New Year’s Eve at Hemingway’s. Always a big deal. One set menu sitting, for fifty. Private. Invitees only, customers, investors, suppliers. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for some. This year, it’s the BOY menu, in honour of the Taika Waititi film. Wear the east coast. Eat the east coast. Lots of crayfish. Kelp. Corn. Kumara. Riwai.
And a special east coast green dessert. Norman probably shouldn’t risk this, but he knows his favourite people well. (Furthermore, the maître-de-bitch is away. Family bach in Taupo. Gracie’s in charge, thanks to the maître-de-bitch, who’s trained her very very well.)
Julia Child in mind, Jo works hard to help Norman take the dessert as high as possible. A special and delicate hash cookie base for a pavlova cupcake. And the accompanying ice cream: candying the buds in syrup so they won’t freeze among the prunes and Armagnac, a crispy garnish with some leaves, others deep-fried in a delicate batter that’s half wheat flour and half potato flour.
Once they’ve reached the peak, a scattering of cocaine instead of icing sugar, Jo helps Norman take the dish back down a little. With an alternative mint-and-golden-syrup ice cream for pavlova cupcakes without a cookie base, accompanied by a glorious cape gooseberry coulis.
So here they all are. In lavalavas, Polynesian shirts, floral waisted dresses.
Rebecca, Norman’s silent and highly tolerant business partner, wears a floral dress, white hat and white gloves, representing the ‘other’ east coast of old; she swears that she ate her first pavlova cupcake after an east coast funeral. She and her friends bring Vita.
Firefly brings Julie—the closest in his closet to a faghag—his boyfriend and Tai, a couple of All Black former team-mates, one, alas, the-fuckwit-with-the-elbow. (Why isn’t he in Taupo with the maître-de-bitch?) His physio and his wife. His accountant and her partner.
Gracie is high with her brand new LLM (distinction) and the promise of a scholarship for her PhD (if she wants one) and wears a gorgeous new hair-cut, courtesy of several weeks of full time income, and an east coast meets American Graffiti op shop dress (Polynesian shirt fabric, full skirt). She struts her stuff and keeps a precise distance from the-fuckwit-with… in a charming and unobtrusive way. “PROFESSIONAL”; “IN CHARGE”. Hears her father (at home with Lisa, steaming mussels): “you may not like someone, but you have to love him”—and tries hard. And pretends she’s never met Tai, who’s looking both hot and cool and knows how to behave, after these last months. (Almost) unrecognisable.
As for Vita…Vita had a difficult session with her therapist this week. She makes herself go, sometimes twice a week, but talks only about her work; she and the therapist both know that these conversations are far far away from what Vita really needs to talk about. And after she talks at length about her writer’s block and then about a new techie, there’s a pause. Lengthy. And the therapist asks “Are you VERY lonely”? And Vita says “Of course not”. And explains about all the people she sees. And then, into the next silence (a little desperate) explains that these aren’t all ‘just work’ relationships. And tells the therapist about Rebecca’s invitation to Hemingway’s do. The therapist’s interested in the invitation. Norman’s new year party’s legendary, she says; she looks forward to hearing about it, what Vita enjoys.
So even though Vita doesn’t really want to go to Hemingway’s with Rebecca and her mates, she feels obliged, because she feels she short-changes the therapist, every time. Foolish, yes, but that’s how she feels. And, yes, she’s drawn by the promised pavlova cupcakes, as Rebecca hoped she would be, having Jo’s interests at heart.
And when Vita arrives, Rebecca stands up and waves, and Vita strides swiftly towards Rebecca’s big round table, and into a seat fairly close to Rebecca, where her back will be towards the room. And doesn’t see anyone else in the room, including Firefly and Tai. She’s thinking of the therapist. Thinks about giving the therapist her money’s worth (actually her money’s worth of the money Vita’s paying her, so much money that it provides a reason to stay living at City Radio, all on its own). Yes, Vita’s thought processes can be messy. Anyway, she focuses on enjoying herself. Hard work, among these happy people.
Gracie doesn’t have to think about enjoying herself. And one of the best bits is buzzing up to the pass and feeding info to Jo, at the stove.
—Firefly’s brought that kid.
—I think Vita’s wearing Zambesi.
Jo goes on full alert. When her attention should be on the stove. O Jo.
—She heard east coast and thought New York. What is it with that woman?
Norman gestures to Gracie: stop. Jo’s attention goes back to the stove. Gracie swoops off, tossing a last line as she goes.
Does Jo smile, just a little?
Back again, catches Jo head to head at the pass with young Finn.
—Firefly’s thumbs up on the cray.
—Fuckwit’s behaving himself. (She’s warned her staff, suggested safety measures, has her own strategy to hand.)
A bit later.
—Your mum’s a bit pissed.
—Vita’s looking a bit bored.
This time, Jo responds.
—Cupcakes at the ready!
And Gracie gives her the thumbs up. Jo REALLY smiles, a rare event during service. And Jo’s had a very elegant haircut too, Gracie thinks; she can be so beautiful. And then it’s ALL CHANGE with the desserts and Gracie’s off again.
Every new year, soon as the dessert’s served, Norman and his staff (if they choose to) join the diners, relax with them until midnight (though the bar staff hang in there until the end, a big drinking night for everyone, and a big tip night too). Some of the staff prefer to gather in the kitchen, or out the back. Norman and Jo change their aprons and circulate. The floor staff join their favourite customers. And, this year, there are a few conflicting agendas.
