Terence Rissetto is of Maori and European descent. His background includes a degree in Existential Philosophy, seven years as a nurse in Australia, and a career as a public servant. He has just completed the 2014 Te Papa Tupu Incubator Programme.
“My writing attempts to show the wonder of other realities and ways of looking at the world, with warmth, laughter and the spiritual. I believe that I understand how dreams work, and that fiction falls from a similar place.”
The Harvester of Giraffes
As the universe expands, gravity, the least understood force in nature, decreases. This decrease stops the universe from collapsing back into itself. Electromagnetism provides violent storms and at the same time binds everything together. The universe is full of such contradictions. Under quantum physics, string theory suggests there are ten dimensions, most hidden and curled up into themselves so that we are surrounded by tiny extra dimensions which trap the gravity of multiverses, different levels of experience coming at us at the same time. Understanding a circumstance requires a shift of the imagination, bubbles within bubbles, a theory of everything and nothing.
It was the day after the last blood moon. The night had passed like a stolen car with the Police in hot hirsute, sirens blazing, shoguns flashing, tyres spiking with the inevitable and inexorable splinkling of glass amidst sudden slivers of nowhere. The low traffic of high heeled boys. At five before, time to go home alone to repair the dog and empty the emotional bullets of displeasure into someone else’s body. The jilted morning, like the god-particle of biblical disproportions, slowly unravelling itself in a transvestite skein of state house resentment and overstayer despair.
In contrast, the yellow blew moment of today unfurled its national flag of tomorrow to a green and black populist brace of copulating monkeys, dancing and twirling in moist air scintillate. Feathers flying, double fantail smiles, messengers from the Gods, courting and exhorting, the male mountaineering the corpulent female from behind like an arctic fur seal breaking the ice with an emperor penguin’s new clothes.
A full bladder reminded the man of the house that he had to water the back garden. The sound of the twitching fantails generated the errant thought that unlike monkeys and seals, birds do not have penises. Something to do with the dynamics of wind balance, the biggest muscles being their wings. The touch of his own penis confirmed that he was not a bird. Nor were wings his biggest muscle, though he did have a wind imbalance at times. It did not confirm he was not a monkey or a fur seal.
Swinging and slipslide swimming himself out of an ungainly bed into the nearby open-mouthed toilet and sister cistern, he ventilated the waste at his disposal, f lushing and f lowing himself into the omelette kitchen down the hall. Welcome to the lonely chagrin of another disposable day in a catalogue of non-events.
The Nordic flickering face of God slowly abseiled its fiery way up the cleave and eave walls of his treelined cabin rusticity. He noticed through the omniscient wash of the dining room window that his lawn had inched its way ever so closer to the undemonstrable house during the breathless night. The lawn lay comatose supine, like the claws of desperate hands trying to get out of a dark hole amongst the ubiquitous prick and grimace scramble of the Onehunga weed.
At the same time in the snortle manner of some strange Copernican fact, organic Japanese manga hen tai seemed to be emerging in a staggered register of images crazy to a modern temperate mind. Tufts of yellow and brown giraffe heads, complete with ossicone horns, sprouted jack beanstalk towards the deepening blue eyed sky. The necks were growing again. He knew what that meant. The jackals of the continental shelf were waiting below for him, vacant eyes staring from the hurdled towers into a cloying and rapidly closing distance.
This sprawling tangled toupee of blood matted lawn kneaded the hurly-burly preposition of mowing again. Late yesterday he had shot and splattered two of the neighbour’s war dogs after they had murdered the innocent tortoiseshell cat from across the road, and then encroached onto his property from the gangpatch spatula pad next door. A cat and two dogs die: Kahlúa karma dictated that a three-headed hyena take their place.
To make matters worse, he could see fearsome white hyena droppings scattered on the flirt and skirt of the carpeted savannah, chalk languid lips laughing at him. His neighbours tried to tell him the droppings were merely dried dogshit, but he knew better. They’d never been to Africa. Mind you, the methamphetamine riddled leather-clad neighbours and their noses hadn’t spoken to him, that he was aware of, after he’d blasted their dogs and tossed their naked pitbull terror over the fence. Each to his own.
Flame trees marked the boundary between his neighbour’s kraal corral of overgrown carbuncular car bodies on headstone blocks. He knew they were hyena droppings because the colour reflected the hyena’s ability to eat the bones of their kill – no mean feat. Even human bones needed to be powdered separately after cremation, like his wife’s in the orange plastic container beside his bed.
