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Authors: Alan Duff

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BOOK: Dreamboat Dad
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now of magnificent physique and so
tall, taller than my Yank. With trouble written all over him. And what
are those blue tattoo marks under each eye? They look ridiculous, like a
child trying to impress. Spider web tattooed round his neck. If he thinks
this is old Maori warrior markings, he's mistaken. Those tattoos were
, their application

If Chud is anything he's more like a slave who has surrendered
himself. Not to others but to the loveless raising he had. But that's no
excuse, not even for him, the boy I know like my own son. We all have
to rise above adversity.

He's leaning against the bridge railing, has back to the sounds of kids
below in the river, not for a moment the same happy, penny-diver kid I
knew. This is a grown man oozing anger.

Hello, Chud. How are you, honey?

I step up to give him a kiss, but he pulls back. I turn the greeting to
a handshake. His grip limp for such a powerful man; means something
is being said here or something is gone. What do I say? Can hardly
ask, when did you get out? We all know he graduated to prison for

How long you back for? He shrugs. Staying at home? He nods.
Caught up with Yank yet? His eyes say yes, but without a warm glow.
I bet he was pleased to see you.

Just then his eyes meet mine.

No, he wasn't.

I'm quite shocked. My Yank . . . wasn't pleased to see you? Are

He wasn't. Ask him.

I watch him walk off, turn off down the dirt path to his parents'
house. Walks like his stupid father, arms out playing Mister Tough Guy.

Barney tells me, acting out the movements, that Chud was a good
football player. Boy had it all, he demonstrates: strong tackler, fast, good
fend, sidestep, and up here plenty of brain power too, most important of
all. But thumbs-down to any suggestion Chud would have made it to the
top level. We all know why.

As if holding prison bars, Barney indicates Chud's certain destiny
now. Clicks tongue at the waste of talent. A throat-cutting action to say
Chud might take revenge, means the parents. He points at a hot pool,
imitates a dead body, upraised fingers to say two. I nod yes, a strong
possibility. A deserving fate too.

Where you off to, Lena?

Post office, to pay the bills. Want to walk with me?

I crook my arm as I've done for some years now, knowing he doesn't
need it, it's only a gesture to say he's loved, to say he deserves respect. I
am always afraid he'll give the show away one day and just grab and kiss
me as a lover out in the open. But maybe we're such an unlikely pair to
be an item we're above suspicion.

Funny thing, I don't fear discovery as much I used to. Yet I know
it isn't Barney I want to live with, I'm stuck with Henry and perhaps
Henry is stuck with me. Maybe I carry on with Barney to put some spice
in my life, trying to confirm I am not a dull person living a dull life.

What happens when you want to break away from what you've been
used to all your life? I did it once and look what happened. But who is
the person I found back then, the woman Jess liberated? A good-time
girl who went back into her shell and has never been seen since? (It can
hardly count sleeping with a man psychologically impaired like Barney.)
What is anyone in this life if not where and what they were born?

Lena, you know dwelling on such things only gets you mixed


I called Yank at work to ask what happened between him and his best
mate. Got told why and understood. But I also understood Chud.
Determined I'd run into him soon and see if we could have a heart to

When they were little Yank and Chud would play-act as babies,
make baby sounds, basic baby words, crawling, wailing. Started by Chud
to, I think, claim back the innocence stolen from him.

Chud would act the baby part so well it bothered me. More than
once I made excuse to interrupt this play-acting because he was too

Lena will hear you out, Chud. Hug you, make things right again
with Yank, help you find a place of your own. Before you up and murder
your parents one day.


not just his brother's life but the
memories leading up to the event. Now and then his mind would give
back images, seeming to promise a sequence he could lay his old memory
on. But always the pictures broke up and fell quickly away, like a dream
just starting to mean something.

All those twenty years Barney did not know how he had lost his
ability to speak. He did remember the extremely difficult cliff-face climb
that had taken most of the day. A unit of five, under Captain Henry
Takahe's command (and his idea), had gone up to silence a machine-gun
and mortar nest inflicting heavy damage on the main division. Seven
gruelling hours it took to scale the cliff; certain death waiting for just one

Not a hundred yards away the enemy had backs to the raiders. Closer,
they counted eight mounted machine-guns and five mortar guns. Henry
indicated the ratio — twenty men to five — with twice-splayed hands;
even managed to convey by smile that the smaller number had advantage
of surprise. This tiny Maori hit squad aching to do battle.

