mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 37: Winter 2009

A Lightness

page 123

A Lightness

They were on the top of the slide when it happened. He pushed her and she fell and as she hit the ground all the life punched out of her. It was three days before Christmas and they were two years old.

He didn't remember it. His mother said she arrived at Playcentre late because she'd been shopping and his father had walked to the fence to meet her. His father said he said, 'Your son has been very violent this afternoon,' then his mother's face went, 'Oh.' His father turned to see what she was looking at and the girl was on the ground dead. They said Mickey was leaning over the top of the slide looking at her, that when he saw his parents looking he smiled and waved. He slid down the slide and ran to the swings. The girl's mother saw Mickey push her. Earlier he'd pushed another child's head into the corner of a table. The week before he'd gone up to several children and grabbed them in what parents thought was a hug, then, with all his weight, dropped them to the ground. When he thought about it now, he couldn't imagine what could have made him that angry.

He didn't think about it now, not much. His grandmother had lived in a council flat at the time. He would stay with her while his parents were in the business of apologising and wondering. They'd waited a long time to have a child, his grandmother was old and slightly disappointed. He had memories of being in her flat; the warmth that hung there and expanded inside him. He remembered wine biscuits and raspberry cordial. In the sobbing days after his father left, Mickey's mother said his grandmother blamed her completely. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. When his mother got older and went swimming every day and to the church hall on Wednesday mornings for yoga she said that, once, on the way to Playcentre, Mickey had asked if the dead girl would be there. She said it while she was doing dishes one cold night, out of the blue and unprompted, jazz was playing. In his page 124 mind there had always been a pop. He supposed it was the small girl's kidneys or her heart.

Mickey became his own man. His father invited him to the beach life he led with a young woman he had met through sailing. His mother was happy for Mickey to go for a couple of weeks. She'd moved to a smaller house with a larger garden where she grew organically. She cooked high-smelling mixtures that swamped the house and stung high into Mickey's sinuses whenever he came in from the air. He went to a private boys' high school. As he was leaving to catch the bus that would take him to the train that would take him to his father she ran after him waving a small brown glass bottle. 'Valerian,' she said, handing it to him, 'for sleeping.' She looked him in the eye. His father paid for the school. Paid highly for the beach life he was having. He would call it a waste. In the office, after the principal said, 'We have no choice but expulsion,' and he never paid for anything again. Mickey's mother organised him into the local high school and said, 'It'll all be for the best.'

It was 1995. Mickey wore tapered jeans, tidy shoes and a fishtail parka. He worked as a painter in the school holidays and didn't smoke. He was quiet and studious, intelligent and well presented. He met up with a friend from primary school called Davey and they became close again. On Friday nights he would take the bus into town, shop for new clothes, meet his dealer in a café and after a few beers in the public bar of a hotel go to the bathroom and take a handful of amphetamines. They would get to the club around midnight and everyone would be there. Mickey would dance and around five he, Davey and a few others would wander back to Davey's house and play music until midday when the others would fall one by one into heavy sleep. Mickey and Davey would stay up and talk and play more records and sometimes draw maps of things, grinding their teeth. The others would wake and go home. As they left Mickey and Davey would try to involve them in complex, fast-talking, nose-wiping conversations to which the others would, one by one, shake their heads and leave. When all of them were gone, Mickey would say, 'Beer?' and he and Davey would start drinking. Sometimes, on late winter afternoons, Davey's mother would come to the door of Davey's bedroom and say, 'Are you here for dinner, Mickey?' They weren't hungry but they sat page 125 at the dinner table and talked with Davey's father and mother and Davey's older brother. Sometimes Davey's mother would say, 'Your mother called.' Davey and Mickey's mothers had been on the Pta of the primary school together and hadn't rekindled a friendship. Mickey would bite his nails. It would start as grooming, he would feel the snag of a loose nail and try to flatten it and before he knew it his nails were down to the quick on both hands, then he'd start on the skin around his nails. He would twitch, both he and Davey would twitch at dinner and look at things that weren't always there. They were never hungry and at about ten they would get a phone call and someone might come and pick them up and they would go out again. More pills, more drinking and perhaps they would watch the sun come up from the port, or the top of a hill, or sitting on a bench in the park beside the university. It was like this a lot. Almost always, but the details were different. Different combinations of friends that joined them in Davey's bedroom, different music, different cars, bikes, different meals, different drinks, different weather, it would rain sometimes, sometimes the dawn would swelter rather than break. There were always new clothes, shoes, haircuts. Generally though, if someone wanted to find him, that was where Mickey would be—with Davey.