He stood up languidly from the suddenly sullen table and stretched ambiguously. Carrying his cup with stranded tea leaves that had been prodded into the shape of the dark continent, he sluiced the thought away with the sink sump of the rattertap tap. His wife had been good at reading tea leaves, but he wasn’t. Giant females and little males, pigmeat and pygmy. He grabbed himself intrinsically by the scruff of his neck and hustled his unruly head through the limp ostrich feathered laundry and out the flightless Kiwi back corridor door. Squinting his eyes momentarily against the avuncular sun’s dazzle of zebras and crash and symbol of rhinos inclement in a newly psychotic tropic, he paused on the top step.
takahē 84 sliver right“Welcome to Africa, motherfuckers!” he said, with the sudden ecstasy of a werewolf ripping its lust at the exposed throat of a blood moon rising. He let his mind follow the scraping and rattling echo undulating along the swathing corrugations of the overwrought iron fence in front of him. The fence unfurled itself in fright as it hastened to get away from its own panic.
The well-intended vegetable garden, in stripped contrast, yawned at him like the vast shifting sands of an open-cast mine sans sifter. He looked at the lush cabbage heads and cauliflower ears. They returned the flavour without blinking or missing a beet, looking for all the world like the exculpated heads of his biker buddies long since dead and buried. He was the only one left, now that his wife had gone too. Like a gunshot wound and Copernican circles, it was all in the head, the smoke from a distant exploding star. Queensland heads, Kaitaia fire, skunk punk, he’d smoked them all, human and inhuman, friend and foe, vegetation and oil, stone and bushwack, shitman and hitman, waste and want not. Never unwrap a dry cabbage leaf hoping to find an onion inside when you gave up crying a very long time ago.
The calming seagreen plumes of silverbeet and parsley rows of tops of carrots and trinity roots sautéed in blood dread smiled and waved at him.
He bent his head in a slight bow, fist in palm salute. Keep your friends close and their skeletons in the closet. He turned on the nearby tap and the coiled green mamba of the hose hissed and spat at him as he struggled to hold its envenomated and engorged head away from his face. Fifteen mls of pure venom, like when your own wife finds out that you’ve slept with another man’s wife. Under the pressure of the water, buffalo grass soldiers herded themselves around the garden surrounds, no woman, no cry, no woman no cry.
He turned the mamba’s stolid blackness off like a semi-detached sun and arrowed his way down the well-trodden fern feathered pathway which led past the empty canary aviary. Out of habit, he checked under the canvas canopy of his dead friend’s circular saw. It was still there. The dead bunny body was in the act of crawling towards him, if only with ants, maggots and other axe of kindness. He could still hear the industrial strength thwack of the point 22 soft nose bullet, hammered home by the pneumatic drill of more than 1000 atmospheres as it punctuated the lung-shredded scream of watership down, dilated eyes not used in the testing of cosmetic products or miniature horses harmed in the making of this film. He had left the rabbit there to remind himself that no one was innocent, not even the dead.
Leaving the flagrant curtain flap to fall of its own applause, he went over to the rubbish pit to see if he had snared any armadillos. He felt a quick mantra ray surge of cattleprod intensity when he glimpsed the familiar grey woodrasp tail protruding from the eel weir trapped darkness. Using the now emancipated snake coil to fill the limp wheelbarrow with swirling water, he snatched up the trap and plunged it into the cold arms of its seething hippo depths, listening to the rattle and scroll of cage and metal until they conspired a still silence. Every time he drowned an armadillo, it became a dead rat. The lore of the jumble.
Pulling the sodden dillo by the armour of its tail from the caved cage, he walked past the laden granny smith tree laying on its side, imploring arms held out to be lifted up. Alongside, the singing crush of luscious red-lipped guava tree stretched its amulets, with its oscillating aluminium foil optic ribbon scarecrow strips twisting and turning in the sunlight. Amongst the cluster nests of berry succulence and loquat leaves, he could smell their crushed sweet essence trampled between the bare toes of orchids and yellow South African South Auckland praying mantis fragility. It had been their favourite place when no one else was at home.
He ducked under the cudgel gnarl of the ancient Christmas plum tree beside the termited abandoned hen run, now loudly empty of cackle and crow. The straw and wire-netting caught many memories of yellow double-yolked eggs and broken-necked hens running around with missing heads. Birds of a feather, long since flown the coop. The bamboo swished and wisped comfortingly over the roots and shoots of the recently overturned earth as he bola whirled the armadillo over the green thatch onto the tin roof of the loudmouthed bungalow next door, rats deserting a shrinking slip. Loose lips sink ships; they’d certainly sunk his.
Back inside the house, he grabbed an elephant beer from the fridge and sat down at the table to drink. His hands shook at the thought of the moist oblong of turned earth by the bamboo. He missed his wife’s steadying influence. Her cat Cheetah, fiercely loyal to her, lay under the betrayed sods and soil, road kill, collateral damage.
takahē 84 sliver rightThe night his wife had died, an electromagnetic storm had blown up from out of the chaos of nowhere. Rays of exploding gamma stars had generated a hurt locker lightning strike on the power-instilled transformer outside their house, spot welding a myriad clusterbomb of burning sparks onto the berm and spread eagled lawn in front of the house, plunging the neighbourhood into a darkness it had never recovered from. The bedroom blinds had clattered and exhaled in running commentary, as birds kept flying into the closed windows with the klumpf of returning skyrockets and disturbed spirit ions coming back home to roost.
