Authors: Alan Duff
THE EXPERIENCE WAS BIGGER THAN
a seventeen-year-old had words to
describe. I knew it had special meaning, even importance: it wasn't just
My first time, but obviously not hers; a mother of two children, the
youngest my school classmate and fellow band member. She just didn't
seem old, not once we lay together. She had the energy and hunger of
youth the same as I did. With experience's teaching and self-restraint, till
the differences no longer mattered.
At some stage of this unbelievable happening I had thought I was
re-enacting my mother's life: she the naive, unknowing young Waiwera
inhabitant, seduced by Jess and the broader world he came from. Me
seduced by a married older woman's sophistication and womanly wiles.
Yet who was the seducer? Lena or Jess? Me or Isobel?
Showing her around our village, I took her places no ordinary sightseer
would get to see. Same places I intended taking my father — if he ever
came. Got a few sideways looks from locals, but she was too old for anyone
to think that far. Couple of mates did give me funny grins, and I gave my
most innocent look back. I guess sluts do it naturally, make deception
an art of conveyed innocence when the loins are bursting and the lustful
mind has no conscience.
Felt like I was my mother parading her lover for the whole village to
I started to worry I'd read her intentions quite wrong for she was
full of questions about the place and we must have spent over two hours
walking around. The rarely seen area where Barney had built a seat Isobel
found scary and exciting: why didn't we open this area up to tourists? I
explained it was volatile and kept changing so was too dangerous.
She said, like you perhaps?
I was too inexperienced to throw something witty or bait-accepting
back. Just my loins stirred even more.
Me, dangerous? Mrs Blake, what do you
Was her who looked dangerous.
That's where I live, I pointed out as we came right by our house that
yet had never felt completely mine. I didn't want Isobel seeing inside as
her home was beautifully furnished compared with ours. Promised myself
I'd learn how to furnish my own house one day, like the Blakes'. We
Took our turn of gazing into the crystal clear blue depths of Wharepapa
pool, like a million tourist eyes over the years. Its white-crusted silica sides
you could see thirty, forty feet down before Hell's black claimed it and sent
fast-rising bubbles like warning signals from the Devil's raging domain.
Green stain from a bag of greens cooking. Another bag of shucked corn
cobs attached to a flax string gleamed juicy yellow in the boiling wet. A
woman's smile white in the sun. Beads of nervous sweat trickled back of
my neck, or else it was the heat coming off the pool.
On the conventional tourist route we ran into Chud, who wouldn't
take the hint three was a crowd. Catch up later, I said, dismissed him. Got
a long stare to say our friendship came first. Not today, bud. Chud kept
getting bigger every time I saw him, tall and muscular. Like his father,
except with a prouder bearing. Poor Chud. But this is private business.
King George Geyser erupted on cue for her. She stood staring as it
blasted like a pub full of angry drunks going off. I gazed at her form
beneath the blouse, the breasts my classmate had suckled on, the body that
had carried Nigel and gave birth to him. Not that I had these thoughts
attached to any guilt. But it did seem bizarre.
King George hurtled skywards and my eyes admired the slim ankles,
sign of a good figure old Merita would say, long as the calf muscles aren't
too formed and weight is not showing above the knee, and look at the
hands: fingers must be long, wrists skinny. And when you behold the most
important part, the eyes, remember: they are the windows to the soul.
So the eyes might turn to me, I asked, are you enjoying this?
Yes, her blue eyes paler than the sky answered. Very much so,
more than you think.
Through the clear blue windows at a soul I'm staring, and trying to figure
what I'm seeing, what my mind is trying to understand. My age and
her age cannot surely be a match? It is supposed to be confusion meets
confusion, fumbling inexperience collides with groping unknowing. First-time
teenagers don't know what to say. They don't have to.
But I need her to say something, to define this for me or I'll not be
able to go through with it. Hold my hand, walk me through it, or it won't
happen. I know it won't.
We're in her parked car up at the redwood grove, fifty years tall,
planted by some visionary for the public's enjoyment but surely not what
was starting to unfold in Isobel's car. Out her windscreen the soaring giants
so far from their native American soil, like massive erections — symbols
of pending event?
Farther in, beneath the giants' shade, awaits intimacy, the
new knowing; somewhere in there it will take place —
I could not have recalled but a couple of sentences what she said, not
hours, weeks, months later. Had to wait, until my mind caught up with
my emotions. I could not tell a soul, especially not Chud. No one, or all
its meaning would be lost.
But of course I do recall how it started, how it became inevitable. Of
course I do . . .
She said, listen. I am not calling you that name. Not any name. You are
someone special and so I wish to start this part of your life with something
special. Give of myself to you; who I might have been but did not —
perhaps could not — become. Many people are locked into situations they
You in turn must give of yourself, your best self, even your confused
self. For clarity will surely come, not now, but afterwards.
