Straight - A novel in the Irish-Maori tradition, by Michael O'Leary
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A story set in Auckland in the early 1980s about a man returning there after being in 'Dreamland' for many years. He discovers that all the things he knew about his family and past life were not true. Questions arise: was his father an SS officer? was his mother a gun-runner for the IRA? was he the result of a bizarre experiment to produce Tregear's Aryan-Maori master race? was his old friend Golly the notorious drug boss, Mr Polynesia? Part thriller, part love story, 'Straight' is a look at the bohemian lifestyle of inner-city Ponsonby before it became gentrified. Auckland is seen as another character the way Graham Greene used locations in his novels.
From: Straight - A novel in the Irish-Maori tradition, by Michael O'Leary
Paul Calvert wakes about an hour out of Auckland on a train journey back from dreamland. Tired, slightly nauseous. ‘Will this travel never cease?’ he thinks, because he didn’t want it to. ‘Will this railway soon finish?’ He wished it wouldn’t! It was early in the morning as the train passes through station after station. Knowing it isn’t long before arrival, melancholy floods him, brought on by a mixture of memory, the landscape and the motion of the train: together these create a kind of perfection like lovemaking which he knows must end.
Papakura Station, newly painted and dripping with dew, is a peaceful welcome to the Auckland boundary. Calvert had a warning that Papakura was up ahead twenty miles or so before when he had passed through a cutting and the earth was red with a topping of bright green grass against a dark blue sombre sky. He thought, ‘papa kura: soon we’ll be in Papakura’. Papakura Station stands still as his train moves slowly out. He catches sight of a suburban train filling with early morning commuters on the far platform. It will follow his train into Auckland in ten minutes or so. These are things that will happen but Calvert is dreaming … in dreamland, te wahi moemoeā, horrific transvestite fear over the strait, I am my mother dying … I fly in an ever-encircling stranglehold moving towards the ceiling … looking down I can see myself … tobacco-picking job doesn’t begin … I leave for the darkness of self-absorption … an overnight stay lasts two weeks and a girl with a name like Rhodesia talks me down … passing Middlemore Hospital Calvert is now almost awake as the train moves lazily towards Mangere.
The dining car normally closes north of Papakura but he manages to persuade the people in it to give him a cup of coffee. This is his first trip to Auckland from dreamland for some time. Hoping he has left dreamland for good this time, Calvert is unsure what he will do from now on. There will be no one to meet him at the station. He has been away so long that all his northern friends have either dispersed or forgotten him, and his family who are in Auckland don’t know him since he went into the exile of te wahi moemoeā.
‘He kura kanga e hokia, he kura tangata e kore e hokia.’ As his carriage passes over the points near Westfield which take the train onto the Waterfront-Orakei Deviation, Rangi’s last words to him ring in his ears, each word punctuated by the boom-cha-boom, boom-chaboom of the train. Only now as he enters excitedly the outskirts of his childhood haunts does he begin to understand the explanation of her ancestral proverb.
Fighting off illusions and tiredness he attempts to reach a fuller comprehension of what she’d meant by saying, ‘You can return to a treasured place, but not to a treasured person.’ From the train window he catches a glimpse of ghetto-like Glen Innes, spread out like a ragged carpet, spread out like an inaccurate map of his past. Paul Calvert knows he is almost home – not the home of people, but the home of places and ghosts and memories … in the dream I was sitting on a sofa in the house of an old friend with the improbable name of Shamus O’Shamus …we had met up in dreamland after not seeing each other for some time … she walked in on our literary language, it was Rangi, my never-to-be-wife, kahore tāku hoa wahine … our eyes met without fear and our hearts wanted to run away with each other … things are never simple in dreamland and she left me desolate … still she haunts all my dreams and I love her like the moment I met her … when the darkness descends she is there telling me how you can never return to a treasured person … Paul Calvert notices the carriage has gone dark. It is eerie when another train going the other way blows its whistle and rushes by inside the double-track tunnel, sounding like a resurrected dinosaur hearing itself roar for the first time in two million years.
The train emerges from the tunnel out into Meadowbank and Calvert feels torn from every side by emotion. Memory-images of the past are before him as though they are here, palpable! The train goes faster but for him it has stopped! It moves but doesn’t move! Up to the right he can see the church which was part of his old school. Two horses run down the hill as the train frightens them and he is a nine year old boy looking down through the bushes which surround his school.
Calvert can see the early morning train from Wellington, that he is now on, rumbling along the tracks and two of the horses that belong to the rich kids at his school running down the hill. They must be scared. The time-train passes under the Orakei over-bridge as it moves through Orakei Station, and he can see the mysterious gin factory to the left – he could never believe that that’s what it was when he was young because he thought all things like that came from overseas.
Well this train moves … in dreamland trains move … if they move at all it is through the efforts of our labour … before Rangi arrived, before the cold set in … before the fire of ice burned my heart to a frozen cinder … in this land I helped to keep the trains going … going through tunnels and climbing steep gradients … when no trains came we would dig and lift and heave ho! … hey-up!, hey-up!, hey-up! … another sleeper lies in a ballast bed … replace that rail up at 339 was the order of the day … and how can a man work wearing two coats, eh Flook!!! … pipi and paua sizzling on a shovel … but these dreams detract from immediate emotions for here he is on a train going through his home and all he can do is dream.
Orakei, Calvert struggles to understand the meaning of the word, but the train is moving again for him. He can see the old sewer pipe he and other kids used to walk across to Parnell and back. Parnell Baths, Judges Bay pass without comment and the train becomes entwined in the mesh of rails that is the Auckland rail yards, slowing to a crawl as an early goods train heads out of the yards, southbound, two engines pulling fifty or so wagons … my brother has just laughed himself to sleep in the bed next to me … we stay up till late talking and laughing … ‘Don’t shoot, I’ve got six wives and a children’ and we both roar our heads off … mum calls out ‘Shut-up you two, go to sleep!’ … now he is asleep and mum and dad and the two girls are asleep in the next room, and gran asleep in the front room … not me, I lie awake in the dark, I don’t like to sleep because you don’t know anything … but as I lie in the dark I can hear the steady rumble and drone of a goods train going through the night … through Orakei Station … I don’t care where it goes but that sound haunts and terrifies me … if it wasn’t for that sound I wouldn’t know I was alone … I want mum to come in and put her arms around me and say it’s all right … she used to but now I’m too big …
The train jerks to a halt at Platform 4 of Auckland Station. Calvert is quite awake now but prefers to watch the people pour out of the carriages rather than make any definite movement himself. Big greetings and meetings, hongi and handshakes are being exchanged, kisses and hugs. Bleary-eyed, up-all-night travellers meet their friends and loved-ones – this is what a railway station should be like, Calvert thinks to himself.
