Evicting Mrs Pauley

Writing 101, Day Eighteen: Hone Your Point of View
Craft a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old observing it all.

They’re sending Mrs Pauley away. The police is there, with Mr Johns, dressed in his suit and tie like it’s a wedding. He’s the landlord. He owns a lot of the houses on this road, like ours too. So I know him. I know what he’s like when rent is late. He’s there on the step next day, no waiting, frown on and hand out. It’s not like the people here wants to cheat him, but mostly they works at the factory, and sometimes there’s trouble, and it closed for a few days, and then there’s no pay. And then rent is late. Like Mrs Pauley’s.

But Mrs Pauley, I don’t think she gonna be able to pay rent ever again. Mr Pauley, he was the one who worked at the factory, and he’s dead. Died from a heart attack three months back, just collapsed there at his machine. He’s just lucky he never fell into it, that’s all. That would have been a worse way to go than he did. And a worse corpse for his wife to bury. When I grow, I want to get out of this town; I don’t want to work in that place. There’s too many accidents, and one way I don’t want to die is in a machine, or later on, all mangled and crying out for the end.

But anyway, Mr Pauley went an easier way. It’s his wife it’s gonna drag on for. I don’t know where they’re sending her, for sending her is what it is. She don’t want to leave. She been in that house across the way from us with her family all my life, and much, much longer. All her boys was born there in that house and I hardly remember the older ones. Steve, the youngest, he only left last year for the city. He got away; all her boys did. I think she made sure they did, though it made her cry when they left. She can’t go to Steve; he don’t have a place of his own yet, she says. She says Robert’s wife doesn’t want her with them, only because there’s no room or money with all their own little ones too. Nobody can blame them, neither does Mrs Pauley. I guess she’ll go to one of the others, but she hasn’t heard from any of them yet.

Mrs Pauley is crying now as she brings her brown suitcase out to the car (black like the hearse that took her husband) that’s waiting to send her away; the tears run silent down her face and drop in big drops onto her chest. Her face is puffy and pink in the wrong places; no more cheerful smiles like she used to have on, when her kitchen smelled like a bakery and she’d have a biscuit for good kids who done her some favour, back when Mr Pauley would come whistling back from factory. I think I’ll always remember those biscuits of hers, better than me own mum’s, though I’ll never say. After Mr Pauley died, she stopped smiling, but she had no time for tears then. Then she had to work real hard, baking and baking, and trying to sell to the markets where they sells to the people who got money for treats. I guess baking makes a person smile less when you got to do so much of it. That and worry over rent. And after all the baking and selling and worrying, it still weren’t enough to pay Mr Johns. I don’t know why he need the money so bad, seems like he got enough, with his new clothes and his big car, shinier than the police one. He look like he got enough to eat too, and more than enough.

But Mrs Pauley been crying probably a week straight, since Mr Johns said she gotta go. Our neighbours is standing on their stoops and in the street, watching. They don’t say nothing, even the little ones like my sister Ginny, leaning into my folded legs; we all know there’s nothing to say. The police is there, and Mrs Pauley hasn’t paid her rent. It ain’t fair, and we all knows it, but we got no voice in this world. Voices are for people like Mr Johns, who owns their own places, and other people’s too. So we just watch. And Mrs Pauley cries, but she don’t say nothing either.



Lost, Found… Discarded, Part 3/3

I’ve lived here for many years, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how long any more – time isn’t the same once you’re dead. I don’t completely remember how I even came to be here, I just feel a connection with the place, so I stay. The family who live here, they don’t know I also do. Probably just as well, they’d think it was spooky to have a silent, unseen watcher amongst them. So it’s best they don’t know, although the boy caught a glimpse of me once; a mistake on my behalf. I hoped they would think he had imagined it, the way children do…they seemed to have forgotten that incident anyway.

