Title: One of THEM!

Author: Peter Wells

In: Sport 7: Winter 1991

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, July 1991, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 7: Winter 1991

anyone who has a heart

anyone who has a heart

'You mean there's not even a dairy down there?'

We are on the way down to Rangitoto Island. It is now three weeks, two days, four hours before School Cert but Lemmy wants to go on a trip to an extinct volcano which sits out in the harbour, not a living soul on it. I know it is a challenge, I have to accept. Test me.

I am wearing an interesting outfit, 'suitable for country rambles': tweed trousers with a soft nobbly weave, a suede emerald-green jerkin, with a softly rolled polo neck, a small silver chain on my wrist; but the coup degrâce is my new shoes.

I was so excited when I got these shoes I could hardly sleep. I kept waking up all through the night, thinking it was a dream I had them: then the sweet smell of soft leather and newness would greet me, I would reach out to touch them, just softly: the tissue paper would crinkle crisply, singing its song of 'justbought', while below, waiting to slip onto my feet, wings of happiness to uplift me, speed me along to all those places I dream of going to, chariots of dream: my new chiseltoe suede shoes.

Lemmy says nothing. He looks at me, eyes sceptically sweeping up and down my person, as if he can't believe he has to be seen out in public with me. He hunches over his cigarette bitterly, almost, as if he can hear the silence which is growing all around us, the soundlessness which comes from not talking about School Cert—that is the thing we can never talk about— page 121 and suddenly it is as if we can't find anything else to talk about either. Fashion, movies, filmstars: they have all fallen away from us as the boat leaves Auckland, and the city, the town, becomes a small toy behind us, just little buildings and cars growing smaller by the second. I wonder if 1 will be seasick. The waves glow green and silken.

Ahead lies Rangitoto, vast, still, uninhabited.

'I just can't believe it,' I murmur to myself. All I have brought along is a can of lacquer and an apple. 'It sounds so uncivilised.'

I wonder secretly to myself what on earth we will do down there. There is no shoplifting to do. No movies. Nothing, I think as I gaze at all the horrible green so uniform and dense and unchanging: a jungle.

Lemmy doesn't say anything. He is wearing jeans; I look at him and think of how I can entertain him, Lemmy is getting moody these days, it's as if he's listening to that silence growing round us too much.

'I'm not supposed to be seeing you Lemmy,' I say then, as if he can see it's a joke. Because I am with him. Lemmynme, forever together. Beanpole and fatboy.

'Why not?'

Lemmy says this flat, while his eyes run over and over the greendeadflatness of the volcano. It's like he's hardly even interested. I don't like Lemmy when he's like this. He frightens me a little. It's like he can't even see I'm on his side. It's like he sees me as the enemy.

'You're a bad influence,' I say to him, laughing mouthdry.


It is like this has happened to Lemmy before. He turns a little away from me and I can see his face is a mask, shutting me out. I look beyond him to where the wharf is, over by a mangrove swamp. It is a grey day so pale that the sky is a hot iron sheet on the tops of our skulls, descending, the sun a blind orb, pupil covered over with a skim of skin. Stink humid.

I can feel my fashionable emerald-green jerkin cutting up under my armpits. It was my mother's, I have not cut it down properly to size. But it looks good. I have also powdered my face just faintly, so I look more English. Then a ghastly thing happens: my porkpie hat just lifts up off my head and flies out, onto the waves. And Lemmy laughs.

'Lemmy!'l cry, hurt. But then I have to laugh too, flushing a painful red which creeps up my skin from the inside sole of my foot, right inside my suede chiseltoes.

page 122

Other people, ordinary New Zealanders dressed in shoes and walking boots, look at me like I am from outer space. They are interested in Lemmynme, very. They look at us like we're a sideshow. Normally Lemmynme'd laugh right back at them, Lemmy picking and pointing out how the fat woman has a bra-strap just about bursting up on her shoulder, held by a safety pin: how her kid just missed being a mongoloid by a half second: but today, at this moment, listening to the silence, Lemmy just edges away from me.

I sit on the boat, grasping the thick peeled paint of the banister. I watch the crown of my hat bob away from me, moving further and further away: my heart somehow turns to lead, sinks, plummets. But I say nothing, my own laugh frozen on my lips.