So many more Māori and Polynesian faces here than in dreamland, to the south. A little girl wanders past the carriage window and for the time he thinks “a little Rangi Brown!” – this simple sentence recurs almost daily after he’s been in Auckland for some time. So, he might see a small Māori girl anytime and he will think “a little Rangi Brown” and will be both upset and reassured.
Finally, everyone has left the train and the workers are rushing through each carriage retrieving hired pillows and emptying rubbish containers. Calvert tells them he is vacating the carriage, gathers his meagre belongings, steps down from the train and heads for the cafeteria to get a kai and settle his thoughts about what to do now he has arrived.
After a somewhat frugal breakfast of soup and toast and a cup of coffee, Paul Calvert gets on a bus that will take him to town. Auckland Railway Station is a metaphorical gauge for Auckland City as a place, that is, it stops short of the mark. So, as the station stands aloof and beautiful, fronted by large Phoenix palms lending it an air of exotic colonialism, this station doesn’t quite go to the centre of the city. And the city itself doesn’t quite have a heart, a focal point where people can say they are in the heart of the city. Queen Street is more like a man-made Grand Canyon than a valley where people settle for shelter and protection … on a Friday night after school I, Paul Calvert, would gather the kids together and get the bus to town … they would all go to the movies and then meet mum about 7pm outside her work … she had a cleaning job because their dad was in prison down south … we would all have tea and then mum and the kids would go home … I would stay in town to meet school friends outside 246 or just look around the record shops and music shops … a couple of years later I bought an electric guitar which was really neat but I had to take it back when dad got sick because mum needed the money … ‘Hot town Summer in the City’ was blaring on the radio and I used to pretend I was a bohemian (long before I learned the meaning of the word) grooving around the ‘Village’ in New York, and there I was walking up Queen Street on a Friday night before all the big buildings went up, but it seemed so much bigger then and “times were very hard when I was young” … as the bus moved off from the Station Calvert realised that it was not a trolley-bus as it would have been before he left for te wahi moemoeā. This puzzled him and made him sad, but he soon enjoyed the sharp precision and smooth modernity of the Mercedes bus as it swung into Queen St. from Customs St., without the age-old fear of the trolley poles flying off the overhead wires. Queen St. looked much the same, if anything the addition of several larger buildings made it appear sparser and smaller than it did in the old days.
Getting off the bus at Vulcan Lane, which had been paved over and turned into something of a mall or at least a walkway, since the dream-time, Calvert went into one of the pubs in the Lane, ordered a drink and sat down … ‘hōmai te inu-ahi!’ cried Golliwog as he snatched a bottle of whiskey from my hand in one of the city of dreams … I gave him a wry ‘Kia ora,’ as he swallowed a quarter of the bottle in one gulp … ‘Wha, wha, what are you doin’ here, e hoa’ Golliwog said to me … ‘Ha, ha, how did you get to dreams’ he asked … when I told him I had flown there he believed me and burst out laughing … ‘Si, si, so did I’ he said, handing me back my whiskey … that was in dreams but here he was sitting opposite Paul Calvert in a pub in Vulcan Lane, in Auckland in reality.
“Tena koe! Kei te pëhea koe, e hoa?”
It was Golliwog sitting sober and sane opposite Calvert reading a newspaper.
“Kei te pai,” Paul answered, and they sat talking quietly. Calvert had never seen him in te wahi moemoeā except when he was really out of it. It was good to see him now, especially since Calvert was feeling lonely and a bit subdued, a stranger in a familiar land.
However, several drinks and several pubs later Golly, as Calvert had always called his friend, had fixed him up with a job and a place to stay for a few days. Paul could work with him, he said, laying kerb-stones and doing a bit of drainage work, and he went away to ring his boss to confirm that Calvert would start tomorrow. Calvert became a bit anxious when he heard Golly, whose real name was Hone, arguing and shouting over the phone. He was afraid that not only had he not got him a job, but had caused himself to get the sack. But Hone returned smiling.
“You gotta job, start Monday” … in dreamland one day Golly had gone to get paua off the rocks – dream rocks – near where we lived … he returned with a sack of paua but seemed somewhat perturbed … ‘I was nearly killed’ he said, ‘nearly fell a hundred feet to the rocks’ … ‘I’ll get you a whiskey, haere ki te moe’ … after a couple of hours sleep his kaha returned and he spent the rest of the evening making paua fritters … “Hey Hone, do you remember the time you went on that paua hunt?” Paul asked rather drunkenly.
“No” Hone replied, “let’s go!”
Paul Calvert awoke but didn’t know where he was. It was almost light, there was someone moving about in the room and he knew it isn’t him. He can’t move! He can’t do anything except feel pain. What a hangover! “Oooh Aaah!” he groans.
“Teach you to get so haurangi, eh!” said the voice from the person who was doing the moving around. It is Golly’s sister, Hine, it must be her room he’s in. He realised he was lying on the floor next to her bed, no wonder he was so cold.
“Boy, you fellas was drunk last night. You kept trying to get into bed with me, and I kept throwing you out, it was funny, eh!”
“I must have been drunk,” Paul said, “to want to sleep with you.” She threw a hairbrush at him and walked out.
