by Michael Botur
It’s 11am on a Sunday and instead of church, I’m at a gangsta’s grandma’s house out in the suburbs doing shots of Jack Daniel’s and tryina talk mature. Bucky told me never to say any nerd-shit in front of Jade. Be gangsta, bro. Don’t use no nerd-words. Don’t talk about cricket. I went to primary school with Jade and still have the melted Jesus doll he stole from the Bible teacher and gave to me on my ninth birthday, but I haven’t seen the dude in like five years. He got taken away to all these reform schools for smashing a bottle on the principal’s head at Spreydon when we were, like, 10. He set the playground on fire. He shoved Kevin out of his wheelchair. He put a popsicle stick up this girl’s pussy. Hang with Jade for a day and his dangerousness will rub off on me. I’ve just gotta survive one session. I need the cred.
Jade stops telling nigger jokes for a bit, pours us all shots of JD and starts rapping along to this Insane Clown Posse song that goes Knock ‘em down, skull to ground. Jade’s explaining that everyone thinks you should start a fight by kinghitting someone but actually the best thing to do is sweep their legs out, then as soon as they’re on the ground you kick them in the eyes, crack their skull. He stands up and starts shadow boxing, demonstrating how he and Bucky beat up this eight year old black kid in an alleyway for saying Eastside to them and the kid hit the ground so hard he puked up his lunch. Jade imitates the puking kid and makes Bucky laugh til he chokes. The collar of the baggy XXL t-shirt swings away from Jade’s bony chest. Jade is average-sized, no tats, no eyebrow rings, no decorations at all. His t-shirt has an advert for Berocca on it and the sleeves look like rats have been chewing them. Jade doesn’t need to dress gangsta.
Jade has a waterfall of long blond hair cause of that weird religion his mum was into before she went to Sunnyside. He’s never been allowed to cut it and he had to push the hair out of his eyes once a minute. Jade grabs my ears, pushes his hair aside, presses his forehead against mine, orders me to take my fifteenth shot of fiery whiskey. He has cold pale skin that make his lips seem dark pink. He’s so skinny his cheekbones just out sharply. His crystal blue eyes feel chilly. His sister Shayna is like a female version of him – doesn’t eat, doesn’t sleep or relax, just feeds on sandwiches stolen from people’s lunchbox at school, and feeds on their fear, too. I’ve seen Shayna smash boys from the Harris gang. I’ve seen cops come to school to get those two down from the roof when they did that anti-homework protest thing. Jade’s delicate name only means you’re not allowed to hit back when he bashes you. We had this nerd in the changing rooms with us after PE one time and Jade smashed his glasses off his face with a hockey stick, left him crying for his mum, opened the kid’s lunchbox and ate the kid’s sandwiches in front of him.
I accept a shot with shaking hands, toss the toxic sludge down my throat, try rap along with Eminem. It’s a privilege to be here. I have to perform good.
I can keep up with Eminem’s angry white words decent enough and Bucky lifts the rim of his Toronto Raptors cap to see if Jade’s impressed. Jade is stroking his knife and meditating.
The bong comes round to me again. It’s black glass and heavy with water and cause we’ve been using a barbecue lighter on it, the cone of the pipe is glowing orange. I take a heavy toke. I get a shock as it burns where my thumb is pressed against the glass. I drop the bong so I can suck my thumb. As it hits the tiles it explodes in slow motion. Steaming bong water and glass shards spatter our pants. Jade bends his pouty lips into a smirk, tilts his head sideways like a raccoon, shunts to the edge of his seat, seizes my ears with both hands, starts twisting, tells me the bong’s worth 80, nah, 100 bucks. 120, maybe. How ya gonna replace it?
I bolt out of my seat. He chases me down the driveway. I jump on my mountain bike and pedal. The click of the coloured beads in my wheels sounds different now that I’m stoned and drunk and terrified. I’m leaving Halswell, hitting the motorway, kneecaps burning as I push, heading east into the city. I push hard against the grey wind. Pedalling is painful but more painful will be the hiding I’ll get from Jade if I don’t return with a brand new bong.
First part of my life or death mission is to stop in Hoon Hay at my home. Mum doesn’t notice me nudge the ranchslider open, throw up in my mouth, swallow it, tiptoe past her. She’s in a trance, working on an oil painting while Puccini’s violins boom from a huge old speaker. Up in my bedroom, I steal a peek into the backyard and the open garage, where Dad is painting his model trains before racing them with Lauren’s old man and Christian’s old man and all these dads from down my street. My little brother leans against Dad. They press against each other with excitement as Dad holds this carriage and my little brother puts a tiny perfect dot of yellow on its headlights. I tiptoe over my squeaky floorboards. I’ll probably collapse sobbing in Mum’s lap if she stops me and smells my pants and my breath. Jade’s like Freddy Kruger. He horrifies but parents can’t see him.
On my computer chair is my personal journal plus a World Book CD-ROM encyclopaedia. I’m supposed to be writing a speech about Egypt. I toss the CD-ROM off the chair, kick it under my bed. I’m gonna be in shit if I don’t get the speech written, but fuck it. Nothing that ever happened in Egypt ever changed the world as much as the threat looming over me today. From the centre of my journal I grab my bank book so I can withdraw my birthday money from Opa in Holland, plus this silver ring Opa sent me when I was, like, six. Jade can sell or trade it or give it to his sister.
I get back on my bike. Even though the sky is grey as dust, sweat trickles down my ribs and my back. Halswell Road becomes Lincoln and Lincoln hits Hagley Park and Moorhouse Ave. Banks rise up and blot out the sky. I’m sure people can smell the trouble on me as I pedal past, or at least they can smell the puke and weed smoke and whiskey.
I’m too scared and stoned to remember the code for my combination lock. I haul the bike all the way into the bank, park it on the deep plus carpet of BNZ. I don’t even look at the bank lady as my shaking hand slides her the withdrawal slip. She gives me $100 in a little bag and I mumble a quiet apology to Opa up in heaven. I pedal over to Cosmic Corner and give $60 to this dreadlocked dude with eyebrow rings who sells me a bong. I marvel at it – cold and crisp and elegant, like a vase- then put it in my schoolbag and creak my bike until it’s got some speed up and I’m racing all the the orange traffic lights.
