Category Archives: Uncategorized

1. Kick Off–

Wellington. Built around a harbour and over major fault lines. The best little capital in the world. Arts and culture. Wellywood. And The Cake Tin. Venue for the Rugby Sevens, every February.*

The day before the Sevens start, there’s a parade: the usual nuns, some Buddhist monks, a group of Chewbaccas, the Upper Hutt Flamingoes, two Captain Americas, Rubik’s Cube girls, The Hulk (several times over), Pirates of the Caribbean, Teenage Ninja Turtles, The Libra Pad Men, Dominoes, many groups of ‘schoolgirls’. Gingerbread people.

Colonel Sanders and His Spices, The Fat Strippers, Ten Guitars, The Free Range Chickens, Speedo cops among police officers of various kinds, The Lady Hot Rods, The Fred Daggs, The Girl Scouts. There’s dancing through Courtenay Place—party central—around and past the bars and cafes and their pavement tables. There are Queens. Tongan Ninjas. There are fire fighters. Sailors. Characters from Street Fighter. Prisoners. Superheroes. Captain Americas. Powder Puffs. Drag jandals (yep). Butterflies. The Labiates. And a Bacchus.

From the edge of the large and raucous crowd, a fit-looking and attractive middle-aged man watches the parade arrive in Civic Square. Jeans and leather jacket. Nose that’s been broken a time or two. Expensive hair cut. Watching, and watchful. Ivan.

The man who taps him on the arm is BIG, too. BIGGER. An elegant brute of a guy. A metrosexual who’d look good on a billboard, selling beer to wine-drinkers. Firefly.

Firefly speaks first.
—Any moment now–

A kid tugs at Firefly’s sleeve.
—Firefly! You going to the Sevens?

Firefly feels other parade watchers edge towards him. Takes a nanosecond after all these years. He catches Ivan’s eye and jerks his head: let’s move. Looks down at the kid. Gives him a gorgeous grin.
–Yep–

And then Firefly slips towards a shadowed corner near the library’s steps, loses the watchers in a few deft moves.  As swift as those he makes on the rugby field. He doesn’t lose Ivan, who struts to the corner by another route. The parade and the enthusiastic crowd fill the Square now, and Firefly speaks very quietly to Ivan, without looking at him.
—Over by the City Gallery entrance. Bright green. Huge mask. You might recognise the legs.

Ivan chuckles.
—Gotcha. Who’s he s’posed to be?
—Bacchus.

Desperate to reach the library toilets, a Labiate wearing a lavender-printed robe notices Firefly, wonders about the guy with him. That nose. Another rugby player? She can’t pause for an introduction, even to call and wave.

Ivan watches Bacchus for a moment, dancing with another Labiate. When he turns to speak with Firefly again, Firefly’s gone.

————————————————————————
NOTES

Because I hope you’ll suggest an ending for Hemingway’s, sometimes I’ll supply extra information in NOTES like this.

Civic Square, Wellington So much happens in Civic Square. At the moment,  it has astroturf and goalposts. Kids play soccer. There are flash mob hakas. Flash mob trick sessions. Sometimes Civic Square’s chokka—during the Sevens parade, for two minutes’ silence for Christchurch and its earthquakes, for the Hobbit protest a while back, or now, during the Festival of Carnivale. Often it’s almost deserted.

Civic Square is not far from Hemingway’s. And even closer to Courtenay Place. Party central, where it can get a bit nasty.

Bacchus If you’re not familiar with Bacchus, in Roman mythology Bacchus (Dionysus in Greek mythology)  is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy. He’s sometimes shown as a beardless, sensuous, naked or half naked youth, and described as womanly or ‘man-womanish’. Here’s Caravaggio’s The young sick Bacchus/Bacchino Malato (a self-portrait 1593-4).

Bacchus symbolizes the chaotic, dangerous and unexpected and is associated with triumphant and disorderly arrival or return from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilised. Wild women—maenads—and satyrs follow him.  And the Labiates? More about them later.

*Know this place? If you don’t, here it is:

2. Three Women & A Boy

I.

JO

I’m on my break. Relaxing out the back of Hemingway’s, among the rubbish bins, in the almost dark. Away from the Celebration Menu. Away from the extractor fan’s whirr. Hand in my apron pocket, reaching for my tobacco. Weary.

And two backyards away she drops something. Down the fire stairs of a three-floor concrete office building.

Something heavy.

THUMP, it goes. THUMP THUMP, again. It gets my attention.

Then she gets my attention.

—Fuck, she says. I think.

Something quiet, hard.

I pull out my tobacco. My papers. Peer at her. Watch her go quietly down the stairs, into the shadows, and retrieve what she’d dropped. Start up the stairs again. Towards the third floor. Capital Radio’s floor, where my mum and her mates record their community show, on air among the other community groups.

I drop some tobacco on a paper. The door behind me swings open.

Gracie steps out. Digs me in the ribs. Gestures, gimme, towards my roll-up.

—Fuck off–

—Just this once?

—Nah.

The woman stops at the top of the metal stairs. Looks at us. Both of us in the light spilling out from the kitchen door. What does she see? Me watching her out of the corner of my eye? Gracie’s eyes on my hands as I roll the paper round its little bundle of tobacco? Me hoping Gracie’d go back inside, her nineteen days without a smoke about to become twenty?

She opens the metal door at the top of the stairs. It screeeeches. Gracie looks up. We watch her push some bundles through the door and slip inside, a little pack on her back. Then reach out and drag another bundle in after her.

And then Gracie tells me about the diners-from-hell. Who sent back my perfect loin of salt bush lamb, caponata, grilled kipflers and Catania dressing. How when she lists the desserts, standing by his chair, one of them gooses her with his elbow. Right on the clit, and without looking at her. How she doesn’t-believe-it for a moment. Looks down, thinks she’s imagined it, launches into a vivid description of the culurgiones de mendula, with carpaccio of fresh fig from Marlborough, tea-soaked muscatels and grape jelly from Central Otago. How there-it-goes-again and she catches him, backs away. And then–

And then she realises she’s about to bleed all over the floor. And the maître d’bitch tells her off for going to change her tampon. But–

The diner-from-hell-with-an-elbow wants early summer pudding (Rattletrack Road blackcurrants and raspberries, Otaki strawberries, raspberry coulis). So she sneaks into that little corner near the back door  where no-one can see her– (How did we not see her? It was a busy night & she’s a sharp cookie.)  And she squeezes her used tampon into his coulis. Just a little. Stirs a little, with a long spoon.

Gracie knows how to persuade me that nineteen days is long enough without a smoke. I tell her off. And then I compromise. One puff for her. One for me.

Then Norman shouts from the kitchen. And back I go. Leaving Gracie with the last two puffs. Hoping she’ll come home with me. I loved the nights when she looked across the empty bottles on the table, smiled and held out her hand, the way the others watched us leave, the way she’d tidy my tidy kitchen while she made a pot of tea. Bleeding or not, I loved her in my bed, her sigh of pleasure when her head hit the pillow.

I forgot about the other woman. Never gave her a thought.

VITA

The other woman was me. I see the light falling through the open door, two people among the trash cans. (Love trash cans. Brought up on Oscar, the beginning of my love for that little screen.) I try to look relaxed-and-normal and hope they won’t call the cops. And that’s hard, because I’m completely knackered. Anxious about finding the lights. Wanting a hot drink. Needing a comfortable place for my sleeping bag. Wanting to sleep. With no pills, no booze, and no child to listen for.

GRACIE

Yep. I’m Gracie. Gorgeous on a good day. Gorgon on others. I’m the writer.

II.

Vita tosses out the bulging laundry bag, shoulders her backpack and steps out onto the fire escape. Pulls the door shut. Looks past the neons and streetlights of nearby Cuba Street, out towards the lights in the houses and apartment blocks and university on the hill.

Secures the door, moves towards the rusty metal steps. And sees him, sitting a couple of rungs down.

—What’re you doing here?

He goes for flattery.

—Nice beanie– Like the boots–

She lifts the laundry bag and clanks across the landing. Raises her voice.

—WHAT are you doing here?

He’s not scared. Jerks his head towards the locked door.

—Waiting to nick your laptop–

She comes up close, squats down at the edge of the landing so their faces are almost level. He smells slightly stale. He has a full-blown zit on his cheek. Nearby, a couple more zits are on their way; he’s been worrying at the full-blown one. He’s brand dressed. With expensive (Converse) grubby sneakers.

—Up. Off.

—What’re YOU doing?

She lifts her foot. Just in time, he sees what’s coming. Leaps to his feet, backs up against the stair rail. Grips it with one hand, holds up the other.

—No– And don’t push me– I’ll jump–

She gestures: down you go.

—Jump somewhere else–

He smiles. He’s a child, she thinks. Turning on the charm. A beautiful child.

A child. She feels nauseous, hitches at the laundry bag and takes a step down, grabs his free arm, attempts to turn and push him.

His smile disappears.

—Don’t push me– This isn’t your yard– Not your fire escape–

He’s got her.

But she has a go, anyway.

—O yes it is. MOVE.

He turns and starts down. Turns back.

—Help you with the bag?

—I’m right.

She pushes him, gently.

—Just looking at Hemingway’s. Firefly Jones gonna take me there for tea one night–

She laughs a little. (Aha. A little liar here–) Keeps pushing, and they keep moving down.

—So?

—He’s an All Black–

—Not any more, he’s not–

—He’s a real good mate–

—Yeah, right. Shoo. Shoo.

He jumps the last few steps. Turns and bows to her, smiles again. She hustles him down the alley.

Later, Vita adjusts her grasp on her bag of clean laundry and slips back into the alley. A car door slams behind her. She ignores it.

—Wait up–

Quick footsteps follow her. She turns back towards the lighted street. Sees a car accelerate away. Sees him stop, hold up his hand. Sees him hold out his hand, towards the laundry.

—PISS OFF–

—Let me help?

She looks a little more closely. Sees the black eye.

—Piss off–

He gets that she’s softening. She moves off towards the fire escape.

—I’m Tai.

She’s on the fire escape, attempting to run up, laundry bag awkwardly over her shoulder.

Tai’s slumped on the bottom step. Numb. Cold. Wondering where to go.

She’s securing the fire door. Feeling guilty. Feeling sad.

She goes to the office. Stashes the laundry in a cardboard box. Unrolls her little air mattress, her Lilo. Inflates it. Wraps herself in the old sleeping bag. Takes a deep breath.

—No more mothering. No more mothering–

She sobs.

At the bottom of the fire escape, Tai hugs himself. And sobs.

III.

But Jo and Gracie (we) are cosy. Music’s playing, one of Jo’s Nina Simone stints. She hums along, breaking into song now and then, rolls a smoke, coming down after a long day in the kitchen.

—Don’t look at me like that, Gracie. That was a one-off. You stopped.

—So. I started.

She puts it all away.

—No more for me tonight. No more for you.

She comes to stand beside me, making our hot drinks.

—That was horrible, what he did.

—What I did, too.

—‘Twas.

We share a wide grin.

Sometimes, I want to be a dyke. You need to know this from the beginning. I love her. And she loves me. We sleep together a couple of times a week, when I can’t get a lift, can’t afford a taxi. We kiss a little, and murmur. We touch a lot. We cuddle. But that’s it. The spark for more isn’t there. The pheromones. No light for either of us crazy moths.

Jo beats her wings against my evening.

—Next time–

I beat back.

—I’ll take my own revenge–

(She always wanted to protect me. I always wanted to deal with things myself.)

I hand her a cup. It doesn’t distract her. She glares. Stays on message.

—No. Send for me.

I shake my head. She reaches for her whisky bottle, changes her mind. Reaches for the brandy. Unscrews the top, gestures. Another headshake from me.

—Prefer a smoke.

Then I relent. I want to sleep.

We sip at the brandied hot chocolate.

______________________________

NOTES

Where did Jo, Vita, & Gracie come from?

When Beth died, I had no problem taking over the domestic stuff. We’d always shared it, (like the earning) and we enjoyed working together: cooking, cleaning, gardening, fixing up the house, and of course the child-care. Maybe that’s why I need less living space, so I notice Beth’s absence less. Anyway, afterwards, I offered the house to one of the kids with responsibilities, and moved to the bach at the bottom of the garden, and got used to being alone.

All of that’s fine now. But there’s some unexpected losses. I’m surprised that I miss the sense of the girls changing room at the periphery of my domestic life, feeding it. Beth and I met in primary school; I didn’t go into the girls changing room when we were nine, or ever.  So she always had a separate life with her ‘girls’. It wasn’t secret, but she didn’t share many of those stories. And I had mine with the lads: rugby, pub, cards. And I didn’t share much either. There was some overlap with friends who visited the house, but otherwise almost all I heard about the ‘girls’ was when I came in and Beth was talking to one of them on the phone. She’d say to whoever it was, “Ah, here’s Ti. Gotta go.”  But every so often there’d be a story or a fragment of a story. And now she’s not here I miss those fragments from the girls changing room. I wish I’d asked more questions. The women in Hemingway’s come from questions I never asked.

Nina Simone (Don’t Leave Me)

3. A Cardboard Box


I.

There are many Polish women in Jo’s extended family group. Oldish now, and mostly unrelated. Orphans, the lot of them, who came from Europe at the end of the Second World War. Jo’s mum and auntie came together, hand-in-hand, thin, serious. Now they’re plump. And full of laughter that spills over into their monthly City Radio programme.  Jo loves them all. So she pops round to City Radio to deliver some food, to celebrate their five years of broadcasting. It’s late morning. And she’s a bit early. Too early for Vita.

Jo presses the buzzer. No response. But she can hear someone moving inside. So she thumps on the door. Loudly. And again. Puts down the box she’s carrying and uses both fists. She’s on her break, hasn’t eaten. And wants to.

Vita’s surprised to hear the buzzer. It’s a while before anyone’s due. She has to hide her domestic presence. Lilo and bedding into the unused cupboard in back room. Toilet and makeup stuff onto hooks behind cupboard door. (No problem in kitchen, always food around.) Who the fuck’s banging so loudly?

—Coming, coming–

She kicks the clothes box behind some old sound-tape cartons.

Opens door.

Vita blinks. A chef? In whites? With a big box of food?

Jo blinks. Major bed hair? Have I got the wrong door? There’s the sign on the wall. There’s the buzzer. The place to swipe an electronic card if I had one. Of course it’s the right place.

Each woman opens her mouth.

In the kitchen, Jo places her box carefully on the bench, pulls aside Vita’s black-out curtain and points out the window, towards the back of Hemingway’s.

—There, she says, that’s where I work.

She indicates the fire door, there by the kitchen bench.

—If I use your fire escape I can cut across your back yard into ours. OK? Have to get back now if not sooner. Big day.

Her hand grabs the metal bar that opens the door.

They exchange tentative smiles.

Jo pulls down on the metal bar. The door flies open. She makes up her mind.

—We have a set menu. Pre-theatre.

Vita hooks back the blackout curtain.

—I go straight home after work– Lyall Bay. Maybe one weekend–

Jo opens the tall corrugated iron gate at the end of City Radio’s yard. It’s stiff and it creaks. (Like Vita’s lie.) It sticks, and it screeches when Jo boots it open and then shut. In the old shed on the other side of the City Radio yard, out cold in his favourite corner, Tai stirs.

II.

Vita props the fire door open. Just a little. Opens the kitchen window. Peeps in the box. Yum. Moves the box to the tiny table. Runs water for the dishes. Realises she hasn’t brushed her hair. Leaves the dishes. Gets her gear from behind the cupboard door. Goes into the tiny rest-room.

III.

Staff break’s ending at Hemingway’s. Norman’s out the back having a fag. The others are… In the toilet. Texting. Checking out the fridge. Lighting a hob. Gracie knits frantically. Reads the paper at the same time. Cranky.

—This isn’t working. I’m thinking smoke smoke smoke.

Jo wants to talk about Vita.

—What’s she doing, living there? She’s running the place. But it’s offices and studio space. Where would she sleep?

—Pursue her. Then she can sleep with you.

Gracie turns a page. Awkwardly, hanging on to her needles. Jo grabs the moment.

—Those beautiful clothes. She can’t be poor. But creeping to and fro on that fire escape?

—Shut up. I’m reading. Who cares?

—I’m curious.

— Then Do Something about it. Or Knit. Or Have a Smoke.

Gracie knits faster. Dying for a smoke, herself. Jo goes out the back door. Norman grinds his butt underfoot. Grins. Holds out his pack. She shakes her head. Norman goes inside.

IV.

Vita comes back into her kitchen, ready for the day. One community group after another till late evening. And there’s Tai, eating one of Jo’s pierogi, a mazurek in the other hand.

—Thought you might need a hand with something–

His eyes are bloodshot. The black eye’s a bit green now, fading.

She shakes her head. She’s furious. And– What, a little frightened? The buzzer goes. The Poles.

—Out.

What’s that fear? He gives a little smile. And she knows, immediately: it’s THAT fear. He raises an eyebrow and turns to leave. And she thinks that somehow he knows, too. Her heart is CLOSED, and she’s keeping it SHUT. She will not love a beautiful boy again.

V.

Jo leans against the Hemingway’s doorway, looks up at Vita’s fire escape, propped open.  Looks away, thoughtful. Reties her apron. Settles herself to start work again. Looks back at the fire escape, sees Tai slip out the doorway. Who’s he? She sees him dance down the steps. A little awkwardly. Is he wincing? Holding something. Taking a bite. Jo squints: Surely not.

Norman’s voice: Jo!

VI.

Vita pulls the door to the fire escape wide open and calls after Tai.

—You didn’t need to take both!

At the bottom of the steps, turning towards the street, moving on to the mazurek, he acknowledges her with a wave, indicates the mazurek. Shouts.

—Awesome!

He doesn’t look back, moving a little awkwardly towards the street. Vita moves to slam the door.

Then notices the stains on his back, and on the arse of his designer jeans. Blood?

The buzzer goes again. She shuts the door. Carefully.

_____________________________________

NOTES

Cardboard box teapot

Back in the 1970’s Chinese teapots were packed in cardboard boxes, for both local sales and exports. This Lu Wen Xia (Yixing) teapot imitates those boxes. See more of Lu Wen Xia’s teapots here.

Polish children in New Zealand

This short film tells the story of Polish children who came to New Zealand after the Second World War.

Mazurek

We had a neighbour who arrived in New Zealand from Poland as a child. At Easter she’d make mazurek (and at other times sometimes she’d drop over with pierogi.) I imagine that Jo would decorate her mazurek to suit the occasion.

Lilo

Vita got hers from Para Rubber: $5.99.

4. From Hemingway’s to Kenny’s Cafe

 I.

—She’s a wonderful daughter.

Jo’s mum: Rebecca. An accountant, it turns out. Insists on sharing the pavlova cupcakes with Vita.

—She thinks we’d like her Polish cooking. And we do. Of course. But these pavlova cupcakes, they’re something else again. And these whitebait rolls.

She holds out the dish of whitebait rolls. Garnished with the lemon slices and dill Jo tucked next to them in the cardboard box.

—Look, not fritters. Pancakes. Who’d have thought that whitebait’d be even better if you twirl them in a sharp and sweet wee sauce and then roll them inside tiny pancakes? Here– Try one?

Rebecca can’t believe it when Vita shakes her head. And, get this, she puts down the whitebait rolls and gives Vita a hug. No-one’s hugged Vita for a while. No-one would dare. And now here she is, a little awkward, hugging Rebecca back.  And there they are, two elegant strangers, embracing. And Rebecca, understanding something in Vita’s awkwardness, steps back. Reaches out, and smoothes Vita’s hair. On both sides. One. Two. Then picks up the whitebait-roll plate, and turns towards her broadcasting mates.

II.

And that explains, I think, why Vita, who’d had no intention of accepting Jo’s invitation, turns up at Hemingway’s late that Saturday night. She doesn’t like whitebait, that’s true. But the pavlova cupcake seduced her. Where that box of food came from, there’ll be more food she’ll enjoy. Doesn’t need to worry about economising on the set menu, early in the evening. Plenty of cash.