“You can get into my bed now,” she called from the kitchen. “You want a cup of tea, you haurangi rat?” … I slipped off to dreamland and there was Rangi … I used to tease her: ‘Poor Rangi, she’s a porangi’ … she’d get angry and I’d say ‘Brown, funny name for a Māori’ … she’d throw something at me then laugh … “Here’s your tea. I got to go to work now,” said Hine. “See you later, good to see you, eh.”
She gave him a kiss on the forehead.
“Good to see you too,” Calvert called after her. Then he could feel the bruises from falling on the floor after being kicked out of bed. He grimaced and fell asleep in Hine’s bed … in dreamland we walk down the main street of the stone city … your young daughter is up on my shoulders … ‘Look mum look!’ she cries at anything that moves … her fingers fold over my eyes like night flowers covering my view of already dark dreaming skies … ‘Hey! I can t see!’ I cry out and she laughs and takes her fingers away … looking down the old main street … looking northward I can see the hill which dominates the cityscape … it is said that the rise of the hill is the puku of a Māori chief lying on his back … the day is cold and calm and there is mist on the hill … tomorrow it will probably snow … the colours in the sky are stark and austere … in dreams you are beautiful and dreamland mirrors your beauty … we are a family yet not a family and being apart sometimes crushes me … we are going to the grand old hotel for lunch where the man plays piano in the corner … across the table, good food, good wine … your little girl talks on to herself while we talk … “Wake up! wh, wh, wake up!” yells Golly in his ear. “Come on, man, let’s go downtown, here’s a coffee. You seen Tania and her daughter lately, by the way?”
Paul mumbles no and drinks the coffee, feeling physically and emotionally drained. Hone and Paul walk from his place in Ponsonby to the bus stop. Calvert is still a bit out of it, slightly confused. Ponsonby looks as though it’s changed since he has been dreaming and it is now several years since he’s lived there, although, as usual, things seemed only like yesterday.
Places around Ponsonby looked familiar, yet a lot newer, as though there had been an earthquake or a war and the people had wanted to completely restore the suburb the way they remembered. Only in doing so the whole character of the place had changed. As they walked past the recently painted houses and shops which now stocked patê, salami and brie, Calvert had a kind of a reactive twinge, a repulsion that one gets when one knows something has changed irrevocably.
“Bit different now, eh,” says Hone as they stood waiting for the bus. When the big yellow banana bus arrives Calvert is again reminded that the trolley buses are gone from Auckland streets. Ponsonby Road just doesn’t seem the same without the overhead wires which used to dominate the skyscape. His instinct is to immediately retreat to the never-changing beauty of dreamland. He finds his mind is slip-sliding into the mire of melancholy memory but he fights it.
“Mind over memory,” Calvert says to himself. Unfortunately, he says this just as he is boarding the bus. The driver looks at him in a suspicious tone and he has to recover quickly and say: “Two to the city,” handing him the money … they hand him the money and he gives them a week’s supply of smack … it will probably only last the night and they will survive another week by stealing and ripping each other off … if you look closely you can see the handle of the revolver the dealer carries in a shoulder holster … now that he has hit everyone up he leaves this run-down, rodent-infested house in a no-exit Ponsonby cul-de-sac … as the dealer drives off in his Jaguar it doesn’t take much to think that in ten years when I return from dreamland he will own a similar house, fully restored and be a respectable restaurateur, while most of the junkies in Hippie Hotel will be dead or in the bin or jail … “Ten years have passed, ten years with the length of ten Indian summers!” Calvert thinks aloud. Hone interjects with a witty, smiling: “Inflation has even hit poetry, I see!” and they both laugh. As the bus turns into K Road Calvert gets a kind of thrill, like seeing an old friend.
Karangahape Road, the deformed relative of Auckland’s main street, Queen Street, which is middle-class and well-dressed. K Road, as it is known, would more aptly be called Queen Street because it harbours most of the seedier side of Auckland. This is where the trans-sisters, pimps and prostitutes ply their wares. K Road where all the bordellos and massage parlours entice the suspecting gentlemen off the streets to taste the delights of people who have expensive tastes. It is also a lively area by day, the main shopping area for the multicultural inner city dwellers. As the bus turned left into Queen Street, Hone, who had been prattling on incessantly up till now, suddenly went quiet.
“Anything wrong?” Paul asked him.
“Maybe, Professor!” It was strange hearing Hone call him by the old nickname he hadn’t heard for years; it made him think how long they’d known each other.
“I just saw a couple of cops talking to my brother, Skids!”
“Boy! Is Skids old enough to be in trouble with the law?” Paul mused. Golly grinned at him, and then went serious.
“They are probably just giving him a talk about sniffin’ in public or something. Anyway, nothin’ we can do. If we get off they’ll be gone one way or another. You know, that young Skids, he’s a bit of a hero around town. We all laugh at home, eh, because he’s got the mana to be at the top because the street kids think that his name, Skids, is short for street kids. We all tease him if we’re at home for a kai on the weekend or something. Mum hits him over the ear and says ‘You gotta do the dishes Skids, mana or no mana.’ And my young sister says he only got called that because he kept skidding over when he was still about eight, when everyone else could walk properly and everyone laughs” … Shamus O’Shamus and I had stalked the streets all night … earlier we were out of it and smoking a joint on the last bus to Ponsonby … the big Māori lady driving the bus turned around and said in a gruff voice, ‘Hey you put that thing out! Or I’ll put you out!’ … we sat somewhat subdued, slightly paranoid until the trolley bus went around a sharp corner and the poles went flying off the wires … this was too much for Shamus and he burst out laughing uncontrollably … I soon followed and we both were hysterical by the time the driver got back from fixing the poles … she threw us off the bus, the zoo bus, the last bus to Ponsonby, and we walked, stalked the streets ending up at Mothers, a cafe run by a burly transvestite … O’Shamus ordered a doughnut and a coffee and Raylene made a joke about the jam in the middle … “We’re here,” said Golly. They got off the bus and walked to the downtown Queen Elizabeth Square.