It’s deep into the afternoon when my bike squeaks up the driveway and I walk into Jade’s granny’s house. I can hear rap music and smell a rubbish bin that’s been kicked over. I find the boys in the lounge. Bucky has a purple stain under his eye, now, and the coffee table has been flipped over.
Jade tosses his Playstation controller aside, takes my school bag with the bong in it and tosses it on the couch, then squeezes my neck and tells me to march down to the school. I have to walk ahead of him five metres so I can’t see it when he executes me. I hear a ping and feel a hot wasp on the back of my neck. Jade is firing Roman Candles at me and grinning. ‘We’re just playin,’ Jade calls out, ‘Tell me if it gets too rough.’
‘All good, Jade,’ I gasp, ‘I got you this.’
I give him the ring my Opa swallowed in 1940 to keep it from the Nazis. It’s silver with a stripe of gold winding around it and a huge garnet on top. He tosses it once, cranes his arm back, then throws it on the roof.
Outside the office of Oaklands Primary School, where five days a week there are grown-ups to help you, Jade squeezes my throat then jams a Jack Daniels bottle against my teeth so hard that either my tooth cracks or the bottle does. The bottle’s half full, but Jade tells me to finish it.
‘Be good for ya,’ he says, smiling to himself, pulling from his pocket five curtain rail hooks to slide around each of his knuckles, ‘You won’t feel as much.’
I wake up at midnight, so shivering and numb I don’t even feel it when I jump off the roof and land hard. I bike home without lights and someone throws a beer can at my helmet. I crawl into bed in my puked-on, burnt clothes and helmet sticky with beer. I can still hear dad, chortling in the garage with all these dads from Scouts and my little brother telling everybody to SHUSH while he solders the final circuit to make the speaker work on the miniature TranzAlpine he and dad spent all day painting together. They would’ve got it done way quicker if I was around to help. I have dreams of aliens jabbing me and when I wake up my bed is soaked black with puked-up whiskey and there’s a text on my phone from Bucky, saying he’s got me a 2HC t-shirt and him and Jade are going to the pool and they’ll pick me up at lunch and I’m too scared to say no.
17: I Hate Being Comfortable
Me and the boys, a whole bunch of us, become old enough to buy beer at a few places but young enough that we don’t have to go to jail no matter how much shit we get in with the cops. 17 is the best age. It’s something to celebrate. We spend a whole night on the showgrounds of the Canterbury farming expo, squirting each other with fire extinguisher, shaking up beers, shooting potato guns at pigs, cutting wires with fire axes, burning anything plastic with our lighters. This is better than sport or air force cadets or soccer. I quit indoor cricket ages ago. I quit outdoor cricket too. Scouts, swimming lessons, all that shit: gone. Outta there. I’m not ganged-up, but I’ve my 2HC shirt that Bucky gave me and I wear it to parties. My mum found it in my drawers when she cleaned my room. She pressed it against me, told me it was a wonderful colour, asked what 2HC stands for, asked if Opa Jan posted it to me for my birthday.
I show up for one day of Year 12, get my leaving certificate then jet to the Waimak where we set fire to Johnny Rabies car and push it in the river, hoping it’ll burn as it floats, like a Chinese lantern. I get a family conference for that, then I’m pissed off from the family conference so I say yes when the boys dare me to drive down Colombo Street on the kerb for fifty straight metres without hitting anything. I have to go to Youth Court for that. I get a suspended sentence. It means if you get in more shit, you have to go back to court. Pffft. Boo hoo.
I live with my olds and guzzle milk out of their milk bottle and watch porn on their dial-up internet and drink my dad’s old-arse brandy. I get a plumbing apprenticeship to keep them off my arse. I get dirty fingernails and sore knees for nine hours a day so I can earn the right to do whatever the fuck I want at night. They’re not scared of me. They don’t think I could do better. They see me come home with the collars of my t-shirts ripped, my eyebrow ring ripped out, shit like that, and think it’s some sort of scared straight message I’m taking in. Psssh.
I come home from another night in the cells for climbing up the Chalice and pissing into the wind and Mum walks into my room with a tray of dinner and a pile of folded fresh towels. Dad tells me they’ve got some “comfort money” set aside “to pay for a barrister, if you’re in trouble again.”
I scream into the night, I HAAAAATE BEEEING FUCKIIIING COMFORTABLE and turn the bed over, smashing my bedside lamp so the bulb pops with a whisper of smoke. My mum tries to massage my shoulders. Dad promises he’ll drive me to some Masons business network evenings if I want to “get on the Colchester way,” dropping a railway joke. He’ll even put in a good word, make sure I get a reliable person to mark my plumbing papers. A plumber can make 50, 60 grand a year when qualified, he tells me. I start screaming again, boiling all the alcohol out of me. I wave a sharpened screwdriver at my old man as I clomp down the stairs and pack all my shit into the boot of my Nissan Skyline. My little brother, still wearing his prefect blazer, follows me to the doorstep, stands with that folded-arms arrogant Asperger’s body language he’s always got going. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t swear, doesn’t get laid. ‘You’re in trouble again,’ he yawns, bathing me in shame, so I knock him out with a right hook. His head hits the door frame and he slithers down and starts crying. I promise him the pain will go away in an hour, I promise him I’ll never touch him again. I kiss his scalp, tell him I love him, tell him sorry, tell him not to come near me. Whatever I’ve stained myself with, I don’t want to get any on him.