That's what she said, nuzzling my ear. I swear the hairs back of my
She told me another thing: Do not ask why this is happening, seek
only to lose yourself in every moment.
Of course she knew that I the virgin youth wanted a singular part of
me lost in a singular place in her (though to recall only the physical is to
miss the meaning) . . . That occurred, somewhere in the tall shadows of
giants, a place off the track where we lay down on soft moss and fallen
needles and the trees stood like guarding sentinels and birds trilled as if
glad for us.
Before we coupled in the act of sexual union, her breath was sweet
upon me but not as sweet as her sounds, she dripped them over me, put
her mouth to mine and broke me open.
She made sighing sounds and soft moaning, a hand stroked my face
while the other snatched at my hair. And she said, this is what I have long
wanted to be. Just this. Complete.
In the joined wet of our mouths, her tongue that knew and had
teachings for my own. The smooth arc of her teeth, yet feeling every slight
indentation. The perfect form of woman to my unknowing hands.
Our clothing came off. I'm trembling. Now touch me. She meant
down there. Where man's meaning awaits like some vast wordless learning
gained in just a touch.
Down there is velvet damp with scent I know in the instant. Feels
immediately familiar, as if I knew it all this wondering time.
There is texture alongside my spread fingers; fine down, thick tuft, and
the slick-covered folds and crevices men are made to explore. Electrical
charge when she takes me in her hand, sends my head spinning. Her
mouth works, maybe she spoke.
Too young to know she is guiding until I am held against her damp
place and she rises to meet me, takes me inside. A surging sense of
I know now what she gave, in being the woman she craved to be. And
maybe Isobel was like my mother, the secret longing she must have had,
seeking something beyond what she had words for, something beyond her
own circumstances. Maybe my unusual parentage, the natural environment,
its thermal activity, my Maori background, village innocence . . .
Yet I know she was teaching me love. Simple love. Not so much her
own as how to receive and in turn to give back. Expressing like dance, like
poetry, as kissing, feeling, clinging, writhing, sweating, thrusting, moaning
human animals extracting treasures of the soul from each other. Without
necessity for as much as a thought, a learned word or formed sentence.
Afterwards, driving me back to Waiwera, she didn't speak, though a
hand did fall for a time on my knee and she did smile. I didn't know what
to say. I wanted to, but words wouldn't come and I could tell she didn't
want to hear words from me.
Boldly, I thought, she took me over the bridge and through the village,
turned left down our road to Henry's house.
Then she said, I trust you. No more needed. She trusted me, which
she was right to do.
IT'S THE TOWN'S BEST DANCEHALL,
with new lighting that pulses and
darkens and brightens as the light operator wishes and the selected music
track dictates. Mirrors pick up all of it but like in a dream, where the
meaning shifts and you need an eye to interpret it. Six hundred persons
its operating permit allows, being about five hundred dancing and the
hundred wallflowers pinned to the walls and glued to the benches that
lined them. Looks of hurt and lack of confidence, caught in the stark
light even in this darker place, of boys and girls knowing what they aren't
before their time.
Not that the dancers care; they are relieved and glad not to be socially
disabled, imprisoned in an attitude. Lost they are in rock 'n' rolling, not
wanting to miss twirling the partner, catching a hand: lost in the throbbing
voice and beat Mister Elvis Presley is giving them. The boys are but poor
imitations and self-conscious clones of the world's most popular pop
singer, Brylcreemed hair catching the ceiling lights, licks and kiss curls
stuck fast to sweating brows. Bodies moving frantically yet with deliberate
plan inside skin-tight pants stove-piping into winkle-picker shoes, suede
and leather going this way and that on the wooden floor.
Girls are made up to the tops of their beehive hairdos, make-up
plastered on by the inexperienced, the unsure, not those who know mascara
mixed with perspiration turns beauty into the beast. And there's a certain
confusion, a hesitation, as if wanting to be told what next in this gathering
of small-town rustics unwittingly at the forefront of an international social
revolution, loose skirts flying, tight skirts pasted to rumps and grinding
hips, high heels twisting and clacking, straining under dancing's demands.
Some just follow the leaders, who themselves lead only by having more
self-confidence; others have mouths agape in no less than astonishment at
being part of this benign revolt when it feels like a mob knowing not what
nor why it does.
Boys are primed to scatter their seed in any pretty girl's vagina,
vaguely aware there's never been a time in history with so much chance
of succeeding — not just at sex, till now a dirty fact of young maleness
punishable by law by social disgrace by damnation, though the act, the
desire, the animal urge feels so natural.
