Held at One2One café in Ponsonby Road, it was an evening of readings from works by local authors. Poets have held this sort of event for years, but this was the first I know of to concentrate on prose works and writers. About ten authors contributed to the evening, mainly reading from their novels and non-fiction books, with some poetry.
I was among them, reading some excerpts from my book Every Five Minutes. These are the pieces I selected – from the early part of the novel. They are not consecutive.
“There is nothing,” you once said, “like the smell of a wet dog.”
At the time I agreed with you, but my concurrence was not on grounds in any way similar to yours, as you picked from my tone. You were relating the idea to activities like mock fights over a rope or rubber ring on the beach, games of fetch on damp grass, and a grateful lick from a freshly bathed dog as it stepped from the tub. My thoughts were of flying drops from a vigorous post-swim shaking, of mud-covered rough hair, or wet paw-prints across a carpet. Whatever the cause, a dog was something to be kept at a safe distance – over the neighbour’s fence at the closest, definitely not within sniffing and leaping range.
But now a distinctive odour reaches me from close at hand. Not wet, certainly canine, familiar. I bring my hand from beneath the covers and touch soft springy hair.
“Hello, girl,” I say.
With the door of the wardrobe slid right back, I stand looking at the hanging clothes trying to decide what to wear. I gaze without seeing for some moments, then I shake my head to bring myself out of my morning stupor and reach out. My hand goes to my cornflower blue dress. It’s probably not a good choice.
For one thing, it’s not the best weight for the early autumn day I see outside the window. Another, more pressing, consideration is that I’ll be expected to wear something rather more subdued. Darker, a more executive look suited to mid city. After all, I usually do, and why would I change that now.
With those thoughts in mind I move my hand to the left, onto the shoulder of a charcoal suit but it doesn’t stay there. It moves right back to the blue silk-cotton. I try again, this time aiming for my navy pantsuit, but my hand resists. My head and my emotions engage in a short battle, with my hand wavering while it waits to see which wins. In a moment of contrary thought I force the issue and go with my feelings. The day is already defined as dismal, and expectations can be overcome. Today the cornflower blue is what I need. I can team it with a coat to keep out the chill of the day.
I prepare Electra’s bowl and put it on the kitchen floor in its customary spot. She looks at me and lifts her head in what I interpret to be a gesture of thanks before she settles to eat. It’s as though this has always been our practice instead of a fairly new thing.
The first time you were away for a few days I was nervous. You laughed away my fears. You don’t have to baby-sit her, you assured me. On the contrary, she was under orders to look after me. All I had to do was open the bag and ladle out her food.
On that occasion, and at subsequent times you were away, she and I established our routine – thanks, I’m sure, to her equable and forgiving nature. So much like you.
I still find it a surprise that I am on such close terms with a dog.
As I approach the bus stop I see a small group of people standing waiting. Some of them are familiar, recognizable as fellow passengers from past journeys.
Though I’m not close enough to see the evidence, I know the dark young man with his hair pulled back into a neat ponytail has earplugs inserted because, even though he’s standing at the kerb, he’s moving to a rhythm. The conservative business clothes he’s wearing will allow him to disappear into the crowd when he alights at Victoria Street, but I know from a late encounter in K Road he’s just as comfortable in a short skirt and high heels.
A pair of young women with oversized handbags stand together talking. They’ll continue to do so all the way into the city, their conversation overstuffed with “Cool!”, “So I said,” and “I mean, you would, wouldn’t you?”
Behind me I hear the sound of the bus approaching. As it stops accelerating in order to pull into the stop, the woman sitting on the bench looks up, stows her e-reader in her handbag, and stands.
Once again this morning I find myself motionless. Then, while the people enter the bus, I pretend to adjust my shoe, removing it and shaking from it an imaginary stone. The driver pauses, looking at me, and I raise my hand in a ‘thanks but not today’ gesture. It moves off, displaying an ad for teeth whitening on its back end. A few moments later I follow on foot.
From the time I pass the kink in K Road something is nudging me towards the left side of the pavement again and drawing me onwards. Without making a decision about my route consciously, I take a few steps past the entrance to the arcade and suddenly it is though I am walking in water. My legs feel heavy, and my coat is weighty and slips, so I pause to reposition it on my arm in order to avoid it trailing on the ground. The inference I draw from the change seems clear.
I turn and retrace the last steps, my feet lightening again at each pace, and turn inwards. With the tiled floor of the arcade under my shoes I pass the boutique shops offering retro clothes and china, and stop under the high glass ceiling in the open café area with its palms in large planters and an assortment of non-matching tables. Perhaps, I tell myself, it was the smell of the coffee that drew me in. That, however, doesn’t account for the feeling of pressure I felt influencing my movements.
I leave my coat over the back of a chair near the window that looks out over the park below and go to the counter.
“A long black,” I say out of habit, then amend the order. “No, make it a flat white today. Large.” I return to the table and sit, waiting for your coffee to arrive.
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