A Use for Brackets
When I was eleven this thing happened: Smithy the plumber lost a hinge pin from the back door of his van. Bits and pieces scattered all over the main road. I emptied my pockets on the kitchen table; a dozen twelve gauge screws, a couple PVC connection elbows and somewhere near twenty metal brackets. You can’t fit all that stuff in your pockets. Yes I could, and yes I did. My pockets were fat and the screws pricked against my legs as I walked but there were bits of junk everywhere and it needed to be collected. Several weeks later around the middle of May another thing happened.
No-one left their homes the whole week. I sat on the bottom step of the staircase planting tiny army men on the railing. Mum opened the front door, put a toe to the veranda then saw the fog had still not cleared.
‘Adam, go out and get the newspaper, dear,’ she said putting her toe back inside.
I walked out and yeah it was cold but so was the grass in the morning when we played football before class. The fog was thick enough to mask the other side of the road. Dad walked past looking sour with a handful of toilet paper and a bottle of carpet spray as I hurried back inside. Mum put the soggy newspaper down on the coffee table and commented on the front page:
‘The speed limit in town has been reduced to twenty until the fog clears.’
In the next room Smudge whined and Dad said:
‘You’re going outside you mangy thing.’ He opened the front door and tossed the cat out onto the lawn. She hissed. I watched through the window, leaning against the sofa, as she dissolved into the white.
It felt like forever since I’d rode my bike or played football. Mum came in to tuck Ethan in and put him to sleep. He held a toy puppy under his chin, dribbling over its ear onto his pyjama lapel. The rain came down heavy and it became hard to think. Ethan’s nightlight never let me sleep so I climbed under the covers. As soon as I heard mum leave I waited a while then slid out from the side of the bed onto the carpet. Ethan slept. I nudged the door and let some light creep down stairs then sneaked down to the living room where it got darker. It was noticeable, the difference heaters made. The dark made me nervous.
‘What’re you doing up again?’
I jumped and shrieked. Dad stood behind me.
‘Don’t wanna sleep.’
‘Bored. Can’t do anything all day. I just want to ride my bike!’
‘Come with me.’
We went to the garage. He pulled out my bike and I had to listen carefully to him, raising his voice over the rain hitting the tin roof.
‘You can go for a ride tomorrow if we fix a light to your bike and you keep to the footpath.’ He thumbed through his toolbox.
‘I don’t have a bike light.’
‘We can remedy that,’ he said pulling out an LED torch and the metal brackets I had collected off the side of the road. He used some thin bolts and nuts to fix the light to my bike with the brackets.
‘What are the metal bits supposed to do? What did Smithy use them for?’ I asked.
‘They hold pipes against the wall. Where’s the water going to go if you don’t hold the pipes in place?’ Dad said. I nodded.
It was a quick job. The torch was on steady.
‘Now, back to bed.’
The next morning I pushed my bike out into the fog. The torch gave me about six metres vision and I rode slowly, afraid I might hit something on the path. Eventually I gained confidence and rode faster. There were no cars all morning so I decided to race along the road. Then I saw two lights glitter over the wet road either side of me and a horn tooted. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a car pull on the brakes so I turned off, back onto the footpath and climbed off my bike. My heart raced and my legs ached. I pushed the bike along the path and fought the urge to walk my bike back home. Instead, I rode a little further down hill.
The tires splashed through some puddles. The puddles grew wider. The tires jammed up in mud and it took a heavy effort to keep pedalling. My bike crept forward as the water rose up to my feet so I had no choice but to jump off and push my bike back up hill. The puddles came up to my shins and mud squeezed through the space between my toes.
A fog horn.
‘Hey who’s there?’
I charged my bike through the fog onto the grass and away from that big puddle until the front tire crashed into an object knocking the torch out from the brackets. I tried to wave away the mist and felt out the ground with my foot for the torch. The battery hatch had flapped open so I clicked it shut and turned the torch toward the large object: the park rotunda. I leant my bike against the wall. A beach ball rose out from the white and bounced along the rotunda floor. A sixth former, Ross, with dark curly hair and a red plaid shirt ran up the steps to grab it. He didn’t seem to notice me. I followed Ross off the rotunda and through the park. The fog horn sounded again. Ross stood near the see-saw and shouted at the fog, ‘Let me have a turn.’
