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Sport 18: Autumn 1997

Catherine Chidgey — The Craters of the Moon

page 26

Catherine Chidgey

The Craters of the Moon

By the time they reach the lake it is dark; as they drive around it they can't even see the water. Jim wonders if it is really still there at all. He keeps glancing at the black space where it should be.

‘For God's sake, keep your eyes on the road,’ says Felicity. ‘We don't need to crash ten minutes before we get there.’

‘Holiday Road Toll Reaches Unexpected High,’ says Aidan from the back seat.

‘Shut up, Aidan.’

When they climb out of the car at the bach, though, they can hear the water. Jim would like to stand in the garden for a while and listen, just to be sure, but the others are keen to get inside and unpacked after five hours in the car. He unlocks the back door and they step into the kitchen.

Suzanne makes for the bedrooms. ‘A water bed!’ she calls, bellyflopping on to the daisy-print eiderdown, staking a claim. ‘Hey, Aidan, there's a water bed!’

Felicity eyes the net curtains, the flamboyant linoleum, the marbled carpet.

‘I told you it wasn't pretty,’ says Jim.

She fingers a macramé owl. ‘Into brown are they?’

Jim blows the dust from a free-standing globe that dominates one corner of the lounge like a television. He twirls it gently on its axis, closes his eyes and points. Chile.

‘Everything that nobody wants any more ends up here,’ he says. ‘Want a drink?’

Felicity peers at the globe. ‘Christ, that's ugly. Even the water's brown.’

‘My aunt and uncle are the kindest people.’

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‘I hate this sort of velvet,’ says Felicity, squirming on the arm of a tasselled easychair. ‘You always stick to it. Got any gin?’

Jim unhooks a latch on the side of the globe and the northern hemisphere lifts back. Inside—cradled in the southern hemisphere—are bottles, grouped around a set of glasses. Felicity screams with laughter.

‘God,’ she apologises between gasps. ‘God, sorry. It's just so—sorry.’

Jim can hear them through the walls of the lounge, grunting. They declined a night swim with him and Felicity; they were tired after the long drive, said Aidan, and the lake wasn't going anywhere, was it? Suzanne smiled across the table then, and Jim felt her long dress brush his shin, raising the hairs, as her bare foot searched for Aidan's under the table.

Now there is a thump from their bedroom that makes the bars of the heater sing, followed by suppressed giggling. After a moment or two the grunting starts again.

Jim tries to focus on his game of chess, but after considering his move for at least quarter of an hour he gives up. He shuts the lid of his computer, slips it back into its case—the amount of sand that could be trailed into the bach concerns him—and wonders if, out of politeness to Aidan and Suzanne, he should put some music on.

Beside him, Felicity seems unaware of the noise and is running her finger along the map, calculating the best route to take the next day. Jim watches her follow the course of the river, trace around the lake. Her hand spans mountains.

‘We used to play games here,’ he says. ‘When it was raining.’

‘Mmhmm,’ says Felicity, fingertips still moving, along State Highway 1 now. She is almost at Rotorua.


‘Oh God!’ Aidan groans through the wall.

‘Monopoly, Trouble, Cluedo. Snakes and Ladders.’

Felicity folds the map away, along its original creases. Jim can never do that.

‘I think we should do the mountain tomorrow,’ she says. ‘We can page 28 fit in the hot pools any time. It might be too foggy if we leave it till later.’

‘Oh God!’ groans Aidan. ‘Ohgodohgodohgod!’

The pumice is cool underfoot as Felicity and Jim head for the water. She didn't really want to go swimming so late at night—she is uneasy about lowering herself into a lake she cannot see—but Jim insisted. Okay okay, she said, too subdued by the gin from the globe cabinet to argue, but I'm keeping my togs on.

‘She's a bit of an idiot, isn't she?’ she says now. ‘Suzanne. Not really Aidan's type.’

‘She likes you,’ says Jim. ‘She thinks you're terribly independent.’

‘My mother said that at Christmas-time.’ Felicity kicks to stay afloat. She moves her hands back and forth through the water; twigs, leaves, tiny discs of pumice pass through her spread fingers.

Jim is silent on the way back to the bach. Felicity wants to get things organised, discuss the order in which they will see the local attractions. She is worried that the whole trip will be spent at the lake, and decides it was a wise idea to get one swim out of the way so early in the piece.

‘The Craters of the Moon,’ she says, and Jim cranes his head back. ‘The volcanic area, stupid. I want to go.’

‘Oh. Okay.’

He is still scanning the sky. Felicity sighs.

‘Lamppost,’ she says. ‘Tree.’

They push the single beds together. Felicity seizes a musty double sheet and raises her arms as if to incite a crowd. For a moment the fabric fills the air between them and suddenly Jim feels like jumping underneath it the way he used to and letting the soft cotton settle.

