"I was too comfortable," he said.
"But why go to sleep ? You couldn't have been ruder If you'd -"
"Dammit woman, after a day's hard work d'y think I want to sit fighting aieep in one of your fat sofas ?"
"You're a laughing stock as it is, the way you carry on. Mrs. Helpinstall said she saw you in town positively in rags - "
He started to mutter, but couldn't edge a word in.
" - wanted to know what was the matter. I had to make up a story about the baler breaking down. I'm sure she saw through it - "
"Any damn mug could see through it. What's it all for ? You both hate each other's guts. So why have anything to do with her ?"
His wife's small nose began to quiver, like a rabbit's.
"Aw, Christ preserve us," he said, and walked out.
It was a good thing, Maia, the Raratongan girl, slept out in the bach. Or was it ? It left them free to fight, anyway. Next instalment tomorrow night. Or perhaps he would cop it when he came back.
The cattle had no condition at all, painful to behold. He could hear the steady clunk of his neighbour's axe, cutting willow for feed. He hadn't been reduced to that, yet.
A kid would've made all the difference. She'd got so goddam edgy since they'd first been told - things had been different before - they'd both wanted kids. She wouldn't adopt one, look at what you might get, Welfare kids, or some slut's illegitimate brat - they'd been over it a hundred times. That was the trouble, she was all bound up with her mother and her mother's cranky ideas about keeping up a station in life, as if they were running on railway lines, which was how she would have it.
He'd go over the top paddocks - get back too late for church. That would save an argument, anyway.... You're an Anglican,aren't you ? You pretend to be. Sure I'm an Anglican, but - You're not even a Christian. What will the Vicar think ? You haven't been for six Sundays now. As if being a Christian was a matter of calling, cups of tea and what page 4will people think ? Which it was. Which was why he didn't want to go to church.
But a kid would've made all the difference. They'd had everything they wanted - except that - family background, education, not many farmers round here could say they'd been to 'Varsity, money, position, all the playthings, nothing real. Kids would've made it real. Now his wife was on all the committees in creation and he hadn't had a nooky for how long, a week, ten days ? It didn't matter, that was the trouble, it didn't matter.
On the tops a gusty wind brought dust and the sound of cattle. A wind would just about finish us, even the grassroots eaten out, there was nothing to hold. Those other fools worried only about the present but with this light soil, half the farm could blow away. The best half.
As he went down, the wind followed, teasing him, like a cat. There would come a bat of wind, and it would go. Ah, he'd think, it's only on the tops. No wind really. Then it would come again, harder. By the time he'd reached the house, long streamers of dust were flying from the tops and seeping from the well-worn places beside the creek that once was.
All their Waikato hay and eight thousand gallons an hour from the bore wouldn't save them now. The house was as quiet as a tomb. "Margaret," he called, but she had gone. He showered, found he had no clean shirt and all the futile irritation of the morning burst forth -
"Maia!" he bellowed.
After far too long a time, she came and just stood there waiting, cool and dark and still, her skin glowing softly against her blue dressing-gown.
"What's wrong," he said, "I didn't know you were in bed."
" 'S all right. Feel better now. Get up soon." And she smiled, as usual, for no particular reason. And as usual, he grinned back, with her, at her. She was a great kid.
"Just my shirts. Can't find 'em."
She stooped, flipped the bottom drawer open and stood smiling, seemingly unconscious of the open dressing-gown and the translucence of her nightdress.
"There you are, that enough shirt for you ?"
He wasn't looking at the shirts, but at her lithe body, and at her, and there was nothing to say.
They both wanted it to happen and now it had happened. That was all there was to it.page 5
He'd gone outside with the old chain strainers and the wind singing in the wire. He tried to concentrate on the fence, not to think about it; he wasn't going to do it again, it was just one of those things. You're obsessed, boy. Guilt. Or Just scared of getting caught?
Whatever it was, next morning, when Maia came with the billy and the scones, they moved down to the willows and made love there. She had tight hard buttocks, like apples. They talked a while, he wondered about her. Before he had merely accepted her, an extra pair of hands about the house, here for two years and pay the fare home.
"Was it safe?" he asked, thinking she'd know what he meant. She smiled at him - almond eyes, with the suggestion of a slant, perhaps a touch of Chinese there. She left him with the shadow of her smile, and his thoughts.
His wife was still not speaking, quite a relief, under the circumstances. No pretence necessary. This damned wind, it got on everybody's nerves.
But they both woke together that night; it was the silence that woke them. The wind had dropped. The moon was in the window. His wife looked at him, and they kissed, long and gentle, as it had been, once, and instead of making love, they talked. She had been thinking, she would see about adopting a boy-baby. Mrs. Carey had been telling her about a place in Auckland, you could approve the mother first and pick the child. Most of these unmarried girls were the good ones - the bad ones didn't get caught - not that way. Sometimes quite surprising -
That remark about good girls set him thinking about Maia. His sane, early-morning self knew it was madness to go on, swore not again, never.
