Bonny throws her jacket to the ground takes off running far away far off from the mommy the daddy the gam-gam. Grass sun-drunk warms the soles of her feet makes them tingle makes the skin smile with each footfall. Heat gathers solid around her like a hug. Air is bright glass. She comes to the pond and stops sees the pale green water the light-glint shadows of reeds. Jumps in splashing stamping up to her ankles her shins her knees kicking up spray arcing and falling. Bonny, the daddy calls. Ambling down the slope of the lawn, big slow steady animal ready to hold catch throw whatever she chooses. The daddy wades into the pond and she leans down scoops the water tosses it all over his shirt his jacket his face. Woh, he cries, leaning down himself dipping his fingers splashing a little on her. No, says Bonny. No splash. No no, no it won’t.
On the other side of the pond a dog is barking. Mow mow says Bonny, moving to it with hand out. It comes to her licking her hand waggling its little tail she pets its scrinchy wiry fur. Good doggo, she says. Mow mow. You like Bonny, she says. Good doggo. She fills her hand with water holds it to the dog’s chin and the dog drinks and Bonny squeals. Oooh, she says. Tickle. Shakes her hand. Fills it with water holds it up. Dog laps hand little pink tongue splashes water tickles. Princess, says her father. Do you see the doggie? Bonny laughs. See the doggie yes course!
Hello, says a girl. Tall kid blue shirt. This is my doggy, she says. His name is Jasper. Yaspool, says Bonny. Mow mow. Bonny pets the dog again looks up at the girl blue eyes yellow hair big smile. Bye, says Bonny.
Daddy looks at the girl shrugs like a big gorilla laughs. Bonny runs to the pond edge stands jumps in splash one two three then runs runs across the lawn water feet on the grass to the rose garden stopping there. Lovely rose pink soft like lace like a nice soft shirt just washed. Lovely smell like pink sweet like sugar in the air like rose. Nice little bee sings to the flowers mmm mmm lands on the rose walks round round round does little bee butt dance. Bonny grabs stem pulls closer look closer at the bee ouch drop of blood on tip of finger smearing on the rose Bonny crying. Woh woh says the daddy standing behind her, no crying little star no crying let’s go find mummy.
All the way long long way up the slope across the lawn past playground up with the white horses seesaws and swings past buttercups on grass past big whisper grandad trees. The mommy sits on a blanket gam-gam on a little fold-up chair the ground too much for her hips says gam-gam too much. Run to the mommy run to gam-gam.
What have we here says the mommy oh dear show me show me. Little finger like a twig red dry now all gone nearly. Bonny brings it to her mouth and sucks on it salt sweet sticky now red all gone. Does it need a bandaid. Yeah, says Bonny, kiss better mommy yes please. So the mommy fishes things from her big black bag snack bar bottle water paper purse bandaid. Kiss better now tickle again then peel push wrap around the finger all better all nice. Hugs, says the mommy and wraps little Bonny in her big arms smelling of egg sandwich and coffee leather skin softness.
Gam-gam talks, what does that Jim Walsh think he is doing coming round their home threatening her like that rent will get paid when it’s paid no use complaining about it. Shush little baby says the mommy rocking in her arms. I’ll give that Jim Walsh something to think about that snotty little boy I’ll smack his skinny ass so hard he’ll jump from here to China. Shush shush shush rocking in the softness the leather rocking on the pillow of a sweet mommy’s arms. Rest here long time nice cosy. Shall we go says the daddy and he picks her now out of the cocoon of soft swings her up so high over his head she is flying up up over the world. Bonny squeals and wriggles she swings like a windmill and drops on daddy shoulders up high in this other world sky.
* * *
Walking along Bill Rayner Street, Cynthia talks on about her landlord. Little tight-ass, she says. Three months, was that so long to wait when he knew the Kwik Mart had closed down and she had no job? Was a little leniency too much to ask?
‘Don’t think of it,’ says Jade. ‘We’ll take you in, won’t we hon?’ She looks at Terry who nods, just a little, while the baby wriggles and writhes on his shoulders.
‘I just don’t see why a child like that thinks he has the right,’ says Cynthia.
‘He’s an asshole,’ says Jade. ‘We all know it. But what can we do about it?’
‘Calls himself James now,’ says Cynthia.
They walk on past the Latter Day Saints, past the Fried Chick’n, past the Fire Department.
‘Woo woo,’ sings the baby.
‘Woo woo,’ agrees Terry. ‘Do you see that? Do you see the fire truck?’
‘Jesus Christ,’ says Cynthia.
They stop, watching a train pass, the once-a-day ride into the city.
‘Woop,’ says the baby. Terry lifts the baby and adjusts her, making sure she is tight against his neck.
‘She’s a happy one,’ says Cynthia, smiling now, suddenly forgetting the whole thing. ‘Always looking round, always smiling.’
‘Little star,’ says Terry. ‘That’s what she is. Shining her light.’
‘Who needs money,’ says Jade, and then, thinking better of it: ‘Terry’s got work. We’ll fit you in.’