“I’ll just go an’ ring Auckland Central Pig-sty to see if they picked up Skids.” While Calvert waited for Hone he just looked around the square. All the new buildings were so tall compared with those in dreamland. The old Dilworth Building, while over-towered by the new neighbours was strangely enhanced by them all. He looked up at the Central Post Office and then remembered the toy shop that used to be across the road … mum, can I have that articulated truck for Christmas, can I, please … You’ll have to ask Santa that dear, she answered … I said yes but I couldn’t understand why mum winked at the man behind the counter … we went outside where the tramlines were being ripped up … I liked the trams, the way they used to clink along the middle of the road … mum, why are those men taking the trams away … I don’t know, dear, come on let’s go … I didn’t say any more about the trams because mum looked just as sad and puzzled about them as I was … I went back to wondering whether Santa would give me the white truck … “Remember the old fleapit!” said Hone.
“What?” Paul asked, realising that Golly was back.
“The old Oxford theatre that was here before that Downtown thing.”
“Yes, I do,” he said, “but I only went once. How’s Skids?”
“They never got him, just a warning, the pig gave me a lecture on being his older brother and all that and said I should do something before he gets into real trouble. I told him I got enough worries and besides I said Skids is the one who bosses me around these days. The cop said fuck off and hung up. Where you wanna go now, eh?!”
It was nearly lunchtime so Calvert suggested they go and meet Hine. They walked around the corner into Customs Street then up to Fort Street where she worked in a lunch bar. Walking past the Star building Calvert could see before him the towering Roller Mills Company … in dreamland there is a brewery which is built on a steep hill … it is old and looks quite Dickensian … it is an intriguing area when you walk in dreams and smell the hops … this dream-city has many strange distinctive smells which dominate certain areas like sacred ancient territorial rites and sites … sometimes things become white and cold, other times black and cold … “Youse boys are up early,” calls Hine as she sees them. The threesome made their way up Emily Place towards a small coffee shop at the elbow of the road. As they walked past the Japanese Bath House Golly called out “Arse Oh!” and they all laughed.
“I didn’t know you could speak Japanese, brother,” said Hine.
“Yeah!” said Golly, “I learned it on TV.” They were still laughing when they entered the coffee house … in dreamland, if I remember rightly … you had to go downstairs to the coffee club … you could meet anyone there … Beaconsfield often dropped in for a dram … anyone could belong to the coffee club … ‘percolated egalitarian’ we used to call it … I remember going down there to tell you I love you … but it wasn’t me, it was artificial, bad-timing … you turned away and I was weakened and whakamā … ‘Can I have a milk-shake, mummy?’ asked your little girl … ‘Christ! she’s beautiful, black and strong!’ Iggy Pop mirrored on the radio … “Well, I must be going back to work,” said Hine. “You can sleep in my bed tonight long as you behave!”
“Let’s have a drink!” said Golly as he and Paul eventually left the elbow room. They walked down Shortland Street and came to Vulcan Lane from the back way where they went into a bar and ordered a couple of large beers and sat down.
They sat drinking for a while, talking, smoking, looking and listening. At length the bar began to fill, all sorts of people pouring in after their various daily battles … I tried to think of my father and his daily battles … I never knew my father and the man I called my father was actually my stepfather … my mother conceived me in Germany, where she had gone after the war to be a nurse … while assisting in the rehabilitation of the country she also helped in the rehabilitation of my father … at the age of seventeen I found out my step-father wasn’t my father … I always felt, since I can remember, a darkness, a guilt-edge to my life, an inherited demon, as though the sins of my father were visited upon me … I remain in the dark … “It’s getting dark out there,” said Golly.
“What’s that?!” Paul Calvert asked, confused.
“Oh yeah,” he said. By now the pub was almost full. People were in groups of four or five or more talking about this and that and everything.
“Won’t your boss be annoyed that you didn’t go in today, Hone?”
“No, he knows you’re here. He’ll understand. He’ll be pleased I’ve got a man like you to start work on Monday!” Then, suddenly, Hone’s mood went angry. “My father was in the Māori Battalion in the desert war,” he said. “He used to tell me that despite the whole terrible time of the war, the years of fighting and deprivation, the dead comrades, the worst thing he ever experienced, far worse than anything fucking Rommel dished up, occurred on the ship on the way back, eh. When the troop ship called into South Africa on the way back from war the Pākehā soldiers all went on shore leave. But, the Māori Battalion was not allowed on the fucking shore ‘cos of the colour of their skin. He hated the Pākehā more than the Germans” … I’ve got a photo of my father … it is all I know of him … he is wearing a uniform which looks very nice. It is a black uniform and has a silver leaf on one lapel. This is my real father … I found this photograph when I found my mother dead one morning … “Another drink Paul,” said Golly.
As Hone left for the bar, Calvert noticed a familiar face. He wasn’t sure at first, it had been at least ten years, but as he watched further he realised it could be no other.
“Tony Blunt! You bastard!” Calvert called in a loud voice. Blunt, somewhat taken aback and obviously embarrassed, looked sheepishly around.
“Calvert! Paul Calvert!” he cried out, losing all formality when he saw who it was. “How the hell are you?”
Blunt excused himself from a group of rather stunned young lawyers with whom he had been conversing, and made his way over to their table. Hone had returned and Calvert introduced Blunt and then started into a conversation … our conversation ended unsatisfactorily … I had asked my step-father whether the photo I found on my mother’s body was my real father … in the end, because of his evasion and hurt I could only assume that it was … he kept saying over and over how his brother Roy, my uncle (presumed) had been shot down by the Germans, how his own life had been destroyed by the war … I said I understood this but I still had to know who this man was who wore two lightning stripes on one lapel … “I was defending a member of one of your old gang the other day” Blunt was saying to Golly.
“Calvert, old boy,” said Blunt switching his keen intelligent eye to him, “have you still got that wacky idea that your father was a Nazi? Remember how we all used to have you on about that at university?”
Paul Calvert could see Golly’s eyes goggle, this was a part of his friend’s life of which he knew nothing. A few hours and many drinks later Golly and Calvert left the pub because it was after closing time and the Manager was raving on about the cops shutting him down if they didn’t leave etc, etc. They jingled through their pockets, as they sauntered up Queen Street, hoping to find enough for a couple of hamburgers and a taxi back to Ponsonby.
