Rogue energies

Friday 26 September, 2014:

Kendrick Lamar through the speakers, news on TV, books and lappy out on the kitchen table. I like mornings; going to work and shit.

Get home again to find three DVDs and a note on the table: ‘Miss will you be able to drop these dvd’s off before you go gym plez. MISS wel B N CLANCY THANKS MISS 🙂 an miss we can’t find the pad locks’.

I carry out this request, then hit the gym. Come back and warm up some leftover chicken curry and rice, which has evidently been mined for its chicken, and is now almost vegetarian.

 

Around 10, Tau texts to see if I can pick them up, they’ll start walking along Carthill Rd. I go collect them and we head back via the shops at Municipal, where Tau does a long and complicated tally of his finances before ordering chicken and chips. They want to buy me takeout as well, and though I keep on explaining I’ve already eaten, this only serves to mystify them (despite the lateness of the hour) and intensify their efforts at persuading me otherwise.

I can’t help but laugh a little bit, despite my worry at their overall state. Both of them are so drunk that it isn’t really funny at all, stumbling around and “m’bro’ing” everyone out on the street.

 

Back in the car, I’m barely able to engage in the general conversation. I’m just trying to stay one step ahead (thinking of the potential for things go awry) – and I feel slightly resentful, too. Not at coming out to pick them up, but at having to absorb all these rogue energies. I can’t tell them they’re being dicks, even in jest. Tau and Leroi wouldn’t cope with that right now. It would just get them all upset, which is not the way to roll with drunk people.

So I put up with them going on fulsomely about everyone and everything, all the way home. I’m quiet and, I guess, reserved – which only makes them more garrulous in their approach; trying to make me happy, I think.

 

The minute we get home, Tau realizes he forgot to pick up a foil (which he already paid Kost for) and so out we go to Clancy again – Leroi stays back to make a start on the takeaways. And as soon as Tau’s on his own with me, everything just comes tumbling out. Because he’s so drunk, there is almost no caution in his approach. I can see (and he even says at one point) that he trusts me enough to talk about certain things. So I can’t keep running that ‘polite’ strategy anymore, holding the vibe at arm’s length.

“Well, it’s good you want to tell me, Tau,” I say.” But I’d listen anytime. You don’t have to get drunk first.”

“It’s hard to talk about it,” Tau says. “I don’t like saying things to people.” He thinks about this and reconsiders his words. “Except you, Miss,” he clarifies.

 

So… all the way to Clancy and back again, Tau talks. First, about the way he wrestles with his conscience. It makes me think of that ‘two wolves’ story, maybe one day I’ll show it to him.

Next he tells me he had another bad day at course today. He and Leroi left early and went home, because Tau was getting aggro with everyone all day long.

“It’s ok, Tau,” I tell him. “If that’s how you were feeling, then you did the right thing going home early.”

And he looks momentarily soothed by this.

 

Then he confesses he almost hit Maxwell – it was at their last counselling session, when Max mentioned Sheree.

“I know my mum’s doing dumb stuff,” Tau says in frustration. “I know she’s doing the wrong things – no-one has to tell me that, I can see it for myself. I

I nod and he goes on: “I wanted to just hook him. But I didn’t – cos we’re getting paid more to go to counselling.”

“That’s not the only reason,” I suggest.

“Yeah, I know,” Tau agrees reluctantly. He shakes his head, saying, “Max’s taught me heaps. And… I like him. I couldn’t hit him – but I did want to.”

“It’s not unexpected though, Tau,” I say. “Counselling can bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Honestly, Max wouldn’t have been surprised if you felt upset. I’m sure he expected it, and knew what to do.

“I think he felt… scared, for a second,” Tau says. He sounds guilty at the thought. “I think that’s why we finished the session early. He just went all quiet, and then he said, ‘Ok, let’s wind this up.’”

“Yup,” I say, getting it. “That makes sense. But, the thing is, Tau – you didn’t hit him. You did the right thing, and you got through it. I’m glad you’ve told me.”

Tau manages a smile, and I think I understand now why Max seemed more reticent than normal last Sunday, when I went to get those forms signed. He was almost… a touch abrupt when talking about Tau.

 

By the time we get back, Tau has a slightly jolty expression of relief, to have gotten at least some of these worries off his chest. I think he’s about to say more, too – but for the fact that Leroi arrives straight out of the sleepout, to celebrate the arrival of the foil.

“You both need a sesh,” I sigh. “Go on then, and I’ll go make a cuppa tea.”

They laugh, tickled by this. “Cuppa tea…” echoes Leroi. “Should have a sesh too, Miss.”

“Hell no,” I tell them. “Someone has to stay straight, round here.”

“Haard.”

 

I come back out with my tea, and we talk, Tau circles back and forth, sometimes bestowing a hug upon me as he completes each tour of the sleepout. “I don’t know how to explain it Miss… I just don’t know how to explain it,” he repeats.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“When I see my family, and they say, oh we’re here for you, your family’s here for you, I feel like telling them – that’s nothing compared to this.” He looks at me and shook his head. “I can’t explain it Miss, I don’t know how to say it. But I just don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have anywhere to go; if I didn’t have you, didn’t have… this.” He holds one arm up to demonstrate, then embraces me, saying, “I love you like family, Miss.”

“Me too, Tau,” I tell him. “I’m here for you through thick and thin.”

“If I was rich…” Tau begins again, dreamily. “If I won Lotto, I’d give you a million dollars Miss, straight up.”

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A grown ass woman

Monday 8 September, 2014:

I remember how Kepaoa used to say, “If anything happens, just text me – I’m only a suburb away.”

Words. Because on Saturday, I was facing things alone. My phone losing charge in the bedroom; it might as well have been a suburb away too. And even if I’d had it right in my hand, there was no Kepaoa to call in the middle of the night. So I stood my ground – I didn’t once let myself become afraid. It’s only now I feel kind of scared, kind of sick about it all.

