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Authors: Alan Duff

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BOOK: Dreamboat Dad
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at Falls Bath to find someone in the pool. Can't
see who it is, but his name is spoken: Chud? Is that you? Knows the voice.
Knows all the voices of her family for all the good relieving years of their
loving him. Except Henry.


Yeah, it's me. What are you doing here this late, Chud?

Dunno. What are you doing?

I couldn't sleep. Soaking in here makes me sleepy. My father's snoring
like he always does, sounds like a lion or something.

Or something, Chud mutters, aware of his discomfort, being taken by
surprise. We don't have lions.

Try sleeping at our house after Dad's been drinking.

He can make out her shape but it has no face. Still, female presence
alone stirs something within him.

It has felt like a cancerous growth, telling the boy and now the man:
woman has slept with me.
Meaning he is loveless, still. Being around females
is worse than uncomfortable. When it was girls he just wasn't at ease. Now
it's women.

What to say, where do the words come from to speak to them? How can
I feel relaxed with a woman? He figures the learning comes from parents,
following their example, picking up ways and means of getting on or just
being together. That a closeness with a female is a conversation times a
hundred, a thousand, linked to form a whole. He knows that his discomfort
becomes their discomfort, which becomes his added burden, as if shouting
from the mountaintops his inadequacy with the female sex. Hell, he doesn't
even know how to say hello, would you like a dance, a date, to talk?

The light bulb popped not long after I got here, Wiki says. Has to raise
her voice to be heard above the pounding of falling water.

Chud is grateful: at least he can speak in the dark. You're not scared of
ghosts are you?

Nah. That's for kids. You?

Well, sometimes. Walk around here and it sounds like murder being
done, hearing the steam trying to get out a crack.

I don't believe in ghosts. How you been, Chuddy? Haven't seen you
in a while. You tell my brother we haven't seen him at home in a while,

Now Chud has something to give him an emotional toehold, whereas
before he feared he was in danger of toppling.

I think you better tell him. He's got too big for his boots far as I'm

Yeah. I dropped in with a friend a couple of weekends ago and he
wouldn't let me in. Said it was his sleep-in time.

He might have had someone with him.

So? I'm his sister. And he could have just told me.

Could be he's got carried away with being the lead singer in a band
known all over town?

Could be he's forgotten who his family is.

And his friends.

When Chud sees a woman he desires he dries up. Can barely make eye
contact, reads her every worst signal back and never sees encouragement,
let alone returned desire. In his mind a woman is an impossible mystery.
He fears rejection like a mortal blow to his heart. Like the innocent boy
punished yet again.

Still, my bro is a nice guy. Wiki's voice from not quite pitch black: he
can see her head and shoulders outline, a bit of moonlight up there, a few
stars . . . And he is your best friend.

Not now.

He can see no shoulder strap to say she is wearing anything. The words
naked female
flash through his mind like food scent to a dog. But the human
pulls him back saying, she's like your own sister.

He swallows — gulps, more like it — the sinful urge.

You have an argument? Friends do, you know. You'll make it up. You
two, I've always seen as one person. You know?

Naked female.

You getting in?

Is he getting in? What, with a naked young woman, even one he
knows like a sister? That urge again, but stronger this time, the warning
words as if drowned out by the same water-on-water sound making her,
the naked female, raise her voice.
You have never slept with a woman. Felt a
woman's intimate touch . . . her skin, her mouth, her sex.

I was.

Doesn't say further that now he cannot get into the pool.
You have never
slept with a woman.
Not I. You. Like the wallflower at the dance, sitting
there seething, feeling unwanted. Angry.

When he sees a man, however, Chud's mind is clear, working out how
to fight him. Can read every signal, conscious or concealed, as if one of
Yank's books lent by Mrs post office Mac. Yank's
Who taught Yank
things, but never took Chud into her confidence.

If other males were books then Chud would be the most well-read man
around. He can read cowardice from fifty paces, smell fear from twenty.
He can look into a man's eyes and know the courage, the doubts he carries,
to an exact measurement. He can tell in a few seconds if a man is left or
right-handed. He knows which way the other's best blows will come from
and is ready with counter punches written like words on a page.

