Real time

Friday 28 November:

The boys are over at their uncle’s, drinking. After a few hours I get a text from Tau, and I go pick them up. There’s a slightly odd vibe on the way home; nothing I can really put my finger on, so I just put it down to the alcohol.

Ten minutes later, I hear raised voices. I chuck on my shoes, grab my phone (with both sangfroid and prescience) and go out there.

Tau and Leroi are about to fight. I remonstrate with them, get in between them (several times), while they wrestle, and things are rocked and tipped about the shed. Tau’s eyes are bulging and shiny white; Leroi takes his shirt off and smiles with rage.

Finally I have us all sitting down. I know it’s only a lull in the proceedings, but that’s as much as I can ask for. I ring Nana Pam.

 

Fifteen minutes later, as the atmosphere lurches and threatens to tip back to crisis point, I’m very grateful when I hear Pam’s car in the drive. She comes in and I briefly explain things (in a surprisingly calm way), before she tells Leroi to come with her. There is a short altercation over buds and I instruct Tau to split the foils, which he does, throwing Leroi’s portion on the floor and saying, “He can stick this up his ass.”

As soon as they’ve gone, Tau begins to cry. He cries until there are foaming drops of spittle at the corners of his mouth, and a ribbon of snot bobbing from his nose. His shirt is all ripped from the fighting, and he crouches next to me – and I hold onto him.

“Don’t gap, Tau,” I say tenderly.

“I won’t – it’s alright Miss, I don’t wanna gap anymore,” he sobs. “This is the only place where I feel comfortable. I just don’t want to be around him.”

“I know, Tau… I know, it’s ok,” I tell him.

After a while he has a quick cone. I smoke almost a whole ciggie and don’t even feel sick; this connotes stress city, for me.

 

At 2:30 I go to bed. Four hours later the alarm wakes me up, and I get ready for my day at work: one day shy of a whole calendar month since the last time. After last night I don’t want to go. But I keep telling myself – this is breaking the drought.

Before I leave, I ring Pam and ask her to keep Leroi with her for the day. She says she’ll do her best – but by midday Tau texts to tell me Leroi’s walked back on his own, and they’re “algood now”; this of course does not reassure me greatly.

 

At the close of the school day I take my time sheet up to the office, then go home. The shed’s dark and the door is ajar so I push it open, knocking a little first. Tau’s lying on the bed, Leroi’s asleep – or maybe pretending to sleep – on the couch.

Tau sits up as soon as he sees me. He’s wrapped in a white duvet with a frill, and looks almost comically sweet. It reminds me for some reason of a book I had when I was a little kid – a bear who wore a party dress for some special occasion.

“Oh my gosh, Tau,” I say, touching the frill for an instant. “You look like you’ve got your prettiest outfit on,” and he can’t help but laugh.

 

We talk in low voices. I’m worried and relieved and tired all at the same time, and I can hardly keep my emotions in check. Besides, I’m almost sure Leroi’s only feigning sleep, and the thought that he’s overhearing everything frustrates me so much that I nearly cry.

I go back inside, where I can’t settle, flitting about in the cold breeze that’s coming in through the french doors. I don’t even have the will to shut the door, and after a while I just give up and let a few tears spill from my eyes.

By now it’s getting dark, and, “Oh, who cares,” I conclude, with a degree of insouciance that has kicked in right when I need it. I go out again and find Leroi has ‘woken up’. So Tau and I go do the drug shop run (which God knows how we can afford, but today they really do need it), and pick up fish and chips from Municipal.

 

Saturday 29 November:

Pam rings and we have a talk – during which she tells me that Sheree might not take up her spot in rehab after all, as she “doesn’t like the boys living in the shed”. I’m so enraged by this that I just about can’t speak for a moment. Sheree! She’s already the biggest victim out… and now she’s looking for an excuse to get herself off the hook from rehab before she even gets there.

Anyway, Pam gets an earful about it. I’m actually shaking, and my mouth quivers as I reply. Not that it’s Pam’s fault – I can see that I’m kind of shooting the messenger here. But I still do a big rant about how Sheree doesn’t do jack shit for anyone and if she has a problem with where the boys are she should put her money where her mouth is and sort out her own shit. And (seeing as I’m on a roll now) I add that Tau and Leroi aren’t ‘living in the shed’; they have the entire house at their disposal. I come to a halt with one last flourish, saying that a lot of their shyness and their limited social skills are down to Sheree’s atrocious parenting.

And Pam just keeps saying, “I hear you,” and really being nice about it, the poor lady. She says she understands exactly how I felt, she has to put up with the same crap from people who do nothing and then run their mouths about everything, and, “Oh, what’s going to happen to that fuckin family?” she laments. “Excuse my language, but I sometimes think they’re all fucked, every fuckin one of them!”

“Can I get an Amen!” I exclaim, and then we both burst out laughing.

 

After all that, I do something dumb. Even though Pam has asked me not to mention this to the boys, I don’t have a show of containing my feelings about the matter. I go out to the sleepout, and everything comes tumbling out.

Poor Tau doesn’t know how to respond; his face crumples up with the effort of having to take this on board half-asleep. He starts by surmising that Nana Pam is probably just talking shit, to which I reply that no, she heard it from Sheree herself.

Then Tau says (making a mighty effort to stay calm, I might add) that it must have came out wrong because his mum’s worried about going to rehab. I reply that Sheree isn’t the only one who’s allowed to have worries, and I’m sick of having to hear about it all the time. I have feelings just like anyone else, and if she wants to talk about me and my place like that, she should come say it to my face, not behind my back.

At that point, a kind of impasse is reached. I turn on my heel and walk out; Tau slams the door after me, I hear him yell out once: “Fuck!” and then there’s silence.

Oh well, I think. I can’t be super-human. And what of it?

 

Then the door of the shed just swings gently open again. I’m not sure what this signifies, but I read it as a sign of stalemate rather than open hostilities. So I quietly go back in.

Tau’s busy firing up the bucky. That’s an advance in itself, if you ask me – the old Tau would have already been a mile down the road by now. And I sit on the weights bench and tell him I’m sorry for putting all this on him; none of it is his fault.

Thus all is well again, up to a point – but all the same, if Sheree wants a get out of rehab card, it better not be me.

 

Sunday 30 November:

Tonight the boys are off to farewell Sheree. She’s decided to go to rehab tomorrow after all – at least I’ve heard nothing different – but either way she can’t be a priority of mine. I still feel sorry for her, but that’s almost neither here nor there by now. I’ve played it far too soft so far, worrying about her tender feelings way more than I ought to.

