There are pictures of you before you met me. But I don’t believe them.
There’s a picture that they took of us; our faces shy from the light but the shadows look warm. Our eyes are towards the camera. You are smiling in a straightforward way. My expression is more covert. We look together, we look like something, we look like a stone that has rolled to a stop.
The first time we played Scrabble, it was a bit of a failure.
I don’t think you were putting in the required effort. I think you know this. Your words were short and low scoring. I was ahead but if I remember right we stopped the game before it was over; there was no contest. We got distracted.
It was because of this first game, and your lamentable spelling, that I decided that you were not a language person. I underestimated you.
Our second game did not reach its conclusion either. We played on a Thursday night, at the student radio station, and updated listeners on our progress. Having expected an easy win, I was surprised, challenged and eventually frustrated. I don’t want to talk about it.
Our third game was conducted on my bed. It took several hours. You beat me.
I have the final scores here. M: 293, I: 275.
We did not get distracted that night.
The fourth, and latest game to date, was also conducted on my home turf, the scratchy wool blanket that my mother brought back from Algeria. This game was also unfinished. We weren’t distracted; we were just tired. I lifted the board carefully and placed it on the wooden floor in a corner of my room. I was careful not to look at your letters.
I was winning. It sat there for weeks.
You have a family. This is not unusual. They are not unusual.
You are a good brother and a good son. You can drive a car. Your mother trusts you to drive hers. It is strange for me to think that you came from somewhere, you came from anywhere, from a modern house in Karori with large rooms and low ceilings and a garage that looks like a fire station.
Your mother cooks dinner on a very dark Tuesday night. You ask if you should set the table. You have table mats. I think that this is something we have in common.
I’m taken aback when we say grace. This is not something we have in common. You’d warned me about it beforehand; but I’m still surprised at the intrusion into what is such a standard dinner procedure, the slow warm-up to eating, the time when I wonder if it is polite to wait for other people to start, whether anyone else notices, whether they notice me noticing.
The food is very nice. Your mother is definitely a better cook than mine. She’s cooked chickpeas and quinoa, what I imagine are unusual foods for her. I like that she’s diversifying her repertoire in an attempt to include your new vegan diet. That shows consideration; it shows love, but of a particular kind. A particular kind of obligation.
We talk about medical ethics, we talk about euthanasia. I’m surprised. No one is offended.
Your house is very rectangular. There are wine glasses and wood floors and overhead lights. There are tall windows behind me, and they’re dark, dark.
You started running only weeks before you met me.
It might be difficult to work out where this sudden determination came from. Clues were in the timing, in your unswerving rationality; you had read that exercise was good for depression. So you ran, often.
Often when we first knew each other you would get up while it was still dark and go out. Sometimes, if you were at my house, your best friend would collect you in his car and I wouldn’t see you again. But if we were at your house, you would quietly put on your shoes, and I would fall back asleep. You would appear again at some unknown point in the future, sweating and rubbing your face. It seemed like no time had passed when you came back in; you were breathing hard and so much more awake than me. You would take a shower and your body was so cold but clean and damp and smelled like soap. We fell back asleep in the dark morning before the day had really begun.
You ran in your first race only a couple of months after you started training. Just ten kilometers, but you’re beaming at the finish line, in a photo that your mother took. It was raining gently that day and I offered to buy you vegetables at the market because you would miss it.
A few weeks ago you ran a real half-marathon, twenty-one kilometers from your house in Aro Valley down Owhiro Road, around the bays to the airport and back. It was a Tuesday night, and I can imagine how black it would have been, the black cliffs, the rushing blackness of water and the headlights of cars, sudden, surprising. You said that you wouldn’t run such long distances anymore. You got bored.
Your mother says you have to start running on soft surfaces, or else it will be bad for your joints. I agree.
You think about changing. This is something that is important to you. Now you are writing songs about it; I feature in one of them. I am pleased.
You think about how you have changed, and I withdraw anecdotes from you, from your teenage years. You are still so young to me, still a golden-haired teenage boy.
You tell me about the time that you got drunk with some friends at their parents’ house in Churton Park and ran naked through the streets. The girls were caught by the police, and one of them was so drunk that she hugged an officer. You hid.
You tell me about being caught watching porn when you were thirteen. You make it clear that it was only because you slipped up and forgot to delete the internet history.
You tell me about the time that you had sex at 2am on someone’s front lawn, and at lunchtime at high school in the back seat of a car.
You have lost a lot of weight in the past couple of years. About twenty kilos, you said. It makes you look very different.
You don’t ever seem to get stressed out, I say. Or emotional. You’re not moody. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a bad mood. You’re just always happy.
We’re in your small L-shaped kitchen. It’s late afternoon, your dirty and small-paned windows show the houses on the other side of Aro Valley and they linger cold in the shade; like when you take a nap in the winter daytime, and your bed is so cold, you’re so cold, but you can’t move, you can’t get up because that would be even colder.
I hold you around the waist while you cook.
When I was younger, I used to, you say. I used to get really anxious and worried about stuff; just about nothing. Then we found that that went away when I played music.
I find the copy of your EP in a shoebox under my bed, with my other forgotten CDs. It’s gold, burnt off a home computer, and the track listing is written on it in black marker. There are five songs, two stars, and a tiny heart.
Here are the reasons that I don’t think you existed before I met you.
One, your short and neatly trimmed beard that cuts the edges of your face. It looks like it is holding your cheekbones in.
Two, the notes that I retrieve from my letter box and secret away.
Three. The empty spaces on the walls of your room.
Four, the way you sleep talk, and how your eyes twitch when you are dreaming.
Five. The Sunday afternoon when we caught the train to see my grandmother. You asked my uncle questions about his antique shop and helped with the dishes. We walked along the pavement next to the beach, where the wind has blown away the space where my mother walked with a navy blue pram twenty-two years ago, the beach where I always ran north.