Poor People With Money
Monday wooldridge is a fighter with a face like a broken dinner plate. Fifteen years ago, her kid brother Eddy disappeared and she’s been looking for him ever since. When she’s not training, Monday works in a bar selling drinks to rich assholes and dreaming of escape. Together with her flatmate JJ, Monday comes up with a scheme to make enough money to lift them both out of debt. But when things go awry, fleeing the city is their only option to escape the gangsters, the vampires and the ghosts of Monday’s past. From the award-winning poet and playwright Dominic Hoey, Poor People with Money is a darkly comic, pacy, heart-twisting, punch-in-the-guts novel that captures life on the poverty line in Aotearoa. ‘Written with compassion and skill, Poor People with Money is a violent uprising of a novel. This is New Zealand.’ — Pip Adam ‘Dominic couldn’t spell academia if he tried. He’s dyslexic. But he’s a savant story teller. His superpower is making ugly look sexy. He writes for the marginalised. In our country of right-wing sheep farmers and working-class ram raids, we need him to be reporting live from the crime scene. He’s all we got.’ — Tom Scott, musician ‘Fighting is the perfect metaphor for hard times. It teaches us to come to terms with our own morality, our capacity for good and for bad. Dom finds beauty in this struggle, in the space between hope and despair.’ — Matt Williams, Bones MMA
Do you remember when I was a hero, Eddy? Back when everyone thought I saved you, before my face looked like a broken dinner plate. Mt Albert girl, 15, rescues brother from house fire. I felt special, me, Monday Wooldridge, getting all that attention. You’d hold me, your little arms wrapped tight around my waist, while everyone said how brave I was. If I’m honest with you, that’s probably the happiest I ever felt.
But a year later you vanished, and this time I couldn’t save you. Just sat around crying and staring at your photo on the stupid television Aunty Sarah gave us. Then all the newspaper clippings on the wall, the cheap, tacky medal some dumb politician pinned on me in the St Lukes shopping mall – they were mocking me. So I chucked them in the bin. Cos I understood there’s no heroes or rescue. There’s just a whole world of danger outside the front door. That’s when I started learning to fight.
I guess I took after our Dad, the Golden Gloves boxer. Wasn’t a man in the street he didn’t beat up at some point. Always a justification for his violence. Sometimes it’d make perfect sense.
‘Fucking caught Fat Bruce stealing out the charity box at work, so I gave him a couple of one-twos at smoko.’
Other times the reasoning was more tenuous.
‘He had shifty eyes. I knew he was up to no good, standing around laughing.’
But you gotta take the family’s side, don’t ya? Mum used to say that. Back when she still had her wits and her job. So when the cops came around to our old brick house on Mount Albert Road, I’d lie and say he’d been home the whole night.
A few weeks after you disappeared, I caught the bus up to the gym Dad coached at in Three Kings. I told him I wanted to learn. I was filled with anger, my blood like fire. I wanted to hurt someone, and I didn’t want that person to be me.
But you know what Dad was like, Eddy, told me to piss off home. I gave him the fingers and then came back a few days later, and a few days after that. I’d stand at the back of the gym, flailing at one of the heavy bags. Dad would be holding mitts for one of his fighters. When the buzzer went, he’d look over and shake his head.
‘Go home, girl,’ he’d yell. ‘Look after ya Mum!’
I’d throw the gloves on the ground and storm out, sit on the bus muttering to myself. But I always came back and after a few weeks I wore the old man down. One night, grumbling and dragging his feet, he began to teach me.
I learnt that fighting’s like a violent dance. ‘Put your feet here. No, not that close together. You’re off balance. Ok, throw your left hand. Move your weight to the left. That’s your right, ya drongo. It’s all in your legs. What ya doing, ya fucking idiot? Punch him in the face.’
All the while some boy was hopping around, slapping the piss out of me.
Afterwards I’d sit against the cold concrete wall, gasping for air, blood running down my face.
‘At least ya getting tough,’ Dad would say, throwing me a towel.
Dad started pushing me harder than anyone else in that place. Making me do reps until I collapsed or puked down the front of myself.
I reckon he thought he could make me quit.
After a few months I needed space. I started training Muay Thai, at the big orange building we used to walk past on the way to Mount Albert Primary.
That first class I was so nervous, I almost turned around and walked right back out. But I stayed, put my gear on, and headed out onto the mats. Changed the course of my life.
I became a regular in that rundown gym. Most evenings I’d do beginners class, then hang around and train with the real fighters. I had no business being there, but I was so young and lost that they let me stick around. Occasionally someone would show me the odd trick. Slip here, disguise the switch kick with your right hand. I slowly got better, started hitting harder, learning how to hurt people. First you win an exchange and then a round. Soon I was holding my own with most of the students.
I’d get home stinking of Thai liniment oil, my legs decorated with bruises.
‘Don’t know why you want to train that bullshit,’ Dad would snap from behind a bottle. I’d smirk at him, trying to hide my limp as I walked upstairs to my bedroom.
That first year without you, I kept busy. School in the day, training five or six nights a week. It was only late at night that I thought about that Guy Fawkes when we lost you. The cops were no use. They’d drop by, smelling of stale tobacco, yawning, like big dumb goldfish. Then they stopped coming round altogether. It was crazy to imagine that you were lost forever, like the remote for Aunty Sarah’s TV.
I wanted so bad to tell you all the things that’d happened since you left. How Dad punched the guy at the bottle store for talking shit, and Mum had started sleeping whenever she wasn’t at work.
I wanted to show you my bruises and tell you about all the dickheads at school. How they were saying I was going nuts. And maybe I was but so fucking what?
Meanwhile Dad kept having more fights of his own. But Mum wasn’t looking out for him so much now, and he got real loose. He’d come home busted up. Sit at the table drinking and staring, staring and drinking. ‘Ya hand’s fucked, Dad,’ I’d say, trying to sound like I didn’t care.
‘Should see the fuckwit I broke it on.’
‘You going to the doctor?’ I asked, knowing even if he got hit by a car he’d refuse medical attention.
‘This is all the medicine I need, love,’ he’d say, holding up a bottle of Steinlager.
‘You’re a fucking egg, Dad.’
‘Language,’ he’d slur, banging the bottle onto the table, white froth spilling over his takeaways.
Mum? She wasn’t doing good. And she didn’t have anyone’s face to break her hand on, so she took it out on herself. She slept until she had to work at the hospital, and she was working a lot. She’d emerge 20 minutes before she had to start her shift, adjusting her orderly uniform, her voice muddied.
‘You ok, Mum?’
‘Yeah hon, I’m fine,’ she’d say, trying to smile and then giving up.
But I guess you know as well as anyone that our family’s blood is thick with crazy.
That was life for a while – Dad beating up the neighbours, Mum sleeping on the couch while her stories blared, me sparring with men twice my age. We never talked about you, Eddy. Dad wasn’t that kind of man, Mum was never awake, and I kept myself busy with violence. That was before the doctors tried to ‘fix’ me with the pills and bad advice. But I haven’t told you about the Hastings brothers or the drugs or the money we stole. I guess I wanted to pretend like everything was normal normal normal.
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