I’ve just about decided to take the day off when I get a text from the agency. So I accept the job, and get out of bed.

 

Afterwards, I reflect that it’s lucky I didn’t know I’d be teaching drama all day; that’s some pretty out-of-it relief: warm up games, impromptu performances, and all the rest of it. But I don’t really mind. All care and no responsibility – and sometimes it’s ‘no care and no responsibility’.

The daily contradictions don’t stay on my mind for long, with substitute teaching. It doesn’t really matter whether things go good, bad, or indifferent. It wasn’t like that when I had a permanent teaching job. The dissonance rubbed away at me all the time. Of course the feeling’s still there… it just has less of an impact, I guess.

 

This evening I get a text from Rose: Leroi is still here, sorry about all the trouble I know how you are feeling.

I’m glad he’s still with his Nan. I remember one time La-Verne said (rather glibly and irritating me) that the family was a ‘package deal’. But that’s just the point – they aren’t a package deal. I’ll do whatever I can reasonably do. But I know I can’t do for everyone what I’ll do for Tau.

And as well, nothing’s been cleared from the weekend. I’m still kind of upset with Leroi – but it’s Sheree I’m really angry with. I’m sick of the way she wants to be babied when something goes wrong, like she’s still a little kid, when she’s a grown ass woman.

 

Tuesday 9 September:

I get a text from Leroi tonight, which means I have to make a decision:

Hi mis me Leroi I feel so terrible for what ive done im so sry for my behaviour mis iknow that waz totally unexceptable towards you and  urv done so much for us more then anyone and idont want ruin the progress me and tau have made at course or let anyone down. please cud i come bak?  ican understand if u don’t want me there. but i promiss u miss that will never happen again, and ipromiss there will be no more drinking ever miss hope u cn forgive me.

I think it over for a while.  I know Leroi’s young, and I tell myself he’s allowed to make mistakes. Still, the way he turned on Tau really shook me. Well, where’s the loyalty now? I ask myself.

It takes me ages to reply and poor Leroi must be worried, he sends a few of those ‘Miss?’ texts as he waits. Eventually, I decide: I tell him he can come back

 

Wednesday 10 September:

Everything goes ok, but at the same time I can see that the boys are slightly anxious and on their best behavior – especially Leroi. You know, just being that extra bit more polite. They’ve had a good day at course and want to shout dinner, which is nice. Even so, we’re aware of recent events, so it feels a little awkward. Leroi asks if he can take a drink out of the fridge; that kind of thing. It’s all kind of tiring. Not in a bad way, just… in a way.

 

Thursday 11 September

I miss a call from the agency and debate with myself over whether to ring them back or not.  I eventually decide I’d rather crawl over broken glass than go do a day’s substitute teaching today. I don’t know why, because it isn’t that bad. But really? – I ask myself. Did I quit teaching at MC just so I can keep doing the same old thing somewhere different?

Bang goes another 230 bucks (that’s about what it is after tax), but I just can’t do it today. And I even packed up my lunch, too. Oh well.

 

Friday 12 September

Pretty crap weather out – and I’m supposed to be teaching PE all day. But I see a narrow window of opportunity to be seized, as the relief coordinator at Carthill High comes out with the timetables. “Which one do you want?” she asks the assembled group of substitute teachers, vaguely proffering a couple of sheets towards two of us. One of these looks to be Junior PE from start to finish; the other has a mix of PE and other subjects. I see Samoan 301 in period 1, English 101 in period 2… “I’ll take this one,” I tell her.

The other reliever, who has waited too long and now hovers just behind me, says uncertainly, “I was told I was having English…”

The relief coordinator looks a touch exasperated at this, saying, “We’ve asked for eight relievers and we’ve only got six. I’ve got all this internal cover to do as well…”

So off I go to 13 Samoan.

 

Saturday 13 September

I get up to make a cuppa tea and some toast, thinking how this time last week, Sheree was here and clinging like a leech to the boys. And this time Sunday, I was still outside with Leroi as the sun came up.

It doesn’t sound nice to write that Sheree’s clinging like a leech. But ‘nice’ is not where I need to be at present.

 

Friday 19 September:

My evening doesn’t work out quite as planned. Because after school, where am I? At the doctor – waiting two whole hours to get Tau’s  forms filled. And where’s Tau? Out at Clancy with the boys, who’ve come to pick him and Leroi up. And why do I do it? Because I can’t not try. Sometimes I wonder at myself, though. I question my sanity, sitting there in the waiting room, having already been told by one of the receptionists that the doctor (not being Tau’s regular GP) might not be able to sign the forms without his actual presence. She shrugs, not unsympathetically, saying, “Try if you want. But I can’t guarantee it.”

 

Admittedly Tau had tried too, earlier on in the day (they told him to come back later; there was only one doctor on). So I wait patiently, talking with a man called Wiremu – who turns out to have Alzheimer’s – about his army days. His wife (Joy is her name), comes out from her consultation and sees us, flurries straight over to ask if he’s been bothering me.

They affect me greatly, Joy and Wiremu. His voice has the unmistakable tone and oratorical style of a native speaker of Te Reo. She’s Pakeha. He remembers the old days, she tells me; his army days. All the people, all the places – he served in Malaya and Singapore. He forgets the things that happened a few minutes ago. They married in 1960 and have been living in Municipal for 48 years.

He doesn’t drink beer anymore, doesn’t go out in the evening nowadays. And every afternoon, he says to her, “Mum, can I have an ice cream,” and she makes him a big one. He eats it in the room, and five minutes later, he asks, “Mum, can I have an ice cream.”

“You’ve already had one,” she tells him.

“When did I have one?” he asks. “I didn’t have an ice cream.” He insists, and gets bad tempered, argumentative. “He takes it out on me,” Belle tells me.

“It must be very hard on you,” I say.

“It is,” she replied. “Sometimes it’s like that all day long.”

