Sport 24: Summer 2000
David Geary — Leftovers
Darren always slept better when he knew there was something to fry. He'd float through the fridge. Linger above the three boiled new potatoes. Meredith always did extra. He was George Jetson, hovering above half an onion sweating in gladwrap. Abseil down to the vege bin, where there were pink button mushrooms he'd picked from the grass verge and cradled in the paper … and he was asleep.
Darren had grumped about Meredith getting a nonstick frying pan, but after the bypass he couldn't really argue. The trade-off was that Darren still used the stainless steel slice … carefully. And a smidge of canola oil. Canola made from rape seed. No more Moro Bars, no sugar in tea, no roasts, no dripping sandwiches. Not that Darren had had the fat and the juices poured from the roasting dish onto fresh bread since his youth, but it looked good on the other side of the ledger. It helped balance out that thing he could never abstain from—bacon.
Darren reverse bungeed up to the side compartments, to the quarter packet of honey-cured shoulder bacon, top slice curling. No rind, no rim of pork fat that made such good crackling.
Meredith had tried to fool him.
—This bacon's off.
—No, no, it's Not Bacon. There's Not Chicken too. It's a vegetarian option. The doctor said
—The doctor said I had to watch what I eat, not become a sparrow.
Not Bacon—it was Claytons all over again. Meredith persevered with Not Bacon herself, even though Darren had made her admit it wasn't quite the real thing, and now had its own compartment, where the butter had been. Butter was out, Olivani was in. And so were New Age CDs. Who could have foreseen that the unhappy collision of his page 44 heart attack with her change of life would mean they'd both be subjected to Tropical Rainforest Spirits by Lush and Amazon to Yangtze—River Revelations—Various. They lowered stress levels. They were supposedly good sellers.
Darren toyed with producing his own CD. One for other poor souls living lives of denial, choking down Cholestid, a liquid sandpaper to unclog the arteries. It would be simply titled Fry Up. With track listings such as 'A Flounder Flipped from the Fried Side to the Raw' and 'Mashed Potato Scraped Aside to Fry Two Size 7 Eggs'. But, again, there was nothing like the real thing. Instead he was subjected to trickles and torrents, raging rapids and babbling brooks. It was Chinese water torture. He had enough trouble holding his piss as is.
Darren was awake. He'd have to go to the loo again. He always squatted like a woman now. It saved the Charlie Chaplin routines that had occurred when his bladder had set his bowels off, and he'd had to stem the flow, turn around and drop his trou in one easy motion. It wasn't easy.
He ran his index finger down the ridge scar that split his chest. His nightly prayer, half what the Catholics do—he was still there. Meredith was snoring. She'd been there when he'd gone under the knife, and there when he'd come out. He shouldn't complain, he couldn't complain. The woman was a saint. If only she'd snore regular. You could get used to a rhythm. It was like the ocean or a generator. But this was all whistles and wheezes, stops and starts, allegro and whatever was the word for a slow tempo? This would keep him awake too. It was on the tip of his tongue. It was why he never did crosswords. Darren had thought about recording Meredith's nocturnes, because she didn't believe him, but it seemed a bit petty.
He was wide awake now. Oh well, it was Saturday night. Sunday was sleep in, the paper and leftovers. Hold on, how could he forget, there were also cold baby mint peas in an enamel dish. He wouldn't fry those. They'd set the warm things off nicely. He arranged the plate like a pie chart: chip potatoes, fried onion, mushrooms, peas and bacon. A dash of Worcester sauce. Breakfast. No eggs, no cheese, no butter on thick white bread. He was doing okay.
He trundled up the passage to the loo. He shouldn't have had that page 45 second cup of tea—green for the antioxidants. It's just they put all the best stuff on so late. It was a capital offence that our national teams weren't free-to-air. He'd never written a letter to the paper in his life, but by God he'd thought about it when they tried to blackmail everyone into getting Sky. Meredith suggested he video the cricket highlights and watch them in the morning. She liked the highlights packages, the same way she liked one-dayers.
—It takes out all the boring bits.
—Nonsense. In the boring bits you get the subtleties of the game. The tension that builds up after a couple of maidens. Can the batsmen break the shackles? You can see how the combination of pace and spin is working together. Try to pick when the slow ball, the off-break, will come.
