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Sport 10: Autumn 1993


There are times when Tommy likes to relate to his girls the story of his life. He has a tidy mind, compartmentalised even; revisiting the past helps him refine the logic of his experience, helps him organise his history into definable parts, these parts combining for an orderly, explicable whole.

In winter, the fire stoked, Tommy puts on the Pastoral and grows expansive. He pours a whisky and he muses to Reen and her sisters about his Greymouth days, his Wellington days, and now, finally, in the autumn of his life—as he likes to call it—he's with them, it's his Christchurch days.

Or, hacking at the ivy, weeding the rockery on weekends, the sun steadily deepening the olive brown of his back, Tommy recalls Brother Alfred, perhaps, a long ago bike ride or his altar-boy training or his time as a Boy Scout.

Weeding beside him, or lounging on the lawn, Reen asks the odd question, grunts, laughs at the quaintness of time past.

Driving really loosens Tommy's tongue. On the road to Greymouth he's in top gear; he likes particularly to re-live his romance with Rose, the chance meeting, the first date, the proposal.

It was her eyes that did it, he says, and the way she answered back. Never gave an inch.

Sleepy in the back seat, Reen and her sisters half-listen, dozing, the bucketing of the car on the unsealed road jerking them awake, tuning them in periodically to pieces of the romance, familiar fragments lodging in their brains like the lines of an old song.

'But there were other girl-friends, you know,' Rose says, barging her way into Tommy's narrative, puncturing the smooth and placid flow of detail. 'There was Sugar, for instance.'

Sugar. Sugar. Reen and her sisters can scarcely believe it, though they know people had strange names then: Dolly, Sukey, Buddy, Fritz.

But Sugar.

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'Sugar Stewart, the girl of Stewart,' says Rose, parodying Coast idioms.

'She wasn't a girlfriend,' Tommy says; they have been over this ground before. This is not a game Tommy enjoys, exactly, this other, unauthorised version of his life.

'You went out with her, didn't you? Vince says you took her to the pictures.

'I didn't take her to the pictures, never took her out, not once. Vince always exaggerates.'

'Well, you liked her.' Rose is relentless. She waits, eyebrow raised.

'You had a thing for her, c'mon, you know you did.' She stares and stares at Tommy.

Tommy bridles. 'All right, I liked her. She was a nice girl.'

'There you are,' says Rose.

'Sugar, the girl of Stewart.'