Sport 7: Winter 1991
half heaven, half heart-ache
half heaven, half heart-ache
Not long after this Lemmy's father went up North to look at some land which he had. Lemmy's father always had these bright schemes for making money and as time went on we just sat back waiting for them to turn to dust.
That day Mrs Wilson came along. Lemmy'd told me about Mrs Wilson and how she was Lemmy's father's special friend. Lemmy had nothing against her personally, he just hated her. And Lemmy always had this way of homing in. He picked on one little thing and you might have noticed it and thought nothing of it, but by the time Lemmy was finished that one thing was all you could see, the person under question ended up just a hostage tied to this one detail.
So with Mrs Wilson all Lemmy said to me, deadpan, was: 'Neat the way she goes to so much trouble to dye her roots black eh?'And sure enough, if you looked really closely—and Lemmy always had this way of looking at everything from a great distance, through a reverse-telescope, so all the pores and dents came up in ultra-close-up—you suddenly noticed in a very embarrassing way that Mrs Wilson's hair, which at first glance appeared very 'naturally blonde', actually had this thin black line peeping out, under the thatch, looking at you, staring you in the face.
Miss Clairol 1932, is what Lemmy called her.
Often he'd say in her presence, but vague, like it was a riddle as he looked between Mr Stephenson and Miss Clairol: Now which twin wears the Toni?
No wonder Mrs Wilson looked a little edgy every time Lemmy came close to her, and gazed right through her. She'd just flush this very old faded pink and look at Lemmy's father, as if she understood.
Anyway, there we were, all four of us in Lemmy's father's rundown old Vauxhall, bright blue and blowsy, heading away from all this, up past all the caravans with the fridges sitting on a square of carpet, the sea fighting to get through all the lines of washing. I had a special costume on that day, 'suitable for those unexpected alfresco invitations to dine outdoors' (Vogue).
Where was Lemmy's mother, you ask? I asked that myself silently but I knew more than to ask.
I'd only ever seen her once, that night after the St James, when she came into the kitchen while we were heating up the jug for coffee. She was very page 112 short, like Lemmy, but dark and brooding like she carried this storm along with her and when she saw some crumbs on the floor, she just fell on them, letting out this cry, like she was killed by them. I looked at Lemmy quick, I didn't know what to do. I was standing up ready to say Howdoyoudo, like you do to people's mothers but Lemmy's mother hadn't heard of that game, I could tell. Lemmy just said to her, speaking to her slowly, 'Mum this is Jamie, he's from school.'
It was like they were speaking code: then her eyes, Lemmy's eyes, turned and focused on me and looked all over me, from my shoes up to my hair. I got very embarrassed and the words howdoyoudo suddenly seemed very stupid.
She looked embarrassed too and almost ashamed.
''ello,' she said in a small hurried voice. Then she was gone. It was as if she was hot on the trail of more crumbs. For once Lemmy didn't say anything to me and I knew not to say anything to him. Later on, just when I was about to catch the bus home, I said it was nice to meet your mother. Lemmy looked away. I said, 'She's not from here is she?' And he said, covering it over quick, because it is a flaw, a blemish, a terrible thing not to be like we all are, born here, 'No, Dad met her in the war. She's from Italy.' 'Italy?' I say and feel sorry for Lemmy. And Lemmy says as if he just wishes I'd stop talking about it, 'Hey, do you want to see my postcards I found on the tip of Mamie Van Doren? She's got the cutest colour hairdo.' And I say yes. After that we never talk about it ever again. It's what Lemmy wants.
As we left the houses behind, Lemmynme scrunched down as far as we could in the backseat so we didn't have to look out the windows at all that boring scenery of hills and sea and stuff. We compared favourite TV programmes, (The Avengers versus Get Smart, no competition) and in between, when we got bored, we just sang, me doing Dusty's bits while Lemmy did the backup chorus.