And how does a man of twenty-one admit he's still a virgin when to
other men he's the kingpin, formidable man of iron fists? It must follow
that, when he's out of incarceration, without the steel bars every way
he looks, women would be drawn to him, his physical power, his scary
reputation. They are not.

Can't weep, grieve. He's just alone, in an isolated place, the kid Lena
Takahe called Boyboy.

Come on, hop in. We can't see each other nude, too dark. And
anyway, you're like my brother.

Life, it has just never stopped hurting.
But can't tell anyone.
He would have confided in Yank who used to be a brother, but Yank
rejected him, though maybe that was understandable.

Come on, it must be freezing out.

Don't feel like it.

Well I'm getting out and you don't want to be seeing me without

No I don't. When he does. No, he does not. He does.

I bet your old man snores like a pig, she says.

He is a pig.

You said it.

You know it.

What do we call your old lady?

Can try bitch to start with.

My mother is a saint.

Not what some people say.

Who cares what they say? She's the best mother and been pretty good
to you too, Chuddy. You talking about what they call her?

Some do. I don't. She's been good to me.

My mother was and is a very beautiful woman.

Like you.

Thank you, Chud.

Other than the waterfall there is silence.

How old are you now, Wiks?


Makes her a woman. A year past legal age. You've never slept with a girl,
you over there standing in the corner like the class dunce, the unwanted,
unloved boy.
This is your chance. There'll never be another opportunity like this,

Love is but a few waded steps from you, in undressed state.
That close.


That close, Chud, you can reach out and touch her. Do whatever you like
with her. To her. Whatever you like, big powerful man your own village
never understood, with your anger, what those shit parents did to you.

Well right now, Boyboy, you can claim one of those experiences. Just
grab it, lay it down on the thermally warmed concrete, and
what has
been denied you.

Hearing the scratching sound of towel against her body, barely visible
other than movements and a vague shape, that ceaseless pounding of

They have stopped talking. The waterfall echoes deafeningly in the
changing area, sound hitting an iron-clad wall with a roof overhang.
Means anything he does, no matter how gentle, cannot be explained with
words of affection, even a hand on her shoulder cannot be followed with
request that they get to know each other maybe differently. Dark frees him
from cowardice in the face of a woman, but noise traps him: no move can
be innocent without words.

He rises from the long wooden bench, without clear intention, all
instinct now. Feels his trembling, maybe aware of fearing — for himself,
what he might do, what he is capable of — and makes to walk past her.

Wiki? I got to get past, he says with raised voice. As there is little space
between her and the pool.

What? she says. Damn noisy in here. They should have a place for
spare light bulbs so least we can see. Might be down here with a freak.

He stops at hearing the word. Did she call me a freak? Or was that the
echo effect? Close enough to kiss her, fondle those full woman breasts,
fuck her. That close.

Somehow he catches her smile in that barely moonlit dark. Somehow
he hears her unshouted words telling him if he gets any closer, well.


Well what? You dressed yet, Wiks?

Not yet, no. Why do you ask?

I don't know. Just did.

And I said no. Not yet.

So close, he thinks. I could do anything I like.

You must be cold sitting here all this time, Chud. Why didn't you get

Chud wondering how he can pick out her words that previously were
garbled or swallowed by the thunder of water.

I didn't bring a towel.

So why did you come here, a bathing pool, with no towel? Hmm,

Asks himself that: why did I come down here? Guess the same reason
I roam all over, not just my village but the township, suburban streets,
walking, walking, never finding because I never own up to what I'm
looking for.

He says, with more than normal voice, I was just out walking.

She says, oh? How boring. Just walking.

Well, as I can't fly. Grinning, when he knows she can't see it. And he
has not moved past her, not one fraction. Nor has she moved out of his
way. So close he could merely lift a finger and make contact with her bare
skin. Skin he can sense like danger, like love at last, in closest proximity.



What's your real name?

What's your brother's real name?

You know it's Mark. Now tell me.

The breath of her words up into his face. The drumming of the water.
Beating of his heart. Please don't let me do something bad, he asks of
himself, perhaps the better self.

