So, I finished my ‘novel’ after about ten years of prevarication since I started it. I can’t get anyone to publish it though because I don’t know enough about editing and my grasp of the technicalities of correct use of English isn’t good enough. Thankfully for me I have this platform. I had posted a couple of chapters here before but I’m going to start over and publish the whole book on here for anyone who is interested to read it. There are 19 chapters, so I’ll post one here every day or so.
Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
The three of them were never going to agree who ‘actually’ caught the eel. It was a massive eel. They knew who’d caught it but would probably never agree about it though. Each would claim it for their own. It was long ago when they were boys, back in the late 1970’s. They have lives apart now, but each of them knows who caught the eel. They must do; yes, they know alright.
Hemi and Guy were mates, you see. One might say mates by proximity. Hemi was a stocky Maori boy, large mop of unruly hair, he always wore a rugby jersey of the local kids team, black and gold hoops, and a pair of shorts too loose on his backside, they always seemed as though they were about to fall down. Guy was a Pakeha boy, tall for his age, he was fair skinned with freckles, his mum cut his hair, so he had the classic bowl haircut. He hated how his mum cut his hair but there was nobody else to do it.
They’d never really known when they became mates; they had just always been mates. Hemi was the shepherd’s boy, who lived up the metal road from the big homestead.
Nobody really figured out why in New Zealand they called a gravel road metal. Maybe someone should look it up? Anyway, it doesn’t matter now.
Hemi’s place was really run down—paint peeling, a few cracked windows, fence broken. The house looked about ready to fall down in a decent gust of wind, but it had survived plenty. There were often westerly gales howling up on the station boundary, pretty exposed up there. The homestead was Guy’s place. He was the farm manager’s son.
The homestead was a big, but unremarkable weatherboard home, covered veranda on two sides with a fairly neglected tennis court out the front. The boys lived on a farm on a road between Dannevirke and Porangahau, in what used to be called Southern Hawkes Bay.
So, Hemi and Guy had been mates since before they knew each other. Would they have been mates if they hadn’t lived up the road from each other on the same farm in the middle of the sticks? It doesn’t matter really, because they did live on the same farm in the middle of the sticks. In case you were wondering, ‘the sticks’ is how some people described living remotely, in rural, middle of nowhere New Zealand.
Hemi would come down to Guy’s place and say the same thing each time to Guy’s mum, who always seemed to be in the kitchen. Guy’s mum was called Ally, short for Alison.
She was always well dressed, more so than you’d normally expect from a farmer’s wife at home. Dressed as though someone important might turn up at any time. Usually simple but smart slacks and blouse, with an expensive silver necklace, dark hair cut practically short for years now. It was down to her shoulders when she was young.
The kids didn’t get their height from their mum. Ally had been married by 21, first of the three boys at 22. She had been a schoolteacher before she became a farmer’s wife, when she married Guy’s dad. You’d always hear Ally coming before you saw her due to her wrist full of silver bracelets. There must have been a dozen of them. The sound of the silver bracelets jingling against each other every time she moved was her trademark, everyone loved Ally’s jingling bracelets.
The homestead was set in the middle of a large paddock, a winding driveway, some macrocarpa trees here and there. There was a cattle stop at the front entrance to the house paddock, instead of a gate.
At Guy’s place there always seemed to be something cooking on the stove, usually some preserves. Hemi loved Guy’s mum’s preserves. Apples, pears, stewed fruit, rhubarb, there were cupboards full of bottles of preserves. Made from bags of fruit brought home from Hawkes Bay when the family returned from visiting the rellies up north.
Hemi would never come into the house though; he’d stand on the doormat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Guy’s mum knew what he wanted but she never presumed to tell him. ‘Can Guy come out, Mrs A?’
‘Are you not going to come in, Hemi?’
‘Aw, yeah nah’.
‘Guy! Hemi’s here!’