I don’t want to worry them. It’s not as creepy as it may sound, hanging around them like this, it’s only that I’m lonely. I enjoy being around the living, being near the warmth of their everyday. I vaguely recall the emotions they seem to feel so sharply. I suppose you could say it makes me feel more alive, being near the force of them.

It’s winter now, and there’s a fire in the grate. The woman is sitting before it, looking into the flames. She has a name, but it never stays in my mind. Names….they don’t mean too much to me now either. I think they mean something when the lives of the people who carry them have a continuity to you. To me, though, the existence of individuals drifts in and out of my consciousness, much as they drift in and out of rooms.

The fire would be hot on her face, she is sitting so near. I can’t feel its heat, but I still watch the writhing flames. They appear more alive than me, but it’s an illusion born of movement only. How ironic. Now, though, they’re eating letters the woman is feeding them. This is curious. I remember letters. Usually they are kept if important, and discarded if not. To burn one is symbolic, the giving of a memory, or a promise, to the flame as if it were a funeral pyre. The woman opens a letter and reads it, while others burn. I am interested enough now to wonder what she is thinking. There was a man who lived here once also. I don’t remember when I last saw him, but he was with her when they first came here. There was emotion like a tumult in those days. It blew like a wind through the rooms of this house. Oh yes, I felt almost alive then. But not happy…

She crumples the last letter, the one she has read, and she puts it into the mouth of the fire without another pause, and we watch it burn.


Legitimate Fears & Phobophobia

Fear. There’s a topic for you. I know a bit about it myself. Most of us will at some point. Life is a dangerous undertaking, if you’ll excuse the pun in advance. You can tell by the fact that none of us get out alive. Ha.

People say there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, but I’ve always thought the fear of fear was a perfectly legitimate fear. Apparently other people think so too, because it has its own phobia – phobophobia.

There are all kinds of ‘legitimate’ fears – the fear of violence, the fear of bunjee jumping….the fear of clowns…..but sometimes a person can be anxious about some incredibly irregular shit too. Like catching buses, phoning strangers, and Dutch people. Ok I made that last one up. But I’ve had my fair share of being scared, both legitimately and illogically. It never stopped me. I rode long-haul buses, and my first job was cold-calling complete strangers for market research. It was the worst job ever. I must have lasted a month. Though I stopped short of bunjee jumping, I have done abseiling, and caving, and abseiling while in a cave. I once volunteered to help fundraise for a national well-child charity, which involved calling and asking for donations from organisations. I don’t think I did the charity any favours; I was epically crap at it. But I did it to push through the jolly jitters… It didn’t work. So much for exposure therapy.

I’m not scared any more. I think eventually my adrenal system just went, meh, whatever. Or maybe it’s because I got pissed off with being scared. Doesn’t matter, the net effect is, I’m no longer easily scared, and that’s a powerful position to be in – more so I think than if I’d never been afraid, because I know what fear is and can stare the bastard down.




Lost & Found, Part 2/3

{Writing 101, Day 13}

A week or so ago, I wrote about the loss of a marriage. There were black dogs and big sticks and everything. Great story.

But this post is not about loss and gloom, no. It’s about what I found when I was finally brave enough to stand alone. It took me a very long time to gather the courage to step out on my own. One of the (many) things which mobilised me in the end was that I was losing myself, becoming someone I didn’t like and didn’t want to be, someone angry and defensive. My own family became so used to me being prickly that my brother once gave me a cactus as a birthday gift. But I remembered, even if they didn’t, that I hadn’t always been like that.

Saving myself was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of things that scared me. So I gave my husband the freedom he clearly coveted. But I had two young children, and our future was a blank.

Humphrey Bogart

All that.

I wasn’t sure I wanted another relationship. Ever. The idea of being just me and the kids and a whole lot of books held a lot of appeal. But even though I wasn’t looking, I did meet someone. I could wax all soppy about him, but suffice it to say he’s all that.

He really is. And who am I to say no to all of that?

