think about it. Needs to talk with her mum about Lisa, about their long-term future.
Jo leaves it, over a couple of hideous hot and windy days. Mooches around and sees a lot of movies: Matariki, Burlesque, The Kids Are All Right (selling gay marriage to America, with some irritating subtext here and there). Meets Gracie and Lisa at Oriental Bay for a swim once the wind stops, listens to Gracie’s uncertainties about her future. Hears that Gracie has a story about the fuckwit-with… that she isn’t going to repeat in front of Lisa. But wants to deliver in person. Not on the phone. Not email. That Gracie, she’s a drama queen, she teases, she does what she pleases.
And on the way home, Jo rocks up to City Radio. Finds Vita. Invites her for a coffee. Or an ice-cream, round the corner at Kaffee Eis?
—Oh yes, great. It’s so hot.
And they eat the ice creams while they walk to the seawall near the little beach near the national museum. Dangle bare feet from the wall, watch the gulls. Paddle. Neither says anything for a long time, while Jo tries to think of the best way to approach what she wants to say. A little blurt will do, she decides.
—I have that spare room you know. You’re very welcome to it.
Vita’s brisk. She’d kind of expected this.
—Thanks Jo, that’s very kind. But I’m fine.
Jo kind of expects Vita’s response. But she’s still disappointed.
Vita sees the disappointment and gives Jo a little smile.
—And I need my therapist down the hall. And I’d better get back now.
Jo slips her feet into her jandals and stands up, watches Vita put on her sandals, brush herself down.
Once they’re walking, Vita tells a little side story.
—In Houston, Marie approaches charitable groups to help her get Benedict out of prison, and to help improve Benedict’s life in prison. One group’s a black women’s group that distributes bibles. Amazing, staunch. And they go to a women’s prison, a gaol they call it there, in the middle of the city, where bibles are the only books allowed. I ask if I can go. And the woman in charge says yes. It’s an ordinary kind of office block place on the outside. But once we get through all the security doors, instead of solid walls dividing the spaces, there are corridors lined with floor to ceiling vertical bars. Inside the bars are more sub-divisions, and stainless steel tables fixed to the floor and stainless steel stools and behind them women on bunks, women on toilets, completely exposed to us from where we stood. It’s like being inside a series of battery hen cages.
As soon as we appear, women crowd up to the bars. The women I’m with introduce me each time as a lawyer, and many of the women want to talk about how they’re not guilty. One of those women’s particularly intense as she speaks, the others grouped closely around her, jostling, looking on and listening. Then she almost whispers: “It’s terrible here. There are even LESBIANS. You’ll understand. They are gross. I’m terrified of them”. “Oh”, I say, “I’m a lesbian. We’re not gross, just look at me. We’re everywhere, and there’s nothing to fear. Some of us are even helpful”. Immediately, a tiny woman at the back of the group—I can see her now—scuttles off, in rapid kind of limp. The woman I’m talking to falls back in surprise for a moment before bouncing back to ask me to help her. I smile at her. Then this huge butch came striding out of somewhere at the back of the cell. The group shifts she moves through it. Holds out her hand to me. We shake hands—neither of us speaks or smiles—and she strides off again. A moment I remember with pride.
Vita’s face is lit up. And Jo of course is very pleased. AHA, I thought so. Then Vita’s light goes.
— Jo, I have to keep things very simple.
Jo gets it. And she’s sad. They walk in silence for a while. Outside Capital Radio, they pause.
—You’ll let me know if there’s ANYthing I can help with?
—Absolutely. And I’ll be into Hemingway’s soon.
Tai doesn’t self-destruct. Because staying with Sam for a couple of days (and turning a few tricks again, as you do, as a good guest, sharing a host’s activities) shows him that he doesn’t like this world as much as he likes living with Firefly. And he only just avoids a run-in with Ivan, who doesn’t tolerate freelancers. So he cleans up fast. He apologises, awkwardly but without explanation. And when Firefly asks him what he thought he was doing, getting in such a mess, he just goes quiet. Then:
—I was upset because you’re not taking me to New York.
