Getting in had been hard. The window we used was real small. But it was the only one round back, out of sight. The only one with louvers we could remove.
Krystal wanted to break them. That’s just like her. She never thinks things through—like what the noise and broken glass would mean.
They were jammed real tight so Chantelle worked them loose. She’s the tallest of us three, so it was easier for her to reach.
It was afternoon, so we could see what we were doing at least, and the noise wasn’t all amplified like it would’ve been at night. Like it was that time Jimmy had me be look-out while he got in a window. I’d been jumpy as fleas that time. Reckoned going inside would’ve been easier. Jimmy’s not his real name by the way. That’s Keith. I only know that because his little sister told me. He wanted to throttle her for it. To everyone else he’s Jimmy Window.
Anyway, I knew Jimmy kept a little spray can of something in his kit to make this sort of thing easier. Kind of made me wish I’d paid more attention to all his big bragging talk.
This street was pretty quiet, but there was still a bit of traffic, kids heading home from school too, shouting and stuff, which was good. Normal. Nothing to see here.
Krystal had wanted to wait till after dark. Said it’d be safer that way. But I didn’t think so and nor did Chelle. Good way to attract attention. Torches and talking when there shouldn’t be any.
We all knew if anyone caught us here we’d stick out bad as a pukeko at a morepork party.
The places round here were big. Not the houses so much, but the sections. No nosy neighbours overlooking the place. The nearest one was set back, through a big hedge. This place has lots of different garden beds, some with flowers, others with stuff growing up poles and things. My gran used to garden.
I’d never done it before. Not like this. Spite of what I might’ve said. Only that time with Jimmy. And that didn’t really count ‘cos I hadn’t actually gone in. Chelle neither. My belly was already buzzing like a bag full of flies.
Krystal was making out like she did it all the time though.
“Yeah, my girls,” she’d said when she called. “It’ll be sweet. I’ve done it heaps.”
Heaps. Three was what I reckoned. Four max. Her first time with Jimmy, and all that cheeky bugger gave her was a can of Coke. A few other times after that with her mad older sister and her mates.
They’d been quick in-and-out grab jobs. Krystal got the phone and some cash from that last one. Used it to buy a bottle of vodka that we shared on the swings in the park the next night. She’d ended up in the bushes puking. That girl never could keep it down. It got in her hair and everything.
“Bitches,” she told us. “Don’t you know you’re meant to hold my hair out of the way. That’s what real friends do in the movies.” We both just laughed and made her go rinse it out down in the river.
This was gonna be something different though. Sure we’d nick stuff if there was anything worth having. But it was mostly about having somewhere to crash without worrying who was around.
Krystal’s old man was on one of his benders so she wanted time out till he cooled down.
Me and Chelle too. We’d been crashing at Chelle’s cousin Jordan’s place a few weeks now, but then some of his creepy drug mates showed up one evening. It had been a real nice vibe until then, but it got heavy real quick. We’d ducked out back to the porch where the mattress we were sharing was. But then one of them decided us two were part of him helping himself to whatever he liked.
Chelle broke a bottle over that creep’s dumb skull before we got away.
We’d been sleeping under the bridge near the rail track ever since and that sucked. I was so sore and could never get warm enough or get to sleep properly, always freaking about who might be creeping round.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
Anyway, Krystal had spotted this place on her way to the dairy yesterday morning to get her old man his fags. An old couple she said, the car parked out in the driveway while they loaded up. Lots of big bags, which meant they’d be gone a while. Not just a night.
So that’s how we’re here.
We made Krystal climb in. Chelle and I wouldn’t have fit. Don’t know how Krys stays so skinny given how much she’s always stuffing her face.
Maybe we should’ve let her break those louvers after all—might’ve taught her something about action and consequence.
We boosted her up, giggling so hard as we pushed and shoved, Krystal cursing, her filthy words bottled up in the room by her butt. Chelle squeaked that she’d pissed herself. Then suddenly Krystal slithered forward with a screech, too fast for us to grab her ankles.
