The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1961]
The sun and the city
The sun and the city
there'd been a party Saturday night, and after making it home at half four in the morning, i'd decided to do some reading. i was sitting in the back garden reading Henry fames, and watching the sun come up and shine on the hills around, when i was gassed by the idea that i'd like to dig the sun and the city so i put on my duffle coat and shot out on my way to the top of mt johnson. the milkman thought i was mad — who wouldn't on seeing a wild scratchy-bearded maniac complete with duffle coat and dark glasses shooting through at six in the morning? i trotted madly through deserted sabbath streets and paths and lookouts and the sheep on the hills and their shit on the hillside paths.
southerly clouds gave the effect of sun shining through dust onto sleeping houses and the wrinkly harbour and the country residence of the crematorium with its garden of chinese graves and jewish graves and soldiers' graves, and soames island divided by the radio masts on top of tinakori hills and looking a little like a tropical atoll. i propped myself against the metal pole that showed i was at the top of the hill and just looked around.
and the feeling of being on top of the world, by myself but not alone, with the sun and the crematorium and the seven o'clock churches, was terrific. i smoked a couple of cigarettes up there, just sitting digging the harbour and the hills and the sun and city and the reds and greens and occasional oranges of the roofs.
i ran down the hill, skipping from stone to stone, slipping in the mud, tripping over branches but not caring, feeling alive and happy and glad to be around. the milkman saw me again and just stared with amazement. i expected him to drop his bottles at any minute, but i couldn't have given a damn if he had.
a couple of friends came up later on and we sat and talked, played chess, listened to records of the early blues singers and the modern jazz quartet and generally messed about — nothing in particular, doing and saying what came into our heads next.
about five, i got a ring from this chick who'd been out visiting a friend at porirua. it had depressed her and she seemed in a pretty bad way so i went down town to see see. i met her, and we walked about talking of her friend and mental homes and psychiatric treatment and how glad i was to see her and how glad she was to see me, and i told her about morning excursion, and how the city looked at seven a.m., and how the milkman had looked at me.
we were walking past the town hall when an old alcoholic stopped us and asked me for a cigarette. i gave him one and lit it for him, but he didn't seem to want to go away, so we stayed there and the three of us talked, with the old alky doing most of the talking. 'i've just come up from down south, arrived here yesterday, and spent the day out paekak drinking with some friends. i can't stay off the booze. it ruined me as a surgeon a few years back — but i'm still a good doctor. old billy fell down the steps at this party last night and i fixed him up and called the free ambulance and they came and took him off to hospital. i went up there to see him this morning, and the doc up there, he told me that he'd trained at sydney and he couldn't have done a better job of patching old billy up himself and that if it hadn't been for me oldpage 67 page 68
billy would have died and where had i got my training and i told him at otago university. i told him that doctor mac, that's me, doctor torn maccormick, t.m.c.' —here he rolled up his sleeve and showed us his tattooed initials — ` t.m.c. used to be a good doc before the drink — you got another fag there? ta. yeah . . . old tom mac was the best. i been a prisoner of war in germany for a year when the old commandant called me into his office and there was a gestapo there who looked at me for a minute and then said, "doctor maccormick". i didn't know whether it was the gas chamber or the firing squad or what. "ja", i said. "doctor", he said to me, "you're going home. they want a doctor on the red cross ship". i'd seen their gas chambers and their tortures and what they'd done to the jews, and when this gestapo came up, i thought it might be my last day alive. but they wanted a doc, and t.m.c.' — he rolled up his sleeve again — 'yep. t.m.c. was the best.'
i offered him a smoke, took one for myself, then gave him the rest of the packet. 'thank you, sir,' he said, and, turning to the chick, 'you keep this man and never leave him. he's one of the greatest people i have met. make sure you and your fiancé' — he pronounced it 'fiansi' —' get married. don't ever leave him — you don't know what it's like to be lonely.'
i gave him a couple of bob and watched as he rolled slightly on his way to a nearby flop house.
we walked to the bus stop, and i thought of an old man surrounded by people, but still lonely, and of myself, a youth surrounded by nothing but sky and hills and yet not alone. and my arm drew my fiansi' closer.
— i was that age once, the old lady thinks,
as she sees the young girl getting off the bus.
— i was that age once,
and always had to walk home.
— i hope i'll never be that old, the young girl thinks,
as she sees the old lady walking along the street.
— i hope i'll never be that old
and have to walk home.