She doesn’t have a single complaint to make about her situation – she’s just tired, and acknowledges it. I’ve already heard her coughing in the doctor’s room. She has high blood pressure, and edema in her legs (cellulitis, she says, showing me the purple swelling).

 

At 5:45 I come away with Tau’s signed paperwork. The boys are still up at Clancy, of course. I have a feeling they’re going to ask me if they can have a few cans here again, sometime soon. I don’t know how I’ll play it when they do. It’s not a ‘never again.’ (despite Leroi’s text hyperbole). It’s just… I do need to set boundaries.

 

 

The first birds singing

It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver.  Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.

Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.

But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”

He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.

“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.

A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”

I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.

Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.

 

After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.

“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”

Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.

“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”

“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.

I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”

 

“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.

“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.”  Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”

I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.

 

After that thought, words come easier to me.  “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.

“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”

“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.

I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.

 

I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”

Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”

Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.

 

At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.

“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.

“What?” he groans.

“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”

“Then go get a blanket.”

“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.

“How come?” asks Leroi.

“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”

“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.

 

We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.

“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.

As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.

“Hello,” says a voice.

“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”

“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.

 

Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.

“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.

“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”

“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”

“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.

 

The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.

Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.

“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”

Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.

 

Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”

“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”

So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”

“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.

“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.

“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.

Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.

 

By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.

“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”

“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”

“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”

“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.

I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain.  I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.

Strategies

Thursday 4 September 2014:

Tau and Leroi have ‘a few’ cans tonight – this turns out to be more like two boxes. I’m alright with it, or kind of. It’s the end of another successful ‘week’ of study (course runs Mon-Thurs and Tues-Fri on alternate weeks). Not just that, but it seems wiser to drink here, rather than round at their uncle’s (the alternative strategy).

It’s just that… 24 cans is a lot, actually. Or maybe it’s only 18, but that’s a lot too. It doesn’t seem like a lot to them – which in some ways is the thing that bothers me.

Still, they do ask me. I give the decision some thought, and it seems like the safest way to play it. I try to be as pragmatic and reasonable as I can, considering that: a) I love them and am proud of them, b) I want to try minimize risk, and c) I know there’s always a risk.

Everything goes ok though. I make dinner and leave it on the counter when I go to bed.

 

Friday 5 September:

When we get home from Municipal (DVDs, fish and chips, and the drugs run), Sheree’s sitting in the sleepout, and looking quite comfortable there too. A couple of things immediately occur to me. First, that she hasn’t even bothered to let me know (she texted me not five minutes earlier to ask where the boys were, but didn’t say she was here.) So the tacit assumption troubles me: that it’s Tau’s place and she can come and go as she likes.

Second, the boys have left the sleepout unlocked again – I’ve mentioned this to them a few times, but it keeps happening. I don’t like leaving the place unsecured, anyone could stroll in. I don’t just mean Sheree – I mean anyone, with who knows what intention.

I tell Sheree I’ll drop her off “soon as she’s ready”, though the temporal implications of this statement don’t sink in as quickly as I hope.

 

Ha, and then all that’s nothing, compared to what comes later.

Round 1 am, I hear someone crying and knocking on the door of the sleepout. First I think it’s Leroi, and that he and Tau must have had an argument. It’s raining and I tuck a rug around my shoulders and go out.

Sheree is in the sleepout, weeping and wailing. She’s huddled on the weights bench, while Tau sits impassive on the bed and Leroi lays on the couch, still snoring. Turns out her family has given her a hiding, and a ‘taxi man’ has seen her wandering in the park and dropped her off here (at her own request).

She crouches and cries, “I miss Scott… I miss him so much!” There’s nothing really to be done, so I just sit next to her while she sobs. Tau looks super-stressed, which is the way I feel inside too. Leroi just slumbers on (or pretends to), either of which is probably a good thing.

Sheree has that drunk, little-girl voice as she asks, “Please Miss… can I stay here for the night, I’ll be gone in the morning?”

“Yup, ok…” I murmur, knowing this is the only kind thing I can say, but feeling a great surge of resentment that Sheree is both dumping her problems on Tau’s already overburdened shoulders, and using my place as a convenient bolt-hole.

I leave the shed and fall asleep quickly, probably out of desperation to have my mind rid of problems for a while.

 

Saturday 6 September

In the morning, Sheree comes in to use the bathroom. She’s limping, can hardly walk – and is obviously embarrassed about last night. In some ways I feel for her. But still using that same girly voice, she calls me Miss again. I feel like saying – fuck, I’m not your Miss, you’re a grown woman. Instead, I just offer to make her a coffee, but she beats a hobbled retreat back to the sleepout.

An hour later, a car arrives, and Sheree emerges again, leaning on Tau’s shoulder and hopping on one leg. She gets in. I hear her call out, “Love you…” to the boys.

 

Tau comes straight in to inform me she’s going down the line. He looks relieved, to be honest.

“That’s a good idea,” I say. “Go down for a few days, sort stuff out.”

“Mum says she wants to stay there,” he tells me. “Get us a house.”

Whatever, I think to myself. She can just keep drinking and see how far she gets.

Actually, it distresses me to feel like this towards Sheree. But I’ve gone far past the point of pretending we can be friends. Too much has happened, and when it comes down to it: family’s family. I’m just her Plan B – and probably Leroi’s too, for that matter, and maybe even Tau’s. And yet I allow it to happen. I hold that line for Tau, if only they knew it. And perhaps they do, who knows?

 

Like me (though of course I don’t say as much), Tau surmises that Sheree will be back at her brother’s before too long. “It’s the only house where she can drink,” he says, counting off reasons. “And down the line she’s got nowhere to score. Plus she said uncle’s is the only place she feels comfortable.”

“Yeah, well she wasn’t very comfortable last night,” I say, trying not to sound too sarcastic.

“Hard,” Tau replies, and then, “But I still reckon she’ll go back there.”

“What about moving down the line?” I ask.