Darren wondered why, periodically, he bothered trying to convince Meredith of the merits of test cricket. Why, after all these years, when she'd never shown the slightest bit of interest. He guessed it was just to see that look on her face, the growing amusement, stifling a grin, as he got more and more frustrated. It showed he still cared.
The upshot was he'd rediscovered the joys of the wireless. The radio commentators really had to paint a picture. By comparison the TV guys were lazy chumps.
With the radio, Darren could put the game together in his head. Which made watching the highlights an exercise in how well the match he'd constructed compared. Meredith was right though, he could watch it the next morning before the next day's play commenced. But he knew blokes who'd started videoing and couldn't stop. They had to clean out parts of their garage to build shelves to house all the videos they were never going to get around to playing.
There was rain on the roof as Darren clawed back to bed. He cursed. He might as well turn around right now.
—Did you empty the gauge?
—Eh? You awake?
—It'd be hard not to be with you clumping up and down the passage.page 46
—I didn't want to turn the light on.
—Are you all right?
—I'm fine. This'll do the garden good.
—Did you empty the rain gauge?
Darren concentrated on the wallpaper, the chandelier pattern. In their first house, Gordy, the dipstick, had helped out. Gordy reckoned he was a dab hand when it came to interior decorating. He mixed the glue … gluggy porridge. Took them twenty minutes to hang the first strip and iron the bubbles out. Then they realised the grape pattern was upside down. Gordy had a brainwave.
—She'll never notice. We'll just alternate 'hanging up' and 'hanging down' strips.
Meredith spotted the cock-up straight away. She couldn't really kick up a stink. Gordy was doing it out of the goodness of his heart. A professional hanger would've cost an arm and a leg. And it was up now—all through the house. It was a real steal when you bought in bulk. And it gave guests something to talk about. Darren would venture
—We did it deliberate, didn't we dear?
The guests darted to Meredith.
—That's right. We like to do things a bit different around here. We think it livelies the place up.
As guests came and went over the early years, and comments were invariably made, it became a test for how they were going. Meredith never said
—My stupid ignorant oaf of a husband didn't look at the pattern properly, and let his even more stupid ignoramus of a mate convince him to slap it up as is, willy nilly. It makes me seasick.page 47
All the years I've lived here I've felt like I was on a bad ferry crossing.
Which was how she really felt. But Meredith knew that as soon as the shop took off she'd be changing it … and she did.
—You choose, dear, anything you like. Don't worry about the cost.
was exactly what she wanted to hear. But Darren went one better.
—In fact why don't we build a whole new house. I'll sort the outsides, you do the insides.
Meredith chose wallpaper with chandeliers for the bedroom. Darren didn't say anything. He liked it. They weren't really chandeliers. But that was the closest to a real thing Darren could make out.
Darren was on his way back from the dairy when he saw a couple at the ranchslider. They were talking to Meredith. He didn't want visitors. Sunday afternoons was visitors. There was no car—they were Collectors. The envelope had come during the week—the IHC, intellectually handicapped. The male wasn't carrying himself right. He was holding the bag the money went in. That wasn't on. The very reason you gave them the money was so they wouldn't turn up on your doorstep.
The male heard Darren's slippers scuff from asphalt to drive. It was Reggie. Meredith was talking. Somewhere a javelin was launched.
—You remember Reggie don't you, Darren? And this is Jill. We were in maternity together. Her Brian is the same age as our Christine. She's a nanny in Kent now.
—They've got to be careful, those nannies.
—They do, after that case, they do.page 48
The javelin had missed. Some other poor bugger was lying belly up in a bunker, while the rest of the four wondered if they should putt out while the waited for the ambulance. That's how Darren's heart attack had seemed to him. Like a javelin off course from some athletic meeting had speared through his back, high above the shoulder blade, gone clean through, and was poking out the bottom of his ribs. He'd even asked the others to check if they could see it. Darren had seen those TV shows where sports had gone wrong.
—Actually I'm not sure how old Reggie was when he left?
—He was fourteen.
—Darren's always had a good memory.
That was what it was all about. Reggie was fourteen. They couldn't charge him with anything decent until he was sixteen.