Despite the amount they’d had to drink they were both still quite sober. Hone turned to Calvert as they passed 246.
“What did that Blunt mean when he said your old man was a Nazi?”
“It’s a bit difficult to explain. My father, the one that you knew, wasn’t my real father. He was the father of the rest of the kids,” … but when they got married mum had just got back from Germany and she was already pregnant with me … mum got off the train with me inside her … he was there at the station … I said I’d wait for you darling’ said my presumed father … ‘Oh Rich, how am I going to tell you. I thought about it all the way back on the boat from England, and last night on the train from Wellington – I’m pregnant’ … In the taxi Golly was still asking Paul about his father and mother. He was intrigued and as incredulous as Calvert himself was. Calvert told him most of what he knew was conjecture. When they walked in his front door he said: “Weird, man!”
Hine was already asleep when Paul got into bed beside her. He was as quiet as he could be and she just murmured a night noise without waking. He had slept with her many times before but never any more than just sleep in the same bed. She was like a sister to him. Although thoughts of love-making flashed through his mind as he felt her warm body next to him there was never any question that they were any more than like brother and sister. Hine turned towards Paul and he fell asleep in her arms … te wahi moemoeā … the place of dreams where Rangi was with me … she was real and I didn’t know – I was in my mind and thought she was too … yet there was Rangi beside me, wanting me and I was afraid … intimacy was too much, direct expression of love was beyond my dreams … I made excuses and gave reasons against the reality of life … to Rangi and to myself I was untrue … now I am alone at night when once she was with me … when I’m with a new lover I want her to be Rangi and love is destroyed … I know the price of everything and the value of nothing without even the solace of being a cynic … in dreamland I found reality, now I am lost in reality my dreams crush my heart … ‘As soon as I saw her I knew she would hurt you,’ said my friend George … te wahi moemoeā, the place of dreams … te wahi kuku, to pō te pō te pō nui … “Are you awake?” Paul heard Hine softly say. She was crying quietly. It must have been the middle of the night, and the mixture of darkness and drunkenness and Hine’s tears and his own darkness conspired to make him realise he didn’t know where he was.
Hine held Paul close not saying anything, just crying softly. They made love gently and after Hine had gone to sleep he lay awake for a while. He could hear a truck grinding up nearby College Hill and the first light was beginning to show on the wall. He closed his eyes and saw Rangi’s face. It was a skull, and Paul Calvert fell into an uneasy sleep.
“Wake up! Wake up!” Hone was shaking him excitedly. “It’s that Blunt fella on the phone, he says he’s gotta talk to you in a hurry.”
As Calvert got out of bed he noticed Hine give him a curious look and turn away. Tony Blunt’s educated voice came crystalline over the phone.
“Morning Calvert, sorry to get you out of bed at the ungodly hour of midday, but I’ve been doing a bit of detective work and I think I’ve stumbled onto something rather amusing, if not to say interesting, concerning your heritage. I don’t want to talk over the phone. Can we meet in Albert Park, say, in an hour?”
Calvert mumbled something which must have approximated ‘yes’ because he said: “Oh! Jolly good, I’ll see you by the band rotunda” … by the band rotunda we used to go … she was a little bird and I was Mr. Tree … she would sit in my branches and tell me of her marvelous travels and I would be a place of rest for her … ‘Oh! Mr. Tree,’ she would begin ‘if you could only fly’ … we were both artists and people would not believe what we told them … I would walk her to her bus and she would be off to the surreal suburb and I would go back on the trolley-bus to Ponsonby and continue the painting of her I was doing from a photograph … other people would look say ‘I can’t see a bird or a tree’ … “Where are you going? Come back to bed!” Paul heard Hine order him. He tried to explain about meeting Blunt but she turned away.
“Go away! You all the same.”
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” but she was crying and angry.
“Don’t bother. If you not here when I need you then I don’ t want you. Get another bed tonight.”
Out on the street Calvert walked in an obsessive fit of rage and incomprehension. “Blunt better have something good!” he hissed to himself. His thoughts of Hine were less rational, swaying from ‘that bitch,’ to ‘what a bastard I am to leave.’ He crossed the lights at Three Lamps almost without looking to see if anything was coming, and had stomped half way down College Hill before he even thought of catching a bus. He might as well continue walking he thought, as he didn’t know the time-table and it was a Saturday.
As he reached the top of the rise of Victoria Street West he could just make out the time on the University clock tower which rose above the trees of Albert Park like the peak of an ivory mountain out of the clouds. It was five to one so Calvert ran down the hill, crossed Queen Street and into Victoria Street East in what seemed like one gigantic stride, then into the quaintness and tranquility of the Park itself.
“Ho there, Calvert,” called Tony as Calvert headed towards the bandstand.
The photograph was of three man…
“This had better be good Blunt,” he said. He was more angry at Hine than Blunt and after he’d caught his breath and calmed down they settled into the familiarity of a close, long-lasting friendship. For although they hadn’t seen each other for many moons and their lives had gone in completely different directions, they had known each other and supported each other through a time in both their lives which was crucial to their individual intellectual and emotional development. In short, they had known each other better than brothers.
Tony pulled out a curious-looking, slightly yellowing volume from his bag. He handed it to Calvert, saying “Page 31 will probably interest you.” The title of this puzzling book was The Journal of Esoteric and Antiquated Linguistics, Berlin 1938, English Language Edition. Paul Calvert turned to page 31, and what he saw just about stopped the flow of blood through his heart. He couldn’t speak, move, do anything but stare at the half-page photograph … in dreamland there was a film made of a man eating a woman’s face, which was on the back of her head … ‘I’ll photograph it now,’ said John the Photographer … I was the man and Rangi was the woman and I was trying to impress her … I wanted her to be my love and as I ate her polystyrene face off the back of her beautiful black hair I was sure it wouldn’t be long before I’d be making love to her … this was in dreams and we were playful and new and free with each other … it was before the storm clouds gathered sending us for shelter in different directions … “Well, what do you think of that eh, Calvert?” Blunt asked.