Firefly gathers Tai up, squeezes him gently with his huge arms, sits down on the sofa with Tai on his lap, sniffs him appreciatively. Tai snuggles in, happy to be back.
—It was tricky getting you into school. You know that. Too hard to get you a passport. But I’ll think of something else. Another big treat. You think of one, too.
—I could help cook dinner later. Missed ya, Firefly. Did you miss me?
And of course, Firefly had missed Tai (in some ways). Dinner’s delayed. And Firefly arranges for Julie to come and stay while he’s in New York. She and Tai enjoy each other. She’ll deliver Tai to school in her jazzy car, and she’s good with treats.
Gracie has long chats with her mother. They agree to wait for any long-term decisions about Lisa until Gracie hears who’s accepted her for a PhD, who’s offering her a scholarship. Why not accept Norman’s offer for now? Good people management experience. And why not find another house-sit? They both know that Lisa’s happy where she is, but they won’t be happy under the same roof for too much longer.
So Gracie arrives at Norman’s staff-meeting-to-open-the-year feeling good. Refreshed, and now a significant part of the team. And leaves the meeting feeling even better, off to lunch with Jo, on her roof. And even better, as they test the first of Jo’s Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes on sourdough, with a glorious apricot tart and elderflower champagne. So, at last, she launches into her fuckwit-with… story from New Year’s Eve. And, Jo’s horrified.
—A customer? You THREATENED him? He’s an All Black. Gracie that’s terrible. Far worse than that tampon trick. You can’t do that. Are you sure it’s a good idea to be the maître-de, maybe you’re not ready?
Yep, she’s horrified. Gracie’s furious.
—I thought you’d be pleased! He’ll think twice, three times, four times, before he tries that elbow trick again! Let alone the kiss-snatch! Who cares that he’s an All Black? He’s SLEAZY. You’re just pissed off I didn’t ask you for help. Jealous. YOU’RE the only one who’s allowed a white charger!
—You patronising tit, of course I’m ready, I’m the best maître-de in town!
One thing about Jo, when told off, she listens. And considers. Hmmmm. This not the moment for another blurt.
—So tell me, Jo, what do I do if Mop comes in again, knowing what we know about him now? Forget about Vita’s story? Treat him just like any customer? Or do I whizz up to you, and whisper in your ear: “Get out the rat poison!”
Suddenly, for both of them, it’s serious. Jo slumps with sadness about Vita, how she made it clear who she was and where she was, how there’s no way to help her. Even ‘being there’ limited to being there in the kitchen when Vita turns up. Gracie waits. Jo manages a tiny something.
Then realises that yes, she was jealous as well as patronising.
—I know you’re a wonderful maître-de. And I wish I’d dealt to the fuckwit. How can he try it on, when there’s zero tolerance for All Black bad behaviour? He has so much to lose–
It’s Gracie’s turn to wait. Jo looks beyond wanting a smoke (Gracie’s used to that look); Jo’s looking overwhelmed with grief. And when she finally speaks, she speaks with unusual precision, eyes down.
—I want to tie all of the people responsible together, naked, in a row, like those slats on futons that are joined with webbing, or railway ties linked by iron rails. And then– with you at one end of the line and me at the other, I want us to take steel knitting needles, move along that line of shits and plunge knitting needles into the genitals and up the arse of each one of them. I bet there are some women as well as men. And I want each and every one to die, in terrible pain, from hunger and thirst and infection and blood loss.
Gracie’s mouth is open. She closes it. Jo looks up, looks Gracie in the eye.
—And then I want to erase our actions from my memory. And your memory. And Vita’s memory. And erase her memories of Mark and Streak and Benedict. And Marie’s husband’s death. And then I want to take Vita’s hand and walk off into the sunset.
She pauses. Turns back into someone Gracie knows.
—And that isn’t going to happen, is it? Nothing’s going to happen to Mop. Who knows what will happen to Vita. Fuck, I’m so angry.
She shakes herself. Grins.
—I’d kill for a smoke.