Melanie Dixon

Melanie Dixon has recently finished her second year at Hagley Writers’ Institute and has had work published for both adults and children . She was short-listed for the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire prize for creative science writing 2012 and also for the Christine Cole Catley short story competition 2013. She is currently working on her first children’s novel.

Orange and White

Melanie Dixon 2014

We used to jump fences. Me and the cone collector. Climbed into people’s gardens in the middle of the night. Sat in their spa pools. Naked. Didn’t do anything. Just sat and talked. Looked at the stars if there were any. First to spot a satellite. If a light came on inside the house we’d scarper. Never went back to the same place twice. We worked our way around neighbourhoods. He had a map, pinned to the wall of his studio. Night by night, we made our way up and down empty streets, ticking off the houses. We knew we’d scored if we found a pool. Then we’d pull the cover off and swim lazily up and down. Blissful on our backs. Has to be some way of having fun in this busted town.

On the way home we’d pick up a road cone. Seemed harmless to start with. He said he was collecting them. We took them back to his place in Brighton. Piled them up in the living room till you could hardly move for the orange and the white. It looked weird at night, with glimmers of headlights bouncing off the reflective strips every time a car drove past. Ours was a torchlight love, a relationship of illicit 3ams.

Until he was caught.

Truth be known we were both caught out, but he was the one who got it in the neck.

It was in Merivale, one of those posh streets where every house has a pool and a spa. We didn’t know we’d been sussed until it was too late. Word must’ve got out. They knew exactly where we would be. 2:30am on a Wednesday. Everybody should’ve been asleep. The fence was easy to jump. Then there it was, 10 metres of bliss, empty and sublime. We pulled the cover off , rolling it silently into a long blue sausage. I was first in. Stripping off and diving from the side, breaking the water softly. I relished in the cool silence as it closed in around me. My moment of euphoria. Then he jumped. Bombing from the side. Splash. Must’ve got a bit cocky, jumping in like that.

Game over. Lights on. People appeared from everywhere. Out from behind the pot plants, under the outdoor furniture. I legged it. Didn’t stop to look back for him. You’ve no idea what it’s like running through Merivale, starkers, in the middle of the night. Lucky I’m a good runner. Must be all that swimming I do. I was the one that got away. He wasn’t so lucky.

So, that’s how it ended.

A couple of months later I spotted him, in one of those magazines. Turns out he’s a bit of a name. In the photograph he’s standing in the garden of a fancy looking house, with his wife. Yeah, that bit surprised me too. There they are, smiling, standing next to the swimming pool. Behind them towers a huge orange and white elephant made out of road cones, with a torch shining out of its trunk, lighting up the treetops. Triumphant.

You

Melanie Dixon 2013

When you set me that assignment I’m sure you didn’t imagine it would all turn out like this. You were expecting a neat story with a beginning, middle and end, but then perhaps that would have been too predictable, too cliché. The problem was I wanted to impress you, wanted to make myself stand out amongst all the other wannabes and misfits that night-classes tend to attract. So what started out as a simple story quickly got complicated. The characters took on a life of their own, stuff happened that I’d never planned, innocent people were implicated and by the time I’d finished I just hoped you would approve. The piece I wrote had all the vital elements, believable characters who spoke convincing dialogue, a plot that transfixed the reader from that first memorable opening line, and an ending that would have had you reeling, desperate to know more. Of course I put in a few funny lines, I know how much you like a laugh. Then there was that bit that made me cry, even as I wrote it. I didn’t mean to kill off such a generous, kind, character, especially not like that. My story had jealously and guilt, as well as a happy redemption. The conglomeration of emotions neatly elucidating the human condition. I thought you’d like that bit, I know how much you like long words.

I was looking forward to showing you my work, fantasising no less about the A grade you would surely write in the top left-hand corner, in that lovely, cursive script of yours.

But when I heard what happened to you that week the story suddenly seemed to be in such poor taste. I didn’t want to make light of your situation, it didn’t seem fair. How was I to know what was going on in your life outside of class? I’d actually been past your place a few times, even heard shouting once but I never realised things were that bad. Your wife should never have done that to you and as for your mother being in on the act, I was appalled. I know you’d been sleeping the car, I saw you. Not that I was spying on you. I just thought it might help my work if I understood where you were coming from.

I was sitting outside your house in the dark, on that bench by the reserve, when it happened. The police arrived in a flash of blue and red, sirens blazing. I didn’t want you know I was there so I hid behind the dustbins by the tennis court. They dragged you outside, handcuffed. I’m sure they didn’t have to be that rough with you. I should have gone to the police then, told them everything, but they probably wouldn’t have believed me. Your photo was in the paper, standing outside the District Court, exonerated. But the look on your face told a different story, like you’d lost everything. At least my story had a happy ending, except for the character I killed of course.

The college disbanded the writing course, ‘due to exceptional circumstances’. The principal called you a ‘timewaster’ and some of the other students said things that I wouldn’t like to repeat. Nobody asked me what I thought. They’re looking for a new teacher for next year, but it won’t be the same, not without you.

So I’m not going to show you the story I wrote for that assignment, not now at least. Perhaps one day, when things are going better for you, perhaps I’ll let you read it then.