I need to harden up, I tell myself. I actually do need to raise my status, especially with Leroi here. He thinks it’s all ok, thinks it’s kickback. Tau once told me Scott was the only person that Leroi ever listened too.

Which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to Friday, when I had to stop the boys from fighting. There was one thing which really surprised me. Tau admitted, when we were on our own afterwards, that he’d been scared. I don’t mean scared of falling out with Leroi (though of course there’s that, too). He was actually afraid, thinking that Leroi was probably going to waste him. “But I knew I couldn’t let him see that,” he said. “So I just tried to act like I wasn’t scared.”

At first this gave me a shock – I just didn’t see it coming. Tau, who’s always been the dominant one, telling me he was afraid to fight Leroi. But then I actually got it, too. How sometimes you have to act like the world’s your oyster, and show no fear.

And in one way, this is exactly what I’m doing too.  It’s a contradiction I guess, that the higher the stakes, the more confident of victory you have to become – but maybe that’s the point. I don’t have the luxury of stopping to figure it out. I have to learn the game in real time – and not just learn the moves, either. Somehow I also have to learn to feel like I can’t lose

 

Friday 5 November:

Tau and Leroi head off with Nana Pam for some kind of reconciliatory weekend down the line. The boys tell me they’ve been so excited about this trip that they stayed awake half the night.

“I was over-thinking,” complains Tau, cracking me up.

“Hard, I was looking forward to it so much I couldn’t get to sleep,” Leroi says.

I tell Pam, and “I don’t know what they think we’re going to be doing!” she says, giving us both the giggles.

 

Sunday 7 November:

Tau shows me some pictures of the weekend on his phone, telling me that at the motel they got Nana Pammie to take them to the liquor store.

“And she didn’t mind?” I ask opening my eyes very wide at this.

“Um… we just said we wanted to go to the shop, and so she took us to the shops – but we went into the liquor store,” Tau confesses. “When she saw us come out with the cans she growled us – but not heaps.”

“Guess there was nothing she could do,” I said, unable not to laugh. It was like a foregone conclusion, probably to Pam as well.

Tau sneezes and sniffs, and goes on, “We were drinking in the rain… and that’s why we got sick, I think.”

“Why were you drinking in the rain?”

“Cos, there were heaps of people inside, all these people…” Tau begins, and then both of us snort with laughter.

“So how much did you drink?” I ask him.

“Um – we got two 12 packs. Bourbon.”

“And did you and Leroi drink it all?”

He nods.

I think to myself… twelve cans each, that’s still a lot of alcohol.

 

But later, when I’m lying in bed, I hear Tau come in and warm up another bowl of chicken curry. As much as I still get worried about him, I’m grateful he’s here. And just knowing that he’ll eat, and that he can talk about things, sometimes – and that he’s got somewhere to lay his head. It’s more than I can explain. But I just keep on trying to explain… and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to tell it.

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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.

Light

Friday 7 March, 2014:

I’m fine all day until Chloe’s baby shower, which seems to drain the resilience out of me. Not that I say so, or act so. I mix and mingle with everyone, eating a duckling-yellow sugar cupcake (Chloe doesn’t know if she’s having a boy or a girl). I participate in all the games, which include singing lullabies, naming baby items and guessing on the staff baby photos. I do this because I like Chloe, and because I don’t want to be rude.

But I’m pretending the whole time. The event reminds me uncomfortably of all the managed ‘fun’ that I hate about school. So I go home feeling very subdued

 

Saturday 8 March:

I drive to the beach, take off my shoes and walk along the sand, finishing right up at the other end of the strand, where I sit on some rocks for a while, just breathing in the air and taking a couple pictures on my phone. You know… it isn’t much; it’s nice all the same.

 

Sunday 9 March:

Wake to a very loud knocking on the door. It’s 6 am but still dark, and I stumble to open up, rubbing my eyes, before stopping to ask, “Who is it?”

“Tau.”

The front door jams again, so I go round the side to the French doors, and let him in.

 

We hug, and I notice straight away that he’s fully sober (which to be honest I wasn’t expecting, considering the earliness of the hour).

“You okay?” I ask.

“Just been let out of the cells,” he tells me.

Now the sobriety makes more sense. “Tau?” I say, just giving his shoulder a little squeeze. “What were you doing in there?”

“Honestly, Miss, I can’t remember,” Tau tells me. “I’ve been thinking about it all the way here. Fuck, I’ve got no idea what they took me in for. I can’t remember anything.”

“Ok,” I say, without the least judgement to make about this. “Well, at least they let you out, huh.”

“Sorry for for waking you up, Miss,” Tau goes on. “But do you think you could… give me a lift home, please?”

“All sweet,” I say. “Just hold on a second, I’ll go get my shoes.”

 

“So what can you remember?” I enquire as we drive.

“Last night was alright… we were just drinking with the boys, round at mine. Kost and them, and Raphael, too.”

“Oh,” I say. “And is that where the cops picked you up?”

“I think so,” Tau says, and I can see he is trying hard to remember. “I think the neighbours came over, and…” He ruminates on this for a bit and adds, “I think they came with weapons and shit.”

“Fuck!” I exclaim. “You got beef with the neighbours now?”

“I… dunno.”

“Maybe they wanted you to turn down the noise,” I suggest mildly – and the thought of it makes us both snort with laughter.

“Fuck, Miss, I think there was some trouble though.”

And then the cops turned up?”

Think so,” he surmises.

 

“Oh well, at least you’re out now, Tau,” I say again. Which indeed is true. A thought occurs to me, and I ask, “But you don’t have to go court or anything, do you?”

“No – but Leroi’s still in the cells. He’s got to go court on Monday, there was a warrant out for him. When I got let out, he was calling out, ‘Bro, are you leaving me?’” Tau laughs at this, managing to convey that Leroi was ok, and irritable rather than upset.

“Why did they have a warrant out for Leroi?” I ask.

“Not doing his PD hours,” Tau tells me.

“Oh well, at least it isn’t major,” I say, taking this as a slight positive. “And yours was just… to sober up, right?”

“Yup, just a detox.”

“Well, that’s good,” I say.

 

“And did the cops ever catch up with you?” I wonder, after the time I’d seen them on the day of Scott’s funeral.

“Yeah, they did,” Tau says. “They tried to give me four hundred spot, the sneaky bastards.”

“Is that what they were after?” I say, as the situation begins to make sense.