“It certainly explains a few things,” Paul said, “but it raises a thousand more questions than it answers. I’m completely stumped Tony!”
The photograph Blunt had shown him was of three men in their mid-twenties. They were all intelligent and successful-looking, and all were studying linguistics and were in Berlin for a conference. One was Roy Calvert, Paul’s uncle, who was giving a paper on the work he was doing at Cambridge. Another was his presumptive father, Richard Calvert, who was apparently studying ancient Gaelic scripts at Trinity College, Dublin, something which he had kept from his family during all those years of Paul’s growing up with him. But the third man was the one who knocked him, for it was the same man in SS uniform as Paul had seen in the photograph he had found on his mother’s dead body.
It was his actual father. His name was Helmut von Klagen and, according to the article, he was studying ancient Nordic scripts at Munchen University, with a view to discovering origins of Aryan superiority in the legends of the past. At this point Tony Blunt, sensing his friend’s inability to comprehend this knowledge, said: “Let’s go downtown and find a bar. I’ve got a few embellishments to add to this little story.”
As they walked out of Albert Park Calvert caught sight of a late model black Mercedes Benz coming very slowly down Bowen Avenue. It passed them at the Victoria Street intersection, then it seemed to speed up and was out of sight before he could mention it to Blunt.
“Come on, old man, Mercedes are two a penny in Auckland these days. Even the buses are Mercedes, you’re letting this thing get the better of you already. Next thing you’ll be saying you’ve been conscripted to invade the Sudetenland!” Blunt said in his affectionate, sarcastic style of speaking … after school we used to have running battles with the kids from the State school … ‘Catholics, Catholics ring the bell. Protestants, Protestants go to hell!!!’ … our leaders, who were always the girls, would yell out … monkey apples and bits of dirt would be flying through the Orakei air … twenty or thirty kids in a running battle, flailing school bags, rulers for swords … mayhem in the suburbs, once a site of wars … wars of colonisation … tribal wars of revenge and conquest … Ngāti Whātua land, Crown land … State housing side by side with the country’s richest real estate … clay fights down by the footy club … challenge and defend … got ya, you’re dead! … bang, bang, bang … “Another brandy Calvert?” asked Blunt. “Thanks!” his friend replied. Blunt came back with a couple of large drams.
“Now to continue”, Blunt said, after a quick swig. “This presumed father of yours seems to be a bit of a wag. While studying at Trinity he was actually using his position to procure arms from Germany for none other than the illustrious I.R.A. He would make those excursions to the Fatherland under the protection of his esteemed brother’s academic reputation, himself being no mean scholar it must be noted. And this von Klagen chap whom you claim was your father, was his contact. Extraordinary don’t you think?” … moemoeā, the elephants’ graveyard, Hine nui te pō sits in waiting … I met, or someone met a priest who told him, ‘te wahi o te tonga’ that’s the place where the bad spirits of the European war go’ … the ‘death’s head’ people live out their hell in the minds of the living … you must be strong if one enters your heart for they want you to be like them in a dream reality … they are the evil of old and want you to despair … move, and never rest, ngā mōkai, for they will call you and you will be alone … “Excuse me, Tony I must make a phone call.”
“That you Hone?” Paul said.
“What you want, man, you really got my sis mad. She’s been porangi all day. What did you do, fuck you?”
“Tell her I want to talk to her.” He heard Hone shout something.
“She don’t wanna talk to you”.
“Tell her if she doesn’t come to the fucking phone I’m coming around.”
“What you want creep, eh!” Calvert heard Hine’s accusing voice coming through the bit of molded plastic.
“I want to see you,” he said. All his anger and resistance had left. He felt threatened and naked in his spirit, he simply wanted to see her. “I’ll meet you in the bar at the back, the quiet one, eh?”
“You better have a good story,” she said, but now she spoke without bitterness and hung up gently.
Tony had got them another cognac each and was sitting twirling his glass in his fingers holding it up to the light, watching its amber colour change shades.
“Curious how I came across this really, Calvert. I first saw that photograph five or six years ago when I was on the post-graduate scholarship to Cambridge. You may remember, I did my doctorate on the linguistics of legal language. I just happened to be flicking idly through old journals one afternoon and I came across that photograph of your father and your uncle. Of course I never connected that von Klagen chap with what you used to tell us about your father being a Nazi. I thought that was just a razz. Then the other night in the hotel when you showed me that picture that your mother had left I was a bit taken aback, but I wanted to be sure. So, I kept quiet and when I got home I looked up the journal which I planned to give you anyway. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“How did you know Golly’s phone number?” Calvert asked Blunt.
“Oh! Don’t you remember scrawling it on the back of a newspaper the other night. Really old man!”
“Well, what do I do now?” Paul Calvert addressed the question half to Blunt and half to myself … ‘I don’t know,’ said mum. ‘Aw mum, you must know if you’ve got Māori blood in your side of the family’ … ‘Yeah mum!’ said my little sister … ‘Well I think we’ve got a bit. You know Gran escaped from the Tarawera eruption when the pink and white terraces got buried’ … ‘Dad always says you’re a Māori, mum!’ … ‘Dad says, you’re like the Māoris, you don’t know whether you’re laughing or crying’ … ‘What does dad mean by that, mum?’ … ‘That little Māori boy Taffy – Sammy’s brother – died last week, mum! I really wanted to go to his funeral up in the Māori houses up at Boot Hill … ‘Will Taffy be in heaven with our sister, mum’ … mum said ‘yes dear’ and turned away and made a funny noise like laughing or crying … “Well, we know your physical father survived the war, you’re the living proof of that. I wonder if von Klagen stood trial for war crimes? Of course, just being in the SS meant he was deemed a criminal against humanity. Anyway, Paul, on Monday I’ll go to the university History department and check up a few things. O Lord, I’d better go, my wife and I are off to see the opera tonight. My life won’t be worth living if I’m late.”
“Thanks very much for turning my whole life upside down!” Paul said. “Seriously, I don’t know what to do now.”