18: In Trouble Again
I move into a cavernous Worcester Street flat with these goths whose house I wake up after a night on the piss. One of them – with hands so tiny, she can’t be much older than 15 or 16 – gets me to come into her bed on the first night to keep warm, and she’s not lying, but we do other stuff too, besides keeping warm. We smoke in bed afterwards, filling the room with blue clouds, watching droplets dribble down the vast old colonial windows. She says her street name is Evanescence. Bullshit, I tell her. I tickle her til she fesses up her real name: Mona. She covers her childish freckled skin with a mask of white foundation makeup and dyes her hair black and only wears black and a rock of amethyst hangs around her neck. I sleep in every bed in the flat, but there’s something about the way she arranges her soft toy pandas and dreamcatchers that makes me feel welcome. She’s too babyish to work out I’m an untrustworthy old piece of shit, I guess.
Four days after banging her I have to piss every five minutes cause there’s white goo leaking out of my dick. At work I can barely squat over the pipes cause it makes me have to rush off to the portaloos every ten minutes to squeeze out a couple droplets of piss. It’s another two weeks before I’m hurting bad enough to sign up at a clinic beside the needle exchange place on Hereford Street and let a nurse inspect my weeping cock and prescribe antibiotics. I can’t stop thinking about Mona after that. I text her how much I hate her but it just gets these conversations going.
Every evening I say bye to the flash housing development up in the hills where me and the boys have been laying pipe and I sell a few brass taps and copper fittings at Cash Converters on the way home then trudge into my goth flat, too weary to pull my muddy boots off. I don’t make more than a hundred bucks most days. Dinner is always a steaming mountain of fish and chips everyone picks at. We stretch the food out with white bread and margarine and sachets of Burger King ketchup, then there’s no food in the house again till tomorrow night. Everyone reckons they’ve already spent their student loan money and there’s only so many fake accounts you can set up.
Just before midnight our flat mobilises into a black and white mob cause some friend of Vlad who sells stolen Sony Discman CD players has had his son taken off him by CYF, or whatever, and he wants revenge on somebody, anybody. Fucking arsehole – the dude’s real good looking, with dark handsome eyebrows and a full beard and real pumped biceps, and he fucks a fresh girls just about every day. Walking parallel across the pavement, forcing people into the gutter, we march our boots and dreadlocks through Worcester and Manchester and the Square and High Street. Tourists cross the road when they see us coming. I can’t staunch people out on my own so it feels good to have a whole mob of seven screechy girls and three dudes standing behind. Fuck bumming smokes off plumbers richer than me. Fuck husting stolen taps for ten bucks a pop. This is power. This is influence. I can’t wait to run into someone like Bucky. I’ve told everyone in the flat stories about that traitor-arse motherfucker when we’ve been passing joints around, though I’ve never told anyone about Jade. It’ll feel weird to smash Bucky, cause he was a bro, but he needs to be put into the ground for exposing me to… exposing me to myself, I guess. For showing me how much trouble I can get into and remain alive.
We don’t find anyone good to smash so in the Botanic Gardens we topple this big marble statue instead and shunt the broken hunks of marble into the middle of the road, make a road block. The first vehicle to stop is a taxi and the girls pile into it then screaming breaks out and Mona gets blood on her white cheek. We hear sirens and sprint all the way to the Rocky Cola bar, dissolve into the churning black hair and scalps and singlets, mosh to Limp Bizkit and Korn and Manson and Tool, Cradle of Filth, Mayhem, Nine Inch Nails. Walking home in blue light as the birds are waking up, we break into Christ’s College and smash the trophy cabinets, hoping we can stop them from achieving so much and leaving us behind. We crash at 9am when Straightos are going to work. Everyone collapses on their own mattress, too exhausted to take off their boots and trench coats, except me and Mona, or Evanescence, or whatever she’s calling herself. She won’t get School Cert unless she completes a two page essay on the ANZACs. There’s only one decent lamp in this flat but its base is broken, so I hold the wobbling light for two hours over her refill pad while she scribbles. After, she hums a pop song as she laces up and walks out the door to catch an 8 o’clock bus to go and hand her work in. I watch to see if she’ll look back at me appreciatively.
The goth place goes to shit cause Discman gets most of the girls pregnant and they move back in with their parents. Probably Mona’s pregnant too, I don’t know. I’m away for like a week at this flat, playing poker 24/7 at this flat full of junky Asians and when I come back, Mona’s room is empty except for a stuffed penguin, black and white and reeking of weed smoke.
The flat goes empty one by one until I’m left with a mountain of dirty dishes covered in so many maggots it looks like the porcelain is alive. This dude from Hong Kong rocks up one day with about six skinheads and they don’t even talk to me as they begin ripping out the rotten floor with crowbars. The city’s got about four main skinhead gangs, the Fourth Reich, Unit 88, Brockworth Boots and the Hammerskins. At night the skinheads fight each other mostly, and they only stomp Samoans if they catch one alone. There is a civil war going on between the skinheads and goths, so I cram my hoodies and CDs into a garbage bag, leave my plumbing qualification workbooks in a pile of bills and fines and Due Immediately notices, crawl down the fire escape and into an alleyway. Next time I drive past the place, it’s a convenience store.
There’s this basic kitchen and bar skills certificate you can do. It teaches you how to wash your hands so you don’t give hepatitis, pretty much. You get course related costs, a loan plus free kitchen knives. The careers advisor at Tech says it’s a good fit for me without looking up from his desk. I pick up my certificate two months after I start. I slide it into my clearfile resume along with my Canterbury Cricket Kids Player of the Year award and my Scouts patches and my Cannibal Corpse ticket stub. I had to sell like 80 CDs at Cash Converters to get that ticket. Least they weren’t mine.
20: Anything, anytime
I get work hosing the food scraps off dishes out back of a Vietnamese restaurant in the kitchen. They don’t even interview me or get me to fill in an application form. You enter the kitchen from this alleyway off Bedford Row. The place doesn’t have a number or any signage. I have to remember what colour dumpsters are nearby to find it. I tip vats of old fat into the sewer grate in the alley, clenching smoke between my teeth. I waterblast endless small white dim sum plates. I hose down stainless steel serving trolleys, scrub bamboo baskets sticky with rice, polish chopsticks. Me and the boys watch wrestling on a flickery VCR, smoke Indonesian cigarettes, chew this gross weed called khat that you chew like spinach but makes you feel pumped with nicotine. They get it from their Somali mates. I don’t speak these guys’ language and they’re not too keen on mine. They call me Bac Guai and they reckon it means White Devil but I reckon it’s something worse.