She fell with a big sloppy smack. Then tonnes more cursing. Mostly about us, but also her wrist, her face, whatever. Nothing worse than one of her Friday nights. Chelle and I looked at each other, eyes wide and hands clamped over our mouths, just in case she really had hurt herself bad.
Eventually she struggled up.
We met her at the back door. She was nursing her wrist, her mouth still full of compliments for us.
No deadlocks or alarm though, which was lucky. We’d checked, but you could never be totally sure until you were in. Another of Jimmy’s insights.
The curtains were all closed so inside was pretty dark, even though it was still sunny outside. We didn’t want them open, but Krystal yanked one back before we could stop her. Jeez. That girl. It made a snapping sound. Then we found the fancy cord thing at the side. Oops.
Finding the light switches was a bit of a game. The torch on Krystal’s phone was broken, but mine still worked.
Next we checked through the place, trying to figure out what sort of toy we’d scored.
The bathroom first, going through all the cupboards in case there was anything good there while Krystal took a piss. It was pretty useless. Just first aid stuff and other shit we’d never heard of. Herbs or something for headaches the box said. Jeez.
While she was still pulling up her jeans Krystal went and turned the shower on full.
“What? I like the sound. Helps me sleep.”
“Thought you wanted something to keep you awake.”
“Yeah. So what? I like it.”
She pushed in between Chelle and me and began rifling, knocking stuff out of the cupboard. “Anything I can smoke?”
A brown bottle smashed into the basin, splattering dark orange liquid.
“Fuck, Krys. Watch it. That nearly went all over me,” Chelle complained.
Krystal ignored her. “Shit. Totally useless,” was her verdict.
“Maybe being old they took all their pills with them, eh?” I said. “Like my gran used to. Stop her keeling over while she was away.”
“Shit, Jayde. Are you some kind of genius?”
“Yeah. Some kind.”
I remembered gran’s stash. I’d been too young then to be much interested, but I knew my brothers sometimes nicked her stuff. Seemed like she had something for every occasion. A real lolly jar; stuff for her heart, for her blood, for her head. Stuff if she was going out, or staying in. Doing a crossword or making a cup of tea.
Mostly it was just stuff for dealing with her four shitty grandkids that she’d never asked for and couldn’t really handle. Gran had got the raw end. Maybe when she was younger. But not at her age. And not how bent we all were after mum’s kind of care.
Don’t get me wrong. We all loved gran to bits. But that was the problem.
Even before she got landed with us lot she’d had a bit of a scare with one of those things. What did you call them? Not heart attacks. The other ones that happened in your head, turn you into the sort of dribbling idiot who couldn’t remember the names of your own family.
My uncle Joel had one of them when he was only thirty-six.
Stroke. That was it.
Joel can’t talk much anymore. Can’t really walk or feed himself. Tracy, his wife, has to help with all that. Including whenever he needs to go. Imagine. A grown man needing his bum wiped. Gross. She must really hate him. I kind of pity that poor bitch. She stuck with him through all the thumpings—all the shiners, broken bones and other can’t-leave-the-house signs. The kids too.
All the same lame excuses. He’s got a heart of gold, apparently, under it all.
Yeah right. It was just when he drank. Just because of his dad. Just because of the way it had rained that day, or because his horse hadn’t come in.
I’m guessing he doesn’t hit them anymore. Or if he does, maybe they hit back. Taste of his own medicine, gran would call it. Maybe Trace really lets him have it now. Whenever he dribbles, or can’t sit up, or doesn’t do exactly what he’s told, when he’s told.
You couldn’t blame her if she did.
But what a situation. Getting lumbered with that—like a kid that’ll never grow up and move out. To be honest we all used to be a bit scared of Uncle Joel before it happened, but he mostly just took it out on Trace.
