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Pip Adam

From Ryugyong Hotel’

Cath­er­ine enjoyed the pace of the work in Korea. Everything happened in front of her. She spent days walk­ing round the draw­ing boards, look­ing at the plans that were being drawn up, and soon she found her­self test­ing most things on paper with a pen­cil. Usu­ally, the com­puter stayed turned off. She mainly worked. Her guide would wait with her while she worked into the night. He would read or just sit and look out the win­dow of the office. Some­times she would need him to trans­late some­thing and he was always quick and cor­rect. The kit­chen at her hotel packed small din­ners for her which were left in her room by the women who changed the bottled water in her refri­ger­at­or early each morn­ing. Her guide also had a packed din­ner and they would sit and eat togeth­er. Some­times he would read her art­icles from the news­pa­per. Some­times he would sing along with the radio, it was on all the time. Some­times they would just sit, not talk­ing and eat.

            They delivered the first set of con­struc­tion papers on a Thursday, and Nazif gave a short speech to the small group and their guides and inter­pret­ers. A rep­res­ent­at­ive from the Min­istry of Con­struc­tion and Build­ing Mater­i­als Industry gave a speech explain­ing that they were pleased. Nazif asked Cath­er­ine to come to his office, after the cel­eb­ra­tions, when every­one had gone home.

            Nazif’s office had small win­dows that looked out on the bright and dry Korean winter. When Cath­er­ine arrived he called her over to a corner and stood her in front of him. He got her to crouch down slightly, then look up. The top of Ryugy­ong poked weakly above the roof of the build­ing which was but­ted against theirs. They could have opened the win­dow and touched it.

            “On Monday we start a new pro­ject,” he said.

Cath­er­ine looked at the tiny poke of the ugli­est build­ing – at the crane on top of it.

Would you like to stay and start anoth­er pro­ject?” Nazif asked.

On Ryugy­ong?” Cath­er­ine asked.

Per­haps,” Nazif said.

I’m happy to work on any­thing,” she said. “You decide where I would be most use.”

Good,” said Nazif. So togeth­er they began to build Ryugy­ong again. It came to life in their hands, in the hands of the people they employed. It would still be use­less but it would shine, come home, like a holy moun­tain after cen­tur­ies of hid­ing. She received a let­ter invit­ing her back to Wel­ling­ton for the open­ing of part of the CBD.

If you go to Wel­ling­ton,” her guide explained, “you’ll need visas. Shall I get you the appro­pri­ate forms?”

It was a long flight, she said. She looked out at Ryugy­ong, watched the light clip the new clad­ding, as if the build­ing were a space shuttle re-enter­ing the Earth’s atmo­sphere. She was liv­ing in the future now. No, she replied politely, she wouldn’t go to Wel­ling­ton. Wel­ling­ton would have to wait, she thought, for her and for Ryugyong.

Excerpt from I’m Work­ing on a Build­ing by Pip Adam, pub­lished by Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity Press (2013)

Amy Head

The Sinner’

sinnerHe hois­ted his swag over his head and jigged it up and down on his knot­ted shoulder. They tramped over to the start of the track, where someone had erec­ted a sign, char­coal on a splintered pan­el, To The Gold.

A stand of kow­hai spilled over the flat, blink­ing yel­low, ruffled by the wind. Wood pigeons filled the low boughs like baubles. Sam Lord slid his rifle from his swag. “Keep still until I go,” he said.

They des­cen­ded into the Little Grey Val­ley from the north. Duncan’s skin felt infused with a resid­ual heat, but the tem­per­at­ure was fall­ing away. Bird­calls – flu­id pip­ing, squeak­ing, and kiss­ing – lacquered the treetops.

Kamahi Camp was deser­ted. They crossed the flattened grass, kick­ing mounds of ash and mid­dens. They saw only one man. The fire out­side his tent sputtered scraps of smoke. As Duncan watched he crawled out, stabbed at the embers, threw anoth­er stick on, then crawled back­wards and flopped down again, his head and shoulders still outdoors.

