Raumati – Stella Weston
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled up this thin path at the side of the house dragging my suitcase behind me, our family having driven for six hours to get here. My parents are exhausted and silent, one brother is on his phone, the other is ahead of me, walking fast. Tonight, the outdoor light does almost nothing to break the dark night, but force of habit carries me up this path, past the hose that’s always too cold when we wash the sand off our feet, and go into the bach.
Immediately the smell of broad beans, sand, ginger beer, and the Christmas tree hits me. I trace a hand over the rimu table that I’ve spilled on and marked with the indentations of ballpoint pens too many times to count. Jack pushes me forwards and I elbow him, scramble down the hallway, past the room with a window over Kapiti Island and two beds with bright blue covers, soon to be occupied by Jack and Paddy. At the end of the hallway is my room. I push the door with extra force because I know the way the hinge sticks. The bedroom is big, with bunks, a single bed, and a window over the driveway that I often lean out of and stare at the stars, or the sunrise, or the ocean, and where I used to pretend I was Rapunzel. I unlatch the window now, breathing in the cold air, feeling satisfied and looking forward to what I know is coming — the pillow forts, the polystyrene surfboards, making sand horses on the beach, the Lord of the Rings jigsaw on the table, the yearly photo of the three of us lying in the shallows with Kapiti as a backdrop, and pilfering handfuls of raw broad beans from the bowl on the table.
On Dad’s birthday I wake early to the smell of porridge I will refuse to eat. The sound of the portable TV makes its way through the house and I smile to myself knowing someone will be watching the news or some tennis competition. Wearing my pjs and a cloak that I made from a discarded piece of black fabric, I sneak through the kitchen, past Gran and Grandfather, and through to the lounge. Pushing open the window I sit on the sill, my legs dangling over the garden, one hand holding the wall tightly so I can’t be pushed out by one of my brothers. The smell of lavender and the quiet sound of bees filters through. I look down at the driveway, nothing more than a grassy hill, perfect for sledding down on cardboard boxes and for playing capture the flag. Behind a wall of pohutukawa and slightly dead cabbage trees (the kind you get around all New Zealand beaches) I see the sleepout, waiting to be filled with cousins. On the beach my dad is walking towards the bakery. I drop lightly to the ground and run down the bank to the beach. Stumbling over the broken, splintered steps I jump over the bottom two, which are always either buried in sand or lost in the swirling tornados of the waves. Behind me in the retaining wall is a stormwater drain, good for yelling in, looking down, and draping clothes over while we swim but now I ignore this, racing past. Later the sand will be carved up by our eager hands and sticks as we make sandcastles, write messages and bury each other. I run along the beach dragging a stick behind me; my paediatrician grandfather always says —“I’ve seen it enough times at the hospital, children impaled on sticks.”
As I reach the ocean I jump through the shallows; the sea catches the bottom of my pajamas, twisting the material around and coating it in a fine layer of foam. The sun rises steadily over the cloudy outline of Kapiti, and my cloak streams out behind me. When I finally catch up to dad, I sneak up behind him and yell happy birthday in his ear. He jumps and spins around, wrapping his arms around me. I giggle and he lets me go, and together we march on towards the bakery.
On the way back we have to climb the rocks and run because the tide’s coming in and my pajamas get wet all over again, and dad’s shoes get soggy. But it’s worth it. We climb back up to the house, Dad only squelching a bit, and hand out the fresh raspberry buns which are my excuse to avoid the porridge.
It’s almost 3pm when we arrive. My parents are talking quietly. I try to count the cracks in the pavement. My backpack feels too light. Wrong for this place, but we’re only here for one night.
The house smells like disinfectant and cleaning supplies. Gran appears, smiling and laughing and wraps us up. There’s a thinly-veiled sadness in the way she holds herself, in her eyes, her words. The kitchen table is covered with cardboard boxes and books and plates and ornaments, hiding the wood underneath so I move past quickly, but I pause in the doorway of Jack and Paddy’s room. The blue duvet covers of their beds have been removed, leaving them plain white. I shut the door quickly. When I enter my own room it all hits me at once. The bookshelf bare, the pile of mattresses and coats in the corner gone, the desk cleared; the only thing the same is the window. It’s wide open and I drop my bag on the bed and lean out. The ocean is still crawling up and down the grey sand. I breathe in but there is only a faint smell of pine needles.
Through in the lounge I sit down on the windowsill. The mantlepiece is empty but for a picture of grandfather, the same picture on our bookshelf at home. I turn away, looking out over the familiar landscape. The sleepout is silent and empty, the surfboards ignored in the garage and doused with cobwebs.
When Gran tells me not to sit on the windowsill like that, I drop down onto the bank, run down the hill (now full of prickles) to the beach. The steps are gone, replaced with a clean, concrete ramp. A thick new wooden retaining wall holds the water back from the land. The sand is carved up by tractors trundling across the beach. I find a stick and try to smooth over the tracks; I can almost hear his voice telling me to drag the stick behind me. I let the sea lap over my toes and wish that we could take another photo of the three of us lying in the water. The sea is cold and the bottoms of my jeans are splashed and sticking to me. I climb up the retaining wall and sit on the edge as the tide comes up, and the sun starts falling behind Kapiti. I take a photo on my phone for old time’s sake.
I close my eyes tightly, and when I open them again everything is different. My brothers are lying in the waves, yelling at me to hurry up and get in the photo. My grandfather is up at the house picking more broad beans because we ate too many. And I can see myself, with short hair and a cloak streaming out behind me, sprinting down the beach dragging a stick and leaving a story in the sand.