By Alex Medland and Gabi Lardies
A very pleasant day
We were supposed to have more time. We did all the right things: picked out second-hand curtains, carpooled with your Mum, ate vegetarian diets, picked up our litter and it should have worked.
I remember the broadcast, the one morning everyone in Aotearoa actually tuned into network TV. Watching as the broadcaster straightened her jacket, shoulders square to the bulbous camera lens. Her lipstick is a thin red line connecting just-sagging cheeks.
“Good Morning, it is eight a.m. on Monday and we begin the live broadcast today with local news.
We have borrowed too much money, basing our economic systems on speculations, living on the backs of others, [gesturing behind] these are the gentle currents of the storm about to hit.”
The morning lost my attention, instead I focused on the white circle blinking at the bottom left on the screen where the headlines scrolled off the edge: Heatwave Eases in the Northern Hemisphere – Scientists Mourn Last Whale in Captivity – Artists Unearth Rare Recording of Native Bird Song – A blinking star thousands of light-years away dies, she pulls in her breath:
“We will need to evacuate, but, we’ve mined everywhere to which we might evacuate, turning our neighbouring islands into strange craters, as if there had been a million volcanic eruptions.”
I remember the silence afterwards, staring into an abyss of awkward tension, resigned fear. You kept shaking your head, replaying it, repeating her words to yourself. I pictured the trees behind her, Nīkau’s bending over backwards, whipping their fronds in the wind. The morning demanded things from me. I brushed my teeth, hovered in the kitchen doorway before leaving. Your eyes were fixed to the screen, an acidic sweet smell hung in the room from last night’s lasagne.
That first night, I lay awake in the bed we built and shared together thinking this was always the inevitable next step, again and over and again until dreams whisked away my thoughts. I didn’t ask you how you slept that night, what you dreamed of. Was it the ocean with its powerful currents, its rhythms pulling you under the surface and down, down, down? The currents slipped out of your ears in whispers and drips and ancient bones. When I woke you were gone, but there was water sopping, dripping from your side of the bed. I felt the salt on my tongue, the warmth on my hands and then I felt you, cowering and blood-soaked, dragging yourself to the kitchen after some life-altering yet silent injury. I expected the worst. But there you were. Your eyes beads, your mucus smile. You, but changed. You, preparing for what was to come.
The next day I caught you watching the broadcast again. Her shoulders were drawn back stiffly, uncomfortable. Her chin jutted forwards, her stomach pulled in. Blonde hair was always sprayed in place. Her face was slightly colourless, neon lips thinned around a wide, dark gash.
“Good Morning, it is eight a.m. on Tuesday and we begin the live broadcast today with local news.”
Her skin oiled under the lights, and although her breath quickened, her voice remained even, clear, and stable.
“The storm was gathered up by hot air collecting in pockets above island craters, emanating heat waves until they joined into one mass, which spiralled over the Pacific Islands and acted like some sort of superheated moon, pulling deep currents from the acidic ocean depths.”
On the screen, waves cascaded over each other, zigging and zagging across the frame as the drone battled the winds. The white circle blinked – LIVE, LIVE, LIVE. The image was soundless, too loud for the drone’s small microphone.
I went to bed without you that night. When we woke, I ignored the dark circles under your eyes and your incessant talking about your sister and the $2.50 pills they were selling at the pharmacy. “We should do that too,” you said. “It will be painless.” Your face had grown bulbous, sweltering. Your ears were crusted with salt. There were shedded skins littered around the house and salt I tasted on your lips and your new claws had punctured my tissue skin in your excitement. I looked at your fanatic eyes and I did not recognise them. Shouldn’t we face what we have caused?
