Authors: Alan Duff
JAKE’S LONG SHADOW
The millennium has changed but have the Hekes? Where are they now, Beth, Jake, and what of their other children? Son Abe who has rejected violence but violence finds him. Polly, as beautiful as her sister Grace, who committed suicide; is that a Heke running with the wealthy polo-playing set and growing rich herself? And the gang leader, Apeman, who killed Tania, what’s prison like, does it change a man, grow him or not? We meet another tragic female figure, Sharneeta. And Alistair Trambert, a middle-class white boy sunk into the same welfare dependency trap as the Maoris his class criticise. Meet Charlie Bennett, Beth’s husband, a fine man, and yet … And yet there’s Jake Heke, casting his long shadow over everyone. Has he really grown up?
First, to my editor Harriet Allan, for making sense of my ramblings.
To the real ‘Jakes’ who’d like to know another way.
To enlightenment, always, and therefore my father, Gowan.
BETH, GLIMPSING HER reflection in the kitchen window, saw briefly a younger version, from ten — make that fifteen — years ago. Funny how time goes more quickly when life is good. I was in a marriage fifteen years ago to a man, a type, I’d not recognise nor could tolerate for a moment now. (And yet …?)
Yet she still thought of him, from time to time. Though it was like entering another country, where a totally alien outlook prevailed. (Stay there in conceptual darkness, Jake Heke. Beth is never returning to that way of life,
way of thinking.)
She saw now the perfectly content wife of a good man, with a sense of gladness that her life had so changed, having escaped the world where nothing changed. Though she had heard that Jake truly was a different man; sources said she’d not recognise him, except she didn’t believe that for a moment. (Too many awful experiences, Jake. And you don’t change your spots. You’ve just got older. How did I put up with you all those years? Why
was I so attracted to you in the first place?)
She remembered quite clearly when she’d made up her mind about how her adult years would be: twelve years old, out fishing with her dad and his brother, Uncle Tom. She’d decided her future then and there in the middle of a barely moving sea, in a small metal boat with an outboard motor.
The boat had been anchored and her father and uncle were into their first beer of the day, though Beth knew from other fishing times that out there the drink never turned them ugly (was it because there was no one else around to disturb their peace?). The fish bit straight away and it wasn’t long before the sound of tails thumping in the plastic crate promised a good day ahead. They’d bait a rod line for her soon enough.
She began to notice how the sea and sky blended, she started getting this insight into the future; a union, a joining. Water and air. Girl and boy. Woman and man. The puffs of clouds were frolicking children, happy, like she was. There were no dark clouds in her vision. Not of a husband who’d one day beat her up, and in whose violent shadow she and their children would live.
Her father’s drinking was different when he was fishing. The angry man stayed away. First bottles emptied and were tossed overboard. More fish came in for the freezer and to give to the relations and Dad’s friends. More beer went out from a chilly bin packed with ice. More laughter. A girl was allowed to help herself to the food goodies in another chilly bin. Drinking, but not drunk, Dad and Uncle Tom (oh, glory be) happy,
men, fiddling bait onto hooks, a swig of beer, the funny remarks never stopped flowing. Dad asked from time to time was she all right, Uncle Tom, too. Not seasick, girl? No, definitely not seasick. She never suffered it. Sick with joy and peace, yes, she could stay here until it came time to live that future so clear all around her.
She’d watch the fish being pulled from their liquid home; they had no chance against big strong men, against meat workers used to death every working day, workers paid to kill, no chance against fighter brothers. Up you come, you beaudie, silvery fighting life against fighting men’s strength and man’s higher intelligence; the fishes’ outrage at meeting with fresh air, their fury to get back into their wet element, denied by big brown hands clutching tight and fingers disappearing into gill slits (like they were rammed up a girl’s throat). Young Beth was beside herself with gladness at the catch being added to, and at how tamed the men were, how at peace with themselves. (If only they were like this all the time.)
That’s what the meaning of blended sky and sea was: a promised good union between a husband and wife. More, he would be a crude, rough man like her father and her uncle, not tamed, though, by nature, but by woman. Her. Beth the grown-up woman. The girl who when she became woman would make better the man she married. And he would improve parts of her. She had that quite clear in her twelve-year-old’s mind.
So: reality. I’m eighteen years’ young and oozing it in this bar when the handsomest dude walks up. Feel like a dance? Asking in that crude way, but with a dazzling smile of a confident man. And, boy, could he dance. Blinded a woman to the warrior menace eyeing other males as possible rivals, as
to his (idiot) manhood. She danced, talked and drank — and said no, never, not on the first date. But I gave him my phone number and he called next day, Sunday. Sure I’d love to see you again. I should have known with our date being at another bar how important drink was to him, likewise the company of other males. I guess I was the twelve year old thinking I could tame him.
Some taming, Beth. Eighteen years of
. (You sure only a nightmare, Beth? So how did you keep giving him children? He hardly raped you now, did he? Not likely. Might be times when it was the other way round. Put paid to the theory that sex with someone you don’t respect is bad.) Jake knew her so well, how to reconcile so that sexual venting was an inevitability. And good it was, too. The sex side of things. (You were a charming black bastard, Jake. I’ll give you that.) It was a nightmare, on balance — no, way out of balance, stop trying to see better of it, Beth. The man was an arsehole. And likely still is.