Guy’s mum shouted down the long hall. The standard long hall to the bedrooms in every New Zealand sheep station homestead. Guy would appear as always, as he knew what time Hemi would turn up. Not because he knew the time. He didn’t have a watch yet. That was next year, when he turned 13. No, he just knew what time Hemi would turn up. Mostly because he could see him coming down the drive as always. Guy never went to Hemi’s house except to walk home with him. Hemi always came to get Guy at Guy’s place.
He had never been told he couldn’t go to Hemi’s house. Hemi had never suggested he should or shouldn’t. It was mostly because Guy was a bit scared of Hemi’s dad. He didn’t even know why. He was always nice enough. Told good yarns and showed you how to do neat stuff like set traps and make an eel gaff. But he was different around the house. When Hemi went home, he and Guy would walk towards their houses from whichever way they had come and if Hemi’s dad was home, he was always really gruff. He only ever called Hemi ‘boy’. ‘Get in the house, boy,’ he would say even though Hemi was going in the house anyway. So, Guy didn’t like to go to Hemi’s place.
When they weren’t at school on weekends or holidays, Hemi and Guy would have important adventures. They knew that while their dads were doing the farm work, the boys had their own work to do. It’s important to explain that young blokes like them have this unspoken role on the farm. They patrol the farm. It’s important work. Looking out for things dads might miss so they can let them know. Stuff such as deer sign, new rabbit holes, dead sheep. They were dying to see some wild pig tracks, but they knew pigs lived in the bush and weren’t really going to be coming their way.
Dads would go out and hunt pigs at the weekend sometimes, for fun, but that’s for dads, not kids, so kids only helped with getting the pig ready to cook. There’s no hurry to go pig hunting. There are other things to do. The farm patrolling can lose its importance for a bit though, when it’s a quiet day on the job. There’s nothing new going on at the rabbit hole in the blackberry, no deer sign, nothing. That’s when they head for the creek.
Hemi and Guy spent a lot of time at the creek. They knew it had some pretty big eels in it. The creek was a narrow, largely overgrown ribbon of water with high grass banks that snaked through the farm. It was mostly pretty shallow but waist deep in some places, with plenty of opportunity for eels to hide in the long grass and weeds that grew all along the water’s edge.
They’d lay lines out overnight and nine times out of ten when they came back in the morning there would be an eel hooked, not often big eels, usually only a couple of kilos. They never ate them; creek eels taste crap, they found out the hard way. No, the eels get given to the cats now.
Hemi and Guy knew there was a massive eel in the creek, the way only boys can be sure of that sort of thing. They knew to go for the big eel with a gaff though, not a line. The gaff Hemi’s dad made them was the best one. Really sharp point, a long stout handle from an old, shed broom. The gaff was like a giant fishhook tied to the broom handle. The gaff is used to fish in the weeds along the edge of the creek.
Hemi and Guy had made the mistake of talking to their next-door neighbour up the road about the giant eel they thought was in the creek. Mike, he was a bit of a smart-arse know-all and he reckoned he knew everything about gaffing eels. He told them he was coming to help. They didn’t want him to come and help but when you live in the sticks you can’t say no really. Besides, for all his being a smart-arse know-all, Mike was just really good at gaffing eels and Hemi and Guy knew it.
It wasn’t only because he was a smart-arse know-all, they didn’t want him to come. They didn’t want him to catch their eel, which they knew he would if they found it. It’s tough for a couple of young mates having this sort of crisis. Guy’s sister, Nicky, would often tag along. Nicky was eleven and like Guy, she was tall for her age. Long, brown hair, bleached blonde by the sun, usually tied in a ponytail. Long legs, skinny, with a pretty freckled face; Guy and Nicky didn’t really like their matching freckles much. Guy hated Nicky tagging along. Hemi loved it. He was really keen on Nicky, but he’d never tell Guy that. Nicky knew the rules though. She would trail at a small distance, not getting in the way. Pretending to be interested in her own stuff. No, she wanted to help but luckily, she knew that girls got in the way and Guy would get all pissed off.