The few build­ings clustered on Kamahi Flat, where Old Man’s Creek met the Little Grey, didn’t have a name yet. Gordon’s, they were call­ing them, after the first pub­lic­an to build there. His saloon resembled a rail­way plat­form and sta­tion house. Boot soles clobbered the planks of the ver­anda. Duncan sat suck­ing from a glass of sar­sa­parilla on a bench against a wall, look­ing into a stand of slouch hats and beards, mole­skins and serge. The Grey River Argus was to blame, so they said – pub­lish­ing spittle from a drunkard’s lips. Vari­ations on the story accu­mu­lated along with the new arrivals, new details and the­or­ies thrown in. A vet­er­an pro­spect­or had put the news out dur­ing a drink­ing spree at Twelve Mile. Accounts of what he shouted at the bar and what he prom­ised in the creeks ranged widely. A case of Cham­pagne, some said. A whisky foun­tain, said oth­ers. Nug­gets like knuckles. The creeks had duffered out in six days – a hand­ful of parties were mak­ing change from tuck­er, but they wouldn’t sup­port more. The dig­gers mourned the claims they’d left behind, chan­nels they’d cut that would already have col­lapsed, sluices too large to transport.

Some­body had walked away from a sweet deal: tuck­er and three pounds per week work­ing a coal seam.

Some­body had a girl wait­ing in Dunedin.

One man hadn’t eaten any­thing but pota­toes for five days.

One man said he could slice the lips off the lying clown’s face. He’d have anoth­er drink, and he’d go down­river and lift him up by his neck.

He had all the coal he could burn and a hut.

He boiled them and ate them green and all. His guts were scoured dry.

Grace. Her name crossed the air between them like an impor­ted scent.

Excerpt from Tough by Amy Head, pub­lished by Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity Press (2013)


Ashleigh Young

Moustache guy’

HiResMy favour­ite per­son in Wel­ling­ton is a guy with a huge brist­ling mous­tache, bleached yel­low hair – one of those tufty, cres­ted-canary-like hair­styles; he used to have a dark brown bowl cut – and who looks to be maybe in his mid-twen­ties. I see him most days. Usu­ally he’s wear­ing track­pants and sneak­ers and a back­pack, as if he’s set­ting out on a long walk. He is intel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled, but I’ve nev­er seen him with a carer or any­one else; he’s always on his own. For years now I’ve passed this guy on streets in town, out walk­ing around Mount Vic­tor­ia, at the super­mar­ket, on quiet stretches of the south coast, at the book­shop where I used to work. He’s everywhere.

I always know when he’s approach­ing because he is nev­er not mak­ing a noise. Some­times he’ll be talk­ing to him­self. As I waited next to him at a ped­es­tri­an cross­ing on Wil­lis Street once, he was shout­ing, “I don’t want to… DIE. I don’t want to… DIE.” When the lights changed he ran across the road, his back­pack boun­cing: “Heeeeey! Heeeeeey!” Yes­ter­day I passed him while out run­ning – I heard him com­ing around the corner, long before I saw him – and he said, med­it­at­ively, as I passed, “Aaah, she’s run­ning, she’s run­ning –” like a horse-racing com­ment­at­or, then resumed his mono­logue of beeps, guf­faws, heeeeys and robot noises. Some­times he sounds like Ernie, some­times Bert. His most fre­quent noise is a sort of half-shout, half-laugh. Remem­ber Geof­frey Rush as Dav­id Helfgott in Shine? There’s that really brief scene where Dav­id is the pas­sen­ger in a car and he’s lean­ing out the win­dow shout­ing excitedly as the car speeds by. Mous­tache guy sounds a little bit like that. He is his own speed­ing car.