And.

She’s got lonely, after Rebecca’s hug. And soothed a little by Rebecca’s grooming. Lonely and soothed enough to try something more than Something on Toast in the building. Something more than a coffee in a little café.

So she finds Hemingway’s. On its quiet corner in narrow Cuba Street, well away from the bars further down. Across the road from Ziggurat, hmmm, vintage clothes, she’ll be back. She admires Hemingway’s big neon, a little at odds with its classy interior, lots of wood and mirrors, a big bar, some tables, some booths. Comfortable.

III.

It’s Gracie’s fifth day without a smoke (she had to start again from zero). She’s had a good night. Kitchen cranking it out beautifully. Some laughter. Tips rolling in.

So when she sees this quietly stylish woman walk in the door, alone, she has energy left to look after her efficiently—always—and with genuine interest and warmth. Finds her a quiet and cosy corner, that special two-seater-in-the-window-and-often-for-lovers. Where Vita chooses to sit with her back to the wall. Where on her left she can see Cuba Street and everyone who passes the window. And where she can see most people in Hemingway’s directly, or reflected in the big mirror on the opposite wall.

Gracie asks about an apertif.

—No thanks. Just water, please.

Gracie brings some water, hands Vita a menu, and leaves her to it.

IV.

Vita chooses quickly. Soup. Two puddings. Fuck it. Sophisticated comfort food.

And sits there, watching people out on the street. Sees Tai and a friend hovering, looking at someone in Hemingway’s. Turns her head and looks where they look. Sees a familiar face she can’t place. Sees the familiar face see Tai, turn quickly away to his companion.

Sees Tai’s friend laugh and roll his eyes at Tai. Sees the man with the face she can’t place speak urgently to his companion, as the companion lifts a fork to his mouth. And as the companion turns his head, very slightly, to glance out the window from the corner of his eye, Vita recognises him. And is shocked. She looks back quickly, at Tai and his friend. They’re gone.

The familiar guy reads an incoming text. Replies with a two-letter word. His companion, whose presence shocks Vita, watches the texting. Gives a little inward smile.

Gracie approaches to take Vita’s order. Sees the tail end of her shock. Gracie waits, and watches Vita quietly swap chairs, so the two men can’t see her.

What’s that about? Gracie has an enormous soft spot for Firefly Jones, the great big forward with the shattered shoulder, with his easy grin, his sharp mind and his business head. He’s OK without his other mates (including that fuckwit-with-the-elbow). And this mate, some English guy, really knows about food.

V.

Vita’s nauseous again. She doesn’t want reminders of that ‘home’; she’s escaped: seven hours to Dubai, eighteen hours to Sydney, three hours to Auckland, one hour to Wellington. Why would HE make this long trip? What’s HE doing here, in a little restaurant on Cuba Street? Hemingway’s is good, but no better than he’s used to, he hasn’t come all this way for the food. And who’s that other guy? Why’s he familiar?

The waitperson—Gracie—brings the soup. Vita takes a sip: a sharpish seafood broth, with lots of little greens. Heaven. But her mind’s racing, and she slurps the soup at mind-speed; after that first mouthful she doesn’t taste a thing.

VI.

In the kitchen, all the main course orders are done. Jo’s on a breather. To distract herself from the tobacco at the back of her locker she watches young Finn put an early summer pudding on the pass and finish a crème brulée. A peaceful, satisfying moment, until Gracie rocks up.

—They just left. Another big tip.  Firefly rules–

VII.

Vita, doodling in her diary (on this side of the world she’s reverted to paper) hears male footsteps behind her, hears the external door open and shut. Looks out the window (now on her right side), sees two backs, turns round (discreetly), checks their table, and confirms they’re gone.

VIII.

Finn pushes the crème brulee across the pass. Gracie mouths to Jo.

—Soup-and-two-desserts. Passive-aggressive dieter? Though she ate the bread.

Jo comes round the pass. (It’s late, Norman’s out the back, and she’s curious.) And watches Gracie deliver the desserts. She sees Vita’s back, sees her turn her head and smile up at Gracie. It’s HER. She dashes back inside the kitchen and fumbles under the counter for a clean apron.

IX. 

Vita thanks Gracie. Makes a decision.

—These look terrific. Can I ask you something?

—Sure.

—That really big guy, who just left. I’m not from here– But he looks familiar. Is he famous?

Well, get Gracie started.

—That’s Firefly. Firefly Jones. The All Black. Well, used to be.

She takes a deep breath, ready to tell everything she knows. Vita sighs inside, of course, of course.

And Jo arrives, stands herself directly opposite Vita. Vita with her untouched comfort puddings and her red Moleskine diary. Jo looks at Vita, so composed, so quietly elegant, and can’t find the casual words she intended. She blurts.

—You came!

Gracie notes Jo’s clean apron. Her warm smile broadens. Now where has THIS come from?

—Wonderful soup. Yours? I was hoping for a pavlova cupcake to follow–

Gracie gets it. This is HER. Please, please, ask Jo to take a seat.

The external door opens. Maître d’bitch, well-fuelled from a quick trip down the road. Gracie scarpers to finish cleaning Firefly’s table.

X.  

Jo mistakes polite response for interest. For a moment.

—Not on the menu.

Jo hovers a little. Vita doesn’t notice Jo’s clean apron. Doesn’t really notice Jo. She wants Gracie’s information.

Jo backs away.

—Come back– Try…

She’s thinking of the whitebait. Whitebait and pavlova seem to go together. No, of course they don’t, except as ‘local delicacies’. But Rebecca said this woman doesn’t like whitebait. Even in her head she’s blurting. OK, fall back on the clichés.

—Try everything. Anything– You know us. Everything sourced here. The best of Aotearoa New Zealand. Perfectly prepared, with inspiration from around the globe.

XI.

All cleaned up in their sharpest gear, and nowhere better to go, Tai and his mate Sam take a break at Kenny’s. Kenny’s in Courtenay Place. The little worker café, with colourful stripper ads on the placemats. Warm. Cheap. And close to their places of business. They’re cleaning up plates of eggs and toast. Tea on the side.  They’re glum.

Ivan*, in feral mode, slides onto a chair next to Sam.

—Thought you were out somewhere special?

—Fuck off. (A duet.)

—Now, now. Be nice. Where’d you be without me?

—Not here, that’s for sure. (Tai.)

—He SAID it’d be all good. Awesome, he said. And his friend said NO. (Sam.)

Tai glares.

—He is my friend. I can stay there any time I like.

Ivan raises an eyebrow.

—I bet. And he shuffles you under the bed when his mates come round for a beer. Or the suits come over for a drink. Brings you out with the white powder, for special guests.

Tai pushes his chair back.

—Fuck you both.

And off he goes.

_____________

NOTES

If you look for Kenny’s Cafe, you won’t find it. Gone now. Broke my heart, and I wrote about it here.

*(Ivan from the very first instalment, remember him?)

5. This Is Not Lyall Bay

I.

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.

—Done.

Vita gestures to the seat against the wall.

—Offer you something?

II. 

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.

—That’s amazing.

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.

—No.

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.

III.

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.

—No.

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.

IV.

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.

—SSSSSShhhhh. (Jo.)

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.

—A smoke.

Tai coughs.

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.

V.

Tai hears Gracie dictate a phone number from his phone. Jo keys it into her phone and presses green.

VI.

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.

—Kids.

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.

VII.

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.

__________

NOTES

Shed

Yes, there are sheds like this near Cuba Street. Still. Not the greatest photo, but only a week old.

Knitting

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.

People Tree creates Fair Trade and organic clothing and accessories by forming lasting partnerships with Fair Trade, organic producers in developing countries.

6. A Menu With (Almost) No Sex

 I.    

Not far away, in Firefly’s penthouse, Tai’s tucked up in the spare room bed.

In their big leather armchairs, Firefly and the English guy work their way through a difficult conversation.

At last, Firefly leans back and throws his arms out: Whew.

—Could be the best thing. An ongoing GOOD DEED.

—Get him clean, back to school, take him out and about. Keep him close. But NO SEX. Too risky.

The English guy leaves. Firefly makes a call. It’s a long one. Teeters on the edge of phone sex. Totters towards an arrangement for the next day. Ends. He stretches out on his custom-made sofa, clicks towards a big screen, and settles down for the night, absorbed in life-size images and wrap-around sound.

II.    

Gracie’s in the shower. Jo feels across the lintel of her kitchen door for her hidden smokes. And again. Gone. Bugger. Tries the back of the book case. Under the bookcase. Down the back of the armchair. Increasingly desperate.

Gracie catches her.

—Deep breath. There are other solutions.

Jo jumps.

—Fuck off.

Gracie doesn’t want a fight. Not at the end of this long night. And she knows Jo wants oblivion. She beckons.

—Come with me.

Ten minutes later, Jo’s clean; some of her misery (will she ever find another girl friend?) sluiced away.

Fifteen minutes later Jo’s lying back on her bed, sipping honeyed brandied milk, Gracie massaging her feet.

Half an hour later, Jo’s out cold.

Gracie joins her. Keeps her distance on the other side of the bed. Some nights, she gets woken, tangled in the edges of Jo’s erotic dreams.  Isn’t up to it tonight. Wants her own erotic dreams back, lost among the constantly erotic buzz of breastfeeding and then exhaustion.

III. 

But Jo dreams of sea creatures. She is a sea creature. A big one.  A tuna. A seal. A whale. Her flesh is thick. Bloodied. Without skin. Bound in Gracie’s crimped, recycled wool, the ancient pale yellow wool with tiny brown flecks criss-crossing the bloodiness. In the deep. Swimming. One enormous eye able to see the other enormous eye. She wakes up a vegetarian (for most of the day).

Not far away, Vita wakes up crying. Again. And late. But it’s Sunday. So she gets a cup of tea and starts to drift back to sleep. Then remembers. Emails.

YES. A reply. Full of questions for her. Where is she? How is she? What’s she doing? Why did she disappear? And then, the answer. The English guy. Let’s call him Mop (he cleans up—in various ways—AND is a bit grubby). Mop’s a dead end. After Vita’s and the emailer’s heads up about him, two years ago, he dropped off the radar, with very occasional reappearances en famille for the right cameras.

Vita mumbles to herself

—OK. Yep. Were we wrong? No.

The email ends with a slew of instructions: Give yourself a pat on the back; Stay in touch; Look after yourself.  Vita sighs. Sighs again. (And spends the rest of the day pottering and sighing, eating Lindt strawberry-filled chocolate, two packets, wonders whether to get a large screen, where she’d hide it, if she’d need to hide it. Ends the day at the laundromat. Again.)

Not far away, Tai sleeps on. Firefly wakes up on the couch, a crick in his neck, clicks off the big screen, and makes for his home gym as quickly as possible. (He learned long ago not to think about it. To wake up, walk to a machine and START.)

Gracie wakes up with her usual Sunday dilemma. How to study, how to see her child and her parents, AND how to get some time OFF. O O O she’s tired. And, this Sunday, she wants a cigarette and she’s sick of that fucking knitting that she’s not that good at.

And then. There’s Jo beside her. With a TRAY. With TREATS (all vego).

—Thank you for being my wonderful friend–

Gracie’s graceless. Cranky.

—No bacon for the pancakes?

Jo explains.

—And anyway that black currant jam’ll put lead in your pencil.

—JO!

—And here’s an offer. I’ll pick up Lisa and take her to mum’s? If I spend the day with all the kids, I’m less likely to smoke–

Gracie plays it cool.

—Rebecca’s not making a roast?

—I’ll think of something. If she does.

So, oh yes yes yes, Gracie goes back to sleep, with a full belly, the happiness of knowing she can rest and then do a couple of hours work. And then pick up Lisa at Rebecca’s, take her for a three-generation dinner with her own parents. And then a few more hours’ work. And an early night.

Jo scoops up Lisa and takes her to Rebecca’s, and knits. Makes herself an omlet. Eats a lot of bread. And while she and Rebecca put away the food and fill the dishwasher, and Lisa plays with the nieces and nephews, she tells Rebecca all about Vita’s visit to Hemingway’s. And the rest of the story (but not about her dream, Rebecca’s too sharp). And Rebecca understands that Vita’s touched Jo’s heart somehow. But Tai hasn’t.

As she gets deeper into the story, Jo cuts slices from the now-cold roast and knocks them back. Rebecca doesn’t remind her about the vego thing, just congratulates Jo on staying off the fags, congratulations from Rebecca’s heart (smoking killed Jo’s dad, and they both miss him terribly).

And Rebecca resolves to befriend Vita and give her lots of opportunities to see Jo. Because Rebecca of course really really wants her beautiful Jo to be happy, to have love in her life beyond the family she’s born to and the people she works with and all the dykes she knows and doesn’t see, who work civilised hours. An almost forty-year old needs someone special at the centre of her life. At sixty, Rebecca makes do, with family, endless family, and friends.

IV.

Sunday’s hard work for Tai and Firefly. Firefly persuades Tai to try a circuit of the home gym. Tai doesn’t get far. Firefly invites Tai to stay, and lays out the rules: Off the Hard Stuff; Off the Street: Stay in Touch; School. Tai says he’ll think about it. The high spot’s the late arvo, when Firefly’s boyfriend turns up with new clothes for Tai. Followed by a low spot when Tai offers the boyfriend payment.

—A blow job? Every day this week?

Not a joke, for any of them. Firefly gets explicit: Sex at home is OFF (for Tai) too. The boy friend raises an eyebrow. Tai’s kinda relieved. For now.

Firefly offers Tai some video games, a joint, and many snacks, shuffles him off to the spare room, and gets drunk(ish) with his boyfriend. Who gives him a very pleasing massage with extras, made especially exciting by Tai’s presence a couple of rooms away.

V. 

And for the next couple of months, life moves on for them all. Jo moves from knitting to embroidery (Rebecca’s Christmas present) and (with Norman) towards the New Year’s Eve menu, always a big deal. She reads Julia Child’s My Life in France, realises how far she is from matching Julia’s devotion to her métier, resolves to save for a working trip to France, to save her smoking money, no longer required (she hopes).

Gracie moves from knitting to smoking (various unfinished peggy squares scattered: in her locker at Hemingway’s; on a shelf at law school; at Jo’s) and finishes her thesis and stops smoking again (without the knitting) and wonders what to do next.

Vita relaxes into her bleak and simple life. Enough to go sauna-ing with Rebecca and her friends, at women’s hours in the sauna attached to the Kilbirnie Pool, among mid- and late-mid-aged women who group together according to language and interests, and where Vita can imagine that she’s back in Europe, and it’s OK.

Vita also goes to a therapist whose rooms are just down the hall, and is thinking about a support group. But she’s got so used to hiding so much, her son’s death, her living arrangements, most of her history. Is the therapy just a gesture?

Tai shapes up. He’s had a little bit of school. He likes it. Tries the counsellor there, once, but doesn’t like her. Likes going ‘home’ after school. The meals. The outings. The easy access to dope and booze and food and new clothes. The staying in touch. Even the gym, where he sometimes participates fully, and sometimes just trails after Firefly. Watching. It’s restful, all of it.

Every now and then he hooks up with Sam, his street mate. But he avoids Ivan. Goes the long way round if necessary, to avoid Ivan’s gym, and Ivan’s mates. And out of respect for Firefly, Ivan and Ivan’s mates, who see Tai in passing now and then, leave him alone. They speculate though. And everyone agrees, Tai is looking HOT. Tai thinks so too. But he’s still surprised when he meets a girl at school, Lucy– Who LIKES him!

And Firefly? Who knows–

NOTES

None today. Worn out from the weekend’s rugby. A wild weekend. Started 5pm Friday when I was walking along Courtenay Place and there was a guy peeing in a doorway by the Paramount. The downhill flow onto the pavement just missed my boots.

7. Party Time!

I.

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.

—Gorgeous, though.

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.

And again.

—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.

II. 

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.

III. 

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?

IV. 

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.

—Games only.

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.

V. 

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:

—FIVE, FOUR–

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–

—THREE, TWO–

He sweeps her into his arms for the very first midnight kiss.

—ONE!

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.

—You CUNT.

—That’s an uninvited bit of mouth.

NOTES

None today, either. Anything you’d especially like to know?

8. Midnight Train To Georgia

I.    

Jo takes longer than she planned: showering, cleaning teeth, flossing, deciding what to wear. And by the time she reaches the back door, where Firefly’s now very bright boyfriend is flirting with young Finn, the music’s moved from Auld Lang Syne to Poi E. Tables are pushed back. Some people continue their rounds of kisses. Others dance.

Grabbing her pretty package from under the bench, Jo stands by the pass. She sees Rebecca first: there she is, over at the bar, talking to Gaylene Preston, the only other person in a hat, one of those cheeky wee woven white fedoras. (Rebecca loves it that filmmakers eat at ‘her’ restaurant and right now she and Gaylene are talking about motherhood, and daughters.)

Then, from behind Jo, Gracie’s voice.

—I won’t say a thing if you don’t.

Jo turns. Gracie and some big-and-handsome guy, looks familiar (Jo’s not big on rugby), on their way out to the bar.  (Gracie’s smiling, guy looks a little pale.) OK, start the kissing here. Get into gear. Big smooch for Gracie. On the lips. Smaller one for the pale guy… On the cheek. (Gracie sees him think he gets it: a speech bubble with DYKE blows from his mouth to above her head. So, just to fuck with his head, Gracie kisses him, on his lips. Tenderly, her dad at her ear again. Just a teeny tease with her tongue. Naughty. But his tangle of curls, his beautiful body, those eyes…AND the rest, now she’s seen it… Pity about his behaviour, or she’d be over him like a rash. Anyway, he’s even paler now. And he’s history.)

—Happy new year to us all. (To pale guy): Let me get you a drink.

(Later, Gracie wonders why he didn’t deck her, or run from the building, puts it down to her well-calibrated sexual stimulation, the amount he’d eaten and drunk, maybe combined with Norman’s dessert and who-knew-what-else with some of the others at Firefly’s table. Or, her strategy’s surprise element. Or his quick mind, calculating the odds of pain-humiliation versus various short- and longer-term benefits.  She’s especially relieved that he hasn’t run straight to Firefly to whinge, because she doesn’t want her relationship with Firefly compromised, tiny little relationship that it is. But who knows what he might tell Firefly, when they’re side by side in the physio room, or in the shower at the gym.)

So, off Gracie goes to the bar, with the pale fuckwit-with…

And Jo keeps looking for Vita. Please, please, let her still be here.

II.

Jo looks pretty good. Pants cut from a lavalava, elegant crop top and little Comme des Garcons jacket. Tiny bit of kohl, touch of lippy. She’d thought about it, on that quick dash home, aiming at somewhere between New York and ‘our’ east coast. Beautiful velvet flat shoes, a version of those martial arts slippers. As she circulates, with a new year bisou here and there, she’s unrecognisable to those who’ve only ever seen her in her whites, though not to Rebecca. And she avoids Rebecca once she sees that Vita’s not with her.

Then she sees Vita. With Firefly? Dancing up a storm? And, as Poi E ends and Ten Guitarsbegins she sees another woman, sitting next to Tai, get up and join them. Tai, Blackberry in front of him on the table now, is surrounded by empty chairs. Feeling suddenly very tired, Jo sits down two chairs away from Tai. Puts her box on the table. Is overwhelmed with longing for a smoke. Decides to get a drink.

—Hello– Remember me?

He glances up, then back at the Blackberry. A mental shrug. Someone for Firefly.

—I’m Jo. We met– One night a while back–

Another glance. What? No memory of her at all. Takes in the beautiful box this time. Decides to change the subject.

—Brought me a prezzie then?

Grrrrr, Jo thinks.

—Not this time. But I was hoping you’d keep an eye on it for me. While I get a drink.

—Sure. Snag one for me?

—Coke? Juice?

He considers.

—Brandy?

—You’re out of luck mate. Happen to know you’re fourteen.

—Firefly lets me.