I remember the moment where I truly realised we were fucked. We had gone on a holiday to Maitai Bay and the tide was out so far that 20 years before they would have prepared for a tidal wave. We ran along the beach searching for the moana, a hidden power that would rush back in suddenly, ignoring the scraps of marine life lying in the heat, the fish who hadn’t been told of the water’s exodus. I was six and a half years old and lived in a bubble of sunshine, SPF 75 and stupidity. Peeling my jandals off, Mum laughed as I squawked at the seagulls, my sister chasing after me. None of us saw the glittering of half-buried glass bottles and took it to be more than shells. Then, there was sharpness. I screamed, bleeding. My Mum froze, remembering running on the beach in only a sunhat. My blood was consumed by the sand and as it flowed into Papatūānuku, she seemed to shine, grow, refuel the strength she used to have. My Mum picked me up like a rugby ball and we ran back to the car. Curtained, empty beach front mansions reflected her dash.
That night you woke up gasping and retching as if you were in a room devoid of oxygen. I stripped your shedding skin, loose scales littering themselves in folds of the duvet.
We had become so normal in our pretending.
Today, the eyes on the back of your head opened, followed me from your pillow. They watched me put on my underwear, my black polyester trousers, my cotton shirt. They witnessed me wipe iodine on my arms, my hands, getting rid of the salt you left. They followed my movement out of the room. I have heard the stories of the woman who meets the monster. I have heard the stories of the woman who meets the monster and invites him into her bed. I plunged the coffee, my morning solitude watched.
“Good Morning, it is eight a.m. on Wednesday and we begin the live broadcast today with local news. The storm approaches us from the north, on a path which will slam Northland, before heading down the east coast of the North Island, and onto the South. It is expected that the ocean will, at least for some days, pass over the surface of our entire country.”
The live stream cuts to the water’s edge, as it consumes Kaitāia’s main strip: the chinese restaurant, the WINZ office, the old, stone ASB Bank. On that holiday at Maitai Bay, the waves lifted me as I floated. We floated on our backs and said ‘woaaaaaaaaahhhhhh’ like it was a rollercoaster. I am reminded of everything I have forgotten for so long: your dirt brown eyes, and your sleep talking at night and your warm lips and the way you used to make tea, the days where we could lie in the sun and turn brown, eating lasagne and lying together, lighting lanterns to send to the stars. Kaitāia’s utes and station wagons are briefly lifted by the flooding tide, shuffling down the street before being consumed by the sea.
“The public is not advised to seek sea-vessels, nor shelter, but rather, visit your local pharmacy and acquire the latest technology in end-of-life treatment. It is a small, painless pill available at the state sponsored price of two dollars fifty each. Doses for children and pets are available. People over eighty-seven kilograms in mass will be required to take two pills.”
I leave without checking on you. At work, I stick to my carpeted chair. I continue to migrate data from spreadsheet to spreadsheet through lunch time. I forgot to put socks on, so my salty ankles rub together, skin tender.
At five, I tighten my lips against teeth as my co-workers each leave. I can hear the squabbling from doomsday super yachts and homemade Noah’s Arks. Seagulls haggling, determined to ride out the storm and whatever comes after it. I continue with my data until ten.
I drive to Pizza Hut, smile at the workers, wait in my car for 20 minutes until it’s ready, eat it ‒the whole pepperoni pizza‒ in the driver’s seat. It is dark. There is nowhere else to go. The ocean laps at my tyres.
When I arrive home, you are shivering under an ice cold shower. The eyes in the back of your head watch me. They follow me. I get caught up in a trivial task only to look up and find them gazing. You apologise, you do, again and again and again. But they keep watching.
They witness me as I force your head further and further into the toilet bowl. They witness your surprise: your gurgling and struggling. The muffled sounds beneath the surface.
I leave you there, on the cold tiles. You begin to take up my entire vision, even when I’m brushing my teeth, even when I’m flossing, even in the fogged up shower. I come out with long scratches up my arms, down my legs, along my torso. Pin pricks of blood slowly appear. I take you back to our bed. The sheets have a saltiness to them that rubs against my skin.
But the water doesn’t come.
