Tuesday, December 1, 2009

30 Ways of Looking At Marumaru South -- The Whole Shebang In One Easy To Link To Post

I've cleaned up a few lines (one story was inexplicably published with only 98 words!), toyed with different orders, then gone back to the original order. I'd be keen to hear what your favourites are (and if I've made any other boo-boos) -- leave a comment.

Latecomers: Welcome. Here's some background.

And now...

30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South


The Good Samaritan gave a kidney to Neil Southgate. Neil was no relation, he wasn’t even a work colleague, just a person in need within the community. It made the front page of the local paper; a framed version of the story graced rooms in both men’s houses.

One good kidney each was plenty. Neil even ran the Boston Marathon and brought a t-shirt back for the Good Samaritan. He’d show people the t-shirt and say, ‘Part of me ran that marathon.’

But when his prodigal son returned, flat-broke and jaundiced, things between the Good Samaritan and Neil Southgate soured.


The racist likes small town living. She couldn't stand to live in Auckland, the traffic is one thing, but… don't get her started.

Whenever anyone cuts her off in Marumaru, she blames the market gardener.

The Albanian who drives the tow-truck once overheard her saying he smelt of sawdust.

'I am European, too,' he said.

'Yes, but you must have a touch of gypsy in you.'

There's something spiteful in her unrolled r's when saying Marumaru; it sounds as if her mouth is full, like she's storing something for later. But just listen to her order the arrabiata from Pino’s.


The matchmaker has three weddings to her credit and (so far) two children that would not exist without her. When she set Holly Mitchell up with one-armed Colin Faeroe, she joked, 'You don't need to name your first born after me, but god parent would be nice.'

Holly fell hopelessly in love with Colin, but he had fallen for the matchmaker.

'I'd give my other arm to be with you,' he professed one night, soaking wet on her doorstep.

'Then you'd be no good to anyone,' the matchmaker replied. ‘Think of Holly,’ she said, but was herself thinking of statistics.


The bird watcher called his daughter Tui, knowing many would think first of beer when they heard her name. Her hair came in thick and black; sometimes he’d catch a greenish glint out of the corner of his eye, much to his delight.

After Tui drowned, it felt as if he was looking at the world through the wrong end of his binoculars, everything so small and trivial. Even watching the butcher's wife undress lost its appeal.

He hasn’t noticed the mōhua nesting in his backyard, or seen the shining cuckoo slip in and lay its egg.

He needs time.


The dieter has an insatiable appetite for fads, but maintaining one’s dignity and keeping apace with the latest trends are rarely complimentary. She gave the forager diet a week before driving to Timaru for a Big Mac.

Her daughter's old room is now filled with various kitchen implements — slow cookers, juicers, stick blenders, dehydrators — which don't fit the current craze; the wardrobe stuffed with pastels and fluoros, knits and rayon, sari, kimono, lava lava, pedal pushers and pashminas.

(One advantage of a yo-yoing waistline is the constant need for new clothes.)

Her husband never tires of trying out new wives.


The librarian loves books and all that, but she loves the planet too. It made perfect sense to use those last few pages in every book, the ones publishers insist on leaving blank, to compose her own stories.

Sustainable creativity she called it. And golly, didn't the air outside the library feel more oxygen-rich after a day saving trees/writing stories!

Her story about a matchmaker, a hopeless romantic and an amputee helped make Owls Do Cry the most lent book in Marumaru South. She couldn’t understand when someone ripped her pages from the book; she’d changed the names and everything.


The dylesxic's all tmie favroite tevelision porgarm is The Sporanos. (He habrours his own mobtser fnataseis, but his job at the 4-sqarue affrods littel lerevage oevr the loacls).

Depsite his shrot stautre, he was a telatned baksetabll palyer in hgih shcool, and eevn trailled for the Nueggts (Otgao, not Devner). Evreyone in Maruramu sitll calls him Nueggt (jsut one more osbatcle to beconmig a maifa knigpin).