—So ask him.

They both look towards Firefly. And LOOK, there’s Vita coming this way, making for the boyfriend’s chair and her bag on the table. Jo leaps to her feet.

—Happy new year, Vita.

Vita looks mystified, then sees it’s Jo. Whoa.  They kiss (NOT on the lips, a brushing of cheeks, not even an almost bisou, really ENGlish) sniff at each other a little, for different reasons. Always hyper-alert to sexual signals, Tai watches and listens. Abandons the Blackberry for a moment.

—Happy new year, Jo.

—I’ve got something for you. Just a little thing, because I know you like them. A doggy bag really. (Yes, Jo’s on the blurt again.)

She reaches for the box. And Tai recognises Vita, decides to tease a little.

You won’t buy me a drink, either.

Vita looks at him. Understands that he’s been there all along, and she just hasn’t noticed.

—Told you Firefly’s my mate.

Not sure what to say, Vita gives a polite smile, turns to Jo and takes the box.

—Shall I open it now?

—No. They’re for breakfast. Put it in the fridge when you get home (absolutely all that’s necessary to say: no blurt).

Tai can’t resist it.

—And she hopes you’ll be having breakfast together. (Needling these women entertains him: the one he can’t remember who won’t be manipulated into fetching him alcohol, the one who resisted his charms in that time he prefers not to think about.)

Vita looks, really looks, at Jo. Sees that Tai got it. EXACTLY. Gulp. And she’s pissed, and a bit lonely, and this is Rebecca’s daughter–

Ten Guitars ends. Tai pushes the envelope further, into the brief silence. He points at Jo.

—At her place. (to Vita): Unless you’ve moved from City Radio?

III. 

So Tai’s exposed Jo. And Tai’s exposed Vita. And each of them feels slightly trapped by both exposures. Then Up on the Roof starts. Everyone’s sings along as they dance.

Vita takes Jo’s box, and reaches for her bag.

—Thanks, Jo, what a lovely gesture. I have to go.

Jo feels slightly sick. What does she mean, ‘gesture’? This hasn’t gone as she hoped (a drink, a dance, a chat, a suggestion of doing something together another day, a friendship, at least).

And now, here’s Firefly, hand-in-hand with Julie.

—Don’t go, Vita, till I have your number.

Jo gives up. For now.

—See you, Vita. Happy new year, Firefly. I’d better circulate.

Firefly does a double take, too. Gives Jo a sweet new year’s kiss and a big hug.

—Thanks for that great meal.

And Tai gets it. That’s the woman in chef’s gear, dialling Firefly! And feels, what is it, a touch of shame? Surely not? But yes, he knows that this woman helped him get his current great gig. And he’s been cheeky, and upset her.  And Vita too, by the look of it. She’s edging away. At speed. Without giving Firefly her number. While Firefly introduces Jo to Julie. It’s a bit messy. And not a game on the Blackberry.

IV.    

And Gracie makes sure to get her turn with Firefly and Tai. She’s curious. And wants A Bit of Insurance, too. For Firefly to see how lovely she is, just in case Fuckwit-With… tells on her.

—So. How did you two meet? Or is that a rude question?

Julie’s there of course and happy to hear it all again.

—Oh no. Tell her, Firefly. I think it’s a beautiful story.

Firefly indicates Tai, again intent on the Blackberry, fingers flashing.

—It’s his story.

He nudges Tai.

—What about it mate? Shall I tell Gracie how we met?

Tai pauses.

—Sure.

Firefly sips at his drink.

—Where shall I start? It’s a long story. Let me compress it.

Julie’s a bit pissed, and Firefly’s her hero.

—No. ALL the details.

Gracie waits.

Firefly’s tired. And wondering where the boyfriend’s got to. But Julie matters, too.

—We have those team visits. To schools, disasters, hospitals. And I met Tai at Starship, my final visit.

Julie’s right there.

—You know, that children’s hospital, in Auckland.

Gracie stifles a smile, here’s a woman who looks at her and sees ‘waitress: slow’ on her forehead, even in Hemingway’s. She nods.

—Oh yes, know where you mean.

Firefly continues.

—Tai’s a Mozzie.

Julie’s really eager.

—You know, a Maori Australian.

Gracie nods and smiles. Got it, thanks (need Julie as an ally if the Fuckwit-With…).

—And Tai and I get on really well. He’s been staying with his grannie because things are difficult at home. And he and his grannie visit Auckland for a treat and have a car accident. So he’s bashed about. And lonely, too, because all the extended family live out of Auckland and his grannie’s in another hospital in a bad state. So I visit Tai a few times, and when I leave for Welly, I give him my mobile number.

Tai pauses his game.

—And that awesome Gameboy.

Julie gives Gracie a smile: See what I mean—ain’t it sweeeet?

—And then… Tai, maybe you should tell this bit?

Tai puts the Blackberry down.

—I didn’t want to go home to mum. So when I get out, and one of my cuzzies comes and picks me up, I go over to see my grannie and say to her that Firefly’s invited me to stay with him in Welly. She’s really crook, but gives me the fare, says to keep in touch.

There’s a sudden silence. Julie, a little late, remembers that this bit of the story is a bit murky, not so sweeeet. And taps her fingers on the table. Firefly waits. Tai glances down at the Blackberry. Gracie waits. Tai’s fingers fly across the Blackberry keys. Firefly does his best.

—And then, there you and Jo were, Gracie. And now here we are. A happily ever after story.

—Except Gran died.

—That’s right.

Gracie has lots more questions, but knows this is all she’s getting. For tonight, anyway. She smiles warmly at Firefly, at Julie, leans over and caresses Tai’s forearm.

—You’re right, Julie, it’s a beautiful story. Thanks, Firefly. Thanks Tai.

When she looks for Jo, Jo’s gone.

V. 

And then the boyfriend’s missing. Gone down the road, young Finn says vaguely, as he gets into Knock Three Times with one of Gracie’s staff, who’s had her eye on him for a while.

And Julie’s promised to drop in somewhere else. So, with Midnight Train to Georgia welling out Hemingway’s door behind them, long before Now is the Hour, Firefly and Tai walk home on their own.

Tai very quiet and sweet. And when Firefly says he’s pissed off that he didn’t get Vita’s number, Tai says:

—I know where she lives.

And tells Firefly that story, tucked up on the couch together. And Firefly hasn’t heard that story before and when Tai (a little over-tired) sobs a little, he cuddles him and they share a joint. And then, somehow, the cuddle turns to more. And Firefly forgets what he promised his English mate Mop, all those months ago. And Tai gets to turn his tricks of the trade for Firefly, which he’s wanted to do for a while. And the boyfriend finds them in bed together when he arrives early on new year’s day. And they all have a wild, wild day together.

NOTES

If you don’t know Tony Orlando’s Knock Three Times, here’s an opportunity to sing along:

9. Summertime

I. 

Jo has a quiet, quiet day. Bed, food. Ignoring the phones. Glad that she didn’t bring Gracie home last night. For once, that offered hand at the end of the evening didn’t appeal. Not at all.

And Vita’s restless. For a while there, she’d felt ‘normal’. It was wonderful to dance. But she regrets telling Firefly who she is when she’s at home. Yes, she wanted to see his reaction, just in case he’d heard about her story and Mop. But of course it was the tennis story he remembered. And, yes, it was ego, too. For a moment, for Firefly, she wanted to be more than who she is here, running City Radio, camping out. To be her old self, with her well-earned well-respected by-line. She felt the pull of home, in many senses. This isn’t home she thinks, as she pulls the bar on the door to the fire escape, and sits in the sun for a few minutes. And then she’s back again into the heartbreak. And out of it. And it’s different this time. Thinking about a future. That dance shifted something. She goes to the fridge, takes out the last of Jo’s beautiful miniature desserts. Admires the special wee box again, cleans it, and decides to use it for pencils etc. (Vita’s big on pencils etc,)

Gracie’s restless too. New Year’s Day with her parents, and Lisa. She can’t tell her dad about the fuckwit-with… because she’d have to tell the whole story. And her mum: no way. But she wants to tell someone. And Jo might be pissed off; she wanted to be the one to administer justice.  Loves that white charger, Jo. Obviously upset it didn’t go well with Vita. Why not? And not answering her phones. Is she at Rebecca’s? No. Rebecca hasn’t seen her today, can’t get hold of her either. Gracie sighs: a smoke a smoke a smoke. And then Lisa tugs at her. They get the stroller. Join the world at Oriental Bay. And, when Lisa gets tired and cranky, buy an ice cream at Kaffee Eis.

Stroll on through Courtenay Place to Jo’s place, Lisa nodding off just as she reaches the end of the cone (small mango & banana, all fruit).

Jo’s place is actually Rebecca’s place, which Jo’s slowly buying. (The last time Jo broke up with someone and went home to Rebecca, Rebecca pushed Jo out of the nest. She bought this apartment two minutes from Hemingway’s, a five-room sun-filled factory conversion, put it into Jo’s name and got rid of her at last. And her boxes.  Took over Jo’s bedroom as a study. She loves Jo, loves her to bits, but coming-home-to-mama is no longer an option.) And Gracie has a code and a key, easy-peasy just to walk in. But she rings the buzzer, waits for a reply. And there’s no reply, so she walks away, knowing that, if she’s there, Jo will have heard the rattle of the stroller coming down the alley, known who was coming, and probably checked discreetly, in that little window in the stairwell.

So, yes, Jo’s gone to the mattress. Feeling rejected. Lonely. Stuck there. Considering a smoke. That Christmas bottle of brandy. Choosing chocolate instead. Rejecting a movie option. Knowing the library’s closed today. Uninterested in shopping.  And OH NO NOT Gracie-and-Lisa. Rings some mates up the road at a beach. Arranges to visit tomorrow. Cooks herself a tiny tasty something. Listens to summer classics. Jackson Brown. A tiny bit of the Beach Boys. A whole lot of Janis Joplin.

Dances a little. Does some ironing. Has a long bath. Masturbates. Sleeps.

And that’s it, for new year’s day.

II.  

2 January.

Lisa wakes up with the light. OOOPH. 5.45. By 7.30, Gracie and Lisa have been to the beach, and come home with seaweed for Gracie’s mum’s garden. (Gracie’s mum wouldn’t be seen dead collecting seaweed in full view of the neighbours, on that classy strip of beautiful old wooden homes and po-mo condos overlooking the Oriental Bay beach. But she’s thrilled with the seaweed.) They’ve almost finished breakfast. Lisa’s drooping a little. Into bed for her, and onto the net for Gracie. WHO is the woman Vita said she is?

She Googles. Tries a few specialist databases. (Thank you, law school, for not cutting me off yet.)  Finds photos of Vita, articles by and about her, blog posts about her. It takes a couple of hours. But she learns what she needs to know.

When Lisa wakes up again, Gracie’s SO glad to see her. And Lisa’s so glad that here’s Gracie totally engaged, reading to her, playing with her, singing, making lunch. And Gracie’s mum’s pleased, too. Maybe Gracie will take more responsibility for Lisa this year, WHEW. And Gracie keeps trying Jo’s phones, without success. By evening she’s pissed off: it’s not HER fault Vita and Jo didn’t hook up, Jo could at least text.

But Jo needs a break. And she has one. Among old friends who are used to her blurts-and-rambling. And her silences. And Love her cooking. And don’t care that today she doesn’t feel like cooking, just enjoy her suggestions re possible uses for endless ham. And make her a wonderful feta and red pepper salad with lots of their own herbs. Have a go at a summer pudding, and break out the Kohu Road ice cream. Who do for her what she so often does for Gracie. Including a telling off.

—She’s like Gracie. She’s STRAIGHT.

— You say you want a girl friend.

—But you’re trying the wrong places.

—If you really want one, get out more.

And it’s her turn to make excuses.

—How can I get out more when I work these hours?

And the telling off includes the usual suggestions. (Try the net. Join a dinner club.) Ends with the usual offer, the one she always refuses:

—Let us find you someone.

—Let us organise some introductions.

And Vita? She’s does her laundry. Feels lonely. Cleans. Shops (a couple of geraniums for the fire escape landing, a second little dress from Zambesi, on sale). Wonders about Jo. Looks her up in the white pages: o, she’s just round the corner.

III.

3 January

Firefly’s always a goal-oriented guy. Having Tai in his bed, tucked up between him and the boyfriend (Firefly shook his great head and blinked a little when he realised that Tai’s place in the bed was very similar to the kind of place a pet might have, a large-ish Labrador, say) doesn’t divert his focus from his current concerns: retirement; coming out; and how best to manage them.

So, first thing, Firefly rocks up to City Radio, looking for Vita.

And finds her at work with the new techie. She isn’t happy. Especially when Firefly says that Tai told him that he’d find her here. What else had Tai said? Little shit. Firefly sees her irritation and turns on the charm.

—Let me take you to Hemingway’s for lunch.

—They’re closed till next week.

—I have a proposal for you. Somewhere we can talk?

She takes him into another studio, shuts the door (the techie’s totally excited that Firefly’s in the building, hanging on every word).

And when Firefly explains, she’s not happy to be the chosen one. She tries excuses.

—I’m fully committed, really busy. What about the All Blacks PR people? Wouldn’t they be best?

And he explains again. How a precisely placed story, overseas, while he’s overseas, would be perfect. How she’s the perfect person to do it.

Finally as she dithers, he asks her if the gay thing worries her (surely not).

And finally, firmly, she tells him a smidgeon of the truth.

—My life’s changed. I don’t do that kind of work any more.

And, because she too has a charming side–

—I’m really sorry. I’ve even changed my name. I was a bit pissed and trying to impress you. That was a lovely dance we had. Let me think of someone else?

He gives up, for now. Asks her to show him round City Radio. Wonders what its appeal is for her. Wonders if she really lives there, or Tai got it wrong. Can’t see any signs of a domestic life. Forgets to ask her for her phone number.

Firefly’s used to getting what he wants, a bit tetchy when he reaches the street again and bangs into Ivan. So his Happy New Year to Ivan isn’t particularly warm. And it takes him a moment to crank up a smile. Ivan usually capitalises on an opportunity to niggle and today’s no different.

—Tai still with you? (An almost leer.)

—Sure is. Doing great. (But oh fuck, it’s a bit different now, and this is the last person I’d want to know that.)

—A word to the wise. A wee problem over the ditch. Could spread.

Firefly almost sighs. Fucking Ivan, always on about some kind of grim portent. But. Be pleasant.

—Look, wish we could have a drink. But I’m on my way to a meeting. Let’s get together soon.

Ivan gets serious.

—Very soon. You need to know about this.

Firefly spins away.

—Happy New Year, mate. We’ll be in touch.

And forgets about Ivan, immediately.

Firefly’s meeting’s with his laptop. The apartment’s quiet, Tai and the boyfriend off shopping.

And he searches for Vita, curious about what might have changed her life. And he finds one possibility, one tiny mention. Her child died. Drugs? Then looks further. There’s a LOT of links. And finds an article Mop told him about. He’d forgotten about that. Hmmmm. Grabs his togs, strides round Oriental Bay to the Freyberg pool, has a workout near Jemaine Clement, each of them ignoring the other. Then a long swim. Head clearing.

Decides (of course) to call Mop, who’s unavailable. Leaves a message.

Then he’s sidetracked: the boyfriend gives Tai some hard stuff. When Tai stops buzzing and crashes, Firefly and the boyfriend fight.

—We had an agreement. There’s no reason to change that.

To and fro. The school holidays make no difference. Or do they? It makes no difference that Tai’s sleeping with them. Or does it?

The boyfriend has the last word.

—So he’s old enough for you to fuck, but not old enough to choose his poison?

Is the boyfriend on the way out? Not yet. They make up: the boy friend wants that promised trip to New York–

NOTES

Jackson Browne

Jo plays this one sometimes:

Apologies. Have been distracted by the oil spill. Appreciating messages like this one, as a break from the heartbreak over the beaches and wildlife. Finishing this off while my mate’s in the longest beer queue I’ve ever seen, at Eden Park. Go All Blacks!

10. Up On The Roof

I.

Early the next morning, Mop texts Firefly from an unfamiliar number: wld cat tamd bt b sur hav no xposd flsh. Firefly laughs. Gathers up Tai and the boyfriend and takes them over the hill to a vineyard lunch in the Wairarapa. Lets them choose the music, but not the volume, while he drives and thinks. By the time they coast into Martinborough he’s singing along to Queen at full blast, while Tai and the boyfriend bicker about who gets to choose what next.

And Jo calls Gracie, invites her for lunch. No, says Gracie.

—I’ve got Lisa.

—Bring her.

—No. I want to talk uninterrupted. (Bugger, thinks Jo. I don’t.) I can come over once Lisa’s asleep. I’ll bring some stuff? We could barbie? (Jo cheers up. Loves her barbie-on-the-roof.)

Gracie asks about Vita. Jo’s quiet, then tells her about Tai’s contribution to her conversation with Vita. Gracie’s furious.

—The little SHIT. O fuck, that’s awful.

And then Gracie has a thought. She rings Rebecca and asks if she has a cell phone number for Vita. YES!

II.

On the far side of town where a crisis grows, police interview a man, and he tells all he knows. And then goes home and kills himself.

III.

Vita nearly doesn’t answer. An unknown number. Is it Firefly, tracking her down? Or? Curiosity beats resistance, in a slow afternoon.

—Yes?

Gracie says hello. Is Vita back at work now? (Yes.) Would she like to have dinner? (Silence). Gracie fills the silence.

—I’m a bit bored. And I’d like some company.

—How did you get my number?

—Rebecca, Jo’s mum. She knows I’m harmless. Not a stalker.

Vita thinks quickly. She’s relapsed into Something on Toast since New Year’s Eve. And she likes Gracie.

—OK. Why not?

Gracie’s got a student’s economy with cell phones.

—Awesome. Done. Outside City Radio at 6?

IV.

Gracie, wearing a heavily loaded backpack, takes Vita to a Cuba Mall bar. Just for a drink. Loosen her up before the slam dunk. But before they’re halfway through their drinks: brandy again for Vita, a beer for Gracie, Vita surprises her.

—Jo told you?

Gracie’s cautious. Doesn’t say a thing.

—That I live at City Radio?

OK then, this is where she’s going.

—She mentioned it.

Vita goes imperious, oh! Doesn’t she do it WELL. Straight back, closed expression. Seveeere.

—I’d like you to keep it to yourself. Aha, damage control.

—Of course.

—I’m saving up.

(Yeah, right. OK, let’s move on.)

Vita smiles. Charm switch ON. Gracie smiles back. Charm switch on HIGH. Brain whirring.

—Well then, you might like my suggestion. In here (she indicates the loaded backpack, now at her feet) I have some delicious things to barbecue. Straight from Moore Wilsons– You know Moore Wilsons?

Vita nods, smile fading. A barbie? There are no picnic spots in the central city?

—After we talked Jo invited me over for a barbie on her roof, and I thought, ah, we could go there (little bit of fudging here). Whaddya think?

V.

They pause at a bottle store for a bottle, at a dairy for a big bunch of flowers. Two bunches, carefully selected, and combined in a fresh wrapping. Vita’s imperiousness has gone; she wants to acknowledge Jo’s care with that little box and its contents. She doesn’t tell Gracie that she looked Jo up in the white pages. Gracie doesn’t tell Vita that she Googled her.

And Jo isn’t as flummoxed as Gracie feared she might be when Gracie says

—Surprise! I’ve brought a friend–

(Jo listened to her mates, and flagged Vita as a lover and Whew, Gracie’s fudging slips by.)

And Vita hands over a classy bottle and says —Gracie says you like brandy. So do I. Eau de vie. Jo’s delighted:

—Henceforth eau de vita.

And they all grin. And Jo brings out her best glasses, and Gracie opens her beer. And they load up and walk up to the roof.

