mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 8: Autumn 1992


page 55

When I came to the candle was a guttering stump and I was on the floor beside it.

I sat up slowly. I was so cold my feet were numb. Mary Wollstonecraft had gone. The house felt inhabited, though; it's funny how you can tell, even when there's absolute silence.

Someone—Boy, or Christian—had come in and put the grey army blanket over me. That was why everything was so still, then. They hate seeing me like this—Christian in particular. I know, though we've never discussed it. I don't know what they think it means. They've never discussed it with each other, either. I do know that.

'Oh, God,' I said aloud. I felt incredibly depressed; it works that way, sometimes, after. I tend to be dehydrated; the best thing to do is to go to bed and sleep it off. Kate was already falling into a dream when I disentangled.

The light from the hall fell across Christian's bare shoulder. I climbed in beside him. He didn't move.

'Christian?' I whispered. Sometimes the after-effects, before things get realigned, are quite lonely. He didn't answer; I turned to cuddle into his back, and quite distinctly felt him shudder.

'What,' I said flatly. I'd known he was awake.

There was a long pause.

'You were lying,' said Christian, very cold, still with his face turned to the wall, 'in the middle of the floor.'

'Well, I fell, I suppose,' I said.

'You've been lying there for hours,' Christian said. 'It's three o'clock in the morning.'

'Well,' I said. I rolled flat onto my back and sent the ceiling a dirty look. I really am not in the mood for this, I told the dusty lightshade; but after a minor struggle I managed to say, sounding close enough to sincere, 'I'm sorry, Christian.'

Christian snorted. He thumped the wall, twice, and then struggled over in a great heaving of blankets and rearranging of pillows to lie facing me; he made a grunting noise which could have been read as either dismissal or acceptance.

Poor Christian, I thought, relenting, it really isn't easy, he doesn't get it, and I stroked his wheaty hair and listened to his breathing settle until he began to snore, when I took the opportunity to poke him rather spitefully in the ribs.

page 56

Just as I was falling asleep myself Kate's dream, as I had caught it, disentangling, floated very clear into my head.

Christian and Kate, wound round each other on her bed in Mount Victoria; it was a fantasy, not a memory, I could tell by the lack of distinction in the picture. That's funny, I thought drowsily, I didn't know that. How about that.

When I woke up the dead man's clock (Lexa's grandfather's; she had not liked him) was tumbling its shutters over eleven-thirty and Mary Wollstonecraft was lying neatly across a shaft of sunlight that speared the fullblown roses of the carpet. There was a cold cup of coffee sitting on a note on the floor in orange crayon: 'Jessie—Drake called, you looked extreemly asleep, told them to buger off but very politely, so hey good morning girl, I'm cooking filo things tonight, so will you be around, love Boy.'

Love Boy, I thought, stretching, snapping my fingers at Mary Wollstonecraft, catching sight of myself in the mirror on the door of Christian's enormous mahogany wardrobe pilfered from his great-aunt's after the funeral—and retreating hastily back under the covers, why does witching always make me so pale, Love Boy, love Boy, we all love Boy, Boy is so loveable, I love Boy: 'Do you love Boy, Mary Wollstonecraft?' I asked her, and she let out a little chirruping miaow and pranced over the bed to settle purring on my chest.

'He's practically uneducated, mind you,' I reminded her sternly. Mary Wollstonecraft narrowed her eyes into slits.

Although so is Christian, if you don't count two terms of engineering which personally I don't.

Which is where they met, by the way, Christchurch. Not too many Maori boys down there (and not too many Boys anywhere). Christian had dropped out of the seventh form and wasn't doing much except mushrooms I gather. Lots of druggies in Christchurch. Subcultures flourish in that kind of environment. Nice beaches but.

Anyway, so they were at the same party ('Our eyes met across a crowded room,' Boy informed me once, to which Christian responded, 'Fuck off—!'but nicely; they probably did, actually, the eyes, murder and mayhem being present in different quantities in both pairs. 'Christian looks like a fallen choirboy, and Boy like a good-tempered gargoyle,' Stu observed once, page 57 four o'clock in the morning: it's true). It was a party at one of those flats, you know those flats: in old houses with the huge brown sofas with broken springs and generations of sticky coffee stains on the arms, peeling walls with a few ugly posters, the flight of incredibly steep and narrow wooden stairs, the mannequin whipped from God knows where leaning very debonair against the mantelpiece. Boy was painting houses and Christian had not yet learned he wanted to paint anything at all. Neither of them are very clear about how it happened, but it seems the street outside was being facelifted and at four o'clock that morning Boy and Christian got done for stealing a front-end loader.

'We only got it fifty metres down the road,' Boy will say, exploding. The idea, I gather, was to drive it to the Square and leave it there.

'Well, it's boring in Christchurch,' Christian will explain.

They were, of course, taken to court, and were, of course, let off with a warning, being disarmingly eighteen and charming with it, but by that time they were, appropriately, as thick as thieves and the following year, after Christian had dropped out of engineering, they went to Dunedin and dropped out of a few more things there for the next couple of years—you could live on the dole then, especially in Dunedin. Christian bonked an art student and became seriously interested in his oil-throwing for the first time; Boy discovered drama and how good he was at it, and after a Speights- sodden conversation in the Gardens one February afternoon they decided they were bored with Dunedin and hitched to Wellington to visit Stu. Stu had been at high school with Christian and was then living in Boulcott Street; Stu had a new flatmate, a shaved-headed dyke called Lexa, who worked in stained glass and knew Kate from bartending; and here, three years later, we all are.