A friend of mine was at a noodle canteen for lunch recently, and the guy was there. He had his plate piled high with food, and was stand­ing up to eat it with his hands. Food was all over the table, all over the floor, all over his face and in his mous­tache, and the guy was mak­ing noises and hav­ing a great time with this food. The man behind the counter didn’t know what to do. He poin­ted at the guy. “Sit down,” he shouted. The guy sat down for a few seconds. But he couldn’t con­tain him­self – he stood up again and kept eat­ing, noodles fall­ing off his plate, fly­ing from his hands. Caus­ing a scene. The man behind the counter was vis­ibly dis­tressed. “Sit down! Sit down!” Even­tu­ally the guy fin­ished his meal, then wandered out con­ten­tedly, a waste­land of noodles in his wake.

I worked week­ends at the book­store, and there would often be slow after­noons, when the city felt empty. A few cus­tom­ers would drift in and out; some of them would fall asleep under their books in the prob­lem­at­ic­ally com­fort­able arm­chairs. At the front counter, I would take to star­ing out the win­dow, idling over what I’d do that night. Then I’d hear him. “Heeeeey!” Far away, some­where down Lamb­ton Quay, get­ting closer. “Heeeeey!” Sure enough, he’d soon go rolling past, a trav­el­ling juke­box, his mous­tache fuller than ever, his yells resound­ing through the shop. Every­one I’ve talked to about the guy knows who I mean. At the book­store my work­mate Andrew was a fan of him, and he knew I was too, so we’d share our encoun­ters. “I saw him yes­ter­day sprint­ing down the street yelling.” Or, “I just saw him laugh­ing on the water­front. I love that guy.”

Apart from the times when I’ve waited next to him to cross the road – and even then he’ll be jig­gling around, boun­cing on the balls of his feet – the guy is always mov­ing for­ward, his eyes fixed on the mid-dis­tance. He tends not to look at oth­er people, just at the path ahead, and he is a fast walker.

I hope that somebody’s look­ing out for him, that some­body knows where he is when he’s out walk­ing. Wherever he goes, he attracts atten­tion, which makes him more vul­ner­able. I hope that oth­er people get as much delight out of bump­ing into him as I do, but I’m sure that there are lots who cross the street, who look away, who make a face at the per­son they’re walk­ing with, or who are frightened of him because he seems unpre­dict­able. It’s unusu­al to hear a per­son cas­u­ally vocal­ising, exper­i­ment­ing with their voice, as they stride along alone, the same way that you might fid­get with your iPod or your phone as you walk, and I guess most people’s impulse is to walk quickly by. But when I hear him com­ing, I have this imme­di­ate, uncon­trol­lable reac­tion – I can­not stop grinning.

Noise car­ries in my neigh­bour­hood, and as I write this, I can hear the guy out­side. I’m ser­i­ous. I can hear him some­where in Hataitai, so he must be out walk­ing. “Woooooaaaaah! Heeeeey! Heeeeey!”

Ori­gin­ally pub­lished at by Ash­leigh Young (2013)


John Summers


Short-story-7I once worked with a liar. A man who said things that could only be lies but kept a straight face when he spoke, look­ing you in the eye as if dar­ing you to ques­tion him. We worked at a news­pa­per, in the print­ing and pre­de­liv­ery sec­tion. It was a night job and the late hours attrac­ted strange people: alco­hol­ics, por­no­graphy addicts and men who talked only of get rich quick schemes. Even among them, the liar stood out. He said incred­ible things and, in a place where the noise of machinery meant all con­ver­sa­tions were shouted, he was espe­cially loud.

He was known as Limo because he once drove lim­ousines, but all we had was his word on that. The only thing we ever saw him drive was an old Bed­ford van painted with fantasy art images. Women in fur bikinis wield­ing swords and rid­ing white tigers.