There is no dairy. There is nothing but gnarled old trees like arthritic hands curled round and trying to pick up something. The tide is even out: there is mud, pick-picking sounds and this ugly scoria of dried-up old explosion which hardly allows anything to grow on it. Already it is warmer. I wish I had a mirror to check my make-up. The water is pleated into little waves, which withdraw, a soft sneer in every move.

Around us families organise themselves into troops; the Dads give orders and lead them off.

'Rangitoto,' says one, wearing most unfortunate walking boots and reading from a pamphlet, 'was once a Maori burial ground, home to parrots, a look-out during war. It is particularly inhospitable, because of its lack of soil, absence of water, and harshness of scoria.'

Lemmy says to me, 'Let them take off. With a bit of luck we'll find them, half-fried to death in the interior.'

The father folds away the pamphlet and blows a metal whistle.

Lemmy watches them go. 'Hawk-meat,' he yells at them.

A lone kid cries as they blend into bilge-green.

I can see Lemmy is thinking of what I have said to him about being a bad influence. He's not even seeing I see it's a joke. He is not looking at me. Or if he does, it's as if I have changed into a mirror which he doesn't want to look into. As if he no longer likes what he sees.

Oh Lemmy, I think. Don't.

We begin to walk off, following these ugly tracks sort of carved into petrified lava which convicts have been forced to make, under the lash, page 123 under the sun which beats down now as if it has never stopped. Suddenly it seems like the face of a too-hot iron, pushed right up close to you. I roll my sleeves back, gently, so they won't wrinkle. Lemmy is walking too fast. I hurry to catch up. But the track is uneven: there are all these little snares and catches just to wrench at my chiseltoes. I look down: already a soft white-clay powder is dusting the very ends of them.

'Don't go so fast,' I say to Lemmy, pleading even while I'm asking.

Lemmy doesn't answer. He doesn't slow down either.

I realise I'll just have to look down at my feet all the time, making sure my suede shoes aren't damaged. I can't look at the countryside, the 'views', nothing. In fact, in front of me turns into this extremely long monotonous movie in which the only image is a clay-grey stretch of ground interrupted every so often with this stumpy semi-mongoloid piece of twig which looks about three thousand years old and yet it's only grown two inches: it hates you for putting your foot onto it. In this movie, the front of my chiseltoes zigzag, hurriedly finding a smooth place to fall as I hurry to keep up with Lemmy.

Lemmy is wearing old sandshoes, so ugly.

'What's the race?' I call out.


It is heating up as we climb: in fact it is quite steep. When I interrupt the most boring movie on earth to glance around I see only an uninterrupted vista. The convict roads snake away into nothingness. There is nothing on this island, except a cone which rises up, the same from every side, which only makes it more of a nightmare. I mean: how do you know where you are?

'Anyone who ever loved,' I sing to myself in a tight bitter voice.

Lemmy is just far enough away from me to pretend he can't hear.

anyone who ever dreamed

'Lemmy,' I say. I raise my eyes and feel, like an attack, my feet catch on one of those abrasive little catches which maliciously wait to snare my new shoes: I keep hurrying though, I am desperate to keep up with Lemmy, who will not slow down. Yet the path is so narrow you can only walk on your own. I mean what's the point of that: walking on your own in this ugly dump.

page 124

'What's the hurry, Lemmy?'

A small rivulet runs down my face, disgorging through the powder, dragging it down and round into a crease by my neck. The poloneck grabs up at my throat, rubbing against my soft skin, sandpaper. My eyes smart. The sheeny sky for a moment wavers.

Lemmy doesn't even answer. He keeps on walking.

without you I 'd die dear

I do not want to be left alone here. I pause for a moment, to catch my breath. Far down below now, across the sheet of water, I see the small whiteness of Auckland. It looks like a whole lot of crushed shells littering a hillside. For the first time ever I long to be back there. But the sea stretches in between us, a cruel mirror.

'Lemmy,' I call, 'Lemmy!'

I want to reach out and grab hold of his back, to hold him still, to keep him from moving remorselessly away from me. But I don't dare. 'Lemmy,' I say, 'Can't I have ... can I have a smoke?'