Real family man that way.
Think if I was her I’d be poisoning his tea, taking a few swipes at him too, just to watch the big dumb confusion on his idiot face.
I realised I was still stood in the bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror, a real wicked smile creeping up on my face.
The other two were in the main bedroom now so I joined them, sat on the edge of one of the beds and watched while they tipped out the drawers and went through the wardrobe. It was a lot lighter in here, the curtains pale so the sun came through all creamy yellow.
This must be where they slept but it was odd right, because instead of a double bed there were just two small narrow ones, like they were still little kids.
I sat on the edge of one and bounced before throwing myself backwards. It was real hard, hardly any give at all. I tried the other one. It was the total opposite, which was okay. I like them spongy.
Krystal was pulling clothes off hangers, throwing stuff everywhere, complaining about how useless and ugly it all was. She’s a bit of a pig like that. I like things tidier. Just because it wasn’t our place didn’t mean we had to turn it into a total tip.
She found a pair of black tights and a shirt with wide colourful stripes and put them both on. The shirt was big and floaty, all girly. Next she put on every necklace she could find, then a big dark blue man’s jacket.
None of the shoes were her sort of thing—clunky brown leather lace-ups and not a sneaker in sight. But then Chelle pulled a pair of red ankle boots from out the back of the closet. Not heels or anything. But real bright, with the leather sort of slumped into folds. Krystal snatched them and threw them on. She shook her hair out and began dancing around even though there was no music.
Krystal’s convinced she’s someone she’s not. Like totally convinced. It’s a good trick. I bet it saves her a whole load of pain. I wish I could do it. I’ve tried. But I can’t. I just can’t.
Suddenly she’s darting out of the room.
“Need something to drink.”
I tried to get in the spirit of it. Picked a jacket up off the floor. It was big and black and smelled kind of musty—like stale armpits and old aftershave.
Clothes on me aren’t like they are on Krys.
I let it drop. Chelle grabbed it instead. She only ever wears black.
I did my puffer up, only just realising how cold it had got in here.
We moved on, checking all over for cash or valuables. Anything Jimmy might give us something for, or things we’d like to keep.
The last two rooms were smaller and darker, dusty but still neat and organised.
Krystal had found a cupboard full of booze in the lounge by then and had brought us each a bottle to swig. She’d got the vodka but I’d somehow ended up with rum, which I hated. The first swig burned, but it got better after that.
Sometimes I think I shouldn’t bother. I don’t really like it and usually end up feeling sick. But the other two wouldn’t let up if I didn’t, and it was helping me relax and not care so much about getting caught.
We emptied drawers, looked underneath them, behind them. Checked inside all the footwear. In between the layers of towels and sheets. Why did they need so many towels? Like they were running a care home or something.
Krystal knew all the places people hid stuff because she was always hanging off Jimmy’s every word like he was sharing state secrets. He’s such a jerk to her but I don’t think she can tell when he’s being mean.
She even wanted to bring him along on this, but Chelle and I both said no. Us three have been real thick the last few years, but I think boys will be what ends up ruining it. Even Chelle who always seems so chill, going and making a fool of herself over her drop kick ex Zach, even though he’s started poking her younger cousin.
Anyway, there didn’t seem to be anything, which was a bit surprising. I mean the house didn’t exactly look poor. Maybe the other two were finding stuff but not letting on. We were kind of keeping an eye on each other, but also damned good at stashing stuff real quick given half a chance.
Maybe the owners were careful. Jimmy says some of them take it with them, or keep it in banks. Security deposit boxes. Shit like that. I used to think that stuff only happened in movies; for big celebrities, James Bond and multi-millionaire rappers. Not some crumby old couple living in this shit-hole town.
We looked in the last room. There was a bed in there, but it was covered in stuff; boxes, piles of paper and shopping bags. It didn’t look like it ever got slept in.
