No Nuclear Fire for Amber

2001

Soluble people disappeared under a sea of umbrellas. Emily watched the raindrops race each other down the window. Her teaspoon played unconsciously in her coffee. I ordered a flat white and joined her at the table.
‘You alright?’ I asked.
‘Yeah...I’m fine...just thinking.........it feels like time is speeding up’
‘or collapsing under it's own weight'
Sam walked in out of the rain.
‘Hey Sam’
‘Hey’
He grabbed a magazine, sat down, and ranting about the fascism of fashion.
‘You alright’ asked Emily.
‘Sesh?’ he asked me.
‘nah...’
‘Time is all fucked up...’ Sam started to say before his thoughts trailed away.
He put the magazine down got up and wandered back down the stairs.
‘Sam is all fucked up’ Emily said to me.
‘nah...he’s just wasted’

The next day I saw Sam’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Amber walking barefoot over Grafton Bridge. Long blond timotei hair staring at the traffic on the motorway below. I tapped on the bus window, she looked up, straight through me, no recognition, her mind on pause.

A few days later she came over, a miserable sunday afternoon, shallow focus empty eyes and more of her fiction. Samples from other conversations. She believes she’s a good liar, but it’s only because people never expect someone to lie all the time
without fail
she always wears long sleeves.
I’ve known Amber since high school, and I know her better than most, but never that close - Amber is a liability. She would shave her head whenever she broke up with a boyfriend. She told me that once she had cried for two years without stopping.
‘Why’ I'd asked.
‘I was sad’ she said.
Almost as soon as she arrived she got up to leave.
‘hey take care of yourself’
‘yeah you too’
Sometimes a smile is just a line on a face.

Thursday Emily had drinks at her flat. A couple of her friends from work and one of her flatmates blinded on his high octane home-made feijoa-infused vodka. Amber and Sam turned up out of nowhere. Amber said something but I couldn't hear what she said. Sam told me that scientists had proved altruism makes you live longer.
‘I give away every second cigarette’ he said.
Emily put a record on the turntable
midnight marauders
good vibrations stored on vinyl.
needle picks up vibrations
amplifies vibrations and transmits them to ears
ears work effortlessly
and body moves
everyone is smiling.
Amber, now at thrice her usual speed is more than I can handle.
Sam managed to break three glasses, by accident, from the other side of the room.
Amber pulled Sam off the couch and whispered something in his ear.
They disappeared into the city.
A boy-girl Molotov cocktail.

After everyone had left I talked with Emily for hours. She talked about the twentieth century as if it were a film that everyone has seen, but noone can remember. I can barely remember.
Exchanged my memory for THC and the soft magnetic memory of her
white dress no bra
nipples pushing through the cotton
too thin for this autumn night
‘I’m tired’ she said.
‘what’s the time, I have start work at half eight’
‘nearly four......take the day off’
‘yeah.....'
A sly smile and she walked toward her bedroom
‘can I join you?’
‘if you want’

The next night I had some drinks with some friends and ended up at the King’s Arms to see h.d.u. Sam turned up and started going on about how the body in the post-industrial age is no longer the most important thing and that history, thankfully, would soon be coming to an end. There was this weird fire in his eyes.....a million shades of fear. Waves of noise broke over our heads and dumped us in 12ft surf running out of oxygen with which to pray for air
that’s what this sounds like,
music for the end of the world.

A few days later Emily rang me.
‘you want to come over’ she said
‘that wasn’t a question’
....a post-hypnotic suggestion
‘You'll come over to my house soon’
‘yeah, sure...I’ll come over to your house soon’