When I first met Limo he was friendly. He shook my hand and intro­duced him­self, “I was christened Andrew Paul Ricky Mark Ran­gi…” He reeled off a dozen names in total. I have for­got­ten what the sur­name was, but I remem­ber think­ing, if I ask him again in a week’s time or even tomor­row will he say the same names?

Later, as I worked with him, I heard the stor­ies. There was the one about killing a boy when he was in primary school. There were all the stor­ies about the van – it was mod­i­fied to reach speeds of 600kmph. There was a com­plic­ated tale about being framed for deal­ing drugs. Some­times he only told one story a night, some­times he told one after anoth­er. But always he told them the same way, loudly and con­fid­ently, chal­len­ging us.

We worked togeth­er on the insert­er, the machine that added the sup­ple­ment­ary sec­tions to the paper – the racing guide, the week­end life­style and fea­ture sec­tions and the glossy advert­ising bro­chures that fall out onto the pave­ment when you’re walk­ing home from the dairy. We stacked these onto a feed on the insert­er and it dropped them into the newspapers.

Some­times we were joined by Bry­an, a Brit­ish-Afric­an man who had a cock­ney accent. Like Limo he liked to tell stor­ies and because I was young, eight­een years old at the time, he told us all about his youth.

All I could think about when I was your age was doing the wild thing. If my girl­friend wouldn’t have sex with me I’d be a real baby. Make her feel guilty.”

He turned to me with a pathet­ic expres­sion. He looked as if he was about to cry. “What?” he said. “Don’t you love me anymore?”

Limo smiled and shook his head. He began to tell us how he met his wife. He had a flat in town back then and one night he was watch­ing a rugby game when a group of young people came to his door. One of them, a young man, said they needed to cut through his yard to get to the beer garden at the bar behind the house. Boun­cers had turned them away from the main entrance because it was too full. Limo was impa­tient but he couldn’t see any harm in their request. He said they could go ahead and was about to close the door, when the man spoke again. His friend des­per­ately needed to use the toi­let. Limo pulled a face to show he was annoyed, but said it was okay as long as they made it quick.

A young woman stepped for­ward. She’s alright, Limo thought to him­self. Maybe she was short, but she was def­in­itely pretty. He watched his TV. He heard the toi­let flush and when the girl came back out he star­ted a con­ver­sa­tion, chat­ting with her while her friends waited at the doorstep.

They exchanged phone num­bers and agreed to go on a date. A few months later they were married.

Limo took a small creased pho­to­graph from his wal­let and held it out to us. She was smil­ing. She had straw-col­oured hair and freckles across the bridge of her nose. Bry­an and I nod­ded our approv­al. Limo looked sheep­ish for a moment. He put the photo back and tucked the wal­let in his pocket.

Do you know how they do this in China?” he said, wav­ing an arm towards the insert­er. “They have a mil­lion guys all in this big build­ing and each guy has a big stamp and an ink pad and they just sit there stamp­ing the pages by hand.” He mimed this, stamp­ing with one hand, turn­ing pages with the oth­er. “Stamp. Ink. Stamp. Ink.”

I grinned. That was what I always did when I heard Limo’s stor­ies. I did it to show I didn’t buy it, although I nev­er said that to him. I looked to Bry­an. He was doing the same. We both looked on, grin­ning as Limo talked.

We were work­ing quietly. Limo was adding the inserts. I was passing him fresh stacks and wheel­ing over pal­lets when we ran out. Part-way through the night, the machine broke down and while we waited for it to be fixed he told me the story about the dip­lo­mat. He had been walk­ing home from work one morn­ing when he came down a dark street to find six skin­heads sur­round­ing an Asi­an man. They were about to beat up the man, maybe even kill him. Limo knew what he had to do. He ran at the skin­heads, punch­ing one to the ground and grap­pling with the oth­ers. One kicked him hard in the groin with a steel-cap boot, but Limo had seen it com­ing and was able to “tense up” and avoid ser­i­ous injury.