Mary Wollstonecraft turned up on our doorstep about a year ago, the smallest and most self-possessed kitten you ever saw.

Kate and I, of course, go back beyond back. Our mothers knew each other. We have the complicated, comfortable and irritated relationship of the long-married. We are usually tired of one another, in the way that one is tired of people who have known you so long they see you both less and more clearly than anybody else: we have, in short, the mildly resentful intimacy of women who were present and observing at each other's first school socials, 'Ginger crunch and orange cordial in plastic cups,' as Kate says. We cheer and secretly cavil at each other's successes, fancy each other's page 58 men, get jealous of each other's women, bitch about each other to Lexa, put each other down in company, bear each other up in private, get hysterical over cups of tea and what we did to poor frail Madame Rochelle in the fourth form: we hate each other quite a lot of the time but there is all that female stuff Christian finds so incestuous—Christian, with his straightforward male friendships, based on whisky drunk, drugs taken, front-end loaders: things done—all those years' worth, that sediment layer upon layer of knowledge, first periods, first boyfriends, first exams, braces off, homework not done, smoking Lexa's father's cigarettes watching ourselves in the bathroom mirror, the virginity fumbled and painfully lost, with guilt and exhilaration and regret: all those terrible family arguments we knew about, the times you run from the house sobbing with fury and call hiccupping from a phonebox, the times we crept out of our parents' houses and met in the Reserve, the times we stole my mother's car at two in the morning, just to drive, just to go round the bays, listening to music and not talking, the first flats, the first varsity papers failed, the times holding each other's heads when somebody had kept handing us tequila-and-orange at first-year Orientation parties and assuring us it was practically non-alcoholic; the terrible waitressing jobs, the one truly dreadful break-up with the boy you actually never forget, since he was the first to hurt you that badly and no one else will ever get the chance; the ridiculous painful arguments, weathered but not forgotten, the phases we go through still of ringing each other up on the phone and talking for six hours at a time.

The phone rang, making me jump. Mary Wollstonecraft had fallen asleep; I rolled her up in the army blanket and she miaowed, faintly. The carpet was cold to my bare feet. I was wearing a large ripped T-shirt of Christian's with The Pogues on the front, dating from his Christchurch days: a frigid breeze issuing from the back door, which had never closed properly, blew through the kitchen and around my thighs.

'Hello,' I said, insinuatingly, into the mouthpiece. I'd known who it would be. I curled up on the sagging couch and watched the Mona Lisa. 'Were you awake?' Kate said. 'Why aren't you at work? Are you tired? God I'm so uptight, are you uptight? I fell straight asleep but I had the wildest dreams, did you dream? I feel like I've got the world's worst hangover, yuk, the taste in my mouth, I'm seriously out of practice at this you know, do you feel like that?'

'It's the winter,' I said, and after a slight pause, 'Hush.'

page 59

The phone wire hummed between us, a rhythm like the sea, like someone breathing.

'Breathe,' I said to Kate. I closed my own eyes and leaned my head back against the wall; I felt Mary Wollstonecraft pad into the room, look at me and pad away. And then it came, when we were breathing together: two sets of ghost sensations at once, riding on the real. I felt the warmth of the pink lino beneath my paws, the stroke of the winter sunlight on the fur on my back; the smell of last night's mince congealing on the stove was suddenly sharp, divided into many layers of sensation. Simultaneously an image of the tree outside Kate's window and the little neon sculpture of a pear-shaped woman Lexa had bent for her superimposed itself over the red and black behind my eyes; I could taste jasmine tea and Kate's red phone slid in my/her dry little palm.

The cone of power: after a shared spell it lingers electric between the three of us, able to be tapped into for a couple of days.

After a while I opened my eyes.

'I hate that herbal shit,' I told Kate. She is currently affecting vegetarianism.

Kate let out a shuddering sigh.

'Sometimes I feel like that after I've made love,' she said. All the levels of intimacy had opened up into one: I scarcely knew whether we were talking aloud. This is the best part of the years of ginger crunch and orange cordial, our reward, and what Christian and even Boy don't understand. Even when they're present for these conversations they don't hear what we hear. What is articulated is only the smallest part of it.

'Like I can't tell whose skin is mine any more,' said Kate.

'Lucky you,' I said; the fuzzy image of Christian and Kate floated into my mind and I sealed quickly before she caught it.

'What?' she said, meaning, What just happened?

'Nothing. I should get moving on this, Katie mine.' I crooked up both knees and pulled Christian's T-shirt over them.

'Okay.' Her voice dropped. 'That's why I called. To see if you were all right. And if you need anything.'

'Just be around,' I said. 'Finding the plot's the hard bit. I can do the rest on my own. Just be there-ish.'

