The last thing he saw of
she was running into the dark, her
red shoes, shiny, built like convertibles, almost running her along. He
didn’t stop her, he didn’t call out after her as
she ran towards the
pool of streetlight, her dress was covered in zigzags of light and
dark, her shoes were red spoons balanced on stacks, as she turned the
corner her hair rippled suddenly under the waves of lamplight like
water rippling round the legs of the pier, she was gone.
In the moonlit street now there were only shadows. I didn’t
after her, he thought, her shoes running her along. The first day she
had brought them home she sat them on the floor, heels together, toes
pointed out, they look as if they could walk along all by themselves,
she said, ballet position number five.
They look heavy, he said. They look
heavy, she said, but actually they
feel really light.
‘They’ll make the same noise as the
clogs,’ he said, picking them up.
The sound of her clogs trekking across the floorboards night after
night drove him crazy, it was so desolate.
In the street now there was moonlight, running over the roof tiles,
speeding along the tin flashings of the ridge; above the roof the night
rose cold and clear, a green glow.
‘Are you sure,’ said the man sitting in the car,
‘that this is what you
‘You don’t know anything any more, Dad,’
he said. ‘Everything’s
They walked in through the gate. Under the verandah striped light lay
on the tiles; the fruit of the cumquat tree was hard and pale, like
moonfruit. As he lifted his hand up to the lock smooth tiger stripes of
light and shadow slid across his skin, and in through the open door,
over the carpet, hallway up the wall. His father’s shape was
‘It might be better to leave tomorrow, by
daylight,’ the man said.
‘More formal; not like running away.’ The way I did
it, he meant.
‘Better for her?’
‘Better for you,’ the man said.
‘You don’t know anything, Dad,’ he said;
‘you just don’t know.’ His
voice, breaking in the darkness the way the night was now, from the
open windows at the back, breaking into the rooms. A sea of stocks,
white and lacy, glimmered along the garden’s edge. Scents
came in, and
sounds, the house was awash and through it his own voice like a
seagull’s, complaining; it rose, it hung its two winged hooks
complaint, Everything’s changed.
Even through all the clamour of the night, for sounds were now pouring
in, the rasp of the bee in its cell, the rattle of fibres on the
wing, the shag of colours shifting on the tiger’s coat, he
‘Tomorrow, then,’ he said.
‘I’ll have to leave you behind,’ he had
said the first time, ‘it’ll
kill her if you leave too.’ Sometimes letters had come, with
so faint and faded you couldn’t tell where he had been. From
came the sound of the gibbons howling; they swung, hanging from one
long arm, their bodies dangling, their heads turned to the moon. On his
white-painted table he drew black commas with his thickest pen; little
scoops of blackness, like the night gibbons’ cries. Over the
faint blue stars postmarked the sky, covering it with traces that he
could not read.
His mother’s friends sat on stools, at the island bar.
‘What I can’t stand about the phonecalls is that
he’s so bloody
friendly,’ his mother said.
His father took him to chambers, to meet the Judge. At the end of the
table there were eyes, and bones. ‘So this is the
boy,’ the bones said,
‘is he a bit of a rascal, eh...? is he a bit of a
‘Those old horrors,’ his mother said,
‘they don’t know anything about
real women and children.’
‘Does he mind?’ her friends asked. ‘He
just shrugs,’ his mother said,
‘whenever I ask him about any of this he just
Boys do that, said her friends, they slouch, they slump, they shrug.
‘It probably means he’s quite well
adjusted,’ one of them said. They
swung round on their stools to take a good look. ‘Look at him
against the fridge,’ his mother said, ‘I swear to
God if I opened it
he’d just fall in.’
‘You’re happy enough, anyway,’ she said.
In the dark funnel of web he entered when he was sleeping something
dodged, waiting. He was whirling, he was sick; he was alone in there.
He woke with a jerk; lying on his back he saw how his hands were
gripping the edges of the sheet. Through the window the moonlight fell
in a brilliant silent square.
He got up and went through the house. His mother’s room was
the side wings of her mirror, in the light coming in off the street he
looked at his face; turned away, in quarter profile, it was the face of
a stranger, older, more resolute. With one hand, experimentally, he
lifted the side of his hair.
