Rae Roadley’s NorthWrite 2016 Highly Commended Entry

Rae Roadley was highly commended in the Northwrite competition with an extract from her novel, Have a Heart, which has now been published on Amazon and is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JFBG4N6.

Rae’s highly commended extract follows. The winning story by Sun Lyoung Kim is available to read here.

Background to the excerpt …

The Omahu and Gunn families have been in conflict ever since Jack Gunn’s ancestors ‘stole’ Glory Omahu’s family’s land. When Glory sees her family’s taonga – pounamu and bone pendants, including a long-lost heart – in the Gunn homestead, she secretly swaps some for modern copies. When guilt prods, she plans to return them. Then Jack gives her a couple of pendants. In the following scene, Glory intends to give her father only the pendants returned by the Gunns, but to appease him also hands over a pendant she swapped – digging herself into deeper trouble.

The story continues …

With dinner dishes cleared, Glory smoothes the table cloth in front of her. “I’ve got something for you, Dad.” She glances at Auntie who knows one part of Glory’s story isn’t true, but will she believe the rest? “I heard through the grapevine that the Gunns had some artefacts from our family land – some pendants.”

“The heart?” Des jerks his chair and turns to Glory.

Glory edges away. She has to twist the truth or her story will unravel. “They found it on their land.” Glory reaches for the salt shaker and moves in tight circles. More lies.

“But it’s ours!” Des’s voice catches.

“Before 1976. It’s theirs.” Glory hopes her voice doesn’t give her away.

“I know the law,” Des huffs.

“And they’ve got other pendants, if you’d let me finish.”

“Good heavens. Right, sorry.”

It’s dead easy to make her father back down. “I’m in a position to make life difficult for Jack, but said I’d give up a couple of issues in return for a couple of pendants.”

“And he agreed?” Dahlia’s eyebrows arch. Has anyone ever put anything across her?

“Dahlia,” purrs Auntie, “You don’t realise the influence your daughter has. Her shop is a community gathering place and there’s talk she’ll be president of the business association.”

“Goodness.” Dahlia wriggles forward, like a child about to be told a fairy tale. But this is not a fairy tale, Glory reminds herself, not totally. And it’s about time her mother noticed her achievements. It was kind of Auntie not to say that some people don’t support the shop. Today she learned the new nurse at the medical centre is in a snit because Glory sells alternative health products. Glory can see her point.

“Taa daaa.” She places the bone fish hook on the table with a magician-like flourish. It’s similarity to Glory’s own fish hook has to mean something. Then she places the Tangaroa beside it.

“Ohh . . .” Auntie, keening as if she’s at a tangi, reaches into her bag for a tissue and whisks away fat tears. “You didn’t get the heart.”

“Well, um, the Gunns are attached to it …”

“It’s ours,” says Des.

“For goodness sake,” Glory snaps, exasperated, “it looks a bit like a souvenir.”

Auntie draws herself tall while Des says in an unfamiliar voice, “We don’t value our taonga based on looks, Glory.”

Glory’s eyes meet her father’s. His are dark and shadowed. She’s offended him. “I said ‘a bit like a souvenir’. It’s really beautiful.”

“The heart was given to our great-grandmother,” he says. “Grandma Maraea was devastated when she lost it.”

But was her upset an act? Maybe it was lost, or was Maraea so desperate to feed her family she really did swap the heart for food? Glory won’t mention that. There’s enough bad blood between the Omahus and Gunns. But why defend the Gunns? She’s not. She’s protecting her family.

“What’s wrong with these?” Glory indicates the fish hook and Tangaroa while fighting a temptation to drop the pendants she swapped onto the table. Would they shut them up?

Auntie picks up the Tangaroa. “It’s beautiful and precious.” She might be talking about any one of the hundreds of carnations Tom grows.

“I’ve tried to tell you about the heart,” grumbles Des in that way he has when Glory doesn’t show interest in her heritage. “If you knew its story you’d know its value.”