“Yeah Miss, they asked me if I wanted the money, at first I was like – oh, yup, and then I thought about it and asked them, “So… what happens if I take the four hundred dollars?”

“Ohhh,” I say, getting it. “And, if you did…”

“Yeah, if I did, that meant I was saying it was mine, and…”

“And then you can be charged with dealing,”

“Yup,” says Tau. “So I told them, “You can keep the money.” He adds, “Bummer,” and I start to laugh. “Geez, they can be tricky like that,” I say, thinking about their strategies almost admiringly. I knew there’d be more to it than the cops had suggested to me at the time.

 

By the time we get to Rutherford Ave, Tau has started to recollect and process a little more of the night’s events.

“I think, I’m not sure… I think I might have smashed up the house,” he reflects, as I pull into the drive. He looks at the windows (which seem to be intact) and remarks, “Ohhh, hotty.”

“Why?”

“I remember the neighbours did come over… and I was trying to pick up chairs and smash them over their heads and shit. I don’t think anyone could control me…” he says, rather sorrowfully. “So I think it might be my fault that the cops came, and that we got taken to the cells.”

“Well, never mind that, at least everyone’s alright,” I say with some actual cheer, knowing it could have ended up a lot worse. I stop the car, and we just look at one another. “I’m glad you’re alright, but just take it easy, ok?” I conclude.

“I’ll try,” he says.

And I can sense we’re both trying to just keep things light.

 

Later, Mia and I wind up at the park, where we get ice-cream and sit on the grass under the shade of a huge tree. Mia tells me all about her dates (there are many) – I must say it makes me even less inclined towards online dating than I was before. It’s kind of fascinating listening to those stories, though.

Afterwards I come home and cook up a big as stir fry.

 

 

Laid low

Saturday 3 August, 2013:

I don’t want it to be hard. But let it be hard then, I don’t care, if that’s how it’s going to be.

All week, no, longer than that… since sometime in the holidays, I can see Tau’s been upset about something (or more than one thing, who really knows, with Tau?) If our paths cross unexpectedly, he says a brief hello and then does that slip-away thing, like a large cat vanishing into the shadows. When he really does have to talk to me (about WINZ, or something else practical), he just swallows and bears it. I can see the screen go down in his face. He does what he has to do, I guess.

It hurts me like nothing on earth, to the point where by Wednesday night I’m almost more shamed than I can bear. I feel flattened, everywhere, just like someone has their hand pressed down upon my head and is squashing me, squashing me… right down against the floor. Honestly, I feel like I’m creeping like a cockroach around my own home. No-one else is inside, and I still can’t raise my head. I feel my breath stifled and smothered. When I go to bed, I’m so grateful to be invisible that I can’t even cry one tear.

I want, many times, to just cry, or shout at Tau, “What have I done? I haven’t done anything!” But instead, I just speak to him normally, as if nothing’s wrong. Oh how I suffer through each encounter, with that feeling of shame in my heart.

 

On Thursday morning I get up and go to school, and sit in the car for a moment before walking in. Everything feels so still. I say a few words aloud, half to myself and half to Tau, I think. I try saying, “It’s not too hard… it’s not too hard for me,” and then I feel a couple of tears just trickle out, and I want to flee. I think – I can’t do this today. But where would I go? There’s nowhere to go, and it’s too late to sort it out with anyway, so I just go teach my classes.

Lucky I have 11 History, so I kind of rally a little bit. And I see Slade at break times, which is probably the only thing all day to soothe me.

 

I’m on my way home again when my phone ring – it’s Tau. He sounds upset and out of breath, asks if I can please come get him and Leroi, they’re walking up Rangitikei Rd.

I see them before they see me. Walking along the road, carrying cans in a plastic bag. As soon as they get into the car I can see they’re drunk. They tell me that they’ve been drinking with Sheree’s uncle, until he punched Leroi in the head. Tau retaliated, and then someone called the cops. So the boys took off.

They’re both quiet and hyped. Tau asks if they can finish the cans at mine, and I say a dubious yes, adding, “But I don’t want all the boys around to drink.”

Tau says, “I already know that, Miss. You’ve told me like how many times. You only have to say it once.” His voice comes out agitated and throaty, as if he’s trying to stop himself from yelling at me.

I just reply, “Yup, ok Tau. I don’t wanna argue with you about it.”

Inside, I’m angry too. I know they’re upset, but this shit happens all the damn time, and I’m expected to be… what? I’m expected to just wear it, huh. Because it’s not happening to me? But it is, or in a way it is. You can’t say it’s not happening to me. The fallout is all around me, and I have to pick my way through it, not knowing where to move next, treading on eggshells with Tau, putting up with his arrogant ways and his resentment at the entire situation, which he lays at my door.

 

When we get back home, Tau shuts the door of the sleepout, firmly. I don’t even get a thank you, for bringing them back. And it not like I was actually expecting one… but you know, I’m so tired of being ignored and feeling like I’m an obstacle to Tau’s freedom.

There’s so few people in the world I would even do any of this stuff for. And he just takes it for granted, that’s what I think. He’s come to take it entirely for granted, at the same time as he resents where he finds himself. And on both counts, I absorb all the energy that emanates from him. The imperious manner of a king. And the driving resentment of a slave.

The silence… Tau’s silence just gets me to the point where I want to cry my eyes out. I can’t bear this anymore. And I don’t even want to write about it because I’m going to start crying, and then where will my day go… and I want to do something ‘nice’, honestly. Just something nice, to take away this pain feeling that never really leaves me.

 

Leroi comes in and talks to me later on. There’s a bruise on his right temple, and he looks very subdued. He tells me more about what happened. Everyone was drinking all day, Sheree’s uncle had made Leroi use his last 50 dollars to buy more alcohol. Then he told the boys to fuck off – that’s when Leroi got punched in the head.

Leroi speaks to me quite freely, he puts it like this: “Tau tells the boys off for wanting to come and drink. He says you blow him up for it, and it makes him angry, so then he gets angry with them.”

“Blow him up,” I repeat. “That’s not quite how it is, aye.”

“I know, Miss,” sighs Leroi. “But… that’s Tau.”

Sure is. And man, it’s pissing me off, to bite my tongue all the time. I feel like my tail’s lashing, quietly. And yet I don’t want to get real mad with Tau, because I know that strategy’s so counter-productive. It’s just burning bridges, to do it that way. And I don’t want Tau to run out of options, I really don’t.

Leroi has a long shower, then. He takes a million years in the bathroom, which is ok, but all the same… it’s just one more thing. I don’t say much, just tell him to go easy on the water.