It was the drink.
With a sigh she changed position, the better to shift her thinking away from what she couldn’t do anything about, and see her reflection closer. Not such a bad specimen for her years: middle-aged, two years off fifty. Is
old, though? Don’t I look young for my years? For the life I’ve had, married to Jake, teenage daughter committing suicide, eldest son shot dead in a gang fight, haven’t I weathered it all pretty well — on the outside? (The inside as well. You learn a deeper, more meaningful strength from tragedy.) Who’s middle-aged? Nothing that regular stretch classes and yoga doesn’t keep at bay; the body’s never been firmer or — she got a thought but wouldn’t let it become words, not even to herself. But one word did force itself to the
: Jake. (Jake? Why him? He’s over ten years gone — departed, kaput.
Gladly right out of my life and, I should have thought, my thoughts.)
Yet here was his image, looming as large as it ever did. As if the years hadn’t gone by. As if (you) he were yesterday. You horrible, stupid, blind man, get out of my thoughts! Is it because you’re my children’s father? Or something in your presence, some power of your mighty physical existence demands my attention, even all these — most happy — years later? This is ridiculous. You’re history, Jake. A loser. A dinosaur long past its use-by date.
Yet somewhere deep in her heart she heard her own voice say: Oh, Jake. I loved you so. The man to whom personal growth never crossed his mind. And she was now living with a man who was all personal growth. Though Jake was far from unintelligent, he often made insightful comments and would go against the mainstream thinking on the most unexpected issue — and be proven to be right.
She hadn’t so much as spotted him in the street in, what, six years now? She came across him once at the cemetery. Estranged parents visiting their children’s graves. What to say? Should they hug, shake hands, fall into each other’s arms and at least weep for our taken babies? (They’ll always be babies to their mother.) No, none of that. Ships in the night, except the broad of day exposed our pained cordial nods at each other, like mere acquaintances; not the mother and father of one who killed herself, the other murdered. A load like that needs sharing.
We could have done better. I felt guilty for weeks, as if I’d let Grace and Nig down, I could have shown more maturity, even sent a gesture of
Jake’s way to show our kids hadn’t died for nothing. Did I fear his rejection? Fear that he’d get violent with me? Whatever my concerns were, I should have said something.
Outside, her daughter Polly was pulling up in her nice new car. Beautiful, supremely self-confident Polly. Yet there’s Jake again, for the child was from his (irresistible) seed. (I could hardly ever say no to him, even if he’d only the night before beaten hell out of me. I’m sorry, hon, he’d say. I love you, Bethy, as he snuggled up to me and I felt my anger turning to sexual desire. God, sometimes I’d blame myself for his beating me up, believe I’d provoked him, that I shouldn’t have talked to him like I did. Heaven forbid, sometimes I even thought I
it, so convincing was he at explaining why he’d belted me — again.) My Polly. Look at her the way she lights up even a sunny day.
She wondered what Polly would think to be told her father used to wake
up every day wanting to
someone. What an astounding state to be in. She had told Polly little of those dark days (I’d stand in front of the bathroom mirror, my swollen eyes barely able to look at themselves, mouth swollen, half the time cut, swelling all over my face. I’d be in so much physical pain it hurt too much even to take relief in crying).
Beth’s hand went slowly to her face without realising it, as the memories forced their way back. No way. (Surely all this thinking about Jake wasn’t a sexual stirring. It surely was. Perhaps because the sexual aspect of marriage to Charlie was, well, less than average. He just didn’t have much of a sex drive. Considerate though he tried to be of her needs, making love was just not him, not in his nature; not the measured man Charlie Bennett was to his core. Especially so considering he was Maori and we’re not supposed to be like that. Charlie was not like Jake: explosive, passionate, funny, virile, dangerous, tender, the raging lover all at once.
Charlie in contrast was vastly superior in his strong moral code and sober habits, though without being silly about it. He was an educated man, a reader of books, interesting — and interested. But a lover, no.)
Watching as Polly strode up the footpath, Beth saw Jake’s genes had leaked through in so many ways. His face was like a haunting, a sad face, deeply remorseful. (Too late, buster. I’m married to a good man, as fine a human being as you’ll never meet; who’s taught me so much, loved me completely. Couldn’t go back to you, Jake, not even for one night of
Beth found herself engaging in a lecture to Jake in her head: your limited conversation would bore me to death. Warriors are bores, Jake. I hope you know that now. What do you talk about? You don’t read, so you’re completely uninformed. How can you discuss the wider world, discuss anything? Why, you don’t even have the elementary tools to think. Enough of the father now, look at his (my) child, grown to the full-blown woman with her future out there like the blended sky and sea of so many years ago.
Look at my child, walking like she’s on TV.
Beth dismissed her own reflected image and settled for half her genetic offspring, in the flesh: lovely Polly with the model features and both parents’ lucky good bodies. (This was where a woman’s thoughts should be, not on the wretched past and a man too typical of too many Maori.)
Then Polly came in — arrived more like it. (My Polls.)