[To read the first part of this story,
please see Turbine | Kapohau 2016]
It was perhaps a couple of days after the police had visited that Ledelle called.
“You sound awful.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Ledelle said.
“But first. The thing is, you need to know, I got my period.”
“It was late, I thought maybe, but then, no, and I thought you should know.”
“Okay, thanks. Sorry.”
“We need to talk,” she said.
“It wasn’t right for me to leave, just like that. But I do need something to change.”
“Can we meet.”
“No,” I said, “I’m moving to Samoa.”
She couldn’t see me like this. I packed whatever I thought I would need into Piddington’s backpack, which stank of mandarins, and took the bus to Auckland. The flight was cheap. It was off-season. I went in as a tourist but didn’t leave when I was supposed to. No-one seemed to care.
I lived in Samoa for three years. From that distance, it all seemed so unlikely, as if Ledelle and I and Piddington and even Palmy were characters in a trashy book that I never finished.
I rented a sweaty little oven of a room above a bakery, in Apia. Mould grew on the walls and I could never get my clothes completely dry even though I got flayed by the heat. I ate the local food and got sick. I lost about fifteen kilos. After that, I stuck mainly to fruit and this strange brown bread they baked under my floor. It tasted, somehow, of sausages.
I worked as a copy editor for an English-language newspaper. I didn’t know what a copy editor was when I applied. I was one of two who held this position, the other being an Australian guy called Lukas. We were hired for our white skin—the Editor in Chief told us as much.
Lukas was intolerable. One day we went toe-to-toe over whether a sentence should contain that or which. The sentence was “The bus which had a broken door was kept in use.” I didn’t even care, except that I hated Lukas and couldn’t stand for him to win. Lukas had this way of claiming victory in arguments by Googling the point of contention and interpreting the results favourably for his position. He Googled “The bus which had a broken door was kept in use.”
“Look,” he said, and pointed to his screen.
I got up and walked to his desk.
He was monumentally smug. “Seventy million hits,” he said. And then, “In zero point six-two of a second. Zero point six-two!”
“What is wrong with you?” I said.
“Thou art vanquished,” he said, waving an imaginary sword.
I was desperate. I turned to the Managing Editor, Apisoloma. Apisoloma was always cool. His white shirts were crisp and his lava-lavas were brighter than the sun. There was never a bead of sweat on him. “What’s the sentence?” he asked, patiently. I told him. “Is it meant to be a restrictive or non-restrictive clause?” he said. Lukas looked to me, and I to him. In all honesty Lukas was quite ugly.
Towards the end of those three years I discovered that Samoa has mandarins. In Samoa, mandarins ripen without turning orange. It was hard to believe, such sweetness coming from citrus so green.
I came back. I couldn’t take the heat—the literal and the figurative. The guilt. It was all a fever that wouldn’t break. I booked a ticket to Auckland and got the bus to Palmerston North. I was going to find Constables Kepler and Fleming and confess. I would take them to the house and they could dig up Piddington’s rotting stinking corpse.
But nothing ever works out.
I didn’t go straight to the police station. First I drove to the house. I knew that Ledelle had moved back into it. She’d emailed me to tell me. I also knew she had found a new man. A guy who worked at Pak-n-Save. The Produce Manager.
I stood on the road and looked at the house. The wind needled through the weave of my jeans and down the collar of my shirt—a familiar chill, but one I had not felt for years. Ledelle came outside.
“Hello,” she said. She was beautiful.
“Hi,” I said, in agony.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, and just then her man walked out from behind the house. He had sawdust caught in the hair of his forearms. Ledelle introduced us, but he already knew who I was. His name was Marty. He was mid-thirties, and in perfect physical condition. He was simply a very good looking man. He was also polite and personable. I’m surprised I didn’t try to hate him, but I didn’t.
They’d renovated. There was a second floor to the house. He’d covered in the carport. He’d built the chicken run, full of the creatures. His greatest feature, however, was his power of insemination. They had two kids, two girls. Twins. Hinemoana and Patty. They were a perfect blend of Ledelle and Marty, beautiful and strong.
Marty took me out to the backyard to show me the tree hut he’d built.
“It’s wonderful,” I said. And it was wonderful. It had a turret, a rope swing, a balcony. It had been constructed entirely around a tree—as if the hut and the tree were one entity. I had a pang of vicarious pride, as if I could claim a little of this hut as my own simply by being a member of the same species as the person who built it.
“Climb it,” Marty offered.
“No, I couldn’t.”
“Course you could,” he said, and pushed me gently towards the ladder. I climbed it. It was hard to resist. From the top platform I could see across the fence to the back of the motel. I looked away. Beneath me, the tree formed the central pillar, and I could see its top branches. It was autumn. The wrinkled fruit had turned a greenish yellow. It would be maybe a month, and they would be plentiful and ripe. I couldn’t believe how much my tiny tree had grown.
“This tree is doing well,” I said.
“It’s a good one that one,” Marty said.
“You must have really looked after it.”
“It just does well for some reason.”
“Must be the weather,” I said, looking at the sky.
“Might be the spot it’s in, the shelter,” he suggested, pointing to the fence.
“Or maybe it’s something in the soil.”
I was standing on top of the tree hut, with Marty below, smiling. Ledelle stood next to him. She held a tray of eggs freshly retrieved from their chickens.
“For you,” she said, gesturing to the eggs. Small white-and-brown feathers were stuck to a couple of them.
“No, it’s okay, you don’t need to.”
“It’s fine, we have them coming out our ears.”
I came down from the hut, accepted the eggs, and left.
I did not confess. If I had gone to the station and seen Constable Fleming, he would have come around to the house and dug up the tree. The hut would have been destroyed. I would have lost my new friendship with Ledelle. It’s different, having Ledelle as a friend. She is so—friendly. Patient. Understanding. And I am a friend to her, more so than ever, and I sense my tally of virtues growing long, almost effortlessly, and not in competition with hers, but in reference. In reverence.
And if I’d confessed, I would never have become friends with Marty. I never felt jealous of him, which remains surprising, and he has always seemed comfortable with me, even though Ledelle and I are still married, in the legal sense. He got me a job at Pak-n-Save, driving that forktruck around the loading dock. I love driving that forktruck.
I would not fight or deny it, if Constable Fleming came by and picked me up. I am guilty, and I am not so selfish as to think that my partial contentment, my life of quietness but not serenity, of loneliness but not solitude, can be an adequate punishment. But I am selfish enough to bury my crime deep, and hope that the world continues to show me leniency. Who could do otherwise, while claiming a stake in life?
Ledelle and Marty bought me out of the house, and I bought a flat close by. I watch as Hine and Patty grow, seeing them maybe once a month, when I go around for a BBQ, or, in winter, when we eat our way through one of Marty’s curries. I like visiting them, and seeing what the girls are up to. They’re good kids.
This is all new to me. My life, which had always pulled me along at a breathless run, and which had more than once slipped its leash, has become calm.