'Okay,' said Kate. 'Jessica, who—'

I dropped the phone back on its cradle. My reflection met me in the page 60 round black-framed mirror over the mantelpiece, eyes gleaming and hair attractively tousled; I pulled up the T-shirt and admired my breasts from several angles, played 'Greensleeves' on the piano (great-aunt) with one finger, stumped into the kitchen, switched on the radio on the fridge which is a Boy find from an op shop in Palmy of the vintage when they were known as wirelesses and only gets the National programme, drank half a carton of orange juice straight from the box, dropped it on the floor and cooked up— flashing stabs of spite at Kate, whose presence still turned around me like a draught from a suddenly closed door and who would be receiving ghost- imprints of everything I ate, drank and emoted for the rest of the day—four rashers of bacon and two large eggs, which I ate standing up from the pan with the last crust of Molenberg. Then I peeled an only slightly soggy kiwifruit, made a fresh cup of coffee and went back to bed. Everywhere else was freezing.

In my sleep—the guilty and luxurious sleep one sleeps during the day when one should be at work—I had a dream of a strangely-shaped flower.

It was very small and beautifully shaped: each petal—in the impossible manner of dreams-was made up of a thousand iridescent fractures of light; it hung and glowed in my mind, deep violet and white and framed by tiny vivid leaves. Purple and green and white, I thought, asleep; the suffragette colours. A part of me registered Mary Wollstonecraft, back in Holloway Road, picking her way delicately under the covers and curling up against my breast.

I am the sun, I thought; I am the son; I am the sun, and my flower opened under the warmth of my gaze and dropped minuscule seeds, white and violet, on the pinky-brown plain on which it grew, and they began to blossom, a beautiful carpet all leaning their heads toward me.

And I saw through their translucent stems the blood flowing, up from the plain to the roots to the petals. The green of the stems turned its rich red dull, but when the flow reached each furled bud the bud burst silently open and scattered light all over the skin from which it drew its sustenance.

In my dream we all came toward this carpet of violets, Christian and Kate and Stu and Jeff and Lexa and all of us. In fancy dress, in carnival. Christian was carrying a sword; his ruffled white shirt was slashed to where it tucked into his grey trousers and the light gleamed from his boots. Jeff carried a cutlass between his teeth and a red bandanna on his head. Lexa was almost page 61 lost in black draperies; her small fierce face looked out from under a starched wimple. Stu was a court jester, Kate (trust Kate) a milkmaid; my brilliantly coloured skirt brushed my bare feet and—simultaneously with watching us all advance—I felt the heavy hoops dance in my ears, felt the weight of the crystal ball in my hands.

And this brilliant dream-company bore down on my flowers and began to gather them. With every snap of every stem someone cried out sharply against us, but we didn't seem to hear; we held the petals to our faces, tucked them into our bodices, twined them into each other's hair, and drifted away together, not speaking, and the flowers were all gone, and as I watched the man's body from which they had grown twisted and shrank and melted away into nothing.

I woke up to the heavy early dusk of winter and Mary Wollstonecraft snoring snufflingly. Our window looks out on the blank wall of the house next door, perhaps six feet away; I lay and watched it disappear.

When I was properly awake I plucked the memory of the first flower from the fabric of my dream and placed it in the centre of my mind.

Grow, I told my flower: and then, rather theatrically, Go forth and multiply.

'Look at Mary Wollstonecraft,' Kate said admiringly. 'God.'

Mary Wollstonecraft lay in a sinuous silken heap before the two-bar heater. It was four o'clock Sunday morning, just for a change. I often thought then—looking around the circle of the beautiful, restless, dissatisfied faces of my friends, four o'clock Sunday morning—that it was always this time, this place, these people; that the rest of my life was a dream, or at the most a prelude to this.

'Where three or more are gathered together,' Boy had said to me once, in the kitchen, four o'clock Sunday morning; and I had turned to look at him. I was making coffee over the blue-purple of the gas; it takes concentration to do this without scalding it, in a saucepan. I'll buy a plunger, one day—but I was making coffee, leaning into the warmth of the oven, and I had not known Boy was listening to me think at all. I was a little stoned and had been overwhelmed, abruptly, with love, out there in the living-room. They were playing an obscene version of racing Scrabble Stu (it would be Stu) had invented, carrying on very noisy, very silly, very funny, beneath the remote chill smile of the Mona Lisa. My eyes had pricked abruptly and I had page 62 had to make a quick getaway from my love so I went and made coffee and Boy had followed.

'I have to be in control,' I told him now, sternly, of my love.

Boy leaned against the fridge, his hands in his bum pockets and his eyes on me, steady and whimsical.

'I do,' I said.

'Maybe,' Boy said. 'And maybe not.'

'Love's messy,' I told Boy.

'I know,' Boy told me.

'Who else will run things, if I get sloppy? I demanded.

'Things run themselves, Jessie Kane,' said Boy. 'All those brains and you don't know that yet?'

'No they don't,' I said with certainty. 'Oh no they don't, Boy. I run things.'

'With a little help from Kate and Mary Wollstonecraft,' Boy had said then, very soft and only slightly questioning.

I froze over the saucepan. Dope betrays you; this was the closest we had ever come to—

And yet, I thought then, stoned, Boy would know. It isn't so surprising, when you think about it, I told myself.

Boy's always loved me the best, I thought; and I looked at him, challengingly, in the eyes.

'I can't imagine,' I said, with dignity, 'what you mean.'

