Story and Illustration by Sandshoe
Two men side by side and another close behind them stepped into the light Isobella and Hugh stepped side by side out of into the dark. Hugh leaped with a cry of alarm. He had not recognised his friends. The latecomers made their apologies. “At least you turned up,” Hugh said to them. They stood as a group. “Didn’t matter. I had a book. I met my friend, Isobella,”
Terence , the straggler, his hair roughly cut, his fair skin weathered and feet bare, guitar secured around his back so the neck of the guitar reared upward behind his own. He was dressed in shorts and a light cotton shirt as if it was the middle of summer.
He walked directly up to Isobella.
“Who are you?” When she told him her name and he told her his, he prefaced his identity, “He’s my brother.”.He pointed to the taller of the two men talking with Hugh. “ That’s Matthias. I’m going to marry his sister, but she is not allowed.” They expressly shared surnames.
“Aren’t you cold,” Hugh insisted of Terence. Hugh wore a brown corduroy coat with jeans of sturdy quality, a scarf and a cloth cap.
Everybody it seemed was going to walk with Isobella up the hill to her office. She was invited to go on with them after she was finished. They would wait.
“You can’t do that. I’ll be too long. I can’t let you into the office anyway.”
No-one was waiting to allow her entry as she supposed at the base of her work place building on Symonds Street. Matthias was amiable they would wait. She found the public phone in working order. The telephone rang out. She doubted anybody was there in the office above her. She sensed duplicity.
Quiet Jack was their other companion. He asked if she always worked there late at night. “No,” she said simply.
“Homeless people live under the bridge.” Quiet Jack was softly spoken. She could barely hear him. *Yes,” she said.
The men asked if she had a key. They were designing solutions. If she did not have a key, they would stand on each other’s shoulders and make a human ladder to the window of the third floor address.
“You wave through the window.”
One Saturday morning she told them as rejoinder she locked herself in the stairwell at the newspaper. She exited the hatch door to the rooftop and when she waved to alert the construction crew on a neighbouring building that she needed help, they gathered, waved, and wolf whistled.
They urged her to go with them. She referenced her policy was zero alcohol on the road. Matthias, tall and thin and beautiful in the black of this night would drive. “He never drinks,” Terence told Isobella, close, respectful. Matthias was shivering. They had better walk, Isobella said. Hugh was deciding to not go. He walked back along the street with them a short distance only to where he turned down an adjoining laneway. The rest stood quietly watching him. Hugh turned. He waved silently. His companions waved and he stepped out of sight into a building. He was going to visit a student’s share unit and play Dungeons and Dragons. Isobella spoke up that she would like to accept the invitation.
Matthias was sorry they had to walk to the very end of the University where he left his car. In this moment, time held a magic proportion and might describe each to the other for they would never know themselves, the poignancy of experience of youth we only see as ‘others’. They chorused they were happy to be with him. We adore.
The Busker was walking towards them. He accepted his invitation to join their party. They were all friends. Matthias was looking after another friend’s address who was away he explained. Matthias lived at home with his mother and his sister usually, Terence said to Isobella. Terence, Quiet Jack, Matthias and the Busker asked after each other as they walked.
Matthias of rare beauty, adviser, philosopher. In a long sleeve white shirt, luminate and open at the neck and body-thin black jeans, light in a silver line gave way to him in a strobe effect out of dark and into light, in and out of pools of light outside the entrances to buildings . Terence announced it was a mistake he was not chosen as his friend’s brother-in-law. He was not wanted. He accepted that status as error. Nothing was personal sleight between close friends.
Once they were in the car, Matthias describing the lay of this land was courteous and animated. The Busker spoke of their journey as mythical. The travellers witnessed on their approach to the Mangere Bridge a massive light cone beamed skywards that was the headlight beam only of a single car at its crest . With no stars when it passed and the low cloud cover wreathing the harbour, the view was of a black reach.
Matthias at the gate greeted two raucous dogs out of his vehicle window. He released them from their run. They waited noiselessly to be fed under an external light at the back of the house. Isobella, shivering now, was bundled in a quilt and directed to the lounge couch by Matthias. She had come down with a cold. Terence, attentive, lit a fire in a wood heating stove that warmed the lounge. “There is a lovely tree of lemons out there,” he encouraged Isobella, “Lemons cure everything.” Matthias insisted he, Matthias, make the hot lemon drink. He asked Terence to play some music.
“I’ll talk”, Terence retorted and sat down on the floor by the couch, “I’ve been playing all day. I want to talk to Isobella.” The Busker wrapped around his waist in a white towel was already out of a shower he asked Matthias for permission to take. He scurried for clothes he had forgotten to take with him out of his back pack left under a table in the living room. Quiet Jack had responded to a call from Matthias for someone to help him at the run gate that needed a repair. He made himself a place on the floor with a cushion. He made room for The Busker to dry in front of the fire box. The Busker excused himself. Returning in loose cotton clothing and the full heat of a sparking fire catching lights off red and grey strands in his beard and hair, he stood staring at the flames in introspection. Where could he sit, he asked, smiling. He found a bean bag. Matthias came in with a tray. He had made a hot lemon drink for each of them. He sat in his easy armchair.
Isobella would stay with him, Matthias announced to the room in the form of an assembly. The friends nodded assent to Matthias and he would cook her a meal in the evening. Did she want anything to eat now, he asked. No, she shook her head. He loped out of the armchair and returned to her from somewhere with track pants and their pull over with a pair of thick knitted socks. He helped her to stand up out of the quilt. Behind the door of the bathroom where she changed, he had left hangers for her clothes. She was wearing a white cotton shirt, she stared at and ladies’ black cotton trousers. She struggled out of the trousers to change them. She saw the strobe effect of a white shirt in a darkened street and the silver line. Her narrow black tie she knotted around the collar of her suit coat and the coat seemed incongruous. The coat waist length not a weighted woollen overcoat, she felt the coat hanger weight drop away from her hand and test her strength as she struggled to lift the coat to secure it on its hook behind the door.
The Busker had played a simple piping tune on a recorder. “Fiddlesticks,” he said at a private joke, “Got that wrong.” He smiled with the knowing of familiarity. “Go on,” he said to Terence giving him the floor. Terence had picked up his guitar that was never far from him. Each song was new to her. They were his songs and he played an accompaniment that was raw, impulsive. She remembered later some of the words of the songs and had lost recall of context. When Isobella awoke the next morning to the sound of a clock alarm, she was alone in the house.