The extract below is from a story that arrived announced in one of those still hours before the down, while a new silverish moon hung from its shaven rim the colour of sulphur, and scent of the lilac was heady from thunder showers that had gone on all evening … and I wondered whether the same moon could be seen over the lands somewhere in Central Otago.
When Charlie came out of the clink for the second time in the last ten years, he carried all his possessions in a duffel bag slung across his shoulder and enough money to pay for a woman.
Sunshine exploded inside his pupils and he stumbled through the high iron-gate into the open air. He spat and steadied himself. Free man.
Empty shingle road stretched before him, curving around the woods towards the first township. Rickety settlement kept together by those who stayed on, even after forestry no longer offered much work, and those who found jobs in local prison. They clung to each other’s; ex-lumber jacks and factory hands planting dope for living in their back yards, beating their wives on benefit days and fixing cars older than their children. It was enough to keep cops and prison guards employed.
Breeze rustled leaves into shiver, disturbing droplets that hanged on their edges.
Charlie looked towards the woods. He inhaled deeply letting sharp scent of damp earth and early buds fill his lungs. He closed his eyes and knew he would see her then; sitting under the blossom of an apple tree at the edge of his orchard, just as she did all those years ago; wet with dew, strains of her golden hair shimmering under the red wings of down. Waiting.
Charlie shook himself slightly and straightened straps of his duffel bag before to take the road with long, purposeful strides. He knew the road well; it was the same stretch of dirt his old-man took to work each day to put food in his and his brothers’ bellies, as he was fond of saying. The same road their mother crossed to jump into the other man’s car; ‘I am going away to find work in the big city and place for us to live. This place is a shit-hole and I am fed up with your father’s drinking and him beating us all. I will come back for you boys very soon. It is all going to work fine.’ she said. She never came back.
The old man worked shifts, slept, drank and whored. But he never laid a hand on any of his boys again. Charlie once saw him sitting by the bed of his youngest brother for a whole night while the boy was burning with fever. Charlie could swear the old man was crying.
Around the time their voices started to break, the old man would take each of them to Trish’s. She keeps fine establishment, he would say, and you boys need to learn proper.
Charlie could still recall jasmine scent of the first whore he had at Trish’s. He was the oldest and the old man told him to make him proud. He paid for the newest girl; a young Russian lass going by the name of Daria. She had slight body of a trapeze artist and firm, small breasts. When she took her slip off, curls of her long blond hair brushed against her nipples. Charlie could not remember his mouth ever being so dry.
Sun was starting to beat down his exposed neck, pale as baby’s bottom after years spent indoors. Charlie rolled up his collar and quickened his peace. He touched little stash of cash inside his pocket and wondered how much has changed at Trish’s. He knew from prison guards that Trish’s daughter is now running the place.
But the old girl still sits most nights behind the bar and talks to old-timers.
Charlie smiled thinking of Trish and old-times. He knew she was found of his old-man, even she never said as much. And she always had a big heart on her, Trish did. She once brought home pregnant lass from somewhere up North with cigarette burns all over her. Trish put the girl up and paid for the doctor. When the baby was born, all them girls cooed over it like each one gave birth to it. They were regular scuffles over who would take the baby out for a walk. Charlie could not remember what happened to that baby.
He was almost upon the first houses … (to be continued)