Boy laughed; there came a sudden swell of noise from the living-room: Stu had whipped one of Christian's counters and Christian was chasing him all over the furniture while Kate stood on a speaker and screamed.

'They're all so innocent,' I said to Boy abruptly. I wanted to cry; this dope-inspired sadness had come up so suddenly, so foolishly, a thick hard pain in my throat.

Boy didn't move; he shook his head at me kindly.

'And you,' I said to Boy, 'you're the most innocent of all. It's terrible, innocence,' I said, and began to weep into the coffee, 'it's unfair,' I explained, and I put my nose in the hollow of Boy's brown throat and bawled. I was astounded at myself.

'Poor Jessie,' Boy said. He stroked my hair, impersonally and kindly. 'Poor Jessica.'

'I was never innocent, Boy,' I wailed absurdly. I can't tell you how sorry I felt for me at that moment. Poor Jessica, always the powerful one.

page 63

'No, well,' said Boy. He put both arms around me, standing against the fridge, and hugged me, hard, and Christian exploded through the door with hair on end and his green eyes crazily alight: he looked very handsome d not a little mad.

'Oy,' he said cheerfully, taking me and Boy in, and jumped in between us and kissed me on the mouth: 'Oy, what's going on in here then, ay?'

Then he kissed Boy on the mouth, and then me again, and then Boy and kissed each other and Stu came in and lifted Christian off the ground by the belt-loops on his jeans and then kissed me and I kissed Jeff and Boy kissed Kate and then Kate and I kissed each other, amid much cheering, and it was all very silly and very nice and that was another Sunday morning, four o'clock, and the only reason I remember it, separate from all the others, is 'that intimacy with Boy, that intimation of Boy's particular wisdom.

'I'm going to make us a bath,' Boy announced.

'You don't make baths, Boy, you great berk,' I said irritably. 'Anyway where would you put it, in the hall?'

'In the yard,' Boy said.

We have a smallish concrete square outside the back door, bordered in summer by orange nasturtiums which froth around the carcass of an ancient blue moped which Christian brought up from Christchurch once and never rode again. The distinguishing features of this yard are the gnome Stu and Lexa stole from a garden in Karori for my Honours finals and a couple of deckchairs you have to sit in very judiciously indeed.

'Why? I said. I was grumpy; I had gone back to work that day. It had been horrible.

'So we can look at the stars,' Boy answered reasonably.

'How would you fill it, with buckets?' I demanded. Sometimes Boy and Christian are so impractical.

'Feed a hose through the shutters from the taps in the shower,' Christian said from the depths of The Face.

'Could put gas burners underneath it, to keep the water warm,' Boy said, perking up. Our hot water supply is not very plentiful even in summer.

'Where would you get the bath from?' I asked, as patiently as I could, which wasn't very; and they both raised their faces to look at me, wide-eyed and innocent.

'The tip,' they said in chorus, and since clearly the day wasn't going to page 64 go my way I put on my bear coat (wool-lined, was once my father's) and stomped out of the house.

I love Oriental Parade: it is unfailingly beautiful in any weather and at any time of the year (trees sea hills fountain). By the time I came back I was in a much better mood. Christian was sitting on the sofa playing guitar.

'Where's Boy?' I said as I unmuffled myself.

'Had a headache, gone to bed,' Christian muttered into the complexities of his fingering.

'Oh,' I said. I paused at the doorway of the kitchen.

'Want to go and get a drink?' Christian asked. 'Stu and them are at the Brunswick.'

'Okay,' I said. I didn't know what I felt like, all of a sudden.

'Want to have sex first?' Christian suggested.

'No thanks,' I said. 'Can we take the Morrie?'

'What're you asking me for?'Christian said, but when I peeked in at Boy he was just a hump under the covers, breathing stertorously, so we took it anyway.

'Oh Jesus God this rain,' said Stu. He stood at the window before Holloway Road, his arms wrapped around his own torso; he jiggled from foot to foot; he walked around the kitchen, picking up and dropping things, beating a nervous rhythm on the table.

'I'd almost rather have a job,' he added.

'Stu, king of the subculture, wants a job,' I told Mary Wollstonecraft. 'Honestly, Stu, you'd last five minutes before you punched out the foreman, the mood you're in lately.'

'That at least,' said Stu heavily, 'would make a change.'

'Bags me first,' Boy piped up from the windowseat where he had been playing patience (and cheating) for the last hour and a half. But Stu was not about to be charmed tonight, not even by Boy.

'Don't you have a play to rehearse or something? he asked him rudely. Boy did not answer, casting me his best wry look over Stu's shoulder.

'I'm going to get a tattoo,' Jeff announced. He was, for some reason, lying under the kitchen table.

'Like Jessica. Jessica,' Boy declared, 'has a tattoo of a rose on her left buttock. Of the woman's symbol. In green.'

'How do you know?' Christian demanded.

page 65

'Saw it when she got out of the bath,' Boy answered succinctly.

Stu put his hand on the back of my neck. 'Now that'd liven things up,' he said. 'Want to have an affair with me, Jessica, and really piss Christian off?'

'Just fucking try it,' Christian muttered, but without, actually, a great deal of annoyance. I saw Kate glance at him and then, involuntarily, at me; I averted my eyes hastily and they collided immediately with Boy's. Stu had to be the only one who was finding the night so unfraught as to be tedious, I thought.