“She says she wants to,” says Tau. “But I don’t think my mum could get a house anywhere. She doesn’t know how to do any of that stuff. So she’ll just go back to Uncle’s.”

“And then the same thing’s going to keep happening, probably,” I say, and Tau nods, without rancour.

“Anyway me and Leroi don’t want to go down the line.” He looks horrified at the thought, adding, “And we’re doing good on our course, we’d hate to give that up.”

 

Sunday 7 September:

I hardly know where to start. The boys head off to Clancy, and things intensify even further once they return home. Of course, alcohol is again the prime mover.

Tau gets back first – this is around 2 am. He arrives without any signs of distress whatsoever. His footfall is light and untroubled, and he lets himself in to make a feed. His state registers as ‘normal’ on my radar; in fact I don’t even get out of bed – there’s no need.  Idly, I wonder if Leroi has stayed over at Clancy. Then I fall back to sleep.

 

An hour or so later, I wake again, hearing Leroi come back and go into the sleepout  And that, I assume, is the end of their night.

A couple of minutes later, I hear voices start up. At first I think it’s another one of their famous rap battles. But then there’s a scuffle and a shouts; a door bangs, and I hear someone crying.

When I go out, I see a figure by the car, and “Who’s outside,” I call.

“Me, Leroi,” comes the reply. “Tau’s locked me out of the shed, I don’t know why he’s angry!” At the end of this sentence Leroi’s voice rises in a wail.

“Okay, okay Leroi,” I tell him. “I’ll go see what’s happening in there.” And I tap on the door, saying, “Tau, it’s me – let me in.”

The door opens and admits me, and I lock it behind me, automatically.

 

Inside the shed a few things have been knocked to the ground (a plate, cups, some DVDs), and Tau stands amongst them, his breath heaving out and his jaw clenched and twitching. “I just wanted to kick back!” he bursts out. “I just wanted to watch a DVD and go to sleep. And then Leroi came back and tried to step me out.”

“What’s it over?” I ask him, and I put one arm across his shoulders. “What happened?”

“I don’t even know,” Tau tells me. He’s struggling to restrain himself, I can see that. “I just wanna hook the cunt…”

“No you don’t; no you don’t,” I say, trying to keep my voice calm.

“I wanna smash that cunt, then gap.”

“Nah Tau, you don’t want to do that,” I say, my hands still firmly against his back. “I’ll take him inside, you guys need some time out.”

“I’m fuckin sick of him,” Tau rails. “Fuckit, I feel like gapping.”

“I know,” I acknowledge. “But if you go out on the road like this, anything could happen.”

Tau nods, and I chance my arm a bit more, using one of La-Verne’s favourite words: “Is that a good strategy, Tau? What do you think will happen if you use that strategy?”

“Smash something up,” mumbles Tau. At least he’s listening to me.

“Yup… and probably get locked up for the weekend,” I sigh. “Come on Tau, you’re too smart for that now.” And I carry on coaxing him, gently: “You’re strong, Tau. I know you can stay calm.”

“Wanna gap…” Tau’s face crumples and he breathes out a few sobs. “Miss, I just wanna smash him and gap, I don’t want to be around him.” I can see what a mighty effort he’s making to do what I’m requesting of him.

“I know,” I try to soothe him. “I’ll keep Leroi away from you, and you can just stay in here, okay? He can sleep on the couch, let you guys get some time out.”

Tau nods, half unwillingly, but nods all the same.

“I’ll go out and talk to him,” I say “But I want you to promise to stay here, ok? Can you do that, Tau?”

He nods again, and I can see the intention is there at least. So I have to risk it. “Good boy,” I tell him. “Thank you Tau, I really appreciate it that you’re listening to what I’m saying.

When I leave, I tell him, “Lock the door behind me,” and he does.

 

Outside, Leroi is pacing and now I see that he’s shirtless, too. He looks all puffed up, and reminds me suddenly of Scott.

“Fuck that faggot,” he says, when he sees Tau close the door. “Fuck him… Fuck that lil cunt.”

“Nah Leroi, come inside,” I say, as a first attempt.

“No Miss, I’ll hook that fuckin cunt, he’s all shit,” Leroi replies. He’s still pretty drunk, and is striding around as he talks.

“You guys need some time out,” I tell him. “Let’s go inside – it’s cold out here.” (which it most certainly is)

But Leroi keeps on walking back and forth, around the car and towards the shed door. “Come out, fag,” he calls. “Fuckin little fag, no nuts, soft nuts.. too chicken to come out.”

“Stop it Leroi,” I say quietly.

“Why won’t he come out then – cos he’s too fuckin scared,” Leroi asks, rhetorically. “This is what he always does when I want to fight at parties: ‘Come on Leroi, let’s go’,” he quotes, in a withering tone. “Drops his fuckin nuts, wants to go home.” He casts a look of scorn towards the windows, adding loudly, “Everyone knows it – your dad, everyone. He used to tell you, ay Tau, ya soft nuts.”

From inside the shed I hear a growl of seething rage, which is also the sound of Tau keeping his promise, and so I place my back to the door, saying firmly, “No, Leroi, leave it. I’ve asked Tau, and that’s why he’s leaving it.”

And thus, to give you the essence of it, begins the pattern of the next few hours.

Processing the story

Friday 15 August, 2014:

On the positive side, I left MC with some grace, which was probably more than I’d expected of myself. But that was three weeks ago, and – to put it in a nutshell – I can see substitute teaching is definitely not ‘it’.  Not only that, but the agency has been pretty hit and miss with offers of work so far, and just how I’m planning to make rent and bills is, at present, something of a mystery to me.

As well as that, not being able to write for three weeks (no longer having the school laptop) has been a special torture all of its own. At times I felt like I didn’t know who I was, having no way of processing the story, so to speak.

Today though, I bought my new laptop, installed Chrome, and Dropbox, and opened up a new document – and so here I am once more.