It’s a beautiful roof. Jo’s the only one who uses it and she gardens here. Herbs (Jo’s loves the labiates of course, with their square stems, aromatic leaves, and two-lipped corollae: mint, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary, and the rest). And tomatoes and beans and salads at this time of year. A couple of wee citrus trees. A couple of miniature olives. A passionfruit on a trellis. A sun umbrella. Directors chairs. A beautiful old table. Sun. A netball hoop on the adjoining building’s brick wall, on the cold southern side (from another quit-smoking marathon, the one before the knitting and embroidery). View through buildings to the harbour, along and across Cuba Street to Hemingway’s neon (not flashing tonight, Hemingway’s still closed). A (probably illegal) freestanding fireplace—a huge ceramic bulb, curving into a chimney stalk. And the barbie.

Between the intermittent street noises (Cuba Street’s quiet-ish tonight) they can hear the evening’s birdsong. How could they not have a lovely time? When they reach the grilled nectarines with caramelised demerara sugar and a dab of Lurpak butter, Vita is relaxed. No trace of imperiousness. On the warmer side of the neutral friendliness they’ve seen to date. Not so reserved.

So Gracie takes a deep breath and tells Vita how she and Jo tracked her home from Hemingway’s. She’s a good storyteller, why else would she do law? And she acts it all out. The watching Vita get into the taxi. The knitting into bags. The speeding through the back yards. The shed. A little anxious, Jo watches Vita listen, watches her face close a little. Then a surprise. Vita LAUGHS. (Gracie’s pleased, she was aiming for laughter.)

—You two are NUTS. Crouching in that filthy shed with your knitting bags!

Relieved, Gracie and Jo laugh, too. And then Gracie holds up her hand, palm out.

—But wait! There’s more! And she tells the Tai and Firefly story. And then Vita throws down the last of her brandy. (No more, thanks Jo. I’ve had enough.)

And tells her story about Tai, the way he raided the food for Rebecca, also playing it for laughs. (I SAW him! says Jo.) Vita says nothing about the rest of it, Tai’s attempts to be friendly, the way she rebuffed him.

And at the end, Gracie says

—Well, that’s one story with a happy ending. And they all sit with that for a moment. And Vita thinks, let it go. But needs to make a tiny gesture.

—You sure?

Gracie takes a deep breath.

—I Googled you, the name you gave Firefly.

And then she takes another deep breath. And holds it. A thrush calls. And again. And, over on the Kelburn hill, a tui.

NOTES

Ladies & gentlemen, The Persuasions, with their own story, and Up On The Roof!

11. Ma Wai Ra?

I.

Vita could have reverted to imperious. But after many months alone, after months with the therapist, that dance with Firefly, on this quiet evening making its way into darkness, Vitawants to tell her story.  So she takes a deep breath too. (Gracie hasn’t told Jo about the Google search either, so it’s all new to Jo, who sits a little apart from Gracie and Vita, relaxed and happy.)

Vita starts fluently. After all, the first part’s something she wrote. And re-wrote (many times). And read in print. And then, after an intermission, she moves on to the main event, surrounded by events referred to nowhere on Google. And her story becomes like a written deposition: paragraph one, paragraph two.

Five years ago, in Paris, by chance, Vita meets Marie, the mother of a man convicted of murder in the United States. Marie’s a primary teacher, in her early fifties, who lives in Toulouse. Chic and disciplined, your average French woman.

Marie’s brought up two children mostly on her own, loves all things American.  And Marie has money to spare, inherited. So, in her early forties, her sons grown, and doing well, she spends her summers in Texas. She takes up line dancing, and, always impeccably groomed, the wardrobe to match. Including a Stetson. In the photos, she looks a little like Cher. Inevitably, she meets a guy. They fall in love. They marry. But it’s not a conventional arrangement. Marie likes her life in Toulouse. So she continues it as usual, teaching all year, except for the long summer break with her husband in Houston; a summer romance is extended into a summer marriage. And she’s careful, Marie. Always insists on a condom. The arrangement’s also a condom, a protection of her interests. If things go wrong, the guy, who works as a prison guard, has no access to her property; her home and work lives are safe.

Her sons love America too. One’s happy to be a regular visitor; he’s settled in Toulouse. The other, Benedict, wants to stay. He’s a bright guy, but can’t get a green card. And he steals a dead child’s identity. Lives with his step-father.

For a few years, everyone’s happy. Then the step-father’s murdered. What they call an ‘overkill’, stabbed many many times. Benedict’s arrested. Marie does everything she can. The evidence is weak. Benedict maintains his innocence. But Benedict’s an illegal, who’s stolen his identity, too. He’s convicted, sentenced to life.

Marie quits her job, vowing that she will do nothing but work to help Benedict. She’s entitled to live in the United States, but continues to travel to and fro, with her other son. There’s a treaty that provides for French people who are convicted in the United States to serve their sentence at home. But the Texan Governor can veto this option. And he does. Then she does. It goes on for years.

Marie works tirelessly, in France and in Texas, helped by some, hampered by others, particularly the Texan lawyers she employs. When Marie and Vita meet, Marie’s desperate, looking for a lawyer who’s also a writer, who can visit Benedict in prison and publicise his plight.

Because, between them Marie and Benedict uncover an alternative story. In the Texan prison system, some guards rape whomever they choose. Benedict’s stepfather was one of these guards, and he was HIV-positive. Benedict believes that his stepfather infected at least one of the men he raped, who took his revenge when he was released.

When Vita meets Marie, Vita’s son Mark, aged twelve, is off with his dad. Vita misses him, is a bit bored. And between assignments. So she flies to Texas with Marie. She helps Marie—whose English tends to desert her at crucial moments—sort through the lawyers (totally entertained by the lawyers’ snakeskin cowboy boots with their suits, and their rapaciousness). Finds a lesbian law firm to help Marie. And starts investigating. The investigation takes two years.

A pause here, while Jo asks irrelevant questions about the lesbian law firm, the beautiful house where they have their offices. (No entirely relevant question about how and why a lesbian law firm.) Fuck Jo and the way she enjoys tangents, thinks Gracie. Tangents, the essential accompaniment to the blurt– And interrupts.

—Coffee, anyone? Hot chocolate?

And runs downstairs while Jo asks about the bath where the lesbian lawyers keep the champagne during their parties; and sets a fire in her fireplace.

When they all have their drinks again (no brandy for Vita’s hot chocolate), gathered round the fire, Vita’s hesitant. Fuck. Fuck, thinks Gracie again. So she thinks a moment, and speaks up into the silence.

—It’s such a powerful article. When I read about you in that heat standing at the prison gate holding up your passport, then being searched, when I read about how all the prisoners had to share a single razor blade, one after another, about Benedict’s untreated gum disease, about him continuing to work on his case when he was force-medicated, when I read how you come to love him and believe in him, and feel him slipping away, I had this lump in my throat.

It’s dark now. And Gracie’s so intensely involved in her very own almost-blurt that she doesn’t notice that tears roll down Vita’s face. Jo does. She’s kept her distance from the other two, because the story’s all new to her. And she thinks before she speaks, while Gracie continues.

—And then there were those guys you found, and their stories about the guards in other Texan prisons. It was great. And at the end it said there was a second part. And I looked for part two. But I couldn’t find it.

You’re so SLOW sometimes, babe, thinks Jo.

—Gracie–

Gracie looks at Jo, who is looking at Vita. Gracie peers at Vita. OH.   Jo shifts her chair next to Vita and rests her hand on Vita’s. Gracie gets it. And shifts so she can put her arm round Vita. And they sit there in the firelight, as the weeping becomes sobs.

II.

Jo, of course, wants to look after Vita. Gracie’s more interested in what happened next. Jo makes various offers: a bath, a lie down, one of those wonderful Italian macaroons made with almond flour from Jo’s pantry, another brandy. All refused. Eventually, Gracie’s shamed into offering one of her foot massages. And Surprise! Vita accepts.

—And I’ll wash my face.

So she goes downstairs with Gracie, who gets her massage oil. And Vita decides that yes, she’d like a macaroon (or two) with a cup of tea. Up on the roof. And once she’s washed her face and is up on the roof, cup of tea in hand, and plate of macaroons nearby, she wants to finish the story and have the foot massage as a reward, afterwards.

—Let’s get this over with.

So the deposition-like paragraphs start.  Vita’s quick, counting on her fingers.

1. In Houston, I meet an English boy, a bit like Tai. I call him Streak. Streak, a promising football player, didn’t get on with his single mum, who was often unwell. His personal trainer in England grooms him and rapes him, then shares him around. He enjoys some of the benefits of life with the personal trainer and his mates. Gets sucked into the drugs of course. And, while Streak is still gorgeous, the personal trainer takes him to a party at a mansion (which Streak remembered and describes to me). He delivers Streak to the mansion’s owner for sex.

2. The owner takes Streak on a private jet (which he found glamorous) to Austin, where he became essentially a sex slave among another group of guys.

3. After a short while he has a heavier drug habit and is really ill. He’s dumped in Houston, and meets one of my informants on the street.

4. I offer to take Streak back to England, help him out. Streak always had a strong sense of survival. He leaps at the chance.

5. I work hard, to get him out of the States and home (he had no passport), into rehab in England. After rehab I have him at home, where he and my son, Mark, were about the same age. They get on well, go to school together. Now and then, I take Streak to visit his mum, sometimes in a psychiatric ward. And I continue to work on Part Two of my story, wondering how best to include Streak’s story, if at all.

As Vita moves from her left hand’s fingers to her right hand’s, she pauses, left forefinger on right thumb. That imperious look again. Ah, Gracie thinks, that’s really just her brace-myself look. And brace-yourselves everyone else, too.

Gracie sees Jo open her mouth to fill that pause between paragraphs. Jo wants to ask “More tea?” Gracie gives Jo a stern look. Jo closes her mouth.

Vita closes her eyes. Opens them, and looks out beyond the roof-top to the lights of Cuba Street.

6. I get invited to some glamorous parties that Christmas. Including a big publishing do. Mark’s with his dad, so I take Streak as my ‘partner’, a way to do something fun with him.

7. Streak hears the publishing empire’s major owner’s welcome speech, and slips away from me. Is upset later, won’t tell me why.

8. But he tells Mark: he’d got near to the guy giving the speech, let’s call him Mop. And he was convinced that Mop was the guy whose mansion he’d been delivered to; he’d recognised Mop’s voice when he gave the speech, and checked him out in close up. He remembered Mop’s hands.

She pauses, left forefinger on right middle finger. Taps the middle finger a few times. Closes her eyes again, swallows.

9. He and Mark find the personal trainer, ask him if Mop’s the one. The personal trainer denies it.

10. Mop invites me to a ‘family party’: bring your family. I didn’t know a thing about Streak and Mark’s investigation. Streak won’t go. But Mark does.

She’s run out of fingers. She leans forward in her directors chair, hands clasped between her legs, rocking slightly, looking down, whispering.

11.While we’re at the party, someone tries to break into my house. And Streak rings me, rings the police. “Leave Mark with us”, says our host, “He’s having a good time. We’ll drop him back.” So I rush home.

12. Streak says immediately, “Where’s Mark?” He’s very worried about Mark, but I don’t notice, because I’m more concerned about the break in.

13. Then I get the call. Mark’s fallen out of a window, three stories up, into a courtyard. Thrown out, I think.

Jo leans forward and places her open hand on the arm of Vita’s chair. Vita looks up, grasps Jo’s hand, looks down again, the other hand still clasped between her legs. Jo places her other hand on Vita’s thigh. We’re here. Vita Keeps Rocking. Vita Keeps Going.

14. In the autopsy, they find heroin in Mark’s blood, Mark who had zilch interest in drugs.

15. It’s all a blur for a while after that. Until Mark’s dad flies in. Furious with me. I should never have had custody because all I care about is my career.

16. Streak doesn’t leave the house. Just stays in his room. I think he was terrified. Poor Streak, he had no idea what to do. Until Mark’s dad stormed out

17. That’s the first time I’m alone. Heartbroken. And Streak creeps in and sits across from me. I think, go away, go away. Then he speaks. Tells me about his visit to the personal trainer, taking Mark. I’m furious with him. How could he risk Mark? It should have been him that died. I tell him to leave.

18. Ten minutes later I hear him leave. Almost immediately I regret it. Grab my phone, speed-dial him and run out the front door after him. Can’t see him. Then hear Mamma Mia, his ring tone for me. Where is he? Look over, around. Then down. And in the gutter’s his phone, ringing. And quarter of an hour later I get a text: Streak gnePix 2 folo. Ur nxt if opn mouth.  The pictures come, and I know it’s true.

19. I’m terrified.

20. I get very sick in the head. Don’t know where to go. Drink too much one night and realise that if I keep drinking I might say something, three drinks now my maximum.

21. So I run home. Here. Find the City Radio job. Avoid my family, who don’t know the whole story, who blame me for Mark’s death. A bad mother. And they’re right.

22. See Mop with Firefly in Hemingway’s that first night I came.

23. Then, on New Year’s Eve, get a bit pissed and told Firefly who I am. WANT to speak up.

She raises her head, looks at Gracie and Jo. This time, they’re weeping. Gracie, who nevercries, is unable to speak. Jo, who’s used to her own tears, gently takes her hand from Vita’s, wipes her eyes, then shamelessly wipes her nose on her sleeve, eyes fixed on Vita. Takes Vita’s hand again, in both her hands, and says

—How can we help?

Into the silence, a rourou calls. From the west, Kelburn Hill.

And then, Jo sings. Very softly. A song her dad taught her:

Ma wai ra

E taurima

Te marae i waho nei

Ma te tika

Ma te pono

Me te aroha e.

All the verses.

And when she stops singing, Vita’s ready to go downstairs.

To that foot massage. For a bath. For a few sips of milk-and-honey in Jo’s clean white spare room. And then the best sleep she’s had for a long time.

NOTES

Henare Te Owai of Ngāti Porou wrote Ma Wai Ra, a lament.

Thanks to MokopungaAkonga for this clip, who notes:

*Should be sung as “ma te tika, ma te pono” — but this was the only audio file I could find of this moteatea.

Audio and full lyrics  here.

Ma wai ra e taurima
te marae i waho nei?
Ma te tika
ma te pono
me te aroha e. 
Who will take responsibility
on the marae now?
There can be justice
and truth
only if there is love.
Noho au i taku whare
whakarongo ki te tangi
o te manu
rere i runga
rere waho e
I sit in my house
listening to the cry
of the free spirit
flying up
and away beyond here.
Nga wawata, nga roimata
i maringi ki te pa
Hei aha
hei ua rangi
me te aroha e?
The yearning, the tears
flow at the Pah.
Why do
the heavens send down rain
if not for love?
Tangihia au tinei*
kua riro koutou;
ki te iwi
ki te rangi
ki te Atua e.
Without your guiding light,* I bewail
your departing;
to the people
to the heavens
and to God himself.
Ma wai ra e taurima
te marae i waho nei?
Ma te tika
ma te pono
me te aroha e.
Who will take responsibility
on the marae now?
There can be justice
and truth
only if there is love.

12. The Trolley Wobbles

I.

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.

II.

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.

III.

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?

Sam shrugs.

—Whatever.

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.

—Same.

—And what game I wanted. And there it’d be, next time.

—Same.

—One 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.

IV.

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.

V.

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.

VI.   

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.

VII.

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.

VIII. 

Jo leaves it, over a couple of hideous hot and windy days. Mooches around and sees a lot of movies: MatarikiBurlesqueThe 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.

IX.  

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.

—Oh, mate.

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.

X. 

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!

She pauses.

—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.

—Sorry babe.

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.

__________

NOTES

Nope.

13. Notes

I.

Vita takes it quietly. Organises City Radio’s year meticulously, soothed by the work. Makes appointments with the therapist for twice a week for the next month and lists what she wants to discuss with the therapist, in order, in her new year Moleskine-with-the-tear-out-pages. Several pages. She even rings Firefly with suggestions for PR people who might help him manage his coming out, throws in a couple of good journos.  Gets his voicemail.

Vita’s first session with the therapist she says

—Happy New Year. I have a story.  And I’ve brought you a list of what I want to cover over the next couple of months.

And she tells the story more or less as she told it to Gracie and Jo, hands the therapist the list and leaves. Waaaay down the list is: Mark.

When Vita arrives for her next session, she opens her mouth and what falls out is

—I miss my son. Mark.

Over the next weeks, neither of them refers again to the list.

II.

Firefly gets Vita’s message with one from Ivan: “What about that drink?” which he ignores. And one from Julie, saying she may not be able to come and stay with Tai after all, which he puts to one side. Because, bingo, Vita has suggested a transatlantic someone he hasn’t thought of, who would be ideal. He calls, and has a preliminary discussion.

Then, on a day trip to Sydney, he has lunch at Becasse with Mop. Another discussion. Mop wants to know all the details about Vita. And changes the subject when Firefly asks him about Mark’s death.

—It’s a long story. What I want to know is why you want to come out?

Mop thinks Firefly’s taking too great a risk. Gay ex-sports hero Firefly will be less valuable than retired hero Firefly. Firefly explains that he’s got all the money he needs, that he’ll be glad to be shot of endorsements, that he hopes to settle down,  with someone special (probably not the current boyfriend) and maybe organise some kids: Firefly really really wants a family. Which brings them to Tai.

—You going to adopt him? Legally?

Firefly doesn’t know, and certainly isn’t about to discuss Tai with Mop. Tai complicates things. Does he ever.

And then Mop drops the bombshell.

—Because there’s a few problems. They may affect Tai. And more importantly, you.

Mop has the same news Ivan wanted to share at new year. And Firefly takes him seriously. He’s very worried indeed. He delays the trip to New York. Negotiates a rocky time with the boyfriend. Helps Tai prepare for the new school year.

III.

Hemingway’s starts the year with a bang.  Several bangs. New menu, riffing on the food in Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. A lot of fun. Customers want to prolong summer’s pleasures now they’re back at work. A cruise ship has foodies. A glossy mag has a major article with great pix.

Gracie has a ball. Happy to have a good job and no studies. Enjoys Lisa. Catches up with mates. Parties. Looks for a house-sit. But Jo’s not happy. Needed a better, longer, holiday. Still upset about Vita, and Vita’s story. Listens to a lot of Joan Armatrading.

And yes, she’s started smoking, and when Rebecca smells it on her and says so, for the first time she tries a nicotine patch. And gum. Hates both. When Gracie mouths ‘Firefly’ across the pass towards the end of one evening, Jo has no interest at all. Concentrates on his flounder-a-la-Kerewin. Chews the gum, offers the flounder some respect. It’s a struggle. And she knows, Norman knows, that her unhappiness is affecting the food she sends out.

IV.

Firefly’s the last one eating. Alone in a booth, his back to almost everyone. Gracie’s staff has cleaned up. She sends them off. Even tucked in his corner, Firefly doesn’t miss a thing. She’s on her own now: he waves her over.

—Drink?

She hesitates.

—Coffee then? I’d like one.

Oh, YES, she decides. She enjoys this man. Runs a checklist through her head. Yep, she can have a drink and get it all done in reasonable time.

—Why not? A quick one. Thank you.

And Firefly likes her. So he explains his dilemma to her, after a little bit of desultory to and fro. Yes, Tai’s great, wanted fish and chips tonight so Firefly had a little bit with him and then wanted something better, tell Norman-and-Jo that the flounder really hit the spot. Yes, he’s working on the shoulder. Off to New York soon. Thinking of making some big changes. Retirement. Coming out. Had enough of life in the closet.

Oh, thinks Gracie. Of course. I’m slow sometimes. Wants to ask “What do your team-matesthink? Do they know? How do they deal with it?” And says

—Wow. BIG changes.

And Firefly continues. If he comes out, will there be a problem with Tai? Will people think that Firefly’s a pedophile, a pederast?

—I remember the shock when I learned that the French word for ‘gay’ was ‘pédé’. Lots of prejudice about gays still, that we’re all pederasts.

Uh-oh, thinks Gracie. She thinks quickly.

—I don’t think anyone’d have doubts about you. Gay parents all the time now, and you’re so obviously a wonderful father-figure for Tai.