 

This morning Tau emerges from the shed. He and Leroi are standing in the sunshine, eating pies from the dairy. When he sees me, he says, “Morning, Miss…”

“Yup, hey Tau” is all I say, as I go past to the washing line. I feel a big surge of resentment in my chest, which won’t go away. The Lord and Master, eating his frickin pie, won’t touch the dinner I made last night. I just feel like: oh, whatever, Tau. What. Ev. Er. And don’t buy me a pie or anything, hell no, don’t waste your two dollars man.

I’ve never felt like this about Tau before. It hurts my soul to feel this way. If I try to talk to  him, he’ll just clam up or stride away. If I don’t try talk to him, he’ll just keep thinking he can run the show. And meanwhile Leroi uses up all the hot water, and then goes back to perching in the sleepout, under Tau’s command.

I don’t have a clue what to do next. And this could continue for some time, honestly and truly. I don’t see how it won’t.

And I promised, and I meant it, and I still mean it. Only… there must be a way to do it, so that it doesn’t hurt this much, and make me feel this tired, and unhappy.

If I knew what that way was, I’d surely try to find it.

 

Monday 5 August:

I give up, temporarily, and go to bed tired and resentful and wondering what the fuckin fuck I’m even doing. Boys over, out in the sleepout: Raphael, Michael, couple of others I think. They order pizzas, run up and down the drive, doing nothing wrong (unless you call smoking weed wrong, which obviously I don’t). But they stay up for hours and hours, and keep coming out of the sleepout and talking and going back in. They’re not drinking of course, but hell, they got nowhere to be in the morning, no reason to go to bed. And I have to work. So some time after midnight I go out there and ask them to keep the noise down. I say it nicely, and they’re like: ohh shit, sorry miss – because only in that moment do they realize that it’s an issue, or even that I’m ‘present’.

And that’s the problem, I think. They don’t hardly notice I’m there. I feel like I might as well be there or not there or doing any frickin thing, for all that anyone cares about it. If I cook, Tau and Leroi don’t come eat anymore. They used to, but now they’ll just go find the leftovers the next day, because there’s always boys over in the evening, oh it’s just a few at any one time, but I can’t be the house mother and I don’t want to be! And it feels like I’m… nothing. Tau and Leroi hardly come inside. And it really breaks my heart, because just a few months ago, before all this stuff happened, Tau still used to come over, and come in, and sit and talk, and just kick it a bit, in his quiet way. Now, it feels like he doesn’t care.

It’s just… different, with the both of them there. It’s not Leroi’s fault, but it’s different now. I feel like I’m invisible, or maybe I’m just a kind of on-and-off presence that annoys them. I think that all they want is a dosshouse, and a base for their chaotic days. And Tau used to come in, and eat, and jam the laptop, and make a lil feed, get a drink… now it’s just him and Leroi against the world, or some shit, I don’t know.

I’m so tired, and I’m unhappy, and it’s haaaaaaaaaard, and how long can it go on like this? I don’t know, I don’t know. Sheree isn’t doing shit to help with anything, and Scott’s locked up, and meanwhile, I somehow have to cope with the fallout of their family dramas. And teach school, fuck that stupid place.

Oh Tau, Tau… how can you not care about me anymore? Because that’s what it feels like. I’m laid very low by the thought.

 

Beck and call

Monday 25 February, 2013:

Conversation with Slade:

21:31: miss I’ll prolly come skool tomoro, still on pills an the other medicine hahaha

21:32: quest was at sch today. i think he was bored. you leave that other med at home, kay..

21:33: haha ill make sure to bring a extra dose for quest tomorow that way he wont get bored haha

21:35: oh no you don’t! you can both just stay bored. I got more paint though.

21:35: oh yo meeeean i can still paint with a fuckd up leg haha lucky it wasnt my hand ae.

 

Tuesday 26 February:

Indeed Slade is back at school, cast up to his knee in plaster. He manages to stay all day (despite his initial intentions) and I drop him off home afterwards.

Then Tau comes over, and we sort out some stuff with Winz, and the bank. By now I’m already tired, with a dozen things still crowding my brain. I try hard to just sit with it, and not put anything extra onto Tau’s already burdened shoulders.

Leroi and Raphael turn up too after a while, and then little Michael. With not much preamble, Tau goes to kick it with them in the sleepout. I remain sitting on the couch for a few minutes, hearing bits and pieces of conversation and music drifting lightly through the house. For some reason tears well up in my eyes and I make no effort at all to check them; I’m too tired. I go lay on my bed and hug my pillow and cry softly, until my eyes are pink and swollen. I think I’ve had a hard day too, but no-one gives a fuck. I feel like the loneliest person in Municipal, I dunno why. And every time I think of Tau, I just cry harder.

Right after that, Tau comes in again, to ask if I can drop them off at Fitzroy. I don’t think he even notices anything. I’m glad about that. I say yes, and then go and wash my face, kind of automatically. I still look like shit but it’s ok, I’m too tired to be shamed, I just go out to the car and Raphael looks at me curiously, saying, “Miss, you mohe?”

“Um yeah… mmm,” I say, in a non-committal way.

Take them to the liquor store so they can buy some kind of chocolate milk with 13% alcohol, and drop them round at Fitzroy.

Then I go to the gym. Which is actually pretty cool.

 

Later, Kepaoa texts me. He sounds upset; even shocked. Something has happened. Actually, more than one thing.

First, Teri’s been bleeding. Went to hospital, was crying her eyes out – she’s had a miscarriage. Kepaoa is gutted, he can’t stop thinking about him: Babygangstah – feels like he was already born, he says.

And then, what he refers to as ‘an incident’. The cops have been talking to him. He’ll tell me when he sees me. So I go pick him up.

We go home, Kepaoa tells me more; stuff almost no-one else knows about. Last year, down the line, he got wasted at a party, and got into a fight. Beat someone up real bad. Used a golf club to smash his face in. And now, all of a sudden, a cop has turned up on the door, flown all the way up here. Someone has mentioned Kepaoa’s name to the police. And after all this time, they want to ask him about it. Show him pictures of the guy. Jaw all smashed up and stoved in. “It’s like he doesn’t even have a jaw anymore,” Kepaoa tells me, stroking his own face.

He denies all of it to the police officer, says he wasn’t even there when it happened. But, the investigation’s proceeding. So who knows?