Hemi pretended he was all cool and relaxed about her but even so, he always somehow got a bit tongue tied when he went to speak to her. Hemi’s dad wouldn’t have been too keen on Hemi liking Nicky, not because she was Pakeha and he was a Maori, maybe a bit of that, but she was also the boss’s girl. The boys were too young to really understand that stuff. Hemi just knew that Nicky was pretty and smelled nice. She was always nice to him. Hemi’s sisters weren’t that nice to him. He had two little sisters who never seemed to come outside, they just looked out the window all the time and they always had snot in their noses. They didn’t say much. He had two big sisters who lived away. They’d come home sometimes, and they also only ever called him ‘boy’. They always stunk of beer and smokes and they always brought a couple of blokes home with them, angry blokes. They always called him ‘boy’ too, he bloody hated being called ‘boy’ by everyone. Guy never called him boy and neither did Nicky.
It was one of those days when it’s almost warm and you can see the warmth in the air but can’t quite feel it? That’s when you know it’s going to be even warmer tomorrow. The long dry grass had a particular crackle when the wind whispered through it, sounded a bit like being on fire. The air had a good feel about it, as though the day was in a good mood. The boys were on a mission today. Yesterday they decided they’d seen where the eel might be. They hadn’t realised it until they were nearly back home, and it dawned on both of them at the same time. It was too bloody late to go back but they knew where the eel was. He’d have to wait until tomorrow. That night was a very long night for both of them, thinking about their giant eel, but now the day was here, and they had packed things they needed to go after it.
Bloody smart-arse know-all Mike turned up, so the three boys set off into the day which was in a good mood. Hemi and Guy were in a pretty good mood but not quite as good as they would have been if bloody smart-arse know-all Mike hadn’t turned up. The three of them stood by the creek where Hemi and Guy believed the eel was. He wasn’t. So, they stood there, planning. Mike had his own gaff, Hemi had the one his dad made, and Guy had a fearsome-looking pitchfork he’d found in the hay barn. They decided that the eel couldn’t have gone far from where they only guessed he might have been anyway.
So, the boys worked the water nearest the bank in hope more than anything, stabbing and fishing the weeds along the edge of the creek, intent on stabbing and fishing; so, lost in the hunt for the eel, they’d forgotten they’d only guessed at its existence. Guy stopped first. He knew what he
had seen but he couldn’t quite believe it. He waved wildly at the other two, at least keeping in mind he needed to be silent. They came trotting over, sensing, hoping that something special was happening. Guy was pointing at a shadow in the creek, in the weeds. The other two just stared, the shadow moved but the sun hadn’t. It was the eel, and it was bigger than any of them could have imagined.
An expert on TV or the radio might say that ‘the difference between excited boys and experienced men out fishing having spied the catch of their life was about to be starkly revealed’. The men would form a plan to ensure they don’t lose the moment of a lifetime. The boys though, flung their gaffs at the eel with all their might. Guy was quickest though and his pitchfork most suited. He plunged it straight into what he thought was the middle of the eel. It wasn’t. That was only the tail. Hemi and Mike both shouted out some language they had learned from their dads but wouldn’t dream of uttering in front of them. ‘Fucken hell!’
The eel was a monster. Guy’s pitchfork was bucking wildly in his hands, the eel almost stronger than he, Hemi and Mike now knew where they needed their gaffs to go and went in hard further up the eel. All three had a purchase now and all three went into the water, into the water with the giant eel. The water wasn’t deep, but the boys weren’t used to being pulled into it by a thrashing giant eel they each have a hold of.
