Content warning: themes of rape
Everything was new yet impossible when we were younger. Even possibility was out of reach when I first knew you. We tasted the unknown together.
At your mother’s place, you with your forever face, showing us where you’d learned to be who you were.
Your semi-acoustic brother skulked against garden walls.
You said, He never talks.
You played Moonlight Sonata on your mother’s piano. I asked you to show me how, placed my fingers over the keys you’d touched, couldn’t make the instrument sing.
Your mother was boiling rounds of potato peel. We followed her into the hen house.
Potato peels will make any hen happy, she said.
We looked for eggs, found none.
We were always looking for something.
And then we didn’t see each other so often.
People are always moving.
You could say we were as poor as church mice. But living in the dawn of a secular society, even the mice had lost their religion. There was never a dime to spare, not for anybody’s buddy. Signing on day and dole books, nothing at the employment office, but red eyes and empty faces.
You and I still saw each other when we could.
We hitchhiked everywhere. Sometimes drivers took two from a group of three. Not enough room, they’d say, choosing the prettier two. We’d meet up again later.
At the Union Bar, we’d dance like spinning coins. Everyone knew everybody else. The price of a taxi was more than a week’s rent. But it was safe to walk, despite the hysteria that followed in our wake.
We went to Stonehenge in a van called Hope. You brought your own pillow. Coloured threads flying. Sunlit hair. Discovering a fungus could change your view of the world.
Back then we rarely thought about dying.
Music on a distant stage. You and I skinning potatoes. We threw away the peels. There were no hens, only wide-eyed stares and hungry mouths. You asked me how big to cut the pieces. Collecting wood for a cooking fire, because someone had to feed the hoards at a festival as much as anywhere else.
I carried you on my back when you lost your shoes.
After that, I didn’t see you for months.
Guess we could blame low wages and the miles between us.
When we were older, you met us where gulls voiced the salt of the sea. We danced on sand. Shells pricked holes in our feet. A cove so golden, like walking into a postcard, only better. An open-air theatre. Sun-kissed actors and ice cream.
Another time, three of us hitchhiked into the city. We found ourselves in the wrong sort of club – images of scantily clad woman. Blonde. Buxom. Said we would paint pictures of scantily clad men, secretly paste them onto the walls.
We didn’t know it was called guerrilla art back then.
When we left the air was colder, the traffic had thinned. Three of us breathing fumes from the alcohol we’d smuggled under our coats. How long did we tell each other stories while we waited for a lift? How long did we laugh at a joke from long ago?
His car pulled up beside us. You’d danced with him at the club. I hadn’t recognised him in his coat. And yes, you knew him. Vaguely. And yes, it would be safe. And if we didn’t go with him, what else were we going to do?
He couldn’t take us all the way. But he could offer us a bed for the night, and surely that was better, he said. We could catch a bus out the next day.
I have alcohol, he added, a silver gleam in his eye.
The house had glass tables, walls recently painted. I guessed it wasn’t his place. He didn’t look the type. He poured tumblers of spirits. Didn’t have any mixers, he said.
Perhaps it was his parents’ house.
He put a video on. I couldn’t finish my drink.
I’d never seen a porn movie before.
The characters fucked from beginning to the end. No build up. No nuance. Top to bottom. White-skinned. Blonde, buxom women. Hard-boned men.
Then it was time for bed, he said with a yawn.
Where’s everyone sleeping? I asked.
You’re in there, he said, pointing to two of us.
You disappeared with him.
We sank into crisply washed sheets, imagined his mother kept the bedroom ready, always prepared for the unexpected. But even the expected can take you by surprise.
In the morning, he gave us a lift to town. Cocooned by the quiet hum of our bus, I asked if you’d been compromised.
Sometimes people ask questions that can elicit only one answer. The right one.
The safe one.
I ought to have asked you again. Couldn’t change what happened, but I could have told you I knew it was was wrong.
People are always moving.
* * *
It’s the sort of party where tongues slide easily around sticky topics.
A friend tells me about something that happened long ago.
There’s a boat, money, someone she knows says; Let’s go with them. It’s safe.
But we know it rarely is.
It’s been over thirty years since that night we drank neat spirits with a man you said you knew.
Between this friend’s words, I realise she’s telling the same story.
It’s a story that’s made women cry, shout, and stay silent about forever.
It’s a story we never want our daughters to tell.
The world is a different place now; different, and yet the same.
I look for you.
It takes under an hour. I find your name. Wouldn’t you have changed it by now? The age is right. The city. The town.
Is it you?
The Internet is a slippery place, so many people cross-stitched into its web.
I look again; want to find another you, a different identity.
I want to find another, one who didn’t die six years earlier.
But I can’t.
Nod Ghosh attended Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2012 (year one: tutor Frankie McMillan) and 2014 (year two: tutor Kerrin Sharpe). Nod has published extensively in Aotearoa and overseas.