Emily was waiting under a tree in the park by her house.
‘you’re always late’
‘sorry, it’s genetic’
We climbed up Mt Eden.
Cold hands and breath you can see and a thermosful of warm saké.
‘The fog was so beautiful this morning....I wanted to ring you and get you out of bed.’
Vapour trails stretched around the sky, silent circles still waiting for clearance to land.
‘I might go to London for a while’ she said, ‘I feel claustrophobic in New Zealand.’
The cold wind made my eyes water.
‘I miss summer’ I said
I looked around, for some reason there was noone else there.
Just the two of us above the city.
We listened to reality radio on her police scanner. An armed robbery in a cafe on Ponsonby Rd - three armed robbers in red balaclavas, the police took maybe 6 minutes to get there and they were gone. Of course noone had a better description. Since that psycho took out the pizza guy and that bank teller for no reason, you don’t even want to look at anyone with a gun.
There was more:
a fire at a school
arson
a suicide
but we turned it off cause it got depressing
a reminder that once in a while, just to stay sane, it’s good to get away from the psychic darkness of this city...you can feel it lifting when you leave....The next week we took the slow ferry out to Great Barrier. We went swimming under a full moon, eyes open underwater. Swimming though the phosphorescence is like swimming through outer space. I exhaled and lay on the sand on the bottom of the ocean watching the moon through the water, wondering whether to surface and fill my lungs or drift back to the ocean. Moving with each wave, is like listening to the same song
over and over, and slowly forgetting the lyrics. I saw a star die. It shone brighter and brighter and burnt out. Like the last burst of a light bulb.
We watched rocks fall from space and turn into bright threads of light.
Gravity doesn’t pull things down, it pulls things together.
And after a week on the island I’m condensed, clean and new.

Back to the city I love
another one of those four letter words
Back to my refrigerated flat, power due to be disconnected, no telephone, living with a pakeha islamic militant terrorist, eating only supermarket brand weet-bix for the rest of my life, beginning to dream the same dream as everybody else... S's with lines through them

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Emily rang me from work.
‘yeah....hey I’ve got this bad feeling could you check on Sam...I had this dream, not a good
dream........ could you just check?.....yeah?.....I’ll be at Verona at 4......k.....meet you there
after work.....bye’
I found Amber sleeping in the artificial dusk of Sam’s bedroom. Curtains pulled tight against the light. The dim shiver of a candle. Long blond hair everywhere.
‘Hey...Amber...are you alright?’’
The sheet over her face moved slightly with her breath.
‘hey Amber...where’s Sam’
‘gone...he’s fuckin’ gone’
She looked at me briefly, the spider language of shattered windscreens, her eyes red with tears.

Sam grew up living under the high tension power lines that stretch across the city. They say the magnetic field created by the electricity can affect your brain chemistry. His sister had told me that Sam was just a boy who broke too many mirrors but it wasn’t that, and it wasn’t the drugs either. Anyone else would have been fine. Well, shaken but not stirred. He told me he could he could sense seismic activity whenever someone died. The sound of their body hitting the ground, hypersensitive to the vibrations, a head full of crushed-up weetbix.
Hospitalised,
Overmedicated and silent,
with ice blue, empty eyes.
I never pray. I don’t believe in god. not in the conventional sense. but today I’ll make an exception.
dear sweet merciful jesus please look after that crazy muthafuck.

Stumbling through Monday I walk over a footbridge over the motorway solid with cars. A dirty amber sunset glowing through the haze. The air heavy, no wind, the smog condenses under it’s own weight, like liquid in my lungs. Even the sky seems to be rusting. I found myself seeing some truth in Sams’ cryptic prophecies. They say the oil will become too expensive and like five-hundred-million smokers in full nicotine withdrawal, everything will grind to a halt. Tornadoes will emerge from the clouds and tear through the city, cutting corridors through the suburbs for city-wide light-rail. We turn off the lights in the city at night, so everyone can see the stars. Every child owns a telescope to study the symmetry of space. We take the fearful and the lost out of the gifted and take them out of the mental hospitals. We tear down the psychic razor wire between our suburbs and tear up carparks to build skateparks. Sam heals appliances with his hands. People travel from all over the country with their food processors and microwaves to witness his amazing powers. Amber distills rainwater so we can taste the flavour of the sky. There’s nutrients up there that we need, dust from space that helps the people who were once in car-sales remember their dreams. Emily quits her office job to write and produce a
puppet show. She does funny voices for the puppets. It’s the best thing on Triangle, the best channel on tv. I fill my safe with leaves collected by children. Their value is increased if they catch them before they hit the ground.....and when I'm old I'll still be here on my rocking chair laughing watching you fools wasting your lives collecting your inferior plastic money.