Mona’s always texting me the kind of shit I used to write in my journal, little snippets of poetry, song lyrics she’s decided are about her, and the kind of little motivational quotes you find in fortune cookies. Plus emoticons. She can make puppies out of characters, flowers, rainbows, you name it. I haven’t seen her in months, but any time someone texts me, it’s probably her. Some of the high school boys have gone onto uni and don’t talk to me anymore, but it’s hard to tell if it’s a few exceptions or if it’s a rule. Fuck it. Mona means pussy and smoke. My friends can’t give me that.
She skites like a 12 year old, reckons she can bring me anything, anytime. Special K, dust, crack, ounces, mollies, acid, pouches of tobacco her friends have taken in ram raids. Whatever, Mona. She’s like a little girl wearing her mum’s giant high heels and handbag. She comes round, makes hardly any eye contact. We sit on my bed and discuss Tool lyrics, sucking smoke from a joint I spent 20 minutes trying to roll to perfection to impress her. Mona has a boyfriend, she reminds me, that Discman dude apparently, but here I am unzipping her. They’re supposed to be engaged. I lean her onto my naked mattress. We have one last suck of Kronic and she arches her stomach up towards me.
‘You better be 16,’ I tell her.
‘Honest,’ she says.
She remembers the rhythms our bodies agreed on. She makes little squeaks and squeals that belong on a playground jungle gym. After, she lies breasts-down on the mattress, shy, modest, girly, writing in her diary with a fountain pen and a bottle of ink while I roll a smoke on my heaving chest. I go through three pouches of tobacco a week. I drink every day. My only exercise is wheeling my BMX through the city to the Viet Chow and home. I’m so unfit that sex makes my blood just about pop out of my skin. I’ll get fit some day in the future. When I get out of Crimechurch and over to the GC, shirtless, free, renewed.
We talk for four hours and she rolls perfect cigarettes. Mona’s words are basic, a little childish. Simple. Mona comes from Haast and her family’s old school Waitaha Maori, she says. I ask her why she rolls with whiteboys. She shrugs and says, ‘Not many options.’
Mona checks the time on her phone, gasps, pulls fresh knickers out of her handbag, tugs her denim jacket on. She pushes on ruby coloured lipstick and puckers her lips and gives me an air kiss. ‘Gotta get to work,’ she squeaks, almost happy, unplugging her hair dryer, kissing me on the cheek and leaving.
I can’t find her that night. I drift so slowly along the streets, hookers cling to my rumbling ride like a parade, but no Mona. She’s off making money. It’s all good.
21 What Christchurch?
On Saturdays, to make eighty bucks, I haul couches, tables, tallboys. I work public holiday, Sundays. I work when there’s black ice on the streets and snow in my nose. The homeowners are never home. They arrogantly leave us a code to open their gate, leave their front door unlocked, all confident cause CCTV is watching us so we can hardly do any dirt. CCTV can’t watch you in the bathroom cabinet, though. I fill my pockets with Ritalin from the mayor’s kids, borrow some cologne from that More FM cunt Simon Whatsisface. Simon Barnett, that’s the cunt. I tax perfume from Canterbury Flames netballers and university lecturers and people on the city council. From the balconies of clifftop manshions they look down on the rest of us, down on the flat pavements of Hornby and Hillmorton and Shirley. Across the hazy city. The Southern Alps glint. Planes twinkle. I stroke the callouses on my crimson hands and think about heading west to Perth, Melbourne. Alice Springs. Somewhere to get my outer layer of skin scorched off. I gaze up the coast all the way to Kaikoura, Wellington. I’m about to pledge something to myself when an angry rugby dude who plays for the Crusaders C team barks at me and my knees creak as I stoop to scoop a rolled-up carpet and lift it to my shoulder, breathing dust, blinking, wishing I was stoned.
I lug furniture, I scrub sticky rice out of bamboo baskets, I wait on the gates at Lancaster Park where I search people’s bags for alcohol at Crusaders games. In between it all, I read the paper and wonder what Christchurch these reporters live in where there are inventors and people in suits and Olympians and authors. I’ve never met anyone like that. My world’s all Harris Gang members in baggy NBA shorts and hoodies, bus stop beatings, broken bottles, lowered Jap cars with blow-off valves. I read the Press while waiting for my Probation lady to come out from her meeting sipping latte out of a Corrections mug. I turn the huge pages in my cramped Nissan Pulsar while I’m waiting outside my brother’s work to borrow fifty shameful bucks off him to try bail out my lifeboat from the thousands of dollars of Ministry of Justice fines that arrive in the post no matter where I’m flatting. In the pages of The Press it’s another world. Who knew this fuckin shithole of a city had a symphony orchestra? Who knew we had TWO universities? There’s always reports about Christchurch magnates securing hundred million dollar software deals, or Ngai Tahu reporting record profits, and mayors and MPs and councillors being all proud of the city as if they don’t all realise we’ve been cast off to the southeast corner of the fucking world, practically shoved into Antarctica.
Jade Maurice Slack is in the court pages once or twice a year. There’s something about his middle name, the bland horror of it, the way Jade is described, like a deadly species in a jar. One time he’s in the court news for squirting lighter fluid all over a female cop and threatening her with a barbecue lighter. Maybe the same lighter we used to light the bong that I smashed, back when my potential was made of glass and I dropped it. Another time he’s in the paper for losing the featherweight boxing title at the Golden Gloves ’cause he elbowed the other boxer in the eyes and there was a bigarse brawl. Shayna gets charged and convicted for a couple of things, too, but the paper says she’s pregnant so she just gets Home Detention.
I’m dropping off some tinnies at this dude’s pad in Aranui one day, sucking spots through an oil-flecked bottle over the stove when I pull a newspaper from the recycling bin with a photo of Jade standing in the dock. The dude I’m smoking with swats the paper and I toss it down. ‘Keep that wanker away from me.’