Reggie was still staring at Darren. His mouth was going, grinding his teeth. And his hand was slapping his side. And his foot was stamping. It was like watching a one-man band rehearse without instruments.
—I think he wants to say hello.
—Shake his hand, Darren?
Darren dug for change, even though he knew he didn't have any. He only ever took just enough. There would be no impulse buys. And it gave him immense satisfaction to get rid of the rubbishy five and ten cents they kept in a pottery boot on top of the fridge. And he never touched the hand of the man in the dairy. He always put the coins on the counter and made him pick them up.
—I'll get my wallet.
—It's all right, I've given them something.
—I'll get some more.
—I've been quite generous.
He went around to the back door. Sat on the bench and stared at the page 49 green metal cockroach with feelers that could take your shoes off, although it was more likely to stub your little toe when you had to call the cat because you'd forgotten to shut the bathroom window after a long bath.
—All the local toms will be preying upon her. She's probably being violated right now.
Meredith was very protective of the cat.
Darren had to pay, he'd said he would, and they were waiting outside the ranchslider. Waiting murmuring. His wallet was in the writing desk next to the fancy tees he'd never get used. Five bucks? Twenty? Meredith would ask questions. He went through to the sunroom with five dollars.
—Meredith tells me you're making a good recovery.
—Never felt better. Fit as a fiddle.
—I wouldn't go that far.
—Reggie, hold out the envelope.
Reggie howled. Reggie got the javelin. He knew.
—I think he's just excited to be coming home for good.
—They're putting in a residency up the street.
—Has that been in the papers?
—It was in the little paper.
—And what did the Council say?
—The zoning is fine. We'll be consulting the locals, more out of courtesy than anything.
—It's not as if it's a p.d. centre, is it? We'll be neighbours.
Reggie howled again. This one came from somewhere deeper, long and wild.page 50
—Come on, Reggie, I think you're getting hungry.
—We might have something in the tins.
—No, we really should get on. I'll pop in some other time.
Reggie dug his toes in.
—He seems to have taken a shine to you Darren.
Darren went inside.
—He's never been like this before.
—Neither has Darren. That was rude, not shaking his hand. He's really not that well after the op. Usual men's thing—wants to do too much too soon. Good bye, Reggie.
Meredith didn't mean to flick the lock on the ranchslider but she did.
Darren was buried in the Sunday paper. Their last big kerfuffle had been over the paper. It was the first Sunday after the bypass. He'd got up under his own steam, a little later than usual perhaps, and there it was… folded on the kitchen table. He threw the paper. He had no sense of direction but a full paper, hefted with enough hate, can cause a considerable degree of damage, as Darren was about to find out, as it cleared the mantel and most notably sent a vase shattering on the mock marble hearth.
—How did the paper get over there in the first place?
—I threw it.
—At Aunt Shirley's vase?
—No, I just threw it.
—Why may I ask?
—Because. Because I'm not dead yet. I wanted to walk to the shop. I wanted to get it.
—You always say it's a load of rubbish anyway.
—It's the walk that's important.
—You shouldn't be walking anywhere.
—I was going to take it slow.page 51
Darren and Meredith both took things very slow after that. The vase had been a wedding present. He couldn't buy a replacement. Meredith never bought the Sunday paper again.
—Too bad if it kills him.
She told Lou, the other daughter, on the phone, loud enough so he could hear. Darren took up bowls. Meredith bought a low-fat cookbook, but he still had his bacon.
—What sort of life is it if you can't eat what you want to eat occasionally? A complete cut back could do more harm than good, could be too much of a shock to the system.
That was The Kerfuffle. This was different, this was rude—rude and unexplained.
—Are you all right, Darren? You're not having a turn?
—Don't be bloody ridiculous.
—You're reading the paper very quickly.
—Are you making breakfast or not?
Meredith made breakfast.
—I would have had it ready when you got back from the dairy, like I usually do, but I got interrupted.
They got interrupted again.
—Is that the fire siren? It's not twelve o'clock. Oh my, it's Reggie. He's back and Jill's having a devil of a job getting him to go down the street.
—Well, don't look, woman, you'll only encourage him.
—She's pulling him but he's got hold of our mailbox. He's twisting. You'd better get out there.page 52
Darren snapped the venetians on Meredith.