At first I’m shocked by the neutral (not cold) way Kepaoa speaks about it. I guess… it’s happened; there’s no point in pretending it hadn’t. He’s visibly affected by it, but not in the sense that people might expect. I don’t think he’s ‘remorseful’. He’s worried, but he doesn’t feel that he’s done wrong. “Oh well, if you wanna be gang bangin’, that’s what happens,” he says.

 

And then there’s more about Teri. She’s asked for 500 dollars. Something about the charge for the hospital. It doesn’t sound right to him – Kepaoa’s starting to think she was never pregnant at all. Fake tears and a fake story. He doesn’t know; can’t tell. Can’t think straight, with everything going on. Hasn’t eaten since the night before.

Kepaoa’s arm and leg twitch, as he tells me all of this. I can see he’s ultra stressed about it. He keeps saying she’s a hoe, a bitch. Then he wants to call her, talk to her. I don’t know quite what to say. I can’t read it at all – I don’t know Teri well enough.

I suggest that maybe she’s lost the baby, but needs the money for something else. Kepaoa considers this, and I could see him calm down slightly, at the thought that he might be only half right.

In the end, I just go get burgers, because honestly, he needs something to just physically ground him, if you know what I mean. And I’m way too tired to make a feed. Kepaoa eats and drinks, and then he is able to relax a very little bit. He lies on the couch, weary but still kind of poised. We talk about the ‘incident’. Weirdly enough, some kind of gang documentary comes on the channel we’re on, right then. I look at Kepaoa’s face, which is calm and kind of ‘flat’, not much visible emotion. But I can see that he’s pushing stuff away.

Around midnight, he falls asleep on the couch, tucked up like a kid. Man, this guy… I dunno. But I’m tired, and I go to sleep too.

 

Wednesday 27 February:

Wake up just as tired as when I started. My eyelids are flickering and fluttering all the way through the staff PD. I can only just handle the day. Stupid tutor, stupid Social Studies. Fuckin sheeit, all of it. Honestly, I’ve never hated teaching so much as I hate it today.

Do things for other people, all day long. Feeling worse and worse and worse. Tireder and tireder and tireder. Trying to be patient with the stupid fuckin’ babies in my classes. Bank transfers for Tau and Leroi. Email the district court to get some paper work which Tau needs. Take Slade home after school. Stand in a mighty long queue at Winz, to drop off Tau’s papers. Go round to Fitzroy, to drop off Leroi’s money (He’s got no ID and the bank won’t let him take cash out; Tau’s new ATM card hasn’t arrived yet). I’m tired of worrying about anyone. Tired of seeing everyone ignore everything. Effort I go to, and for what? No-one gives a fuck, why should they… and why should I? Can’t try harder. It’s unpossible.

Leroi tries making some joke: “Look Miss, there’s two waggers,” (Raphael and little Michael – they haven’t been at school – and all the boys are drinking). But I feel my face go as blank as Kepaoa’s last night. I just say, “Oh well, they can do what they want, I don’t care. I got more important stuff on my mind.” Other people can care about it, I think. I haven’t got energy for caring about anyone extra.

 

Come home, Kepaoa has taken the key from the French doors. D’fuuuuuck, it’s like a frickin heat wave in there, and I can’t open the door. I feel all pissed off; why would he even take it without asking? And right then, he 798’s me, and I call him back, and the first thing he says, straight off the bat: “Oh, hey miss can you pick us up? Me and Elroy. We’re just over the bridge by the gym, walking towards Carthill.”

I felt my blood surge up and beat hard. I just mumble something like, “Um, I’m real tired – and why did you take the key?”

He starts telling me some shit about how it was when he went out that door and locked it from the outside. I just say, “Whatever.”

And then I hang up.

 

I send two texts, after that. First one reads:

Iv had a shit as day. My head realy hurts an im tired. An im just a taxi aye. 

Second one reads:

Il always do whatever i can for u, thts th truth. Im very loyal, if u dnt already know that. But i dnt like being used.

I shed a few tears, more of frustration at myself than anything else. To be so dumb, and to be played by the masters of mayhem. I wrote that once, years and years ago it seems… oh, how little I knew. And I guess I don’t know much now, either. But I know more than I did then.

I feel actually kind of outraged at all of it. To be so frickin dumb. To have gangstas thinking they running it, everyfuckinwhere they go.

I really do care about Kepaoa. And I just… well, I like kicking it with him, and I do care, and I get it, probably more than he knows. But it hurts my pride to be taken for granted. And to think that when I have my own sorrows, no-one really wants to know.

So, it’s better to just give up, sometimes, than be at someone’s beck and call. No matter how much you care. You can’t drain your energy that way, without suffering for it. I should know that already.

And honestly, fuck school. Fuck it entirely.

 

But a story is kind of weaving itself into my mind, regardless

Monday 24 September, 2012:

In my room for lunch break are Slade, Zion, Carlos, and Tyler (the new boy).

“Miss, can I kick it with your class next?” asks Slade, who is standing by the window. “Cos I ain’t going to Maori Performing Arts anyway.”

“Nah, I told Matua I’d try get you there.” (this was true, and I had been successful in this aim last week)

“Aw, Miss… but I don’t like going to MPA on Mondays.” He scowls. “It’s cake on Monday.”

“So what are you gonna do, then?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Dunno… . But honest, Miss I ain’t going to class.” He cocks his head at me, hopefully.

“I’ve got my year 11’s,” I say, in a non-committal way.

“I know,” Slade replies, and I can’t help laughing.

“They’re awgud Miss, can I kickit with your class? I’ll just draw…” he pleads.

“Look,” I told him. “I know you aren’t going to MPA. But Miss Kirk’s back today. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” I think about this, and add, “Or me, either.”

“Fuck her,” he replies, mildly.

 

“You should get us all outa class,” suggests Zion, with the greatest of ease. “I never do anything in Maths.”

“I don’t do anything in English either,” Carlos hastens to add.

“Geez… no, no!” I scold. “Yes you do, you guys. Just get to class.”

The bell is going, and they leave without protest. But Slade remains, for one last crack at it. “Please, Miss?”

I know he won’t make it to MPA, no matter what else happens. My intention wavers… and Slade looks joyful. “Ok,” I tell him. “Go on then, go get a netbook. But if Mrs Kirk comes in, God knows what I’m gonna say to her.”

 

I sort out 11 Social for a bit, then as I come back past my desk, Slade says, “Hear about Shanice, Miss?”

“Nah, what about her?”

“She got taken away by the cops last night.”

“Aye?” I say. “What for?”

