The man who ate Lincoln Rd raised a glass to the dead on Wednesday afternoon at Bar 159. My brother Paul died on Monday night. I got woken up by the phone call. I kind of just sat in the dark for a while. The next day I fell to pieces. On Wednesday I was ready for a beer.
Emily said, "He was your shining light." I couldn't ever have told him that, but probably he knew. I daresay I made it obvious. He was 10 years older than me and we always fell into the same roles - the man of the world, the adoring kid.
For a man of the world he never roamed very far. In fact he never left New Zealand, and he bought the house where we grew up in Mt Maunganui. His childhood home became his own home, happily married with three children. Most of his life in one house, working in the family trade - when our father took off, Paul took over his business as a housepainter.
Two generations of ladders and buckets of paint, of overalls and colour charts. He worked hard to pay the bills.
I sat outside in the garden bar at Bar 159 and raised my glass of Lion Red. It glowed in the weak afternoon sunlight.
He was very thin and he always wore his hair long. He was bearded, and favoured dark clothes. He liked a beer but he practised a balanced diet: he also liked to smoke.
I got cold, and moved inside the bar. There was a giant screen switched to a music channel.
One of the greatest nights in my drinking life was his fiftieth birthday. There were a hell of a lot of people in the back yard making a hell of a lot of noise and Paul, myself, and our brother Mark were the last ones standing. It was in January but I recall that it was quite cold at dawn. We needed cigarettes, and set off for the shops. I think we walked to the beach as well, just to have a look at the ocean.
Our lives in a seaside town, the five sons and one daughter of a farmer's daughter from Morrinsville and an Austrian who spent the war interned on Somes Island in Wellington harbour. Paul was the second eldest. "He was the core of the family," Mark said. He sort of ran the show, an unlikely authority figure for someone who was so funny and free. I always thought: I want to be like Paul.
His barbecuing was first-class, he was a master of the tong, fluent in the language of marinades. I ordered a 300gm sirloin at Bar 159 in his honour. It was the best steak I've eaten on Lincoln Rd and even though it's the only steak I've eaten on Lincoln Rd it was delicious, very well-cooked, and I ate it thinking that Paul would have given it high praise, too.
It's a good pub. It does quiz nights. It's got boring sports posters. The bar menu includes pizza and sliders and prawns. I wrote a death notice and phoned it through to the Bay of Plenty Times. Before Paul got sick - the oxygen pump, the pills, the tests - he was a regular fixture at the Mt Maunganui RSA. He loved it there. He was a brilliant talker, the funniest man in the room.
He was 66. Families are all we have and when they begin to disappear there's nothing much left. When I was falling to pieces on Tuesday I said to my sister Jenny, "I want to see him. Can we see him?" The funeral director has made arrangements. One last look at Paul Braunias. I drained the glass without thinking, and wished there was more in it so I could raise it to him one more time.