It's a stupid name. Don't want to tell you.

The Pakeha version of my name is Victoria. Know who she was?


She was an English queen. You know the one they've got a statue of
at Marsden Park. All covered in birdshit. Wiki chuckles. My dad says no
matter what you do, how important you are, one day you'll get shat on.

Her laugh a whoosh of air against his throat.

Then she says up under his chin, gee, you sure grew tall. He only has
to bend his head and he could be kissing her. Only has to reach out and
he could be fondling her.

Come on. Tell me the name they gave you.


That's a nice name. Got class.

Got arse, you mean. A sissy name. Doesn't suit, either.

Suit what — this place?

My place. Fucken home.

Whoo, you got some feeling about that haven't you?

Wouldn't you?

Oh yes. Be a nightmare, parents like you had. But still.

Still what? Still a nightmare?

Which turns into sweet dreams. Sometimes, Chud. If you really want
it to.

Oh yeah? But he says it without conviction. In fact with a plea, for
reassurance. Like a frightened kid asking a friend to whistle in their shared

Yeah, she says. She puts the magic wand of touch upon him, just his
wrist, but it lights up the world the universe.

He reaches out — doesn't have to hardly move — and finds bare skin,
warm, alive, as soft as a pleasant dream, like floating on your back in that
there warm pool.




Wiki who shuts off his words, who reaches up and pulls him down to
her. Joins her mouth with his. Joins up his broken life. Mends his heart.
Saves his soul.

No more the refrain in his aching mind he has never been with a
woman. No more.


first thought, Barney's recovery. Lena
described him as reverting, which seemed to irritate him — connotations
perhaps of a weaker man.

The bench seat they shared was bedded right by a large pool of superheated
water that had cut its own deep channel a good eighty yards to the
river, forming a snake-like, yard-wide stream of boiling fury. The higher
sulphur output made for a permanent stench. No place for sightseers. And
yet, as Lena got to observe, a form of life — green algae — thrived in
places, just on the fringes of pools, shallows at less than boiling point.
She saw them as hopes surviving every one of life's disappointments. As a
dream still with chance of coming true.

To be able to converse fully was indeed a miracle. At first. And so
too did the love-making take on more literal meaning, for Barney could
express in words, take it beyond the physical, articulate the assumed. Tell
her he loved her, how much he admired her strength.

In this tree-guarded private domain, he now did most of the talking.
She teased he couldn't be shut up. They laughed about it. Talking rugby
again (his own remembered games), getting a bit tiresome, but Lena
listened patiently. For his ego's sake, for a sportsman's pride too, respect
for an old soldier. Or so she thought.

Are you listening? Barney jolted Lena from her thoughts, from a
sightless fix on the raging stream, a patch of emerald algae.

Sorry. Forgot where I was. You know how it is. And now you can tell
me how it is, yes? Knew she was being somewhat patronising, but rugby
bored her and as for the war, her view would always be affected by her
experience back then: Yank's birth, the woman Jess coaxed out and she
could never get back.

Back Barney went to a grand final game the same year world war
broke out. The regained voice had given back his looks, put life into his
handsome features, no question. Except a voice is but an echo of what
goes on within, Lena was deciding. It is a mirror of a person's character.

Several days ago he had talked a good two hours on his war experiences.
Luckily, he had lost it and started grasping at words. She told him to give
it a rest, meaning give her respite. Wished he'd just quit talking and try
contemplation, make love to her — anything except chatter.

Barney took the hint and headed off while she strolled aimlessly;
found herself at Merita's metal mail box, three newspapers sitting there.
Most odd.

Merita was not ailing as Lena had assumed, just that the kids had
not got into a routine of bringing her newspapers and mail up daily. She
grumbled: This modern crop of young people have little respect for their
elders. In the old days our word was law. Seemed pleased to see Lena, to
get her newspapers.

Smell of urine was strong though the old dear kept an immaculate
house, including the dirt floor. Lena visited only once or twice a year;
knew her son and Merita had a special relationship. Lena liked to remove
her shoes to feel the thermal warmth, the incongruous slightly damp feel
of earth underfoot inside a constructed dwelling.