'Ohhh—I want to go somewhere, I want to do something,' Stu groaned; he hurled himself around the kitchen a bit longer, tripping on Jeff's legs. 'Let's go to a movie, ' he suggested suddenly.

'No money,' Christian, Boy, and Kate all said automatically and together.

'Let's go to a pub, then. Or a club. Let's go and have a boogie!' Stu looked almost excited for a moment.

'No money,' the others droned. Being poor in winter really isn't a good time. Some weeks I could've shouted, being as I was the only one present gainfully employed, but even the temp work was slackening off, these days, and there was the power bill to consider.

'Okay, then. Why don't we go and drive through Victoria Tunnel and honk and see how many people honk back?'

'Now that sounds like a good time,' Christian said sarcastically.

'The bath! How is the bath?' Kate interceded hurriedly; Stu was going into slow burn, and Christian can be incendiary to the most patient of people when he chooses.

'Bloody freezing,' I said. It was. Christian and Boy had brought home, in triumph, an ancient cast-iron thing on the top of the buckling and complaining Morrie, and it had been duly installed on bricks in our concrete square; in spite of, or perhaps because of, all my bitching about it I had been honoured with the baptismal bathe. Even though Boy had ripped out the door between the loo and the shower—which had been hanging around not doing any good to anybody, he explained—and balanced it across the bath to keep as much heat in as possible I only lasted five minutes: the water chilled as soon as it hit the cast-iron, which was so cold it burned my bum. Anyway once you were in someone else had to slide the door up the length of the bath so only your head poked out and it reminded me uncomfortably of being in a coffin.

page 66

'Yes. It might be a summer thing, that bath,' Boy conceded. 'Be great though. We can have bathing parties—smoke a bit of hash—'

'Yes!' Stu cried. 'I know! Late night shopping! Let's drive through the Victoria Tunnel, honk, see how many people honk back, then keep driving till we get to Kilbirnie, get stoned in the carpark and go and look at the vegetables!'

'What? said Kate blankly; the men were actually looking mildly interested.

'New thing,' I explained. 'It's the colours, you know how they have all the fruit and vegetables piled up in ranks all along one wall in the supermarket? All the colours? And mirrors above them? They go and stare at them and say 'Wow' a lot and scare old ladies till they get thrown out. Very grown up, very discreet.'

'Everyone's old in Kilbirnie, I wonder why?'said Boy. 'Anyway, you can talk, Jessica. You should have seen Jessica, he told Kate, 'discovering eternity in a handful of sunflower seeds.' He demonstrated; I scowled at him. Kate laughed.

'Sounds great,' she said. 'We are the people our grandparents warned us about. Can I come? I've always had a hankering to frighten old ladies.'

'Who's going to drive back?' I asked carefully.

'Driving stoned isn't dangerous, you go too slow,' Christian said. 'It's not like being drunk.' I looked at Kate; she rolled her eyes.

'I'll drive,' Boy said, patting my knee. 'Don't feel like getting wasted anyway.

'You all right, mate?' Christian said to him; Boy had been awfully quiet lately, for Boy that is. But it wasn't a question that needed an answer. They were all suddenly galvanised into action; Jeff sat up so fast he cracked his head on the table.

'Serves you right,' Stu said, in a terrifically good humour, 'lurking about on the floor shamelessly looking up Mary Wollstonecraft's skirts.'

'Hyena in petticoats,' Boy said. I looked at him in genuine astonishment. The things Boy knows amaze me as much as the things he doesn't, sometimes. He smiled at me shyly.

'Didn't know why you called her such a stupid name,' he said, 'when it could have been Pawsy or Ginger or anything. So I looked it up. At the library. When she has kittens,' he added, showing off slightly, this was the Boy we all knew and loved, 'You can call them Mary Shelley.'

page 67

'And her kittens can be called Frankenstein,' Kate added.

'We all create our own monsters,' I said, not to be outdone.

Christian looked puzzled.

'Mary Wollstonecraft's not ginger, she's tortoiseshell,' he said, and lost interest in the hunt for the keys now ensuing amongst the sofa cushions.

'Katie,' I said, under the hubbub. 'Can you stay with me?'

'Aren't you coming?' she said. The pause hung. 'Is there something up?'

'Just want to stay home, I said. 'With you and Mary Wollstonecraft. Drink whisky. Hid some in the laundry basket.'

'Okay,' Kate said slowly.

And so they all left, clattering rowdily down the hall and spilling out into the street. 'Something's going to happen!' we heard Stu yell, and then the Morrie starting up with its usual amount of wheezing and clanking.

'Famous last words,' said Kate lightly. 'They worry me sometimes, those guys.'

'They're great,' I said. I was feeling sicker and sicker. I got up, bent almost double, shuffled across the room to the sofa and curled up and closed my eyes. 'God, are you all right?' said Kate. 'I'm sorry, I didn't notice, Jess. Is it your period?'

I shook my head.

'Blanket,' I said. I was bitterly cold. 'Can you get me some whisky?' through clenched teeth: even talking was becoming difficult. 'Eggcups're on the bench.'