The Germans were talking and laughing, passing bottles of liquor
between them, as five brown-skinned men far from their native soil
slithered like serpents towards them.

Then Henry indicated all was on the line: follow my lead. Wordlessly
he told them, soon, boys. Soon they are ours.


The sun disappears behind us, turning the enemy into silhouettes. Makes
their talk and laughter so out of place, I get the thought: this is what a
murderer does in civilian life. He wants solely and singularly to commit
murder. No feeling could be more wonderful.

My heart is pumping from the exertion of this last hundred yards,
even more dangerous than the cliff, for it would be shameful to die at the
enemy's hand after gaining the surprise.

Henry has us fanned out; he is leading from the rear to have the
situation tactically covered. We love him as a man, a leader, would follow
him to hell.

They cease to be human — have to, with the continual exchange
in their guttural language, helmeted shapes passing booze around and
laughing — I want only hand-to-hand combat, only a fight to the death:
man to man, not mowing them down with combined tommy-gun fire.
Though we sure as hell intend to finish off their booze and haka to their
corpses, show their entire war-mongering nation our warrior contempt.

I am my fighting ancestor, Kereama Heretaunga, wanting to feel an
enemy's life ebb from him. To cut off his head and spit contempt in his
dead face, to cook and eat him.

My hatred turns to sweat like a breached dam.

We're used to their machine-gun fire raking the slope; their mortars
lobbed everywhere a man might be; their blockage of the only pass within
miles and miles of mountainous country. As our small unit nears them they
begin a time-regulated firing attack down on our main body's position.
We use the noise to move quicker with less caution, close the gap to less
than fifty yards. I can smell blood like rose water.

The wind blows our way, stronger up here, exposed. Climbing the
cliff there was not even a breath of wind. We can smell the alcohol, catch
the tobacco drifts, cordite and smell of hot metal.

One of them turns to take a leak.

And as he stands there, full frontal, he must perceive the uneven shapes
lumped up on ground he knows well. For now he yells. The bastard has
seen us!

We open fire. Less than our optimum distance and they've chance
to hunker down, even as we see them fall, the flailing of arms to the
deadening sky, the sudden disappearance of a figure from sitting on sand
bags. We haven't got all of them.

Caught by surprise ourselves we become individuals.

I see Henry's arm frantically ordering us forward. He stands up. So my
brother and I stand up and we run at a crouch, firing. The night flamed
with machine-gun fire our way. I stand full height and fire at the spitting
flames. See one source go out, extinguished. And I dive to the ground.
Give no thought to my brother nor anyone else.

A grenade explodes in their midst, briefly lit bodies akimbo, clawing
at air at life departing. So close we might see their eye whites if light to
do so. My brother's arm moves, he yanks me flat and near instantly comes
the explosion from the second grenade, his. We hear German screams,
the thunder of machine-guns; see the orange-red flames and fire streaks of
hundreds of bullets.

Then the distinct thump of a metal object landing nearby. Wet sticky
stuff everywhere on me. My brother has gone, he's just not there. I'm
wiping away flesh bits and, I quickly figure, shattered brain matter.

Look around to see Charlie Raimona leap into the trench, firing as
he spins. Germans fall. Another figure — I think it's Henry — fires into
the Germans from the side. Charlie drops. The figure is not Henry, it's
Tona Daniels; he's stopped firing. Now uses his machine-pistol as a club,
screams in Maori. Screams.

Can't get the gore off me. My mind in blind panic against the
unbearable. Not Harold. Not my baby brother. I was supposed to look
after him.

But this is a fight for life now, so I've thrown my two grenades. Press
close to the ground with the whump, rush of air and ear-splitting noise
breaking free of the grenade. The firing at us has stopped.

Get to the edge of the trench and there is nothing but dead bodies.
Two wearing our uniform. Take out my brother and that leaves only two
of us.

From the side a figure emerges and I turn to fire—

It's Henry! he yells.