 

Saturday 16 August:

The boys have been drunk as lords all day – up at Clancy, with Kost and Zion. Admittedly, Tau’s been trying to avoid the whole ‘drinking with the boys’ buzz lately. But when Kost turns up (unannounced) to collect them, they feel duty bound to go.

Then they feel duty bound to stay – it’s all a bit of a predicament – and by the time I arrive to collect them, Leroi’s vomiting against the wall.

“Don’t throw up in my car, Leroi,” I tell him as he gets in. “If you feel sick let me know and I’ll stop, ok?”

“Ok Miss,” says Leroi. He looks alright now, though.

 

All the way home, Tau talks to me with a tender note in his voice that indicates both happiness and a little ambivalence about the day’s events. Being Tau and intoxicated, all sorts of things tumble out: a few worries that have been on his mind, and a few triumphs as well. He tells me all about their new course; he says he likes the work, and he gets it, and he passed the first assessment last week. The light in his eyes makes me want to cry a little bit. Many times I’ve been scared for Tau, so to see and hear him feeling happy and successful packs an emotional punch. But at the same time, I’m aware that the situation – especially in light of today’s drinking – just isn’t stable yet.

The boys settle in to watch DVD’s and I go and crash on Kepaoa’s couch (well, it used to be), where I pay some intermittent attention to the 20th anniversary screening of Once Were Warriors, before falling asleep with a kind of equilibrium in my heart.

 

Monday 18 August:

Objectively (or at least according to all sensible opinion) I should be trying to get as much relief work as possible. And yet I didn’t answer my phone when it rang just now. It looked like one of the agency numbers (landline, 3-something), and I let it ring. For what? For the chance to work for free. That is to say, I’m going to Winz with the boys, to help them sort out their course fees.

Actually, I know I’m going to do more work today than if I was at school, not less. Last Thursday at Carthill High I was bored for most of the day; really it was just babysitting. And yet I’ll get the $230 or whatever it is… so that’s ‘real’ work, right?

Everything feels so precarious that it freaks me out. I tell myself things are ok for the next two weeks, and if I get just three days a week relief work I can pretty much break even.

I haven’t said anything of this to Tau and Leroi, I don’t want them to worry about money on top of all their other worries. At least, that’s part of it – but just as much, I want to believe that I can do this, that I got the timing right – that I made my ship strong enough. Still, my mind flutters and panics. Sometimes I feel that panic migrating all the way down to sit dankly in my chest for a while, and then I doubt myself; I doubt myself so much.

 

Tuesday 19 August:

I get up at 6 o’clock, get ready for work and eat breakfast. Wait for the phone call or text that never eventuates. Time ticks by, and I take the lunch out of my bag and put it back on the counter.

Tau and Leroi wave goodbye as they leave for their course. Good for them – and here I sit. Half of me wishes I was back at MC, Tuesday wasn’t a bad day there: 12 History, 10 Social.

But I also remember how much I resisted it, with every cell in my body. Having to stand there and talk smack about smack. Not wanting that authority, resenting it so bad. And wondering where a different authority might come from. Remembering when I felt strong and brave with my campaninos – with Slade, last man out. A time a place.

 

I just sit there for a while, thinking about other times and places, and wondering what any of it really means. Memories get all jumbled up in my mind: us as kids, and my mum and dad. They tried so hard, I think to myself. They really tried. And does any of it last? I don’t know the answer to that one. Then I think of myself, and how I’ve tried to make something out of a time and place. But time can’t be clutched at; can’t be made to stay in one place forever. It just can’t do that. That isn’t the way it works. Even though people try and try.

I know there’s a trick to all of this. I call it a ‘trick’ but it’s more like a pattern to rearrange; an orbit to jump. Because times and places shift, and you have to jump, so as not to get left behind when it happens. That’s what I know, and maybe it’s going to be alright after all. All of it, I mean. Maybe somewhere, my mum’s alright now. Maybe it didn’t ‘end’ badly; maybe it didn’t end at all. And maybe Scott’s going to be alright too, huh. One day.

But right now, I have this time and place, and I want to call the moon down to lie in my arms.

 

Wednesday 20 August:

My pay came in last night. It’s only a few hundred dollars, instead of the familiar fortnightly salary. Those two days at Carthill haven’t even been processed yet. And what am I going to do?

In a way, I could care less what school it is right now; I just want to be earning. But this morning I hit rush hour traffic all the way to the city, do my stint at some private language college, then come straight back out to Municipal (again with cars queued up along the motorway). It’s getting dark, and it’s cold, and I’m planning to chuck dinner on straight away. But I hear footsteps outside, and then Sheree’s voice – and my heart sinks.

I drift around a while, wondering what to do. I’m hungry, and the boys will be too, but I don’t want to make dinner now, not when Sheree’s here. I think of Kepaoa – and just the way I always felt so dang normal when he was around. I wish he was here right now, so that those stray sounds contained some comforting inner pattern of homeliness and affection, instead of just being voices from someone else’s camp.

 

At 9 o’clock I go knock on the sleepout door, and find Sheree still lying there on the couch like the whole place is under the rule of Tau. I can’t help but be irked by the fact that she doesn’t even acknowledge me unless I go out there myself. But I don’t say anything; I tell myself this is because I don’t want to make the boys feel bad.

After a few moments of polite conversation, Tau and Leroi (wisely) ask if I could give Sheree a lift back to their uncle’s. Indeed I could, and do. But I also sense that I’ve cringed away from clearing my boundaries.

It’s 10 when I get back – and so I never make dinner, just fix a sandwich for myself and pack up another ‘for work tomorrow’ – I think, crossing my fingers.

Personal

Wednesday 16 July, 2014:

Well, I’m employed (pending the standard reference checks). The interview at the agency goes fine – the manager makes me a cup of tea and we just chat.

And the idea of relief teaching, or for a while anyway, doesn’t irk me the way a permanent position would. I’m selling my skills only – like a mercenary – and not my values.

