Janis Freegard

Janis Freegard’s most recent publications are a novel ‘The Year of Falling’ (Mākaro Press) and a poetry collection ‘The Glass Rooster’ (Auckland University Press). Born in the UK, she also spent part of her childhood in South Africa and Australia. She lives in Wellington with an historian and a cat and works in the public service. http://janisfreegard.com

I write stories because I want to know what happens next.

Silas and Luke

1974. First day at the new primary school. She has to sit at the only free desk, which is next to a boy. A dark-haired boy with ears that remind her of Mr Spock. The other kids look round. “Hey Luke, you got a girlfriend.” They ignore each other the whole day.

Two weeks later, she’s in the playground eating a sausage roll. She’s got a bar of chocolate for afterwards. Luke and his friend Silas come and sit next to her. She offers them each a square of chocolate. After that, the three of them spend every lunchtime together. They’re the smart kids. They answer the teacher’s questions.

They meet up after school one day to play go-carts. She doesn’t have one, so Luke lends her his. His Dad helped him build it. She’s going down the hill faster and faster until the speed makes her feel sick. She crashes into a bank at the bottom. Luke runs down the hill as fast as John Walker. “Are you alright? You could’ve got really hurt.”

At the weekend she goes to the pictures with Silas. He’s got this blonde fringe the colour of autumn grass, that almost completely covers his eyes. They see Lost Horizon and Silas laughs at the bit where the young woman suddenly ages. At this point she decides Luke is her boyfriend.

The following weekend, she goes to Luke’s house. They watch a documentary about African elephants and afterwards they go into his bedroom and work on a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of Paris on it. She waits for him to kiss her but he doesn’t.

1979. She’s at the High School Ball, doing the Spanish Hustle with her blind date – the friend of a schoolmate’s brother. It’s an all-girls school and she didn’t know any boys she could ask. She’s wearing the new blue dress Mum bought her and talking about King Lear while the boy rambles on about motorbikes. Last night she tied her hair into dozens of wet, thin plaits and tonight it’s all wavy. She feels pretty in her pale pink lipstick, but wonders if it’s come off on the asparagus rolls.

When her date goes off to get drinks for them both, she catches sight of Silas on the dance floor. First time she’s seen him since primary school. Before her date can get back, Silas grabs her hand. “Come for a walk with me.” He’s still got that fringe, but he’s grown into it. They kiss in the rose garden outside the main office block. A teacher finds them and they have to go back inside. Before he rejoins his date, he says “I’ll call you.” But he never does.

1980. Her first year at University. She goes to see the Screaming Meemees at Orientation. Luke’s there in the crowd. He’s studying Law, he tells her. She talks about her Chemistry degree. His ears don’t seem to stick out so much anymore.

She sees him in the quad a week later. They skip their lectures and go to the Varsity café where he buys her an instant coffee. It turns into eight instant coffees. The rest of the day is a write-off.

The café closes. They try to buy beer at the Kiwi, but the bartender won’t believe they’re twenty so they have to leave. Luke knows of a party. They walk there, an hour in the rain. Come midnight, they’re still talking.

She pulls a packet of NoDoz out of her embossed leather handbag. They stay up all night and all of the next day. Wandering the streets and parks. Eating Moro bars and playing space invaders. In the evening, Luke takes her to his flat, where finally they fall into bed. Fully clothed. He strokes her cheek. “You’re beautiful, you know.” They can’t keep their eyes open.

The next morning they wake at five and find their way to each other. It’s her first time. She’s glad it’s Luke.

It happens again, a week or so later, but this time it feels different. Awkward, but she doesn’t know why.

1981. She’s at a meeting to organise the next anti-tour protest. Silas is there with a woman from one of her lectures. Her jealousy surprises her. He’s got a mohawk and he’s wearing tartan trousers. The three of them go to watch the Freudian Slips after the march – an edgy, women’s band. She drinks a lot of beer and tells Silas she loves him, while his girlfriend’s up dancing. Then she’s sick on his Docs.

He comes round to her flat a few nights later, tapping on the window to wake her. She doesn’t even remember telling him her address. He lights a joint and she takes it from him. She sits up in bed with the sheet tucked under her arms, just under her breasts. He reaches out to touch one.

He’s like a rabbit. They have sex six times (she always counts), the most she’s ever had in one night.