Vita IS a bit bored. Then, after dessert and then the cheese board delivery, everyone else at Rebecca’s table reaches the giggly “& remember when?” stage. And the boredom shifts to sadness: no-one here whose history she shares. So she goes to the ladies to distract herself. And sees Firefly, and thinks: hmmmm.
Then, on her way back, passes Firefly’s boyfriend (your average mid-twenties slender-and-boyish good-looker, nods at her) on his way to brighten himself at the gents. And sees the empty seat beside Firefly. AHA. Approaches Gracie.
Jo has special cupcakes for Vita to take home, in a teeny, intricately hand-decorated box. She primps herself a little when she changes her apron. Decides to take her time, make her entrance when Norman goes to chat to Rebecca: who wants her mother watching? Then thinks, fuck it, it’ll take no time to go home and change. So she slips out the back door. Surely Vita will hang on till midnight?
The meal’s over. They’ve paid their respects to Norman’s menu. No-one believes that the East Coast green dessert’s had any effect, but all that good wine has. They wait for the new year and dinner becomes a party. People shuffle seats. And, like Firefly’s boyfriend, Tai’s bored. Everyone wants to talk to Firefly, but most people ignore Tai (and the boyfriend).
There’s a no cell phone rule here. But Firefly’s mellow. So he hands Tai his Blackberry.
He points to Tai’s lap.
—Keep it down.
This new year’s special for Firefly. Retirement begins. And he’s considering coming out (impossible for a current All Black, and no former All Black’s done it, either). But is this the right boyfriend to do it with, he wonders, knowing that the bf is off ‘brightening’ himself just a little too often and sometimes with outcomes that are a wee bit problematic. Is this the right time? How best to do it? He looks round ‘his’ table. Do they guess? His dear friend, Julie, on the other side of Tai, knows, for sure; she’s had years of being a partner here and there. He reaches round Tai’s shoulder and caresses her shoulder. Some uncool person at the next table snaps a shot.
And then, as always, Firefly’s interrupted. Gracie, sweet Gracie. With one of the other guests. Firefly stands, holds out his hand. Vita, a little pissed of course, and very curious, introduces herself with her European professional name. (Hmm, thinks Gracie, what’s she playing at, that’s not the name we know?) Then Vita adds.
—But you can call me Vita.
Tai ignores Vita: he’s going for it on the Blackberry. The camera freak at the next table doesn’t: takes a nice shot of Firefly and Vita, heads together, at the moment when Firefly, offering Vita the boy friend’s chair, thinks “NO, it can’t be” and feels delight, the moment when Vita turns on the charm. Just before Firefly opens his mouth and says:
—That tennis article in Vanity Fair?
And Vita nods. And Firefly, who has an incipient new age streak, thinks Ahhhhh: that’s a quick bit of manifestation.
And then, Norman starts the countdown, with Rebecca, from over by the bar. —TEN– NINE–
And they all join in.
Gracie hovers a little, wonders what’s happened to Jo, wants a chat with Firefly (and Tai) herself. But as the countdown crescendos, she turns towards the bar, to join the count:
And someone caresses her bum, AH, Jo’s made it. But no. She turns and it’s fuckwit-with… This time, he’s on his feet, right behind her–
He sweeps her into his arms for the very first midnight kiss.
Tongue straight into her mouth.
This isn’t how she’d imagined it happening, but she thinks quickly, backs off. Smiles. Improvises.
—Come with me. Somewhere quieter. I’ve got something for you.
She pulls him into the kitchen, past the celebrating guests, past the whirring dishwasher. He can’t believe his luck. An empty kitchen! She places one arm round him, runs her hand down his fly, as they go. Opens the door to the walk in freezer.
—Look! Isn’t it great?
Closes the door again. He’s a bit mystified, but the pleasure from those full-on sweeps-and-twirls of her hand distracts him.
Then she pauses in front of the little staff lockers, teases open his fly. He can’t believe it. Glad he went commando tonight.
She opens her locker. Ah, a box of condoms. Knew she was gasping for it.
But she nudges them aside. And grabs her knitting. A half-done almost-trapezoid peggy square in pale yellow with brown flecks. The crimped wool dangles from it.
Somehow she manages to continue her tease and edge the knitting past the condoms. He’s really excited now. Zip open, cock absolutely erect.
With one hand she grabs what she can of his balls, mostly through the fabric of his upmarket board shorts. Puts one foot quietly on his instep. And uses her other hand to poke him in the chest with her knitting needles. She can hear that they’re coming to the end of Auld Lang Syne.
—Now here’s the thing. Don’t move. Or I’ll scream RAPE! And the floor staff’ll be here with their phone cameras tout de suite.
Looks him firmly in the eye. He gets it. The erection fades. He shifts a little. Is he going to jab her with his elbow? That fucking elbow?
—They’ll never hear you. BITCH.
He goes to pull away. Booze and shock mean he’s a little less forceful than he could be. She squeezes his balls a little, gets ready to smash his instep.
—If you EVER lay an uninvited hand or mouth on anyone in Hemingway’s again, one of us will squeeze your balls very hard while another one pushes one of these needles straight down your cock and a third one pushes the other needle straight up your arse. The kitchen boys standing guard with their knives. And then we’ll shut you in that beautiful freezer.
He gets it. She’s thought about this. And she means it.
—That’s an uninvited bit of mouth.
None today, either. Anything you’d especially like to know?