So they chat about Tai for a little. Then about coming out, the mechanics of it, its timing with Firefly’s retirement, what it will do to his contracts. And Gracie says

—Do it.

And Firefly reaches his hands across the table and they shake hands, and he cradles her hand with his other hand for a moment, and they sit quietly.

And then, because it was Gracie who delivered Tai to Firefly, all those months ago, Firefly circles back to his smaller problem, that Tai went on the rantan a few weeks back, and Firefly’s worried that while he’s in New York, Tai will go back to his old habits. Julie’d promised to house-sit but had to cancel.

Aha, thinks Gracie.

—I house-sit (brightly). And I need a place. Right now.

And as Firefly walks briskly home, he thinks YES. Hiding Tai in full sight will work. It goes like this: If Firefly’s a pedophile, there’s no way he’ll come out and expose that Tai lives with him.

Neither Firefly nor Gracie questions how Gracie will keep an eye on Tai when she’s working through the afternoons and evenings.

V.

It’s early in the week. No-one lingers. Gracie can easily walk over to Oriental Bay, but for the first time in a while she wants to go home with Jo. Nothing’s been the same between them since she stopped studying, became maître-de, moved back with her parents and Lisa. Most of all, since Vita.

So Gracie holds out her hand to Jo, teases her a little.

—I need a bed for the night–

Jo grumps back, chewing.

—I know there’s one available, a short walk away. Through Courtenay Place and along the waterfront.

—I like yours better.

—You can have the spare room.

OK, it’s like that now. But better than another night as the endlessly prodigal daughter.

And when they stroll up Cuba Street, and Gracie tucks her arm into Jo’s, Jo doesn’t pull away. They’re both lonely, need affection that has nothing to do with parent-child relationships.

And at Jo’s place they fall easily into their old habits. Gracie showers first, because she’s always quick, believes there isn’t enough water in the world to waste it. Then, while Jo showers away her kitchen sweat, Gracie tidies Jo’s tidy kitchen, prepares the hot drinks (lemon and honey because of the heat), the bread and the hummous and the Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes, the biscuits (Florentines, expecting the usual teeth discussion as they eat them), and because it’s still summer, some densely flavoured Otago nectarines.

Delivers it all on a tray, drops onto the couch along from Jo, listening to Tracey Chapman.

And is surprised when Jo moves close, leans into her, rests her head on Gracie’s shoulder.

—Need to be close.

Gracie strokes Jo’s head. Yes, for a moment there it’s like old times. Until Gracie reports her conversation with Firefly. Jo’s not surprised about the coming out.

—I wondered.

But she is surprised about the house-sit. Immediately:

—How’re you gonna keep an eye on Tai? You work after school. You work all evening.

—I’m off one day, sometimes two.

—You didn’t even think about it, did you?

—I wanted to help.

Jo waits. They both know there’s more.

—And get away from mum for a bit.

And more again.

—And I was flattered Firefly asked my opinion. Takes me seriously, like a friend. Fuck off, Jo. Get off my back. I can do it.

Gracie’s heart isn’t up to an argument about her capacity to be in loco parentis, to hear she yet again about her (un)suitability as a parent. She wants to head Jo away from a rant about how Gracie needs to resolve what she’s going to do about her responsibilities for Lisa.  Is delighted to remember suddenly that she’s never told Jo about the conversation with Firefly and Tai, and (oh yes) that Julie woman, on New Year’s Eve. So, while Jo takes a deep breath to launch into a response, Gracie leaps in with a quick rundown about Tai and his Grannie, and that gap between Firefly giving Tai his card and the time they found Tai in the shed.

And Jo thinks about Vita’s stories, sceptical about Mop. And then pissed off that Gracie has so skilfully distracted her from her blurt about Gracie and Lisa. Reaches for some gum. And they argue a bit, about whether Firefly keeps as quiet about being a pedophile as about being gay. About the finer points of the language, pederasty, pedophilia. Whether a woman can be a pederast (yes). Whether Julie is (Gracie really did not like her). How Gracie finds boys Tai’s age alluring, often, would seduce them in a heartbeat, if they didn’t seduce her first. And no, of course she won’t fuck Tai, if he asks. To and fro they go, tucked up together on the sofa, for the first time for a long time. And then Gracie adds

—Oops. I missed a bit. Tai’s a Mozzie.

—So where’s he from? Maybe he’s whanau–

Gracie shrugs.

—Didn’t think to ask.

—How does he spell his name?

Gracie shrugs again.

—So he could be T-A-I, not T-Y. I thought Ty was probably his street name.

—No idea. Tyrone, maybe, that’d suit him.

—Alluring, ya reckon.

Jo’s suddenly alert and happy. Here’s a real live problem she can solve, the first time for weeks. She takes out the gum. Thumbs it onto an empty plate. Gracie grimaces. Jo ignores her. She’s on a roll.

—Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll organise with Norman to give Tai an afterschool job. Sit him out the back to do his homework later on.

—Why not take a couple of weeks off work and be the house-sitter? The perfect big sister? Take over entirely? Do a full investigation into his whakapapa? His relationships with his grandmother, Firefly and Julie, and everyone in between? Warn him to watch out for me, that I might try to seduce him?

—Nah. It’s over to you, babe. My only big question’s about Firefly. Why wasn’t he concerned because you wouldn’t be around for Tai at the crucial times of day?

They’re back.  Chatter, giggle their way to Jo’s bed.

________

NOTES

You want more? Give me some instructions!

14. Wheels turn

I.

Tai isn’t sure about Gracie. But a good dinner at Hemingway’s (Jo’s back on form), and a job offer from Norman (Tai’s never had a ‘job’) help. The first week of school goes well, arriving each morning with Firefly in the Jag. Lucy, that girl he likes, is in some of his classes. And impressed he’s got a job at Hemingway’s; her parents ate there for their anniversary. He likes the music classes and the technology too, thinks he’d like to make a film.

II.

Even Gracie’s dad’s impressed at her new house-sit, drops hints about a visit, preferably before Firefly leaves. But she’s having second thoughts. It’s the first time she’s had a teenager to care for, and she’s taken on board Jo’s remarks about her inexperience, her unproven parenting worth. Help comes from an unexpected source: Rebecca.

Rebecca’s heard about Tai’s grannie from Jo, and decides—as she does now and then—that as part-owner of Hemingway’s (and a grannie) she can contribute. She brings in an old iBook for Tai’s homework, makes him a cosy corner, makes sure Norman and Jo have thought through Tai’s goûter needs, suggests that Finn shows Tai how to do the go-fer things required for his job, from dish-washing to deliveries. They happily tolerate this interference—even welcome it, because they love her, know how she ticks and know that she knows what she’s doing. She’s there on Tai’s first day, warm and brisk, and he’s cautiously friendly to her.

Gracie explains to Tai he’ll need an IRD number and he rings for one. And Rebecca and Jo look closely at Tai’s IRD form. He’s filled it in well. Clear writing, every gap filled. Jo’s a little disappointed.

—Tyrone MacKay. Ty. Not Tai.

—We’ll ask when he’s used to us.

I’ll ask.

Rebecca enjoys learning about connections. Is curious about Tai’s. So she pushes a little. And Jo yields.

—Sure. But I want to be there too.

III.

That first week’s terrific.

Gracie’s pleased with herself. Even delighted, when at the end of the week, she drives Tai over to New World in Firefly’s Jag, to stock up on washing powder and toilet paper.

Hemingway’s provides Tai with whites, and he loves whisking over to Moore Wilson’s in his gear, feeling professional. And when Jo—who he’s categorised as a ‘scary lady’— teaches him to make the next day’s lunch each night, from whatever’s to hand, he begins to like her a bit.

And Jo, watching Tai learn what he has to do, fit in with the others, do his homework, bides her time.

IV.   

Then at the beginning of the second week, towards the end of service, Firefly phones in.

Talks with Gracie briefly, on the desk line. She darts through to Tai in the office, gets him to pick up the phone, and hurries back to the floor.

Then Jo hears Tai shouting.  Focuses on plating the mussels in front of her, puts them on the pass. And puts her head round the office door. Tai’s slumped in the chair Rebecca brought in for him, looks up at Jo and glares.

They both speak at once.

—What’re you looking at?

—You OK?

Tai leaps up and pushes past Jo. She follows him to the back door.

Watches discreetly as he leans against the outside wall, fumbles in his pocket and pulls out a joint. She steps forward. Holds out her hand for the joint.

—Not here. Not now.

—I’ve finished work. Finished my school work.

—Not here. Not now– What’s up?

—Nothing.

He tucks the joint back in his pocket.

Distract him, Jo thinks. She gestures to the City Radio Station.

—That was a while ago now.

He gets what she’s saying. He’s moved on, his life’s changed. Jo sighs. She’s moved on, too. Her life’s changed. Wonder what Vita’s doing? Distract him. Wonder what he’ll say if–

—How did you know that Vita camps at City Radio? A guess?

—That snotty bitch–

—Hey. Don’t talk like that–

—And it’s all her fault.

—All her fault what?

—That Firefly’s come out–

Aha. It’s happened. Somehow via Vita. And Tai doesn’t like it.

—That’s Firefly’s decision. If it makes him happy–

He unties his apron (often leaves it on all evening, loves his uniform).

—I’m going home.

—Check in with Gracie then.

—You’re not the boss of me (bundles his apron in his fist, then remembers he’s to fold it properly, shakes it out, and folds it precisely).

—(mildly) That’s right, you’re finished for tonight. I was confused, because you’re still in your whites. But I know Gracie’d like to know.

He flings himself back inside. Jo calls after him.

—Night!

And then looks back at City Radio. Thinks about Vita. Has an idea.

V. 

The three of them go to Firefly’s place, to watch Firefly’s news on cable. Tai’s mostly silent, trails around after Gracie and Jo, when Gracie shows the place to Jo. In Firefly’s bedroom, Jo throws herself on the huge bed.

—WOW. The three of us could sleep here and there’d still be room!

Gracie leaps  beside her, both of them laughing. Then Jo sees Tai’s face. It’s shifted from grumpy to CLOSED. But his mouth opens.

—Stop it– Firefly’d be pissed off–

Jo jumps up, pulls Gracie to her feet.

—Supper time. News time.

So they drink hot chocolate, and eat cheese and tomato on toast, and while they wait for Firefly on the news, Tai softens a little and shows Jo all Firefly’s kitchen gear, very classy. She helps him make his school lunch, praises his new skills (Finn’s been giving him knife lessons), and as they tidy up, feels the atmosphere relax enough to suggest her idea.

—After school tomorrow, I thought you could make up a little special delivery picnic. You confident enough for that? Come up with some ideas, and put it all together?

She can see he isn’t too sure.

—I’d be there of course, to help–

There’s a shout from Gracie. Firefly’s on.

VI.   

On the other side of the world, Firefly’s another person than the one they know. Seated in front of a bank of microphones, in a suit and a new haircut, he’s impressive. Looks like he owns the world. Very matter-of-fact, a poster man for all those poster men: Marlborough Man, Southern Man, American Express; and just a hint of Jockey. And with an impressive quiet dignity.

—Oh, isn’t he wonderful? (Gracie) Aren’t you proud he’s your friend, Tai?

Tai tries to play it cool, nods, eyes fixed on the screen. Not a word, the beginnings of a tiny smile.

Then the inevitable question from a journalist.

—And is there someone special in your life?

—Yes.

—Will we get to meet him?

—Not tonight.

Back to the sports presenter.

—What an extraordinary man. And he’s left us all wanting more. Look out for that memoir.

Gracie clicks the remote and the image fades.

—O wow. Whaddya think?

Tai’s NOT happy.

—I think he’ll never come back. I’ll never see him again.

Quick as a flash, Gracie and Jo are with him. They calm him down, gentle him to bed (school tomorrow) and promise that if Firefly doesn’t ring very soon, Gracie will track him down.

VII.  

Tai seems slow and vague the next afternoon, so when he’s finished his work Jo’s surprised to see him appear next to her, looking alert.

—That special job for me today–

—Oh. I thought we’d leave it till tomorrow. Give us time to bounce back from the excitement.

But they talk about it, the kinds of breads available, the possible fillings, how bread isn’t actually necessary, ideas about a little pie, salads, cheeses and sweet things.

—You give me some ideas, and make it look good, and I’ll prepare the more complicated things.

—Who’s it for?

—A secret, until you deliver it. A surprise for someone.

—Rebecca–

—I’m not telling.

She gives him a couple of recipe books.

—Read them when you’ve finished your homework.

—I’m not ten. You’re not my mother. I’ll manage my homework.

Gracie takes Tai home early, and they attempt to track down Firefly. No luck at any of the possible numbers. They email.

VIII.

Vita’s very surprised when a tall young man in whites appears at the door of her office, carrying a covered basket. Even more surprised when the tall young man says

—Here to nick your laptop. Jo insisted.

She looks him in the eye, gives a rueful smile, and holds out her hand.

—Tai. I’m sorry I was such a tit.

Tai hands her the basket, and she places it on her desk, holds out her hand again. He gets it. They shake hands.

Such a tit. Several times. I wasn’t coping well. With anything.

Tai shrugs. Decides to be charming.

—No worries.

He lifts the lid on the basket.

—Jo thought you’d like a picnic tea. And they’re flat out so she sent me over.

They look inside. Tai explains the various dishes, and his part in the preparation.

—It looks wonderful. Shall we have a wee share of those petits fours?

So they do, and Tai asks about the photograph by Vita’s computer and she says it’s her son. Vita introduces Tai around, shows him a couple of the studios. And she gets Jo’s cellphone number from him, so she can thank her. As she says to her therapist later that evening, all in all she handles it pretty well. But she wishes Jo hadn’t sent the basket over. The therapist waits.

—I felt cranky about it. Pursued.

—Pursued?

—Yes.

—You like Jo.

—Yes.

—So why do you feel pursued?

—I want her to leave me alone.

—And sending Tai with a picnic is not leaving you alone?

—Of course it isn’t.

—But you got her number from Tai?

—I have to thank her–

—You could have sent a message, a note, and you’d be done, wouldn’t have to think about it again?

—You saying I don’t want to be left alone?

—I’m asking–

Vita can’t quite get there.

—I’ll think about it.

She still hasn’t told her therapist where she’s living.

IX.

Tai returns to Hemingway’s down the fire escape (“Let’s try your old route”, said Vita) and through the back yards. Takes a look into ‘his’ shed on the way, can’t now imagine  how he spent so much time there. Wonders about Firefly, overwhelmed with anxiety that things will turn to custard if Firefly doesn’t return.

He goes from charming to bratty in the minute it takes to cross the yards.

His report to Jo is terse. And he slopes off to do his homework (maybe). And Jo takes a fresh bit of gum.

X.

Gracie’s very happy to reach her day off. Stretches out in bed, wonders what she might do. She’s a little worn from this house-sitting gig: Tai’s not a pet, or plants, and having him at work as well has been demanding.

Then, here he is in the doorway, clasping that dorky thermal bag Jo’s given him for lunches.

—I’ve slept in. Can you drop me at school?

Every cell in Gracie’s body says NO. But somehow, out of her mouth falls YES.  So she ferries him up Taranaki Street in that enormous Jag.

And after she drops him, fights off the impulse to swing onto the motorway north. Foxton straits in no time at all? Taupo for lunch? But she goes home. Puts on the coffee. And the phone rings.

XI.

The police try the school counsellor first. No, she said.

—I have no relationship with him. He came once. Became surly fast. Stayed ten minutes. Doing fine in his classes, no reason to take any further interest.

So then they ring Firefly’s. And get Gracie on her day off. Tell her that Tai has a connection to ‘a person of interest’ in one of their investigations. Gracie explains. Firefly’s out of the country. She’s in loco parentis. Up to Tai whether he wants to talk. But sure, come over this evening once he’s home from work, meet him and see what he says.

So Gracie drives to Hemingway’s to pick up Tai. Jo teases her.

—Really getting into the mother thing, babe? How’s Lisa?

Tai drags Finn out to see the car. Finn’s suitably impressed. Everything’s calm and happy.

And Tai seems unfazed when Gracie mentions the police.

—You don’t have to talk to them–

—I know.

—Know what it’s about?

He shrugs.

—I’ll be there, so they can’t pressure you–

He shrugs again.

And when they come, a brisk and friendly young man and a woman Gracie thinks Jo would enjoy, they’re immensely respectful of Tai. Who has showered, is beautifully dressed, not a hint of the street boy.

The brisk and friendly young man starts off.

—Tai you’re done nothing wrong, nothing at all. We’ve come to ask you for help.

He gives a general outline of what they’re looking at, a group who prey on young people, how one member of the group killed himself when the police approached him, but there are others. Then gets to the guts of it.

—We understand you know some of these guys (the guy who topped himself, Ivan, a couple of others). Had a little talk with your mate, Sam– We’d like to talk with you too, hear your side of the story.

—Nah. Don’t think so.

— Take your time. Think about it. We’re here if you change your mind.

Gracie gives Tai an encouraging smile. He gathers himself.

—I’ve put all that behind me.

(Go Tai! thinks Gracie.)

—Sure. Here’s a card. Just in case.

Then the woman breaks in for a moment.

—Seen Sam the last few days, Tai?

Quick as a flash, looking her in the eye.

—Nah.

—We seem to have lost track of him–

—Could be out of town–

When they leave, Tai says nothing. Doesn’t want to talk with Gracie. Texting rapidly, takes his phone to his room.

Gracie droops on the couch. Calls Firefly. Again can’t get through. Emails him. Rings her mother, apologises for not seeing Lisa this week.

By midnight, Gracie and Tai are fast asleep. Neither of them hears Firefly return, make himself at home, and hit the sack. And he doesn’t stir when Gracie and Tai sleep in again. Gracie drives Tai to school, then goes to work.

XII. 

Vita sees Gracie and Jo head-to-head out the back of Hemingway’s when she waters her geraniums, NOT doing well on the fire escape. (She forgets to water them, and they’re battered by the summer winds.) O fuck, she thinks, I haven’t rung Jo. So she whistles, a piercing wolf whistle. They don’t seem to notice. So she whistles again.

Gracie’s telling Jo about the visit from the cops. And defending herself.

—He’s 14. Working his phone. Why would he want to hear me ask if he’s OK? And he was fine this morning.

The second whistle comes just as each of them takes a breath. “Well”, says Gracie. “There’s an expert. Let’s ask her.” They wave to Vita, beckon. She points inside, shouts.

— See you soon–

It’s noisy in the mornings here, the wind’s blowing a gale, and they don’t hear her. She waves. They wave back, getting the message, they think. But Vita  runs back inside, she tells the techie she’ll be ten minutes, wedges open the fire-door and starts down the stairs.

Jo and Gracie are gone already, and she picks her way across the yards and in Hemingway’s back door. Straight into Norman.

—Where did you come from?

She points over her shoulder, introduces herself.

Jo’s busy at the stove, and Gracie’s disappeared. Jo shifts her gum to her cheek.

—Vita! Finn, look after this for a moment?

XIII.   

Firefly wakes up eventually, heads straight for Freyberg, gym-and-swim. Late lunch with lawyer, home for many calls. Another  brief nap, then  round to Hemingway’s for late dinner.

XIV.

In their break before service, Gracie and Jo perch on the City Radio fire escape with Vita and speculate about Tai. Of course, if he doesn’t want to talk that’s his choice. But if he does talk, will it be dangerous? Is he in danger anyway? And what can Gracie and Jo (and Rebecca) do to help? Vita has no idea.

—It could be just two or three yukky guys. A little local group. Wait for Firefly to come back.

They speculate about Tai’s family, what will happen to Tai if Firefly decides to live overseas. Vita has an obvious suggestion:

—Something we can do, very quietly, is track them down, using the info Tai gave on his IRD form. Unless he’s lied, of course.

To Jo, this is dodgy.

—Isn’t that a bit invasive? Why not ask Tai?

But Gracie’s excited. Something She Can Get Her Teeth into. A distraction from the problem that she’s going to need a new house-sit soon, that she’s in a kind of limbo, and with not enough down time (she tells herself) to sort through her options.