He’s had to have a lot of patience while I unwound, but he’s that kind of person. And he believes in me. He’s the reason I have the confidence to put my thoughts and writing up to public scrutiny, and why my children are psychologically healthy and grounded. For a lot of reasons, he’s my hero.

I once made a mosaic heart, with a pattern built from pieces of china. It’s a fitting metaphor of our life together – we’ve built a family out of the broken bits of our previous lives, but it’s not just a Frankenstein monster of make-do – it’s a piece of art.


Dear “Thrilled”

{Writing 101, Day Fourteen: To Whom It May Concern}

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What jumps out at you? Start there, and try a twist: write in the form of a letter.

Dear “Thrilled”,

You’ve attempted to approach me several times over the past few decades, and I know I’ve been less than cordial, so I felt it was time to address the situation head on. But I’m not sure what to say. I am ambivalent about you. You seem popular, but then I was never one to go along with the crowd, and to me you seem just a little loud, in your face, even, dare I say it, common.

But maybe I’ve got you wrong – are you even who I think you are? You seem to mean different things to different people. Are you … conforming?? Come on, you can be honest, for once in your (by all accounts very long) life. Are you compensating for being a lonely nerd, growing up? If so, you should know, it’s ok to be a nerd these days, maybe even more than ok. Nerds have their own culture. There’s geek chic. Nerds have TV shows.

Anyway, think about it, ok? I know you’re not all you’re cracked up to be (but don’t worry, I’ll keep it just between me and you; won’t breath a word). If you feel like reevaluating your identity, going back to your geek roots…..well, maybe then we can talk.

Until then, let’s just agree to a stand off.



I had a home in Africa

Writing 101: Where you lived when you were twelve

I turned 12 in a country a world away from where I grew up. My family had been spending a sabbatical year in the US, New England mostly. It had been a year of travel and immense and varied landscapes, of being popular at school for the first time (an experience the reality of which never truly sunk in enough to be enjoyed) on account of being “foreign”, and having an “exotic” accent, and eating with both a knife and fork.

In Connecticut we’d lived in a house with a lake in the back garden, a wooden house, with a fireplace that actually worked. There was a real forest over the road, and in winter there was snow and ice, and in autumn, trees which turned brilliant colours and dropped their leaves, changing the landscape entirely. It was utterly different from Africa. The year our family spent in the US for years afterwards delineated our lives into things that happened either before or after.

When we returned to Africa a few months after my twelfth birthday, we returned to the house where I had been born. I’d continue to live there until I left to be married.

It was a beautiful house, really, thinking back – it had leaded light windows, high ceilings and solid walls, pitched rooves and a bricked exterior grown over with a small-leafed creeper. It was double-storeyed, with the bedrooms up a turning flight of stairs that had, like the rest of the house, parquet wooden floors with loose parts which rattled in sequence a few minutes after someone had walked over them. It wasn’t eery, though; the house was too full of noise and family. Ghosts would have been disgruntled by the lack of attention and left for more hauntable pastures.

My mother always said the house was too small for us, though. I suppose she meant there were too few bedrooms, since there were 6 of us and three bedrooms. It didn’t seem small to me, and in any case, I loved that house growing up just for being what it was; the place we’d always lived.

Being the only girl child, I had the privilege of being the only one with a bedroom to myself. I hated it. My brothers and I, when we’d shared a room in our younger years, had spent many whispered hours after lights-out playing games with torchlight on the ceilings, and besides which, I didn’t care to be left alone with the anxiety. I got used to it eventually, though. It was a tiny room, but it had the best view in the house.

We were situated on a ridgeline, and the back of the house on the top floor, where only the bathroom and my bedroom were, looked out across an undeveloped landscape of valleys and hills. Later on, squatter settlements sprung up there in the bush, and the regular calls of the muezzins drifting over from the mosques were interspersed with the sound of automatic gunfire stuttering up from the valley. But before that, I’d look out from my window, especially on moonlit nights (because the moon also laid claim to that valley) and think of Mowgli and his jungle.