“The Gunns gave these to me. Maybe they’ll hand over the rest if I ask nicely.”

Auntie splutters with sarcastic mirth. “Why don’t I pop in and have a chat to Henry?”

Glory reaches to take the bone fish hook from her father. “Dad, if these don’t cut it, I’ll return them.”

“And exchange them for the heart?” Des’s words are submachine gun bullets – but he holds onto the pendant – tight.

Glory conceals a sigh. She’d expected him to be overwhelmed with happiness.

“They wouldn’t part with the heart. I did ask.” But her effort was pathetic. What if she’d pushed, really pushed? “Very sorry,” she offers with the smile that always melts her father. “Perhaps you could tell me the story.”

“Fat lot of good that will do.”

Glory stares agape. She’s never seen her father like this, didn’t know he could be like this. “Please?”

“I’ll tell her,” says Auntie, seeing Des set his face in a stubborn frown. “The heart belonged to our great-great-great grandmother Sarah, the daughter of a chief – Manuera. She was born in 1849 and in 1880 married a Dane who’d deserted a ship, here in Kaingatoi. Carl Solberg Christensen.”

“Quite old when she married, then,” says Glory. “Born 1849, married–”

“Thirty-one,” chips in Des, as Auntie and Glory exchange a knowing look.

“He’d been on a timber ship and had nicked something. The crew was going to lynch him. He took off and some Māori workers in a bush camp hid him – about nine miles away–”

“About half way to Crystal and Peter’s place?” asks Glory.

“Near the big bridge,” says Des. “They hid him in a steam boiler that wasn’t being used – and fed him. When the ship had sailed, they told him it was safe to come out.”

“Right.” Glory relaxes now her father’s also telling the story.

“All he had were the clothes he stood up in and his knowledge of boating.”

“And a violin,” says Auntie. “Our ancestors had never seen or heard one before. He entertained everyone and built them a dinghy and shaped timber into oars.”

“Which would have gone down well with Manuera – the chief. My great?”

“Four greats. Wiremu’s father.”

“And Sarah was Wiremu’s grandmother?” asks Glory.

“Yes. Anyways,” Des continues, “Carl became important, so important to Manuera, he said, ‘Carl, you belong to us. I want you to marry one of my daughters.’ Their first child was Maraea, born in 1881. Sarah died in 1897 – fifteen years after her marriage. Her headstone’s in the Kaingatoi Cemetery.”

“The heart?” asks Glory. “Where does it come in?”

“It was Sarah’s. Perhaps Carl gave it to her. No-one’s sure.”

“But the filigree? That must have come later?”

“Ahh, my daughter,” says Des, mellow now. “You are dead right. She married a Wiremu Omahu. No-one’s sure, but he may have sent the heart away to have that work done.”

“Perhaps to Auckland?” suggests Auntie. “We don’t know.”

“Two of Maraea’s sister’s also married Omahu brothers.”

“Perhaps not much choice?” suggests Glory.

“Perhaps strong, good-looking and intelligent men,” says Des, grinning. “And we also know the heart went to Maraea. But at one stage, she and Wiremu lost their house in a fire.”

“Dad, you told us that every time we wouldn’t eat our vegies. They cooked on corrugated iron and something caught fire.”

“Something like that.” Des grins. “Parents don’t always tell their children the truth when they won’t eat their veggies.”

“Dad!” Glory manages to sound indignant. “What’s the real story? Tell me.”

“There are two. One is that Wiremu upset someone who said, ‘Pay me or I’ll burn your house down’ – and he did. The heart was saved because Maraea was wearing it.” Des pauses, puzzled. “Guess she lost it later.”

“Guess so,” says Glory, playing along. “And version two?”

“That’s closer to the story I told you kids. They cooked on corrugated iron and the floor boards caught fire. The heart was saved because the kids had been playing with it.”

“And Maraea lost it later?” Glory repeats while thinking that Maraea might have been desperate enough to barter the heart. But wouldn’t the whanau have supported them?

