Stories/Pakitwaitara is a new part of the trust’s website. Here we showcase talent from people who have attended our workshops.
Our first feature writer is Shelly Davies of Ngāti Rehua, Ngātiwai, Ngāti Porou and Ngā Puhi affiliation. Shelly has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University from Utah, USA. She recently attended the Auckland workshop in October with James George and has been motivated to keep writing ever since. Here is her first story to be posted online called Leap.
By Shelly Davies
The moon lit a pathway across the water that stretched from the darkening horizon and pointed straight to the door of the little homestead. There were no clouds. The air was still. A gannet screeched and the sound echoed around the bay. The tide was full and the water lapped on the pebbly shore.
There was no signal to start the movement. Anyone watching would have had a hard time saying exactly when it started. But the water shifted. Something changed. It began to creep forwards. Slowly, millimetre at a time, the water rose. Up and over the dry pebbles, still warm from the heat of the day. Past the high tide mark and the line of driftwood bones and brittle seaweed washed up by the spring storms. Up to the roots of the twisted macrocarpa. It seemed to hesitate there, as if the water had to ask permission from the old koro before wetting his toes.
She had just jumped off the pohatu at high tide when she saw the two boys swimming towards her across Motairehe bay. The water was green grey and the sky was overcast. The boys were swimming fast, sleek like dolphins, and one disappeared under the water. Seconds later the other let out half a scream and thrashed his arms as his mate pulled him under. She laughed. She knew that scream.
Poto! You scream like a girl!
At this both boys turned their attention towards her and began swimming again, faster. This time she screamed as she tried to clamber up the rock, cutting her knee on an oyster as she went.
Frick, Poto, she said as the boys arrived at the base of the rock. Look what you made me do!
What cuz, can’t handle a bit of blood? What are ya? City girl or something!
She glanced over at the other boy. Straight black hair dripping seawater into his eyes. Green eyes. She drew in a quick breath, looked away again. Nothing hotter than a Māori boy with green eyes. She glanced back, saw he had a tā moko on one shoulder. Even better. She looked at her cousin and raised her eyebrows.
Oh, sorry cuz, Poto said. Um, this is Nikes. One of my boys from uni.
Hey, Nikes said, giving her the nod.
Hey, she said.
As the tide rose higher, pātiki and kupae came up into the shallows, enticed by the treats liberated from the usually dry shore. They feasted.
When the water lapped up against the tufts of kaikuyu hanging over the small sandy banks, the faintest rustle began in the grass. Crickets, spiders, beetles and gecko mobilised as if at some silent command, turning towards the small homestead and moving en masse.
She could feel the bass through her feet on the floorboards, slow and regular. She let the rhythm guide her movements. Nikes moved in response, the centimetres between them electrified. They danced in time, fluid and synchronised, like seaweed swaying in the ebb and flow of the waves. When the music stopped suddenly, Nikes coughed and stepped back, putting his hands into his pockets. Nan was standing by the stereo.
Doh! Snapped! Said Poto. He was sitting on the couch, a beer in his hand and smiling widely.
You shut up, said Nan, and then turned to the couple standing in the middle of the room. You fullas are giving me a headache. Enough of this racket. Come and help me get tea ready.
Sorry Nan, she said.
Yeah, sorry, Nikes said.
I’m not sorry, Poto said.
Nan picked up a cushion off the couch and threw it at him. Come on, she said.
In the kitchen Nan started her interrogation. Her granddaughter kept her eyes focused on the potatoes she and Nikes were peeling at the table.
So boy, what are you studying at uni?
Oh, um, engineering, Nikes said.
What does that look like when it’s at home? Nan said.
Poto filled a pot with water. Added salt.
Um, it’s about building stuff, how to make it strong and safe. Buildings, bridges, stuff like that.
Hmph. What do you need to go to uni for to learn about that? Look at this whare. Been here for 80 years and my tupuna didn’t need to go to uni to learn how to do it right.
Oh Nan, the girl said.
You shush, Nan said. Just wanna know what you see in this boy.
Poto cleared his throat and looked intently into the sink.
What you doing here for the holidays, anyway? Shouldn’t you be working or something? Nan said.
I work while I’m at uni, Nikes said. And the company I work for closes over Christmas.
That all? Nan said.
Oh, um, nah, he said. There was this girl—
Of course there was a girl.
Shush. Keep going boy.