‘What, Jade? You know that cunt?’
The dude takes a toke, slowly sips his smoke for ten long silent seconds, then tells me a story. Jade and his sister Shayna painted the nails of an old friend cause the old friend said he didn’t wanna be in their gang anymore. Problem is the friend’s fingernails weren’t on his fingers when they painted them. The old friend wasn’t really a friend anymore after Jade pulled his nails out with pliers. They dragged him out into the road and left him on a pile of rubbish bags. When he woke up he hitched all the way to the Picton ferry, gapped it to Wellington, went into the Navy. He needed an entire defence force to feel safe from Jade Slack.
‘Bucky Buckland, right?’ I tell my mate, ‘Fuckin hell.’
‘Some friendship, eh.’
It’s a silent, black, neon-lit Tuesday night when I slide up alongside the kerb. Mona leans her cleavage into the car and I invite her in before she realises it’s me. She keeps on talking; I keep on driving. I’ve got half a point bag and I let her smoke as much as she wants, so long as she doesn’t get out of the car. She talks and talks and I cruise and cruise all the way to Kaikoura. Speed cameras flash every time I got past. We keep moving and moving, Blenheim, Havelock, Picton, slow to a halt right in front of a sleeping Interislander, huge and white as an iceberg. We could drive aboard at dawn. We could leave everything. Drive off the ferry in Wellington, two more tanks of gas to Hamilton, Auckland. We could race to Cape Reinga, shoot off, try and land on the islands.
‘Babe, I gotta get back to work,’ she says, and folds the lid of her cellphone closed, bored, fed up, joke over.
We smoke a thousand bucks of product in a week. Then we hate each other for a week. There’s a fight in Westfield Riccarton Mall in Hallensteins where a big rugby arsehole from the Crusaders B team steps in to break us up. A fight at the movies. At Mcdonalds on Colombo Street. There’s a fight at Friday night social netball on the Hagley courts. These cunts won’t stop yelling OTAAAGO and pinching Mona’s arse and these boy racers jump in and I get kinghit and fall down like a load of dropped laundry, I’m told. I don’t remember anything for a couple days, then I wake up drinking and shouting somewhere and we’re in another fight, deep inside the Holy Grail, a club so huge and loud you can’t see the exits from the dance floor. Our fight sloshes into the Square. Somebody in a Highlanders shirt gets kicked in the face. Another dude is clutching a bottle as he goes down and it shatters in his hands. There are giant chess pieces in the Square. Somebody gets one of these in their head and they go down, or maybe it’s me and I can’t remember.
Mona’s dad keeps trying to clip my nipples with the barbecue tongs, acting all alpha male macho bullshit. He’s mega proud just cause he’s one of the last purebred South Island Māori, supposedly. Me and Mona have to duck into the bathroom to spray this stuff in our eyes that makes the redness clear out.
We play volleyball in the pool and Mona’s old man complains every time I miss a hit. He complains that I’m wearing board shorts instead of togs. He complains about the amount of tomato sauce I squirt on my sausage, tells me to take the cap off my head, keeps throwing out these cringe jokes about making an honest woman out of his daughter. I’ve got a 2HC tattoo on my shoulder I keep trying to cover up with the towel and he keeps yanking the towel off my shoulders so he can make fun of my tat and the wind nips my skin and I’m tempted to text one of the boot boys on my phone and get them to come round here and smash him. We limp through conversation about Mona’s CV and how she’s gonna have her own home beauty therapy business, lease in the old man’s mind she is. He thinks Mona works night shift doing reception at one of those 24/7 gyms to save up money. Mona’s real mum died yonks ago and her sister fled to Brisbane and keeps telling Mona to come join her, so instead Mona’s dad’s new wife is some good Samaritan who can only talk about food parcels and volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau. I’m pretty sure I’ve even spoken to her on the crisis line one time when the pigs took my licence and said I couldn’t drive but I had to get to work and I needed to know how much trouble I’d get in if I they caught me.
When I can’t take it any more I open the gate and strut away and me and Mona get into my car and use the tinted windows to cover ourselves while we hit the pipe. I’m so smoked it looks like a man in a speedo with crimson skin is coming across the road with a shovel. He smashes the window, takes the keys out of the ignition, unlocks the door and pulls me out by my earring. I have only a beach towel around me. I beg for my keys. Traffic honks at me as I cling to a metal rail in the island in the middle of the road. I pull the keys out of the tarmac just before a truck crushes them.
We drive in our togs, steaming and swearing and cackling and sucking on the soothing pipe till we find a cheap-enough looking motel on West Coast Road. She has her dad’s credit card. We’ve got at least a week until we get a phone call that’ll end everything. Either it’ll be American Express or it’ll be the cops. I tell her this as I lie with my head on her lap, watching motel room Sky TV while Mona strokes me like a baby and hums TV jingles. I suck tiny bottles from the minibar, little gins, little vodkas. I don’t touch the whiskey. I never have, not since I was 15.
Mona’s brain is slow and soft like cotton wool cause she doesn’t go to work much, just smokes all day and does the ironing, so to get her pretty laugh to burst out of her lips I have to scare her gently. At the Botanic Gardens we’re having a picnic of Carl’s Jr and treating ourselves to some nice Benson and Hedges smokes for a change and it’s sunny and warm but I want to hear that laugh so I seize the neck of this swan and squat on top of the swan and tell her to jump on the back and come for a ride in the clouds. She’s so embarrassed she starts walking off. Japanese tourists take photos of me on the swan. I let it go, chase Mona down. I jump off New Brighton Pier to shock a laugh out of her. I stand in front of a tram til it’s forced to stop and the old driver’s so pink in the face he takes a swing at me. In the library I rip the electronic tag out of this book about spider monkeys, her favourite animal. This guy from the Southern Vikings MC who’s selling me a garbage bag full of bike helmets mentions they’ve got spider monkeys in the cages at Willowbank wildlife reserve. I blindfold Mona and drive her across the city and she rolls a smoke, blindfolded, and says, unimpressed, ‘You know this isn’t the first time I’ve had my arse kidnapped, right?’ and it’s not even a joke.