You can’t really say much with a postcard.
I am here and you are not.
And that’s a good thing, or it’s not.
Amber had found a postcard in the letterbox, encoded in Sam’s dyslexic scribble.
‘Amber take care of yourself.......see you in the next one.......love from Sam’

I walked downtown and spent half an hour in the city gallery.
‘In the final age of this world men will only love themselves and money’ scrawled in dirty text on a million dollar McCahon. On Queen St I got trapped in a conversation with this Hare Krishna. He told me that our universe is merely one cell in the body of Krishna. He showed me a picture of Krishna, his body filled with stars.

Emily was sitting on a seat on K rd.
‘Amber’s gone’ she said. She seemed upset.
‘where?’
‘Hanmer Springs, to a clinic... she’s got leukemia’
‘she doesn’t have leukemia’
‘she’s lost all her hair!’
‘Where is she now?’
‘Her father’s taken her’
‘Did you see him?’
‘No, she said he was coming to get her’
‘She told me her father had died ages ago’
‘Strange, why would she have lied?’
I touched Emily’s waist and she pulled away
“Amber told me...”
“Amber told you what?”
and then we argue and she’s angry about fuck I don’t know what and this is not what i need right
now and I say why does casual sex have to be so complicated and she says CASUAL?! I DON’T THINK THERE’S ANY ADJECTIVES FOR WHAT WE’RE DOING MATE and she screams at me FUCK YOU! and walk-runs away tear-streamed cheeks people staring rush hour K Road foot-traffic and from their cars the Auckland girl mafia registering my face blacklisting me forever
The laws of cause and affection
People get hurt
Everyone makes mistakes
What is important is the willingness to learn from them.
i have recurring dreams about this planet on the other side of sun
sharing the same orbit as earth
where things like this don’t happen
One day I want to live there
maybe six months from now.

I walk back home. It feels like there are rocks in my head. I really didn't mean to say that, why do i say things i don't mean and what were we arguing about? Damn attention span. I take my B Vitamins, put the bottle back on the shelf and close the cabinet. I remember something Sam once said to me, ‘thinking’, said Sam-I-am, ‘as a general rule, is way more trouble than it’s worth’ I crash on my bed, fully clothed. Layers of concentration peel away as I fall ever closer to sleep. The night was full of short sharp dreams roaming blindly like medical implements through my brain .... .- -- .. ... .... .-- .- -.- . ..- .--. Messages in Morse from nowhere click click click I
open my eyes into yet another dream, Emily beside me cracking safes with her tongue on the roof of her mouth in her sleep. But when I wake I’m alone, the window was wide open the night sky slowly freezing over. I struggled to fill my lungs, someone sitting on my chest, a low-grade asthma attack and for a split second I saw Amber sitting on the edge of my bed, transparent with sadness.

Too much too much.
I feel ill.
Throw on my hoodie and get outta here
Exceeding the recommended daily intake
short sharp contractions in my chest
don’t worry, just heartbeats, headphones on, an electronic blanket of sound, protection against
the cold.
I watched the trees bending over with the weight of the wind, silently, slowly, in stereo. I looked down at my hands, new lines forming on my palms, changing the future and obscuring the past...I found myself at the end of K Road. Wandering lost on the forecourt. The moon barely there, a thin crescent in the sky.
forget about the continuity of the skin of the earth
that connects you to everyone else
in every other place
forget that yesterday is just today
with a few minor changes.
Amber has 4 arms and kaleidoscope eyes
and tells me in a smile
Open your heart to wisdom and understanding
Choose the transcendent over the synthetic
Live purely and deeply, no longer scratching the surface but
right in the groove of the record which spirals slowly onward and inward
towards the centre
the soundtrack of your life,
looping back on itself,
continuous and everchanging.
Overdub the voices in any language,
the message remains the same.

Text: ©Hamish Low 2002

Illustrations: ©Alan Drummond 2002