They’re mopping the floor in the kitchen. Hemingway’s is almost empty. Vita sits with a brandy, the only diner left. Waiting.
Gracie appears in front of Vita. Out of uniform.
Vita gestures to the seat against the wall.
—Offer you something?
The staff group at two tables, away from the window. Finishing off the bottles at one: Norm and the others. At the second, Gracie (with a brandy and knitting), Vita onto her next brandy (she needs it, out here in the world). And Jo (with tea, observing, listening, shy.)
Gracie decides to help out.
—Jo’s knitting’s a whole lot better than mine. I have her mother’s old patterns for egg cosies, tea cosies. (Rebecca knits with an accountant’s precision, and uses her calculator with fast-knitter fingers.)
—But first I’m making this.
She holds up an awkward-looking almost-trapezoid. Crimped wool from an unravelled jersey dangles from the needles.
—Peggy squares. For blankets. And then I’ll adapt egg and tea cosies: trunk bands for pohutukawa trees; gloves for iron fences, sashes for statues. Show Vita yours, Jo.
Jo’s embarrassed. But she’s also dying for a smoke. She reaches into her bag and out comes a delicate, intricate, fair-isle front for a child’s jersey.
—Jo’s amazing at this. I tell her it’s her chopping and plating skills, really train the hand and eye.
Vita’s eyes pop.
—That’s GORGEOUS. (And it is. Jewel colours. Beautifully designed.)
Jo looks up. Smiles. Loses her shyness for a moment.
—It has a beautiful little hood. Lined.
She reaches into her bag for the pattern she’s made.
Vita looks at the pattern and remembers another little jersey. Darkness falls. She hands the pattern back, tries to return Jo’s smile.
Doesn’t quite get there with the warmth.
Jo goes eyes-down, starts to knit.
Gracie powers on. Knitting and talking, her head down too.
—You have children, Vita?
(Vita presses her fists onto her eyelids. Quickly, before one of them looks up. Swallows. Hard.)
—Jo has all these nephews and nieces. And she’s the best auntie in the world.
Vita wants to run.
She deep breathes. Subtly, she hopes. Grabs her brandy.
Gracie looks up.
—I’ve got a daughter. Lisa. Stays with my parents. While I flit from house-sit to house-sit.
Jo steps up, proud of Gracie.
—Gracie’s finishing her thesis. Masters. Law.
That distracts Vita, whew, moves the conversation on.
—Wow. How much further to go?
And then, back to Firefly.
Gracie winds it up.
—So that’s Firefly Jones: lovely man, fine player on the field and off. Adore him. Hope his shoulder comes right.
Vita throws back the last of her brandy.
—Thanks Gracie. He sounds wonderful.
Finally, Jo speaks up.
—So. Gracie’s a Firefly groupie. You fancy him too?
Vita looks surprised.
The others wait.
Vita fiddles with the stem of her glass.
—Us media types, always curious. He was familiar.
Jo and Gracie know it’s more than that. And they know that Vita will not say anything more.
A taxi draws up outside Hemingway’s and Vita pulls her coat on. Come on Jo, put down that knitting, stand up, see her to the door, ask her out, Gracie thinks. But no, Jo’s frozen-in-place, so Gracie gets up, gives Vita a quick hug. (What is it with these New Zealand women and their hugs?) Vita waggles her fingers at Jo.
—Till next time.
Jo lifts her hand from her knitting in response, doesn’t quite smile.
And off Vita goes.
From their table, pushing their knitting into their bags, Jo and Gracie watch Vita get in the taxi. Then, bags in hand, they hurry out the back door.
Through Hemingway’s yard, across the next yard, and, after a bit of a struggle, through the gate to Vita’s building and whoosh, into the ancient shed in her yard. They giggle. Yes, they giggle, even though Jo’s still a little humiliated by her awkwardness with Vita.
—What d’you give her? Another minute? (Gracie.)
—Less, depends on the lights, could be really fast this time of night. (Jo.)
—Stinks in here. I’m poking my head out to breathe. (Gracie.)
They huddle together, leaning on the door frame, just inside.
Behind them, Tai, out of it, tries to make sense of what he’s seeing.
A car door slams shut, not far away.
—Here she comes. Got her! This is not Lyall Bay! (Gracie.)
She yelps a little as Jo grips her, drags her further into the shed.
Heels tap towards them. Slowly. Pass them.
Vita grips the hand-rail and plods up the fire stairs, tiiiiip–taaaap–tiiiiip–taaaaap, opens the fire door (how has she fixed it so she can open it from outside?) and disappears into the building.
In the shed, Gracie and Jo look at each other.
—Now what? (Jo.)
Gracie settles her bag on her shoulder.
Gracie and Jo spin round.
Tai’s a mess. But not too much of a mess. They manage to squeeze out the necessary information. And act on it. Though they find it hard to believe.
Tai hears Gracie dictate a phone number from his phone. Jo keys it into her phone and presses green.
Tai, partially filled black rubbish bag in hand, waits with Jo and Gracie on the kerb outside City Radio. A powerful car draws up to the kerb. Mercedes was it? Jaguar? (Jag, Tai says later.) Firefly jumps out.
Tai, drooping, watches Firefly.
Then, Jo and Gracie watch Firefly. See his huge left hand cup Tai’s head, then his long right arm reach around Tai’s shoulders, and lead him to the car. Watch him clip Tai’s seatbelt around him. Watch him coming towards them. Gracie sticks out her hand and greets him.
—Thanks for coming.
He gives a tiny smile.
And his handshake’s gentle. All those times waiting on him, and they’ve never shaken hands before. She gestures towards Jo, and smiles.
—You’ll be familiar with her food, but I don’t think you’ve met.
Firefly and Jo shake hands.
—Nice to meet you. Enjoyed that lamb tonight. Even better than the Celebration Menu loin. And those vegetables. Who knew swede could be so special?
— The end of the winter veges now. Thank you. I enjoy getting feedback. Good and bad. What-
She catches Gracie’s eye and shuts her trap. Her gueule. Her big uncensored blurting motormouth.
Firefly glances towards Tai, who avoids eye contact.
—Better get home. Thank you both.
Vita’s oblivious to all of this. She’s going for it on her laptop. More alive than she’s been for a while. Piggy backing someone else’s wi-fi. Logging on here, logging on there, catching up on the man she saw with Firefly Jones. Finally, she writes a long email. Inflates the Lilo and conks out.
Yes, there are sheds like this near Cuba Street. Still. Not the greatest photo, but only a week old.
Gracie’s inspired by the legendary Wellington knitting taggers, who wove hearts on a fence just round the corner from Hemingway’s.
But I imagine that Jo’s knitting, in colour and pattern, is a bit like these mittens from Laughing Hens, where Beth used to order from.
Though I think she knits with the fine, delicate, wool used in this gear from People Tree.