—I think he's grabbed one of our gnomes. He could do some real damage with one of those. There's a fair weight in a gnome. Where's the cat? Here puss wuss wuss wuss. Here kitty kitty kitty.
Darren waited for a gnome to rocket through the living-room window and lie chipped on the carpet … but it never came. His guts curdled. As his innards dissolved on the loo he reached out to rip Peter's calendar down. Like everything else that day, it was just out of reach. It was all Peter's fault.
At first Darren and Meredith had been sent over-the-counter calendars for Christmas, but in latter years they'd been from Peter's very own consultancy firm. The same pictures however, the Scottish Highlands: a caber toss, a thistle, a fling over swords and heaps of castle ruins. Darren had thought about producing his own calendar, but there was nothing around here that he wanted a photo of to put in it.
Peter, Darren and Gordy had got in when the suburb was all new grass, concrete curbs and subcontractors. They were among the first to take a punt on what was to become the hub, the hive. Peter had sportsgoods, Darren was in menswear and Gordy ran the fish‘n’ chip shop. Or it ran him. Gordy was always bursting in wanting newspapers or change or salt, for goodness sake.
—I found the cat. The mailbox is okay. Are you all right?
Darren wasn't going to answer.
—Are you all right in there?
Once upon a time the loo had been a place to take stock—a sanctuary. Since the op he was fair game.page 53
—I'm peachy, thanks.
—Well, you don't sound too good.
—I'm just concerned. You always wait until it's too late.
He'd felt some tightness in the year before his collapse. A black gloved hand making a fist around his heart. A heavy metal album cover. But it had always relaxed, unclenched … until the javelin. He told the surgeon everything, and the silly bastard had told Meredith everything too.
—Why didn't you tell me about the tightness? About the black fist, about the javelin?
—I didn't want to worry you.
—The doctor said if you ever feel that way again you're to tell me, okay? Okay?
When Darren got out of the loo his breakfast was waiting. Meredith was stroking the cat in the living room. One eye on the street the other on the entertainment section. She was safe to start with that.
—I'm going out to the garden.
—Your breakfast is there.
—I had a pie at the shop.
—A pie? When you knew I was going to cook breakfast? Maybe that's what gave you the trots. Do you know what's in those pies? Those pie warmers are germ traps. Do you want to kill yourself? And you haven't washed your hands.
—They'll only get dirtier.
Darren watered the garden. Meredith dropped the cat.
—What are you doing?
—What does it look like?page 54
—There's still restrictions.
—It rained last night.
—If it rained last night, then it won't need watering.
—It wasn't that heavy.
—There's an inch in the gauge.
—That's because I never emptied it from the other day.
—You said last night you had emptied it. I think you're having a turn. I'm going to ring the Doctor.
—Don't ring the Doctor.
—I'm … I'm ringing Lou.
Lou was the close daughter. She lived a couple of suburbs along the valley. Meredith could ring Lou and keep both eyes on Darren. He eased into his watering. Lou had Meredith's mouth, but she was more relaxed, more like him. It was Darren's chuckle coming out of Meredith's mouth. Lou would say
—Oh well, if Dad wants to water the garden in the morning … let him. If he wants to eat a pie when he knows he shouldn't when he knows he's got breakfast waiting … then let him.
Darren spent all morning in the garden. He didn't come in for morning tea. He watered everything … twice … three times. He pulled out things that hadn't gone to seed, hadn't ripened yet, hadn't had flowers or buds even. He knew he'd planted them but he'd forgotten their names so they had to go. And the compost bins had to be full. Then he could allow himself to feel dizzy in the shed, breaking the shoots off sack potatoes.
Meredith did what the close daughter, Lou, suggested. She microwaved Darren's breakfast for lunch. He hated how microwaves made everything watery. There was slime on the bacon. The preservatives were coming out. Darren was back in the loo with crook guts.page 55
—I'll get the Doctor, and I'll put your lunch in the warming drawer?
—No, no. No.
This was how he'd tell her. This would serve her right for starting up conversations with him in here.
—Have you got some washing?
—I checked the mailbox. It's okay.
—You know how he got hurt? You know his accident?
—Those kids were always diving off the bridge. Still are.
—No, you know how Peter and me and Gordy found him on our way to golf?