In the morning, the sky is pink. Everything is wet. Darkness seems to tuck itself into the corners, beneath the bed, into the closet. I edge around you. I slop to the kitchen, grind beans, plunge the coffee.
“Good Morning, it is eight a.m. on Thursday and we begin the live broadcast today with local news. It is of utmost importance that I remind you, yet again, of the storm. It has arrived.”
She steps back, obscuring the wind-beaten Nīkaus. Her shirt has begun to stick to her arms and chest. The white circle blinks- The Network would like to extend its thoughts and prayers – You are now watching an automated live broadcast – Have a very pleasant day.
Everything has become wet without it raining. There are tiny drops of water hovering in the air ‒ the air is liquifying. The carpet has grown clammy, holding the small tide which has washed in. The water is warm, trickling over my feet. On the bed, you have shrivelled, into something like the skins you shed, but colder, and harder. I leave you there, on the soaking sheets. I shower, towel myself, moisturise, brush my hair.
“The public is not advised to seek sea-vessels, nor shelter, but rather, stand outside, spread your arms and look to the heavens, which will be stained pink from sulfur gathered in the superheated moon. In light of this, we have decided to end the broadcast earlier than scheduled, and I wish you a very pleasant day.”
The tide hovers around my waist as I look towards the glowing pink window. The ocean spills through the pale shells of my ears, runs down my neck. I raise my arms up. You are under, still lying on the bed. The ocean is seeping from inside us all. Everything is wet, dark and heavy. I can’t breathe here, I can’t move. I can only wait.
It is silent under the surface. In my last moments, I do not focus on the yearning of my lungs. I focus on you staring back at me. Your face contorted, ravenous, unrecognisably monstrous with your razor teeth and your gilled eyes and fishy veins that pulsate without movement. In your eyes, there is the reflection of a video playing. Even in death, the broadcast repeats. The woman steps out of the lights, into a misted halflight. She stares at me in passive blame and I realise her face is mine.
I am heavy – with water, in water. I do not struggle, I let the currents take me down, down, down.
Writing together has proved to be extremely generative for both of us. Each week we decided on an exercise or goal, and then swapped our texts. Some weeks we would respond to a prompt, and others we would respond to, or continue each other’s writing. The accountability to each other, and series of mini deadlines kept us writing, and kept the inner critic at bay. It was incredibly freeing to be able to just write, without having an outcome in mind, simply to see what would happen. Writing together also opened up new forms of writing, which we may not have embarked on alone. Together we created an overwhelming amount of content, and having to focus on just one thing was difficult, at times, but also very refreshing because we didn’t get too attached to anything we might have needed to delete. The piece submitted is a “collage” of two stories of which we each wrote half and then weaved together. We did most of our mahi throughout Tāmaki Makaurau’s extended lockdown and various zoom calls, but we were able to meet in person to devise the final piece.
We would recommend Write Together for all writers, even if you are shy or uncertain. It’s been an amazingly special experience to collaborate so heavily on a piece, and something that all writers should experience as there is so much to discover.
About the Authors
Gabi Lardies is an artist who writes and publishes, and a 1.5 generation tauiwi who moved here from Argentina about 23 years ago. She is currently the Graduate Artist in Residence at the Te Tuhi Parnell Station Studios.
Gabi holds a Masters of Fine Arts (First Class), a Graduate Diploma in Sociology and Creative Writing from the University of Auckland, and a Bachelor of Design (Communication) from AUT.
You can find Gabi on Instagram (@bb_geep) or online art.gabi-lardies.com
Alex is a writer, actor and very amateur ice-skater based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She whakapapa to Kai Tahu, and has lived all over Aotearoa. She is drawn to the surreal, the dystopian and the character-led, and writes poetry, prose and plays. Most days, you can find her hanging out with her dog, running late to appointments or on the side of your local motorway gazing quizzically at her car’s bonnet. You can follow her on instagram @alex.medland