You are here again. Although I love you more than life itself, you are an alien disturbance in this environment…a flaw in the space-time continuum inhabited by your brother Adam and I ever since the catastrophe that destroyed the marriage between your mother and I.
Life on a hill country farm in the Wanganui back blocks is tough. But your mother came from Otago hill country farming stock, as I did, and we took on the isolation and backbreaking work with our eyes open. The land had been worked before but the previous owners ran out of cash and, eventually, the bank foreclosed on them. As a consequence it was cheap land. 480 hectares, fifty-fifty paddocks and virgin bush, medium to steep contour and good access. Our nearest neighbours were twenty-five minutes away by farm-bike or four-wheel drive utility.
Your mother and I threw ourselves into bringing the land back into production with energy and enthusiasm, and the burning vision of the young. We were ruthless in our management systems, kept within our personal and financial capacities, and the capabilities of the land, and eventually started to gain a reputation for producing export quality beef and lamb. We also waged a fierce war on the feral goats and pigs, and the possums, that continually came over from the adjoining Conservation land to re-infest our bush whenever we seemed to be gaining the upper hand.
We would never be millionaires but we were comfortable. Every year my brother, your Uncle Bill, would stand in for us so that we could get away for a break for at least two weeks, either in New Zealand or over to Australia. But we were always glad to get back home. We loved our land and we loved each other. The traditional male-female division of labour held no sway. We shared every task. I was just as likely to be doing the laundry or preparing a meal while your mother was mustering stock for drenching, as vice versa. We weren’t just man and wife – we were good mates.
Adam came along when we had been here for four years. He was a fine, healthy baby and there were no problems with his birth or his infancy. Yet, inexplicably, no matter how hard we tried afterwards, your mother could not conceive again. Until, suddenly, six years later, you surprised us both.
When you got to primary school age your mother started to get restless. She wanted to expand her horizons. I had no problem with that. After all she had worked damned hard for nearly fifteen years. She came up with the idea of studying extramurally for a degree. She already kept our financial records and suggested that if she got qualified in accountancy we wouldn’t need to employ a chartered accountant to finalise the books each year. I agreed. We were doing quite well, so we could afford to employ a labourer to relieve her of her part of the heavy work. Adam was off at boarding school, so basically all your mother would have to do was look after you and the house, and to study.
Your mother took to the course work like a duck to water and her exam results each year were excellent. She had to go to on-campus courses at least once a year, sometimes twice. That was fine by me - all part of the horizon expanding process we had agreed was necessary for her. Inevitably, subtly, your mother began to change, to grow intellectually and as a person. In a lot of ways she was leaving me behind, but our relationship was still strong. She completed her 21 papers in a very creditable five years and was capped when you were eleven years old. I thought that was it, but your mother had really caught the studying bug. She decided to go on and take a Masters degree. At the same time, just for fun, she started an elective paper – Women’s Studies.
A different kind of literature took the place of management, economics, statistics and tax law. Femininist books and papers by Steinem, Greer, Goldman and others more extreme began to litter the house. I looked at some of them in passing and blanched at the hatred of the male of the species that filled their pages. Then, after attending a compulsory course on campus, your mother announced that she had invited one of her new-found friends to come and stay at the farm for a few days.
Jules, real name Julie, was a short, hard-bodied young woman with flat, grey eyes, close-cropped hair, a stainless steel stud in her left nostril and a permanent, hostile frown. But, I don’t have to describe her to you my angel, do I? You know her very well. She was not in the least interested in the farm and only stepped outside the house to smoke one of her foul smelling French cigarettes. At least she respected my wishes in that area. The rest of the time she was closeted with your mother - presumably laying plans for the emasculation of all mankind. I was not comfortable that she was in our house, but she was a friend of your mother’s and I was as civil to her as I could manage.