 

This evening Tau and Leroi are drinking. Admittedly it’s just an eight pack of Cody’s, and Tau wants to discuss it with me first – which I appreciate. But still, the potential for disturbance exists; no point in denying it. I guess I’m trying to ‘minimize harm’, as Vailea Poe once put it, by agreeing they can have a drink in the sleepout. Because the alternative (which is also discussed, and rejected) is to drink round at their uncle’s, with Sheree. Tau and Leroi don’t like that idea any more than I do.

But when Tau says they ‘promise’ to be good, I just sigh to myself.

“You can’t really promise that, Tau.” I say. “No-one can. Oh, I know you mean it, and I’m happy we’re even talking about it at all. But…” and then, I actually do sigh, and so does Tau. “It’s just that with alcohol there aren’t any guarantees,” I finish.

The agreement is that it’s just the two of them – definitely not Sheree, and no-one else either.  That’s the least-risk scenario I can think of. I just hope they don’t finish up their four cans and want more. Oh, that’s a possibility, I know it. They can promise whatever they want, but they can’t control it past a certain point.

I’m trying pretty damn hard here, and sometimes I think I’m doing shit all wrong – but at the same time it’s not simple. It never seems to get any simpler; maybe it never will.

 

Tau and Leroi do keep to their word, tonight. They have their four cans each (it takes them a whole three hours), and then want to go get DVD’s. On the way to Video Ezy, Tau tells me that they’ve already turned down an invite to drink round at Clancy.

“We just told the boys we wanted to stay here tonight,” Tau informs me, without dismay.

“But was it hard to say no?” I ask.

“Not really,” Tau says. “I just tell myself, parties and shit’ll still be there. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Wow,” I say. “Tau – listen to you.”

“Hah, I know,” he admits. “It actually feels pretty good to think like this. I’ve never done it before, ever.” He mulls it over some more and concludes, “Yeah, I like having strategies, nowadays.”

 

Tau also tells me he’s been having ‘good dreams’ about his dad, “Where we’re all running around and happy and stuff,” he says. Not like the nightmares he used to have a few months back.

“I’m sure your dad’s watching over you,” I say, and Tau smiles. “Bet he’s sorted his shit out, up there.”

“Hard,” says Tau, in a contemplative way.

 

Something occurs to me, and “Tau?” I say, merely touching on the idea. “Have you ever talked to Maxwell about… have you ever told him about Robbie?”

“Nope,” Tau replies with a little sigh. “I never have. But I think about him a lot, think about that cunt at least once every day. And every time I do, wherever I am… I just do a quick Cipher tag, just with my finger.”

“True,” I say, quietly affirming him. “But you know, Tau, it might be a good idea to mention it to Max one day – it just might help to talk about all that stuff, sometime.”

“Haard,” says Tau again, and I can tell he isn’t ruling out the idea.

 

Friday 18 July

There’s a barbecue at Aunty Yvette’s, and I’ve just dropped the boys off there (straight from counselling – which bodes well, I’m hoping).

But of course they’re going to be drinking again. Even though Tau assures me it won’t be a late night.

“Just pace yourselves,” I tell them, as they hop out of the car, each with their box.

“We will,” says Tau, very sincerely.

 

I go home and sit, just think-think-thinking. I look at some job ads, and think some more, and get that shackled feeling I always get on reading them – even those that sound as if they should be right on target. Like the one that just came through my inbox, for a ‘Personal Advisor’ at a not-for-profit youth organization:

Based in our Waitakere office, your key competencies will include:

  • experience in working with young people
  • A sound knowledge of community resources and how to access information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services
  • Experience working with a range of cultures
  • Experience developing and facilitating the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs
  • Previous high level conflict resolution experience
  • Ability to critically analyse and problem solve
  • Ability to build strong relationships with peers and stakeholders
  • Hold a full and clean drivers licence

Apart from the fact that it’s way out west – it should be the perfect job for me. I mean, I have every single one of those key competencies, don’t I?

 

Well yes, but here’s the problem:

First, I’m not comfortable making an explicit or even tacit commitment to institutional values. Even when they come cloaked in words like Aroha and Whanaungatanga – the education system being a case in point.

Second, I’m not very good at working with people generically (a ‘caseload’ – or even a tutor group, for that matter), or categorically (‘youth who are at risk of poor outcomes’).

Third, I’m trying to decrease the amount of formal and predefined structure in my day, not increase it. I want structure, for sure. But I want the pattern to come from me: I want to be autonomous.

It interests me, this realization gradually dawning in my mind – that I don’t even want any of the jobs I’ve been applying for. And I keep coming back to the same question: Why do I apply for them at all? Is it because I think I’m not entitled to have the relationships I want? Should I accept a substitute version, filtered through some institution?

 

I consider what I did “today.” Though it could be any day, really.

Today, I did a whole lot of things that could be translated into those key competencies. I ‘worked with young people’ and ‘accessed information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services.’ I ‘worked with a a range of cultures’ and ‘developed and facilitated the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs.’ I showed ‘the ability to critically analyse and problem solve.’  I ‘built strong relationships with peers and stakeholders’.  I even held my ‘full and clean drivers licence’.

But none of it was a key competency at all. None of it was as part of a contract to any institution whatsoever. All of it was personal; the only thing that mattered was that it was a sincere and personal commitment to a few people I love and care for.

 

Saturday 19 July:

Tau rings. They’re still at Aunty Yvette’s, and he sounds alright; it seems like they’re ok. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s an additional day of celebrating going on for Scott’s birthday. Well, nothing I can do about it if there is.

Around 8:30pm, a car pulls up, and the boys get out and wave a bleary goodbye to someone. Turns out I was right – they’ve been drinking all day. I feel… uncomfortable, I guess. Things seem more like the way they used to be, which is something I never, ever want to see repeated.