A girl comes up to ask me something, and I see Slade back off a bit. “Um… just stuff,” he says. “Can’t say, in front of these fullas,” he quietly adds

“Ok, tell me later.”

And he nods.

 

A little bit later, he tells me the story. To be honest, I’m not really listening at first. Cos I’m expecting… what? I dunno; the usual stuff. Disturbing the peace, or possession of cannabis. But a story is kind of weaving itself into my mind, regardless. Something about Shanice’s boyfriend. Some beef with the neighbours… he went round there, took a gun in the car with him. Cops came, he gapped it. Later, Shanice was driving the car, and the cops stopped her. She got mouthy, and they took her to the cells. There was no proof of anything, so they let her go. Meanwhile, their car was smashed up (on the side of the road, by the same neighbours), as retaliation for the visit.

 

And then Slade says, “They’re overs…”

“Huh?”

“That family. They’re overs… they got it coming.”

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“It’s all planned… for tonight.” He moves closer to my desk and then, urgently: “Miss, you can’t say anything about this… even Shanice doesn’t know.”

“What’s happening tonight?” I say. I feel a strange stirring in my blood which mingles with a tired feeling and makes me kind of float.

“Everyone’s gonna get it. Even the girls.”

“Aye? What you talking about?” I say.

“Shanice’s cousin, and some other people are going over there. To end it.” He shakes his head, and deploys his favourite expression: “Oh well.” He follows this up with, “Well, they started it…”

“And what exactly are they planning to do?”

“Gonna fuck everyone up, it’s all planned. The only ones they’re not touching are the little kids. And this girl who’s in a wheelchair. Everyone else – tough.” He gives me that ‘Oh well’ look again. “They wanna mess with us like this; they gonna get what’s coming.”

“Do you think it’s really going to happen?’

“Yes, it’s all planned. Shanice’s mum set it up. Shanice doesn’t know anything though, I’m the youngest one that knows.”

 

“Slade?” I ask him. “Are you going with them?”

He nods. “My job’s to watch, outside… and if anyone comes, I have to let let them know. Cops – or anyone else.”

“Watch… with what?”

“With my bat,” he says.

“Fuck,” I say. “Slade; something might happen.”

“It will happen,” he says calmly. “It’s too late now.”

“I mean… something might go wrong, someone might get hurt.”

“Yeah, could do,” he agrees. “But shit happens. I don’t give a fuck – this is family business, this is revenge.”

“Revenge…” I murmur, just thinking this over. And there’s no point saying I don’t get it, cos I kind of do – but I’m scared, all the same. My blood keeps on pounding, and 11 Social are working away on the netbooks, and Slade’s just talking to me in that same, low, urgent voice, and the room and the other voices kind of recede… and we keep discussing it, calmly and quietly.

 

“I wish you weren’t going,” I tell him.

“Too late now,” he says.

“I know.”

“Miss, you can’t say anything,” he reiterates. “No-one knows, even Zion don’t know. I haven’t told anyone else. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, in case someone says a word here, or a word there. Cos it’s all planned – it’s gonna happen. It’s got to.”

I say, truthfully, “Who would I tell? There’s no-one to tell… it’s not like I could just tell the cops.”

“I don’t trust the cops, Miss. They don’t do shit. We tried to tell them about all this ages ago, but they never do anything about anything.”

I shrug. I don’t know.

 

Meanwhile, 11 Social are just in the background. I think how I’m a crap teacher, today. Not that the class seem to mind. They’ve all got work to do, and just do it. The usual suspects are quiet as quiet can be. I get the impression that Neon, at least, can sense something’s going on.

 

I say, “And Shanice’s mum… set it up?”

“Yeah, she’s got all the connections, honest to who. She’s a gang woman from way back.”

“And she wants you to go?”

“Yup.”

“But didn’t she say that you had to be good, or else she’s gonna send you back down the line?” (cos Slade’s told me this often enough)

“Yeah,” he explains patiently. “But that’s at school, this is family business.”

“Oh, I see.” Which I do, I guess.

 

“Slade?” I say, in slight hope, and not in any way accusingly. “Are you just… talking this up a bit. Cos I hope you are.”

“Nah,” he tells me, and shakes his head. “I’m not talking it up.”

“Well, I hope it doesn’t happen… or at least, not that way.”

“I dunno what’s gonna happen, Miss,” he says. “But something gonna happen, one way or another.”

“Are you scared?” I ask him.

“Nope.”

“Hyped?”

“Yup,” he says.

“What time’s this all meant to happen?”

“Late,” he replies. “When everyone’s sleeping.”

And I keep thinking: What am I supposed to do with this? I’m not supposed to do anything. The only reason I’m hearing it is because Slade wants someone to talk to – because it’s hard to not say anything, and for no-one to carry things with you. And I guess I know that feeling, too, in my way.

 

Marjorie comes in with one of the IT guys, they’re checking the data projectors in the blocks. She’s friendly enough, and says hello to Slade before she leaves – but I’m also aware that Marjorie could easily check whether Slade’s meant to be somewhere else, if she so desires. And she might desire, considering the current situation with the Karys letter. I think to myself: oh well.

 

Slade tells me, then, about his sister’s ex-boyfriend. “My uncle… I guess, well I call him uncle,” he says. “I think of him as my uncle. He’s the scariest guy I’ve ever met.”

I nod, and Slade continues. “He’s a fuckin scary motherfucker, I used to hang out with him all the time when I was a little kid. He used to take me around with him, to all his robberies and everything. Walk into the dairy, just say to me: Take whatever you want. Lollies, anything. Walk down the aisles grabbing anything I felt like… once he put his gun right up in the man’s face, cos my uncle was fried, frizzled as. The dairy owner, this Asian man, he was just blubbering: Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.”

 

Right in the midst of 11 Social, this tale is being recounted quietly. I have a slight awareness, in my peripheral vision, of Riana, Casey, Alex… the students I’m ostensibly teaching. And Slade keeps on talking. He says, “My uncle used to make me wear the T shirt for the prospects. Wore it every day, just walking round with him…”

“How old were you?”

“Nine, ten…” he says. “I used to go everywhere with him… up North, everywhere… he’s the scariest guy I’ve ever met…” Slade’s voice gets quieter and trancier. “One time I went to his pad up north, his gang pad… and they raped this lady…”

I just look at Slade, and he tells me without affect: “This lady… she was there, and they raped her… she wasn’t even young, she was just this random lady.”

“How did she end up there?” I ask.

