This scene takes place at a central city bar where Apa, our main character, and her partner Jeff attend a costume party. The theme of the party is NZ icons and Apa is dressed as Guide Rangi.
The bar was in the middle of town. It was a hotspot in the weekends but was usedalmost exclusively by uni students during the week. Or at least that’s how Jeff described it, and though it was a Tuesday night, the place was packed with people bumping into each other and shuffling between tables, trying to locate friends. It was the standard self-congratulatory crowd that she’d met at other functions, all talking at pitches higher and louder than necessary, with their hands clasped around brightly coloured drinks or long necked bottles of beer.
Apa spent most of the night outside in the garden bar with the smokers. Jeff was dressed as Rob Muldoon, complete with fat suit and cigar, all of which made him seem imposing, huge. He only came outside to strut around breathing smoke out of his nostrils like a dragon. Our girl watched him flirt with a short, solid Katherine Mansfield, whose arms flapped about as she giggled. Jeff beckoned her over to chat with them about the weather, and rugby, and where they were from, and Apa tried to answer the questions politely. ‘From Wellington, originally, but I live here now. With this egg.’ She gestured at Jeff and watched the girl’s face.
Katherine Mansfield smoked fast and frantic compared to the languid drags that Muldoon faked. She pulled her elbows into her waist and held the cigarette up in the air like an antenna. ‘Cool costume.’ She was looking at Apa, pointing at her chin. ‘Is that real?’ It had taken Apa a good hour to draw that fucking thing on, copying from a book in front of the bathroom mirror.
‘Nah, felt pen.’
‘Will it come off?’ Katherine Mansfield said.
The squat little KM screwed up her nose. ‘Don’t know why anyone would ever tattoo their face. Seems crazy.’
‘It’s cultural. It has meaning.’
‘Yeah, but only in the old days. Not now. No one would do that now.’
‘I quite like it,’ Muldoon was slurring, and his cigar had gone out.
‘It has just as much meaning now as it did in the past.’ Apa had no idea why she was defending it. Fucksake. What did she care what this frumpy little short story writer thought?
Muldoon leaned over, ‘I love me a bit of native skirt, heh heh,.’ God. ‘My forefathers were lured here by this very maiden, sent to them on porny postcards.’
‘I think you might want to slow down on the liquids, Mr Prime Minister, you know – another Scnapps election and all.’ It was either laugh or start an all-out brawl. Guide Rangi vs Muldoon vs Katherine Mansfield. Worth paying to see probably but not appropriate. It looked like KM was gearing up to say more stupid things and ask more fucked questions so Apa exaggerated her alcohol intake and convinced Jeff to escort her to the loos, that way he could see what a moko looked like when it got sick.
‘Are you really sick, or did you just want to get away from what’s-her-name?’ Muldoon asked her once they were inside.
‘Yes,’ Apa smiled at him. ‘The latter. If you’re desperate you can go back but I’m staying in here.’
‘I thought she was a bit of alright,’ he was leering at Apa, teasing her and flirting. ‘But it would never have worked out cos I’m not much of a literature man.’
‘Oh what? You’re old school then?’
‘All cro-magnon here luv,’ he rubbed his oversized paunch a few times, and then put his hands around her waist. ‘What do you reckon about a dance with a middle aged, fat man, who thinks you’re hot?’ He ran his hands under the clacking piupiu that she’d hired from the Arts Centre.
They spent the next hour in their own world, wiggling on the dance floor and laughing at each other’s lack of moves. By the time they went back out to the garden bar in search of more drink, Katherine Mansfield was long gone and the crowd had thinned.
Muldoon relit his half smoked cigar and leant in to kiss her. Guide Rangi laughed, pulling away, teasing that he would smudge a lady’s moko, and then lurched back for more.
They stayed outside with her face and hands warm against his lips and breath until Guide pulled him through the bar and into the disabled toilet. The fluorescent light made him seem even whiter and fatter, his suit hanging off him like a carcass. He kissed her again and underneath her clothes her body was so softened by alcohol that she felt like they were sinking – he being swallowed up as he pushed into her, and her entire body melting around him.
He reached his hands up to the wall behind her to brace himself, and she lifted her leg onto the toilet seat. Her voice was soft like her body and it slowed him down to a pace he wasn’t used to. It was exquisite and he couldn’t hold on; his release not the strong grunt he usually had but more like an ongoing ache or sigh that held him out of time. As he collapsed, Guide pulled him into her, forcing him to keep going until she was finished – her rapt breath escaping in a hiss in his ear and her body shaking, each tiny piece of flesh discarding him in pleasure. After a long pause she opened her eyes and smiled at him. He pulled on his clothes and asked her if she needed anything. She peed, wiped her teke, and massaged her aching leg as she stood to wash her hands.
In front of the small mirror, in her dishevelled reflection, she saw Muldoon adjusting his suit, and an older woman,
kind of ruined,
with a smudged green moko fading on her chin.