Leroi comes straight in and says that Tau is going to throw up; he needs a bowl.  In Leroi’s opinion it isn’t so much from the drinking as from the big sesh they had on top of it.

I look around and find a suitable bowl. “I’ll wash it after,” Leroi tells me, which kind of makes me laugh – but only kind of. Because I don’t really feel like talking. Leroi’s still a bit drunk; he asks how my day’s been going at least three times. I reply politely and automatically. Meanwhile my mind’s going down an old track of stressing about money, while feeling resentful that they can drink for two days straight like it’s no big deal.

 

All night I watch dumb stuff on TV (truly, stuff I never watch; mostly interchangeable crime dramas), and just try to tune out. I doze awkwardly on the couch until I get cold. Then I just get up and go to bed – which is at least more comfortable.

But comfortable is not the right word to describe this feeling in my heart. It’s like how I ‘always’ feel anyway, but writ large. Scale factor 2 (at least).

Tick and frickin tock. Money, school, trying to write, trying to support the boys, not having a blueprint for how to do things without getting hustled. Oh, I wish I knew how to get calm and stay calm about it.

Really, it’s my mind which is difficult to harness. ‘Those of us with minds that are strong and wild’… where did I read that, long ago? I remember thinking of Tau – and then of myself too.

It’s not a bad thing, to have a mind that’s like that. But sometimes it’s like trying to catch a runaway horse.

 

Sunday 20 July

Pump class calms me down a bit – and I chuck extra weights on the bar for squats and biceps. Actually I work really hard for the whole entire time.

Afterwards I go take some cash out and get a pie at Municipal. There’s a guy sitting on the footpath asking for spare change, and I say to him, “Sorry, not today,” as I go past.

“Have a nice day anyway,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply.

Then, “Have you been doing some fitness this morning?” he enquires, conversationally.

“Yup,” I say, pausing for a moment.

“Thought so, I can tell you been doing fitness.” He adds, “You look healthy.”

For some reason it touches my heart a little bit, and on the way back from the bakery I give him five bucks out of my wallet. Hey, I think – I can still do what I want with my money. The thought gives me a quick moment of something like joy

Right then I see a little kid tug on her mum’s arm and point to the same guy. The mum pulls her daughter away into a shop, saying as she does so, “He looks like a strong young man, he could be out working…”

Whatever, I guess so. And yet it’s hardly ever that simple either.

Small stuff on top of big stuff

Saturday 28 June, 2014:

Trying not to be grumpy, but I’m grumpy anyway – mostly about small stuff. It feels like that small stuff is just inconvenient, on top of the big stuff. So it annoys me more than the big stuff.

It’s raining, for one thing. Squally, cold rain, so that I can’t put the washing out.

And this morning Tau asks me if I can take them to their family counselling session. ‘Them’ turns out to be everyone, right down to Sheree. I do it, although I feel like saying, “Where’s Aunty Yvette now?” It irritates me that I wasn’t invited to the FGC meeting last week – but today I’m good enough to drive them round like the chauffeur.

I know it doesn’t sound nice, to put it that way. And so I keep that tetchy feeling to myself. Because there’s stuff I can keep – that’s my job, in a way. What do I keep? Ohh, promises, and secrets… and watch. And other things.

Small stuff on top of big stuff – that’s what I mean. The small stuff just annoys me, but the big stuff makes me want to weep.

 

I don’t weep though. Instead, I embark on a four hour jaunt of family counselling, lunch at the Unbakery, retrieval from counselling, and home again via Municipal.

Tau tells me on the way home: it’s exactly one year ago since the day they left Fitzroy; the night Scott ended up in jail. “Today’s way better than last year,” he says, and he smiles at me.

 

The Unbakery is where Mia and I meet for lunch while I’m waiting for the pick-up. It’s extremely ‘bijou’, and is filled with white people; college kids mostly – Kepaoa would have hated it. To me it’s just a curiosity, really. It brings to mind those old-style whole food stores, only with more glamour.

I have a salad bowl which is unquestionably full of healthy deliciousness. Mia has some kind of apparently Mexican-styled wrap. Everything’s raw, right down to the cold-brewed coffee: ‘neat over ice’ – a descriptor which does not appeal.

Back at Municipal, I pick up a real coffee while Tau goes to get fish and chips. And that feeling of being used gradually dissipates. There’s choices we make – me as much as anyone else. It’s hard for Tau too; I know how much he suffers asking for help, even from a person he trusts. And sometimes I realize that Tau probably over-thinks this stuff, just like I do.

 

Sunday 29 June:

The boys ask if it’s ok for Sheree to come over for a couple of hours. Straight away I get that uncomfortable feeling inside, but now they’ve asked, I can’t see any reason to refuse. Anyway, I’m going to the gym, then meeting Mandy for coffee – I won’t even be home. So I say to myself: What harm can it do?

 

I’m back round 4 and no-one’s there. In itself that’s not a big deal, but I just get a feeling that something’s going on somewhere.

The feeling only gets stronger as the afternoon goes by. Still, I try not to worry. I do some little everyday tasks: the washing, the vacuuming. But I can’t settle… and that same feeling just crouches in my chest, like a bird huddled against the rain.

I take a shower, wash my hair. Make some noodles with egg and avocado, and chili sauce – and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The sun goes down, and there’s still no sign of the boys. Tau usually texts me if they’re going to be back late. It’s not like he has to or anything, it’s just been his way lately – and I appreciate it. All the same, for a while I cross my fingers and try to believe everything’s ok. Probably is, I tell myself hopefully.

But my instincts are spot on – this unnerves me a little, when I think about it afterwards

 

Around 10 o’clock I hear footsteps on the drive – Leroi appears at the French doors. He’s flushed, and distractedly but patently upset. “Miss,” he begins. “Can I ask you a big favour?”

“Of course,” I say.

“Can we go out in the car and look for Taurangi?”