—It’s no different than you and Rebecca checking out his IRD form–

—Rebecca’s an owner, of course she looks at an employee’s IRD form if she wants to.

—But that isn’t why you looked–

— I looked because I cared. I thought he might be a rellie.

—So. I’m going to look because I care.

Vita watches them both, Jo chewing away, Gracie right in her face. Feels something now unfamiliar, affection. And, what a surprise, a surge of interest and commitment. At the back of her mind, she has questions about Firefly and Mop. This is the moment everything changes for her.

—Hey, you two. We all care. I’m a journalist, with no scruples about investigating Tai. I’ll do it.

The others look pleased.

—But I can’t do it from here, piggy backing on the neighbours’ wi-fi, or using City Radio’s. How’s your spare room Jo? May I use it for a while?

The others go into shock. Jo stops chewing. Gracie does her excellent blank look: behind it, computing whether she’ll miss out on being a hero, if Vita takes over, if she’ll miss out if Vita and Jo are under the same roof. How to do a fast save? Aha, this could be it.

—I’ve still got access to a whole lot of law school database subscriptions– Maybe I could help?

Her reservations blown away by Vita’s suggestions, Jo takes out a tissue, takes out her gum and wraps it in the tissue. Watching her, Vita smiles, and replies to Gracie.

—Of course.

And Jo finds her voice, and replies to Vita.

—Of course. Though it’s a bit of a mess at the mo. I’m working on our Sevens costumes. Labiates. You could be one too–

She isn’t sure what else to add, so she high fives Vita and then Gracie.

And then Norman leads Tai and Finn out of Hemingway’s back door. Tai and Finn each carry a stock pot and a wooden spoon. Norman lifts his arm and drops it. And Tai and Finn bang the pots with their spoons. Vigorously.

As one, Jo and Gracie give them the finger. Everyone laughs.

I.

Tai isn’t sure about Gracie. But a good dinner at Hemingway’s (Jo’s back on form), and a job offer from Norman (Tai’s never had a ‘job’) help. The first week of school goes well, arriving each morning with Firefly in the Jag. Lucy, that girl he likes, is in some of his classes. And impressed he’s got a job at Hemingway’s; her parents ate there for their anniversary. He likes the music classes and the technology too, thinks he’d like to make a film.

II.

Even Gracie’s dad’s impressed at her new house-sit, drops hints about a visit, preferably before Firefly leaves. But she’s having second thoughts. It’s the first time she’s had a teenager to care for, and she’s taken on board Jo’s remarks about her inexperience, her unproven parenting worth. Help comes from an unexpected source: Rebecca.

Rebecca’s heard about Tai’s grannie from Jo, and decides—as she does now and then—that as part-owner of Hemingway’s (and a grannie) she can contribute. She brings in an old iBook for Tai’s homework, makes him a cosy corner, makes sure Norman and Jo have thought through Tai’s goûter needs, suggests that Finn shows Tai how to do the go-fer things required for his job, from dish-washing to deliveries. They happily tolerate this interference—even welcome it, because they love her, know how she ticks and know that she knows what she’s doing. She’s there on Tai’s first day, warm and brisk, and he’s cautiously friendly to her.

Gracie explains to Tai he’ll need an IRD number and he rings for one. And Rebecca and Jo look closely at Tai’s IRD form. He’s filled it in well. Clear writing, every gap filled. Jo’s a little disappointed.

—Tyrone MacKay. Ty. Not Tai.

—We’ll ask when he’s used to us.

I’ll ask.

Rebecca enjoys learning about connections. Is curious about Tai’s. So she pushes a little. And Jo yields.

—Sure. But I want to be there too.

III.

That first week’s terrific.

Gracie’s pleased with herself. Even delighted, when at the end of the week, she drives Tai over to New World in Firefly’s Jag, to stock up on washing powder and toilet paper.

Hemingway’s provides Tai with whites, and he loves whisking over to Moore Wilson’s in his gear, feeling professional. And when Jo—who he’s categorised as a ‘scary lady’— teaches him to make the next day’s lunch each night, from whatever’s to hand, he begins to like her a bit.

And Jo, watching Tai learn what he has to do, fit in with the others, do his homework, bides her time.

IV.   

Then at the beginning of the second week, towards the end of service, Firefly phones in.

Talks with Gracie briefly, on the desk line. She darts through to Tai in the office, gets him to pick up the phone, and hurries back to the floor.

Then Jo hears Tai shouting.  Focuses on plating the mussels in front of her, puts them on the pass. And puts her head round the office door. Tai’s slumped in the chair Rebecca brought in for him, looks up at Jo and glares.

They both speak at once.

—What’re you looking at?

—You OK?

Tai leaps up and pushes past Jo. She follows him to the back door.

Watches discreetly as he leans against the outside wall, fumbles in his pocket and pulls out a joint. She steps forward. Holds out her hand for the joint.

—Not here. Not now.

—I’ve finished work. Finished my school work.

—Not here. Not now– What’s up?

—Nothing.

He tucks the joint back in his pocket.

Distract him, Jo thinks. She gestures to the City Radio Station.

—That was a while ago now.

He gets what she’s saying. He’s moved on, his life’s changed. Jo sighs. She’s moved on, too. Her life’s changed. Wonder what Vita’s doing? Distract him. Wonder what he’ll say if–

—How did you know that Vita camps at City Radio? A guess?

—That snotty bitch–

—Hey. Don’t talk like that–

—And it’s all her fault.

—All her fault what?

—That Firefly’s come out–

Aha. It’s happened. Somehow via Vita. And Tai doesn’t like it.

—That’s Firefly’s decision. If it makes him happy–

He unties his apron (often leaves it on all evening, loves his uniform).

—I’m going home.

—Check in with Gracie then.

—You’re not the boss of me (bundles his apron in his fist, then remembers he’s to fold it properly, shakes it out, and folds it precisely).

—(mildly) That’s right, you’re finished for tonight. I was confused, because you’re still in your whites. But I know Gracie’d like to know.

He flings himself back inside. Jo calls after him.

—Night!

And then looks back at City Radio. Thinks about Vita. Has an idea.

 V. 

The three of them go to Firefly’s place, to watch Firefly’s news on cable. Tai’s mostly silent, trails around after Gracie and Jo, when Gracie shows the place to Jo. In Firefly’s bedroom, Jo throws herself on the huge bed.

—WOW. The three of us could sleep here and there’d still be room!

Gracie leaps  beside her, both of them laughing. Then Jo sees Tai’s face. It’s shifted from grumpy to CLOSED. But his mouth opens.

—Stop it– Firefly’d be pissed off–

Jo jumps up, pulls Gracie to her feet.

—Supper time. News time.

So they drink hot chocolate, and eat cheese and tomato on toast, and while they wait for Firefly on the news, Tai softens a little and shows Jo all Firefly’s kitchen gear, very classy. She helps him make his school lunch, praises his new skills (Finn’s been giving him knife lessons), and as they tidy up, feels the atmosphere relax enough to suggest her idea.

—After school tomorrow, I thought you could make up a little special delivery picnic. You confident enough for that? Come up with some ideas, and put it all together?

She can see he isn’t too sure.

—I’d be there of course, to help–

There’s a shout from Gracie. Firefly’s on.

VI.   

On the other side of the world, Firefly’s another person than the one they know. Seated in front of a bank of microphones, in a suit and a new haircut, he’s impressive. Looks like he owns the world. Very matter-of-fact, a poster man for all those poster men: Marlborough Man, Southern Man, American Express; and just a hint of Jockey. And with an impressive quiet dignity.

—Oh, isn’t he wonderful? (Gracie) Aren’t you proud he’s your friend, Tai?

Tai tries to play it cool, nods, eyes fixed on the screen. Not a word, the beginnings of a tiny smile.

Then the inevitable question from a journalist.

—And is there someone special in your life?

—Yes.

—Will we get to meet him?

—Not tonight.

Back to the sports presenter.

—What an extraordinary man. And he’s left us all wanting more. Look out for that memoir.

Gracie clicks the remote and the image fades.

—O wow. Whaddya think?

Tai’s NOT happy.

—I think he’ll never come back. I’ll never see him again.

Quick as a flash, Gracie and Jo are with him. They calm him down, gentle him to bed (school tomorrow) and promise that if Firefly doesn’t ring very soon, Gracie will track him down.

VII.  

Tai seems slow and vague the next afternoon, so when he’s finished his work Jo’s surprised to see him appear next to her, looking alert.

—That special job for me today–

—Oh. I thought we’d leave it till tomorrow. Give us time to bounce back from the excitement.

But they talk about it, the kinds of breads available, the possible fillings, how bread isn’t actually necessary, ideas about a little pie, salads, cheeses and sweet things.

—You give me some ideas, and make it look good, and I’ll prepare the more complicated things.

—Who’s it for?

—A secret, until you deliver it. A surprise for someone.

—Rebecca–

—I’m not telling.

She gives him a couple of recipe books.

—Read them when you’ve finished your homework.

—I’m not ten. You’re not my mother. I’ll manage my homework.

Gracie takes Tai home early, and they attempt to track down Firefly. No luck at any of the possible numbers. They email.

VIII.

Vita’s very surprised when a tall young man in whites appears at the door of her office, carrying a covered basket. Even more surprised when the tall young man says

—Here to nick your laptop. Jo insisted.

She looks him in the eye, gives a rueful smile, and holds out her hand.

—Tai. I’m sorry I was such a tit.

Tai hands her the basket, and she places it on her desk, holds out her hand again. He gets it. They shake hands.

Such a tit. Several times. I wasn’t coping well. With anything.

Tai shrugs. Decides to be charming.

—No worries.

He lifts the lid on the basket.

—Jo thought you’d like a picnic tea. And they’re flat out so she sent me over.

They look inside. Tai explains the various dishes, and his part in the preparation.

—It looks wonderful. Shall we have a wee share of those petits fours?

So they do, and Tai asks about the photograph by Vita’s computer and she says it’s her son. Vita introduces Tai around, shows him a couple of the studios. And she gets Jo’s cellphone number from him, so she can thank her. As she says to her therapist later that evening, all in all she handles it pretty well. But she wishes Jo hadn’t sent the basket over. The therapist waits.

—I felt cranky about it. Pursued.

—Pursued?

—Yes.

—You like Jo.

—Yes.

—So why do you feel pursued?

—I want her to leave me alone.

—And sending Tai with a picnic is not leaving you alone?

—Of course it isn’t.

—But you got her number from Tai?

—I have to thank her–

—You could have sent a message, a note, and you’d be done, wouldn’t have to think about it again?

—You saying I don’t want to be left alone?

—I’m asking–

Vita can’t quite get there.

—I’ll think about it.

She still hasn’t told her therapist where she’s living.

IX.

Tai returns to Hemingway’s down the fire escape (“Let’s try your old route”, said Vita) and through the back yards. Takes a look into ‘his’ shed on the way, can’t now imagine  how he spent so much time there. Wonders about Firefly, overwhelmed with anxiety that things will turn to custard if Firefly doesn’t return.

He goes from charming to bratty in the minute it takes to cross the yards.

His report to Jo is terse. And he slopes off to do his homework (maybe). And Jo takes a fresh bit of gum.

 X.

Gracie’s very happy to reach her day off. Stretches out in bed, wonders what she might do. She’s a little worn from this house-sitting gig: Tai’s not a pet, or plants, and having him at work as well has been demanding.

Then, here he is in the doorway, clasping that dorky thermal bag Jo’s given him for lunches.

—I’ve slept in. Can you drop me at school?

Every cell in Gracie’s body says NO. But somehow, out of her mouth falls YES.  So she ferries him up Taranaki Street in that enormous Jag.

And after she drops him, fights off the impulse to swing onto the motorway north. Foxton straits in no time at all? Taupo for lunch? But she goes home. Puts on the coffee. And the phone rings.

XI.

The police try the school counsellor first. No, she said.

—I have no relationship with him. He came once. Became surly fast. Stayed ten minutes. Doing fine in his classes, no reason to take any further interest.

So then they ring Firefly’s. And get Gracie on her day off. Tell her that Tai has a connection to ‘a person of interest’ in one of their investigations. Gracie explains. Firefly’s out of the country. She’s in loco parentis. Up to Tai whether he wants to talk. But sure, come over this evening once he’s home from work, meet him and see what he says.

So Gracie drives to Hemingway’s to pick up Tai. Jo teases her.

—Really getting into the mother thing, babe? How’s Lisa?

Tai drags Finn out to see the car. Finn’s suitably impressed. Everything’s calm and happy.

And Tai seems unfazed when Gracie mentions the police.

—You don’t have to talk to them–

—I know.

—Know what it’s about?

He shrugs.

—I’ll be there, so they can’t pressure you–

He shrugs again.

And when they come, a brisk and friendly young man and a woman Gracie thinks Jo would enjoy, they’re immensely respectful of Tai. Who has showered, is beautifully dressed, not a hint of the street boy.

The brisk and friendly young man starts off.

—Tai you’re done nothing wrong, nothing at all. We’ve come to ask you for help.

He gives a general outline of what they’re looking at, a group who prey on young people, how one member of the group killed himself when the police approached him, but there are others. Then gets to the guts of it.

—We understand you know some of these guys (the guy who topped himself, Ivan, a couple of others). Had a little talk with your mate, Sam– We’d like to talk with you too, hear your side of the story.

—Nah. Don’t think so.

— Take your time. Think about it. We’re here if you change your mind.

Gracie gives Tai an encouraging smile. He gathers himself.

—I’ve put all that behind me.

(Go Tai! thinks Gracie.)

—Sure. Here’s a card. Just in case.

Then the woman breaks in for a moment.

—Seen Sam the last few days, Tai?

Quick as a flash, looking her in the eye.

—Nah.

—We seem to have lost track of him–

—Could be out of town–

When they leave, Tai says nothing. Doesn’t want to talk with Gracie. Texting rapidly, takes his phone to his room.

Gracie droops on the couch. Calls Firefly. Again can’t get through. Emails him. Rings her mother, apologises for not seeing Lisa this week.

By midnight, Gracie and Tai are fast asleep. Neither of them hears Firefly return, make himself at home, and hit the sack. And he doesn’t stir when Gracie and Tai sleep in again. Gracie drives Tai to school, then goes to work.

XII. 

Vita sees Gracie and Jo head-to-head out the back of Hemingway’s when she waters her geraniums, NOT doing well on the fire escape. (She forgets to water them, and they’re battered by the summer winds.) O fuck, she thinks, I haven’t rung Jo. So she whistles, a piercing wolf whistle. They don’t seem to notice. So she whistles again.

Gracie’s telling Jo about the visit from the cops. And defending herself.

—He’s 14. Working his phone. Why would he want to hear me ask if he’s OK? And he was fine this morning.

The second whistle comes just as each of them takes a breath. “Well”, says Gracie. “There’s an expert. Let’s ask her.” They wave to Vita, beckon. She points inside, shouts.

— See you soon–

It’s noisy in the mornings here, the wind’s blowing a gale, and they don’t hear her. She waves. They wave back, getting the message, they think. But Vita  runs back inside, she tells the techie she’ll be ten minutes, wedges open the fire-door and starts down the stairs.

Jo and Gracie are gone already, and she picks her way across the yards and in Hemingway’s back door. Straight into Norman.

—Where did you come from?

She points over her shoulder, introduces herself.

Jo’s busy at the stove, and Gracie’s disappeared. Jo shifts her gum to her cheek.

—Vita! Finn, look after this for a moment?

XIII.   

Firefly wakes up eventually, heads straight for Freyberg, gym-and-swim. Late lunch with lawyer, home for many calls. Another  brief nap, then  round to Hemingway’s for late dinner.

XIV.

In their break before service, Gracie and Jo perch on the City Radio fire escape with Vita and speculate about Tai. Of course, if he doesn’t want to talk that’s his choice. But if he does talk, will it be dangerous? Is he in danger anyway? And what can Gracie and Jo (and Rebecca) do to help? Vita has no idea.

—It could be just two or three yukky guys. A little local group. Wait for Firefly to come back.

They speculate about Tai’s family, what will happen to Tai if Firefly decides to live overseas. Vita has an obvious suggestion:

—Something we can do, very quietly, is track them down, using the info Tai gave on his IRD form. Unless he’s lied, of course.

To Jo, this is a dodgy.

—Isn’t that a bit invasive? Why not ask Tai?

But Gracie’s excited. Something She Can Get Her Teeth into. A distraction from the problem that she’s going to need a new house-sit soon, that she’s in a kind of limbo, and with not enough down time (she tells herself) to sort through her options.

—It’s no different than you and Rebecca checking out his IRD form–

—Rebecca’s an owner, of course she looks at an employee’s IRD form if she wants to.

—But that isn’t why you looked–

— I looked because I cared. I thought he might be a rellie.

—So. I’m going to look because I care.

Vita watches them both, Jo chewing away, Gracie right in her face. Feels something now unfamiliar, affection. And, what a surprise, a surge of interest and commitment. At the back of her mind, she has questions about Firefly and Mop. This is the moment everything changes for her.

—Hey, you two. We all care. I’m a journalist, with no scruples about investigating Tai. I’ll do it.

The others look pleased.

—But I can’t do it from here, piggy backing on the neighbours’ wi-fi, or using City Radio’s. How’s your spare room Jo? May I use it for a while?

The others go into shock. Jo stops chewing. Gracie does her excellent blank look: behind it, computing whether she’ll miss out on being a hero, if Vita takes over, if she’ll miss out if Vita and Jo are under the same roof. How to do a fast save? Aha, this could be it.

—I’ve still got access to a whole lot of law school database subscriptions– Maybe I could help?

Her reservations blown away by Vita’s suggestions, Jo takes out a tissue, takes out her gum and wraps it in the tissue. Watching her, Vita smiles, and replies to Gracie.

—Of course.

And Jo finds her voice, and replies to Vita.

—Of course. Though it’s a bit of a mess at the mo. I’m working on our Sevens costumes. Labiates. You could be one too–

She isn’t sure what else to add, so she high fives Vita and then Gracie.

And then Norman leads Tai and Finn out of Hemingway’s back door. Tai and Finn each carry a stock pot and a wooden spoon. Norman lifts his arm and drops it. And Tai and Finn bang the pots with their spoons. Vigorously.

As one, Jo and Gracie give them the finger. Everyone laughs.

And then Jo and Gracie hurry back to work.

_______

NOTES

Nah. Breaking out the beers. Go Wales!

15. Heart on Sleeve

I.

Firefly comes in to Hemingway’s for a late dinner.

Gracie sees him at the door, runs out the back to tell Tai.

Watches him tamp down joy, feel fear, close his face. Buy time, as he puts on his apron and his cap. Watches him walk across the floor in his whites. She sees Firefly stand to greet Tai. Sees Tai avoid a hug and greet Firefly quite formally. Hears Firefly ask when Tai will be finished. Decides not to intervene. If Tai wants to pretend he’s still on shift, he has a reason. And then she thinks O Fuck. Is my house-sit over early? But Hemingway’s is buzzing and she has things to do.

When Tai’s disappeared out the back again and Firefly’s ordered, she goes over to say hello and congratulations on the coming out and welcome home.

He has to hug someone. So it’s Gracie. And no of course the house-sit isn’t over.

—Got a minute to catch up properly, Gracie?

She hasn’t.

—Maybe once you’ve eaten?

It’s one of those nights. And even with his back to the room, a couple of people recognise Firefly and want to say hi and he’s finished eating and ready to go before she has a moment. Then Firefly has a word with Norman, and makes his way out the back to Tai. And Tai isn’t there. So Firefly taps Gracie on the arm.

—See you at home, Gracie? I’d better catch up with Tai.

II.

Tai had slipped out almost immediately. Uniform off and folded. School clothes back on. Tomorrow’s great lunch abandoned in the fridge, in case Jo sees him leave, or the other kitchen staff. He’s panicking. He needs to talk with Sam.