‘Where's Jim gone?’ his mother would say, looking under the pillow, behind the curtains. ‘He was here a moment ago… I wonder where he could have got to?’ Her searching would become more thorough—the wardrobe, the toy chest—while Jim lay absolutely silent. This was never a problem. ‘Is he behind the pot plant? In this vase, perhaps? Should I ring the police?’

Jim wants Felicity to slide under the pale flannelette with him page 29 now, and hide. But already the sheet is sinking, taking on the solid shape of the bed—the beds—and Felicity is pulling the edge towards herself, trying to tuck it in.

‘Aren't there any queensize ones?’ she says. ‘And why did they have to get the double bed?’

‘They're guests.’

‘I see.’ She shakes a pillow into its case. ‘What does that make me?’

Jim does not sleep well. At one point he wakes up wedged between the two beds, wrapped tightly in the bottom sheet. The other one is bunched underneath Felicity.

She will have lines all over the backs of her legs, he thinks groggily, hoisting himself back on to the shiny, bare mattress.

‘Snow!’ says Suzanne. ‘Can we stop? Please?’

‘It's better higher up.’

‘Just for a minute?’

‘Can you stop whining? Just for a minute?’

Suzanne stares at Aidan as if she can't believe what he's just said. She twists the fringing on her long, long scarf. It matches her hat.

‘I just want to get out of the car for a bit, that's all,’ she says.

Jim glances in the rear-view mirror at her. ‘Are you going to be sick?’

‘No, I am not going to be sick.’ She exhales heavily.

‘I think I am,’ mutters Felicity.

‘I just wanted to see the snow,’ Suzanne says quietly. ‘I've never seen it before, okay?’

Nothing is said for the next fifteen minutes or so. They seem to be passing plenty of perfect places to stop, Felicity thinks, but Jim drives on, further and further up the mountain.

‘Here,’ he finally says, and jolts the car to a stop, throwing everyone forward in their seats. Felicity doesn't feel much like getting out of the car; if everyone is going to argue she would rather stay where she is and finish off the Minties that are scattered in the glove box.

But Jim is saying come on, it won't take long, and is pushing her page 30 jacket at her, and Suzanne and Aidan are already leaping out, and there is a rush of brittle snow air that smells a lot better than the inside of the car. So she zips herself into her jacket, the one that makes her feel she cannot bend her elbows and so must walk around like some undead creature or sleepwalker, and she grabs her sunglasses from the glove box, sprinkling Minties on the sandy car floor, and then she's outside with the other three on the cool bright mountain.

‘Hey, guys, over here!’ calls Aidan. ‘It's like carpet!’ He is jumping up and down on a stretch of wiry moss. The others run towards him, trying to land on patches of rock that have not been covered by snow, and then they are all leaping around on the springy moss. Suzanne and Felicity collide and fall back into the snow, laughing.

‘Aidan,’ says Jim, ‘do you see what I see?’

‘Horizontal females?’

‘Over there.’ He points to a rise in the ground, a smooth slope of snow.

The two of them make their way across to it, walking in a dead straight line this time, not bothering to aim for rock. Small plants snap beneath their feet.

‘What the hell are they doing?’ says Felicity, sitting up.

Suzanne hands her a thick dark leaf. ‘Here, sniff this. It smells like apricots.’

‘I claim this land for the Queen,’ calls Aidan. Then he and Jim undo their jeans and in a moment Felicity can make out two arcs of piss against the snow.

‘Feel free to join in,’ calls Jim.

On the way back to the car Felicity feels a bit drunk. ‘Too much nature is bad for a person,’ she mumbles. She wipes her nose with the back of her fist, and finds she is still clutching Suzanne's leaf, which does smell like apricots.

As Jim is turning the car around, a jeep drives by, slowing as it passes. The two men inside, dressed in dark green uniforms, scrutinise the car.

‘I think we should get moving,’ says Suzanne. ‘Look’

At the edge of the road, right beside where they have been running around, is a sign: Native plant regeneration area. Please keep off.

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‘Well, it's not a very big sign, is it? And there's no fence or anything.’

‘And not many plants now. Shit.’

‘Just drive.’

So although the jeep has gone, and no one is following them, Jim puts his foot down hard and they have soon left the snow behind. Felicity washes her hands when she gets home, but for the rest of the day she can smell apricots.

‘Guys,’ says Suzanne one evening, after they have all been for a swim, ‘we've decided it's not fair you've had to sleep in the single beds every night, so you can have the waterbed.’

‘Only for the last two nights, though,’ Felicity says after they have swapped sheets and she and Jim are lying in the dark.