—You saw him fall.
—That's right. That's right. But we'd actually stopped to have a chat before then. You see, we wanted to catch up with him and that bad bastard mate of his, Coombs. You know how he turned out?
—The motocross champ one?
—No, no, he was never a champion. He just did it for a bit. No, after that he was in that gang that murdered the old doctor, that brought one of them into the world. What thanks you get
—No, Coombs wasn't
—No, but he was involved, heavily involved. They couldn't charge all of them. Well him and Reggie used to trailbike down by the river. Hoon around mucking up the stopbank and ripping up all the poplars the community planted. It was also an ideal place for them to look over back fences, see who wasn't home, break in and make a quick getaway.
—How'd you know all that?
—The cops told us, after the break-ins. Remember the break-ins we had around the shops about the same time?
—Was that Reggie?
—Absolutely. The cops knew it. It's just they were too young for page 56 the cops to do much about it. They could catch them but they'd just get a rap on the knuckles, laugh in your face and off again to
—You hurt Reggie?
—No, listen now
—Wasn't it Peter who lost all the stuff?
—Well, it was mostly sportsgear they could flog off. But they trashed our shop too. More times than I told you. It was disgusting. The filth. Smearing shit, real shit—words and pictures. I couldn't have you come down to clean up that. And they did over Gordy's place on a regular basis, just to take soft drinks. He lost count of the times he had his backdoor kicked in. Gave up reporting it. Insurance didn't want to know him.
—So you didn't go to golf?
—No, we did … after.
—After you beat Reggie up?
—No, he fell.
—Then why were you
—We were chasing him.
—No cricket bats … old ones. Taped up old ones from the Golden Oldies team Peter sponsored.
—You all had bats?
—No, Gordy had a pig prod.
—A pig prod?
—They give electric shocks, mild shocks. Don't ask me why he had one, or where he got it from.
Darren had finished on the loo, but this was the wrong time to wipe his arse.
—We went down the dead-end river road. Parked up behind the metal crusher. Peter's plan was for Gordy to head across the fields and come back down from the bridge. I had to wade across and cover the other bank, while Peter came up the river with the chains.page 57
—To stop the bikes. According to Peter, they wedge in the wheels. 'Cept, trust Gordy, he couldn't be blowed walking all the way around behind the changing sheds. Took a short cut along the dead ball line and stumbles right onto Reggie having a puff in the long grass. All this time I was expecting it'd be a nonstarter, as we'd heard no bikes. And then Gordy's hollering.
—Hey, hey, I got one of' em.
As if. Even stoned Reggie runs rings around Gordy. He's back on his bike and burns off. 'Cept he's heading right for Peter, who's crouched down behind some broke up reinforcing.
—And where are you?
—I'm getting a great view of everything from over by the cement works outflow pipe. But Reggie takes a different track and Peter hiffs one of these chains like some rodeo cowboy. Misses by a mile. Reggie skids to a stop off a bit, spins the back wheel, whips up a duststorm. Peter's spewing. Hiffs another chain—misses again. He's aiming another when Reggie cuts his losses and heads up the river road. Angles in behind the metalcrusher … Boomphal Reggie runs flat into our Fairlane.
—You didn't hit a heifer?
—No. Pete's swinging this chain, whooping like some Apache Indian off to a scalping. Reggie's front wheel is buckled and grinding on the forks as he plants boot. But he hasn't got enough grunt to get up the rise and bails out down the side of the bank. He's graunching up towards the bridge when Gordy, who we'd lost in the heat of it all, steps out in front of Reggie. Gordy looks like nothing on earth. He's covered head to toe in biddy-bids and holding this pig prod. Reggie can try to go right over Gordy, but he's going to be quite an obstacle even if he can lay him out flat. Gordy would be pushing a couple of judder bars at least. Reggie doesn't like his chances, veers over the stones to the water. You could ford in some places but not there. The bike conks out midstream. Reggie wades back and it's a flat-out footrace to the bridge. Now compared with Reggie, we're broken down old farts, and he's got the fear of God right up him, and he gets a good lead page 58 and plenty of time to scramble up the vines. Leaves us gasping at the bottom as he makes it onto the rail. And that's when he fell. Headfirst into the stones.
