Authors: Des Hunt
Saturday is the day when we do the heavy work out in the yard. While Dad is a big man and much stronger than most, some shifting requires two pairs of hands and that’s where I come in. I’m big, too; easily the biggest kid at school. People say Dad and I look a lot alike; in fact, Wally reckons we’re starting to look more like brothers than father and son. I don’t know about that. Dad’s oval face is much more weather-beaten than mine, and his brown, wavy hair is a lot longer, mostly because I make sure all my wavy stuff gets cut off as it makes me look like a girl.
That morning we were moving a 1933 V12 Packard Coupe into the workshop so that we could pull it to bits. We sell old machine parts through our own Internet website. While most of our customers live in New Zealand, we do get orders from strange, out-of-the-way places. A manifold from the Packard was going to a customer who lives in Siliguri, India. After dismantling the parts, Dad checks them over, and then after school most days it’s my job to package them for the Rural Delivery van to pick up.
It may seem strange to run a business so far away from the city, but there are advantages. The main one is that we don’t have to protect our property with fences or dogs as we would have to in the city. None of the locals are concerned that our piles of stuff visually pollute the environment, and Dad reckons that if anyone wants to steal something they’re welcome to it. First, they’ve got to get to us; then, they’ve
got to find the part they want, which could take days; and finally, they have to drive all the way back to the city. In the end it would be cheaper for them to buy the thing.
Ancient vehicle parts are not our only business. Dad is a mechanic and has the contract for all the vehicles at Hauruanui Station. We also do warrants and certificates of fitness. Plus we really are a service station and do sell petrol and diesel, although you have to pay a lot more than you do in the city. Saturday and Sunday are our two biggest days—sometimes we’ll get ten cars over a weekend. These are mostly people who want to see where Milton Summer lives, although they don’t ever see much, as public access is now blocked by high walls.
Last Christmas was the first time Milton had lived in the house and hundreds of people came, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the man with his girlfriend, Regaia Camp. There were only standard fences then, and people just climbed over them. The photographers were the worst: they cut fences, broke locks, destroyed plants, anything that would help them get a scoop photo of the two celebrities. Hence the walls went up, and now any visitors have to be content with a distant glimpse of the roof of Milton’s house, which they can get by climbing a hill down by the beach.
We saw few visitors that morning, as Milton Summer was filming somewhere in Africa. Every time a car went past, Dad would look up expectantly, hoping it was his friend. At one stage a black SUV cruised slowly by, and I thought it might be them until I saw that the driver was a male. He was taking a good look at our place, though, and for a while I thought he might be a customer. However, after driving back and forth a couple of times he disappeared. I
figured he’d headed back towards Eketahuna—just another person who didn’t think much of Hauruanui.
Dad’s visitors arrived just as we were packing up for lunch. Our warning horn sounded, indicating that a vehicle had rolled in beside the pumps. I knew it had to be them as soon as I walked through the workshop, and straight away I sensed I was in trouble. They’d already climbed out of the car and were gazing around as if it was the most exciting place they’d ever seen.
‘You must be Jake,’ said the woman, extending her hand. ‘Hello! I’m Vicky Frew.’ I took her hand before realizing that mine was covered in grease.
‘Sorry,’ I mumbled.
‘No harm done,’ she said brightly, leaning into the car to grab a tissue.
As she wiped her hand, I stood there like a big idiot, staring down at the concrete as if I’d never seen it before. Meanwhile I felt the girl looking at me, and I was sure she was laughing at my discomfort.
‘There,’ said Vicky throwing the tissue into our waste bin. ‘The rest can wait until we’ve all met each other.’ She looked towards the girl. ‘This is my daughter, Stephanie, though all her friends call her Steph.’
I recovered enough to look up and say, ‘Hi, Stephanie.’
‘Hi, Jake,’ replied the girl, smiling at me. ‘Are you a mechanic?’
‘No. Dad is,’ I replied. ‘You’d better come through. He’s out the back.’
I guided them into the workshop where Dad had just finished washing his hands. ‘Vicky!’ he cried. ‘You made
it!’ Then he took her in a huge hug which went on, and on, and on—lots longer than a normal welcoming hug. Stephanie watched them with a big grin on her face, while I studied the stones in the concrete again.
When they did separate, it was only to arms’ length so that they could look into each other’s eyes.
‘Oh, Alan,’ Vicky said softly, ‘it’s so good to see you.’
