Sunday, January 30, 2011

As Mike turned away from the bar – without so much as saying thanks, though in this case I was prepared to let him off – James caught my eye from across the room, where he was holding court. I quickly mimed someone drinking, and then the bottom falling out of something. James moved quickly through the crowd to fill his role.

James isn’t as good an actor as me, but he can hold his own, and from the bar it looked like he bore no ill will towards Mike at all. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, the unavoidable hubbub of more than a hundred people completely drowning out any particular sound, including the light chamber music I’d chosen to set the appropriate tone, which was more or less shattered by James challenging Mike to a sculling contest.

James was drinking straight orange juice, wanting a clear head, but claiming it was a Harvey Wallbanger for the look of things. As the two tilted their heads back, Mike nearly falling as he overbalanced, James kept a careful eye on the level of the drinks, driving Mike to completely finish his with careful pacing. And now... yes. Maybe I was a little ungenerous to disparage his acting abilities, because James did a very credible act of challenging him to another contest, this time on the billiards table. Mike grabbed a cue from the rack, having to lean on it for a moment, and I began to worry for the felt. I was just about to go over there, deniability be damned, when, in front of basically everyone he knew, including his heartbroken ex-girlfriend (who was in the corner talking with a friend) and the girl he’d dumped her for, Mike’s eyes began to glaze, then dart about, searching for an exit, hope slowly leaving them as he realised that if he took a step it would only hasten...

As I remarked to James later, I was really glad the room had a varnished wooden floor, because that would have just ruined the carpet. We definitely never saw Mike wearing those pants again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

There was a general requirement that people be at least visibly sober when entering the ball venue, and so I was serving as barman, handing out drinks only to people who looked like they hadn’t had one yet. It had taken three days, but James eventually talked me into wearing the bow-tie as a badge of office, too.

Come on, man, you can’t be worried about hurting your chances!” he finally told me, with characteristic tact.

Uh... thanks. For the ego boost.”

I mean it, you must have found a ball partner by now.”

Well... I’ve had seven girls approach me. Each of them asked me, with almost exactly the same wording, if I knew of anyone who still didn’t have a partner. After the third, I pointed out that I didn’t have a partner, to which the candidates replied, with stunningly similar phraseology, that of course they couldn’t take me, it would be like going to the ball with your brother. Or your father, that was another popular comparison. I’m thinking of getting a set of t-shirts printed with ‘I’m not related to you’ on the front and ‘Seriously, you’re probably more closely related to the last guy you slept with than you are to me’ on the back. What do you think?”

Wouldn’t work. Everyone knows your mother's mother was a Swney, and the three Swney families are related to just about everyone within fifty kilometres.”

Not closely. I mean, my great grand-father on my dad’s side was a Sweeney, and I don’t have webbed feet.” 1

So did you find those girls partners?”

Oh, yeah. Turns out half the soccer team had been too busy training to ask around, so I made a few connections.” That was my place in our social ecosystem. James was the one everyone listened to, and I was the one who listened to everyone. Between us we had so far managed to keep everyone fairly friendly and avoid most of the worst-case scenarios I could think of, and if anything really nasty occurred...

Let’s just say we looked after the people we cared about, and right now that meant providing closure to Hannah, while teaching Mike the valuable lesson that you can’t hurt someone like that without dire consequences, in this case in the shape of a tankard of Waikato Draught (the cheap beer having been bought in cans to avoid wasting any of the better stuff in the keg), with a nip of cheap scotch to top it up and, more importantly, to hide the taste of the agent of retribution.

1 See, the Swneys settled with two other families, a long way from anywhere else. Whoever went to town first after a birth registered it, which resulted in a family of more than ten children, roughly divided into Swneys, Sweenys and Sweeneys, depending on which neighbour it was trying to spell it or, for a lucky few, it being the father himself. The Swneys, however they are spelled, being a fertile clan, the three newly coined branches came to marry into just about every family on the Hauraki Plains and along the path of the Waihou river, though generally at such a remove that it is possible for two Swney descendants to be no more than fifth cousins, avoiding the whole “six fingers” problem.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The party was, as the cliché has it, going off with a bang.

The rumpus room at my parent’s house was basically the largest privately-owned room in town. It was there when my family moved in, complete with a built-in billiards table and a shiny, shiny rimu-wood bar down one side, including an actual tap for keg beer. In other words, there was really no other place James and I could have a party, ever. James, who had, shall we say, a more public profile, sent out the invitations, and people tended to assume it was his place. It might as well have been, I guess; we’d grown up together, and were used to treating our houses as two wings of home built on opposite sides of the road.