We stand in front of the spider monkey cage and I take off her blindfold and I tell her if she’s not fuckin impressed by now I’ll just fuckin give up on her, and she puts her ruby lips against my ears and whispers, ‘No you won’t.’
24: Quit everything
We get an apartment just off Gloucester. It’s near enough to run back to when I get into fights in town after work. I come out of a kitchen full of Vietnamese who don’t speak my language. Some of the boys in there are pretty tough. They drink liquor with a scorpion in the bottle. They fight these Chinese gangs with meat cleavers. They peddle plenty of crack but don’t smoke the shit themselves. Vietnamese people know where they come from and know where they are in society. It makes me feel pale and worthless. My people stepped off the first four ships and built this city and never expected people like me to contribute nothing. I’m not even sure where my peeps come from. The Viets brag about their family names, this guy’s family name means Tiger, this one’s Warrior, this one’s Dagger, this one’s Chief. Me? I got no idea.
I feel more and more unneeded til I stop showing up at Viet Chow altogether and nobody rings me up and tells me they expected better. My new job is delivering $20 tinnies to people’s doors for a $5 delivery fee. Sometimes I even pick people up, balance them on the front of my mountain bike if I’m between cars, bump along the footpath into Linwood, hover outside the tinny house while people buy their little foils of happiness. I haven’t had a driver licence in years. I’m about to turn 25. I have friends who are completing their Masters degrees now. They share pictures from UN Headquarters in Brussels from Las Vegas, from Edinburgh, Oxford, Harvard.
I can’t lay my head on Mona’s lap when the crack’s making her cranky. I text my little brother and ask if he wants to hang out, smoke a cone, and he says he’s busy downhill mountain biking in the Port Hills then playing Warhammer with these nerds from Cashmere High School. I pray mum carries on ironing his undies for him each weekend. I pray he remains safe and nerdy, bubble-wrapped in familiar things, never taking risks. I pray he’s never in the same room with Jade and Bucky, changing the course of his life by trying to impress them.
Sorry bout wht I did 2 u. I always text him that when I’m high and low at the same time.
He always replies, Be more specific.
25: A Year Driving
Mona’s not in the bathroom one morning. Her side of the bed is neatly tucked in and she’s left me a cup of Home Brand instant coffee on a saucer on the pile of bike mags beside my bed. I drive all the way to Ashburton and storm into Mahmet’s kebab joint and demand to know what he’s done with her and I get a hiding from these two chefs and they push me into traffic and a huge sheep truck honks at me til I can’t take it. After a week Mona texts me to say she’s in rehab up at Hanmer Springs and she’ll let me know in a couple months if I’m allowed to visit. Apparently I’m the root of all her problems. Her counsellor’s told her we’re co-dependent.
I spend a year driving. My Subaru WRX is too low, so’s my Nissan Skyline, my Ford Falcon, my Kingswood. The cops slap huge pink stickers on my windscreen. They take car after car off me. The weather goes from autumn to autumn and I realise a year’s passed. Wet leaves on my boots. Strangers in malls. Everything’s flat. Unending boulevards, big barn shops expansive as warehouses. Midnight traffic lights. At four in the morning I follow the cliff-edge twists up to the Sign of the Kiwi, look down on a city made of tiny winking Christmas tree lights, pray Mona will be there in my bed when I get home.
I’m dropping a couple ounces round to these Maoris in Aranui living in this flat with painted cinderblock walls, unfixed loose carpet on creaky floorboards. One of them says he likes the signature Ruben Alcantara graphite pedals I’ve got on my BMX and I’m impressed he knows his bikes and he says ‘Hold that thought’ while he packs a bong and gives me the first hit. I clutch the bong firmly. I’ll never drop a bong again. This place, the Maoris have a wood carving on the fall with intricate swirls and a rasta flag saying Waitaha. That’s what’s under the carpet, they tell me as I suck my smoke. Waitaha’s what’s underneath all of us. Underneath you Pakehas. Underneath the avenues. Underneath history.
I spend a month as a lookout with these guys while they drive onto farms and do standovers of farmers, empty their diesel tanks, raid their gun cabinets cause the farmer owes some Road Knights some money. I’m the babyface people see through their peephole before they open their door and get a surprise. I tell them sorry as the Maori boys aim the Taser and fire.
We sleep in a Temuka parking lot with our boots sticking out the car window. We eat nothing for a day then buy 10 scoops of chips and eat off some picnic table with Kaikoura seagulls hassling us. The mountains are dipped in snow. I wake in the parking lot outside a marae. The carvings are watching me, judging me. ‘How long’s that been there for, that marae-thing?’
We shoot Ketamine on the drive home. We pass one of those signs for our city. It takes a blood full of drugs to realise it’s a fucked-up word I’ve never noticed. Christ… Church. Church of Christ.
‘How come it’s got so many see-aitches in it? Y’know? Like Ch-ch-ch.’
‘Cause nothing ever changes in Christchurch,’ someone in the back seat says.
We’re all rubbernecking, craned around in our seats watching the eerie words dance across the road when the car dips suddenly then rolls and my back rests against the ceiling for a moment before I’m not in the car at all, and I know it’s not the drugs.
At the station they give me a cup of instant coffee and a biscuit. This one old lady cop with a short boyish haircut keeps making jokes about my driving skills and how close I came to having a broken neck then she has to slide a box of tissues across the table cause I’m bawling. I tell her I don’t deserve to be alive and she tells me that’s nonsense, every life has value, and she squeezes my hand. ‘Can I tell you what you’re in for now, sweetie?’ she asks.
‘Fuck, do it,’ I tell her. ‘Hit me.’