Kate disappeared; and so did I; I swung bodiless in a grey haze; I felt, very faintly, Kate lifting my head, putting it on her lap, tucking the quilt around my shoulders; then she and I and Holloway Road vanished and

The roaring of the Morrie cut in, very gradually, and then the bump and swing of the road, the lowslung springs creaking under me as we cornered, the smell of marijuana raw and familiar in my nostrils.

'Don't smoke it in here, are you crazy?' I said. 'What if we get pulled over? Car's full of it, man. And guess who'll get done? Me. Dumb hori boy.'

'You can't be serious,' Stu bellowed. 'This car, clamoured Stu, rattling one of the back doors, 'this car has more ventilation than your average cheese grater. This car,' declared Stu, thumping on one of the taped windows, 'this car has more ventilation than your average prairie. This car—'

'Yeah, yeah, all right, all right, we get the picture,' I said. I hadn't been page 68 serious, really, anyway. I was perfectly happy, boys together, it's nice sometimes, even though Kate and Jessica are so neat, those two in the back making all that noise, Wellington sliding, wheeling, red and green fights and bush-covered hills past the windows, sea out there somewhere, wheel sliding through my fingers, Christian beside me, grinning and quiet, like he'd been for years. Christian, yeah, Jeff and Stu singing, doing a harmony, 'Summertime', and here comes the tunnel, opening up like a mouth, black mouth to swallow us up, hit the orange light and the petrol fumes, just a few cars, a couple ahead and one going the other way, and hit the horn with the flat of my hand and

With the blaring it comes up / it explodes / hits me at the same time as the noise

'Boy? Jesus—Boy—'

Christian's voice coming from out in the ether somewhere I can't see properly / catch this crazy glimpse of him, arcing / he looks ludicrous / it's almost funny how frightened / cos I'm falling forward I can't see Christian yelling and the car sliding

Everything went black.

The sound of a woman screaming, high-pitched and horrible, snapped me back sharply and painfully into my body in Holloway Road.

I was on my feet in the middle of the living-room, Kate staring at me, white-faced.

'Jessica? Jesus—Jessica—'

We have to go, we have to go, we have to go,' I was gibbering at her.

'What? What? Go where? Jessica—'

'Hospital. Have to go,' I said; I tried to turn around too quickly and fell over. I couldn't remember where the door was.

'Jessie. Calm down. Sit down,' said Kate. The soothing note in her voice contrasted oddly with how scared her eyes were.

'Mary Wollstonecraft,' I said.

'She's here. I'm here. Sit down,' said Kate firmly.

'No!' I screamed at her. 'We have to go! Jesus, Kate, Boy was driving! OhmyGod I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid!'

'I'll call a taxi, I'll call a taxi,' Kate was saying, even then not getting it, and I shoved her back into the sofa and ran past her down the hall, hitting the walls, bouncing off from one to the other all the way to the front door, and I fell against it and down the steps and landed on my hands and knees page 69 and picked myself up and jumped the gate and fell again.

We were already there when they brought them in. The Morrie had hit the wall of the tunnel, side-on. Christian had pulled on the handbrake and they had gone into a spin, into the path of oncoming traffic. Fortunately there was only one car coming and it had managed to swerve; it had bashed in a door on its way past and thrown Christian into the windshield. They hit the opposite side then and stopped. The Morrie's top speed had only ever been thirty miles an hour. They had been, in fact, incredibly lucky.

I found Jeff and Stu first. Christian had gone in the ambulance with Boy and was still refusing to leave him. Jeff and Stu were being treated for shock and minor bruises; the nurse said Christian had mild concussion. Jeff was crying. Stu, the most stoned, couldn't figure out anything that was going on; he just kept staring around him, crunched up in a little ball.

'Hello Jessica,' he said formally when I touched him. 'Where are Boy and Christian?'

'Hey, Stu,' I said. 'Are you all right?'

'Oh I'm fine thank you. And you? said Stuart. 'Are you well?'

'Jesus,' said Kate under her breath.

'Take them back to Holloway Road,' I said to her. 'Put them to bed and make sure they're asleep before you come back.' She had caught up with me near the Mount Cook in Lexa's purple Volkswagen. Lexa was still in her pyjamas. She was wearing gumboots and a splash of green oil-paint on her cheek.

'Hello Alexandra,' said Stu, focusing on her, 'and how have you been?'

'Let me stay with you, Lexa said to me urgently; she hadn't let go of my hand since I got in the car, little tough Lexa.

No, honestly. I have to find Christian,' I said. 'Go and help Kate.'

'Dead on arrival,' said Stu brightly. 'What do you think that means, Jessica?'

And I felt as well as heard Kate's indrawn breath. The shock of knowledge crashing leaden-footed into her mind was like the ground tilting beneath my own feet. I turned around, slowly, to face her.

'Get them out of here,' I told Lexa.

Christian was sitting on a bench in A and E, leaning against the wall. His head was bandaged. He did not begin to turn toward me until I was almost page 70 upon him, though I had spoken his name, and when he did it was very slowly, as if moving underwater. His face was quite white: a deep bruise showed up lovely against it on his temple. There was blood still in the process of congealing from a gash on his lip; his eyes were wide with shock, shockingly green. He looked beautiful.