There was a computer in there too, but not one you could nick. It was huge and white, like something used for the moon landing. Krystal gave it a kick and it toppled over, the screen cracking and wires snapping out.
“Jesus Christ, Krys!” I felt gran slap my face for that one. “You wanna start a fire?”
Back in the lounge Krsytal was trying to get the stereo going. Trying and failing. Chelle took over and found our favourite station, though the reception was pretty crap. I’ve always thought Chelle might be the one of us to get out. But she’d have to stop hanging out with losers like us first.
The lounge was big. It had pale yellow wallpaper and pale blue carpets, lace mats and fussy ornaments. A bit like my gran used to have.
Krys kept turning the music up, Chelle and I turning it down in case any neighbours heard.
Krystal was well on her way, getting all soft and soppy, dragging us up to dance and saying sweet things like she usually did.
Next she was throwing her arms round me and Chelle, and shout-singing “We’re the fucking dream girls!” over and over.
“Well, if this is the dream, I’d hate to see the nightmare version,” I wanted to say, but luckily didn’t. You never knew with Krys. She could turn on you real fast. Her nights often ended with a fight. A lot like my mum that way.
She and Chelle were both still swigging, but not me. I just wanted to sleep now. Get away from the sick slosh of alcohol in my gut. I wanted some weed really, but none of us had any.
They were both slowing. Drift dancing now. Probably spinning. I hoped neither of them was going to be sick. Didn’t want to be breathing their gross smells for however long we ended up being here.
I headed back down the hall to claim a bed. Didn’t want to be around in case Krystal turned sour.
I woke up next morning, stretching out like a freakin’ priestess. Neither of them had made it into the other bed so it was like having my own room.
I’d never had that before. Felt like I could roll over and sleep forever. Which I did for a bit. But then I heard Krystal crashing around in the kitchen, cursing. So I thought I better go and make sure she wasn’t about to set fire to us all.
We’d checked the kitchen out the night before and there wasn’t much in there to eat. Just tons of jars and plastic containers full of weird dried stuff that only a bird would want. Like little buttons and baked beans, only not cooked.
The fridge was the same; just more jars and cups full of unidentifiable brown stuff that smelled bad.
All we’d really found was a cake tin with different sorts of crackers, but not like you get in shops. More home made with too many seeds. They tasted dry and real dull. Don’t think we’d have eaten them if we hadn’t been drunk.
Later on Chelle had found some cereal but there was no milk. Not proper milk anyway. Just stuff in cartons made out of plants.
Anyway, I found a couple of bowls and filled them with cereal before Krystal lost it. Even found spoons, but only after trying about ten different drawers. I really hate that about staying in other people’s houses.
There was a can of peaches but no tin opener, so we just had to have the oat milk. It was that or water. There was sugar at least, so that helped.
Krystal looked like she was about to start snarling so I left her to it, took my bowl into the lounge to eat. My gran taught me to do that with little kids; get food into them before you tried to get anything sensible out of them.
Chantelle came crawling into the lounge while I ate. Actually crawling. God knows where she’d spent the night.
Once Krystal was done I went back in the kitchen and tidied up a bit, rinsing some of the dishes we’d used, letting them drain. Gran’s training.
They’d turned the TV on. Chelle was lying on the couch now, nursing her head, while Krystal was slumped in one of the armchairs; those big, black squashy ones, covered in what looks like leather but never is. Maybe these ones were though. They didn’t have the worn-out, cracked white fabric bits you usually see.
Krys had her knife out and was digging at the arm. I zoned out, watching the tele for a bit—something colourful and noisy for kids. When Krystal got up to go for a piss I went over to see what she’d been doing.
Carving Jimmy’s name into the chair, fluffy white stuffing poking out.
Genius. Like he’d really thank her for that.
Might as well just write all our names on the wall in big lipstick letters; Chelle, Krys and Jayde. Were here.
Jimmy’ll have her skin for sandals.