He looked out through the now unfished nets, a fifth dementia dimension, to the front lawn, knowing that the giraffes had grown again under the blood moon. His wife’s beloved green oil sheen rubber tree obscured his view but he knew they were there, blonde and brown like her, waiting in some archetypical Jungian Freudian sentinel solitude, like planning a suicide. Morning and melancholia.
When he had first discovered the long necks growing between the overgrown cloister of weed and grass he had not been unduly perturbed. Sharpening his Ethiopian ashanti scythe to within an inch of his life, he had spent the day in a smeltering haze cutting the necks off one at a time and leaving them to dry in the vast furnaces of the cremated veldt hinterland.
And when his wife’s body was returned to the house, he saw that the local undertaker had done a fantastical job of embalmment and restoration. He had watched as her purple coffin was tipped on its end to get it through the front door, the undertaker making sure nothing had shifted to disturb the balance within, or those coming to grieve. She had looked beautiful, like a bearer safari winding itself into a glowing red and orange sunset, as if the universe had a now. Despite this, he was unable to grieve, his distended interior feeling as empty as the parched heart of his forsaken Africa. He had lost a wife and a new lover. Something had shifted, if only in his head. In India they built houses of cowdung and burnt it for fuel, a sacred animal’s waste turning into shelter and warmth. It made perfect sense, especially after the dowry of her funeral.
He trekked from the kitchen into the sanctimonious lounge and opened the beaten copper lid of the firewood box on the hearth. The harvested giraffe heads were stacked neatly inside like tinderdry kindlings of flame tree intensity and promise. There was no room for any more giraffes. The garden was full of dead friends’ heads, the rotting rabbit lay guilty under the silent sawhorse, the drowned rat armadillo was lying on the roof of his misfortune. Through the lid he could feel the underlying pulsating of a thousand zulu warrior drums and spears thumping on cowhide shields, the stomp and slap of a Ngāti toa haka.
There was a loud hammering at the front door and he heard his wife crying out his name from the bedroom. He looked at the elephant gun mounted above the fireplace. At least elephants buried their dead and remembered. He pulled the gun down and checked that it was still loaded. His neighbours were at the door, faces pitchforked in fury and methamphetamine-addled slather. He heard the door being kicked in.
“Welcome to Afrika, motherfuckers!” he roared, accompanied by an elephant’s bellow and trumpeting. Who would bury him amongst this electromagnetic madness?
He stalked out the back, and set fire to the flame trees before striding down the sidle of the house to the disgruntled garage, not having been in there since the funeral. Skirting the disapproving brown stain on the floor, he unhooked the covers from a large dark black mass of machinery, a massive Massacrer 1650 cc ride-on mower and mulcher, stolen from the nearby council depot in better times.
He had found his wife lying on the garage floor, the elephant gun cradled in the hollow giraffe mound of her arm, glinting eerily in the splutter of overhead neon stars. The back of her head had been seed broadcast randomly in a mottled lawn of blood, brown flesh and blonde hair in the ever expanding shape of a fallen and accusing giraffe. Instinctively gathering up the shattered orbital pieces of the flesh and bone of her memory, he had tried desperately to put the hexagonal pieces back together again, to stop her betrayed cosmos from collapsing back in on itself.
The motor fired hungrily into life, rattling the windows of the house. He slowly shifted it into gear and the beast of burden thrust its nose forward purposefully, a giant crocodile gliding through the water.
Turning onto the front lawn, he lowered the mastiff’s jaws and aimed for the smouldering middle pile of the lawn, feeling the chomp, grind, crush and mangle of the heavy machinery. First the mower then the mulcher came into play, chewing leather, fat, and bones alike, a weird puppetry of bodily motions. White clufts of hyena droppings rose beneath the blades and engulfed him in the olfactory like dogshit. He could dimly hear the barking of the vacant-eyed jackals. They had nowhere to run either, they had nowhere to hide, he had nowhere to hide.
Tears began to fall Niagara down his porous face and Zambesi river chin. He was finally killing them all, his past, his present, his future, his guilt, churning himself upward to the heavens in a cloud of cosmic ice storms and thunder. His back hurt. He could hear sirens flailing liquid in his ear and wasn’t surprised to see large vultures circling overhead, like the hover of helicopter carrion pigeons.
A movement by the battered front door distracted him for a moment. He watched at a distance from himself but without surprise, as a purple coffin staggered itself purposefully to its feet and floated upright towards him, opening its claustrophobic arms. He had nowhere to run. The giraffes began to scream.