Summer of Love
It was a summer of love.
This meant we put the couch on the roof of the garage and sat on it, drinking beer and eating lentil burgers and vegetarian nachos and salads with seeds in them and watching the street lights take over from the slow-leaving light at nine o’clock at night. It meant noise control notices lined up on the wall by the stove one after the other like awards. It meant I began to run, every time I needed to go to the kitchen. I ran down the long wood-floored hallway instead of walking. I ran loudly and as fast as I could, with a noise like thunder. No one cared.
I was walking one night with a guy whose T-shirt said heat the poor burn out the rich, when we passed some clothing bins. All of a sudden he stopped still, like a cat who has caught a scent. He turned back to the clothing bins, then looked speculatively at my feet. I have particularly nice feet, brown and fine-boned and small. They are my favorite part of myself. He stared at them.
‘What?’ I said.
‘Your jandals,’ he said. ‘You’ll need to take them off if you want to dive.’
‘Dive?’ I said.
‘Bin-dive,’ he said. ‘Dumpster. For clothes and stuff. You’re smaller than me.’
It was a warm night. There was broken glass around the bottom of the clothing bins. He picked me up and carried me over to one and pushed me through the slot like a letter. When I poked my head up out of the flap I could see my yellow jandals, sitting side by side, lonely by the empty road. It was cool in the bin, dark and a little stinky. Something was damp down there. The bin wasn’t very full. One of my bare feet was sunk in a jumper, the other was touching something cool and hard.
I reached down and pulled it up. I passed it to the guy. His face was eager and feral.
‘A footbath!’ he said. And then, in a National Radio accent, ‘The things some people throw away.’
I heard voices.
‘Get down!’ the guy said. He let the metal flap fall closed, and I was in darkness. I crouched down in the bin, trying not to touch the damp walls. I held my breath; your breath is always held in these situations. I wasn’t sure what felt wrong about bin-diving. It may have been its illegality, but I didn’t really care about that. It was probably more the small shame of it, I thought, in the dark. The slight unsavouryness of other people’s things.
I heard the guy’s voice rise, in panic or laughter, I couldn’t tell, through the cold metal.
The flap opened.
‘It’s all right!’ he said. ‘I know these cats from down south. They’re into it.’
‘Hello,’ I said out of the flap into the night, where two more guys and one girl stood peering in at me.
‘Hello,’ one of them said. He put his hand through the flap to shake my hand.
‘Hey!’ the girl said, low and mellow. ‘I think I met you at that solstice party in Nelson.’
‘Awesome,’ said the guy who’d shaken my hand. ‘I’m so up for this. I’m gonna get me a T-shirt.’
‘He’s been wearing that one for days,’ said the other guy, the slim one. He was dark, with a gentle voice.
They were all right.
The guy who’d shaken my hand jumped into the next bin over. I felt the thud of his landing.
‘Someone hold it open!’ His voice was muffled. I started pulling clothes up and out of the bin, passing them out through the flap. It was harder than you would think. They piled up against the bottom of the bin as the others sorted through them.
‘Hey! This is just your size!’ The girl with the mellow voice said, holding up a sparkly green top. She was wearing cut-off jeans and had a ring through her nose. I remembered her from the solstice drumming circle; she had danced wildly that night, stamping in her sandals with her hands in the air.
‘Where are you guys staying?’ I asked. Our house was an open house. People stayed there all the time.
The other diver climbed out of the bin, and then we heard the cars pull up.
They were men with flashlights. They trained them on us and we froze in the beams of light. I peered through the flap, and one of them saw me.
‘Get out of there!’ he said. I made a noise like stepped-on cat. I heard it. It was a sound like all the air went out of me at once.
He put his big hand through the flap and grabbed my wrist. All I could see was the light in my eyes.
‘OK! OK!’ I said. It took me a while to climb out. I landed in a pile of clothes awkwardly, banging my ankle on the footbath. The mellow girl was standing in front of a cop with the posture of someone chewing gum.
‘We weren’t, like, doing anything,’ she was saying.
There were three of them, two cars. They were all big, all of them, they looked like they were over-fed on beef and lamb. They had batons, and that gave me a small thrill. Actual weapons. The one who had grabbed me had a kind face. He looked at me in a worried way, with something like concern.
‘You know,’ the mellow girl was saying, ‘these places only give like five percent of their profits to the cancer kids anyway.’
Her policeman was staring at her quietly, his hand to his belt like he might have to cuff her any minute.
The guy I had been walking with nudged my jandals over. I stepped into them, looked at my toes.
‘So I was just down here,’ I said to my kind-faced cop. ‘And I was, ahh, donating some clothes –’
‘At ten o-clock at night?’ he said. The kindness went out of his face, then, that look that was something about how he had a daughter my age, or a girlfriend who used to be kind of wild, or something. All the humour went out of his face, like water from a squeezed sponge.
‘I’m very busy during the days,’ I said.
‘Oh, I’m sure you are,’ my officer said.
‘So I was donating, right, and I had just put a jumper in,’ I went on, ‘when I realised one of my socks was all caught up in it. You know how the socks get all tangled up with other things in the wash? Well, I didn’t mean to throw this sock out, and when it went in there my friend said he’d give me a hand, and I could try and find it.’
I looked to my left, where heat the poor burn out the rich was standing, with a look on his face like, please let this all be a dream.
My police officer shook his head like he was personally disappointed in me.
‘That’s stolen property, that is,’ one of the cops was saying to the quiet boy. The boy let a scarf he was holding fall slowly to the ground.
‘So anyway,’ I said to my cop, ‘we weren’t doing anything wrong. My friends here were just trying to help me.’
‘You know, it’s illegal to lie to a police officer,’ my cop said, and he put his hand to his belt.
I could see the quiet boy’s long frame from the corner of my eye. I saw how he took his time replying to the police officer, how the pause he took and the quiet look he gave slowed the officer up, made him wait, lean forwards towards the boy.
‘We’re sorry,’ the boy said simply.
‘Right, then,’ his officer said. He backed away, called to the others. ‘All done? Come on guys, let’s wrap it up.’
‘But she,’ my officer said, looking from me to the other cops and back.
‘Just a warning,’ said the cop with the mellow girl. She smiled at me, a secret little smile that took up only one side of her face.
‘You put those clothes back right now.’
‘We’ll wait here and watch.’
‘Next time we’ll arrest you.’
‘But there won’t be a next time, will there?’
They stood and waited.
We started picking up great piles of clothes and pushing them back into the bins. It was hard, pushing and pulling and lifting. It was like P.E. with the teacher watching. It was like manual labour. Heat the poor let the footbath slide in with a mournful thunk.
They climbed into their cars. My policeman gave me a look over his shoulder as he opened his door. Like someone marking a weed they will come back and pull out later.
They waited until we had started to walk off down the street, with no new clothes but a feeling of something won. I walked beside the slim dark quiet guy.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
It was a summer of love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michalia Arathimos is a writer who lives in Wellington. She was part of the 2006 MA class at the IIML. She has written a book of short stories and one novel. She has a BA in English Literature and is an English teacher when she’s not writing. She also writes poetry.