'Christian,' l said, and took his face in my hands and leaned my forehead against his, very carefully because of the bandages. He looked up at me, bewildered. His hands remained still on his own thighs.

'Boy,' he said. His voice was quite dead.

'I know,' I whispered to him; I bent, I kissed the gash on his mouth. It felt strange, not Christian's mouth at all; as if he had forgotten how to hold it in the right shape. I ran my tongue along the cut; Christian suddenly took a rough shuddering breath in and said, anguished, 'Boy,' against my teeth and grasped my wrists and kissed me back, urgently and ungently. The blood ran between us, salty and invigorating, like whisky.

Christian was shuddering all over, from some deep cold. He leant his head against my hip, his arms around my thighs. I stroked his forehead, watching my fingers run through the wheat of his hair. I felt like an earth mother; I felt like a goddess. Christian's blood warmed my stomach like spirit. I stood in the dingy hospital corridor, huge and powerful, fiery all the way through.

'Boy,' muttered Christian.

He did not weep.

I did not speak.

There was nothing left to say.

But when we went back to the Volkswagen, walking separately, holding an invisible wire taut a foot between us, Kate was not there.

I found her at Scorching Bay. Dawn was already breaking. Christian had refused to stay in the hospital; he had been given a sleeping tablet and was now lying utterly still, curled in the grey army blanket on the sofa under the impenetrable smile of the Mona Lisa. He had refused to lie in our bed either. I had not pushed the point.

The sands were wide and empty. I parked the car across two spaces and got out slowly; the pine-covered cliff reared against my back. There was the faint beginnings of a wind and my feet in the holey black Commandos cut page 71 dark swathes through the silver of the grass.

The first ferry was cutting their mirrored images, white against the deadness of the sea, heading out into the Strait.

'Dire straits,' I said to the rocks, and felt the first jolt of grief, shocking in its intensity. I closed my throat and eyes against it and when I opened them I saw Kate, standing groin-deep in the waves with her back to me.

'Kate,' I said, 'Katie,' but she did not turn. The Commandos crunched through the sand; I stood on the edge of the sea and said, 'Kate,' and fear came washing into all the empty spaces of the shore.

The winter sea was freezing. I touched her shoulder and she turned. Her face was utterly ruined by tears.

'Oh God,' I said, 'oh Katie,' and she said expressionlessly, 'Keep your fucking hands off me.'

We stood facing each other, breathing harsh and fast. Then (fifteen years of ginger crunch and orange cordial) her mind opened to me, as I'm sure mine did to her, and I saw what she saw.

'They'll tear you apart,' she said. 'They will, Jess. All of them. Even Lexa. When I tell them. They'll tear you apart.'

I stood staring into her eyes.

'Christian already half-knows,' Kate said. A wave broke against our hips and left salt water glittering on her face. She didn't bother to wipe it off. 'You know he does. All those times he's found you. He'll believe me, Jess. And I tell you. I don't care how long you've been lovers. Boy means more to him than you ever will, Jessica. I'm telling you. He'll kill you. He will.'

The wind blew off the Strait, whipping our hair around our faces.

'Oh Jessica, how could you? How could you?' Kate wailed suddenly; the sound made a hole in the blank wall of terror big enough for me to see through, and I saw that what I was afraid of was not anything the others might do to me but of Kate, of losing Kate.

'I didn't choose him. You know I didn't, Katie. It chose him Itself; he was the one; you know this, you know this!' I shouted at her; I gripped her arm and she twisted it free.

'You could have blocked it!' she yelled. 'You could have! You knew! You could have told me!'

'It was too late, it was already too late, it was always too late,' I said. 'Jesus, Kate, do you think it was what I wanted? Do you think it didn't hurt me? I did it for you, for all of you: don't you know what tragedy is for? Don't page 72 you remember why we started it in the first place?'

'He'll kill you,' Kate said, but her eyes were already filling with tears.

'I didn't do it on my own,' I said, very soft, and her head snapped back and she made a move for my face; I caught her hand and held it. 'There's precedents,' I said rapidly, 'you know that's all It needs. Precedent and due process, and we did all that. You can't do anything to me, Kate; you can't touch me. I'm protected. You can't,' and I sent flooding through her mind all the ones before, all the sacrifices I could remember, the harvest sacrifices and the spring sacrifices and the ones before battle: the Cretan tax and the Nazarene and the men they found in the peat.

She looked at me, open-mouthed and helpless.

'Anyway,' I said, 'it wasn't only witches they burned at the stake, Kate. You won't be able to stop at me. There's Lexa. And Jeff That's why "faggot", don't you remember? And wise women. Healers. All your herbal shit, Kate. You'd have to go too. And Stu. Dissidents, heretics. Stu doesn't believe in any of the gods.'

Kate began to sob.

'There'd only be Christian left,' I told her, and she wailed at me, despairingly, as Christian had, 'Boy,' and I said, 'I know,' as I had to Christian, only unlike with Christian my voice cracked and then I had to speak Boy aloud too, because speaking him was the only way we'd ever have him, any more, and I said, 'Boy,' to Kate and the tears came up and fountained and waterfalled into the waiting sea. We stood facing each other and not touching, waist-deep in water. The seagulls that whirled above our heads were sobbing and screaming and howling into the empty Strait. They were crying for Boy, for the guilt that is knowledge, for love and loss and the twenty-four years none of us would ever have again.