He'd been with Davey the night she said it happened, at least that's what they told everyone. She said Mickey had raped her in an alleyway behind the club. Mickey told the police he didn't even like her. She didn't press charges. His mother said it seemed that Mickey didn't seem to understand how serious the allegations were. He said she didn't seem to believe her own son. She said he had a power of anger in him and he told her to fuck herself and went to Davey's crying most of the way and sucking back pills. He started smoking. Davey's mother knocked on the door every couple of hours and asked if Davey was sure Mickey wasn't in there. Davey said he hadn't seen Mickey and she said she didn't want him hanging round him any more. Davey begged his brother for sleeping pills and Mickey fell asleep on Davey's bedroom floor under his fishtail parker. Mickey dreamed, vivid and clear; there was a boy on top of the slide as well as the small girl. He let the boy slide down before he pushed the girl off fucking her all the way to the ground where she popped her sickening pop and he couldn't wake up until the morning, when Davey shook him. They page 126 walked out of the house together, with Davey's mother shouting at Davey that Mickey needed to go and Davey needed to stay. Davey told her to fuck herself and she shouted louder and louder and higher and higher as they walked down the driveway. Davey's father read the paper.

They spent the early morning walking, talking, not trying to piece the night back together so much as working out where they would go from here. It would go silent now and then until Mickey said, 'I don't even like girls.' Davey nodded and although Mickey couldn't see him nod he knew he was nodding. They stopped walking at the park beside the university and sat on a bench in front of a fountain. They sat and Mickey cried silently, then shaking. Davey held him and watched the fountain and couldn't help thinking how fucked everything was and how unfair and how fucked it was going to be from now on and complicated.

She was pregnant. Mickey was waiting for the bus one day after school; he'd waited in the library until everyone else was gone. He saw her crossing the road toward him and he almost threw up with fear. She stood in front of him in the bus shelter and asked if she could sit next to him. He looked up and didn't say yes. She sat down beside him. 'I'm pregnant,' she said. He said he didn't believe her and she said it was him and handed him a piece of paper which he didn't look at, which he never looked at. 'I think we could make it work,' she said. 'Do you want to go for a walk?' He told her to fuck herself and she said she would press charges. He said she had to be joking and she said she wasn't joking. She said he bit her and she was still missing a piece of her shoulder and she showed him. He looked behind her— for Davey. Did he want to see if the bit missing fitted the shape of his mouth? She was sure it did. She was sure somehow, somewhere, someone could probably prove it was him who had bitten the piece out of her shoulder, a dentist perhaps. He said he would go to the police. She said, 'They can tell who children's fathers are.'

Despite everything, he enjoyed her company. Davey said he should move to Australia. Mickey said maybe things would turn out okay. Maybe it was one of those funny stories people tell about how they got together. Davey said, because no one else would, 'These are the funny stories: either you consensually fucked her in an alley and she page 127 falsely accused you of rape, or you didn't fuck her at all and she got someone else to fuck her in an alleyway and bite a chunk out of her shoulder.' Mickey said it wasn't like that. Davey said, 'Or you raped her in a blackout and she still wants to go out with you.' Mickey looked at Davey for the last time. 'Fuck you,' Mickey said, 'fuck you, you fucking fag,' and walked away.

She never got any bigger and she never had a baby and Mickey never asked. He was in a deep hole now, he did what she said because he was scared—scared of what she'd do, scared of what he'd done and sad, a private heartbroken sickness, it was the only thing that was his, everything else was hers because of what he'd done. At night while she slept he would fit his teeth around the hole in her shoulder and think about that piece of her body inside him. He would get out of bed, go to their bathroom and cut small pieces out of his body with a knife he hid for the purpose. He would turn the pieces over in his hand in the cool glow his eyes made in the night. She was funny and intelligent and she thought the world of him. They finished university and got married, they travelled, they came home and had their first child when they were both twenty-five. Then they had another, and another and then she said he was having an affair and they broke up. He moved to a three-bedroom house in the Waitakeres thinking he would need room for his children. She fought him for custody and brought up the scar on her shoulder and the record of the report of the rape and he was offered supervised visits and declined them. His mother said, convenient, she said he never took responsibility for anything and he agreed and picked up the bill for the lunch they'd shared at a café near the family court. He kept working and lived in the large house in the bush; he was thirty-eight. His mother got older and meaner and stopped tending her garden. He never heard from his father.