The three found the strength only found in panic, they might have said later it was excitement. No, they were panicking as boys in waist-deep water with a giant eel would. The water was only waist deep but Hemi was thrashing around. He couldn’t swim, he didn’t have to swim, but when you are waist deep in the water with a giant eel, you remember you can’t swim. Guy and Mike could swim but were both acting like they were in the sea with a shark nearby. Arms flailing, shouting, grunting, the focus now was getting out of the water as fast as possible, the eel was predator, rather than prey now in the boys minds. They’d laugh about it later, but right now, they were shitting themselves, as they hauled themselves noisily up the grassy bank. Nicky was watching, sitting in the long grass, laughing, laughing from far enough away that they couldn’t hear her. Guy would have been pissed off if he saw Nicky laughing at them.
Once they got out and calmed down from the shock of going into the water, the boys saw their gaffs were still in the eel, moving around in the water near the bank, caught in the weeds. They each grabbed their gaffs and wrestled the eel on to the bank and set about sorting it out to take home. They had never seen the like of it. No-one had, not round here. They stuffed it in the sack and took turns lugging it the long way back across the farm to the homestead. Nicky tailed along behind, still pretending to be minding her own business.
There was never any discussion that the eel was going to Guy’s place and not Hemi’s. It was just known. It certainly wasn’t bloody going to smart-arse know-all Mike’s house that’s for sure. Guy’s mum stood there open mouthed at what was coming up the lawn.
‘Look at the state of you!’
‘We caught a huge eel’.
‘Let’s have a look then’.
They emptied the eel out of the sack onto the tennis court.
‘Good Lord! That’s enormous!’
‘Let’s weigh it mum’.
‘Yes, get dad’s scales from the shed’.
The eel weighed in at 10 kilos, a huge eel, the biggest one caught in the district by all accounts.
‘Do you think we could get its picture in the paper mum?’
‘We should certainly try’.
The wet, tired boys sat on the veranda. Nicky and Guy’s mum bought them some cordial; it was the best cordial they ever had. They sat there looking at the eel. Guy’s dad rode up the drive from the day’s mustering. He tied his big brown horse to the shed and walked across the lawn.
He wasn’t tall either, normal height, he was lean, and sun tanned, leathery skin from being out in the elements all the time. He had a permanent frown, as though he was always thinking about something troubling. He had a scar on his face from when a skin cancer had been cut out. His legs were covered in old scars as well, loads of them from living in shorts, doing farm work. Cuts from gorse, blackberry, barbed wire, even a boars tusk from years ago. Guy’s dad looked like he’d been in the wars alright, as a lot of farmers do. ‘See you boys have been fishing.’
That was it, he just went into the house. Guy watched him go inside, feeling crushed. He wouldn’t let on though, but he hoped his dad would have made more of a fuss, been a bit more pleased for them, given the size of the eel. But Guy’s dad wasn’t one for ‘showy stuff’ as he called it, so Guy shouldn’t have been surprised really.
The boys went down the driveway. Mike hopped on his crappy bike and rode home. Guy and Hemi walked up to Hemi’s place, silently companionable with each other; they were mates. Sometimes there is nothing to say or no need to say it. They got to Hemi’s broken old gate, still hanging on its hinges, only just. Hemi’s dad was chopping some wood. It was a long way to winter but maybe he was bored. All Guy knew was that he was a bit scared of Hemi’s dad and now he had an axe as well.
Hemi’s dad was dark, tall and muscly, he had huge biceps and they rippled as he swung the axe. He had some old amateur tattoos on his arms and hands. Like they’d been done with felt pen, they were faint on his dark skin. He had very short cropped black hair and was wearing woollen trousers tied at the waist with baling twine. He had a classic black woollen singlet on. He swung the axe with a great deal of power and precision into the old macrocarpa logs. There was a rolled-up cigarette hanging out of mouth as he chopped. He paused and looked at the boys.
‘Get in the house, boy’.
‘You better get home Guy, it’s nearly teatime’.
It was a long time ago, that eel. They never had the chance to finish the argument about who caught it, as events from another story for another time overtook them and they went their own ways, as boys do when they grow up. It was the biggest eel ever caught round their way. A giant eel. The paper didn’t write about it though.