Darren wiped his arse. Not too thorough. He had to move quick.
—I don't know why he fell.
—You didn't throw anything?
—Peter threw a stone.
—Peter threw a stone.
—But it missed. Everything he threw missed. You know what I think really stuffed Reggie. He was actually turning around to give us the fingers when he slipped. Like those arseholes who throw off their blankets outside the courthouse. We'd have heard of Reggie again. He'd have turned out a bad bastard.
Darren was tucking his shirt in his trou when he heard the scrape of chair on lino. Fumbling with fly buttons when the keys jangled off the hook. By the time he got out to the double garage Meredith had the roller door up and was reversing the hatchback.
—Where you going?
Darren tapped on the window. Meredith turned away to look out the rear window and clear the chimney. Darren was only half way up the drive when she drove off. She'd go to Lou's. He could ring Lou and warn her. Tell her that her mother had got the wrong end of the stick.
Darren turned on the radio. He'd forgotten all about the cricket—the crucial fourth day. It seemed to be heading for an inevitable draw, but cricket was a funny game, a couple of wickets, a few boundaries, and everything changed. Darren tried hard to listen, but things weren't happening fast enough. He found the remote … Superbikes at Manfield—an endurance race, it would go on for hours.
Darren had endured. He'd stayed put, done the hard yards. He watched Superbikes all afternoon. The ads didn't disturb the flow, revving at the same pitch. But as the chequered flag dropped, and page 59 someone punched the air and did a wheelie, and the bikes chopped down a few gears, Darren was back at the river, dropping Reggie's bust up Yamaha 250 into a deep pool, while Reggie humped and frothed in the dust under the bridge. There was filth down there too.
They should never have left Gordy to watch over Reggie. They'd said they were off to get help, but only after they'd seen to the bike and the chains and the car and the fucking pig prod. And they had to leave time for Gordy to get rid of all those biddy-bids or there'd have been questions.
The cops found Coombs up on the firebreak, trailing by himself. He wouldn't say why he wasn't with Reggie that day. Probably a drug deal gone wrong.
Gordy loved his fishing. But after that it was always
—What if … maybe we should have … do you think
Peter told him
—We come out to get away from all that shit. So fuck up about it.
They were up the Coast, out further than Kapiti Island. Gordy felt sick and lay down for the rest of the trip. It was quite choppy, but you could still hear him blubbing into his life-jacket. Gordy was a soft cunt. Always had been.
Once Peter went overseas, Gordy assumed that he and Darren would get closer. But all Gordy wanted to do was talk about Reggie. And how he should never have sold the fish‘n’ chip shop. Gordy already had parsnippy skin but the rash had got worst—went everywhere. Darren had picked the lease up for a song. Donned the apron himself, page 60 just to keep it clicking over. Then flicked it onto a Chinaman. Gordy went on about how Darren must have made a mint, and how well the Chinaman was doing now, how he should have struck at it. And Darren had Peter's boat too. It had been part of the deal when he merged with Peter's shop, menswear and sporting goods complemented each other well. Gordon kept dropping hints that maybe he could look after the boat—live on it even, do some maintenance, paint it up. Gordy was having trouble finding the rent. He was talking about supplementing his dole with the sickness benefit because he really did feel sick a lot. He told Darren he was worried about what excuse he'd have to make for why he felt sick, because Gordy wasn't very good at making stuff up.
Darren stopped answering Gordy's calls. He told Meredith to tell Gordy he was at work, or away at golf, better still—work golf. He heard Gordy was living in a caravan in the Wairarapa. And then he heard on the news that an unidentified fisherman had been swept off the rocks at Castlepoint. A fellow surf-caster said
—He was there one minute, and gone the next. I never heard a thing. The tide was coming in but the waves weren't that high.
Took a while to identify him. He'd lost touch with a lot of people, a lot of things, but it was Gordy all right.
Fat floated on the microwave water. Darren dumped the veges in the compost and cut up the bacon for the cat. It sniffed and went outside. Meredith would have to come back for the cat. She'd definitely be at Lou's. He could ring her. They would ring Christine in England soon.
United Kingdom was 0044. Edinburgh 131. Peter's latest number was in one of the Christmas cards. They'd moved a couple of times, to bigger places. Lucky Meredith was a hoarder. 7:09 p.m. here, 7:09 a.m. there. Darren was looking forward to fucking up Peter's day.
