Canvas asked four New Zealand authors to write about love, what it means, where they see it, how does it look right now; does it surprise or has it the same old face despite the circumstances ... how better is it to feel love now, than to clench in fear. So they each wrote a short story. Part one: Fiona Kidman and Bronwyn Sell.
The Blue Room
by Fiona Kidman
The blue room looked as if it hadn't been slept in for months. In the dull light hanging from the blue ceiling, the blue painted walls, the blue bed cover, the blue carpet, the windowless room seemed shrouded in gloom. It was one o'clock in the morning in Paris. We had travelled, my husband and I, by train from Rome. The man at the desk at the little hotel in Montmartre had no record of our booking. But I did and so we found ourselves in the emergency room below stairs.
What will we do for a fortnight in Paris, my husband had asked. I had been to Paris before but he had not. Now I had no answer. We would move in the morning, somewhere, anywhere but here, I promised. In the morning we woke to bells chiming. We staggered to the breakfast room. A manager appeared, offering apologies. We would immediately be transferred to the red room upstairs. The red room was as red as the blue room had been blue. We looked now directly into the source of the chiming bells, the exquisite art nouveau church of Saint-Jean de Montmartre.
My husband's spirits were lifting. We went outside. On a wall next door to the little hotel the words "I love you" were painted in 132 different languages. "I love you," my husband said. "Je t'aime," I said. "Te amo," he said, going all Spanish on me. The words, they were there in te reo, too. Like home. By the metro station at the end of rue des Abbesses, a man was playing an accordion. My husband went and sat beside him. They smiled at one another.
We decided we would stay on at the little hotel. The next day we were promoted again, to the yellow room at the top. Now we looked directly into the bell tower of the church. We declared that we never wanted to leave. Every day we read more and more of the phrases aloud to each other and each day the accordionist played as if we were the only people there in the street.
We came home to New Zealand. Over the years we went back and forth to the little hotel. The last time I was alone and visited without staying. The phrases on the wall had gone. But there was the accordionist, grey, bent over, still playing. He played something familiar, as if he remembered. I entered Saint-Jean. I lit a candle. For memory. For hope. Light in dark times.
Fiona Kidman's All the Way to Summer: Stories of love and longing (Vintage) is available now as an ebook, $13.
by Bronwyn Sell
First thing she'd do was remove the for sale sign. She kicked aside the block of wood that served as a lock for the ranch slider and heaved it open. It was interrupting her view of the water. Well, the mudflats. This far up the harbour, the tide didn't so much roll in and out as seep up and drain away. She inhaled. Brine and decay and something dead under the deck. Her bubble for one.
A failed relationship. Why was it that any relationship that didn't end in death had failed? Years from now, would they catch up for a drink and wonder why they were ever together or why they'd ever broken up?
A car engine. Weird. She tracked the sound as it left the tarseal and grumbled on to the stones. She knew the second it would appear - and there it was. A nondescript grey import.
Sunlight winked off its windscreen as it pulled up on the lawn. A man got out. Not a man. Him. His grey T-shirt, stretched at one hem. His jeans with the barbed-wire rip. She knew just how he'd smell. Lived-in, like a favourite hoodie that rarely got dirty or sweaty enough to warrant being washed.
"Ah," he said, slinging an arm over the car door. "I thought you were living in town now."
"The thought of being locked down with my flatmates …" To be fair, they weren't so bad. She just hated having flatmates. She hated having to have flatmates. "I thought you were in Melbourne."
"I was. Am. But I don't have a place to live yet and we're working remotely, so ..." He tapped the car roof. "I can't go to Dad's, can I? Besides, this is where I said I'd go. 'Home.' Apparently the cops check."
"All the way out here?"
She leaned against the door frame. Home. She'd noted his emphasis. And, yeah, this was no longer their place in the world. Their time together had passed. But was it really a failure? Or ... a finite success.
"First thing you can do is remove the for sale sign."
Bronwyn Sell's Lovestruck (HarperCollins) is available now as an ebook ($5).
Next week: Tina Shaw and Ian Wedde