“Do you ever see Luke,” she asks him, afterwards.

He laughs. “Come round to my flat for tea tomorrow night.”

“What about your girlfriend?”

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

He’s gone before she wakes up in the morning and that makes her sad.

In the evening, she goes to Silas’ flat for dinner and there’s Luke, stirring the spaghetti bolognaise. She doesn’t know what to say, so she says nothing. She enjoys watching them together, though, the easy way they interact. A double act, a two-man show. She knows she changes things by being there.

Silas heats up a couple of knives on the gas stove and breaks the bottom off a milk bottle. He unwraps the hash from its tin foil packaging. It looks like a little Oxo cube. They watch the Goodies on an old black-and-white TV. She knows her laughter’s disproportionately loud for how funny it is.

Silas says to Luke, “Did you ask her?” and Luke shakes his head, no. She never finds out what it was they wanted, but whatever it was, she would probably have said yes.

1983. Summer Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She and Luke are picking their way through the crowd together. Luke spots him first. “Silas, my main man!” The two men hug and start their animated catch-up.

She waits at the edge of the conversation. “Play’s about to start.”

They look at her, surprised. They’d forgotten she was there.

Six months later she’s driving them to the airport in her cherry red Mini. “Barcelona, here we come,” yells Silas in the airport carpark. Luke hauls the packs out of the boot.

She stands at the observation deck window, waving at the plane while tears dribble down her face. They should have invited her too.

1987. Her first chemistry conference, at Otago University. Her job at the lab’s going well; she’s started saving for a house.

It’s lunchtime. She heads down to the river, to sit under the trees. The mohawk’s long since gone, but she recognises Silas by his corn-coloured hair. He’s not there for the conference; he’s doing his doctorate on chaos theory. That night they meet up at the Empire to see Snapper play. She takes him back to her room at the Leviathan Hotel. Trains rattle them through the night. In the morning they drink the contents of the hotel room fridge. She cancels her ticket and makes a phone call, to stay on an extra day.

In the Octagon, by the Robbie Burns statue, Silas finally mentions the woman he’s “sort of” moved in with, pregnant with their second child.

She flies back home to Luke. She tells him.

1990. She’s living with a man she met through work. He wants to move to Australia but she’s not convinced. She’s just started a new job and besides, she’s not so sure about him. Something’s missing from the relationship – comradeship, maybe.

The phone rings – Luke. Just in town for the weekend. She agrees to meet up with him. She invites her partner to join them but he’s going out drinking with the boys.

Luke takes one look at her as she walks into the restaurant and goes, “Wow!” She thinks fleetingly of her partner as she walks back to Luke’s motel with him, but decides there’s nothing to lose. Luke slips an arm around her waist and she feels eighteen again. “You should marry me,” he tells her and perhaps it’s not a joke. She has to get home before midnight but he wants to see her again. For six months they tell lies to meet each other.

1996. She’s in a bar, on her third lonely chardonnay, when the two of them approach. They’re flatting together, Luke and Silas, just like old times. Bachelors again. All those years, all those relationships under the bridge. “Still together then,” she says. “Like an old married couple.”

“He’s the wife,” they both say, each pointing to the other. Silas has grown a Dali-esque moustache, which looks unusual in blonde, though intriguingly demonic. Luke’s starting to thin on top and thicken round the middle.

There’s something unfinished among the three of them and no-one wants to finish it.

1999. They’re all sitting in Silas’ old Commer van, on their way from Picton to the Gathering. Luke tries to make a joke about being too old for all this. His sideburns are already grey. Silas hands out Es. “Let’s get loved up.”

She takes a break from driving, sits between them in the front seat. She can feel the heat on either side of her. She pushes her thighs together and the warmth spreads upwards. In that moment, she wants them both. Together.

2005. She’s curled in a ball on the rumpled bed. Silas stands at the door, saying,

“Look, I have to go. I can’t do this.”

“What about us?” she asks.

The door closes behind him.

2017. House to themselves. “This is all I’ve ever wanted,” she says. “Just us.” She reaches for Luke in the bed they share, pleased her teenage son is away on a field trip. Luke wraps her in familiar arms, kisses the back of her neck. When she closes her eyes she sees a blonde mohawk, Dali’s moustache.