Lemmy doesn't stop walking for a moment. It's as if he hasn't even heard. Then he slows down and stops so abruptly I practically walk into the back of him, I am walking now on such automatic scramble.

Lemmy turns, his eyes scald as they pass in a scorching beam all over me. I do not look my best: I am sweating, scarlet, almost panting. But we have stopped moving upwards, at least for a second.

I look down. My suede shoes, 'black as a summer night', are now clouded over. And a small wire of pain is beginning to announce itself, growing at the back of my heel, where hey rub up and down, cruelly. This is strange, I have never noticed this before. But my feet, inside the suede, are starting to burn, pumping with heat. White light dazzles.

It is so eerily still. There are no birds, no people. In the far distance, I can hear a family calling to one another. You could get lost here, I think with a small freeze of fear.

'Please,' I say. 'I'd love a cigarette.'

Lemmy fumbles in his pockets and brings a packet out slowly. But he doesn't offer them to me, pulling the lid back like he normally does, offering them like in a cigarette advertisement.

He throws the packet at me, hard, with real force.

page 125

It hits me on the neck but I scrabble to catch it before it falls onto the ground, boldgold forever tarnished. Just as it nears the petrified lava, I catch it. My fingers are shaking. Tears sting my eyes: tears or heat, I can no longer tell.

who can I turn to

I look at Lemmy's face, which has no expression whatsoever, just this blank masked look, as if he won't even let me see what he's thinking, feeling.

'They think they can separate us. That's what they say,' l say, lighting my cigarette with a small, scratchy flare and drawing in deep. I breathe out, like Lemmy does, through my nose, very sophisticated, hard, and I laugh. But my laugh comes out funny, off-key, thin. It betrays me, reveals me. Now it is the silence again, the big and noisy silence, knowing, growing around us, accentuated by the hideous emptiness of that island.

'That's what they think,' I say, brushing the sweat off my face, holding my poloneck open so the air can get in. But the air is sticky, hot.

Lemmy doesn't answer.

'It doesn't mean a thing,' I say, dropping the lit match onto the ground so it lies there, burns on the rock for a moment then, getting no sustenance, flutters out, withers, writhes, dies. 'It won't mean a thing. When I ring you up, I'll just put on a voice. You do the same for me. They won't even notice.'

'Really Lemmy,' I say again, when he says nothing but slowly moves away from me and climbs onto a boulder of dead lava, which he stands on, looking right over my head, as if he can see something distant.

I look up at Lemmy outlined against white, cut into it, backed by it, harsh, and I think with a shock: Lemmy's getting thinner. He's lost weight quickly, he's no longer straightening his hair, it's starting to grow curly and long, wild.

Lemmy's changing, I think. He no longer looks like one of the Small Faces, he looks more like David Hemmings, or maybe even Terence Stamp. My heart sinks. It's like he's almost changed in front of me, but so gradually I haven't even noticed. I'm so busy studying for School C, I hardly notice anything. What will we be if we're no longer fatboy and beanpole, Lemmynme forever together. Who will I be?

Maybe he's even seeing someone else.

'What do you think, Lemmy?' I say, slowly rising up so that, as I grow page 126 taller, all around me everything is suddenly this beautiful orange-red as blood sweeps down through my head, my lids, everything. 'We'll both just pretend we're someone else, eh? That won't be difficult.'

But Lemmy says nothing, apart from a very casual, flat, 'Whatever.'

Lemmy has never said whatever before.

And slowly, all around me, the beautiful fiery reds fade away and I am left with a dark empty moonscape, the silence going from horizon to horizon. Lemmy has his back to me walking away, growing smaller and smaller.

something beautiful's dying

I follow behind Lemmy, my shoes are now definitely hurting and each footstep is a rinse of pain, a raw scraping at the back of my heels. Inside the suede, my feet pump hot angry blood, like bombs of defeat which might go off.

'Lemmy,' I call out.

He doesn't answer.

I stop.

I call out across the petrified lava, 'I can't just be nothing!'.'

Lemmy keeps walking.

'I mightn't get to be a dress designer in Paris. I mightn't bean opera singer!'

No answer.

I look around this moonscape: we are the only people alive in it.

'. . . I don't want to end up in a factory,' I yell out.