Look, the girls are exertion-wet and excitement-damp between thighs
and yet unsure of what exactly sex is, other than the dire warning of
pregnancy; the dreaded unwanted unplanned child growing a girl's shame;
her grubby little secret told against her will. And what if this exciting thing
called sex hurts? What does a girl do —
does she do — the big It?
Why is It so much more important to boys than to girls?
But hell, there are more than a few young women quite comfortable,
at home with their bodies, happy to let nature take her course, eager to
experience, impatient for a desirable boy's intimate touch. A lucky chosen
boy can have his way with her, as she will have hers with him.
The better dancers are smooth in delivery of this primal ritual,
postures more upright, timing last-second. Confident they'll make the move,
with cocky grins and prowess extended to flashing eyes. Some hog the centre
floor, others prefer the reflection feedback in the mirror. Here you go, hon,
flicking female partner in a twirl on her toes, connected by single finger
digits, she threatens to lose her grip then he draws her back, hips going,
on fire with sexual movement and desire set free.
Chud sees his friend Yank is on fire, his feet move in perfect easy time with
the beat; he spins his partner, she's one of the prettiest ones in the vast,
seething room, but other girls are eying the handsome bastard, wanting a
turn with him, to lay best and, they hope, final claim. Lucky shit.
Yank's too engrossed in the dancing — in himself, his brooding friend
observes — to notice that the gain of girls also earns other males' dislike.
Chud is flattened against the wall, features creased in frown. Wants to
be out there but can't; wants to show he can dance, but something inside
holds him back.
he's a good dancer, how otherwise if he's such an outstanding
rugby player? Yet his feet turn leaden, heart heavy with despair. Waves of
self-loathing wash over him, a dark sense of lovelessness grips him. The
whole ill direction of his life, his bad upbringing, becomes known now
and it's so awful a truth someone has to pay. No person can carry such
burden, for it says he does not belong, not here not anywhere except
maybe, one day, in the company of others angry like him, filled with
hate yet with a wanting so much to love and be loved in return. A geyser
rumbles inside him.
Another song finishes; sweating, hard-breathing, breathless
dancers smile, laughing with disbelief at what mere dancing can do to the
soul. Young women sip air to maintain dignity, knowing dignity will be discarded
soon as the next song starts and moves five hundred young bodies to an instinct
they know nothing of, despite the self-consciousness many can't shed. Hardly
time to exchange names then the next amplified number booms out, wallflowers
tightening as the magic wand of music casts its spell over the dancers and
leaves those wallflowers frozen stiff, wretched, stranded.
We flail and wriggle and twist bodies and stomp and slide on smooth
floorboards wet with sweat. This is fornication in public, with clothes
yet to be removed. Statues line the walls as if stuck here forever: every
Saturday night, it must be unbearable. Look at poor Chud. I know he can
dance. But when he gets here he freezes up.
Think I'm in here, the girl's every look and suggestive movement says
so. I push my dance moves to the boundary; I haven't practised this it just
comes as I slide into her crotch to crotch and meet no resistance. See her
eyes pass briefly through that gimlet look of raw sex on offer and her hair
would toss back if not confined to a sprayed net like a fat fish, but her eyes
again flash signal like a beacon that her cunt is mine. It's yours, Yank! And
I thank Isobel for the cloak of sexual confidence: with love, everything
happens beforehand. No need to rush it.
Whipped up, I thrust a leg between her again; she throws her head
back, a sex-glazed smile to the mirror, her weight held suspended in my
arms; laughing she is, hips still wiggling.
Hauling her to me I plant a kiss on her grinning gob and for some
reason in the turn have Chud in my vision, a man wilting before my
I see a young man who in the old Maori days would have been adopted
by a great warrior's family because of his physical prowess, his parents
banished maybe killed. Back then he'd not have to prove himself through
dancing. Back then it would all have been different.
A pushy girl cuts in on my partner. Move aside, kid, give someone else
a turn. Your mascara's running, you look like a drunk clown. Immediately
she gives me message simple: I'm yours, darl. All the way to the sack.
Me, I just put on my nonchalant mask, to let her know who's running
Meanwhile the angry one stuck fast to the wall squints round the vast
room at the bobbing, sinking, rising heads all aflutter; skirts flying, hips
going, five hundred pairs of shoes squeaking and rasping and clacking and
clattering on the laid polished timber lengths, wet with sweat, the odd
fallen tear; his eyes sweep what he can see of the figures seated and stuck
to the walls, nailed to the floor, minds refused permission for bodies to
For all the girl's attention I can see Chud knows they have
it all in common, clammed and jammed up like this. Chuddy, Mum's Boyboy, I
wish I could play back your life and start the reel again. But I can't.