I don’t know how the rest of the day passed, but it did. The food situation was pretty bad so Krystal did a run down to the shops. Came back with pies and chips, some cans of coke. Said she’d bumped into Jordan down there and he was asking if she knew where we were.
“He told me you girls are real baaad.”
“Hope he didn’t follow you back here.”
“No Jayde. I’m not that stupid. I hung out in the shop until he was gone and then took a different way back.”
“No wonder these chips are so cold. Any sauce?”
“As if. Had to walk right past this place too. There was some lady at the gate checking the letter box, giving me a real dirty look.”
Chelle finally sat up.
Next Krystal started complaining about the cold. I was surprised it had taken her so long. She was right though. I hadn’t taken my puffer off all night.
The heater took some figuring out. Krystal tried kicking it, like that’d help any. Next she started hitting random buttons until something finally thumped into action. A fan whirring. Just cold air though, making it worse.
Chelle figured out how to make it hot though.
It took a while, then it got too warm. And not just the room we were in. Every room I walked into. I’d never been in a house like that before.
We watched more TV, a lot of movies and funny cop shows on motorways. Other stuff like that. There was more drinking and shouting at the tele. Especially when the ‘Real House Wives’ came on. They all look so weird, faces like bloated jellyfish, but I could see Krys watching pretty seriously.
Chelle and Krystal made it into beds that night. Next morning Krystal was bitching about how sore she was. Saying the mattress was stink and how shit her sleep had been.
“Jeez girl,” Chelle said. “Who the fuck you think you are? Princess Leia or something? Like you’re used to clean sheets and a mattress where your bum doesn’t touch the floor every night. Jayde and I have got a real choice bit of cardboard outside you can try instead if you want.”
Later that day the phone rang a few times, making us jumpy as crickets. Well, me and Krys. They had one of those old answer machines and we heard the message asking the caller to leave a message. A lady’s voice. Old, but sounding all polite and friendly like.
“Well fuck you very much,” Chelle said, raising her bottle like she was toasting them. “We’ll make sure to leave a good rating.”
By now I was so bored. We’d been here three nights. The fear of being caught was kind of gone and the whole thing felt less exciting. Actually pretty lame if I’m honest. I hated living behind these closed curtains. Reminded me of too many homes I’d been in.
Some lady had come snooping round, trying to peer inside. The same one, Krystal said, who’d been at the letterbox. Lucky Chelle had heard her coming down the driveway so we’d turned the music down, the TV off.
But she still might’ve heard. She went walking up and down the front of the place a few times, calling out. “Hello. Anyone there?”
Once she was gone we’d watched even more movies and comedy shows that weren’t even funny. Krys kept getting hold of the remote and channel surfing, ignoring Chelle and I when we shouted at her to stop.
Someone had left the freezer door open overnight too, so the food in there was going slowly off.
Krys had been back to the shops and used up the last of her money. She’d bummed some smokes off someone down there, but didn’t have anything to light them with. I was pleased. For some reason I didn’t want her smoking in here. Didn’t know why that would bother me, but I didn’t want to be leaving our stink as well as our mess. That seemed wrong somehow.
Mum always smoked but gran never did.
I’d grown up with mum breathing ashtrays and booze all over me and my brothers when she was drunk and feeling sentimental. Then again after she’d dealt out a hiding, shouting at us to stop our snivelling, telling us we’d asked for it and that it was no worse than what she’d ever got. Then all over us again, trying to hug us this time, sobbing and sorry.
Blast Zone. That’s what Cory called her, because once she got going the only thing left to do was get well clear.
She always made such a shitty mess of everything.
Cory’s my big brother. The only smart one amongst us.
He split after gran kicked us all out. Said he wasn’t going to hang around waiting for mum’s shit to ruin everything all over again. Said that was the only way any of us were going to survive her. Looked me square in the eye and said that, holding my shoulders, giving me a good shake before cuffing me over the head.
