Two Four Unit Flats, Hampshire Street, Wainoni
Pip Adam is part of WORD Christchurch 2020 Spring Festival
They’d been walking for about an hour. They’d started in Madras Street, at the office. William was down for the week, the presentation had gone well and the project manager declared drinks at about six o’clock. Catherine and William were the last to leave.
‘So this is Christchurch,’ he said as they walked down Latimer Square. It was dark now, they’d missed the long dusk. ‘Your new home.’
‘Something like that,’ Catherine didn’t look up. Then she stopped in her tracks. ‘I want to show you something,’ she said. ‘Are you up for something?’
They’d been quite drunk when the started but the night air and the long walk was sobering them up. They turned right onto Gloucester Street and followed it until it ended, then walked south up Woodham Road, then into Kerrs Road until it met Wainoni Road. Then they walked and walked and walked – east. William wasn’t sure where they were going but he was happy just to be with Catherine, alone, away from work, and it occurred to Catherine as they walked, sometimes talking sometimes silent, that this was indeed where she was at her happiest, maybe they both were.
‘Shouldn’t you call him?’ William said as they waited for the lights at Breezes Road, the fish and chip shop was still open but neither of them were hungry. They were still in their work clothes, although William had taken his tie off and stuffed it into his jacket pocket.
‘Nah, he’ll be right,’ she said.
‘He won’t be worried?’
‘He doesn’t want to know,’ she said. ‘Not really. Like he thinks he does, but he doesn’t want to know.’
‘He thinks he does know,’ said William. ‘He’s not as crafty as you make him out.’
Catherine nodded and sighed. ‘It’s a bit of a mess.’
William shrugged his shoulders slightly, neither of them looked at each other.
‘I can see the appeal,’ he said.
‘Yeah, I’m kidding myself.’
‘The comfort of the assumed unstated agreement.’
‘That’s what I’ve always told myself.’
‘But you’re not telling yourself any more.’
Catherine laughed, a quick explosion of a loud laugh. ‘Oh no. I still believe it.’
William laughed too.
‘I need ,’ she said him to be complicit,’ she said.
‘So you can live with yourself.’
‘For God’s sake, it’s not that bad.’
‘Did you promise?’
‘He’s as much to blame.’
‘He knows exactly what’s going on. He always has. He just has this love affair with it.’
‘With you having sex with other people?’ They didn’t walk any faster, the destination still wasn’t clear.
‘What is that even supposed to mean?’ she said. ‘No. With being married.’
‘Being married to you.’
‘No. Being married.’
‘Poor Dominic,’ William said, and then laughed because he didn’t much like him and Catherine knew.
‘Down here,’ she said and they turned into Portsmouth Street. No one else was on the footpath. The street began with tidy state houses, some where brick some were timber, most had decent-sized tidy gardens.
‘They’re all fenced,’ Catherine said. All the cars were off the road.
As they walked further down the street they came to a block of duplex flats. Catherine stopped. There were two-storey flats on both sides. On one side of the road the two buildings were open and square and painted earthy greens and chestnuts to match the brick of one of the storeys. On the other side of the street the grey-teal timber buildings were hidden behind large trees. There was a modern, people-moving car parked in the driveway. There were lights on inside the flats but it was silent on the street.
‘They’re all fenced,’ Catherine said again.
‘People like to be alone.’ It felt like William had been trying to convince her since he met her.
‘I love them.’ She squinted her eyes to try and see what they might have been.
‘It was a beautiful idea.’
‘There wasn’t supposed to be two the same together,’ Catherine looked up and down the street.
‘They ran out of money,’ William said. ‘They were noisy.’
‘Fibrolite,’ she said. She really did love the idea of giving everyone somewhere to stay.
‘They never built all the churches,’ William said, looking toward the Salvation Army buildings across the road.
‘And they cracked and the paintwork was uneven, but they hated not having fences the most.’
‘People like privacy,’ William was sure of it.
‘Kids toys got stolen.’
‘Still,’ William said, ‘it was a beautiful idea.’ They both walked on toward Hampshire Street.
‘It’s weird,’ Catherine said, ‘how they came all this way – Newman, Plischke, Farrar – they came from hell. Like literally. They came from the worst place on earth, the worst time, they saw the most shocking things, lived the most shocking things and when they got here they still really believed that people should live together. That they deserved to live together.’
‘But people want to be alone,’ William sounded less convinced each time he said it, hoped it wasn’t true. He knew he’d never convince Catherine to leave Dominic until she saw clearly that she had to.
They could see the duplexes on Hampshire Street now, they were coming up on the shops. The noise from the bar on the corner became audible, like someone was slowly turning up the volume on it – on the people drinking there. There were people in front of some of the flats too, behind the brown wooden fences that marked the end of the property and the start of the footpath, sitting in their front yards smoking, drinking, playing Swingball. As they got to the corner, one of the men in front of one of the flats called out and waved. Catherine waved back. She looked both ways as they crossed the street, out of habit, there were no cars on the road.