James never made his parties exclusive, as such; he went through the whole school and told every student old enough to withstand the debauchery that it was happening, when it was happening, how hard it was going to happen, and that the door price was something to drink or something to eat. Half an hour before the party started, he’d arrive at my door with a litre of vodka and three of orange juice. He’d then leave the door open, crank the music up, and we’d start playing pool on the big billiards table. By the time the first guests were trickling in, bearing a bounty of junk food and liver-hardening liquids, we’d generally be rather relaxed and in a partying sort of mood.

For the pre-ball, we had to do something a little more formal. After all, the guests were all going to be wearing tuxedoes and gowns. We’d deliberated on it for months, and decided the best thing to do would be to make it an invitation-only event. Thus, a week before the ball, we sent out gilt-edged invitation cards to everyone between the age of sixteen and nineteen in the greater Te Kainga area; James complained for the next two days that his wanking hand was completely paralysed. I think he expected more sympathy than he got.

Monday, January 17, 2011

James drove. It probably says something about James that he loves cars almost as much as he loves women. I’m indifferent, and don’t even have a license, since I can bike most places I need to get to. My job was to pick the music, and so we blared off in the direction of Matamata to the tune of “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)” by AC/DC. Appropriate, considering what we had planned.

While James was guiding his baby around the gentle curves of the country roads, I was trying very hard to make my handwriting as messy as possible, filling out a prescription form from a bundle I had “borrowed” from my father for similar purposes about three months prior. That was the main reason why we had to go to Matamata, rather than the closer pharmacies in Te Kainga; if this plan worked, any slightly suspicious purchases would be examined very carefully indeed. Matamata was far enough away for the paper trail to die out.

It’s a nice place, really. The Shire scenes from The Lord Of The Rings were filmed nearby, which gives you an idea of what an idyll it is. Rolling fields stretched away in both directions, edged by old, thick hedges as often as by wire fences. In the town itself are parks with enormous oak trees sheltering sculptures from the yearly carving festival. We blatted past it with a seen-it-all indifference and parked in front of the pharmacy just long enough for me to go in, hand over my authentic-looking prescription, listen to the detailed instructions for use, and take the box back out to the car. James started the car and we headed out the other side of town, on what’s called the Old Te Kainga Road.

So, what did we just buy?”


What is it?”


I mean what does it do, you ass.”

It does quite a lot to your ass. It’s a stimulant laxative, which means a proper dose will give you the shits so bad your anus will be burning for days afterwards.”


You did ask. One shot of this in Mike’s beer at the pre-ball, and... well, you get the picture.”

Vividly. You’re going to be barman, right? So you can mix it in...” James overtook a dawdling tractor.

Yes, well, no one else there knows how to mix a decent white Russian. I’m not wearing the bow tie, though.”

Monday, January 10, 2011


NOTE: This is the first draft of my first novel. It's set in New Zealand, in a divergent 2008, though the divergence traces back to 1942. No flashbacks, I promise. You should be able to figure out any other details for yourself. Feel free to tell me what sucks, so long as you like something about it. If you don't like it, stop reading, though before you can stop, you must first start, right here:


The dirt was soft, almost welcoming the sharp edge of my spade. That’s the reward for gardening the same patch for generations; the earth stops fighting and starts helping. It was thick and black, and worms appeared with every spadeful turned over, wriggling around before diving back into the earth.

I was actually enjoying the digging. Technically, it was a chore, but it was one of those jobs where you could see the results, feel them in your arms. It was pure, and simple. The earth demanded nothing of me, unlike some people.

Seriously, man. I thought those two were going to be together for, well, at least until the end of the year,” James told me, leaning over the gate to our garden, “Drop things at a natural time for dropping things, going to different cities for uni, so sad, you know?”

I think Hannah had the same idea,” I replied, lifting another clod and flipping it back into its hole, stabbing it with the spade to break it up into loose earth.

So now she’s heartbroken and that dickhead is shagging the new exchange student,” James continued.

Who you wanted to shag yourself, of course.” I wasn’t accusing him, as such. She was an American, from western Wisconsin, and a striking example of what happened when Scandinavian genetics set out to propagate themselves.

Well, yeah, but what’s that got to do with anything?”

I just think it’s a little hypocritical for you to be calling someone else a heartbreaker. You have slept with just about every girl in our year, with neither fear nor favour.”

I didn’t promise any happy-ever-after, either. He’s messing with her feelings, and I don’t like it when people do that to my friends.”

Plus it would leave the American girl partnerless on the most romantic night of the year.”

That has absolutely nothing to do with –“

I didn’t say I wouldn’t find something! Just let me think for a minute.” I figured the best way would be to humiliate him. Beating him up was the simple solution, but though we’d been in a lot of trouble before, neither of us was especially violent. Something deniable, yet devastating... a memory floated up, something my father had told me about a while ago. He wanted me to follow his footsteps as a doctor, so he was making sure I was aware of the basics, and the kind of thing you might have to deal with on the job, which was steadily increasing my resolve to study philosophy.

Get your car, we’re going to the pharmacy.”