Then came the fateful day when a steer found its way through a damaged fence line into the bush and ended up falling into a ravine and getting stuck. Ruben, the hand, and I climbed down to it with the idea of winching it out somehow, but found that the beast had broken two of its legs. It would have to be destroyed. I never carried a gun around the farm in case of accidents. A weapon only came out of the gun safe when it was time to kill an injured beast or to go hunting. For some reason, even now I can’t say why, maybe it was a premonition, but I turned off the farm-bike’s engine some distance away and coasted down the track to the house. You were sat at the kitchen table doing a correspondence school art project. You were due to go to boarding school in two months time, following your twelfth birthday. When I asked you where Mummy was, you just smiled and shrugged.
As a security precaution the gun safe was hidden behind a sliding panel in the master bedroom wardrobe.
Jules lay stark naked on the counterpane on my marital bed with her spread legs hanging over the edge and her feet planted on the floor. Her sex was shaved entirely bald except for small triangle of black hair at the peak of her slit. My wife, your mother, equally naked, was knelt between her thighs licking her out. One of her fingers was buried deep in Jules’ backside. Your mother turned her head and looked at me as I walked into the room and stopped dead in my tracks with horror at what I was seeing. The thought burned across my mind: What it was you who had just walked in? The odour of female genitalia was almost overpowering. Your mother stared at me brazenly for a few seconds and then turned away to resume pleasuring her lover. Jules ignored me totally.
I couldn’t trust myself to speak. I was shaking so severely that I knew my voice would come out all weak and querulous and I was not about to give Jules, or your mother, that satisfaction. Nor was I prepared give them a psychological advantage by using violence - like most really big, physically powerful men I am basically gentle - although my hand did go straight to one of the shotguns when I opened the safe. But then I thought of you and Adam, and what killing them would do to you both, and sanity prevailed. Instead, I took the .308 rifle I had come for and didn’t trust myself to load it until I was well away from the house.
I emptied the entire five shot magazine into that poor cattle beast. One bullet would have done the job, but I was figuratively shooting “the two whores” as well. Ruben looked at me gravely and shook his head in sorrow. He had seen things happening that I was too close to and too blindly trusting to recognise.
When I got back to the house, you, your mother and Jules were gone. All sorts of counselling services tried to effect a reconciliation, but I knew it was a lost cause right from the start. A year and ten months later the family court officially ended our marriage. To give your mother her due, she only asked for financial support for you and openly acknowledged that as the aggrieved party I should not lose the farm to “pay her out”. Jules really spat the dummy when she heard your mother saying that.
Adam, now twenty and an adult, could do what he liked. He was taking his agriculture degree down at Lincoln University and later chose to come back to the farm when he was finished. You told the family court that wanted to be with me. But the female judge, your mother’s female lawyer and the female social worker attached to our case, and of course your mother and Jules, all agreed that that was no option for a girl of your tender years.
I was “granted” two one-week visits a year by you during school holidays. The ball-busters also specified that another female must be resident at the same time as you are. Joanna, my cousin’s daughter who is the same age as Adam, comes to stay when you are here. Even though she is a “Loopy” Joanna loves the outdoors and likes nothing better than working with the stock and going off tramping the bush and hunting with Adam.
Adam is a quiet young man. Big and strong like me, excellent with the animals and with an instinctive feel for the land. He is a born hunter, patient and with good bush sense – one of the few men that I trust totally to identify his target before firing and to make sure it will be a kill before he lets loose. He refuses to discuss your mother. The only indication I’ve had of the depth of his feelings about her was one night when I came home late from a Federated Farmers’ meeting to find the television destroyed with a fire log through the screen. When I asked him about it the next day, Adam just muttered that we didn’t need a TV and that the news and weather forecasts were much better on the radio. But two evenings later I was at our local rugby clubrooms having a quiet beer after a committee meeting when the club secretary told me that his missus had seen my ex-wife on TV. She had had a tape running and the secretary offered it to me.
A week later I called in again and he ran the tape on the club’s machine. Your mother, bare breasted, heavily made up and with a metal studded collar and chain around her throat, was acting-out oral sex on her “mistress” on a float in Auckland’s gay Hero Parade. But, I don’t have to tell you all about that either, do I? You were on the float as well. You were not waving to the watching crowds. You did not look happy to be there.