“Exactly,” Des agrees. “Mum said that after Granny lost it they spent hours searching.”

Perhaps she was quite an actress, Glory thinks.

“If it was with us today, maybe your mother would be wearing it.”

Dahlia fingers her gold belcher chain. “If it’s anything like these knick-knacks, it’ll be very handsome. Glory, they’re a lot like the ones you sell, dear.”

“Mum, they are not knick–”

“My dearest Dahlia,” Des intones with a smile, “these pendants are not and never will be knick-knacks.” Then he turns to Glory, “Perhaps Jack will reconsider.”

Dahlia scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous, Des.”

They sit in silence until Glory knows what she has to do. Her father has a special fondness for koru and Jack will never realise the koru in the cabinet is a copy. She reaches into her pocket, pulls it out and dangles the koru in a tantalising fashion on its fine cord.

“This was at the homestead as well.” Jack says white lies are okay.

Her father’s face softens and he smiles as he tentatively strokes the koru which appears to glow emerald in the evening light. Then he wraps an arm around Glory. “Good girl. You did your best.”

When Auntie launches into a waiata* Glory knows she’s done the right thing.

Tangi a te ruru,” Auntie thrills in a voice so clear Glory almost forgets to breathe. “Kei te hokihoki mai e, E whakawherowhero . . .” Kaingatoi Primary School kids have made this waiata their anthem. It was written to welcome home the Te Māori exhibition.

Dahlia dabs her eyes with her fingers. Glory can understand her father having a weep, but her mother?

Auntie’s voice fades. “The waiata’s about paths meeting and giving permission for things to leave. I guess the Gunns made an effort. In fact, it surprises me they’ve given us all these.”

“Guilt,” Glory says rather too quickly.

“I’m not surprised at all.” Des runs his fingers down the koru. “I’ll make sure all these taonga are loved and worn. Often in life, second-best turns out to be best.”

Glory will adopt this philosophy. She’s never wanted a shop that fits with conventional good taste, but she’ll adapt. And she lost her child, but never dreamed of having Sage in her life in such an intimate way.

“I can’t see myself wearing a koru or a fish hooky thing,” says Dahlia plaintively. “The heart, though, it sounds lovely.”

Glory pretends not to hear.

“The heart, if we had it, would go to Glory when she marries,” says Dad.

“Really?” Dahlia sounds like she’d put up a fight.

“How come?” Glory needs to get her father talking, to distract him.

He gazes into the distance. “The heart was given to Sarah as a gift from her husband. She began a tradition of handing it on as a bridal gift to the next generation. She gave it to Maraea – that’s when the gold was added.”

Dahlia looks distracted. History bores her. “The fish hook is like the one Auntie gave you, Glory.” She holds it against her chest, evaluating its suitability as an addition to her jewellery collection.

“Our iwi has produced many master carvers.” Des tips back his chair in the same way Jack did at dinner that night.

Glory has made him happy, but at what cost? She has to return the fish hook and pray the new koru won’t be spotted. But right now Glory needs to do something she’s never done before: listen. Soon her father is telling stories. Glory learns where her ancestors launched their waka, the paths they followed to the beach, the places they had hāngi, the sacred places they stored kūmara. He talks about the land the whānau gave the community so they could build the school that still stands today. She learns about the terrible day three boys drowned when a storm came out of nowhere, and why so many of her family left Kaingatoi and moved to the cities. Staying here was a path to nowhere.

“Plus too many Pākehā here thought they knew what was best for Māori,” says Dad.

Isn’t that the truth, Glory thinks, sipping her chamomile tea. It’s cold.

 

*Waiata from Te Hokinga Mai, by Te Taite Cooper and Father Mariu, 1986.

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One comment on “Rae Roadley’s NorthWrite 2016 Highly Commended Entry

  1. Viv Hamlin says:

    Congratulations Rae, a wonderful achievement.

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