Every so often Lemmy's dad would turn around and say to us in this really peeved voice, like he didn't like what he was hearing, 'Will you boys shut up for a minute, I want to catch the 2.45 at Avondale.' He'd start trying to dial up the races on the conked-out old car radio that he was so proud of. Lemmynme'd sit there trying not to burst out laughing thinking what hopeless horse he'd backed now, and how far back down the track it'd be page 113 and if it'd reach the glue factory by the time we reached Warkworth.
Miss Clairol 1932 would sit beside him, looking straight ahead. She was acting out the bit in the Sunday movies where the heroine, the love interest (another Lemmy term for her), sees the problem, can't do anything about it but understands. So that we had an excuse to let out our laugh Lemmy did the Chick's instant pudding ad, crowing out, Whisk Up A Treat!
Just the thought of them two in their boots and sprayed hair and everything was enough to crack us up.
'Lemmy,' Lemmy's dad'd say, as he tried to get the races and only got this scratchy scrawling static sound instead. 'I'm warning you boy. I'm only giving you one warning.
Lemmy's answer was to give the back of the love interest's seat one hard vicious kick, but as if by accident. We'd watch this red flush creep up the back of the love interest's neck but for Lemmy's father's sake she pretended nothing was happening, she understood. That sent us off deeper into laughter and Lemmy only had to mention the word chook and we just about wept at the ugliness of everything outside the window as we went through all those one-horse towns which get the movies even after we do in Auckland, most of them with not even a dairy open or anything, and only a spare mongoloid swinging on a farm gate.
'This is not Carnaby Street,' I whisper to Lemmy as we pull into this dirt patch covered in thistle, toitoi and gorse. Mr Stephenson, a socialist, can only see gold: all it needed was a change of government, he said, and the industrial project across the harbour would go ahead. Mr Stephenson was always full of pipedreams, like working in a socialist bookshop where everybody shares the profits. Translated, this means, he ends up selling sex books out of a dairy in a busy no-name street. Everyone knows it's no use having dreams in this dump.
Well, Lemmynme wouldn't get out, we just sat in the car eating a whole packet of spearmints followed by caramels, feet up on the back of the front seats while Mr Stephenson and the love interest sort of walked all over the dirt patch, first of all vaguely, then from side to side, as if by walking round it they were getting closer to feeling its true value.
In the end the love interest and the eyebag went away together and had a cigarette and talked quietly then the eyebag came back and pulled open the car door and let in all this cold air and said, Why didn't we get out and stretch our legs?page 114
Lemmy said we didn't want to, we were listening to the Top Twenty.
The eyebag said we could listen to the Top Twenty any time.
'Not Dusty, we can't,' says Lemmy then sharp and intense.
Mr Stephenson looks from Lemmy to me, from me to Lemmy and back again. It's like he's never seen boys like us before, like we're a new invention or something. I pick imaginary lint off my nobbly tweed trousers.
He lets out this long breath which goes on for a long time, as if it's coming from a long time back, maybe from when he first met Mrs Stephenson in Italy, when she was a laughing dark-eyed beauty, sort of a pint-sized Sophia Loren maybe: before Lemmy had even been invented.
Now the eyebag is looking straight at me. I am embarrassed, I suddenly feel naked.
'I've been listening to you two all the way up,' he says then, leaning right into the car so I am embarrassed by his personal odour—I mean, hasn't he heard of Old Spice?
I've been listening to you two, and all the time you two boys have been going on about how nothing—nothing in New Zealand—is good enough for you two. Everything's a joke!'He is lost for words. He gestures towards the blue peeling sky, the clouds, the hillscape. 'Isn't there anything you boys like?'
I look just beyond Mr Stephenson's right shoulder, concentrating on space. Lemmy has taught me this trick. It helps you to appear very blank.
'You boys are in for a real shock when you grow up,' he says then, in a voice which has no anger in it really, only a vague undertow of sadness, mingled with bitterness.
Lemmynme sneak a look at each other, then, simultaneous action, like the Chicks, raise our eyes up to the car roof.