And Cynthia starts to laugh.
‘On your sofa?’
‘If we have to.’
‘Or on the floor in baby’s room?’
They cross the tracks and walk on, past Leamington Tavern and Sahara Indian, past the Kwik Mart on the corner, boarded up now since Sal Weston shut the door and went on welfare.
Cynthia says, ‘Why’d we come this way?’
Jade says nothing. Terry knows better too. They walk on in silence now, into Burns, past the retirement home and the holiday park. On the corner of Raleigh a dog rushes past, barking.
‘Mow mow,’ says the baby.
‘Mow mow,’ says Jade.
* * *
‘Get up,’ says Uncle James. ‘We’re going on a drive. Get off the couch.’
‘In a minute,’ says Sam. Fuck, killed. ‘One player to go.’
‘Get off the screen,’ says his uncle. ‘Come do some real work.’
‘In a minute,’ says Sam. Jesus. Killed again. Okay, fuck it, done.
He drops the controller, unfurls his long legs, and gets to his feet, swaying a little, still groggy from the night before. Good night, one too many. Got myself home though.
‘Snap to it,’ says Uncle James. Jesus, impatient? Always on my case Uncle James, always on my case.
‘Where are we going?’ Sam asks.
‘Proper work,’ says Uncle James.
Three months Sam has lived with Uncle James, sent here to sort himself out, that’s what his mom said, though how you sort yourself out on a shit farm by a shit town with a shit uncle Sam did not know. Sure, he took those tools—who had money to buy things? He wanted to learn, he wanted to build things, make something of himself. Uncle James did not build things. He sat on his ass watching reruns of Friends and Top Gear while the cash rolled in. Every other sucker worked so Uncle James didn’t have to. Yet it was Uncle James who was angry at the world. Here he is again.
‘No one thinks of the landlords any more,’ he says. ‘Listen to me. It’s a public service what I do. I put a roof over their heads, your head for that matter. And what do I get for it?’
He has one hand on the wheel, a cigarette in the other, and with each sentence he punches the air between them. Sam feels the heat as it passes by his face.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ says James. ‘I’ll tell you what. Here’s what I get. Taxes.’
‘Do you hear me, smartass?’
‘Do you hear me?’
‘Taxes and fucking regulations, that’s what. Insulate this, heat that. It’s theft, that’s what it is. It’s the government stealing from working men like me.’
‘Yes, sir, it’s the government,’ says Sam. His uncle needs his head read.
They pull onto Parallel Road, coasting on past the nurseries and gravel stores, the fertiliser factory.
‘I’m sick of these people,’ says James. ‘Never pay on time, put holes in the wall. I bet the place stinks.’
Sam rolls his eyes.
‘What did you say?’ says Uncle James, stabbing his cigarette in the air. ‘Little prick.’
‘Bigger prick than you, Uncle James—that’s why I’m here, isn’t it?’
Uncle James makes a sound like a tyre going down, shakes his head.
‘I take you in, help you make something of yourself. See what I mean? Nobody’s grateful, nobody gives a fuck.’
‘I didn’t ask for your help,’ says Sam.
‘Fuck you,’ says James.
‘Thanks, Uncle,’ says Sam.
The town itself is a dump. Houses with paint peeling, cars sitting on blocks on yellowing lawns, no hedges, no flowers, no pride. On Lamb Street they’re overtaken by some boys in a souped-up old Fairlane, air-horning through the chicanes.
‘Fuck them and their little dicks,’ says Uncle James.
They turn onto Burn Street, coasting past more old houses, boarded-up shops. No videos anymore, no post office, not even a Kwik Mart. What do you do around here but sell drugs and steal other people’s welfare money? Three more minutes, then onto Raleigh, past the doctor, past the Christian Centre. That’s what you do: stay poor and give your misery to God.
‘No thanks,’ says Sam. His uncle looks at him funny, and he kicks himself for speaking out loud.
‘Son, did you know you’re insane?’ says Uncle James.
He stops the truck, suddenly reverses into a driveway, taking out the letterbox.
‘Fuck,’ says Uncle James.
He climbs out, focused now, pulling keys from his pocket, sorting them. They’re at a little bungalow, painted black and white. One of those low-to-the-ground, low-roof kinda of places. The door swings open and Sam follows his uncle inside. It’s tiny: small rooms, low soft-board ceilings. Little table, little sofa, little cabinet with glass ornaments and crockery. Just the place for a tiny life.
‘Well,’ says Uncle James. ‘Get to it.’
Sam looks at his uncle.
‘Lift,’ says his uncle. ‘Carry. Clean it out.’
Sam laughs, and his uncle looks like he’s going to explode.
‘Christ,’ says Sam. ‘You’re serious.’