Well, we were going out for, like, a year, but we broke up and I just wanted to get away. Plus it’s good to get out of town. Get some air, you know?
So it’s over with that girl.
You watch yourself.
The water crept on. Pooling around and over the grass so that the green stalks floated and waved like lake weed, as if being under the water was simply one in a series of incarnations. By the time it reached the garden the water was a new creature. It was dark, murky, a chunky seafood chowder with the fish alive and flapping. The straight rows of vegetables resisted the intrusion at first, the kumara leaves and silverbeet standing upright in the moonlight as the water swirling around them. But they couldn’t resist the salt for long. It seeped into their earth and was involuntarily drawn into their roots, stalks, leaves. Once inside it had complete control. It began to dissolve them from the inside out.
Have you ever heard of a leap tide? Nikes said. They were sitting on a low pohutukawa branch that hung out over the rocks. It’s this like freak high tide that only comes up every few decades. Comes up way higher than a normal high tide, doesn’t really do any damage or anything, just kills off some grass, and usually leaves dead fish everywhere cos they get caught out when it goes back out.
Wow, she said. That’s really… um… interesting. And you’re telling me this because…?
Cos that’s what you’re like.
What. A freak? That randomly kills fish? And grass?
Oh. So you meant that someone like me only comes along every few decades, then?
Yeah! I mean, no! Oh, come on, you know what I mean!
Ah no, I don’t. You’ll just have to say it. She tilted her head to the side. Raised her eyebrows.
I mean you’re like, one of a kind. Someone like you hardly ever comes along. And when you do, what are the odds you would like someone like me?
Yeah, you’re right. She said. That’s highly unlikely. Don’t hold your breath.
Oh shut up, he said and jumped off the branch onto a rock. He stepped in towards her so their noses were almost touching. He looked from her eyes to her lips and back to her eyes again.
You are my leap tide, he said. My one in a million.
She lowered her face. A crab peeked out from under one of the rocks below them. Crept sideways up and over another rock and slipped into a small shaded pool. He put a finger under her chin and raised her face to his.
Uni starts again in a couple of weeks, he said. Come back with me?
The flower gardens were next. The water pushed on, spilling over into the small ditch that separated the lawn from the lovingly tilled soil. The tide seemed oblivious to its own destructive power. It was intent only on pushing ahead, unaware of the forces compelling it forward. Still it rolled on, up and over the rich brown earth until it reached the green stalks of the carnations, their blood red heads staring up at the moon. They drank thirstily.
She stood in front of the open suitcase on her bed. Nan stood in the doorway.
Don’t know where to start? Nan said.
She shook her head.
You grew up in this room. Big move. Probably time. You scared?
You’re sure this is what you want?
It feels right?
It’s been very quick, Nan said. But if you’re sure, then kei te pai. You know where to find me.
Fish were teeming in the water that now covered the paddock. Gone was the beach, the rocks, the delineating marks between land and shore. The tide had almost reached the foot of the scrub covered hills which rose behind the little homestead. The shape of the new bay was an echo of its former self. The full moon shone down on a landscape that was completely changed.
It was late when Poto finally answered the phone at his house.
Poto! She said. Where have you been? I’ve been frickin calling all frickin day! Where’s Nikes?
He’s not answering his mobile.
I have to talk to him.
She heard him breathe out slowly, deflating. He said he was gonna tell you.
Tell me what?
He’s gone. Back to town.
What? She said. But he said— What?
He said he was going to tell you. I thought he did.
There was a watery sound over the phone. Like the sound of the ocean when you put a seashell to your ear.
Why? She said. The wave sound was getting louder.
Um. He got a call from his ex.
She blinked. Her vision was out of focus and she felt like the room was moving. Fluid. Like water.
Cuz, he said. Nikes’s ex called. She’s hapū. He’s gone back to her.
She stayed still and the world revolved around her. The sun rose and set, the tide came in and went out. Birds flew and sang and her Nan spoke to her, touched her cheek. The grass grew. She sat on their branch in the pohutukawa and she thought that maybe gravity had shifted. She could no longer tell if she was upright or where the sky and the water were supposed to be.
The swirling tide slowed as it licked the foundations of the little homestead. It stopped. The impulsion to press forward was gone. Briefly, gently, the water caressed the piles of the house like a lost lover.
When the sun rose, her room was still. Lifeless.
Nan’s voice was thin, as if it had travelled across the full width and space of the bay and back before floating in through the open door.
Girl! She said. Come and see.