He wasn’t the only kid at school whose parents had split up.
it, boys,’ he said, the way old Polly Barber said it in
may think the world of physical phenomena is just waiting there to be
explained, far from it, boys; everything is in movement; everything
‘I know that,’ said his mother,
‘it’s Greek, everything flows.’
Water flowed by under the bridge breaking into curls of light round the
leg of the pier the night his father left. Together they had leaned
over the bright chopping water. ‘It’ll feel
different once we’re all a
bit further down the track,’ his father said.
‘I feel as if my heart is breaking, watching you
suffer,’ his mother
said. ‘Just try to see it as part of the grand human
French teacher said, ‘even though you haven’t read
He looked round his mother’s room. There were things heaped
On the mantlepiece a giant vase of toppling lilies had leaked their
yellow pollen. The mirror beneath the shelf was dark; he was only an
outline in it, against the window’s light. After a while he
he wanted. ‘I’ll be all right,’ he said
aloud to the empty room.
Back in his own room again he stood at the window looking out to the
hills. Soon he’d be there himself, gone where the others
and Olive from the school down the road, old Tom Barley on his
motorbike, streaming through the hills, under the wide and starry sky.
He’d been the one who found Tom early one morning, the Harley
covered in its shed, the light still burning yellow in the quiet room;
the window had lost its glass; light rustled in through the tree
outside, bending to make its way past the old broken blind, Tom with
one hand on the blanket in front of him, the other arm dropped straight
down, the poem he’d copied stuck on its nail on the wall, Dig the grave
and let me lie
. Bare boards, rough and stringy, where the
wallpaper had given way; a photo of Tom as a young man in hot weather
standing next to his bike; a history of Tonga, with its pale pictures,
a canvas rucksack; and the yellow globe burning thickly on. He wished
he’d been allowed to keep the bike.
He reached under the bed and pulled out the box. In it was everything
he needed along with what he’d got from his
mother’s room. Soon it
would have started, the air on his face, the hills rushing past and
back behind him, on his way north, into the deep blue weather, glad did
I live and gladly die
, dark blue nights, light blue days
the end of it, waiting to cross the sea. The sea with specks on it,
Oceania, like a night full of stars.
He set it all out before him. Soon the night would end; he wanted to
get this thing started before the end of the dark. Carefully he folded
back the sheets and climbed back into bed, and took it all, and lay
down. ‘And I
laid me down with a
Take a last look at this room; it is the last habitation before the
dark. There are curtains blowing in on the dawn wind; the sky behind
the neighbouring houses is a deep orange gradually turning grey. Much
is lost in a fuzzy solidarity, but a few things, in the resolving
light, are distinct and dear: a baseball cap on a candlestand; a U2
poster on the wall; and below it a child’s drawing, done when
Things are moving fast. (Everything flows.) There are rods of yellow
light shooting up now from behind the houses across the road and a
bland blue sky is beginning to lounge across the city, accompanied by a
few fast-moving, opportunistic clouds, like small fish darting through
the lazy blue lounging of the sky. The edges of the high buildings down
town are turning pink, and the aerials, and masts.
Will they find him? Outside a black dog howls in the wind, the sky is
moving by, faster and faster, over the whirling town. He is coasting in
greyness, on the near side of the line; a small dribble of saliva is
edging out. On the wall above his bed the curled corner of the drawing
lifts slightly in the wind. It is a drawing of a boat, the lines are
thin and spidery, drawn in green and brown. There is a yellow sun with
rods of light shooting out, and a wavery sea. On the deck of the boat
two figures, spindly but hopeful, are looking out to the side; below
them are all the magical shapes of the things that live in the sea.
They stand there, their arms raised in happy exclamation. Above them on
a further deck, on his own, a smaller figure is looking directly ahead,
out past the yellow sail cocooned around the mast, into the wind. It is
he who knows where the journey is taking them, he who looks into the
dear air of what lies ahead. He is alone, but stalwart, standing at the
exact centre of the small high deck. Below that there are portholes,
and below them again the name of the boat, written in careful letters
along the bow. Its name, chosen with love, is beautiful: Windsong, it
says, sailing into the future; the waves lap closely around. Windsong,
he calls it, Windsong.