* * *
Cynthia is yelling and screaming, Jade too. They’re running and screaming towards the truck, towards the man carrying furniture out of Cynthia’s house. I hold Bonny tighter and quicken my stride, trying to keep up, trying to catch them before it’s too late. The front door is open and there are men coming out, carrying Cynthia’s dining table, the one she and Harry got right after their wedding. I reach for my phone but it’s not in my pocket—I left it at home. Shit. I should go into a house, call the police, report a burglary in progress, but it’s too late, Cynthia is there, yelling, ‘Stop right there Little Jimmy Walsh. You put that back!’ The man is carrying the table from Cynthia’s front room. It’s old, scratched mahogany, not beautiful, but hers. This Jimmy Walsh keeps moving towards the truck. ‘You had three months,’ he says. Cynthia pushes at him, grabs a leg of the table. Walsh wrenches it from her, throws it in the truck. It slides along the metal deck, clattering. Walsh turns and walks back towards the house where another man is waiting, standing on the porch—a boy, sixteen, seventeen maybe. ‘What are you waiting for,’ says Jimmy Walsh. ‘Give me a fucking hand.’ The boy shrugs. ‘You’re on your own with this one, Uncle James,’ he says. ‘I’m calling Mom, I’m going home.’ He walks down from the porch, stopping in front of Cynthia. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he says.
As he leaves, Walsh appears again through the front door, carrying a small sofa over his shoulders. Cynthia rushes to him and grabs it and he swings it at her and pushes her off. She staggers back and Jade rushes up to help, catching her. They’re both grabbing at the sofa, trying to pull it from his grip. This Walsh is wiry but strong, he swings it again, pushes both of them off. I put Bonny down and ask her to wait. Walsh throws the sofa into his truck.
‘Three months,’ he says. ‘Nine hundred dollars—you think I’m made of money?’
‘I think you fucking are,’ says Jade.
Walsh is running now, inside and out again with a chair in each arm. Jade is in the truck, pulling the sofa out, lowering it onto the lawn. Then she goes for the table.
Cynthia rushes for Walsh and he takes a swing at her, knocking her away. Then he keeps turning, swinging, not looking what he is doing. As he turns, his leg knocks into Bonny, sending her toppling onto the lawn. She’s down and then up again in a second, not hurt but shaken. Her bottom lip sticks out and she starts to whimper, then stops—she can’t catch her breath.
In a second I’m on him, on Walsh. He’s swinging at me with the chairs, but I grab him under the arms and pick him up and throw him—I really throw him. Everything is slow. He seems to hang in the air, looking around, seeing the ground beneath him, wondering what the fuck, then he crashes, one chair on top of him and one underneath, all smashed up. Shit, what did I do?
I turn to Bonny, wanting to go to her, hold her, check she is okay—but she’s standing there looking at me, smiling the biggest smile I ever saw. As I move towards her she claps her hands together, once, twice, and giggles, then claps again once, twice. Wooo, she says. Dada, wooo. ‘I’ll get you for this,’ says Jimmy Walsh. Jade picks up the table and carries it inside.
* * *
Bonny hug the daddy walk along. Houses pink white blue grass green some flowers some no flowers some trees birds singing car go past. Hug daddy walk faster jump bounce walk fast jump fun. Mommy yell gam-gam yell too. Big truck at gam-gam house white with big wheel door open man there. Gam-gam yell bee fly past. Bee say zzzp zzzp bee small with big mind two bees three all see same big eye. Hug daddy. Daddy shirt feel soft smell nice. What you say, says mommy. Yeezil Krice what you do. Mommy grab man grab his arm sleeve grab big table. Man swing table swing swing weeee momma grab smack. Bee say this way petal this way all big air sky big mind.
Down now on ground daddy say stay here Bonny stay little star. Bonny good look at grass look at flower hold petal where bee is. Come on bee come on? Woh look now look man swing swing swing his arms swing big chair man funny. Bonny swing too swing round round round round swing swing big storm big wind lots fun. Man come close with big shoe knock Bonny. Bonny fall get up get up fast all good man funny. Daddy jump now jump high run to man push him saying no no. Man push daddy. Bonny say no push Bonny say be little star Bonny fly fly. Daddy pick up big man throw him throw him fly through air make him land on ground ouch. Bonny fly up up little star fly up into big light fly up with bird look down at daddy look down at man at mommy at gam-gam down there at house truck bird bee all down there. Bonny fly Bonny shine big light. Big light grow bright gold like bee mind.
Big light shine all shine Bonny float in sky super happy super good say Bonny. Good good good good daddy good mommy good gam-gam good man squash flat good chair on man’s head good Bonny. Bonny back now feet on ground clap daddy clap say woo woo daddy clap clap all good. Stay now Bonny stay safe calm big bubble light. Bee fly around say mmm mmm. Happy bird fly around singing song. Light glint on bird’s neck it sings song all time. World all little star, world all here, world all here. Mommy good daddy good gam-gam good safe. Man on ground get up man get up go now man get truck go go. Bonny good bonny little star Bonny shine and clap say Yeezil Krice.
Bernard Steeds has published one collection of short stories, Water (Penguin Books). He has won several awards for his short fiction and journalism, and his work has featured in several anthologies including The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories. He lives in New Zealand.