Soemmties he imagnies the vegatebels he stcaks are a corwd of on-lokores. Soemmties he taeks a box of cearel hotsage; soemmties a roettn cabbgae is the winnnig bakset. ‘Nueggt’ they chnat; ‘Nueggt’ they scraem.


The accountant is pudgy, slow-footed, balding formlessly... but his voice belongs on radio. It's alarming at first, to hear this booming yet personable voice coming from such an unassuming form.

When he visits the bank the other tellers can't help but listen in. He does well on the PTA. But most have decided this is one of nature's jokes: to waste such a voice on someone with little worth saying.

His two sons would disagree. To hear him singing in the shower or calling them home fills them with pride. But they are boys, and keep their Rigoletto to themselves.


The girl forever sunburnt knows it isn't true, but she believes it all the same: to make a lighthouse, you cut off a unicorn's horn (it's okay, they regenerate like lizard's tails) and plant it in the earth.

Marumaru's lighthouse no longer sends its beam, but a man lives there. She watches him sometimes: her standing in the open, peeling shoulders shimmering in the breeze; him fussing around in the glazed capsule.

Her mother is always smattering her with sunscreen, plugging on brimmed hats. She says the sun can give you cancer. It's another kind of magic to the girl.


The tapu lifter found his calling when Jill Tunnecliffe died on the road to Waimate. A ceremony was held at the offending bend; a tohunga recited karakia and everyone left a little less burdened.

He started reading books, speaking to elders.

When vandals burnt down the technology prefab, he offered to lift the tapu from the site.
When the fugitive took Casey Illot hostage with a pair of secateurs, he cleansed the rose gardens.

Now, if you sit on a desk or bring food into the council chambers, he'll be there: the waka tūroro at the bottom of the cliff.


The market gardener just learnt that the video game Pong was based on table tennis. Ping Pong. It seems so obvious now. He writes 'pong' on a post-it note and places it in the trousers he wears to the Oamaru markets. Conversation is as important as produce at those things.

He once went on a date with a girl who didn't like tomatoes. Not even in a pasta sauce. Finicky eaters, he decided, are not cut out for parenthood.

He’s working on his own line of gourmet babyfood. He will mention this girl to customers.

The recipe is a work-in-progress.


The oversleeper missed her sister's wedding, three job interviews and, just once, her own birthday party.

She slept through the ‘98 earthquake and the time a sheep-truck overturned outside her house (she awoke later to find her lawn half-chewed, the road strewn with lambs less lucky).

She's tried all manner of alarm clocks, physical prompts, hypnosis, drugs (illicit and prescribed)... but her body refuses to comply.

Everyone tells her the solution is obvious: get a man. That would just solve everything! Instead, she wakes when her body relents, sits at her bay window sipping tea and waits for the postie.


The fugitive still lives (lurks may be a better term) in the vicinity. He thinks about it now —the escape from the unlocked paddy wagon, the game of cat 'n mouse with the cops, that final stand-off in the rose gardens… It's amazing what you can squeeze into 48 hours.

Now he sits in his fern-roofed bivvy, waiting for washing day.

Clotheslines are wonderful things, everything clean and bright, hung out for his perusal. Dressing up like folks is about the only entertainment he's got. If he could just nab a pair of heels, maybe some lippy... that’d be sweet.


The house painter spent his twenties in New York, then said goodbye to all that as Didion did.

He travelled, saw every continent except Antarctica, returned (too late) to nurse his mother.

He enjoys working outdoors, the different smells of paint as it settles, the challenge of constructing a scaffold by himself: the Egyptian feat of it.

The lighthouse was tricky. So high and rounded. As he worked the owner would look down from the glassy pinnacle, never smiling, never frowning, just interested.

Perhaps it was starring so long at its white surface, but these days he dreams of ice.