'At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,' I told Kate. She leant against my shoulder. We were both shivering and our bare feet looked like corpses', white and wet and dead. I put my arm around her and with the other hand took a swig of the brandy the Volkswagen had yielded up from the glovebox. It burned as deep as blood. Boy had got an ad last autumn; he had planted brandy, cigarettes and chocolate in all of our cars, with strict instructions that we were not to touch them unless in case of emergency.

'God bless Boy,' Kate had said, finding it, and we had laughed and the laughter had made us cry again, so we got the blanket he had whipped from the Youth Hostel as a present for Lexa because she liked the weave out of the page 73 back, and we sat on the bonnet and drank Boy's brandy and smoked Boy's rollies and blessed Boy's ghost, and the sun came up, eventually, as it always would.

There is nothing so enervating as grief, nothing so cathartic as a death. Kate and I were both still hiccupping slightly from sobbing. Tears still slid out of our eyes and barely noticed down our cheeks from time to time; they would continue to do so for the next fortnight, and we would all continue like this, wrung-out and hollowed-out, exhausted and exhilarated, filled with our terrible sorrow that came bearing the gift of our aliveness in its hands.

'Did you always know?' Kate asked me once, four o'clock Sunday morning.

'That it would be Boy?' I asked Kate, although I already knew what she meant. Christian and Stu and Jeff were all out, dancing the steps of some male grieving ritual I knew nothing about. They would be back. We were all bound in those weeks following Boy's death by the absence at our centre that had been him. We did not go far from each other for long. Stu and Jeff and Lexa had practically moved in; often we all slept together, on the living- room floor, in my bed, in Boy's bed, limbs thrown over limbs, heads resting on breastbones, hands clasping over torsos, breathing into each other's hair, backs, underarms.

'Yes,' Kate said.

I sighed; I looked into the eyes of the Mona Lisa. They argue she's a self- portrait, now. But even artists cannot, finally, escape gender. It is destiny.

'We should take you back, I think,' I told the feminine of Leonardo, 'you're way late,' and she gazed at me with her intimate and knowing stare. For a moment I wanted, suddenly and quite irrationally, to scramble up and turn her face to the wall; but it passed. I love the Mona Lisa.

'Yes,' I said to Kate, eventually.

'Poor Jessie,' Kate said, sorrowing.

I accepted this: it was true.

'He always loved you the best,' Kate said. I glanced at her but her eyes were dry, her deceptively sweet face still and thoughtful. Her hands stroked rhythmically along Mary Wollstonecraft's back.

'He always thought you'd end up together, you know,' she added.

I turned around bodily to stare at her.

'What?' I said.

page 74

'Mmm. He told me, once, when we were really drunk. And,' Kate smiled at me rather shamefacedly, 'me with Christian.'

'Boy set you off on that!' I said incredulously.

'Oh. You did pick up on it, then. I wondered if you had. Sorry,' she said. 'Just a thought.'

'That's all right,' I said. I couldn't believe it.

But, I thought, as Mary Wollstonecraft rolled over onto her back and began patting at my fingers, it made a kind of diabolical sense. They would have suited each other, finally, Kate and Christian. They have similar limitations.

And Boy and I, I thought then. We had had similarities too. But it wouldn't have worked, not for me. Love's messy. I have to be in control. 'Never mind,' said Kate, astoundingly. 'Never mind, Jessie. You did what you had to do, you know,' and we smiled at each other the way women do when they are alone. I put my head in her lap then and cried very hard.

And of course we all went up for the tangi, crammed into the Volkswagen and Stu's Falcon, driving behind and in front of each other all the way. The sun shone that day and we sang a lot. The coast had never looked so beautiful.

And soon the summer will come. It was almost warm, today. We'll take baths outside, all of us, in the bath you built us; Stu and Christian will play and we'll drink to you, Boy, in red wine and passing. The summer will come and the jasmine will flower along Holloway Road and the stars will swing over the fires we light at Breaker Bay and we'll think of you, often.

But it won't last, you know. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will not always remember you. I saw them today, stringing up the lights on the trees at Oriental Parade, and I went home and cried for you, Boy, for how you won't see them, but the thing is, I know this won't last. It doesn't make your death any less or any less meaningful, it's just the way it is, once carnival's over. I don't, of course, have anyone to talk to any more, but then none of us ever do, really, do we, Boy? Christian and I understand each other, that is I understand Christian, which amounts to the same thing. Our lives will go on. Rather successfully, actually, in spite of ourselves, being as we all are intelligent, well-educated, inescapably middle-class. Our lives are going to keep unfolding just fine without you. You'll come to mean page 75 something quite different to us from what you meant to yourself. I'll stumble across pictures of you, unexpectedly, every five years or so, tidying drawers, and every time I'll cry and I'll imagine I'm crying for you, but I won't be, you know. No one ever cries except for themself. You'll be our lost youth, or something, frozen forever at twenty-four, and we won't remember you before we reduced you to a symbol, after a while. It'll be, one day, as if you had never lived at all.

I'm telling you, Boy. I never asked to be a witch. I'm sorrier than you could ever have imagined for the things I know. But it's already later than you think.