Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tim Jones’s New Zealand cricket stories

Tim Jones is one of a number of New Zealand authors who’ve written about cricket in their short fiction. I’ve been meaning to write more fully about New Zealand cricket fiction. Previously I posted an article about New Zealand Romance writer Eva Burfield’s 1961 cricket short story and mentioned the forthcoming reprint of Michael O’Leary’s novel Out of It.
In the meantime, I’ll post one of Tim’s short stories, ‘Alarm’, from his book Transported. It has a distinct Wellington flavour, mentioning the Basin Reserve and the New Zealand Cricket Museum. Interestingly, like the narrator in this story, Tim himself lives in Mt Victoria just up from the Basin Reserve. We should be careful, however, not to read too much into similarities between narrator and author.
Of the current crop of New Zealand short fiction authors, Tim’s collection Transported would be one of my favourites, along with Denis Baker’s collection Floating Lines. Another story of Tim’s with cricket in it is the opening story in Transported, ‘Rat up a Drainpipe’. Tim’s story ‘Alarm’ reproduced here with kind permission appeared first in Bravado 5 (November 2005):

TIM JONES

Alarm

The man is walking at a brisk pace. He walks with a slight limp; look closely, and you will see that the sole of his left shoe is worn down on its right-hand side, so that his foot lurches to the left every time he plants it. If this is painful, he gives no sign.           
  He is enjoying the weather and the view. The sun is shining steadily now, taking the chill off the persistent wind that blows over his shoulder. When he turns for a moment to look back up the hill, the wind blows his dark hair off his forehead, revealing a receding hairline. It’s not easy to judge his age; some, citing the hairline and the lines of worry that have settled in around his eyes, would place him in his early thirties; other would see the smooth, fleshy cheeks and the trace of adolescent gawkiness in his stride, and plump for the middle twenties.           
  He stand there for quite a while, looking back; who knows what he is thinking?           
  He turns around and begins walking again. The smile returns to his face as he looks out over the park and the suburb stretched out below. He likes Newtown. You can gaze in the shop windows without feeling the pressure of hurrying suits that is always there in the central city, and it is the starting-point for a host of potential expeditions: over to Hataitai, up to Mt. Victoria, out to the zoo and then Island Bay. He’s never been to Island Bay, and he wonders, as his gaze follows his thoughts, whether he can be bothered to go all the way out there today. It will probably take the best part of an hour to make it to the beach, and he can find somewhere to have lunch, and wander back, and that will use up most of the day.            
  Of course, he could just have stayed at the house and sat and read, but he’s sick of reading, and he’s sick of that house. Only a day to go, but he wants to spend as little time there as possible. What about tonight?—the question is there all the time, but the sun is shining, and really, it’s a hell of a view.            
  According to his map, for example, that’s Rugby League Park. He’s never been here when there’s been a game in progress, and it looks like those would be damn uncomfortable seats to sit on, but it’s pleasant to imagine being part of a crowd, sitting there wrapped up in his jacket with maybe some sandwiches and a thermos, if the weather is cold. He doesn’t really know anybody who likes rugby league, at least not enough to watch it live, but it would be OK to go along there on his own and get in behind the home team, whatever that was. The only Wellington team he knows about is Wainuiomata, but he’s not keen enough to trek all the way out there just to see them.           
  Besides, he won’t be here by Saturday afternoon. Not any more.
#
I suppose I ought to tell you, he’s just broken up with his girlfriend. That’s what this is all about. It was so unexpected, too. He’d come up for the weekend and a couple of days either side, as they’d arranged, and he’d been looking forward to it, and Elaine said she’d been looking forward to it, too. She met him at the airport, same as usual, and they had dinner at her house, then went out to see a band. Wellington was notorious for its lack of proper venues; they were always starting up new places that run for a year or so and then go bust or get closed down by the fire department. This was some place called the Loading Zone. They were early, and the band was late. The two of them sat at a table in the corner, ate nachos with cheese, beans and sour cream, and tried to talk, which was difficult with the noise from the jukebox and the people all around. He hated waiting for bands, and wished they hadn’t arrived so early.           