Then can’t find Sam. Finds Ivan instead. Ivan at his nastiest.

—Been talking to the cops? Better not–

He grips Tai’s arm, twists it a little, pulls Tai towards him and makes a zipping movement across Tai’s mouth.

—Not a WORD. Or I’ll talk about you and Firefly.

Then a cutting gesture across Tai’s neck. Tai wriggles. Kicks. Ivan twists harder, uses his other hand to rotate Tai’s head closer to him, hisses into Tai’s ear.

—And you’ll disappear. Like that mate of yours.

He lets go. Stands back.

—And then those regular showers and healthy eating and designer gear and school and a job won’t mean a thing.

Tai takes off. Through Courtenay Place, round Oriental Bay and up the hill to Sam’s hut. It’s completely empty. Impossible to tell for how long. Knackered, and overwhelmed with fear and anger, Tai leaves for Firefly’s place.

III. 

Tai pours himself a vodka, cranks up the music. Tosses back the vodka . Dials Firefly’s cell. It’s off. Leaves an angry message. Has another drink. Texts Firefly. Then he starts throwing. His phone first. It flies over the back of the sofa without causing damage. His glass. Cracks the glass on a big artwork. The vodka bottle. At Firefly’s big screen. Twice.   A satisfying scratch down the screen the first time. The second time, he stands on the coffee table and the bottle shatters and a giant smear of flying vodka spreads across the screen.  Tai is peeing over the coffee table when Firefly walks in.

IV.

Firefly’s furious. Of course. But so is Tai. It takes them an hour or so to calm down, to clean up the mess. For Tai to throw up and be thrown into a cold shower. For a tentative reconciliation. For Tai to begin to tell the story, tucked in beside Firefly on the sofa. And for Firefly to get it, to add this to Ivan’s heads up, what he’s heard from Mop. And, of course, Firefly takes Ivan’s side. Mop’s side. His own side. Tai’s done well to keep his mouth shut.

But then Firefly makes a mistake. Tai says the cops have lost track of Sam, and he can’t find him. Could Ivan have made him disappear? Firefly’s response is immediate.

—Of course not. And Sam’s not your problem.

And Tai takes off again. Leaps to his feet, shouting, tears spilling down his cheeks.

—Of course he’s my problem! Fuck you, you’re just scared that you’ll get involved.

Firefly’s always a highly disciplined player. Keeps his cool.

—There’s no way I can become involved. You know that–it’s dangerous for you to be involved in the investigation in any way at all–

—Dangerous for you, you mean, you arsehole–

Tai flies at Firefly kicking him, drumming him with his fists. Firefly just stands up and grabs Tai, holds him close. Tai gives up on having any physical effect at all, goes limp. Then

—You look after me. Or I’ll tell the world.

Then he notices Gracie, motionless, just inside the door. And so does Firefly. And Tai hurls again. Abjectly. Miserably. Mostly bile.

—Night, says Gracie. And flees.

V.

Firefly’s up early. This morning’s gym is further tidying and heavy cleaning. And then he deals with calls. Word’s gone round that he’s back; everyone wants a piece of him. But there’s no way Tai will make it to school, and Firefly doesn’t want to leave the house while Tai’s there. So, as soon as he hears Gracie moving through the wall, he texts her: Cook you breakfast?

And there they are seated in the kitchen, that big and gorgeous space with stainless steel highlights, and Firefly cooking. (“For ME” says Gracie later.) And then eating (“Yes Jo, his omlet was very good; there was just one slightly awkward moment when he was surprised that Tai and I had made our way through all his best jams, would never have picked that he had a sweet tooth, thought it must have been the boy friend”). And they talk about the retirement and coming out press conference, and the flight back, and the boy friend back in London. And how’s Hemingway’s? Until they’re on a second cup of coffee.

—I don’t know how much you heard last night–

—Enough to know to leave you to it.

—Tai’s got some difficult things to face. And sometimes he lashes out, lies and accuses. Makes it more bearable for him–

—Mm. (What else could she say?)

—I heard the police came.

And Gracie tells him that story, and he listens closely, laying what she says alongside Tai’s version.

—So Tai hasn’t followed up?

—No. Not as far as I know. And he hasn’t talked about it with me.

And then Firefly explains that he’s home for a wee while, couple of weeks max, before some telly work in England, and he isn’t sure what to do about Tai. Explains there is passport problem, and the informal legal relationship between them is a problem too, though maybe that could be sorted out if Tai could come over for a holiday, if Firefly’s away for longer than expected. Tai seems happy to have Gracie around and would she, could she, consider continuing for a few months? Maybe even the school year if necessary? And Gracie explains about Lisa, and that she couldn’t bring Lisa to Firefly’s place and look after her and Tai as well as work. And they decide to leave it at that for now, think it through a little more.

VI. 

Down the road, Vita wastes no time. Nor does Jo. She fast-prepares her spare room, beautifully, leaps into her dad’s old ute and hoons along to City Radio to collect Vita and her gear.

When Vita discreetly shows Jo her living arrangements—it’s a busy morning at City Radio—Jo’s shocked. By the old Lilo and very old sleeping bag (to be left “for when I come back”) the contrasting pristine pillow and beautiful linen pillowcase (dropped into a black plastic rubbish sack for transport), by the cardboard boxes and nooks and crannies that have provided Vita’s ‘home comforts’ for the last months. No wonder Vita didn’t think she needed transport. All she has is her little backpack, a small-and-battered wheeled suitcase, her laptop and the rubbish sack. Vita’s life, except the laptop, goes on the ute’s tray. And it takes up very little space. And to Jo, it’s very sad. Then she remembers.

—What was it you dropped down the fire escape, that night you arrived?

—The suitcase. Just as well I’d strapped it.

And later in the day, finally, Vita tells her therapist where she’s been living. And they talk a little about why she feels ready to move on. And it’s tricky, because there are some things Vita still can’t articulate.

VII.

And Gracie comes to sleep on Jo’s couch for a few days, a research slumber party, among the Sevens costumes. (She’s received an offer from London University, has told her mother she doesn’t want to take Lisa, is exhausted by the ongoing conflicts and welcomes the distraction of Tai). After Hemingway’s closes that night, she and Jo walk home together. They stride along, both eager to see Vita.

And when they get there, Jo and Vita hang on Gracie’s every word about Firefly’s return.

—The smell was awful. Fourteen year old angst and feet and vodka and vomit and piss, even though they’d cleaned up most of it before I got there.

—Tell us again what they were doing (Vita).

—I think Firefly was restraining Tai.

—Or embracing him?

—Maybe.

—And what did Tai say again?

Gracie repeats herself.

—You look after me. Or I’ll tell the world.

—Tell the world Firefly doesn’t look after him? Or tell the world something else?

—It was a threat. But then he threw up again. And I was overwhelmed by the smells and the intensity of it all. Embarrassed.

—And you and Firefly didn’t talk about that bit?

—No. What could I say?

Jo breaks in.

—Well, if it was one of us, you’d have said heaps. Starting with “What was all that all about? What’s the story?”

—I don’t know Firefly.

—You don’t know Vita either, really. But you’d have asked her.

I might not.

—Come on, of course you would.

It’s Vita’s turn now.

—Gracie, I don’t want to rain on your parade here. But I’m a little suspicious of Firefly.

She starts that counting-on-her-fingers thing again.

—One. I saw Firefly with Mop. Two. We know that Tai’s been sexually active with men. Three. There’s an active police investigation into a group of pedophiles and Tai’s been asked to talk about his involvement. Four. Tai’s threat is ambiguous. Five. Firefly’s trying to shift his responsibility for Tai to you. Six. He’s leaving the country. Seven. Without Tai.

VIII.

Down the road, Firefly has guests and Tai plays with one of his presents, in his room. (The other one, a gorgeous black leather jacket, draped carefully over a chair.) Life’s almost normal.

 IX. 

Rebecca and Jo always have a giant harvest festival. They preserve. They dry. They freeze. Together, and with enormous pleasure. This year, they arrange one episode of a series on Jo’s rare Sunday off, at her place. While Vita and Gracie work their way through their researches.

Jo wanted to cancel, because she hasn’t updated Rebecca about Tai, and isn’t sure she wants to. Yet. But she’s also disoriented: Vita’s sudden decision, Gracie in the apartment as well, it’s all disruptive and she quite simply wants her mother.

By early Sunday evening the drier’s filled with early pear rings and whirring quietly, basil and tomatoes are stacked in the freezer. Jo and Rebecca finish wiping down preserving jars full of apricots tidily, and jam jars containing blackberry jam. Rebecca’s had enough.

—Supper Jo. What’ve you got?

—You’ve gotta be kidding.

—You’ve got guests. You must’ve thought about it.

—Surprise. I haven’t.

Rebecca’s amazed. This is a first. Jo shrugs.

—Put the jug on, Mum?

And she pops a stick of gum in her mouth and disappears into the next room. Where Gracie and Vita have googled and databased and hacked all day, with some assistance via complicated communications involving a throwaway phone and a couple of trips to a cybercafé. Have they found anything, and can she introduce Rebecca to what’s happening, and would they like a cup of tea?

And Gracie’s response is:

—What’s for supper?

—I made you breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, sent out for dinner. I made fifty-three bags of tomatoes, three dozen jars of apricots, twenty-seven jars of blackberry jam. I’m off duty. Check out the cupboards and the fridge. It’s your turn.

Vita leaps to her feet.

—Let me.  Sorry Jo. We’re a bit obsessed here. Come on Gracie. Let’s shut this down.

—And can we tell Rebecca what you’re doing, now?

—Of course– You reckon, Gracie?

Gracie comes out of her research fug, takes a close look at Jo. Hmm. Jo’s chewing hard. Feeling left out. Wants Rebecca there for support. Maybe. Wants some acknowledgement. Of course. Gracie leaps up and hugs Jo.

—Babe. Of course. You sit down and rest and we’ll bring you something. Something delicious. You and Rebecca. Delicious food. Delicious story.

X.

Rebecca of course has known that Something Is Going On. Rebecca doesn’t ask questions, though she longs to know how and why Vita’s staying here (at last?!) and why she and Gracie are so hard at work. But concentrates on the harvest and a lovely day with Jo, is used to Jo being almost silent when she focuses on food.

And Rebecca doesn’t ask questions through the update that follows. As soon as Vita starts the story, Rebecca covers her unfinished supper with her napkin, and puts it aside.  She’s heard most of Vita’s story from Jo of course, but is glad to hear it directly. Vita’s more fluent than she was, less emotional. Every now and she pauses. And they all wait quietly for her to start again.

Then Gracie summarises the Tai details they’re all familiar with.

And then the bombshell. Gracie starts:

—You tell them, Vita.

—You sure?

They know how to work their audience. Jo makes a Come On gesture. Vita leans over and takes a piece of paper from printer, hands it to Gracie, who hands it on.

—Tyrone McKay died, aged six weeks, in Adelaide. Somehow—and identity theft’s been hard for a few years now—somehow, sometime, Tai became someone else.

Jo and Rebecca look at the bit of paper that summarises the process that Gracie and Vita used to reach this conclusion. Rebecca gets there fast.

—So his parents gave him the false identity, if it’s an old one?

—Maybe. Or the people who pretended to be his parents. Maybe.

—But it must have been in place before he came to stay with his gran.

—No idea.

—Do you know anything about where he lived before he came over? Who with?

—Not yet.

—Are you going to ask Tai about it?

—Not sure–

Jo watches Rebecca, sees and admires her capacity to cut to the chase, and her care for Tai.

—What should we do, Mum?

—I think someone should talk to Tai.

At the end of the evening, Rebecca embraces Gracie, and then Vita. And again does that thing of smoothing Vita’s hair, on each side. One. Two.

—I’ll take Tai out of town, see how it goes. Can I tell him the bones of your story if it seems like a good idea at the time? You can say no.

Vita does her imperious thing for a nanosecond, before her mind catches up and her body tells her it’s OK.

—Sure. And tell him I’m happy to answer any questions he has.

Rebecca takes Vita’s hand for a moment.

—Anything I can do, let me know. Any time.

To Jo, delivering Rebecca to her Prius, Rebecca says just one thing.

—Look after yourself, darling.

Jo watches her leave. Walks back inside to get some more gum.

XI.   

Rebecca offers Tai some Saturday work, coming up the coast with her in the ute, to get harvest produce. She chooses her moment, pops in after his Hemingway’s shift, when he’s out the back doing homework, ignores his quick shuffle of a game into his bag. Just the afternoon, she says. I need a sleep-in.

It’s a gorgeous trip along the coastline. The blueberries are at their best; they pick some and buy some ready-picked. Rebecca buys sacks of spuds and onions, some pumpkins, cases of tomatoes. Tai lifts and carries and chats. Rebecca helps where she can. They get an ice-cream, walk along Te Horo beach a little. And Rebecca talks about her childhood, how she came to the coast with all the other orphans, how the sea seemed to her, how she comes back every year, and adds to the memories.

—But most of all, I think of my little sister, who was frightened when we reached the sea. It reminded her of our boat trip from Europe, brought back the fear. So most of the day we spent here, every year, she’d cling to me.

—My little sister did that sometimes.

—I didn’t know you had a sister.

They keep walking, reach the ute, turn for home. And, around Paekakariki, after a long silence (the only music in Rebecca’s vehicles is her own voice),  Tai begins to talk, and doesn’t stop. Until Tai’s story reaches Wellington, about the same time that they do. Silence falls again, as the ute barrels along the waterfront and into town.

Rebecca takes Tai home for dinner (preceded by a shower). Reveals that she already knows about his false identity. And about the visit from the police. Explains how: Vita, Gracie, Jo. Waits with his shock. Listens to his anger. Offers to drop him at Firefly’s if he wants. Sits with his exhausted tears. Hands him a soft blanket. Knows not to touch him. Is glad when her cat Feufingers jumps on Tai’s lap and he pets her. Asks if she can tell him a story. Gets him a hot chocolate, offers him a little brandy in it (guess where Jo got that idea?). Hands him a second helping of blueberry crumble, and the ice-cream container so he can help himself (you’re a growing lad).

Settles herself with her hot chocolate and crumble, adds ice cream, pats her plump-ish self.

—And I’m a growing girl. But I take my pleasures where I can– Especially with such special company.

Sips the chocolate. Lifts her spoon, and starts.

—There’s a reason why Vita’s involved. Why she cares. A story. That she says I can tell you.

Tai nods, without enthusiasm. He’s so tired. But Rebecca wants it all out there.

—And you can ask her about it yourself as well, if you want.

Once Rebecca starts, Tai wants to hear it all. She sticks to the bare bones. By the time they’ve finished eating, the story’s over. And Tai’s eyelids droop. But in his eyes is a little gleam of hope: perhaps he is not alone, even, especially, if Firefly leaves for ever.

XII.

Jo and Norman take it in turns to enjoy the Sevens. This year, it’s Jo’s turn. About three stop-smoking campaigns ago, Jo made lavalava-type prints of rosemary, lavender, basil and lemon balm, on velvet silk for the rosemary, cotton for the lemon balm and lavender, light silk for the basil.   Those Sevens can be incredibly hot, so she’s designed full-length hooded garments for a maenad group called The Labiates—herself, Gracie, and Tai’s friend Lucy—to keep them all cool.  After refusing to be basil, Tai’s tagging along as Bacchus.

Jo knows she’s running out of time. She also knows she has to factor in time to help Gracie finish her costume (Lucy’s making her own very efficiently).  But after a killer Sunday brunch shift at Hemingway’s that leaves her longing for a smoke, Jo can’t settle.

Instead of sewing, she shoots hoops on her roof. Until she knocks a laden tomato branch to the ground. She stops, hangs up the broken branch so the fruit will ripen. And then the others arrive.

Gracie and Rebecca hoist the sun umbrella, Vita arranges chairs, cool drinks, some antipasto from the Matterhorn.

And Rebecca’s off, with as much of Tai’s story as he’s agreed she can share. Gracie’s amazed.

—Never heard of it. A woman giving her child a false identity so that his father can’t find him–And doing it herself.

—Ages ago, when Tai was little, before it became so hard to do. (Vita).

—And Tai isn’t even sure that her surname is Mackay too. And he has no idea where she lives now. Firefly tried to find her, a few months ago. No luck. (Rebecca).

Jo’s focus is different.

—So he’s a Mozzie, and his name was originally Tai, but we’re never going to find his father, and his whanau, because his mother’s entire family are in on it and have agreed not to talk. Ever. Even to him. There’s got to be a way. Where was he born?

Gracie:

—It won’t help to know where he was born if we don’t know when. Does he know?

—No.

—So he has no-one.

—The whanau?

—Nah, something not quite right there after his Nana died. Or after they won’t tell him anything– He’s not keen–

—But he’s got us.

—And his friend Lucy.

Vita:

—And Firefly. And we don’t know what that means–

XIII.

In the gym at Firefly’s place, Tai trails around after Firefly. He’s listless, doesn’t know where he is, what to do. He liked being at Rebecca’s, her calm motherliness, the quiet way she encouraged him to get in touch with Firefly to let him know he was eating dinner at her place. And things haven’t been the same since Firefly went away and came out, and since their fight. He misses the old Firefly, his affection, his attention, his reassurance. Then, from the bench press:

—Tai. Get with the programme mate. Or do something else.

—Like what?

—Whatever.

—Whatever– Whatever– Whatever– Whatever yourself.

—Fuck off–

—That’s what you want, isn’t it? But how the fuck can I fuck off when I don’t know where my mother is?

—Easy, mate. The door’s down the hall. The street’s outside. You know what to do.

Tai leans over Firefly just as he’s at full stretch. Gets right in his face.

—And you don’t want me to do it with you any more, do you?

Firefly ends the stretch and stands up, towering over Tai.

—So that’s what’s getting to you?

Tai backs off a bit.

—That’s why you don’t want me to come overseas with you–

—Tai, Tai, what am I going to do with you–

—You’re going to leave me.

Firefly reaches for a towel and mops himself. There it is. How to respond? He holds out his arms.

—Come here.

—Nah. You’re all sweaty–

Firefly grabs Tai anyway. He ignores Tai’s wriggles and kicks and carries him to the huge shower. Strips him off. Holds him under the shower. Joins him.

And in the big bed, afterwards, hears about Tai’s time with Rebecca. As Tai sleeps soundly beside him, Firefly works his way through the complexities, and makes a decision.

XIV.

Gracie and Jo hope it won’t be awkward when Tai comes in after school on Monday. Warn Norman that he might not be in. Firefly’s away again soon, they say, he may go home straight after school. But Tai arrives, same as usual. A bit grim until he’s had his gôuter. Even stays for the homework. His only comment

—Firefly’s out tonight.

When Jo offers him some treats for his lunch, he asks about almond macaroons.

—Why not? Didn’t know you liked them.

—Lucy does–

—Aha.

She raises an eyebrow.

—Give it a rest–

Your friend likes them too–

—Gracie?

Gracie? You know who I mean–

Jo blushes a little. Aha, got you, he thinks, but immediately feels a bit mean (where did that come from?)

—I could drop a couple over to her, too. (How does Tai know that Vita likes almond macaroons? He doesn’t.)

Jo isn’t wondering how Tai knows that Vita likes macaroons. She’s thinking will she tell Tai that Vita’s staying with her now.  NO. OK. Quick response.

—What about after school tomorrow?

XV.

Firefly lied. He’s turned down a dinner invitation. He needs some space. His day filled with interviews, meetings, physio. Not the night for Hemingway’s. Or anywhere. He snacks, instead, beginning to worry about his weight, for the first time ever. And waits for the morning in London, to ring Mop.

Mop likes Firefly’s plan (an extension of the earlier ‘in plain sight’ plan, with no mention of the sexual element of Tai’s relationship with Firefly). Firefly takes the first step immediately. Rings Norman. Gets Rebecca’s numbers.

—Planning a buy-out, mate?

—Nah. Need an accountant.

Jo hears Rebecca’s numbers as she plates up a flounder. (Yes, still the bone people menu.) Asks Norman who wants them.