—Hello, is that you Peter? It's Darren, Darren Newcombe.page 61
—Darren, Jesus, are you over here?
—No, no, I just thought I'd give you a call.
—Right, good on you. How's tricks? Suppose you own the whole Hutt now?
—No, no, I've retired.
—Retired? Oh, that's right, Heather said something about you having a dicky ticker.
—Had a triple bypass.
—You're all right now?
—Yeah, yeah, how 'bout yourself? How's the health?
—Thriving. Fit as a buck rabbit.
—Great, great. Thanks for the calendars.
—You've sent us a calendar every Christmas since you've left.
—Have we? Oh that'll be Heather, she's onto that sort of thing.
—How is she?
—Good, fine. Right here beside me actually. You realise it's six in the morning over here, you daft bastard.
—Bloody daylight saving, I can never work it out. How is Heather?
—Great She just mumbled hello. Bit of breast scare but we're crossing our fingers. And how's Meredith?
—Good. You've got a bit of an accent.
—So they tell me. Lucky the Scots can still pick I'm a Kiwi though. I tell you, that passport is a license to print money over here. They all think we're trustworthy, hard-working bastards for some stupid reason. I'm telling you, you should have made the move yourself.
—Yeah, probably should have. You remember Lou?
—Lou? Your boy?
—We had girls, you had boys.
—Meredith is around at Lou, my daughter's, place at the mo.
—Right. What's she doing?
—Around at her place?
—No, no, what's Lou doing with herself. What's she working at?
—Oh, architecture, still studying, she was a bit of a late developer. It takes years. Of course I'm having to shell out for it. And all she page 62 does is come around and criticise the house now. I've still kept an interest in the shops.
—Listen, send Lou over when she qualifies. I could set her up in something. You've got to get paid in pounds. That currency of yours is poked. Look, this'll be costing you a fortune.
Darren hated it when people said this. Not that he made a lot of tollcalls. But the times he'd rung Christine she'd said that after they'd barely said hello. Yet another day she'd ring her mother for hours—collect.
—No, it's fine, Pete, there's a deal on over here. Ring for as long as you like for ten bucks. And like you say ten bucks isn't worth that much. Actually Christine, our other daughter, is over there at the moment. She's a nanny in Kent.
—Got any kids of her own?
—No, no, otherwise she couldn't be a nanny.
—No, no, of course. I'm a Grandad a couple of times over. The boys are spitting them out like pips. Makes you feel old, I tell you, but they keep you young, the grandkids. Listen, tell your girl if she's ever up in Scotland to look us up.
—Have you got a trampoline?
—Lou and Christine used to love that trampoline of yours. They were always tearing off to your place after school.
—That's right the trampoline.
—And you had the pool too. You ever touch them?
—You ever touch my girls?
—I didn't quite catch that last bit.
—I was just saving
—Must be a bad connection.
—I just wanted to say hello really.
—Oh definitely. Nice to hear your voice. Look, you and Meredith have got to come over some time. We'd love to see you. Give you a break. And her. Give you both a break.page 63
—Well, after the op I have to
—We're actually heading to the Mediterranean this summer. Some of us have got a yacht jacked up. Sounds terrible, I know, but you'd both be welcome to come and cruise around for a bit. Maybe do Greece or something. We haven't done Greece yet.
—You always did have the big plans, Peter.
—Man's nothing without plans. Look, have a chat to the wife and get back to us. The invitation's there. Get out of one of those hellish Wellington winters.
—Actually they haven't been too bad last few years. Gee, eh, haven't talked for years and we're on about the weather. There's another call coming in. I better grab it. Sorry to wake you. Say sorry to Heather too.
—Not a problem. Love to the family, Darren.
—Yours too, yours too. Bye.
Darren hung up. There was no one on the other line. He hadn't slept all night. He hadn't eaten all day. He had to stuff something in the hole. He put the pan on the left front element. The element to high. Canola. There was still bacon, and he could do fried bread … or he could leave it … just watch and wait for the smoke, and the flames to jump onto the towelettes and up the curtains … or press his palm into the pan. What Darren really wanted was to howl, like Reggie.