  Eventually the band appeared and started playing. They seemed pissed off, and played louder than usual, which with the terrible sound system meant that he was cast adrift in a great flood of noise that poured from the speakers and crashed against the bare concrete walls of the room.
  Elaine towed him to the dance floor. He tried to locate the rhythm. She motioned him closer, and he put his arms on her shoulders. She was wearing that black lycra dress which, privately, he considered the sexiest item in her wardrobe. He ran his fingers over the faintly resistant fabric of the material. At the beginning of the next song, he bent down and put his hands around her waist, but she shook her head. Too restrictive. They danced apart after that. In the break before the encore, a rumour went round that the band had had a row with the promoter.           
  By the time they got home, they were both tired. He stank of smoke and wanted to wash the bitter smell off his body. When he emerged from the shower, she was already in bed and evidently asleep.           
  She had turned onto her side in her cotton nightdress. He moved across in the bed and put his arm across her belly, snuggling up close to her. He thought about moving his hand a little to cup her breast and stroke her nipple with his fingers, and felt a faint stir of arousal. But it was late, and they were both tired. He shifted a little, enjoying her warmth against his body, and drifted off to sleep.
#
By now he’s made his way well down the hill, and is walking past the Winter Show Building, which he knows as the place where you play indoor cricket. If everything had gone according to plan, he might have been playing here regularly—in fact, they could both have been playing. He tried the men’s grade a few years ago, when he was up here staying with some friends who were in one of the teams, but it was too frantic for him. Also, that ball was bloody hard; he’d seen someone knocked out by it once, and they were fielding right near the back net. The mixed grade would have been the place for them, and he would have done quite well at that level.           
  Well, no sense worrying about that. He won’t be playing here in a hurry. Not that he’s about to abandon Wellington permanently—I mean, he likes the place, and he’s got other friends here. But it would be good to take some time away from the place, let some of the feelings settle down. Regret is the least productive of emotions.
#
He thinks he might walk down to the Basin Reserve. They spent a day there in summer, watching New Zealand play the Aussies. It was fine again (he’s never understood why people complain so much about Wellington’s weather), and they sat on the bank with some friends. He kept wanting to sit up to get a better view, but if you weren’t careful you slid down the hill and got your shorts up the crack in your bum. So he lay back on the blanket and talked about the game and drank two cans of beer and got a sunburned nose. Peter Taylor and Allan Border built up a long, slow partnership, but in the late afternoon New Zealand came back into the game, and by the close were batting again. The two of them left the ground happy, and held hands as they made their way back up Adelaide Road and home for dinner. At the time, he was convinced they would always be together. Now, he peers at the grandstand in the distance and tries to take his mind off his troubles.           
  They had gone to see the band on Thursday night. On Friday morning, he was woken by her bloody alarm. It was a little pink thing with a snooze setting, which meant it went off every five minutes and made snoozing impossible. Sometimes she set it for as early as six a.m., but today, in deference to their late night, it went off at seven. She reached out a hand and squashed it into submission, then rolled onto her side. “Elaine, honey—,” he said, and reached out his hand, which sometime during the night had slipped off her body and moved onto his own. He didn’t care if it was just the effect of a full bladder; it was morning, he had an erection, and he wanted her. He moved closer to her and kissed the back of her neck, he touched the skin at the base of her buttock, just where the nightshirt ended, and moved his hand upwards—           
  “No!” she said, and pushed him away, and got out of the bed, not looking at him, and headed off down the corridor. He lay back, wondering what he had done wrong. He hated when she was like this. He hated people being angry. What had he done? It wasn’t as if this was the first time this had happened, and she always came round in the end. Sometimes it took a while, though—and he was only here for a few days.
  Well, there was nothing you could say to her in this mood. Best to let it blow over. He would lie here for a while—        