“Dunno,” he shrugs. “I think she was just in the wrong place, or something. And they must of picked her up – and everyone raped her. Her face was all smashed up, there was blood all over her face, they kept on punching her, I saw her. My uncle and everyone raped her… I saw her.”

“You were there?”

“I was right there.“ he says. “I was right there.”

“Slade? How old were you?”

“Eleven,” he says. “I was eleven, and my uncle made me promise not to tell anyone. He said, if you tell anyone, I’ll find out… then I’ll kill you.”

“You couldn’t tell anyone,” I repeat, gently stating it.
“I’ve didn’t tell anyone,” he replies. “I’ve never told anyone, ever.”

“You were scared, Slade,” I say, just staying real calm. “Of course you didn’t.”

“I was so scared… I was shitting myself,” he says. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. And my sister – I couldn’t tell my sister. I knew that if I did, he’d find out. But I wanted her to know. I wanted her to get away from him.”

There’s a little pause. I say, “Do you know… what happened to the lady?”

“I don’t know,” he replies. Then he looks at me real serious. He says just softly, and with some dignity, “Miss? I don’t think they could have let her go. I think… I think they killed her.”

“I guess she could be one of those ‘missing persons’,” I say, thinking about it.

“I think she probably is,” Slade says, and I can see he’s gone over all this in his mind a hundred times before. “That’s what I think, too. She’s a missing person. And no-one will ever know what happened to her.”

 

“My uncle’s in jail now,” Slade tells me. He’s been in and out, in and out, for heaps of stuff. Other stuff.”

“Yup,” I say.

“But I stopped hanging out with him, after that.”

“It must have changed things,” I say.

“It did.”

And he makes a fist with his hand on the desk, and says very quietly, “I hate him. I hated him after that. I still hate him.”

 

I check the time, and it’s almost 3:10. We’ve been talking quietly, in one spot, for an hour at least, and the class are gonna have to pack up soon. And I feel wired, and at the same time tired, and at the same time as calm as calm can be. I’m aware that sometimes you have to carry something for someone else, even when you don’t know how. Slade’s been doing that for the last five years, and now he’s trying to do it for tonight as well, and so I think maybe he just had to share something, with someone. And so maybe it’s not my business to do anything except listen. It’s not my business to go do anything with it, because I don’t know what it is, or what’s gonna happen, or even if anything’s gonna happen. I don’t know. But my blood’s kind of pushing around in my body, all the same. It’s not a bad feeling, it’s more like that ‘oh well’ of Slade’s.

There’s a lot more said, more than that. But trust goes both ways, of course, and there’s a sense of speaking freely.

When Slade leaves, I just very sincerely tell him to please take care, and that I’m going to be worried about it till I see him tomorrow. Because what else can you say, really? And honestly, what else would I say, and to who? And for what it’s worth, I hope it helped, a little bit.

 

Where to even start?

Wednesday 16 May, 2012:

I see Tau, after school. He’s my beautiful and dear Tau, just like always. But I’m also very worried about him – and I have to be calm and practical. It’s the only thing I can think of that actually helps.

Today we arrange we’ll go for a drive, and get paint. And out he comes, down the steps and the long driveway, 750ml bottle of Mojito RTD (five bucks; 15 percent proof) in his right hand.

He gets in the car – I see that the bottle hasn’t been opened yet and I tap it, saying, “You go course today Tau?”

“Ye-es…”

“For how long?” I interrogate.

“Not that long,” he admits, and then, “But… I didn’t want to do the assessment.”

I sigh, looking at Tau’s trusting face, as he goes on: “We had to read our research (he pronounces this word with care and some alarm) in front of everyone – the whole class. And I knew I’d make heaps of mistakes, and I thought all those boys would laugh at me.”

I nod in understanding.

“So I gapped,” he concludes.

“And what time was that?”

“Only about 10:30.” Tau hangs his head. “But I haven’t had a drink yet,” he tells me, more brightly.

“Until now…”

He nods, with a rueful laugh.

“It’s ok, Tau – it’s ok,” I assure him. “We’ll see what we can do about the assessment. I really want you to do it.”

“I want to do it too,” he said. “But, you know me, reading in front of everyone… and I got a short temper, if they laugh at me.”

I feel the usual swell of tenderness for Tau, who sits patient and unashamed beside me.

“Shall I ring Wayne, tomorrow? I could suggest that maybe you could just read it in front of a couple of people. Him, and maybe just one of the other boys. Like how we did at school sometimes – would that be ok?”

“Yup,” says Tau at once. “That would be ok.”

“Ok, well I’ll do it tomorrow – promise.”

 

Tau relaxes back in his seat. He looks so large and patient and pliant – and he opens the cap of the Mojito bottle and has a sip. I can see he wants to talk – I saw it the minute he trudged down the drive and got in. He has an expression of relief, like an exhausted traveller who’s just boarded the plane.

Tau’s so dear to me, Reason upon reason. All this; everything I’ve said before. But it takes my heart and squeezes it, to see him drinking this way.

 

Within two minutes, he’s spilling the beans and I just listen: drinking; parties; fights; more drinking; selling. And in between – a couple days at the TI. And Shay – they’re back in touch. She’s been over; he’s seen her. But she wants to see her family, wants Tau to cut back on his drinking, wants him to pay for the window he smashed.

“And will you?” I ask.

“Fu-uck, I don’t want to… fuck that,” growls Tau.

“But you will?”

And he nods, uncertainly.

Shay’s family don’t know she’s seeing him either – and obviously they don’t want her to. But that’s not my concern, I guess. Tau’s my concern. And he’s doing some pretty dumb things at the moment. Honestly, my mind whirls a bit: Where to even start?

 

Ok – there’s course. Arriving late and leaving any time it gets too tough – although Noa’s class is working with Tau’s class this week.

“Oh, well that’s good,” I say, emphasizing the positive.

“Nah, I don’t really kick it with Noa at course, he’s being a good boy,” Tau says, half-grumbling and half-impressed. “Gets there early, stays all day…”

“But that’s good, Tau,” I shift the emphasis this time. “You should try it.”

“Naah,” he sighs, in a weary way. He shakes his head a little bit, at Noa being so ‘good’.

“You should,” I persist. “If Noa can – you can too!” I try my best to make this sound quite easy, even though of course I’m not really kidding myself.

Tau just chuckles, knowing this too.

And I say, in complete honesty, “Yeah, I know – it’s not easy to do, right now. But you’re a good boy too, Tau. You are.”

I mean it, as much as I mean anything in this world. And Tau just relaxes a tiny bit more. I feel his warm, tired elbow slip and rest against mine. And he keeps talking.