It wasn’t that far-fetched a fantasy. As youngsters it was drummed  into us to look out for mambas and boomslangs and black widow spiders. I remember one time a king cobra was discovered in our hedge by a very jumpy gardener. Gangs of vervet monkeys regularly raided our suburban gardens for fruit – one bite of each before it was dropped to the ground; homeowners hated the buggers. Once, I attempted to see off a monkey in the avocado tree with a shooing and (ineffectual) waving of the arms. The cheeky blighter, affronted, came chattering angrily down the branch towards me, her reprimand more persuasive than mine, because I went scuttling back into the kitchen and shut the door.

There was a night when a man was killed outside the gates of that house. I heard the shot, a clap which made me jump, but I couldn’t place the sound, so I went on with my business and would have forgotten about it, except that the adults hastened out as the sirens came, frowning and looking grim. I followed them, pulled by a horrified curiousity, expecting to be scolded and sent back inside by my mother. At first, she, distracted, didn’t notice me padding alongside her in the dark, but when she did I received the anticipated flea in my ear and slunk back in, secretly relieved.

There was another time, years later, when I was alone in the big house with its iron bars on every downstairs window, when I spied out of the window a squad of policemen armed with automatic weapons advancing through the garden. I was happy to see them, actually. I’d had a man knock on the door ostensibly looking for work, and hadn’t seen him leave the property though I’d been watching, so I was panicking slightly, as I’d been trained. Turned out, a neighbour had been nosy enough to see the stranger arrive and not leave, and suspicious enough to call an emergency. Life was steeped in bloody horror stories in those days of violence and paranoia. We kept living like strangers and conquerors in the land, locked up behind walls and burglar guards against the barbarian hordes. Bravado isn’t lack of fear. I guess that’s why you need a squad of armed men to deal with a lone intruder. That incident was pretty much a non-event, though. No sign of the man was found, and the sergeant looked either disappointed or annoyed to have been called out for nothing, I wasn’t sure which.

When I left that house in the autumn of ’94 to begin a dysfunctional family life of my own, it was also in the throes of our international move. Within 6 months, the family had relocated across the world to New Zealand. In the commotion of immigration the sadness of not only leaving home but saying goodbye to it forever, barely registered. In the years since, StreetView has allowed me to walk down those familiar roads again, even though I’ve never been back. The technological magic of the warlock Google. The property has changed now from a family home to something more fortress-like. There’s a sense of disconnect, the distortion of a memory – but it’s an acceptable loss. Life goes on. But there’s no house that will ever stand in the gap left by a childhood home. Isn’t that just how things are?


Merry Mid-Summer Christmas

Writing 101, Day Ten: Be inspired by a favorite childhood meal.

It’s not very trendy to admit, but growing up, food wasn’t really a big deal. I mean, that’s a good thing in world terms; it means we weren’t missing it. But it wasn’t until I met my husband that I became a foodie. And in all honesty, even now I’m only a foodie by association.  I struck it lucky Big Time by marrying a foodie. Our minister’s wife is also a foodie, and her husband and I often congratulate ourselves on our cleverness in getting caught between competitive foodies in our all homemade, all homegrown dinner get-togethers.

But as I was saying, it wasn’t always thus. Which is not to say we didn’t eat food, or enjoy it, or that my mother and all the aunties were not good cooks (I grew up in a patriarchal culture, and cooking was a woman’s job), because there was certainly food, good food and plenty of it when the family got together, and we did that a lot. I just didn’t pay it the attention it deserved. In part, precisely because of the chauvinist connotations, of which I was acutely aware before I ever knew the word, owing mostly, I believe, to the fact that “female” chores clearly outnumbered the “male” chores at least 10-1, and that the burden of these girl jobs fell to me, being the lone daughter, while the gardening and other boy jobs were spread nicely across 3 brothers. If my parents had wanted me to buy into the patriarchy, they should definitely have considered how it was sold to the overdeveloped sense of fairness of a child.