Dad nodded. ‘You, too, Vicky.’
After another minute or two, they finally parted and Dad was introduced to Stephanie. ‘Hello, Steph. Welcome to Hauruanui,’ he said, moving to also give her a hug.
‘Hi, Mr Wrightson,’ she responded, obviously enjoying the attention.
‘Call me Alan,’ said Dad, releasing her. ‘Nobody calls anybody mister around here, do they, Jake?’
I mumbled some sort of response, unable to look at them. I was becoming increasingly upset with all the hugging and friendliness. We were not a hugging family, and here was my Dad hugging everyone within view. It was not the father I knew; all my concerns from the night before came flooding back. This visit was going to be a disaster. It was going to change my life unless I found some way of stopping it.
Things didn’t improve when we got to our house. I had to carry the bags inside while Dad gave the guided tour. There was no problem with Stephanie’s bag: I took it into the spare bedroom and dumped it on the bed. But I couldn’t bring myself to take Vicky’s bags into Dad’s
room. So I just plonked them in the hallway as if I didn’t know where they should go. Then I went to my room to watch them walking around the section.
Our house is down the side road that leads to Hauruanui Station. It’s old, but over the past few years we’ve done it up so that it looks pretty good. From my window I see a small patch of lawn, and then our mountains of machinery. And that Saturday, for the first time ever, I also saw women, and I didn’t like it.
Vicky was reaching up to a branch on a tree, talking about aphids or something. Stephanie was walking around in circles, singing to herself. It gave me the chance to take a decent look at them both. There’s nothing much to say about Vicky except she looked like half of the mums we saw when we went to town: reasonably short hair; not fat, nor skinny; not short, nor tall; just your ordinary mum, aged, I guess, about forty.
On the other hand, I thought there was something strange about Stephanie. There was nothing wrong with her face, which I thought was quite attractive, although her blonde hair was longer than Hauruanui girls would wear; and her body was OK, even though it was less developed than the two eleven-year-old girls we had at our school. No, the strangeness was in the way she moved. It was as if the bits of her skeleton weren’t connected properly; the same way as a car goes all funny when the steering knuckles are stuffed. I wondered whether she’d been born that way or if there was some other cause. No doubt I’d find out if my fears came true and she ended up living with us.
As I watched, she reached the chorus of the song
she was singing, and instantly I recognized it as one of Milton Summer’s songs. It’s called ‘Laughter in the air’ and was his first solo hit. Some say the song was written in remembrance of his father, who died when Milton was seventeen.
I hear the laughter in the air,
And when I feel it everywhere
It makes me think that you’re still near
And stops me feeling blue.
I hope that in its special way,
The laughter’s always going to stay,
For it will tell me every day
That you still hear it, too.
It was certainly a vastly different song to the hard rock he’d been doing with Total Abstinence. He’d left them when most of the group got busted for drugs, and it was the best decision he’d ever made, because his career really took off. ‘Laughter in the air’ was a huge hit and led to his first role in Hollywood, where he was now one of the most sought-after young stars.
The idea of Stephanie Frew being a Milton Summer fan annoyed me. We didn’t have much to brag about in Hauruanui, but we did have Milton Summer. He was
megastar. He had enough money to buy half the North Island, yet he chose our place. The government and lots of other city people had tried to stop him, claiming we’d already sold too much of our land to foreigners. However, nobody around here complained. Instead, we welcomed him, mainly because the changes he’d made at the station
provided employment at a time when wool prices weren’t too good. Dad says that Hauruanui owes its continued existence to the money that Milton Summer has brought. Without doubt we need him a whole lot more than he needs us.
I stayed staring out the window until long after the group outside had moved away, trying to make some sense of what was happening. My mind was filled with ugly thoughts towards Stephanie Frew, and that worried me, because mostly I’m a fairly relaxed person. I knew that something had to happen: either I had to change or they had to go. But which of those it would be was not at all clear.
For the first time in my life we had lunch gathered around the dining-room table. Dad and I never ate at the table: we would have breakfast and lunch in the kitchen, and dinner in front of television. The only guest we ever had was Grandad, and he ate the same way we did, just as he had when he owned the house. The dining-room table only got used when I was doing my homework, and that wasn’t very often.