From just a baby the stunting took place. When baby needed comfort,
baby wanted crude sounds to be soothing voice, wanted hands to be soft
touch, wanted to stare into big faces all asmile for him, babybaby, baby
Chud boy, boyboy. To take deep breaths of the walnut vanilla scent of
their love for him.
Boy, every boy, wants mummy closeness, mummy always near,
mummy anytime he needs her and when he doesn't need, just in case.
Boy wants daddy to talk to him teach him life lessons, put arm round him
walk out in public show the world boy got daddy's love, not that difficult,
not that hard. Boy wants daddy to take him out into the wild of nearby
trees and make them seem the forest, the jungle, pretend to hunt wildest
animals, father and son together, bring home the kill for happy mummy to
cook for happy family even if father did buy the kill from the meat man.
Boy needed daddy to go swimming, let boy show him spots up
river down river, eddies and fast flows, how he can run underwater, swim a
hundred yards with the swift sweet current, come with me, daddy, come with
boyboy, let's do it together, eh, daddydaddy, let's, eh? Boy needed this.
His anger requires a victim. Chud moves around like a wild beast prowling
for the kill.
Yank has lost himself in the new girl's arms and in the low lighting has
been allowed fingered access to her most private place, and such a joyous,
nerve-tingling place it is too. (Though he has known better and sweeter
and meaningful truth.) Murmurs escape him, like the war-damaged man
his mother sees, of meaning to him and her, him and her. The girl's
mouth is slightly ajar, like the door to herself opening wider. Like her low
intelligence being allowed out to play.
Wild beast can scent his prey, there. Now he is flooded with his other
self, he is someone. Now he feels as close to being loved as he'll ever feel.
The boy alone no more, he has company of his other self. Look after me,
boy. I will, Chuddy. I will. And over the both of them go, two Chuds one
in their hatred.
Yank picks up the flurry of movement even in the toned-down light.
He senses it must be his friend, always knew the reason why, but hates it
no less. We made a vow, remember, Chud? That when we grew up we'd
do it different, do things better. You said, may as well lie down and die if
life is going to end up the same. Jeezuz, Chud. Jeezuz.
Lost his dance timing in the instant. And the girl looks suddenly
In the moment before he lifts the punching ante Chud knows — he
a step too far. But too far gone for the rational thought to take
charge, no one's in charge least of all himself.
Gone, he just keeps punching. But that's not Chud, it's a crazed
wild animal escaped from the cage and attacking what he thinks are his
cruel keepers. And his best friend has pushed through the crowded dance
Takes two large security men to haul the animal off. His roar stronger
than the amplified songs out of six big speakers. He never raised his voice
to dogshit father or lowlife mother. He wouldn't have dared.
They bundle him out down an alley the alarmed and wary dancers
have formed for his passage, he's twisting and kicking and spitting, gone of
this world. Not that he was ever allowed to be part of it in the first place.
There are enough to know the smoothie boy Yank has lost his bodyguard
best mate, so the trouble's not over yet.
Outside, outside under the star-filled sky yet giving of no light, several
youths have punched Yank to the ground; another has grabbed his girl
companion from behind, while his mate thrusts a hand up her skirt feeling
for all he's worth and crying out to his numbskull mates
she's ready for it!
if her whole night has been spent waiting eagerly for her prize boy catch
to be beaten up and her fanny felt by roughest hand and mean-thrusting
fingers, and being held by the throat is what turns every girl on.
When the moon lights the scene, the fallen youth is blind to it in his
slumped foetus curl, this form on the grass knowing he's learned a life
lesson. Don't upset the other animals in the pen.
Inside, inside the police cell that natural light has never touched and
strongest commercial detergent has failed to rid of the liquid spillings of
males in wretched condition — vomit and urine and runny shit and semen,
the smell that hurting leaves, detergent can never cover the collected foul
body odours, the putrid stink of the banal and less than ordinary masses who
find themselves here. Well, inside here, the cops have given Chud a bit of
a working over and written it down in the station log book that prisoner
so-and-so had to be restrained by force due to his violent behaviour.
And so he's feeling not only unloved and a stupid juvenile who went
many punches too far, but hard done by, unjustly beaten by men in official
positions who have no right and ought to know better. Angrier, way
down deep in him where love should reside.
The door unlocks and the burly sergeant fills the doorway, reminds
of Yank's old man, Henry, big and intimidating and frightening to even a
physical powerhouse like young Chud. Yet a fatherly kindness there too
— if you were the cop's kid. If you weren't in one of his cages.
Sergeant's tongue clicks, my, my, my, are you in trouble.
Yeah, he's known that for some time. Now he wants to die. Probably
his whole short life wanted to do that.