Too chilly to sit outside. Merita made tea, asked how Yank was doing,
said what a good kid he was — and I know who's responsible. Then
looked at Lena in a curious way.

You remind me of her. Margaret. Maggie we called her.

Guide Maggie?

Ae. That's who you remind me of.

But she was legendary. Lena felt there was no comparison. Maggie's
photograph was in most of the older people's houses, Merita's too: a
standard tourist portrait of the famous Waiwera guide standing in front
of an exquisitely carved meeting house with her equally beautiful sister,
Bella. I think you're comparing a rose to a daisy, you old tease.

The daisy who could have been a rose? Still could be?

The old woman squinted hard at Lena, tightened her mouth which
made the wrinkles fold over her spiralling chin tattoo, inked lips turn to
thin dark lines.

Maybe. But the children came first.

As they must . . . but not every moment of your life, girl.

No one else to take care of them. And they've turned out pretty good,
haven't they?

Oh, yes. Specially him. Merita didn't even need to say the name. But
what about you? How have you turned out?

How do you mean?

Well, you're not happy.

No. Not sad either.

You of all people deserve some happiness.

Only time I tried look what happened.

I think you're trying again. Aren't you?

So she knew. Lena shrugged wasn't going to bother denying. Merita's
eyes were saying no, Barney is not your type.

Go over and look in that mirror, girl, Merita pointed.

But Lena wasn't inclined, neither for foolish confirmation nor to
indulge even a venerated figure like Merita.

She was our most beautiful woman, Maggie. Half-caste, we could
close our eyes when she spoke English and swear it was an upper-class
Pakeha speaking. Her Maori was equally beautiful; she spoke the classical,
poetic form full of metaphors. You know metaphors, child?

Now I do. My son passed on some of his school learning. You know
they didn't try and teach us that much at the local native school. Thought
we were all dumb.

Yes. Dumb and the females assumed to have no personality. Why I
married a boring man — so I could shine! Merita's laugh a dry cackle.

Maggie had married an aristocrat Englishman, gone and lived for a
while on a big estate in England. Sometimes the newspapers ran articles
on this beautiful Maori woman who had adapted so well to upper-class
English life. And now Lena approached the portrait hanging on Merita's
wall. Looked at it.

That's you, the old lady told her.

Lena turned, but not to deny. It excited her that someone from this
village could go so far beyond her world, back in those times.

Except you're still here, my dear.

With a husband who's a very rough version of Maggie's English
aristocrat, Lena said. A husband of much mana who is greatly respected
around here, and beyond.

But whose mana didn't stop you from — from being yourself. Would
I be right?

You mean my American? Being myself? With him, I guess I was. Not
sure who I was back then.

Anything but what you still are now, dear. I got eyes, old
that I am. Now do as I asked: go and look in that mirror. Please. For your
old Aunty M.


So, she is looking at herself in the mirror. And Merita, shortened of already
quite short stature, shuffles up and thrusts up alongside Lena's face the
photograph from the wall.

Do you see what I mean?

Lena struggling with being compared.

Same hair. Same proud features that I told your son came from highborn
lineage — just to make him feel better about himself. Look at her
eyes. Are they not yours, almond-shaped and with dreams of elsewhere?
Of yearning to be other than where she was born and expected to stay?

There is a similarity, no denying. Lena flicks between the black and
white photograph and her own reflection.

You're not going to tell me she is my real mother. Lena, jokingly.

No, but you could be her daughter. Lena, this can still be your home,
without you living here. I always told my children to go beyond Waiwera,
unique and pleasant though it is. I saw it in you when you were sixteen,
seventeen, perhaps younger.

Saw what?

Hunger. Yearning. Born with a mind, a personality that can never be
satisfied, not until you try things, see for yourself. Born under a star that
keeps you restless inside. You need to go and seek it out.

I thought I tried, a long time ago. She turns from the mirror. What if
I never find it? What if it all means nothing in the end? What will I have

Not my questions to answer, my dear. They're yours. But no answers
here in this village, Lena. And you always have your children. Now, where
did you put my newspapers?

BOOK: Dreamboat Dad
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