Vicky had bought the food somewhere along the way. It was all fancy bread rolls filled with paper-thin slices of meat and a whole lot of weeds. I went to great lengths to make sure I removed every piece of greenery before I took a bite. I knew Dad was frowning at me, but I had a point to make—Hauruanui boys do
For a while we ate in silence, and I was happy with that. Anyway, I had nothing pleasant to say. Then, when
Stephanie had finished her roll, she tapped the table with her hand until we were all looking at her.
‘OK!’ she said excitedly. ‘Where does he live?’
‘Who?’ asked Dad.
‘Milt, of course. Where does he live?’
‘Milton,’ I corrected. ‘His name is Milton.’
‘Not to me, he isn’t. Everyone at school calls him Milt.’
I suddenly had an image of her going back to school on Monday skiting about seeing ‘Milt’: Milt did this; Milt said that; me and Milt…that sort of thing.
I was about to say something rude when Dad intervened. ‘He lives over there,’ he said, pointing out the window. ‘At Whale Pot Bay, overlooking the sea. Jake will take you there this afternoon.’ He turned to me and added, ‘Won’t you.’ It was not a question. It was an order. Whether I liked it or not, I was to going to take this girl to see Milton’s place so that she could fill her silly little head with fantasies.
‘Oh good!’ she said. ‘Because I want to see everything about his farm.’
‘Everything?’ I asked, with an evil smile.
I nodded slowly. Good, I thought, I’ll show you everything. I’ll show you so much you’ll be screaming for me to stop. By the time I’m finished, you’ll so want to get home you won’t even stay for dinner.
I chose the jeep as the vehicle to take for the afternoon. This is an old United States Navy jeep left over from World War II. We have several of them, but only one goes; the rest are stripped for parts.
Stephanie looked at me a bit cross-eyed when I told her to hop in. ‘We’re not going in this, are we?’ she asked.
‘It’s this or not go,’ I replied. ‘You can please yourself.’
She climbed in and immediately started moaning about the bare metal seat. ‘It’s cold. Haven’t you got a cushion?’
‘No, but you might find a sack in the back.’
She fished around amongst the junk in the back while I reversed the jeep out of the workshop. Once she had the sack under her bottom, she started looking around for a seatbelt.
‘You won’t find one,’ I said. ‘But there’s a handle on the dashboard if you’re scared of falling out.’ Before she had a chance to grab it, I let the clutch out and lurched forward, almost throwing her over into the back. I felt her glaring at me as I weaved in and out of the rows of machinery, heading for the back of the yard where there was a gate between some macrocarpa trees. I stopped and waited for her to get out and open the gate.
When she showed no signs of moving, I said, ‘You’ve got to open the gate before we can go through.’
I took a deep breath before letting out a long sigh. ‘On
a farm, the passenger always opens the gate,’ I explained. ‘Then, after the driver goes through, you close it again and climb back into the vehicle. Understand?’
It took her ages to figure out how the latch worked, but I wasn’t going to help. She wanted to learn everything about ‘Milt’s’ farm, then as far as I was concerned opening gates was part of everything.
When finally it was unlatched she gave the gate a push, expecting it to swing open. It didn’t. It moved about a metre before getting stuck on the ground. Even when she pushed, it wouldn’t budge. She looked to me for help.
‘Lift it!’ I suggested.
She did and, after struggling for a minute or so, had it open wide enough for me to drive through. Then she had to reverse the procedure to get the gate shut again. She climbed back in, puffing from the exertion. ‘Why did I have to close it? There aren’t any animals in here.’
I gave another long sigh. ‘On a farm, we always shut the gates. You never know, we might come back another way.’ Before she had a chance to comment, I let the clutch out and surged onto the grassy track that would take us to the coast via a secret route that only a few locals know about.
The land we were on actually belongs to Grandad. He once farmed it, but it’s no longer viable as a separate unit and so it’s leased to Hauruanui Station. Fortunately, the manager still lets us use it to get to Whale Pot Bay. While Milton might own the station, a manager runs it, assisted by three full-time workers. I doubt that Milton Summer knows much about farming, as he was born near London in England. He’d bought the property so that he could build
a mansion and live with some privacy—probably to get away from kids like Stephanie Frew.
When I got to the top of the track, I stopped so that we could look down over the farm. Below us were the gates that blocked the end of the road past our house. They were grand gates set in a high wall made from local limestone rocks. There was no sign or anything, but the closed gates gave a message better than any sign would do: unless you were invited, you were not welcome at Hauruanui Station. Those who had been invited were given a code to punch into a keyboard, which would then cause the gates to swing open as if by magic.