But anyway, my parents both came from sizeable families, so that made for large and frequent family gatherings, at which, as I was saying, there was always food and eating. It was mostly pretty standard type European food; roasts and veg, but also featured was the braai (barbeque), which was favoured by the women, since braaivleis cooking was a man’s work. Well, when I say man’s work, as anyone familiar with the worldwide institution of the barbeque knows, women make the salads, the breads, the puddings, set the tables and clear away, while the men get bragging rights for how hard they have toiled, and the women quietly roll their eyes and smile indulgently.

But everyone enjoyed a good braai. I have many memories of tearing about gardens with cousins, the smoke and heat of the braai blending with the roasting African sun while the men huddled around the skottel, fueled and cooled by beer alone, waiting for the coals to reach the exact cooking temperature to produce the perfect boerewors (sausage), which was clearly a science well beyond the ken of women.

One of the times of year we’d have a braai for sure was Christmas, especially every second Christmas when we’d spend the season with my dad’s side of the family; the German side, although they weren’t strictly pure blood Germans, but we’d observe German Christmas traditions, including opening gifts on Christmas Eve (sweet as, opening presents a night early!). The real magic for me, besides – and maybe even equal to – getting at the presents, was the giant tree, lit with candles, in my aunt and uncle’s lounge, so big it brushed the high ceilings. In our home in town, we’d manage a small to middling tree, but out on the farm where my cousins lived, we had a Real Christmas Tree, just like one from a story book.

There would be a full house that night, as our family, with the four of us kids, had come to stay for a few glorious days of farm freedom with my aunt and uncle and their three kids; the twins and their little brother, along with our bird-like granny, who was fit as a fiddle but unknowable and prone to snapping at small children. We posthumously diagnosed her with autism.

Dinner would be unnecessarily prolonged, as far as I was concerned, and consisting of roast meat and potatoes, and completely unwelcome vegetables, of a type and prepared in a fashion both unfamiliar and objectionable to my fussy self. (How my tastebuds have developed since then with regards to veg!)

Eventually dinner would end, and there would be songs, sung at the foot of the magical tree, some of them in German, so that I moved my lips vaguely to the tune and attempted to look knowing. Finally, gifts would be dispensed to the eager hands of children; the enchantment of wrapping and ribbons never surpassed by their actual contents, or so I remember it. At some point beyond that I suppose we were herded into bed. It didn’t matter; when we woke up there would be the big garden with the towering metal windmill in the middle, and the sugar cane fields and pine forest outside to reconnoitre – unadulterated liberty for town kids – and the braai; the smoke, the sun, the bean sprouts to avoid.


Writing 101, Day Eight: Death to Adverbs

I was the first to arrive at the cafe. Not just of our group, but of anyone, it seemed. There was a car parked out front, which I had pulled in beside, but otherwise there was no sign of life, besides a lone chicken which wandered over, and then wished it hadn’t, as the Burglar proceeded to haunt its steps.

I rattled the closed door with it’s fat round handle set low in the middle of the door like a hobbit’s, but it was locked, despite the the “come on in, we’re open” sign nailed to the doorframe. Peering through the door’s coloured glass panes, I couldn’t detect any movement, though I could see down to the kitchen, where a commercial fridge stacked with cold drinks faced the long passage. The interior was darkened and unpromising. Looking at the deck on which I stood, I felt even less confidence. There was an old and uninviting wicker loveseat propped against the railing, against which an aged painted sign was discarded. But there was a new-looking flag pronouncing the presence of a cafe standing to attention outside the gate.

I stepped back, looking around and biting my lip. I vaguely remembered, now that I was here, having a similar dilemma the last time I’d stopped by. But I couldn’t leave without consulting with my girlfriends, and they were running late.

I went back down the old and uneven steps and planted myself in the short red brick path in front of the cottage. Emmie was still pursuing the fat chicken, who seemed happy enough to have the attention, though she  was playing hard to get. There was still just the one hen; a bit of hide and seek probably relieved her boredom.