“What’s happened…?” I murmur. I feel so calm, and almost grateful for my sense of worry earlier, which has somehow allowed me the processing time ahead of events.

“He got in a big fight and he went all psycho, and then he took off,” Leroi tells me. “I don’t know where he is. Me and Sheree ran straight back here.”

“Where was this?” I ask.

“In the park – the park where Scott hung himself,” Leroi says. He sounds calm too, although his eyes are bright with panic.

“Ok, just let me get my shoes,” I say. “I’ll be just a sec.”

“Take your time Miss,” Leroi says, and his voice is patient and scared.

As I lace up my gym shoes and grab my bag, I hear voices out at the gate. At first I think it’s the cops:

A man asks someone: “Who are you?”

Then Sheree, quietly replying.

So Leroi and I go out.

 

There’s a car parked outside the drive, and a man holding Tau. Holding him up, I mean: Tau can barely stand. He’s groaning and collapsing to one side, and his right arm’s hanging down limp – in his left hand there’s the smoking end of a ciggie, which he brings to his lips and puffs at feebly.

“Sorry, Miss,” Tau manages to say. He groans again, and staggers, and I go take up the hold on the left. The man, who’s been propping him up from the right, passes him over to Leroi. Our arms pressed to Tau’s warm sides, we get him to the sleepout. He’s shivering and falling as he walks.

“I’m sorry,” he tells me again. “I’m really sorry Miss.”

“It’s ok Tau, it’s alright,” I say. “You’re safe, and that’s the only thing that matters right now.”

 

Inside, Tau sinks down mournfully onto one of the couches. “I fucked up,” he breathes in dismay. “Fuuuck, I really fucked up.”

We all soothe him: Leroi and Sheree and me. “You didn’t. Course you didn’t, Tau.” And I don’t even know what’s happened yet, but I just want Tau to know it’s alright.

Then I say, “I’ll go see that man.” I have no idea who he is. But he’s been kind, and I want to thank him, and to find out what I can.

 

He’s waiting patiently by the car: a guy who looks to be in his 60s.

“Thank you so much for bringing him home,” I say.

“He smashed my car,” he tells me. “It’s just the wing mirror, it’s alright. I chased him – he’s bloody quick,” the man adds.  And even with all the worry, this amuses me and I can’t help laughing. Because Tau’s nippy, for a big guy.

 

The story, which I piece together from him, and later from the others – goes like this:

They spend the afternoon drinking Cody’s in the park, right where Scott hung himself. Turns out Sheree shouted the cans, to help everyone ‘bond as a family’. “We just wanted to hang out with him for a while,” she explains. She rolls her eyes at herself.

But as the alcohol runs out they start arguing. And that’s when Tau gets upset, and takes his frustration out on a random car parked on the side of the road. Punches the door, smashes up the wing mirror… two men come running out of a house and chase him, and beat him up. Later, he tells me he remembers hearing Leroi call, “Run!” But the men are older and stronger, and in the end he gives up and lets them kick him to the ground and pummel him.

Then the car’s owner – the man who brought Tau back – catches up too, and sees him laying there. He steps in, and the others back off a bit

“Why did you do it?” he asks. There seems no rhyme or reason for the act.

Tau manages to admit he’s just taking his anger out on something – anything – and the guy asks him why.

“He told me what happened to his dad,” the man tells me. “And he said he was worried about his family – his mum and his cousin. I was going to call the cops, but after that I didn’t want to. I told him we’d take him home instead.”

“Thank you so much,” I say. “I really appreciate it.”

 

I try to give him fifty dollars for the mirror – if it costs more, I say, he can come by tomorrow.

But he shakes his head. “It’s only a mirror,” he says again. “I’m just glad he’s safe.” He smiles at me, and says, ‘He was talking about you on the way home, saying how much you’ve helped him.”

“Oh,” I say. “Thanks,” and then, “Thank you for helping him.”

“It’s no problem,” he assures me.

Oh, what to say… what to say to such a good person.

 

Sheree and I sit and talk to the sad and sorry Tau, after that. He’s in a lot of pain. He gets the shakes, and says he’s cold.

“That’s because you’re in shock,” I tell him, and Sheree puts a blanket round his shoulders, and rolls him her last ciggie.

I go look in the bathroom for some Neurofen. Leroi’s inside too, making himself a cup of tea. He looks miserable, and my heart goes out to him. “You ok, Leroi?” I ask.

“Yeeeeeh,” he exhales, not very convincingly. His face crumples a little. “I’m a bit angry,” he explains.

“That’s not surprising,” I say, thinking he means with the guys who beat up Tau.

“I’m kind of angry with Tau,” he confesses. “I’m glad he’s ok. I just think how… he shouldn’t have put us in that position. Sheree was really scared, I had to keep shouting at her to run; jump over the fence. And I thought they were gonna fuck me over too – and I didn’t even touch their car.”

I nod, and: “He shouldn’t have put us in that position,” repeats Leroi.

“I know,” I say. “I know, Leroi. You’re doing real good, the way you’re dealing with it.”

“I don’t want to be angry with him,” says Leroi. “I’m trying to handle things.” Then he suggests, “Miss, maybe we could go out for a while, go look for my bag. I ditched it in the park so we could run faster, and in case those people gave a description to the cops.”

“Sure,” I say.

And amazingly enough, the bag’s still there, “In that park where Scott hung himself,” Leroi tells me again calmly, as we drive.

 

No-one can convince Tau to go to the emergency medical clinic, he just shakes his head. “I’ll be fine – I just need to get stoned and sleep it off,” he informs us.

“You need to go to the A and E first, then get stoned and sleep it off,” I try.

Tau laughs, then, “Ohh, I’ve got no stoneys though!” he laments. He looks at his drooping hand, ruefully. “Should have cut my nails…” he says.

“Never mind – you can get a manicure,” I joke – and Sheree splutters with laughter.

I turn the heater on, and Tau gradually stops shivering as the Neurofen kicks in.