‘They meant well,’ says Jim, although he had become accustomed to the single beds, and wouldn't have minded staying put. In the bedside rubbish bin, which Jim's aunt has decorated with wallpaper and rows of bunched lace, there are condom wrappers.

The waterbed is a relatively old one, one of the first. They're very gimmicky, Jim's father said when his brother Ted first bought it. Jim's parents had not approved of the bach, either. Such a waste of money, they said, standing empty eleven months out of the year. And they still have to pay the phone and the rates and everything else for the full year. Jim had not liked to point out that the bach was an investment, that it was on a prime piece of real estate, that it would pay for itself many times over if it were sold. His parents don't understand business.

He can't fall asleep now, and wonders if he should move to the more solid couch. Felicity seems restless, flinging her arms about and kicking in her sleep. Jim can hear water every time she moves. She flails, thrashes, trying to escape from something, or to save herself.

I should move to the lounge, thinks Jim, or put up the camp bed, like we used to. He thinks it's in the wardrobe; he knows he saw it somewhere. Possibly the garage.

In the morning he is woken up by the sound of water. In his halfawake state he thinks their bed—in which he seems to have page 32 remained—is leaking, but it is only rain at the windows and on the corrugated iron roof.

‘You be Miss Scarlet, ’ says Aidan, handing Suzanne the red plastic figure. ‘The slutty one.’

Suzanne giggles. ‘Only if you're Reverend Green.’

‘I really wanted to do the mud pools today,’ says Felicity, staring out the window. ‘Do you think it's clearing up?’

‘It's nearly your turn. You're Mrs White. Jim's idea.’

‘Captain Peacock to you.’

Felicity pours herself a drink from the globe cabinet, which now stands permanently open, and slides on to the fourth vinyl chair at the table.

‘Three, four, five.’ Aidan places his plastic figure on top of Suzanne's.

‘Hey, you can't do that! Only one person per square.’

‘Now you wouldn't refuse a man of the cloth, would you, my child?’ Aidan wiggles Reverend Green on top of Miss Scarlet.

Jim sighs. ‘Must everything be about your crotch?’

‘Pretty much.’

‘You threw a six, you know.’ Felicity holds the dice under Aidan's nose.

‘Aha! The good Reverend may enter the conservatory!’

Aidan checks his Detective Notes, shielding the paper on either side with his palms.

‘I think it was Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory, with Miss Scarlet. And Reverend Green was watching.’

‘A weapon, Aidan. You have to choose a murder weapon. We've explained this to you before.’ Felicity closes her eyes. ‘Miss Scarlet is not a weapon.’

‘You haven't seen her in a cocktail dress.’

‘I need another drink,’ says Felicity. As she stands up, she knocks the board off the table with her glass.

‘Great,’ says Jim. ‘Now we don't even get to find out who the murderer is.’

‘Just look at the cards, idiot.’

‘It's not the same.’

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‘The globe's nearly empty,’ says Suzanne, peering sadly inside the cabinet.

‘Well, the southern hemisphere,’ says Felicity.

Aidan stretches out on the couch. ‘I blame London.’

‘Shit,’says Jim. ‘We'll have to replace it, you know.’

Aidan rolls his eyes. ‘Just stick some water in, they'll never notice the difference. How old are they?’

‘That stuff's been there since the sixties anyway,’ says Suzanne. ‘They won't mind.’

‘I haven't done any work the whole time we've been here,’ says Jim, taking his laptop from the formica dressing table.

‘No point starting now then, is there?’ says Felicity, climbing into the waterbed. ‘Why do they always have these barrier things on the sides? It's such a pain getting in and out.’

‘I should at least do a thank-you letter.’

‘Actually, they don't have them on the new ones, do they?’ She folds the thin pillow underneath her cheek and closes her eyes. Jim can hear the bath being run, and Suzanne and Aidan giggling.

Dear Aunty May and Uncle Ted, he types. A quick note to say thank you for the use of your wonderful bach. My friend Felicity—you might remember her from Aunty Peg's funeral—says she's never felt so relaxed. My two other friends also enjoyed themselves. I know you said not to worry about the electricity or the phone bill, but I wanted to give you a little something as a thank you present. Hope you like these—I know Aunty May has always had a sweet tooth!

Jim pauses, wondering if he should mention the depleted globe. Beside him, Felicity is probably already asleep. He can hear splashing coming from the bathroom.

After a while his letter disappears from the screen, and is replaced with rushing stars. He knows the effect is just the result of a binary code, a particular combination of the numbers one and two, but he watches the screen for a while, holding his hand very still over the mouse, and tries to imagine himself rushing through space. Then Felicity moves in her sleep, nudging his hand, and for a moment, before his letter reappears on the screen, the stars freeze.