He fought a good fight but there were simply too many of them for him to fend them all off. One skin­head hit him with a piece of four-by-two, knock­ing him unconscious.

Limo came to in hos­pit­al sev­er­al days later. The police were there. They explained that the skin­heads had fled, wor­ried they had killed him. The police also told him that the Asi­an man was Taiwan’s ambas­sad­or to New Zea­l­and. Thanks to Limo’s cour­age the ambas­sad­or was unharmed. In grat­it­ude, the Taiwanese gov­ern­ment awar­ded him with a medal for bravery.

Limo had a couple of weeks’ leave. The next time I worked with him he was unshaven, rumpled. I said hello and he sunk his thumb into the puffy vest he was wearing.

This is bul­let­proof,” he said. There was a long pause as he looked me in the eye. He was wait­ing for me to ask to hear more, but I didn’t say any­thing. I knew he would tell me the story behind the vest no mat­ter what I said.

He told me he had come home to find his wife sleep­ing with his neigh­bour. He kicked the man out of the house. As he left, the neigh­bour threatened to kill him. It was then that Limo real­ised the trouble he was in. The man had weapons – shot­guns, sniper rifles – all stock­piled next door. Limo con­tac­ted the police. They already knew the man and how dan­ger­ous he was. They issued Limo with the bul­let­proof vest.

I looked at the vest. It was tartan, a cheap ver­sion of the sleeve­less down vests pop­u­lar that winter. I didn’t grin this time. Instead I nod­ded as if I believed what he told me. I was glad to hear the machines start­ing up. It was time to begin work.

I saw Bry­an that night and told him about the bul­let­proof vest. I didn’t say any­thing about the neighbour.

He’s sleep­ing in his van,” Bry­an said. “Roger G told me. His wife kicked him out because she’s sick of him lying all the time.”

Bry­an didn’t say any more about it, but I remembered that the oth­er morn­ing as I was leav­ing, I had seen Limo open­ing the back doors on his van. Was he sleep­ing in it then? He had waved to me and smiled as you would to a friend. I waved back before smil­ing to myself, think­ing what a liar he was, all those lies he had told.

Ori­gin­ally pub­lished in Hue & Cry, Issue Five: With a Bul­let! (2011)

Rachel O’Neill

The family of actors’

‘The family of actors’_BoatSomeone’s broth­er will be there, hand­ing out the oars. There will be water in a nearby loc­a­tion. There will be a boat of small and per­fect pro­por­tion. There will be the occu­pants who are not strictly rela­tions. There will be, how­ever, a fam­ily resemb­lance. There will be a sim­il­ar­ity about the ears, not to men­tion the fore­head. There will be rock­ing at first, then things will settle. There will be a second guid­ing ves­sel. There will be a crew of the kind you ima­gine to have sur­vived ten dress rehears­als for an open-air exper­i­ment­al opera on a lake in Japan in below-zero tem­per­at­ures. There will be an argu­ment over pros­thet­ics. There will be ha ha moments. There will be aud­ible frisks, trounces, echoes, and baas. There will be those who call “cut”, and “great” and those who simply shrug. There will be spare life­jack­ets, a bounty of ther­moses and one on-board chilly bin in the com­pan­ion rig. There will be con­tents that stave off “hanger” and sprained ankles. There will be a dunce. There will be a quip, trip, and mild con­cus­sion. There will be sub­sequent vis­ions. There will be an account of a tiny pool and a tiny wave and a plucky girl on a frosty moraine. There will be pho­to­graphs taken to put on the Inter­net later. There will be rous­ing that’s carous­ing. There will be lots of clap­ping. There will be a sud­den relo­ca­tion of bod­ies from bow to prow. There will be an out­pour­ing of cat­er­waul­ing, fol­lowed by silence. There will be the palp­able absence of the fam­ily of actors.

Ori­gin­ally pub­lished in One Human in Height by Rachel O’Neill, Hue & Cry Press (2013)

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