The gardens were somewhat overgrown, but they’d always been pleasantly so, in an English country garden way. I’m sure if I knew more about garden plants, I’d have been able to pick out older, now uncommon species. Even now, in the middle of winter, there were some blowsy, old-fashioned looking blooms among the leaves. The cottage itself was small, it was hard to believe that for the settlers whose homestead this had been, this was a luxury property. Owners over the years had done their best to keep most of the original features of the house, while converting it to a cafe, and had managed to retain the secluded feeling of the place, even as it had been encircled by suburbia.

Finally I heard the crunch of tyres on the long gravel drive, and the sound of an individual car broke away from the general hum. It was Marie, one of the buddies I was meeting. She’d busied herself at the back of her hatchback by the time I strolled over.

“I’m not sure anybody’s here,” I said, as we hugged.

She looked up at the flag, making its promises to the breeze, and gathered her parcels up under her arms, stylish as ever in her boots and snug black pants, blonde fringe flipping forward over her dark glasses as we picked our tentative way back to the door over the gravel in our heels.

“Do they have their hours anywhere?” she asked, going through similar motions to those I had performed 5 minutes earlier. Of course, she managed to notice the opening hours writ small at the bottom of the chalked sign on the deck beside the door, which I had missed.

“10-4,” I said, “Right…”

I pulled a wry face. Marie grinned, and we followed Emmie and the chicken round the verandah to the back, where tables and chairs were set up on the grass. Still no sign of life or movement, but it was a more promising place to wait for the others, while Emmie spied a sandpit and playhouse and toddled off to investigate. A hoard of pukekos were in residence in the adjacent orchard, but for a change they kept their distance.

Marie and I hovered beside an empty table, making small talk until the rest of our party eventually arrived; Isabelle, tall and trim, not looking at all like the mother of 3 large boys, and Niamh, a bundle of energy in a flowing bohemian top, red hair bouncing  in tandem with her personality, tousled little nephew in tow. (Later that morning the nephew would mug Emmie, whose first experience of hair-pulling and being sat on it would be, but still later they would explore the playhouses together, with the nephew repeating to himself “I’m being gentle”…)

By this time 10am had arrived, and since we felt there was a promise of coffee close at hand, Marie, by going round the back, established that there was, in fact, life in the kitchens, though with the qualifier that the manager had not arrived and they were not certain when they would open. This was a little unorthodox, but I feel one must take the good with the more amusing when it comes to the relaxed nature of life in New Zealand.

In any case, the kitchen opened shortly afterwards, with the young manager issuing from the building, waving and distributing menus and instructions for ordering, and we had a very pleasant morning tea in the thin winter sun.


 For Writing 101, Day Eight: Death to Adverbs

Can you spot any adverbs (you shouldn’t be able to, but one, or more, may have snuck past me)?


Writing 101, Day Seven: Contrasts

A bit of fiction from me today folks.

Andy stood before the broad window, a parted curtain in each hand, caught in the moment between closing out the night and the storm, and watching in fascination the wild forces on the loose. Trees would be down tonight, she thought. The wind blew across the surface of her children’s rain-wet trampoline in fierce gusts. It looked like the surface of a distant sea. Water smacked angrily against the glass in front of her face. Reluctantly she drew the curtains together, and the warm light of her daughter’s bedroom wrapped snugly around them, shutting out the whipping and heaving world.

Aoife* was just starting to grizzle at Andy’s feet when she turned back into the embrace of the room, bottle of milk clutched in one small fist, looking up at her mother out of a face scrunched in infant concern. Andy gathered her youngest daughter up and sat with her in the rocking chair beside her cot. Aoife’s head immediately found the sweet spot on Andy’s shoulder.

“I’ll rock you to sleep tonight, little monkey,” she said. Third children didn’t usually get rocked to sleep; life was on fast forward. Even now Andy could hear the older children bickering their way up the stairs.