I was about to take off again when I noticed the same black SUV I’d seen in the morning. It was tucked into some bushes not far from the gates, with the guy sitting behind the wheel, writing in a book. Unfortunately the bushes covered the number-plate, otherwise I would have taken a note of it. We often do that, just in case something goes wrong in the district: several farm bikes and quads have been recovered because someone’s remembered a vehicle’s number.
Resuming our journey, we soon had our first glimpse of Tarquins—Milton Summer’s house. Stephanie let out a gasp, and, even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times, it took my breath away a little, too.
‘That’s so beautiful,’ she said.
I smiled to myself. Even if we went no closer, she would have plenty to tell her friends at school come Monday.
Tarquins is named after the house in England where Milton was born. It looks a bit like something out of
The Lord of the Rings.
Part of the building consent was that it
had to blend into the environment. It certainly does that. You get the sense that the house was carved out of the rock by the wind and rain.
My bad mood lifted as we continued along the track. Whale Pot Bay usually has that effect on me. That’s because Dad and I always go there to do great things. It’s where we launch our boat, and where we go surfing.
It’s special partly because there is no public access by land. There’s only our grassy track and Milton’s private road. Although it’s accessible from the sea, that requires great care and a boat that can cope with the rocks by the cliffs and the hidden sand bars at the mouth of the bay. Any rubber-neckers who are brave enough to sail up the Wairarapa coastline are usually content with a look at the place from out at sea.
I parked the jeep at the top of the cliff so that we could look down into the bay and across to the house. The cliffs form a hook jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. Milton’s house is on the tip of the hook, with the U forming the bay.
There are only two ways of getting down the cliffs: the narrow track from our bit of land and the elevator from Milton’s house. Long before I was born, Grandad used to take a tractor down our track. However, since then the sea has eaten into the cliff and only a motorbike will fit now.
Stephanie studied the bay with interest. The most fascinating part seemed to be the elevator which travelled down the side of the cliff below the house.
‘Only Milt would have a glass elevator just to go swimming,’ she said proudly.
‘And fishing,’ I added.
‘Yes! Of course. He’s got that huge boat. I saw a photo of it in
He had Regaia Camp with him. They looked so cool together.’
I giggled. ‘If Milton and Regaia had a baby they could call her Summer Camp,’ I said, repeating a joke that we’d made up at school.
She turned and stared at me, as if I was speaking a foreign language. I smiled to myself: clearly Hauruanui humour was a little too deep for her.
I walked closer to the edge of the cliff. ‘There’s his boat down there.’
Tentatively, she crept forward. ‘Hold my hand, please,’ she asked.
I did so, and once again I noticed that there was something funny about the way she moved.
huge,’ she said. ‘Whose is that tiny boat?’
I laughed. ‘It’s ours. And it’s not tiny. It only looks small next to his.’
‘And what’s that fenced-off area beside them?’
‘The whale graveyard,’ I replied.
‘It’s where the whales that get stranded on the beach get buried.’
‘Don’t you try to save them?’ she asked, indignantly.
‘Most of them are almost dead when they arrive. I’ve helped with four and none of those survived.’
I felt her hand tighten on mine. ‘That’s so sad. What sort of whales were they?’
‘The ones I helped were pygmy sperm whales, but many years ago two big sperm whales were stranded. That’s why
the area is fenced off: because they’re still decomposing, they’re considered a biological hazard.’
She moved away from the cliff and let go of my hand.
won’t let them die,’ she said. ‘When I’m living here, I’ll make sure they’re saved.’
There! Somebody had actually said what was planned: ‘When I’m living here…’ I felt anger welling up inside me. When was I going to have some say in this? Or didn’t my views matter? Was I just the easy-going country boy who would accept anything?
I turned and moved back to the jeep. ‘Come on!’ I said roughly. ‘It’s time to go back.’
‘No! I want to wait a while. I want to see Milt.’
‘His name’s Milton, and he’s not there!’ I yelled.
‘How do you know?’ she screamed back at me.
‘Because there would be a flag flying,’ I said, pointing to the house. ‘He always flies a flag when he’s there. See! You don’t know anything about him.’
‘I do so, and I’m staying until I see him.’
‘Please yourself, but you’ll be walking back.’ I started the motor and began to pull away.
‘No!’ she yelled. ‘I’ll come. I can’t walk all that way.’ She climbed in and I took off. ‘Anyway,’ she added, ‘I’ll see him all the time when I’m living here, won’t I?’