Lemmy finally turns round. He looks at me.

'I'd die, Lemmy,' I say in a small close voice, because he's not that far from me. Yet he seems so distant.

'It'd ... kill me,' I say. 'They'd kill me.'

He doesn't answer me. His feet do.

'Get lost!' he yells. 'Why don't you?'

'It's such a climb, eh Lemmy?' I say to Lemmy, between gasps. 'Sort of like Auckland's Eiffel Tower, eh?'

We are sitting on top of the world, on a World War 11 observation bunker which was built to see the Japs come into our harbour and kill us all, except it never happened. Graffiti covers it and a family sits, their legs over page 127 the edge. They even smile at us, palely, as we emerge from the undergrowth, almost staggering. Lemmy surprises me: he speaks to them. Normally this is a contract he refuses.

We sit in silence for a long while,) just looking at the world we have lived in all our lives, without ever seeing it, as it were, from the outside. It almost surprises me, it looks so ... so pretty. There are harbours and small eruptions and flares of landscape with the odd distant domes of volcanoes under the sky. It is both tiny, detailed, and immense at the same time. It soothes me.

The family move off, down another path.

I wait, almost breathless, for Lemmy to begin. I look down at my shoes. I take them off. My feet throb like my heart. I know now it is useless to talk of filmstars, movies, fashions. Even the Chooks lie faded and pale, old props from a senseless play.

After a long while Lemmy speaks. He does not look at me, he turns away, as if to hide his face.

'Glen Miller,' he says, as if the word has been forced out of right inside him.

I pause. I do not know this game.

'Glen Miller?' I go.

'On the radiogram.'

'Oh no.' I breathe out then a very long long breath, as long as the time we've known each other, since we first met.

'Moonlight Serenade?' I murmur to him, hardly daring to say the words.

Lemmy barely nods, but he does. His face is turned totally away from me, hidden.

I look at the back of his neck. It says nothing. Except I notice, again, how his hair is growing long, changing, changing forever. Mine is still so curlless, rigid with hairspray.

I pick my stupid can of lacquer up, I throw it away into the scrub. We watch as it arches into the air, glitters static: is lost.

A single, very small bird flutters up into the air, then dives back into the green.

I don't know quite what to say. You see, the last time Lemmy's mother stuck her head in the gas oven she'd been listening to Moonlight Serenade. Lemmy'd found her with the record still playing, the arm going back to the beginning whenever it finished.

It was music she'd known when she first met Lemmy's Dad in Italy: page 128 before he got eyebags and Miss Clairol, and ended up selling sex books in some no-name street. Perhaps it was what she thought life in New Zealand might be like: a Midnight Serenade.

'Pills,' Lemmy says in this flat emotionless voice.

'Oh Lemmy,' I say, 'I'm sorry, so sorry.' Then: 'Is she ... OK?'

Lemmy just shrugs, gets to his feet and starts singing hard and angry, in imitation yank, yelling out at the world lying there silent and distant and unhearing at our feet,

I like to be in Amerika!
Everyone free in Amerika!

He turns and looks at me for a second and I can tell that he hates me.

'She's in the bin.'

Then he starts walking off, like he wants to leave me behind forever.

I quickly stand up. I glance around again at the world down there, a last glimpse. It has changed in that second, from being a landscape which all fits together, a brief puzzle which makes sense, into a series of discarded shapes, without sense—or something which makes sense only in its senselessness. Why does it never change?

I hurry to follow Lemmy. He moves remorselessly ahead, too quickly, my heart misses a beat. He is taking another way down. He disappears into the scrub. I know now he is trying to get away from me. I hurry to follow.

The sun is a high cynical eye which gazes down on two small figures as they move across a dead landscape, along the roads trapped convicts have made.

And one of them, Lemmy, spits out his song, in falsetto: 'Everybody free in Amerika!'

'No Lemmy,' I say. 'No. That's the wrong way.'

Two threads in the stone road wind away into nothingness. Heat hums, stings.

'We'll miss the boat,' I say, firm.

'Will we?' he says in this flat voice, like he couldn't care if we did.

'Oh Lemmy,' I say, 'Come on, this is the way. I'm sure of it.'