“Quiet, you guys, please!” she called out as they passed Aoife’s door. “I’m putting your sister to bed.”

The squabbling abated for the span of a second, then continued further down the passage. Andy rolled her eyes.

Tonight, with the tempest rampaging outside, sounding as petulant as her children, she felt like slowing down and shutting out conflict and disturbance. Her daughter’s small body was warm and unwriggly against her chest, her blonde head tucked under Andy’s chin. Little puffs of milky breath exhaled against her neck, slowing; both of their breathing slowing as they rocked together.

The world shrank, its borders were four walls lined with shelves on which were baskets and books, quiet objects. The lamp shone down on the sole inhabitants of this universe-room, doing its best to stand in for a sun, but they were oblivious, wrapped in themselves for this moment.


*Pronounced Ee-fa

Character Building

Writing 101, Day Six: A Character-Building Experience

I met the guy once, and to be honest I’m not sure I even remember his name. I think it was John. I’m not the most observant of people to begin with. I’ve never been a people watcher; their lives and motives never interested me enough, perhaps because they were completely opaque to me. So I certainly wasn’t sure what to expect of a “film maker”. I suppose if you’d asked in advance I would have pictured someone with a good helping of ego, side by side with an equal amount of presence, along with a side dish of theatrics. Our brief phone call had not been particularly illuminating. But when he arrived at the door, tall, dark haired and lanky, probably about my age, unremarkable in dress and person, while not what I’d describe as a typical kiwi bloke (he was lacking in “she’ll be right”), he was quite sweetly down-to-earth. He didn’t burst forth with some version of “hello dahlings!”, but waited diffidently for an invitation to come in, while dusting his shoes on the mat. He did have those sensitive kind of features you’d expect on a creative sort, or perhaps it was more the guardedly sensitive expression that was settled on his features, quite unintentionally I’m certain, or he’d have wiped it off, at least the sensitive part.

He was here for a box of skinks*, of all things, and very grateful to have them, enough to travel across town to get them.

Skinks! Apparently they’re dead hard to catch, but don’t tell my kids that. An urgent social media twilight bark had been put out for a skink dynamo to star in a scene in John’s in-the-works sci-fi movie, and through degrees of separation, a friend who happened to be acquainted with the lizard-rustling super-powers of my children, passed on the call to us. Which is how John landed up at our door.

It was an odd little stage he’d come on to; the kids’ father had brought them back from a visit to meet John and personally hand over their skinks, and there was what could have been an odd confusion of husbands owing to the annoyingly persistent proprietary machinations the children’s dad breaks out in my home whenever there’s company and which throws me off my stride every time, so I was grateful that John seemed, within seconds, to have quietly and accurately assessed the situation and taken it in his (what looked to have been rather long) stride. His dark eyes could evidently look further into a situation than the stillness of his features would convey. In fact, stillness seemed central to his personality. Not the stillness of inaction, or even reserve, although I’d guess he was that with all but those he trusted, and those would be few. More the stillness of a pool of clear water cupped in a dip of land, just being.

We had a brief, politely bland conversational exchange about his movie. I said he was not a typical kiwi bloke, but his understated style was certainly blokish enough. Very understated indeed was the gratification he evidently had in the fact that his dreamchild was finally being birthed after years of gestation. Pleasure and pride were stitched delicately between the lines rather than present in the actual words.

In that brief, mundane exchange, I had a sense of someone whose story, more even than his movie, would be fascinating to listen to, not so much because of its action-packed script, but because of the delicate touch of the narrator, the intellect of the observer.

My impression of a gentle but observant intellect was crystallised still more by what I later read out of curiousity of his interactions on his movie’s work-in-progress Facebook page, where there was not an unkind or jarring phrase. I was left with the flavour of a rare person who would realise a dream without breaking the backs of others to achieve it.


*skinks being small lizards