I’ve got 13 outstanding warrants for 20 charges. It takes so long to read all my charges that I tune out. Driving, overdue fines, not showing up to community service, stolen bikes, a pipe in my pocket, ounces, tins, something about a Taser, plus dangerous driving, driving while disqualified and driving while intoxicated. I let them take the stud out of my tongue. I turn out my pockets, hand over my shoelaces so I’ve got nothing to hang myself with. I ask what happened to all the other boys that were in the car when it rolled. The cop kinks her head to the side, tries to gauge whether I’m joking or not.
‘What other boys?’
On a Saturday morning, a judge tells me I’ve got to go and do a lag at Paparua, but I hardly even hear. All I can think about is Mona. At the station I wouldn’t stop crying till somebody got in touch with Mona, so the old lady cop talked to her colleagues and came back and told me she hasn’t been sighted at Calendar Girls in a while. She’s pregnant, I convince myself, and if she’s still sucking NOS and crack and bath salts inside herself then she’s going to have she’ll have a flipper baby, I guarantee. That is if it’s ME that gets her pregnant. Being away from her is a risk. The way she licks her lips when she’s hungry for a smoke makes her irresistible. Someone’s gonna buy her a first class ticket to the GC and take her away from me while I’m walled up.
27: Birthday in jail
Everyone turns this nasty-arse dark pink saveloy colour in jail cause we don’t get any sunlight on us. The jerseys here are grey too and match the walls and match the colour everyone’s hair turns in here if you do more than a year. Even the Indians, the Maoris, the Vietnamese. I miss the Botanic Gardens. I miss the smallest, most inconsequential little rectangle grass berm between my parents’ house and the road.
I try catch up with a couple of Mongrel Mob dudes I used to deliver ounces to but they tell me to fuck off. I’m in a bad mood and there’s this drippy wee cunt from Greymouth me and Mona once flatted with and he keeps asking me where Mona lives these days. I walk into his open cell and chuck a cup of boiling Milo in his face with heaps of sugar in it. I go round telling people I smashed a West Coast Faggot. I heard it melted his eyelashes off and he can’t see cause his eyes are green with infection. Then I start listening to the whispers about the Fourth Reich. Turns out those boys are real proud of the West Coast, always yelling Heil Westside! and doing salutes and bragging about fucking up East Coasters. I stop hassling the West Coast and shut up. It’s obvious no one’s got my back.
The only thing stopping me from getting stomped is I’m doing a 14 month lag. The judge said I have to do maximum two years jail, but realistically that translates as 14 months before parole. Moving from remand to the main part of the jail means going to a place with better Connect Four sets and computers and basketball courts, but half the peeps from remand get sent over with you anyway. No escaping the Reich, the faggots, the Mobsters. It’s the same pack of animals everywhere. I’m just lucky I’m doing more than 12 months. Anything less than 12 is a Pussy Lag, and being a pussy’ll get you stomped.
Mona says she’s too pregnant to sit down but it’s just an excuse so that she can leave more quickly. No one likes visiting jail at first. She hands over a card from my mum and dad that says, ‘Happy birthday – have a wonderful day. Don’t forget to do something special today!’ I start sniffling and she shuffles her bum to the edge of the bench, glances around, ready to leave the visiting garden. There’s a baby in her tummy now, just the tiniest little bulge, and she reaches across the table and says, ‘Anyway, I’m soooo stoked! God, me and my mum had like THE BIGGEST SMOKE EVER when I found out.’
The steel table has holes in it so it’s easy to waterblast clean. It’s bolted to the concrete floor and there’s a plaque reading Christchurch Men’s Prison. It oughta read Christchurch = Men’s Prison. I’ve had 26 years of life to get away from Crimechurch and I haven’t done it. I’m more stuck here than ever.
A slim pink-lipped pale guy across the room says ‘HURRY UP’ loudly, putting his palm in front of the face of a scared-looking screw. The screw opens a door for him like a concierge. The screw is deferential, respectful. Afraid. I stop listening to Mona bragging about the ounce she scored. The slim, pretty guy was cleanskinned, no tats, pale flesh, pink lips, hair the colour of money. I glimpse him in the laundry taking the best bedsheets off some confused-looking ladyboy. I see him slouched against the doorway of his cell, chewing and thinking. I see this big curly haired Road Knights dude taking too long at the vending machine and the slim man wrestling the Road Knight into a headlock from behind then wrapping his legs around the Road Knight’s neck and choking him out. I don’t see anyone getting payback on the slim guy. Must mean everyone knows he’s Jade Slack.
Turns out Jade’s in for stabbing a Salvation Army counsellor with a needle he told her had AIDS on it while his sister stole the counsellor’s lunch out of the fridge. Stealing other kids’ sandwiches is the earliest memory I have of Shayna and Jade. Back to back, starving together, lashing out.
They put Jade on my tier so I have to think up some real cowardly shit to stay out of Jade’s way. I sign up for raranga harakeke flax weaving classes with unimpressed-looking Maoris who criticise me constantly. I do Tongan dancing classes with big dudes trying to out-bark each other. There’s a barbershop quartet and I watch them practice for hours. I go to the chapel and spend hours hunched in a pew, praying. There’s a guard who watches me inside the chapel. I worry he’ll tell Jade where I am, who I am. I pass Jade a couple of times and always find an excuse to scratch my face when he’s near so he doesn’t recognise me.
I have this ‘Career training’ job unloading and stacking bags of flour for the kitchen and I pass by Jade in the pantry standing with two Nazi killers with long pointy farmer jaws and tattoos where their eyebrows should be.
Jade’s eyes land on me as I lug my bags of flour. His eyes sting as they scan. He searches a list of 1000 enemies inside his brain. I can tell he’s picked up a result. His head follows me. His lips are pursed in an O.
28: What’s Inside You?
All the smoke is starting to mummify Mona’s skin. It’s taking her longer and longer to pick up Johns on Manchester, plus she says she’s not getting many nights at Calendar Girls anymore, they don’t want a pregnant bitch onstage. Head Hunters’ words, not mine. All of this, everything Mona’s done to herself, it means she needs her man just a little bit, even if he’s got nothing to offer.
