From Maddy’s journal
6 July 2071
It seized me, in such a soft way last night, as I rubbed my cheeks into my smelly-pillow. The tastes Dad and I once shared snuck and twirled around the back of my throat. Wild thyme, pepper and flesh, as I licked the insides of my cheeks.
I look out to the south coast now from my kitchen window high above. The gusts settle me – nothing but a soft whoosh. This city is always the same; still perfect for hunkering. But the sea no longer shines by tiny stretches of sand; those homes below the barricades now long past retreat. The beach where we released Dad twenty years ago is part of the moana. All those things we loved – we’ve had to let go of.
I’m turning sixty-five soon, I keep saying. I keep saying that back in his day I would have been eligible for the pension – dreamy. Would he believe that I live in a state house now with dear Abby, and one other? That we are all members of a union which supports the distribution of kai for communal vitality?
It should come as no surprise that Dad had a thing for burgers. He called it perfection when he clamped his hands on the edges of the bun. It was probably the only dish he carnally craved.
I recall images of just us two: me with gloves on, getting into that musky car, strapping in, his Robbie Williams singalongs, my choice of table in that noisy restaurant. I recall so well those annual burger tours, during the first pandemic. Everyone in there all dressed up, some even tucked into their best shoes – to eat burgers. Others still eating it with a knife and fork; such was the confusion of those times. I remember how every bite conjured the feeling of a limitless world, that feast of life: delightful toms, unctuous cheese, slabs of whatever flesh you wanted.
We were at abundance precipice, but Dad didn’t want to know. I remember him leaning back after hoofing down a burger in four bites, looking so satisfied, squinted eyes, garbled sighs, scrunching a napkin in his fists before taking in a big breath. The thrill of a single-note. Sated, fleeting, filled up – with something.
He would walk out with salty fingers and grease over his chin; the postcard in the collapses of my mind. I see so clearly now, the hidden presences, the absences and the gaps. That his life was an exception earnt, forever coddled by that binary logic.
Could I bring myself to make one of those nostalgic burgers tonight? Only those with gilded lives eat like that these days. I’d be hard pressed to find fresh bovine flesh this late. It takes three days to burn a forest, and five hundred years to bring it back. Could I still savour it?
I rip the masala sachet into my warm porridge and fold it through gently with a small wooden spoon. I wash the porridge down with a hot slurp of jamu – steeped turmeric, tarata, ginger and kawakawa, finished with a twirl of mānuka honey and a press of garden lime; indulgences we plant ourselves. Its steam pricks open my nostrils. I am warm again. I can’t remember the morning before this point.
Planning a meal is the prelude to the joy of sharing one. Our fortnightly delivery of fresh mussels is due today. For a while the plastics meant we didn’t have them. But these ones are abundant and safe. Dad was ambivalent about mussels, so I missed out as a kid. I’ll turn them into patties tonight; bound with xanthan.
The younger ones who flat above us made a stunning batch of fry bread earlier today. Mia sent it down the shaft as soon as it was ready. All piping and pillowy. It’s a recipe from her kuia. Mia and Nico still come down often to kōrero about the books we’ve swapped; I like it when we disagree, it brings us closer, it keeps me unbounded. We take turns calling each other parochial; we are whānau. I’ll slice through the fry bread and use it as burger buns.
We’ve become good at using what we have. I wrangled sea lettuce and karengo from the market last weekend. The person who sells it has a tenderness behind their prickly exterior that reminds me of Nan, and of seaweed itself. Nan could never conceive of seaweed as food.
In the late afternoon I’ll take Schweebie out for a walk. I’ll pick some kokihi and whatever else I might find; we all have foragers’ eyes now. The jar of pickled kamo-kamo beside the fridge has been swooning away since summer’s past. It’s tangy and sweet as can be. I must not forget to grind some green peppercorns for garnish, that wispy ma – never gets old.
I lick my lips now, seeing it all coming together. I think of Dad, and my own journey. How we were like frogs living under a coconut shell; so limited by the certainty of what we knew, scooping every last bit of flesh out of the sky, only to burrow into earth and the darkness of that little husk world of mine.
Soon, under that shell, I noticed that there were vibrations coming from beyond our night sky. It became so apparent that I had to reach out. And when I did, I realised that there was a lid over me. It was not easy lifting, but I eventually did, and I found myself in a magic world – beyond boundaries, bright and vital.
I still have a taste for burgers, but we are different from then – never just finished, only ever becoming.