And now you are here, my lovely, angelic alien. You are almost eighteen now. Your mother, all bristling hostility and very few tight-lipped words has just dropped you off. Jules stayed sat in her car, smoking and staring into the distance. For the next seven days I shall be simultaneously in heaven and in hell.
Day One: Monday…pleasure and pain renewed
You wait until Jules takes your mother away and they are out of sight before you turn to me for a welcoming hug. You are now very grown up. It is your second visit for the year. I haven’t seen you or spoken to you for six months. You sent me short letters and cartoons you drew for your school journal, once a photograph taken by a school-friend’s mother. Always secretly, the stamps paid for out of your own pocket money. I wrote letters to you, but have no confidence that you received them. You didn’t wave your mother and Jules goodbye.
You turn to me and raise your arms for me to pick you up. I have read enough so-called “child protection” literature over the years to know that I must not touch you below your shoulders or above your knees. Your mother and Jules will question you closely when you are back in their control, looking for an excuse to enforce a termination of your visits here. Therefore, I drop to my knees. On my feet I stand 1.98 metres. On my knees we are both at hugging height.
You feel so fragile under my callused farmer’s hands and so warm. You press your slim body against my front, clinging to me tightly and telling me that you love me over and over again. You carry on clinging to me even after I try to disengage. You are crying. Your warm tears are soaking my neck where your face is buried. Your hair, your skin and your clothes smell of cigarettes and the city.
Your room has been cleaned and tidied, of course, but otherwise it is just as you left it the last time you were here. I help you to unpack your bag and put your clothes away. We are tentatively feeling our way towards a renewed relationship and don’t speak very much. For some strange reason I feel as awkward and tongue-tied as I did the first time I took a girl to a dance as a teenager. But you take every opportunity to make physical contact, touching my hands as we jointly unpack your bag, leaning against my side as we stow things in drawers and cupboards. Once you reach out to stroke my hair. Yes, it is much longer and greyer than it used to be.
Meanwhile, I am watching you, marvelling at the beautiful things about you that for the last six months have only been fond memories – the dark pools of your eyes and their impossibly long, soft lashes, your smooth cheeks, your tip-tilted nose and your full, tender lips, your elegant hands. Are you wearing lipstick? I also marvel at how much you have changed. You are taller, slimmer and move very gracefully. I suspect that you have had ballet lessons. Your hair is still long, a shiny, luxuriant dark cascade like your mother’s, but, instead of letting it hang loose you now tie it back, showing off your exquisite ears and the beautiful line of your jaw. You are not buxom like your mother; your breasts are just small hillocks under your sweatshirt. But you show other signs of womanhood. Your little-girl’s tummy has now disappeared, your hips are broadening and your bottom is fuller and more rounded. Time is working its magic.
We finish unpacking and you throw yourself onto your bed on your back with your arms behind your head. Your top separates from the waistband of your jeans revealing your smooth belly and your navel. Your navel is perfect. Your mother always admitted to being rather jealous that the midwife did such a tidy job when tying off the umbilical cord after you were delivered. I notice also that your jeans are such very low-cut hipsters that I can see the waistband of your white panties. The zipper on your jeans has come down slightly at the top. This mode of dress is not suitable for farm work. We will take a quick trip into town after lunch to buy you something more appropriate. Your legs are parted and there is a hint of your pubic mound beneath the stiff fabric. The seam running under your crotch mirrors the crease of your sex.
You gaze at me with heavily lidded eyes and wet your lips with the tip of your tongue. Your manner seems blatantly, invitingly sexual. In one so young! You disturb me. I turn away, breaking the spell, telling you to come and see your pony. The horse recognises you immediately and very quickly afterwards we have him saddled up. I am pleased to see that you have not forgotten how to ride.
Late in the afternoon Adam and Joanna come home from working in one of the back paddocks. Adam is not pleased that you are here. You are disturbing the easygoing comfort of our male existence in a way that Joanna somehow manages to avoid. You are his sister, but you are also the alien reminder of his hurt. I tell you in private moment to give Adam time, that he will eventually come around to showing the love I know he feels for you. In the meantime, your brother and I circle you like moons around a planet – inexorably attracted by you and wanting to get closer but held back by other, equally powerful forces.
