Johnny Nation Died

Not driving at the mo', just writing. A different rhythm. Spend the morning piling up words, or stringing them like beads on what seems like an increasingly fragile string - will it hold? - then the afternoons are mine to do what I will. Not much. Often call in at St. Vinnies around lunchtime, why I'm never sure, since there's nothing I really want. Or nothing I know I want.

Today when I went in Christine, the manager, was behind the counter. Her face lit up. Friends of hers had been over staying. From Wanganui. That's where she's from. When I was kid, I told her, growing up in Ohakune, Taihape was our Auckland but Wanganui was our New York. Her friends had given her some names. If he's really a 'Kune boy, they'd told her, he'll know them. Yeah? I went. Johnny Nation died, she said.

Johnny Nation!
I said. He was the Mayor. She looked momentarily disparaging. Yeah, she said. But he was also the baker. He was, too. She mentioned his eclairs. His was one of those emblematic names. Along with Mrs Goldfinch, Ben Winchcombe, Frank Woodward, Dr. Jordan. Incommensurable names, that seemed to have the whole world in them.

Christine left the counter and went to the back of the shop, up the stairs, out of sight. I drifted after her towards the shelves of second hand books, wondering if the quiz was over. She was back in a minute, standing above me at the head of the stairs, smiling down. Len and Jim Moule, she read, off a scrap of paper. Know them? I felt the kind of dizziness you get when time collapses. Florence Moule, I said. She was my first girlfriend. We were in love ... even though we weren't old enough to be, we were. She died ...

Florence was a vivid girl, skinny and brown, with straight thick chestnut hair. We loved each other in that childish way that wants to tangle limbs together under the pines or in the long grass. To kick each other's shins below the desk when we sat opposite at long tables in Primer Four. To rendezvous out the back after school and kiss in the shadow of the concrete steps. To just ... be. With each other.

Mole, Christine said. Spelled M O U L E. That right? It was, but I felt there might still have been a doubt there. Her sister, I said. Can't remember her name. She wrote the local history, I've got it at home. I'll show it to you ... took us a while but we got it in the end: Merrilyn George. She teaches at Ruapehu College, where my father did. It's his copy of her book I have, signed and dated: T. C. Edmond, 1990, which is also the year he died.

Christine had met her. She's a smart woman, she said. She is. I've met her too, in the History Room at the Centennial of the Ohakune Primary School, February, 1996. Her beautiful, deep set, slighty hooded eyes had filled with tears when we'd talked about Florence. Whom she resembled more than a little.

Christine said she was going to have a cigarette. I went with her, just up the road, to the bench outside the old Summer Hill Post Office. Sat with her while she puffed on a pre-rolled rollie. I told her about the time Florence picked the top off a wart on her skinny brown knee, how the blood ran down her leg, how hundreds of tiny warts flowered along the path the blood took, on the inside of the calf muscle. How her death from leukemia, sometime in the 1990s also, seemed prefigured in this childhood prodigy.

Don't know what else to say now. Johnny Nation died. So did Florence Moule. Reverberations, insignificant as they may be ... reverberate. Memories are like hunting horns, dying along the wind.


chiefbiscuit said...

This is how you write stuff that blows me away, Martin. Right there. Wonderful. Wow. That last sentence ... and all that precedes.

Martin Edmond said...

thanx chief - last sentence not mine - it's Guillaume Apollinaire, Cors de Chasse:

Les souvenirs sont cors de chasse / Dont meurt le bruit parmi le vent ...