Cameron, another six former, backed out of the fog pulling a bathtub across the grass.
‘How did you get that into the park?’ I asked them. They turned around, laughed and told me to take a closer look. So I did. Cameron pointed at the drain hole and said:
‘We plugged that up with some epoxy that Smithy dropped on the road a few weeks ago,’ he showed me the edges of the bath. ‘Then we used the epoxy to fix these big old brackets to the sides.’ Those brackets were larger than mine and held oars in place either side.
I laughed. ‘You’re pretending to row a bathtub through the park?’
‘Pretending? The river has flooded. We rowed over from the other side.’ Ross said.
‘Have a go then, you’ll see.’
I climbed into the bath then wanted to get out again because I thought they were probably tricking me to steal my bike. Cameron put his hand in the bath and grabbed a rope which was tied to the chain meant for the drain plug. They both pushed the bath and it floated smoothly out into the centre of the fog.
‘Use the horn when you want to come in, kid,’ Ross shouted.
I almost wanted to use the horn immediately. Instead, I tried the oars. The fog blanked out everything around me. A pittosporum tree passed me as if it were a single image on paper. A dark wooden fence covered with ivy was next. After that, all was solid white. The sound of the oars moving through the river gave me something to hold onto. The oars themselves were difficult to move and sometimes came loose under the brackets. Inside the bath were two bottles of lemonade and a packet of sour cream and chives chips. Behind was a bucket and a magazine for men. I told myself that a housebound week of fog felt like being in a waiting room so it seemed appropriate to read a magazine.
My knee pressed the fog horn and they pulled me back in.
‘Far out. That was all right,’ I told them.
‘If we piss off now, we should get back in time for dinner,’ Cameron said.
‘Right… Giz a push out, kid.’ Ross asked patting me on the shoulder as he climbed into the bath with the beach ball under his arm. I said, ‘okay,’ and my toes slipped through the mud as I heaved the bath into the river then walked back to the rotunda and pushed my bike up hill.
‘Cam! You lost my mag!’ Ross called out. ‘Don’t tell me you dropped it in the river!’
Mum sat in the living room on her armchair when I arrived home. She shouted at me:
‘Adam! You’re getting mud everywhere!’
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and sniffled.
‘Did you catch a cold?’ she asked. I shrugged my shoulders.
‘Were you playing outside?’ she asked. I shrugged my shoulders again and said:
I walked upstairs knocking my army men off the railing on my way.
‘Adam! You’d better get in that shower right now then get down here and explain what the hell you were doing out in that fog.’
That night there was more heavy rain and it bothered me that I couldn’t go into the living room without getting scared of the dark. I thought about getting caught in the whiteness so I forced myself out onto the veranda to try and get over the dark in the same way. The rain was beating down and splashing off the geraniums onto my cheeks. It was loud and I liked that.
‘Get back to bed!’ Dad yelled over the rain pulling me back inside by the collar. The living room light was on and there were blankets all over the couch. I walked upstairs and went back to bed. Dad went back to the couch.
Ethan always had his nightlight on and it stopped me sleeping. I hid under the covers, feeling tired. After a while I climbed out and found my LED torch. My arm reached under the bed and felt around for Ross’s magazine. I looked at all the girls until I fell asleep.
Mum came in the next morning to bring us hot chocolate. My eyes stretched open. In my half woken state I remembered the magazine and shuffled to hide it and become decent. Ethan still slept with his toy puppy under his chin. Mum laid his cup on the drawers and left a couple of marshmallows beside it.
Jason Hansen was raised in Northland and, now, lives in Wellington. In the time between these two places he picked apples, pears and kiwifruit in the South Island and constructed water treatment systems in Queensland.
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