Day Two: Tuesday
You want to come with us to finish mustering the mob of sheep that Adam, Joanna and Ruben were working with yesterday. You sit on the farm bike behind me with your arms wrapped around my waist. Your warm body presses against my back. I can feel your hard breasts pressing into me. Because you are on his normal seat, Jed, my scruffy old huntaway sheepdog, is sat on the rack in front of the handlebars. He obscures my view as we climb cross a paddock and I hit a rock outcrop, jolting the bike severely. Your hands grip me in a place where you shouldn’t touch me and they hold me there for far longer than necessary.
I cannot help the stirring in my loins.
When we arrive at our destination a couple of minutes later, you get off the bike as though nothing untoward has happened. It is a good ten minutes before my heart slows down to a more normal rate. I am troubled by flashbacks for the rest of the day.
You help us with the work wholeheartedly and by the time we stop for a smoko break at 10.30 you are as dusty and sweaty as the rest of us. You are wearing one of your new checked shirts with the tails tied in a knot around your midriff, a pair of long cargo shorts and heavy duty socks and sneakers. Your hair is piled on top of your head underneath one of Adam’s old leather bush hats from when he was about fourteen. Your cheeks are flushed from the sun and the work and your eyes are shining with happiness. You are utterly gorgeous. You take your mug of tea to one side and go and sit with Ruben whilst he has a cigarette. The two of you talk earnestly, with gestures towards the bush-line above us and across the valley to the ridge that hides the Wanganui River from our sight. It is obvious from his demeanour that Ruben adores you as much as I do.
When it’s time to pack in for the day, Adam smiles to you for the first time since you arrived. You ride back down to the house on the back of his bike. I feel pangs of jealousy. Jed licks my ear, pleased to get his seat back.
You have a bath as soon as we get home and head for bed fairly soon after dinner. It has been a tiring day for a city girl. Adam and Joanna take the .22 with the spotlight and silencer to a nearby patch of bush to bowl some possums he has spotted. You come to kiss me goodnight dressed in your nightie. You lean over the arm of my chair to hug me and thank me for such a wonderful day. Because of what you did to me this morning I am acutely conscious of your nakedness beneath the thin cotton. My loins stir again. And when you get up to leave you look at me pointedly down there and smile a pleased little smile at what you see.
Later that night, on my way to bed, I push your bedroom door open a little way to check that you are okay. You have opened the curtains to let the moonlight spill in through your window. It is a fairly new moon so its brilliance is minimal. You have partially thrown your covers off and lie there, face down in an innocent tangle of bare legs, teddy bears and long dark tresses. I watch you for a few seconds. You are so exquisite. A terrible ache invades my frame and my eyes sting with sharp tears. I pull your door closed and go to my room. Sleep comes slowly and is fitful, with wild, irrational dreams.
Day Three: Wednesday
Ruben’s wife, Newa, arrives early to collect you. You are to spend the day with her daughter Hine, who is your age, and their other children. Like most rural Maori families there will be crowds of brothers, sisters and cousins of all ages, shapes and sizes. You will have a good time. You will also go to help Newa at the Kohanga Reo and learn something of the ways and customs of the true Tanga te Whenua and you can form your own judgements about the Politically Correct versions you get from your urban schoolteachers.
Joanna goes into town to do some grocery shopping and Adam, Ruben and I bring the mob down to the shearing shed ready for the shearing gang that’s due to arrive tomorrow. It’s almost an all-day task. Adam grumbles that it would have been useful to have you with us to help out. He is quickly beginning to warm to your presence.
You stay to dinner with the Maihi family and I pick you up quite late. When we get home Adam and Joanna have already gone to their beds. Adam believes he has found a spot up in the Conservation land where a couple of spikers sun themselves and play at first light. He and his cousin plan to leave at 2.00am to get into position to bag them. A few venison back steaks will go nicely on the barbecue we are planning for Saturday. You tell me that you want to bathe and wash your hair before you go to bed.