I didn’t really understand what he meant. Didn’t realise how much things were about to change.
But how could I? I was still just a kid.
That must’ve been about ten years ago now.
Cory’s off doing forestry stuff down south somewhere now. We don’t really hear from him. Least, I don’t. Maybe Auntie Shelagh does.
With gran we’d stood half a chance.
Her kicking us out was all my fault. I’d told mum the address of the new place we were staying. I knew I shouldn’t, but she’d been waiting outside school for me after she got out that last time. I should never have done it. Cory said so. It might’ve saved gran. But what could I do? Blast Zone or not, she was still my mum.
Gran was real sorry but said we’d all have to go this time. Said she couldn’t take any more of it. Her health wasn’t up to it. Not just because of Blast Zone, but everything that came with her. All the official stuff, the prying and forms and interviews. The random visits and interventions.
I remember the look on her face. Real sad, but also real determined. Like a warrior inside her waking up.
She said sorry to us all, and I think she really meant it. I think she did.
But mum was just too much for her. Broke her heart.
Her big stroke came not long after that.
I left the other two in the lounge and walked down the dim hallway, trailing my fingers along the wall. The wallpaper here was like the stuff at gran’s old place—all bumpy with lots of flowers and things pressed into it. Not things actually pressed into it. Just the shapes, like things stuck underneath the paper.
That’s what I’d always thought when I was little. At gran’s it was all peeling and you could see where the joins and leaks were. I used to sit in the dark on the floor in the hall, running my fingers over it, pushing them underneath to peel it back even more, trying to find the little hidden things, convinced they were there.
Little treasures. Little growing things.
This stuff was all one pale cream colour, flat and smooth, the joins invisible.
I had a coke in my hand, twitched my wrist to make it slosh. The dark liquid fizzed down the wall, brown as beer, leaving streaks behind and forming little mounds when it reached the carpet.
I did it a few more times.
It looked heaps better that way.
There were loads of photos in frames too. Some had got splashed from my coke. The faces in the photos were all old. Not old in age. I mean the photos were real old. Dead people no longer living. None of them were colour. Only black and white and that sort of yellow-brown tone photos used to have.
I guess some of the people were actually pretty young, but they all looked real serious, real grumpy, even the little tamariki. Like life was one giant pain in the arse. Just something you had to survive.
A lot of the men wore suits and the women had on those huge black dresses that pretended they didn’t own a pair of legs. So much black clothing. It made me think of tangis.
So many photos and all so stern; some taken beside big logs, or with horses pulling wagons, a train engine, outside a plain wooden house in the middle of a bare field. Others were in rooms with painted scenery backdrops.
There was one face in particular that kept cropping up; mostly in groups, seated with a heap of young people standing round her. But then I found her again. On her own this time, looking older, sitting in a room with heavy curtains behind her, very stiff, a piece of lace over her hair.
She was wearing a real mean look, like she’d never once smiled in her life. Tough, like she’d seen a thing or two.
I knew that face. It’s real familiar. The same DFWM face that some of my old teachers wore. Or Auntie Trace. Or gran’s friend Shirley when her legs were playing up.
But most of all gran, that last time mum showed up.
Gran after her stroke.
I plant myself square in front of her, glaring back just as hard, my eyes narrowing, showing her I can do it too, working it up in my mouth, waiting till I have a good amount.
Then I spit.
It’s foamy white and shining and it slides down her disapproving features, leaving a long sticky trail down her black dress the same way snails do.
Before it reaches the frame I drag the cuff of my hoodie down over my wrist and start wiping, going in circles, cleaning off all the dust and fly shit.
Now I can see her better.
I can feel it welling up. This awa of tears. A body bleeding out its pain.
But I won’t.
I lean in, press my nose against hers, share my breath.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Jennings studied in Aotearoa before spending a decade working in London. She now lives in Tāmaki Makaurau where she writes poetry and is working on her first novel.