But memory images are being thrown up all the time ...

So wrote my sister towards the end of the last of her diaries which, more than ten years ago now, I transcribed, all three volumes. She wrote a full, though not continuous, account of her life from the time just before she left home at the beginning of 1972 until three years later, in 1975, breaking off about four months before her death in June of that year. I had some vague and as it turned out misplaced ideas about trying to publish an edited version of these diaries, vetoed by the rest of the family, but I'm still glad I did the transcription, which had the unanticipated effect of incorporating some of her perceptions, insights, usually in the actual phrases or sentences, into my functional memory so that she is, in fragmentary and unpredictable ways, always with me.

Anyway, here's another memory image thrown up: I'm eleven or twelve, and I'm doing my paper run, cycling up the unsealed, dusty and gravelly surface of Mole Street, along which there was just one house and thus one delivery, about halfway down, a letter box at the start of a long drive up to a wooden house on a slight hill. The rest of the street was paddocks and orchards, so far as I remember - with a particularly splendid apple orchard at one end, the one I was biking towards, on the corner of Wood Street. The woman who lives in the house is waiting by the gate for the paper, as many of the perhaps lonely old people on my run used to do. At this point, the sequence of events is a trifle vague, but either just before or just after I give her that day's Wairarapa Times Age, the hotted up Austen 7 belonging to a local hood by the name of Frog Hayes drives along Mole Street at speed, spewing vast quantities of fine white powdery dust in its wake. It swirls chokingly into my eyes and nose and mouth. I stick my tongue out at him.

Again my recollection is vague, but I know that either before or after this tongue-poking-out folly, Frog Hayes has words with the woman whose paper I've just delivered. Then he comes after me. I'm leaning from my partly upright bike, poking folded newspapers into the slots of the four or five mailboxes clustered at the corner of Wood and Mole when he drives up, not bothering to get out of his car, just pulling up next to me and snarling through the wound-down window. Somehow, through that vast dust cloud, he's seen my poked-out tongue in the rearview mirror and come to tell me that he's got his eye on me, he knows who I am, and if I tell anyone anything about the events of the afternoon he'll throw me into one of the blackberry bushes that grow in the vacant paddocks opposite the orchard. Then he drives off in another cloud of dust.

I was so scared. Only a few days previously, I'd witnessed Frog Hayes - he was probably only about 17, a skinny, mean little guy with a wizened face that had somehow led to him being given the name Frog - in an altercation with another local hoon outside Gilbert's Dairy on Main Street. The other guy had offered his hand for Frog to shake, to settle whatever their problem was, but Frog, characteristically, swore and knocked the hand away, an unheard of piece of malign derring-do in terms of the codes we lived by then. I was impressed and appalled in about equal measure. Now he was after me.

That evening the local cop rang up. My father took the call. He came off the phone to ask me if anything untoward had happened on my paper run that day? I said no. Dad talked to the cop for a few more minutes then hung up. I was even more terrified now, I'd lied to my father and, albeit by proxy, to the police as well.

I can't remember now how long it was before Constable Fraser - his daughter Marie, pronounced Maaari, was my sister's age and reputed to be the town bike - came round to our place but I do recall that I was out on the back lawn when he spoke to me. He said: You lied before, didn't you? Yes, I said. Something did happen on your paper run, didn't it? and Yes, I said again.

Well, then I had to tell him the whole sorry tale, about poking my tongue out at Frog Hayes and the threat he'd made and him driving too fast down Mole Street and having words with the woman, the one I'd given the paper to, the one who'd made the complaint, the one who'd helpfully put me forward as a possible witness ... it all came out in such a way that, by the end of it, I was so terrified I almost felt my life was as good as over, despite the fact that Constable Fraser reassured me that nothing would happen to me but that something bad would definitely happen to Frog Hayes.

How did it all end up? I really don't know. Perhaps Frog Hayes went to court and then to prison, perhaps they took his licence or his car off him. He certainly never crossed my path again, though I know I went in fear of him for weeks afterwards. One thing I never told the cop nor anyone else, perhaps not until this day, was that when he said he was going to throw me in the blackberry bush I pissed my pants.


AlexG said...

what a lovely tale.

& I've never heard the term "town bike" before.

Martin Edmond said...

thanks, Alex. It probably wasn't even true abt Marie, but she was plain & the policeman's daughter & so ...

Barry Thomas said...

Hi Martin... strnge finding you here - probably never looked... hope all's well
Barry Thomas

Martin Edmond said...

hey Barry - I've been here for years ... all's well, how are you?

Barry Thomas said...

Yes you may well have been here/ there for years... must mean I've been elsewhere eh?

I am good - starting to feel the pinch of age I guess - eyes needing two dollar shop reading glasses, bach ache when I chain saw the fire wood - living in coromandel settling in on my rented five acres - got a new deal - 3 years and only the rates to pay - comes with a bus, sheds, water and a bit of work in kind/ paid as I choose. Helps that my new land lady is my new love - Evelyne Siegrist a v. good painter. So I am painting now - almost full time as soon as I get settled here - ie about three or four weeks.

Just went right round the south island in my fifties caravan - put a fire on board - made the journey - all warm in central etc.

Last weekend did a paint making workshop - as all my paints are hand made now - by me - earth colours feels so honest and real, digging them outa the earth grinding them and making do with what I can find myself as opposed to the buy the corporate tubes. took 12 kids on a journey of art making over in Thames - grinding earth then making paintings - and hanging them in the local museum - lovely really - and I do really love the colours. The real limited pallet eh?

I came across a proof sheet of the ohakune photos a while ago as I was going through my stuff and a letter from you from way back when... yes there are some good shots there - I am thinking of doing another cuba street calendar - last one was in '92 and people there are saying they want another one... great wee culture cuba. Anyway - feeling a bit low on energy - so will head off to bed - Barry Thomas