 

Then the drinking. Tau’s been drinking for three weeks straight. “But I’m trying to cut back now,” he tells me.

“What do you mean, ‘trying to’?” I ask, suspiciously. “Do you mean like… one day a week when you’re not drinking?”

“Um, one or two… and then some drinking days if someone comes over.”

“Well that’s not cutting back,” I say, just matter of factly.

“I’m trying, though,” Tau reiterates.

“Well,” I say. “That is good, that you’re trying. But I’m still worried, Tau… you can do some dumb things sometimes, when you’re drinking this much.”

“Yeah,” he freely admits. And he continues: “I beat up Mischa, gave him a hiding – his face was all covered in blood and he was crying and everything.”

“You beat up Mischa?” I echo, in utter amazement. “What the fuck? Why?”

“Cos – we were drinking,” Tau tells me.

“Yeah, well obviously.”

“And Mischa tried to step to me… so I bate him up.”

“But… why? When was this?”

“In the weekend,” Tau says. “We were drinking, and I said something about his girl cousin.

“Well – I said something to her, and Mischa told me to shut the fuck up, stepped me out, and so I…”

I interrupt, “What did you say to her? Can you remember?”

“Yeah,” Tau tells me, candid as ever. I said… you’re just a slut ea… you get with anyone. Cos fuck, Mischa’s cousin’s been with practically all the CP boys. Everyone.”

“Yeah, but you don’t wanna be talking to her like that – that’s what I mean about alcohol, Tau. When you guys are drinking – you just blurt anything out.”

“Yeah, I know… and I bate up Vargo… I didn’t give a fuck,” Tau kind of spits, both understanding the emotion and being sorry for it now.

 

“But… you and Mischa?” I lament, still quite amazed. “You’ve always got one another’s backs, you two. You look out for one another; what’s going on?”

“Dunno, Miss…” Tau sighs. “We just… got angry.”

“Well, you guys need to fix that up,” I say. “I reckon you need to sort out your shit, you and Mischa.”

‘Yeah,” Tau agrees. “But later on his dad came up my street in his car, and tooted his horn for ages outside, about three o’clock in the morning… drove up and down doing burnouts outside our house until my dad came out and shouted at him to fuck off. And then my mum got up and started yelling at him to fuck off too…”

I can’t help but laugh.

 

“He’s tried to apologize – sent some texts and that.”

“And have you replied?”

“No.”

“Well you should, Tau. Come on, you two are pretty loyal to one another.”

“We were. Loyal,” Tau says.

“Well, you can get this sorted out,” I mutter. “See what I mean – alcohol. I’d rather you were stoned.”

“I am stoned,” Tau says.

“Well – that goes without saying!” I snort. “I don’t mean ‘now’; I mean… in general. You’re more mellow when you’re stoned – alcohol just makes you get all angry.”

“Yeah,” Tau readily agrees. “I’ve been in heaps of fights lately – and Leroi – he’s been getting into trouble as well. Scraps and that; he beat up Teki. And I’ve had fights with heaps of boys.

“Ah… fuck,” I sigh, again.

 

And even though, as he says, he’s been ‘trying’ to cut back – he also admits that lately he’s needed to be drunk just to go to sleep at night. My heart kind of skips a beat, as I say, just lightly, “Yeah, but Tau, you know that’s not a good habit to get into.”

“I know, but it’s… it’s been hard…” His voice tails off. “You know, with Shay gone and that.” He sighs deeply, and says, “That’s the reason it all got like this.”

“I know, Tau – I know it’s been hard, and I know you’ve been trying to cope as best you can.”

He nods, listening.

“But drinking everyday like this – it’s not gonna work.” I take a deep breath, and say the word I fear: “Tau –  I’m worried you might become an alcoholic, if you keep this up.”

“Me too, Miss,” Tau says. “It’s in the blood.” He says this very simply, and with a slight fatalism that breaks my heart.

‘In the blood…” I murmur. “Yes it is – but that doesn’t mean you have to let it happen.”

“I’m trying, Miss,” he says. “It’s just real hard.”

“I know, and I’m not judging you Tau – you know I won’t do that. I just really, really care about you.”

He nods, and I look at him, settled in the seat there, bottle resting against his leg, his belly rising and falling quietly. I look at his dear and very open face, which is a few days unshaven; little hairs have sprung up on his chin. I regard all of this, everything about him – with tenderness and pain, because I get it, and I still don’t know if I can help, and none of it makes any difference to how I feel.

 

“Shay wants me to cut back on my drinking too,” he tells me. “That’s what she said – same as you.”

“And you’ll try, cos you want her back, aye.”

“Hard,” he says.

But I don’t know what’s gonna happen if he tries, and still can’t do it. Rage; smashed windows; the usual story. Oh, he’s not exactly ready to give up subordinating Shay, either. He tells me he spent all her savings on 11 ounces when she left. All the untouchable money at the safe house – all of it gone. And, “I don’t give a fuck,” he tells me. “All her money, she only got it cos of me anyway.”

And Scott’s letting him sell from Fitzroy St. “Far, be careful,” I say. “Cos your dad’s still being watched, hey.”

“Yup,” he replies. “The cops always look down the drive, when they come down our street.

 

So there’s all this – and then we talk about drink driving.

“I’m all good driving when I’m drunk – I don’t amo it,” says Tau.

“Yeah, that’s what you think,” I retort.

“Nah, cos I’m really careful, like I really try to drive good – and all the boys say I am, when I ask them.”

“Yeah – they’re drunk too!” I say.

“Nah, honest – I can drive carefully, when I’m drinking.”

“Yeah, yeah… you say that now, but when you end up in a wheelchair, who do you think’s gonna look after you?” I ask with a rhetorical flourish, adding: “Not Shay!” Which makes us both laugh for some reason – probably just tired and giving up on being serious for a bit.

But really, I’m worried as fuck.

 

We get back to Kaiser St via the liquor store, where they willingly sell another bottle of Mojito to Tau. “I think I’m the only person who buys this,” he cheerfully announces.

“Geez…” I mutter, taking a sniff of the concoction. “How can you handle it?”

“Just used to it,” Tau says.

And if I didn’t take him there, I know Sheree would, or he’d roll there under his own steam. It’s the last thing I actually want to do, but when he asks me, there’s no point in grand standing. Cos I know it’s an empty stance, to say I won’t. And I’d rather Tau was safely there and safely back. Not prancing around, stepping to gangstas.

 

I drop him off with paint and a canvas, and bottle #2.