The vet is pregnant and it's freaking her out. She's seen too many breached births and deformities to sleep easy at night.

It's started to wriggle inside her. There was an old lady who swallowed a fly… spider… bird… She can’t wait to have something the size of a cat inside her.

Her husband's supportive. He rubs anti stretch mark gel onto her belly at night. Sometimes he sticks his face to her distended abdomen and talks to the thing.

She thinks of Kim Parata's cat and its eleven kittens. Blind as moles, bald as fingers. The wriggling gets worse.


The smoker is the last of his kind in Marumaru. He's got no one to talk to outside the pub, no one to spark him up when his lighter’s on the fritz.

He gets dirty looks at the 4-Square when he asks for his pack of B&H, but there’s nowhere else to buy them.

People have stopped coming to his house. They can smell the smoke.

‘It never used to be a problem.’

‘Yeah, well…’

He thinks often of his ex-wife up in Christchurch. The fags they shared. Her mulish laugh and stringy hair. Sometimes he forgets to hate her.


The newest arrival comes from Wellington.  He had a nice job in the government until one day he went to a meeting too early. He thought it was at three, not three-thirty. It wasn’t worth going back to his building; he was offered tea and a place to sit.

People bustled passed with brightly coloured folders. Some of them would be in the meeting, but they did not recognise him. Or did they? Embarrassment arrived like applause, sputtering and formless then immense and deafening.

At the meeting, he could hear nothing, say nothing.

He’s in Marumaru South now. Starting over.


The karaoke queen has only been on television once, when It's in the Bag came to town. (It's long enough ago that she can fool herself into believing it was Selwyn Toogood she bantered with, rather than Nick Tansley.)

She tried out in Dunedin for the second season of New Zealand Idol, but only Frankie Stevens said nice things to her.

Now she lives for every second Wednesday. She sings all sorts: 'Suspicious Minds', ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, ‘How Bizarre’. Sometimes she does requests.

She is not allowed to win the bar tab anymore. That’s recognition enough for her.


The cropduster, so the story goes, spent seven years in prison for killing his brother-in-law.
The truth is he never had a sister, let alone a brother-in-law. The crude tattoos on his hands were done at the back of metalwork class, not at Paparua. He's never even had a parking ticket.

But people see him skimming metres above the earth, pulling up swiftly, pirouetting and locking in for another pass, and they think: there's someone who doesn't value human life.

When he looks down from his cockpit and sees tiny figures walking in straight lines, he thinks the same thing.


The volunteer fireperson really feels the cold. Even in summer you'll see her wearing a scarf and hooded sweatshirt.

She loves the heavy, chemical feel of her fire-fighting getup, loves wading into a burning building with a sweaty brow.

Her boyfriend is a share-milker; she met him at a call out. He'd placed one of the Murdochs’ hay bales in an oil drum and dowsed it in petrol. The fire was contained, but the Murdochs wanted to press charges.

‘I was just trying to keep warm,’ he explained.

Now he’s talking about starting a crematorium. The thought makes her shiver.


The butcher is allergic to almost everything (meat’s the obvious exception). He wears special socks, gloves and underclothes to combat the nefarious surfaces of his profession, but still needs one of the boys to make the sausages.

He was a late bloomer in terms of allergies; first it was pollen in the spring of his fourteenth year, then synthetic rubber at an age-grade rugby tournament…

Lately he’s noticed watching television gives him a rash. He can’t explain it, but he’s used to sloughing off parts of life he’d otherwise thought essential.

Only his allergy to religion seems to be abating.


The postie lights up the world, she really does. Everyone expected her to move on to bigger things, bigger places, after high school, but she stayed to deliver the mail.

She visits her grandfather every day (he subscribes to many magazines, but is no longer embarrassed by them); if time allows she’ll dust his bookshelves or put on a casserole.

Her beauty grows with every passing week. She’s very good at recommending books and is a sought-after babysitter.