“Just let it ride ‘till I find out a few things on Monday, and give me a call on Monday evening. No, better still here’s our address, come around for dinner on Monday evening.”
After Blunt left Calvert sat staring into his empty glass for a few minutes, then he got up and walked down Queen Street to where he said he’d meet Hine … te wahi moemoeā … in the dark dream place I was jealous … I rumbled through the town like a tank … I pounded every shop window with my fist until one gave way and shattered like crystal in the night … I screamed out her name in a drunken fog … she went home and I went into the pub … I drank like a fish and swam home … I woke up beside her in the middle of the night … I asked my beautiful flaxen-haired dream lover what had happened … she told me and we laughed and then made love … “So there you are.”
“How are you, Hine?” Paul asked.
“Pretty hoha,” she replied. But she kissed him.
“Let’s go and have a kai after we’ve had a drink and I’ll tell you what’s come up,” he said, still unsure of her mood.
“Ai,” she said. She seemed exhausted and exasperated at once. Then she said, “Hōmai te inu-ahi.”
Paul smiled as he walked to the bar. This was the kind of private joke that develops between people who have known each other, or of each other, for many years. It was their name for whiskey and was one of the jokes that Golly and he had worked out using slight shifts in their two languages. Now these had become part of Hine’s vocabulary too and it bound them together … ‘Kia Ora begorrah to the Māori Irishman O’Calvert’ … ‘Arahonui, e hoa big balls!’ thus Golly and I greeted each other as we prepared for a day of loading railway wagons … all day the trucks came in with goods for the rail and I would direct them where to go, which wagon, then back to my book … Golly and I would go over to the bus terminal for lunch, then to the pub, the early opener where we used to go years before after being turned down yet again for sea-gulling … Calvert O’Calvert the Irish Catholic with the Protestant name; his father he was orange and his mother she was green … haere ki te mahi before it’s time to go home … “And now I find out my father was running guns for the I.R.A.,” Calvert muttered to himself.
“I beg your pardon sir?” the barman said.
“I said two double whiskies, one straight and one with ginger ale and ice, didn’t you bear me?”
Hine and Paul walked quietly across Queen Elizabeth Square. They were going to eat at the cafe in the old Ferry Buildings, walking slowly, holding hands and not saying anything. As they stood waiting for the ‘Cross Now’ at the Quay Street lights Hine was singing a little tune to herself; the sky was just beginning to darken to a deep blue in the east, a few seagulls flew overhead looking like blithe spirits against the evening. Just as they were about to step out off the footpath a late last-minute car came roaring along past the big red gates of Queen’s Wharf. Calvert thought it was just someone trying to beat the red light, but just before it got alongside them it slowed to a virtual crawl and someone in the back seat pointed something at them. Paul’s first thought was a gun! He pushed Hine to one side and then fell to the ground rolling over as he did so.
“He’s got a gun, run!” Paul screamed to Hine. After what seemed an age he realised that he was still alive and that their ‘assassins’ had disappeared in the twilight, but he had recognised the car was a black Mercedes like the one earlier in the day.
“What was that about, you bloody porangi,” Hine screamed at him.
“I’m sorry!” he said. “It must have been a camera not a gun.”
“Fuck, man! You crazy – a gun! – a camera! What is this?” She started crying and when he touched her she pushed at him violently.
“I can explain, it’s all connected with that stuff this morning, I think. I don’t even know myself what’s going on. I thought they were trying to kill us – me, at least – and I pushed you away so you wouldn’t get shot. Oh Christ, Hine! Listen, I don’t even know what’s happening, who they are or anything. Stop crying will you please and I’ll tell you what I know – I’m upset too” … Tania was dead too, when she was young … she told me the story as we left her sister’s place in Eden Terrace and walked across the footbridge that leads to Mt Eden Station … she said she was thirteen and she lived in dreamland and was in a car accident … the doctor said she was dead but she was just at the valley of the dead, standing on the big rocks overlooking her ancestral Ngā Puhi people … some old kuia stayed at the gate to give the karanga to those who wanted to enter after they died … they saw Tania walking towards them but instead of giving her the call one of them said ‘Go back daughter, you are not ready, haere atu’ … then she woke up and people who thought she was dead told her and she said yes, ‘but I was told to return’ … then the early afternoon train came and I loved her more than ever … I said to her it was a good thing we didn’t sleep together the other night when we had been out of it … but I didn’t believe it and neither did she and the train became a relentless metaphor of movement and regret … Hine and Paul stood there under the remorseless, unseen gaze of the Māori Chief statue. ‘If only he would speak and tell us what to do,’ Paul Calvert thought.
“If his balls were really frozen like I read about in a poem, he wouldn’t be so smug,” Calvert said after a long silence.
“God, you Pākehā – can’t you say or do anything sensible?”said Hine with a faint smile. “Come on,” she took him by the arm and they crossed Quay Street. As they entered the cafe, which felt so warm and inviting after their tête-à-tête with the Mercedes, Paul Calvert suddenly felt shattered.
“Hine, I don’t know what’s going on!”
“You sit down Paul, I’ll get us a coffee. You wanna order a kai now?”
“No! Leave it till after I’ve told you what Tony said. I couldn’t eat now anyway!”
Hine sat listening to his story, which was half explanation to her and half working it out in his own head. She sat silently, no expression on her face to give Paul an indication of how she felt. At once he felt drawn to her, as though they’d been lovers for years, and very distant from her as though she was a new kind of life-form and he didn’t know how to react to it or how it would react.
At length he concluded his tale of two fathers, or what he knew of it. Hine got up without saying a word, went to the counter and ordered two coffees, came back and sat drinking in silence. After what seemed an age, but was only five minutes or so, Hine stood up as if to leave. Paul was almost ready for a big scene, but she just said softly,
“Come on Paul, drink your coffee, I’ll shout you a dinner on the Kestrel.” He was so relieved, and he suddenly felt both happy and hungry.
“Hurry up,” she called to him from the cafe door, “it’s leaving in five minutes!”
