Canvas asked four New Zealand authors to write about love, how does it look right now. So they each wrote a short story. Part two: Tina Shaw and Ian Wedde.
In the month of the virus
I'm in one house, you're in another. There's a swollen creek between us, filled with shards of glass and murk-brown like other people's fear. The internet comes and goes, maybe it's overloaded, there are so many things right now that are overloaded, or not loaded enough. I've got a freezer full, yet still I go hungry.
You're in one house, I'm in another. Can I dinghy across the divide and hold your hand? There's some stuff that got left unsaid. Like, I'm sorry we had that fight over … what was it again, dessertspoons and tablespoons? In all the excitement, it's slipped my mind. No, nothing as essential as that slips my mind, my mind is like a sieve full of slop. I wish it wasn't so. I lie awake in the silent night of lockdown and hear your voice, once so sweet, now gone harsh: It's a tablespoon, goddamnit. And now I can't even hold the dessertspoon to your cheek and say how alluring you look in convex.
I'm in one house, you're in another. There's a ravine between us full of spiky plants and biting insects. But I can be brave, if you can. If we can just come out of our houses – out of yours, out of mine – maybe we could reach our hands across that crazy divide and flutter fingertips at each other. Did I ever tell you what beautiful fingertips you have? I have to say it now, because time is running out, while also stretching into infinity and we don't know where or when it will all end. The main thing I know right now is that it doesn't matter if it was a tablespoon. The tablespoon is innocent in this matter and deserves to stay at your house. Just like I want to stay at your house. Or you in mine. Can we please be friends?
Your house, my house. Let's float them together – just like you wanted. I'm sorry about the fight, it was stupid. I was stupid. We were both afraid, fear clenching between us like creature-teeth. Let's build a bridge instead, no matter how creaky.
Tina Shaw's new novel, Ephemera, is available as an ebook (Cloud Ink Press, ($14.90)
My mother and I were sitting on the back lawn in the fluttery shade of the rotary clothesline - its orderly pegging-out of the household's frugal wash was transformed into a disorderly flutter of light and shade across her face, where a smile at once wistful and amused shaped the story she was telling me.
My father appeared in the kitchen window above us. He was preparing our lunch sandwiches there and made a show of waving one and popping it into his mouth. My mother waved back and blew him a kiss but didn't interrupt her story. Her father Bert had lost one arm in a tipsy accident when she was a girl and she'd often helped him to launch his dinghy at Waikawa Bay. She'd always wanted to tell me what Bertie invariably said to her once the dinghy was afloat.
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Then my father arrived with a tray of sandwiches and a pot of tea and the dinghy remained half afloat for a while as we ate and drank. When we'd finished, he cleared our plates and cups away and took them up to be washed. My mother resumed her story, which extended past the launching of the dinghy - I sensed there was something important waiting to be revealed as Bertie sculled across the bay.
Then my father appeared with another tray of sandwiches and another pot of tea. Oh dear, my mother said to me, he's done it again. But she gave him a kiss. Thank you darling they're delicious she said, and my father's eyes glistened as he looked at her with an expression I often saw. The shadows of the fluttering wash on the clothesline were like the patterns of light and shade on the surface of the bay as her one-armed father Bertie sculled towards the point of the story she was telling me.
She reached across for my father's hand when she got to the moment half-way across the bay when Bertie always shipped his oar and always said, "Love you, treasure," and let the dinghy drift for a while on the flickering water.
Ian Wedde's new novel, The Reed Warbler (Victoria University Press, $35 or $18 for the ebook) will be published on May 14.