—Firefly. Looking for an accountant.

Hmm, Jo thinks to herself, placing a piece of dill just so.

XVI.

So, the next day, while Tai delivers a box of almond macaroons to Vita at City Radio, Firefly enters Rebecca’s office. Settles himself in one of her elegant arm chairs, and accepts a coffee and shortbread at the precise moment when Vita lifts the box lid and says “Aaaaah. Like a cuppa and a share?”

And while Firefly lays out his income tax needs, the story about his long-time accountant taking maternity leave, and Rebecca responds, Vita and Tai make some tea and settle in her office.

—Rebecca told me to talk to you.

—You don’t have to.

—I know.

And Vita, fresh from a demanding session with her therapist, pulls herself from her lethargy, helped by the sugar rush from the macaroons. And tells him what he wants to know. Yes, it’s possible Sam’s been killed. But he could have disappeared himself because he changed his mind about the court case. Yes, she’s frightened what will happen if she speaks out about Spike and Mark.

And then, with the box and their cups completely empty–

—Tai, I have a question too–

He waits.

—Your relationship with Firefly–

—Oh shit, he says.

He leaps to his feet.

—I’ve been gone too long. Jo’ll be totally pissed– Thanks Vita. You’re awesome.

At the top of the fire escape, he pauses.

—Firefly’s awesome. Totally.

On the other side of town, Firefly gets to the point.

—So. I’m going to persuade him to talk with the cops. Support him through it. And find a long-term solution, a home for him.

Half an hour later, Rebecca shows him to the lift. And then asks him.

—What if Tai refuses?

The lift door opens. Firefly holds it open.

—We’ll look at that when we get to it. I don’t think he will.

XVII.

And it’s easy. Tai comes home after work with his Bacchus costume, made at school in his art class, with lots of help from Lucy. And he’s thought about Sam, decided that he probably has taken off.  He tries on his costume for Firefly, who admires it. They cook dinner together, and Firefly admires Tai’s new skills.

And, over dinner, Firefly lays out his plan. In a relaxed kind of way.

Explains he’d seen Rebecca about some accounting stuff, and how much Rebecca likes Tai. That she’s even offered to have Tai to stay when Firefly goes away again. And if that arrangement’s formalised, and the situation is explained to the right people in the right way, it may be possible to get Tai a new passport. And then, Tai can fly to and fro to be with Firefly and the boy friend—whichever boyfriend—every holiday. (“Wow. Awesome. Wait till I tell Lucy”—Tai’s keen to demonstrate that he has a life, too.) And just to tidy things up, maybe it would be a good idea to talk with the police about the guy who died, and the other guys associated with him.

So, SNAP, they take the card from under its magnet on the fridge and ring to leave a message. And get the brisk and friendly young man, who is working late. No worries. How about tomorrow?

And then Tai potters off to play some games, and a couple of hours later Firefly puts his head through Tai’s door and sees that Tai’s out cold, still in his clothes. Firefly tenderly takes off Tai’s shoes, covers him with a rug, and goes to make his calls to England.

________

NOTES

Yep, almost right back where it started from–

16. The Sevens

I.

Gracie pops into Firefly’s on her way to work. Is delighted to be offered a house-sit, sans Tai (“Someone else has offered him a home”), until Firefly decides what to do with the apartment.

Resolves to keep quiet about Tai’s absence to her parents, until she’s sure what she wants to do long term about Lisa. Her mum offers variations on “It’s time to take responsibility for her, or formalise our taking responsibility for her” every time they meet. No word from overseas.

And then she’s at work, managing a difficult late morning, ringing round to replace a waiter who’s suddenly ill, when Jo sneaks up behind her.

—Outside. Now.

Waves Jo away (mouthing: Fuck off, I’m on the phone).

Collects Jo from the kitchen.

—Sorry. Sorry.

Stands in the sun with Jo and hears about Rebecca’s offer. Asks what Tai thinks.

Hears that Rebecca’s concerned, because she doesn’t quite trust Firefly.

Defends Firefly.

Answers her phone and it’s her mother.

Tells her mother about Firefly’s offer. And, because Jo’s news is so fresh, lets slip that Tai won’t be living at the apartment.

Hears her mother say

—So it could be a good moment to decide about Lisa.

Hears herself say

—Sure.

Makes an arrangement for early dinner, talk and babysit. Thumbs off. Looks at Jo.

Hears her say

—You really don’t want to be a mother, do you?

Hears herself say

—No.

Hears the choke in her voice.

Feels Jo’s arm around her.

Hears herself say

—I just can’t do it–

And then the only sound is her lament: wrenching sobs into Jo’s shoulder.

Until there’s a shout from inside. Norman.

And then young Finn’s voice nearby.

A request from Jo to Finn.

Silence except for the gulping effort to end the tears.

Finn’s return. Jo percussing rescue remedy.

Then

—Open up, sweetie. Lift up your tongue.

Five quick drops from the pipette. A gentle arm back around her shoulder. Five more minutes of comfort.

And back to work.

II.

Over at Jo’s that evening, Vita helps out with hand sewing for Jo’s and Lucy’s Labiate costumes. Listens to Jo’s Keith Jarrett Koln concert, again and again. Hems with care. Soothes herself not to return to the Lilo along the road.

And then, here’s Jo home, arm-in-arm with Gracie. Sooo pleased to have the help. Sooo pleased to have a beautiful woman waiting at home, who holds up the rosemary robe and says

—Here you go! Just finished. Cuppa?

No gum tonight. And being with Gracie, treating Gracie with special tenderness, makes it somehow easier to enjoy Vita openly. And then to laugh a little when Gracie digs into her bag, brings out the plastic bag with the pieces of her lavender robe.

—Gracie, you haven’t even sewn it together!

—Mum wouldn’t help–

—Fair enough, but you’re running out of time–

And then to temper the tenderness, because this is another issue altogether.

—And I’m not going to rescue you. Gracie rolls her eyes. Can she push here, and how?

—Don’t you want me to come?

Still laughing, Jo mimes playing a tiny violin.

Vita laughs too. —I’ll do it. Happy to rescue! I’ve loved doing this–

Gracie’s overcome with shame, needs some persuading that Vita really is happy to sew, offers to help Vita.

—Anything. Anytime.

Jo’s stopped laughing, breaks into Gracie’s unnecessary mea maxima culpa. Is totally disappointed.

—O Vita. I was hoping you’d make up the basil, so you can come too–

—Hate rugby.

—This isn’t rugby. It’s the Sevens. It’s the parade, and the parties, and the Cake Tin–

Gracie gets over herself and completes the blurt.

—It’s the throwing up in Courtenay Place. It’s the sex with strangers.

—Meeting beautiful people–

—And truly ugly people. Awful–

—You love it, Gracie, you know you do–

Vita retreats into almost-imperiousness.

—Enough, you two. I’ll finish Gracie’s. But that’s it–

Gracie gives Vita a thumbs up, and Jo a ‘so there’ grin. Jo could kill her, for a moment. But then Gracie tries on Lucy’s lemon balm robe and Jo puts on her rosemary velvet silk, and they sweep to and fro. Hoods up, hoods down. Cleavage, no cleavage. Leg, no leg. Totally happy, both of them, it seems to Vita. And Vita wonders whether she’ll ever feel joy again.

III.

Vita asks her therapist to help. Mostly, she doesn’t mind if she feels no joy. Mark’s gone. Streak’s gone. And it’s all her fault. And she doesn’t want medication to blunt the misery. Uses work for that. But she likes staying at Jo’s, the comfort there. And last night she’d enjoyed the quiet sewing. And envied Jo and Gracie. Maybe she doesn’t want to be ahedonic for ever.

So she and the therapist talk about fault and guilt and feelings. They talk about reasons to close off new and positive experiences. They talk about grief and tiny steps. They talk about the look-and-feel of the basil-printed silk.

IV.

It’s not easy for Firefly to run into Ivan by chance. But in the middle of the night, on a weeknight, he gives it a go. Checks Tai’s out to it. Fires up the boy friend’s car, a little Toyota, god it’s uncomfortable, makes a circuit. Goes to an ATM in Courtenay Place. Picks up some milk at the 24 hour dairy. Peers into Kenny’s. Oh well, there’s no big rush. Another night.

Then he drives by Ivan’s gym, without any real expectation, and BINGO there’s Ivan talking with a security guard. Parks a little way along the road, waits for the security guard to drive away, scoots along the kerb and stops. Jumps out and calls over the car’s roof.

—Hey! Been hoping to run into you–

Ivan narrows his eyes, gives a little half smile. Doing the ‘cool’ thing.

—Instead of calling me back–

—That’s right.

The inevitable dig.

—Looking for action? In that heap of junk?

—Looking for you– Give you a lift?

Ivan plays hard to get. A man in demand.

—I don’t think so. Places to go, people to see.

Firefly knows how to persuade him.

—Hop in. I can take you. Or take you to mine for a nightcap?

The places and people evaporate. Because Ivan’s never been to Firefly’s place. And once he’s there, he loves it, of course. And is glad he came, when Firefly tells him that while he was away in London Tai talked to the cops. And Firefly’s glad Ivan came when he sees his response to Firefly’s question, carefully timed after the third whisky and a joint.

—Tai says Sam’s gone. Whatever happened to him?

BINGO again. Firefly moves in for the kill.

V.

The cops visit Tai and Firefly the next evening. The brisk and friendly young man and the woman Gracie thinks Jo would enjoy are, again, lovely. Firefly sits in on the visit, offers to deliver and wait for Tai when he goes into the station, take him back to school (Tai’s insistent he doesn’t want to miss work.) A couple of sessions will do it. Next week, after the Sevens.

VI.

Vita loves tennis. And the Australian Open’s on. So she practices enjoyment, stays a little longer than she planned at Jo’s, working on Gracie’s robe. Till the Open’s finished. And tonight Maria Sharapova’s outfit that has a kind of silk-cut-on-the-bias look, and Vita looks again at the basil silk, picks it up, drapes it, first on her lap, then around herself. Just as Jo walks in the door. Jo decides to ignore the dressing up.

—Oh– TENNIS. Great.

Throws herself onto the couch.

Vita’s embarrassed, unwinds the silk.

—You’re very early.

—Slow night.

Vita folds the cloth. Puts it aside. And settles into a domestic late evening. Then the replay’s over. And they’re both a little self-conscious. This is the first time they’ve been here without Gracie, off at her mum’s, baby-sitting Lisa.

Jo gathers her thoughts, attempts to avoid a blurt.

—I’d be thrilled if you made something. For fun. You don’t need to wear it to the Sevens.

—It’s the ‘fun’ part that’s the problem.

Jo gets it. Immediately.

—I had that, for a while.

Vita waits. She is, after all, a highly experienced interviewer.

And Jo explains. She and her partner had a fight, her partner left on her motorbike, and crashed down the road in the Terrace tunnel. Died, after a long coma. Jo blamed herself for a long time. Started smoking again (of course). Then, found it was a little more bearable when she made things. Starting three years ago, with the fabric printing. And now the making goes on, often as replacement activity when she stops smoking (as Vita’s seen).

—And you might have noticed, sewing for the Sevens, I’ve given up the gum. Fingers crossed, it’ll hold. Making things, the little repetitive movements that are necessary—cut cut, stitch stitch—is a sideways move back into the world where I don’t feel guilt and don’t need to smoke. I can excuse making stuff as useful, pretend it isn’t pleasure. The same with work. Pleasure’s essential when I cook. I justify cooking’s pleasure as pleasure I’m paid to feel. And I’m beginning to feel pleasure first now and then– Without a mighty wind of justification strangling it. WHAT a relief.

Jo laughs. Then sighs.

—So you could give it a go with the fabric? If not for fun, as a little sideways move towards fun? A little sideways move towards not feeling so guilty? You could always start by pretending it’s a another dress for Gracie. Or for Rebecca–

She sees a shadow of Vita’s imperious look, thinks Oh fuck have I been incredibly matronising? Quick!

—Or not. I may be talking nonsense. Ignore it all.

—It’s fine. No worries. It worked for you. But I can’t– can’t– get there yet.

And Jo goes off to bed proud of herself for not saying how much pleasure she felt watching the tennis with Vita. And Vita picks up the basil silk and takes it to her room.

VII.

Tai tells himself he’s not worried about Sam. And the cops will be a breeze. But when he’s emptying rubbish outside Hemingway’s back door, and sees Vita watering her geraniums, he’s reminded of her stories, skives across the yard and to the bottom of her fire escape in no time at all.

Very gently, she extracts the bones of it from him. He’s not worried about Sam any more. He’s talking with the cops because Firefly wants him to (he doesn’t tell her Firefly’s bribed him). And it’ll be piss easy. Whatever happens outside New Zealand couldn’t happen here. Could it? He wants reassurance. Something’s worrying him.

So she reassures him.

And after he’s left, with a grin, and a promise to show her his Sevens outfit, she worries. Surely, if Firefly’s encouraging Tai to talk with the cops, he has nothing to hide? But– But– Mop. A feeling. Paranoia?

VIII.

It’s two against one when Vita explains. Three against one when they get on the phone to Rebecca. And not a pretty moment when Jo says

—Gracie, you don’t have to be a mother to care about what happens to a teenager– And even though you’re a politically correct straight woman, and he’s charmed you, you can still be cautious about Firefly and who knows who else out there, possibly gunning for Tai–

Gracie’s gob-smacked.

—That’s mean.

Vita looks mystified, and Gracie explains.

—My parents are formalising their primary responsibility for Lisa, and Jo’s doing her judgmental thing–

Then she sees Vita appear to do her judgmental thing, look away. Remembers Vita’s losses. Falters. Vita doesn’t. Stays on topic.

—I’m making a costume so I can help you keep an eye on Tai at the Sevens.

Aha, Jo thinks, she’s using her concern for Tai to justify her pleasure in that fabric, in joining in at the Sevens. Go, Vita! But she says

—We’ll keep him safe. Till he talks to the cops. And after.

IX.

But of course they can’t be with Tai all the time. He goes to school. He’s on the streets going to and fro. He spends his nights with Firefly.

Gracie’s back at Firefly’s too, and when Tai stays on at Hemingway’s to do his homework, she walks home with him.

They don’t know about Ivan, that he’s been stalking Tai since that night with Firefly. He follows and watches Tai when he can, and has decided that the Sevens is the best option. All that chaos means opportunity.

X.

Rebecca comes by to see Tai, asks Norman if he can spare Tai to share a goûter with her out in the restaurant. No worries.

And no worries for Tai re staying with her. When she talks about her house rules he says

–Sure, I know how to behave myself.

He can’t resist telling her.

—And Firefly’s promised me a trip. If I behave myself.

Rebecca looks at Tai’s glowing face and thinks, I hope Vita’s wrong. Asks him when he’d like to move in. He’s welcome any time. And of course he says

—When Firefly goes.

Be Safe, Be Safe, Rebecca says to herself as he thanks her for the goûter and returns to the kitchen.

XI.

And a few days later, there they all are in the Sevens Parade, weaving their way to Civic Square. Four Maenads and an amazing masked Bacchus, a Puck. With a group of real schoolgirls as Pirates, Lucy’s mates. Powder Puffs, Jo’s mates.

Gracie’s started menstruating, is feeling hot and heavy. Vita’s wishing she hadn’t come. Jo’s having a good time. And so are Lucy and Tai, who’s enjoying showing off for the Pirates.

Gracie’s delighted when they reach Civic Square. The library toilets! Clean! Familiar! And when she sees Firefly with Ivan, just zooms past.

Looks for Firefly when she comes out but he’s gone. Ivan’s gone too. He’s mingling with the parade, deciding on a costume. Predictably, decides on a sailor. Something he can knock up easily from costumes at home. Something that doesn’t stand out.

Then he has an inspiration, and calls someone else who has lots to lose if Tai talks.

XII.

Firefly makes his way over to Tai. There he is, mask off, surrounded by girls and women, knocking back some water.

—Hey. Firefly! Where’s your costume?

Lucy giggles. —That is suit’s a costume for him. What d’you expect? His normal gear’s rugby shorts–

Firefly breaks out his biggest grin.

—Pick on me, why dontcha?

The Pirates and the Powder Puffs clamour for introductions and autographs. And he doesn’t notice Vita and Jo, standing a little way away in the shade, watching closely. Jo leans in to Vita and speaks quietly.

—He looks so lovely, doesn’t he? And they love him, especially Tai–

—Yep. But Mop seems lovely. Lots of people love Mop, too.

They watch Gracie arrive, and join in the light-hearted conversation. And see that the Parade’s moving on again.

Vita doesn’t want to join Firefly and the others, decides to go back to work.

For once, Jo gives her a little farewell hug, and somehow that movement catches Firefly’s eye.

He calls out, as Vita moves away, feeling warmed.

—Jo! Vita!

Vita gives a quick smile over her shoulder, a backward wave, and keeps going.

XIII.

The Friday night Sevens is a glorious evening. Warm. No Wellington wind.

Tai, Gracie, and Jo change at Hemingway’s. Vita changes at City Radio and runs through the yard to join them.

Lucy arrives at Hemingway’s just in time.

Norman and young Finn and the rest of the staff applaud as they parade through the early diners and out the door.

Then down Cuba Street to the waterfront and along to the railway station to meet the Powder Puffs and the Pirates and walk on to the Cake Tin.

Vita watches Gracie tuck her arm through Jo’s, and tucks her arm through Jo’s other arm. And oh yes, Jo colours a little, and then gives her tiny extra-pleased and trying-not- to-show-it smile. All of which Gracie sees

—O Jo, you’re so predictable–

Jo knows exactly what Gracie’s saying.

—I know. And I’m your friend.

—And so am I, says Vita, I am both of your friends and it’s the most beautiful evening in the world.

And then there they are among the crowds in front of the railway station, a huge Victorian pillar-and-concrete-and-brick affair. And there are the Pirates and (most of) the Powder Puffs waiting exactly where they’d said they’d be.

XIV.

Ivan and his offsider trail the group from Hemingway’s. Outside the station they slip behind a pillar and keep a close eye on the Labiates, the Powder Puffs, the Pirates, and Bacchus. Not super-easy because someone’s dashing to the toilet, someone’s gone to the New World in the station, someone else has gone to meet a Powder Puff off a train. Ivan’s glad the offsider’s there, even though there’s no need to track the coming and going. Even Bacchus won’t go far, and will return. At last the group’s ready, and moving off.

XV.

Rebecca has NO interest in the Sevens. But she’s worried. About Tai. About Jo and Vita, how it’ll be for them if anything happened to Tai. Most of all about Firefly, after his visit to her office. Her long-ago-in-Poland survival strategies kick in. So she dresses blandly and for the weather, ohhhh it’s so HOT, tucks her hair under a cap, and mingles with the Sevens crowds outside the station.

Smiles with pride when she sees ‘her’ group, gorgeous, and watches them leave.

Watches two security guards peel away from a concrete column at the station entrance and follow ‘her’ group. Aha, she thinks.

And follows.

At the Cake Tin turnstile, Rebecca’s group goes one way and the security guards go another. Rebecca follows the security guards until they go through a STAFF entrance.

Wishes she’d got a ticket with the others, and could sit with them, makes her way to the stadium members lounge (professional perk). Hopes she can see her group from there. Settles herself by a window with her binoculars. Laughs at herself: What could she possibly do from here if Tai’s at risk? Wonders where Firefly might be.

XVI.

Firefly of course is in a private box, enjoying full hospitality. With all kinds of important people, some of them looking forward to telling him what they think about his retirement and coming out, many of them impressed when he tells them about the work lined up in Europe. He’s charming to everyone. One’s interested in buying his apartment. A couple ask him where his partner is. Some restrain themselves from asking who his partner is.

_________

NOTES

Now it’s your turn. While you wait for tonight’s game give it a go? Tell me what happens next?

Here’s a Jeff Simmonds clip from the Sevens partying, showing its benign side:

But as I noted a while back, it can get nasty, too: