One spider followed another around
a corner and half way across the front of a closet door. The one in front stopped and the one in back carried on down the door and across the carpet, blue grey stain resistant, which turns out to be perfect camouflage for a spindly-tan long legger.
I was sitting at the edge of the bed switching E to A, adding sevenths here and ninths there, something of an upbeat strum on a clouding-over morning in Ngawha Springs, Northland, New Zealand, a light breeze tickling the plum tree, its leaves laughing. If I had stood up suddenly, I would surely have ruined that spider’s day with a squish.
Such is the nature of camouflage and chance.
Over at the corner, at the T of Ohara and Puia Streets, flies a tattered flag. The United Tribes Flag, red cross in a blue background with white stars in between, all in the top left corner of a St George’s cross on white. First flag of New Zealand, circa 1834. Predates the Treaty of Waitangi, which is regarded as the founding document of New Zealand, an agreement between the Maori and the British, though details remain contested. After the treaty, no more United Tribes Flag. Replaced by a Union Jack, the stamp of the colonial power.
These days, our current National Party government wants to replace the now Union Jack – Southern Cross with a Silver Fern – Southern Cross. Exercise our independence, they say. But I sit here on the porch of a hired house in a tiny settlement outside Kaikohe, adjacent to natural mineral pools, long treasured for their healing heat and chemistry, now coveted by an electricity conglomerate, and I wonder: why fly this flag, out in the middle of all this.
A man drives past in an old black five door and waves at me as though I’d been here more than two days. And from this porch the evening smells of cigarette smoke and sausages, and behind the neighbour’s window they debate which fruit and vege varieties to cook, to serve tomorrow, new years eve. I’ll be leaving in the morning.
A summer night with someone else’s music in my ears, and I don’t mind one bit, far enough away that I can’t make out the words. The woman in the kitchen window whistles the melody, beer bottles clinking, shuts off the tap, silverware tinking into a Chelsea Sugar Syrup tin on the sill.
A car lumbers past, casually, every now and again. They’re all covered in dust and missing the odd hubcap. A man in a car towing a bouncy clanging boat trailer. Three dogs standing in the boat as though they were still on the water, fishing. All now covered in dust.
A plaintive wail on the radio next door, bass thumping, crescendo on the fifth, tin whistle melody, the birds’ evening songs falling into four four time.
From that kitchen window I know she’s watching me, stranger, tourist, Panama hat. I pull down half a beer in a gulp and who is this thin ruddy sunburned man, boutique drinks on someone else’s porch, staring at a flag across the way, tatters carried on the wind, a history frayed.
There goes that radio crescendo again, and I think: after dark there wouldn’t be a dry eye, nor a dry throat, nor an idle guitar in the corner by the flip foot chair, threadbare arms under tatted cloths, scent of generations past marinated into the wingback. And this is how all should be on an evening as glorious as this, with a view of the Ngawha Springs Hall, sulphur-scented air cooling in dusk, mosquitoes collecting.
And I think: I know this place. I came from its American semblance.
The woman in the window breaks into a verse of a song I don’t know,
finishes with a smoker’s cough,
sneezes loud enough to stir a bark from the dog,
and tells it to fuck off.
We’re at Rainbow Falls, Northland, New Zealand. Outskirts of Kerikeri. A sealed path from the car park to the top of the falls. A lookout deck, thick logs as rails. As we approach, a photographer hops a rail and steps one foot in front of the other across the wet rocks to the edge. He crouches, takes aim, and shoots. Water cascading across the rock face to a lagoon below, summer revelers taking in the afternoon sun.
Backtrack, then down the path to the lagoon. Photographer still atop shooting down at us. And who are we?
A woman, maybe mid-30s, paisley dress of burgundy blue and green with flowers on her shoes. Hair blond and still damp and it’ll dry in curls. She walks past. She walks back. She stands and watches.
Manuka trees dot the banks, driftwood in the lagoon, and what a splash they would have made off those falls. Slippery rocks behind the falls and a geocache I won’t find. In among the manuka, a beach shelter erected, a dozen twenty somethings, university mates I reckon, beers and bikinis. One I had seen, lithe and limping on aluminum crutches in the car park, unmistakably blood red hair. Another I had seen, chatting at the changing rooms while I waited for my child to take a shit.
Now here I am, and there they are, and they’re wading out on inflatable dolphins, riding them, humping, swimming. The friends swap in and out of the water, swap aquatic toys, swap smiles and laughs. Some pass around a baby in arms, the product of last year’s gathering at Rainbow Falls perhaps, surely conceived in love, shrouded again.
See them. More bottles clink. As the sun’s angle acutens and shadows elongate across newly beshirted torsos, faint wet patches from their long blond red brown hairs, the twenty somethings start to pair off, new summer memories to be made. And I think: Those’ll be better than my memories were, back then. My boy’s will be better too. He’ll have this.
And I sit on the only bench. Black socks and sneakers. Black button shirt. Panama hat with black band. Black fine liner and a black notebook. No camera. No towel. And all I can think: I could out-drink them one and all at this age. But I’ve learned not to compete in playground battles, not that anyone invited a fight. Not so much as a sideways glance. And I think: son, I’ve grown old.
See the child. He steps out of the lagoon, shivering in his captain octopus rasher, black and orange. Can you wrap me in my towel he asks and I say sure. And I walk to under the tree where we left his clothes and his towel and I walk back to him and the world shuts down around us. The manuka leaves retract and the lagoon drains and no water falls. And the bikini bedecked twenty somethings pack in their gear. And it is me. It is the little boy. And I wrap him in his favourite towel and I rustle his hair half dry, and he loves me he says, and we sit together, quiet, warming.
The world returns.
The lady in paisley walks past with her daughter and their boogie boards, and we exchange our mutual knowledge of this universal truth, hard-won by years alone. The twenty somethings have gone.
I look up at the falls, and the static whoosh of the water sharpens as the sound waves reflect off the brim of this goddamned Panama hat back into my ears. The waves add and cancel amplitudes. I can change the sound of the world with a mere tilt of my head and I remember:
the reality of this world — all its sights and all its sounds — these are contingencies, reliant on you and me and everyone we know. Without us, the world is a single protracted event.
Atop the falls, the photographer has gone. He’s here now. Next to me. He crouches as before, picks a lens from his belt of gear, and he shoots. He captures. Then he stops. He packs up his camera, his gear.
He stares at the falls.
He exists. I exist.
In this, water and gravity indistinguishable, droplets misting and rainbowing in spectacular refractive formations. No science. No art.
In this, only space and time, which we all occupy.
in some unnoticed way,