  The alarm rang three more times before he summoned up the will to turn it off—it had an intricate little mechanism you had to think about, presumably to stop people turning it off in their sleep. He got up and went into the kitchen. She was at the breakfast table. He said, how are you feeling? She told him she had decided their relationship wasn’t working, and she wanted it to end. He said nothing. She said she didn’t mind if he stayed for the rest of his time in Wellington, but after that, she didn’t want to see him for a while. He said he’d try to get an earlier flight. He asked if there was someone else. She said, not yet. But she just didn’t love him the way he loved her, and there was no point pretending. He said he really did love her, and that he didn’t know what to say. She said, I know.           
  He sat there in silence. She said, come on, have some breakfast. He had some breakfast. She told him she was going to work. She said she was sorry. She gave him a hug. He duly hugged her back, but he couldn’t feel her body in his arms.           
  When she had gone, he read the paper for a while. Nothing much was going on.
  It looked like being a nice day. He rang the airline, who said they couldn’t get a seat for him today, but they could get him back to Dunedin tomorrow if he was willing to pay $40 more. He said, O.K. Then he went back and made the bed, and walked around the house for a bit, looking at things, like the two glasses he had bought so they could sit by the fire together and drink Drambuie and listen to music. Then he put on his jacket and headed out the door.
#
Now he’s walked almost to the bottom of Adelaide Road, and he’s trying to decide whether he wants to go and see the cricket museum at the Basin. He’s heard there’s some good stuff there—a bat used by Victor Trumper, a copy of the disc Bradman cut in England. The trouble is, going in there would remind him of happier times with Elaine. Everything reminds him of happier times. He’d be better off in the bush, by himself, with just the birds and the sandflies for company. Somewhere down south, the sun is shining in a steep-sided valley that not a dozen people visit in a year. You get there by scrambling out of the lower valley before the gorge, then making your way along the tops just above the bushline. It’s hot, and the scrub does cruel things to your sunburnt legs. Also, there isn’t any water up there, and by the time the track drops down into the bush you’re feeling the first flutterings of heat exhaustion. If you sit down for a while, that helps, and then you can make your way down through the cool bush to the stream that flows along the edge of the flats. Take a drink, have a rest, then make your way out across the flats, letting the long stems of grass make tiny scratches on your legs. The river flows in braided channels, and you can cross it if you’re careful, one channel at a time. There’s a rock by the far bank with a lawn of mosses and tiny grasses in front. Pitch your tent there; dehydrating your dinner over the little stove, you can look out to the west and see the sun fall behind the jagged teeth of the peaks.           
  And, dreaming of this inaccessible paradise, his feet decide against the cricket museum at the Basin. Watch him as he heads on down the street, around the ground, and into Cambridge Terrace. There are more people here, slower-moving than he, and he’s forced to step around them. See him practise his sidestep; that woman with the shopping bags and the toddler is left for dead, he rounds the old man in the stained brown jacket and shapeless trousers with ease and sets off for a tryline that is always too far ahead. He is twenty-nine years old, and in his head still the boy who came home after school, polished off his homework and his dinner, and headed for the back yard to play ball by himself, setting up imaginary goalposts, choosing imaginary teams, keeping track as the score mounted and twilight flowed across the flat Southland plains. He is lost here; send him back home. The tryline is too far ahead, and the defenders are closing, their stronger legs carrying them across the turf. At any moment the tackles will come, and he will fall, his wind gone, the ball spilled. See him lie five yards short of the elusive white line, tears flowing from his eyes, pounding his fists in frustration into the damp, unyielding turf.

© Tim Jones 2008

(From Transported by Tim Jones, Random House, Auckland, 2008)

More about Tim, including how to buy his books at his blog: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/

Transported by Tim Jones
(Vintage/Random House, 2008) 

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting the story, Mark - and for the kind words about Transported.

    If I was rewriting the story now, I'd make sure the protagonist did visit the cricket museum at the Basin!

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  2. nice blog i really like the new zealand team and i am great to read this informaiton about the new zae land team
    hope that in this world cup 2011 this team will do great job
    live cricket

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  3. incredible lovely thanks for best sharing amazing ine love it news

    ReplyDelete