Mona has been catching a free shuttle that the churchy cunts from prison rehab group put on for Sunday visits. She says she managed to get stuck sitting beside this girl who was ‘real pushy.’
‘Shayna,’ I say straightaway, ‘It better not’ve been Shayna Slack. Jade’s sister. They’re like lovers, those two. Bonnie and Clyde. Fuck.’
Mona hasn’t even sat down. She struggles to hike her dress up and plant her bum on the bench.
Mona’s less dazed than usual. I tip my chin at her pregnant tummy, ask firstly how the baby is going, secondly ask if anyone else has been fucking her, thirdly I ask if she’s stopped poisoning our baby with crack. Her baby, our baby – I don’t know. She says she’s got twins in her but she won’t answer the second question. She revolves her head like a meerkat, trying to gauge if Shayna is here and if she can be heard. Turns out they’ve shared several shuttle trips together and Mona’s been marked. Shayna Slack has been nagging and bullying and wheedling her til Mona agreed to add her as a friend on Facebook. No going back now.
‘I’ll sort it out in two months,’ I tell her, shaking my head. ‘I’m doin real well. I’ve got so much stuff on my CV now. Weaving courses, dancing, helping out in the kitchen, basic electrician– ’
‘Shayna wants me to swallow,’ Mona interrupts.
I slap my cheeks. ‘Fuck fuck fuck. FUCK.’ I instinctively tug on my bench, hoping it’ll come loose and I can chuck it through a window. This South African guard, Hendrik, gives me a hard look, telling me off with his puckered mouth.
Swallowing means Shayna wants Mona to pack condoms full of Pure into her stomach and puke them up in the visitor toilets.
Mona stands up. ‘I have to go.’
‘WAIT – tell me about the twins.’
Mona pats her belly. ‘They’re all good.’ She looks over her shoulders. ‘I’m packing,’ she whispers.
I lower my head flat against the table, pull her within listening range, pretending to lovingly stroke her arm. ‘Packing? What, fuckin Class A’s?’
She nods, gulps, touches her lips as if she’s gagging.
I get up and try to pace and Hendrik blows hard on his whistle. ‘You want to be goink beck to your cell, bro?’
‘Then seet down and continue de cornversation.’
I look across the garden. Jade pretends to talk to his sister. Really he’s eavesdropping. Jade knows me and Mona are talking about the drugs inside her. Shayna knows.
I stand up, move around the table. Mona closes her eyes, opens her arms, prepares to take the hug. I punch her hard in the stomach. My fists hits resistance. I hear a splodge. Her stomach is hard. It spits my fist out. She doubles over, sinks to her knees, weeping. Hendrik tackles me, driving his elbow into my back as he lands, pressing 120 kilos of heavy Afrikaner into me. Two other guards help Mona up. She isn’t crying, just hiccupping. As Hendrik squeezes my neck and tells me to march to my room before he sprays my eyes, Jade steps in front of us. He has the wide blue eyes of Gollum. He is smiling hungrily.
Hendrik marches widely around Jade, and Jade follows us to the gate.
28: The End of me
They tell me Mona puked seven times before she even left the prison. The screws weren’t interested in giving her a bed and monitoring her condition. I ask if Jade’s sister tended to her, helped her out. No one knows what the fuck I’m talking about. Everyone thinks I’m a normal angry dude trying to maintain a little bit of pride by keeping my woman in line. They also think I’m a dumbarse for wasting a decent visit. Everyone loves their visits.
My punch killed my unborn babies, I’m sure. My punch got Mona free of the parasite she was carrying. My kids are dead. They have to be. My missus hates me. She’s gonna turn, gonna go work for monster mutant inbred hillbilly crims. I can’t sleep. I pinch myself, slap myself, claw my flesh til it scars. I can’t wait for my parole hearing. I’ll make out like I’m real sensitive, real sorry for upsetting mine and Mona’s relationship. She doesn’t have to come back – just let me out, please. The board has no desire to keep a person like me inside, Hendrik says as he marches me towards the room. It’s not a compliment. It means I don’t have my life together enough to stand up to anyone.
The night before my parole hearing, Jade knocks on the door of my cell and asks if he can come in, real polite.
‘You’re in trouble,’ he says, grinning as he enters, closing the door behind him. He doesn’t address me by name. I don’t think Jade every actually figured my name out. He’s just filed my face as a face to dislike. Jade’s got this thing about kicking, I remember as he sweeps my legs out from under me then kicks me in the face as I try to get on my knees. Knock ‘em down, skull to ground. Jade was amazing at tackling when we used to play Bullrush when we were seven. He loved taking down bigger kids and doing whatever it took to make them cry. I wrap my arms around my head. Still the toe of his shoe finds my nose. I’m awake for that bit, but he climbs onto the top bunk so he can jump on my head from a metre high. After that, I go to sleep.
My parole hearing is delayed two weeks, til I can walk again. The two weeks is good for me. The calendar ticks over to a new month. It makes it seem slightly longer since I’ve gotten in trouble. Parole knows I’ve been pretty well behaved, Except for the punching-Mona-in-the-guts thing. No one can figure out what the fuck I was thinking.
Except Shayna. Except her brother.
When the old fucks announce – in the lounge beside the chapel – that I’m released from the custody of the Department of Corrections, I expect to hear a gavel, but there’s just the sound of old people clearing their throats and shuffling white papers, suggesting I walk out of here, collect my shit from my cell under the supervision of Hendrik, feel Jade’s acid eyes melt through my skin and probe my bones. It’s an eleven minute walk through twenty corridors and 21 gates before I am released into the parking lot.
Mona opens the passenger door of a VW Beetle. I try to hug and kiss her. She pushes an Air New Zealand ticket into my hands, says Let’s get the fuck out of here. Oh my God, I say, Ohmygodohmygodohmyfuckinggod. She tells me to shut the fuck up, stop making such a fuss. ‘You’ll wake the babies,’ she says, ‘I don’t want them cranky on the plane.’