But he says nothing. In fact he does a surprising thing: he picks up a stone and throws it at me. Hard.

page 129

It hits me.

'Oh Lemmy.' I don't even laugh now. 'What are you doing that for?'

He throws another.

A trickle of blood burns down my face.

'You bloody bugger,' I say, copying my parents. 'Stop that.'

But he doesn't. He throws another stone.

He walks off on one path.

And I walk off on mine.

I watch him grow smaller. And as he does, I sing to myself,

if you see me walkin' down the street
and I start to cry
   each time we meet
walk on by
   don't stop!

walk on by

After a few hours of agony I finally see, up ahead, Lemmy, sitting silent and still, smoking, as he watches me limp towards him. He doesn't say anything but as I get near, he looks at me and says, Go beanpole, and I sort of don't say anything but limp down and sit on this excruciating piece of lava which bites into me.

Lemmy takes me to a cool chill pool under some trees and I bathe my feet, savouring each moment. Lemmy waits for my feet to dry, then he tells me he's found some fun.

It is a bach with a louvre window left open.

'They must be expecting us,' says Lemmy.

Oh, Lemmy, I say. I am tired still, I am exhausted and uncertain. But Lemmy climbs in and is silent so long in there I know I have to go in, I have to join him, if we are to be Lemmynme forever together.

I crawl in and there is Lemmy standing there, looking around very interested. It is someone's bach, with old Crown Lynn cups on a painted wood table, and a bath mirror hanging off a dressing table, and wooden furniture.

Lemmy breaks open the still. He goes over to a cup and, picking it up, page 130 looking at me, all the time, just loosens his fingers around it so it falls down to the concrete floor.

It smashes.

He looks at me, in the dark, eyes glittering.

'Silly me,' he says, and does one of his yawns. I let out this laugh, weird, tortured, thin. And Lemmy watches and waits. I feel a kind of sickness in my stomach, a terrible fear. He is asking me to finally kill Jamie the goodboy, to assassinate him forever. To join him.

I tremble all over. As I move my chiseltoe rubs against my heel, a mat of torn flesh, dribbling blood. Lemmy watches me, dares me to prove we are not forever together, beanpole and fatboy.

I go over to the washstand and pick up a dinner plate.

I am in a dreamtrance as I kiss goodboy goodbye forever. My eyes graze shut as my fingers grow stiff the chill porcelain brushes past my flesh and I watch as the plate hurtles away from me, growing smaller in size for a long time till it suddenly fractures, shatters, and is still. It lies there, broken yet still in its old shape. Goodboy goodbye.

'Silly me,' I say, '. . . so clumsy.'

I have hardly finished speaking, when, in a quick symphony sealing out soundlessness, Lemmy picks up another cup, it smashes. I do likewise. He reaches for the glasses. Fuckycuntcockdalk, he says and smashes it. Cuntyfuckshit I say and smash the window. Soon Lemmynme are moving so fast breaking so much all we do is scream this crazy laughter and let out all the words we've read on walls and kept inside us, forever cutting, slashing, killing: smashfuckycuntcockdalkqueercuntpoufterhomo we scream, laughing so crazy, emptying it all out, everywhere around us.

Finally it is over, all is still, we are exhausted. We look at each other. And quickly now, quietly, we open the door and walk away down to the wharf where the families await and silently now, like two good boys in heavy disguise, we wait with beating hearts for the boat to come and take us back to a place we know.

As we get on and the boat leaves our eyes lock and we both think: we will never be able to tell anyone what we have done. Neither of us says anything of what has happened on the island as we get back to Auckland.

As we say goodbye, we can't meet each other's eyes. I am frightened, terrified, the police will want us now, we are on the wanted list. And everyone will then find out Jamie the goodboy is dead. It will be Jamie the page 131 badboy and just like in that bach I will have to live up to it, smashing and screaming till I am broke too.

What was in me to do that thing, I ask myself. What? But there is no answer. I have acted now. And it was necessary, that is what is so terrible. We have acted and it was necessary.

Just before we say goodbye, Lemmy turns to me and says with a faint smile, 'See you,' and I say with a dry mouth, 'See you next weekend, eh?'and Lemmy just smiles at me and says, like, cool, without any expression, 'Maybe.' Maybe. And he walks away.