She has no deep dark secret, no tragic flaw. The world is better with her in it. No wrong shall befall her.


The Sunday driver's car is in the shop. Restless, he tells his wife he’s going for a walk; she prefers to stay and do another load of washing.

He cannot roam as far on foot: not for him today the lashed tussock hills and mortar-coloured beaches; only the main street of Marumaru.

It is strange to pass so slowly through what has been little more than wallpaper.

He stands before one of the two abandoned department stores. His father spoke often of the great window displays. The plate-glass is now plywood, though he imagines the mannequins are still behind, waiting.


The potter is preparing for her third Christmas parade. She inherited her father’s Santa suit and it seemed only right she took his role as well. He had his own white beard; she bought hers off the internet.

The older kids know Marumaru's Santa is a girl, but they mind less than you'd think. Last year Joel Murdoch tried to cop a feel.

The suit fits more snugly this time around. She feels embarrassed but also closer to her old man.

When it’s over she’ll go back to her pottery, back to her own skin. She hopes Christmas never comes.


The restaurateur is known as Pino, though that was the previous owner’s name. He's not Italian, just on the hairy side.

When he bought Pino's, there were still two other sit-down restaurants in town; now there's only the takeaways on Beach Road.

He's successfully used the Heimlich twice on customers, but hasn't had anyone choke since he switched to pitted olives. In his darker moments he wonders if it’s not the olives, if it’s a numbers thing. Every year there’s fewer people in town, less money, less to celebrate.

He's not sure if he holds a monopoly or a millstone.


The tin bum doesn't win everything — that would be impossible. But she takes home more than her fair share of spot prizes and meat-packs.

Last week, hers was the only egg that didn't fall off during the annual egg-and-spoon race from the old lighthouse to the fire station.

‘Perhaps she practiced,’ suggested the postie.

The matchmaker just snicked.

The tin bum's good about it, though. She always puts on a barbeque and invites everyone to share her meat-pack. When she sent in three Twisties barcodes and won a family holiday, she gave it to someone with a husband and kids.


The newborn baby is a girl, though this doesn't mean a lot to her yet. She has the vet's wild, darting eyes. To her father she has the look of a tiny Russian spy.

The faces of her parents have yet to settle and become fixed; everything is born anew each day, each hour. She likes to be taken places, shown off. She is fascinated by the colours of passing cars, the sound of coffee machines and arguments.

She’ll probably grow tired of Marumaru, move away and make jokes about her background.

But for now she's a bundle of wonder.


The beneficiary wonders what happened to all the jobs. In days gone by he might’ve been a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman (damn internet) or a gum-digger up north (damn synthetic resins).

He’s in the prime of his life — more arms than Colin Faeroe, more kidneys that Neil Southgate — sitting idle.

What he wants to do is drive an ice cream van, but he doesn’t have the capital. And what about the role of ice cream in childhood obesity? And if a kid goes missing, who’s the prime suspect?

He fills his days with worries no one had in days gone by.


The school teacher was in the car when Jill Tunnecliffe died. While in hospital, her class made her get-well-soon cards: plenty of smiling suns, rainbows and the inevitable unicorn.

She's got as well as she will get, but still keeps the cards arranged on her dresser at home.

At school, the kids ask to touch her walking stick, offer to carry her handbag. They do not address the accident itself, warned by their parents or naturally wary.

She feels there’s something she should say. Some lesson to impart before the holidays.

She is not ready for summer. It arrives regardless.


The man in the lighthouse leads a monastic existence but does not believe. He does not appear to age as others do. Few have heard him speak.

His presence in Marumaru cannot be easily explained, and no one wishes it to be.

He rarely looks back towards the town, prefers to weigh the fortunes of the dappled sea and shifting clouds, imagine the Chathams and soon enough the wastes of Patagonia. Every thought is a kind of remembering.

There are fewer shipwrecks these days, other ways to light the world and find one's way. But eventually we are all lost.

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