by Kate Mahony
I met Roy the day he installed a fire alarm up high on the wall near the kitchen for me. We had just moved into a house in Ponsonby, my son Timothy and I, and the movers had disappeared before I could ask them to do it. Roy was at work fixing a wooden plank that had got loose on the exterior of his house next door. He looked muscular like someone who worked in the outdoors. He was wearing a white singlet and rugby shorts and had a tattoo of a dragon on his right arm. I went over to ask him if he could help me. He sorted it in no time and refused the $20 note I offered him.
Tim wheeled his wheelchair to the doorway and I introduced them. Tim said, ‘Hey, what are you doing after this?’ He liked asking people this question.
‘Work, mate,’ Roy said.
‘And what are you doing after that?’
Roy just grinned and gave him a high five.
The next time I saw Roy he was getting into the back of a police car on the street outside.
A few days later, I saw him again, this time wearing police uniform. The blue uniform suited his chunky build. I saw him smile and from behind the window of our new house, I gave him a wave. Then I realised he wasn’t smiling at me. A girl with red hair, wearing short shorts so that you almost see her bottom, came out of the house. She went out to him. She placed her hands on her hips as she spoke. Roy gave a wave, turned his back and got into the waiting car. When I looked closely I saw the driver was a female.
‘What are you looking at, Mum?’ Timothy called out.
‘Nothing,’ I said, and went to get him his fish and chips from the oven.
A week went by and then I saw a photograph of Roy in the newspaper. I showed it to Timothy. A woman had got drunk at a bar on the Viaduct, had a row with her boyfriend, and jumped off the wharf. Roy had been on patrol in a nearby harbour police launch. He had jumped into the murky waters of the harbour. At night, too. A wild stormy night. The photograph showed him in his police uniform.
The red head had just left for work the next time I saw him. He had propped up a ladder and began painting the window ledges on the side wall of their house. Around morning tea time, I took him over a cup of tea and a plate of Tim Tams. I congratulated him and said he should have got an award for bravery. He said it was nothing. But it was kind of me to mention it.
I wanted to know had he done any other brave deeds. He looked awkward and said there were none.
I persisted. Had he rescued anyone else? Saved someone from dying? He looked down at the ground. He didn’t want to tell me. Then he said there was the one time he’d been on his way home when he got called to a house nearby where a teenage boy had tried to hang himself on a tree in the back garden. He’d got there in time, and cut him down. He said sometimes when he used to be on patrol in Queen Street, he saw the boy’s mum. She would look him in the eye for a moment. Neither made any other kind of contact. It was as if she knew it was him, the man who had saved her kid. So they exchanged a look—a moment of knowledge of what they had both witnessed, and how it could have ended so much more badly. Better nothing was said.
I didn’t really mean to build Roy up as the man of the moment. But as I told Timothy, I had never met someone so brave before. It was a long time after that the redhead came over to tell me she was leaving. We’d got to know each other a little by then. I sometimes collected her courier parcels for her. I knew her name. So I asked her why.
She said Roy had cheated on her. Not the first time. There’d been a string of girls she never knew about. It seemed everyone at his work knew. She’d been devastated. It was hard on her so she was getting away. Roy moved out afterwards as well. Quite soon after but not before I’d seen another woman leaving early one morning.
I saw him once after that. I’d stopped in the central city with Timothy near a hotel the President of China was due to stay in. Roy was in the middle of the road keeping the crowd under control. A bunch of students from the President’s home country were holding up We Love You Dear Leader signs. A bunch of other people, who also looked like students, were protesting his arrival with signs saying things like Murderer and Students against Dictators. The Falun Gong protestors held up theirs objecting to organ transplants. It was a colourful sight and Timothy seemed intrigued.
He started shouting out, ‘Hey, Roy.’ When Roy didn’t respond he shouted it louder. Then he added, ‘Hey Roy, what are you doing after this?’
I think Roy heard that. I wanted to wave at him but something held me back. He spotted me and gave me a smile. But it didn’t have the same open strength as before. I gave Timothy’s wheelchair a push and got us out of there.
Kate Mahony’s short fiction has been published in literary journals and anthologies and most recently in The Blue Nib, The Cabinet of Heed, Blackmail Press, Fictive Dream and Potato Soup Journal. She has a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Wellington, and lives in New Zealand.