He had more than enough time to look at his life to this moment. There wasn't a part of him that didn't doubt what a waste he had made of it. He never blamed luck or fate, he just looked back and thought, this is the story, I made this, I am this. Sometimes he thought about Davey with some hope, somehow maybe that was the glue he needed to find but then he phoned him and Davey didn't return his call. He looked at himself and saw he hated women, he was frightened of what he did to women. What people told him he did to women. He had been page 128 a good father. When his own children were small he had been gentle and kind. She had yelled a lot and shouted and shifted the children with immense force and he had been kind and gentle, hadn't he been kind and gentle? No, she said, and the court agreed. He had raped her. He became more and more sure of it and he'd killed that small girl. With his hate and his brute force, he'd killed her, he'd thrown her off the slide. He'd thought about it for a long time before he did it, it was calculated and cruel. This is how he moved in the world, working hard at his job, because everything was empty including it but it had a time sheet and he could fill out the little fifteen-minute blocks with what he did in his day and that seemed like a way to move through life.

Then one night, not a darker night than any other, not lighter, he sat in a comfortable chair and ran it over in his head one more time. Everything he'd killed or been complicit in the killing of was in his house now. The air was thick with microscopic things: the measles virus, encephalitis, tuberculosis. Small winged insects he injured mortally going about his everyday business. A few he'd slapped on his arms and legs while at the beach or picnics. Larger flies and cockroaches patrolling the higher surfaces for crumbs and flakes. Then birds, sitting on the sills and bookcases, caught under his car or flung against the windows of his house. A house that would not have been there if it wasn't for him. Poisoned mice, rats and possums shuffled and fought with each other both in his sight and under things so he could only hear them. Family pets—put down, run over, crawled away to die—now wiped themselves on his legs and purred. And the food ones, lambs, cows, chickens, the monkey he'd eaten in Thailand, the horse he'd eaten in France, some of the cats he didn't altogether recognise. Pot-plants left to flounder. Then, more abstractly, rabbits from draize tests. Silk worms, the long extinct and almost extinct because of the constant tramp forward of the human race. Fish, swimming in the air. Molluscs, shell creatures, dolphins, whales and across the room through all the stench and the noise and the seething movement, her. Sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar of his West Auckland three-bedroom Lockwood home talking to one of the snails he had stood on as a boy. He thought, 'Look up,' but she wouldn't look up.

page 129

He woke the next morning, still in the same chair, with a newfound optimism; he felt happy. He tried to pull himself down. He tried to tell himself what a bad man he was but the feeling wouldn't go away. It was there and it wouldn't go away. He was happy. There was a lightness about him that he couldn't explain. He thought he must be going to die, that this was some kind of emotional death throe, but it stayed, days, weeks, months. He knew he had no right to it but it infected him. He smiled and laughed and it weighed on him with a negative force that lifted him. It was like he was ageing backwards, like things were falling off him. It felt as though he would take off, float away—he checked himself in the mirrored windows of buildings. He still cared; it was like he had more room to care. During his lunch breaks he stood in gift shops choosing cards he thought his children would like. In the cards he wrote simple messages and put crisp twenty-dollar notes. He imagined the letters never reached them, but they would be older soon and then they could decide for themselves. He could sit with them and answer their questions. Hope lurked everywhere.

He had nowhere to go from here. Nowhere to go except sadness and loss. He knew the arc, he knew how it went, but he couldn't seem to be overly concerned by it, the pleasure was too deep. The existence too light and too happy and too much joy surrounded him, he seemed completely involved with the joy like it was a job. It hit him, over and over again, everything seemed bright and full of promise. The longer it stayed the longer he suspected it would stay—with him, the murderer, the rapist, the two-timing deadbeat dad. Better people than him had nothing. Better people than him looked at their nothing and were grateful they didn't have too much to carry. Better people's children died, better people were killed and raped and two-timed and neglected and his lightness grew and grew and the more it grew the more he wanted it, knowing the whole time that at any time it could leave but feeling like it would go on for ever and ever and in the presence of better people crying and screaming out for even a moment's relief he just couldn't get sad. He knew he should but he just couldn't summon the want to want to. He rebelled at the thought of being sad, like a gag reflex, not consciously but deep down. He refused to let the lightness go. It was his, he said, like a child, a spoiled page 130 child. He walked, dizzy with it, to work, day after day, with hundreds of other people and he walked home until one day he stopped. The weight of him and everything above pressed his feet to the pervious footpath and the ground, in return, pushed up to meet him. He looked from where he stood and noticed small things—hope, kindness—and smiled. He would write a letter tonight, to her. 'Far from leaving,' he would write, 'it's the fear of it leaving that has left.' I would skip, he thought, but it's not skipping I want, for his heart was grown-up now and rested in a new home.