Next day he and Maia talked. He tried to tell her how sorry he was, that he should have been a father to her rather than - that he loved her as a sister, that he would never -
She took his head between her hands, said, "I love you, too," kissed him on the mouth and together they sank to the grass.
It was hopeless. At first he was frightened she would demand too much, go mooning cow-eyed around the house or try and make a fool of his wife, but she was just the same Maia, clattering the dishes, whirring the vacuum-cleaner, singing her way through the household ritual.
But the Maia he thought he knew was changing. He asked what she did with her Saturdays off, learnt with astonishment that most of her day was spent at Adventist services and with the page 6children at Bible Class.
"You teach Bible Class ?"
"That's right," she said softly, pride shining in her eyes, "I teach."
He couldn't understand, didn't know what he'd got into, tried to act the part, telling her how much he cared, but realized with shock, that her calling him "darling" and "I love you" were only part of the routine, meant nothing. There was no need to say anything. But curiosity made him ask,"Maia, would you run back to Raratonga with me ?"
"Aitutaki," she corrected.
"Altutaki, then ..."
"Why not ?"
"I love your wife. She is good."
"She has no other mens. I do not mean to take you, but I do love you, I want you, you are - "
He shook his head, baffled and a little annoyed at himself He didn't like this kind of talk, her simplicity irritated him,he preferred the enigmatic Maia. He was just an appendage to her as natural as eating or sleeping, and about as uninteresting. It was a relief to get back to his wife, her familiar brassy afternoon and soft evening.
He knew he was a skunk. It wasn't making him happy. For the next three days he carefully avoided Maia, came in for his morning and afternoon tea, feeling virtuous, somewhat self-righteous and almost free to breathe, but on the third morning his household came tumbling about his ears.
Both Maia and his wife stood silent and waiting as he kicked off his boots and came in for dinner. There was nothing on the table.
"Maia tells me she is going to have a baby," his wife said, flatly.
It was oppressively still. How much had Maia said ?
"Would you be willing to adopt it ? She says she'll think about it. But we'd need to know the father first, Maia?"
It seemed suddenly colder.
Maia indicated him with her eyes.page 7
"No," his wife breathed, and fled to her room. He made a move to follow, thought better of it, went out the back door, leaving Maia silently weeping.
"Mrs. Christensen, Mrs. Christensen."
It was Maia.
"Mrs. Christensen, don't cry Mrs. Christensen, I love you, I will go away. He did not mean,we did not mean, as we say, every baby has two fathers, a man and the dry season."
Almost against her will, Mrs. Christensen sat up. "Maia, have you told anybody ?"
"Only you. Even he did not know. It was that I wanted, I needed a baby. You see, I have not had - "
Maia tried to explain. "My sister has a baby. You should see him. He has fair skin and blue eyes. He is -"
"Get out," said Mrs. Christensen.
Maia couldn't understand.
He was chopping willow furiously, sweat streaming down his face. He didn't see his wife coming.
"I'm leaving you," she said.
"Where are you going ?"
"You can have the car, if you like."
"Bus will do."
"What about Maia ?"
"She's your pigeon."
"Aw, Margaret, don't be mad."
"Who's mad ?" she said coldly.
"But she's going to have a kid."
She packed furiously. He ran her to the bus depot. They said nothing. Maia couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. She was going to have a baby, that was all that mattered. She would stay at her sister's. She wondered whether to keep the baby, or give it to her sister. If it was blue eyed, she would never give it up. She would take it home.
Maia turned to face him as he came in.page 8
"Well, what are we going to do ?" He Knew it was not her fault, but he could hardly conceal his dislike.
"Is there a bus later?"
"What time ?"
"I will catch that one."
"Where are you going?"
"To my sister's."
He was so relieved he gave her a cheque for fifty pounds to tide her over. She didn't want it. It was hard to make her understand that he owed it to her for what she had done -
"I am not one of those," she said.
"I don't mean that. It is for the boy." He took it for granted it would be a boy.
She stowed it away carefully, lovingly.
After a week he went to get his wife. She came back reluctantly. But after two weeks, life was much the same as before, except that he worked harder and her social whirl whirled faster.
Sometimes he remembered, and wondered. Once he wrote a letter to her original address. It came back marked "Address not known." There was no question again of adopting a child. There was not a mention of Maia.
He had never worked so hard or to so little effect. The drought and the wind had stripped the land bare, most of the topsoil was gone but careful stocking and pasture management might bring it back. All he could do was hold on and hope for the best.