Something about his appearance bothers me. But not as much as
the wetness soaked into my jacket, through my shirt, blood I know isn't

As if my mind has caught up, I am only concerned with what covers
me. Must remove every last gory piece of flesh and brain before it claims
me. Something going wrong with my mind: I'm trembling all over. A
grown man about to bawl like a baby.

There is a last thought Henry was cowering down to the side
of the enemy trench. Then next day I'm being brought back in a jeep, stricken
and mute. Disconnected. I know only to grieve for my beloved brother. Know
only that I cannot and will not return home until this war is over, filled
with guilt and shame that I've have failed in my duty to look after my kid


Twenty years it has stayed there in the lightless vaults. I have made love
with Lena at my home and we have done our act of walking, my hand in
her crooked arm, to my seat by the bridge. Something is going on in my

At first I think it's a new geyser breaking out, a rumbling, a shuddering
it seems of the earth. I turn to Lena and see she is registering no more
than the overcast afternoon and, I hope, the quiet satisfaction of our love-making.

Then it feels like my ear has popped, as if finally I have
reached the surface after two decades down in some mental place of darkness.
For I hear myself say quite clearly, Lena? Did you hear something? When since
then I have never been able to speak her name in full, nor many other words.


The shock she turned my way was understandable. I was shocked myself.
And soon memories were pouring in like breached sandbags.

What did you say, Barn?

Afraid to attempt to repeat lest it be a fluke, I used the old gestures to
ask if she had heard a rumbling like geysers close by?

No, she shook her head. But, Barney? You spoke a whole sentence.

Yes, I had uttered something in full for the first time since that evening
in Italy. The evening Henry Takahe hid himself till the danger was over.


hard with our latest batch of female groupies,
the band members sniggering to each other that if there is no other reward
to being a muso then we'll be satisfied.

Have my eye on a woman about my age, so darkly exotic she can't
possibly be from this country, but I'm playing hard to get because that's a
band member's privilege. The bourbon is going down well too. A drink
I discovered is the perfect means of throwing off inhibitions so I can
completely cut loose on the stage.

The girls are pestering us to provide live music, but we prefer to play
recorded stuff so we can work our verbal magic on them. Tonight has
been another sell-out gig. And a promoter has offered us big city venues.
We're on our way.

Still, I dream of going with my father Jess to clubs, low lit and menacing,
likely some patrons are carrying guns, an entirely coloured clientele, but
I'll be feeling at home with my own kind. Drinking together, talking as
men, wallowing in the music, discussing every technical and emotional
detail, father and long-lost son.

This woman I'm watching refuses to meet my eyes. I ask around: who
is she? No one knows; she arrived with another woman who is all over
Nigel and kind of left her companion isolated. (I can never look at Nigel
and not think of what his mother and I are doing. But do I feel guilt? No.
Just feels strange and I don't think he for one moment suspects a thing. He
even suggested he move into the flat with me and I had to make excuse
about not knowing how long I wanted to stay here.)

Over I go, introduce myself. Ask who she is — you don't look like a
New Zealander.

I am from Brazil. And you?

And me? Don't you know? I'm the lead singer.

Of what?

Of the band. My vanity a little pricked.

Oh, she says. I meant what country are you from?

New Zealand, of course.

My friend invited me only one hour ago. I came down from Auckland
where I am studying at university my last year. I hope you don't mind?

Hell no. For she — Giselle — is quite the most beautiful and exotic
female I've ever laid eyes on.

We talk for a bit and she soon has me completely under her spell,
when normally it's the other way round. One of the perks of being in a
band, you don't have to chase hard. Her accent, the teasingly direct eye
contact, the private jokes dancing in her eyes, make me aware our women
are limited in how they express. And if she's impressed by my lead singer
status, she is hardly falling over herself.

While talking, I get a thought that maybe my mother looked similar
to Giselle when she was twenty-two, same copper complexion, high
cheekbones, green eyes . . . Christ, maybe I am falling for my mother.
Ridiculous. I just love Mum and naturally would be attracted to someone
of similar features.

She's studying English, visiting Two Lakes because, she says with a
slow smile, everyone does. A world tourist destination, yes?

I ask if she has seen Waiwera yet.