‘What are you doing here?’ the man walked right up to the fence and leaned out hand extended. Catherine shook it.
‘I came to see the flats,’ she said. ‘To show William.’ She motioned with her hands, ‘This is William. William this is Ilmars.’
William smiled and Ilmars smiled and they shook hands.
‘We put those verandas in,’ she was pointing to the covered spaces in front of the doors. ‘And they’re thinking of taking those chimneys off.’
‘You should take those chimneys off,’ said William.
Ilmars shrugged. ‘They’re thinking of bowling them.’
‘They’ll never do it,’ Catherine said. She’d told him before. ‘They’ve got no money to replace them.’
‘They’re replacing them in Wellington,’ Ilmars said.
‘That’s Wellington,’ Catherine said. ‘You’re invisible here. They won’t bowl them. They’ve forgotten you’re here most probably.’
Ilmars smiled suddenly. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘I did see Tansy,’ he rocked slightly from foot to foot. ‘In Auckland.’
William looked at Catherine, she nodded and pulled her shoulders up but she was still looking at the ground, her hands in the pockets of her trousers.
‘In Auckland,’ he said again. ‘Like you said. She walked into a shop,’ he was pointing and looking up slightly but not in anyone’s eyes. ‘Those twins!’ he said.
Catherine nodded smiling. ‘They’re growing up.’
‘They’re like teenagers.’
Catherine smiled and nodded and looked far away down the street, toward the bar.
‘I told her I’d seen you,’ Ilmars said.
‘Oh yup,’ Catherine said, she pulled her ponytail apart to force the hair tie further toward her scalp.
‘She says, hi,’ Ilmars shook his head and looked at his hand, ‘Tansy,’ he said shaking his head. ‘Those twins,’ he said. ‘All by herself and those twins.’
There was silence, except for the music from the bar, and the voices, the shouts, the laughter, someone was singing along.
‘Okay,’ Catherine said, looking back up Portsmouth Street. ‘We should head off.’
‘Righto,’ Ilmars said, ‘See you soon.’
‘Yup,’ Catherine said. ‘Council wants those chimneys down.’ She pointed at them.
‘Nice to meet you,’ William said.
‘We can go this way,’ Catherine pointed down toward the bar and they both turned and walked toward Marlow Road.
‘He seemed nice,’ William said when they were out of earshot.
‘Yeah,’ Catherine said. ‘Well, we can’t all be the success stories of our generation.’
William laughed slightly. ‘I can see your lucky escape from here.’
‘God bless expensive rehabs,’ Catherine said.
‘And wealth,’ William said.
‘Yeah,’ said Catherine. ‘Let’s not forget about the wealthy who keep their wealth.’
The noise from the bar grew less and less as they walked down Marlow Street. Some of the state houses had been done up.
‘They love them some cottage-like housing,’ Catherine said, looking at the extended eaves and the slim doors and the landscaped driveways.
‘They’re the pride of New Zealand public housing,’ William said.
Catherine stopped suddenly. ‘Oh shit,’ she said. ‘We’re going toward my house. Is that okay? You can stay?’
She looked at her watch. ‘Dominic’ll still be up.’
Williams nodded. ‘Does he not send her anything?’ he asked.
‘They’re not his,’ Catherine said breathing out her pursed lips so the air blew her fringe up slightly. ‘Officially.’
‘I used to. When the twins were little. When we were back in touch. But, you know. Time. Things. I haven’t seen her for years.’
‘Is he sleeping with someone else do you think?’ William looked at her now.
She turned and looked at him. ‘Probably.’ She shrugged. ‘Definitely.’
‘But it’s probably just one someone else,’ William said.
‘Honor seems to know a lot thing about a lot of things,’ she said.
‘It’s probably for love.’
‘Not for hate,’ Catherine said.
‘Not for spite,’ William was smiling now, Catherine was smiling too.
‘We’re dreadful,’ she said shaking her head slightly.
‘Speak for yourself,’ he said. ‘I’m doing fine thanks.’
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you,’ she said.
‘Me either. Then no one would know about me.’
‘About either of us,’ she said. ‘We’d cease to exist. We’d just be like. God what would be like?’ she shivered slightly, dramatically, thinking about what everyone else thought, what everyone else knew.
‘We’re all right,’ William said, then he sighed heavily. ‘How much further?’
‘We’ve miles to go before we sleep,’ Catherine said and they both laughed. ‘Will you be all right?’ she said. ‘When Paul starts?’
‘Feel fine now.’ He looked at the sky for the first time that night. It was dark and deep over them.
‘It’s a bit shit,’ she said. ‘How things turn out.’
William looked at the houses as they passed. ‘Everyone gets their own little bit,’ he said. ‘Their own little slice.’
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