They walked quickly past the closed bookstall to the ticket office … I remember going with dad in our Morris van down to get the vehicular ferry to Birkenhead … ‘There’s always such a big queue these days, it’ll be a godsend once the bridge is finished’ … I sat on the bonnet as we approached Northcote Point and I looked up at the half-finished panacea for Auckland’s projected development and I thought there was something amiss … the North Shore always appeared rather unnatural to me … no railway lines and all that bush and dirt roads … the vehicular ferry looked like a flattened-out submarine and I would pretend it was a U-boat like in the war comics … ‘Can we go and see our cousins with the big verandah and all the toys, dad please?’ ‘Not today’ my presumed father answered, a hurt in his tone that I never understood till much later … “What a lovely night,”said Hine as they stood on the top outside deck of the Kestrel, the only remaining ‘real’ ferry left in Auckland.
As the boat rounded the end of the wharf and headed out across the harbour towards Devonport they could see a few ships anchored in the stream waiting to go into port to unload. It was almost full moon and moonbeams danced and shimmered on the sparkling waters. The stars and the lights of the receding city gave a kind of coloured spotlight effect. Hine held his hand and they embraced and were contented with each other and the night.
Descending the staircase to the on-board café, Hine said “Boy, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”
“I don’t think they’re quite sophisticated enough for your tastes here, could have something to do with there not being enough room below,” he teased her. She hit him over the ear and said: “What do you want for a kai, imbecile?” They ordered and then sat down … in the snow-covered lunar-like landscape of central dreamland we sat down among the ruins of dreaming ghosts of gold-diggers … our dark coats contrasted with the white blanket of snow that surrounded us and enhanced my feeling of melancholy and inspiration … under normal circumstances I should have felt wretched … my blond-haired young lover, the one I had dreamed of as I put my fist through a drunken cold night window, was with me … ‘I don’ t think we should be lovers any more’ Miranda said softly, turning her head to the dreamlike sunset as we sat together, yet apart, on stone upon stone rubble of a past era, an hotel of Winter’s dream … as soon as I asked why I realised it was no good asking … the sky turned turquoise from blue over the white, white landscape and Miranda’s words had made me feel alone and overwhelmed … I didn’t understand and I knew that this coming night would be our last … it was magic, dream-like far away long ago and yet the world was so beautiful although I could no longer touch it … “Well, what we gonna do?” asked Hine. “I don’t wanna get in just another bloody fucked up relationship,” she said. “I like being with you Paul, eh, and I would like to be with you some more but I’m bloody hoha with going from one to the other, you know.”
“Yes, I know how you feel, Hine, I’m sick of this bloody modern love we’re all caught up in. It’s easy and it’s fun for a while but you know something’s missing! I’ve got to find a place to stay in the next couple of days, so when I start the job on Monday I’ll be able to feel a bit on an even keel.”
Hine leaned over and put her hand on his wrist. “Come and sleep with me tonight, e Paul, please, then we can work it out from there. Kei te anake au.” He could feel her hand shaking slightly.
Hine and Paul ate the rest of their food in silence and then went up on the top deck out at the front of the ferry. It was a beautiful evening and Hine took his hand again. The ferry rounded the end of Queens Wharf on its return run from Devonport and Calvert suddenly felt that all he wanted to do was pack up and leave this city. He had only been back from dreamland for a couple of days and already more things had happened to him in reality and paranoid imagining than happened in a year of dreams … I remember I used to think as I sat by the railway – the railway of dreams … throwing stones on the tracks and looking at the rural road that was gradually returning, as we all do, to dust and dirt … how by that railway up on the cliffs, overlooking the sea of dreams … the number of cars in a year along that coast road would have equaled the number of cars in a day or less on any of Auckland’s main roads … now gliding into the wharf on the Kestrel with Hine on his arm, Calvert felt like that road of dreams if all the Auckland traffic had decided to descend upon the road built to hold nothing but dreams or nightmares – te moemoeā, te kuku anō.
This Tamaki Makaurau, this place of a thousand lovers, had been transformed into the place of a million fuckers all boogeying on down, all jostling and jiving for position, all moving and grooving, and the town and its people struggled under its magical weight. He had been back two days and he wanted to slip-slide back into that other time, that other world. But as he said to Hine, “I’m tired, let’s go straight home!” Paul Calvert knew that he had got the last train out of the station of dreams! There was no going back from reality … I got off the train at the junction and I was heading in the direction of a personal pilgrimage … the station was dark and cold, it was the middle of the night and there was no connecting bus for eight hours … it was the first time out of Auckland alone but I wasn’t alone … Te Atua wanted me to reach the shrine to teach me nothing – the opposite of what I thought I already knew … on the journey to the junction the night sky had been like a glimpse of the unknown … snow-covered mountains stood against the sparkling jewels of stars and moon … I was now in the after midnight station wondering how to move … a goods train was pulling out in a few minutes and I jumped aboard the goods van … there was a coal-stove burning and the mixture of warmth and tiredness soon sent me to sleep … I awoke on the train in the railyards in the early morning rain, near the eye of Te Ika a Maui … it was raining heavily by the time I reached the outskirts of the town which was out on a limb … I drank a bottle of frozen milk and honey, then I was carried towards te Hiruhārama hou, half slouching, half conscious … at every bend in the river I woke with a start, it appeared we would all go off the edge at any moment … enticed all the way by the meandering mystery of Tutaeporuporu who followed in front of us … the shrunken head moved forward in time and place, te wā, te wā, you’ve given me your wah wah, and there were a thousand of them … turuturu mōkai, and to the north and to the west a warning to those who choose to come here … you too might end up a steak with your head on a stake like a thousand others … but back to the river and the journey where the taniwha follows and plays with you … I remember the words of the dead one I have come to see ‘and what has He to tell me? More stupid than a stone, what do you know of love? Can you carry the weight of my Passion, you old crab farmer. I go back home in peace’ … after a few days pruning trees with Colin and seeing Deborah arrive porangi and a ward of the Priest, I too go back home in peace … I too know nothing of love … which in turn breaks my peace through the long short years of dreams … When Hine and Paul arrived home at her house Hone was at home alone.