Yes. Yesterday. It was amazing.

I'm from there. I could show you sights even more amazing, if you'd

Yes, I think next time I am here? Maybe it is worth a special trip, you
think? Gives me this come-on smile. I'm hers.

You have to see it more than once to appreciate it properly.

Like people, yes?

She has it all, looks, style, what to say. Did you drive down from
Auckland? Bus? Train? She came by train. We chat on, I'm falling for her.
The bourbon helps.

We talk tastes: she's been raised on Latin music, but likes blues and
this new trend called soul. You do? Yes, very much. I run through some
famous singers' names, she knows them, of course she does.

Every Brazilian loves black music; we are a mix of races including

Then I see something about her features, complexion, and the question
just comes out.

Do you have Negro in you?

She smiles and says, do you?

Well. My first response is to deny. Been living that father fantasy too
long. But find myself nodding and she nods back and then we're mirroring

In New Zealand I have met only one Negro, a Nigerian studying at
my university. I was sure I could see the Negro in you, though of course I
thought it impossible. You know you could pass for a Brazilian?

I tell my story. She tells hers: mother half Negro, half Portuguese;
father French. Like we're long-lost cousins.

I will show you the samba, the rumba. If you are as you say, it will be
easy. If not? Her facial expression replaces a shoulder shrug.

Latin American, Nigel? Like ordering a cocktail: he can whip up any
form of music. He grabs my acoustic guitar and starts a Latin beat. Giselle
so pleased she kisses him — on the lips. And I'm jealous. He's developed
into rather a handsome critter, with his mother's good looks. Warn him
with my eyes she's mine — buddy. I'm the guy who's sleeping with his
mother. But who said life is rational?

Now, being taught dance steps by an exotic foreigner, I'm hers
dangling on a string. Just like my mum. Her dance steps don't take long to
pick up and she is a superb mover. Lifts me a few notches, the whole room
cheering us on. This could be the war years and I my mother expressing
what she always wanted, and filled with lust.

Never have I seen a woman so without inhibitions, not on a dance
floor. In bed Isobel gives herself fully. But to dance like this is sex in itself.
And everyone knows it, clapping in time, moving with their own sexual
urges. Nigel is lost in acoustic guitar samba beat, we go right into the
mood set. Time stands still.

That is, until I see a woman far too old for this company.


Is there something flawed about me that I have gone from hopelessly
in love with this much older woman, only a few weeks ago gladly lost in
her naked intimacy, to staring at her as if an unwelcome stranger?

But then what is she doing here at this hour, unannounced, a married
woman past forty at our party?

A night of mirrors. Nigel's mother gives me the same jealous
looks I gave him. Giselle looks too much like my mother. And I'm a born slut,
not as if I'm doing it out of insecurity. I'm just a slut. Like my mother
who is sleeping with Barney and thinks I don't know. Henry was right: he married
a slut. Who gave birth to one.


She claimed her visit wasn't planned. Nigel and I the only ones who cared
she was present and for different reasons, and I had to make damn sure
mine were not showing. Unable to sleep, she claimed, she went for a drive
and saw my flat lights on. Hoped we didn't mind if she dropped by for just
a little while and anyway she hadn't seen Nigel for some weeks.

I made the introductions. What the hell. Isobel chatted amiably with
Giselle while Nigel and I whispered to the other women to play it down
till his mother had gone.

Next minute Giselle walked over and said thank you, I think you will
make a good dancer. Goodbye.

Isobel sort of eased over, sipping on her drink with studied interest.

An absolute classical beauty, she said. Something our gene pool lacks
in this isolated country — variation of breeders. She's part Negro too.

I wondered where this was going. Isobel stepped closer, so no one
would hear.

I told that young woman I'm sleeping with you and intend doing so
again very soon.

I'm not in the least flattered.

Saw this woman old enough to be my mother. I'd get Giselle's phone
number from her friend. Though when I looked around Giselle's friend was
gone too. And my old lover was giving glances I thought too obvious.

She said, you listen here, young man. Our relationship works both
ways. You have said it's given you so much understanding. Well, perhaps
you'd better ask what I want out of it.

Made me feel my age. Jesus.

BOOK: Dreamboat Dad
8.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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