New Zealand went into their second Level 4 lock-down last Wednesday 18th August on only my second day at my new job as assistant gardener at a retirement village. 'What an opportunity' I thought to myself. Here I was in an isolated cabin halfway down the property tenant's jungle of a backyard garden, a writing desk, a kitchenette (double hotplate, fridge, basin, jug), and time on my hands to continue writing Dim Day.
One of the tenants visits the beach every morning here in Paekākāriki which was great non-verbal encouragement for me to do the same - most mornings I have. Once lock-down arrived I chose to be a lot more discreet about it, running approx. 3km up the coastal trail, checking out how deserted the beach is before finding an unoccupied spot to wade in and feel the rush of winter salt water washing over me before jogging back to keep up my warmth. Occasionally the debris lapping in on the morning waves has left me less clean than when I went in, so on my arrival back I pop around the corner of the cabin out of sight and have a hose-down. A minimum of 21 press-ups, 21 "leg-ups" (lying on my back and lifting the legs up and down) accompany the morning rising from my bed, or the return from the sea, occasionally I do straight-leg sit-ups with my back as straight as possible. The abs aren't quite showing yet, but that's probably the fault of that packet of Toffee Pops and Whitaker's Artisan Chocolate I bought last week (...and the yoghurts, and the salamis, and the cheeses I bought many times before that as well!). But still, as I said to our new flatmate ("resimate" as I refer to the house dwellers on the property (i.e: Residential Mates)) when she expressed the fact that at her current mid-50s age this is the healthiest, both mentally and physically, that she has ever been, I concurred and was able to relate - in my 44 years this is also the healthiest, mentally and physically, that I have ever been. There is a photo of me from 2010 with quite a puffy face - years of Burger King, Burgerfuel, and heavy protein and carb dinners that weren't being worked off. Since moving into my car and living on the side of the river from 2018, all that unnecessary fat has been shed; with a much more consistent approach to physical body toning without any obsessive desire to build muscle, a massive reduction in food focusing on one good meal each day and only snacking (at most) (mostly nuts) beforehand (and coffee with honey replacing sugar) adding up to an average of 1.5 meals a day, I have consistently weighed-in at less than 67kgs for the past four years. There is no guilt should I choose to eat some Toffee Pops, some licorice (unless I eat them all at once, which I have done *shakes head sadly*), because I know that their energy source will get used rather than be stored (I mean, mostly - like I said, my abs still aren't showing *grumpy face*).
Anyway, enough about me. Dinners are coming along just fine. As you can see, tonight I made a crushed Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed curry with mixed beans on pulse pasta instead of rice. A very tasty meal for this lone red cabin dweller. But this is not a lone lock-down bubble (though I would have no problem if it was). Every day of the week, the five of us take turns cooking for one another in the house (back of photo, extra sleep-out to left), and have ranging conversations from gardening (everyone's a gardener, except me - total newbie!), to books, to music, to covid, to "can we trust the authorities???" - it's all up for discussion, and makes the evening over a glass of wine that much more enjoyable.
But what about Dim Day? Yes, what about the novel I've been trying to write since 2009? I have reached 48,000 words with only 5-6 scenes left to either write or finish off, which I expect the total word-count to be around 60,000. This is a good amount, as there has been a bit extra world-building going on, which I am cautious about. Why? Is not solid world-building the goal? Yes, but this book was never meant to describe a 'world' as such; it was only ever meant to describe a place. Imagine walking into a theatre to watch a play, seeing the curtains rise you know that the props in the background are not real, but you suspend your disbelief and invest in what the actors portray. This was always my intention, and I have tried to keep that world-building to a minimum so that the reader doesn't get distracted, so that the reader only knows what supports the story directly related to the characters. This is not science fiction, this is not mainstream 'genre' fantasy, I wouldn't even call it magic realism; there is no magic, there are no monsters and strange creatures, no technology advancing and changing society other than what characters may project with limited knowledge; what there is instead are animal and plant variations that inhabit their own ecological niche, there are people who act and feel like us living in a similar past, but there is only this place, similar, but very different, and the story that unfolds from one dim day to the next...
Clouds simmered in the hidden hillsides, lazily hugging rugged slopes, while pointy peaks peeked over top. Wisps of wind would catch their rising momentum and sweep the clouds upwards in twirls, or just allow them to meander over and past the ridges towards the mireline.
Over on the far horizon, out where the upper wall of mist shore itself thin in the mid-sun heat, hints of the unknown rolled in grey shapes beyond, curves that could be clouds settling over untouched lands.
Or touched lands. Trampled and lived on.
Like this field before him, pitchfork piercing the surface, breaking apart the dirt, potatoes dug up and placed in sacks to be returned to the community; other workers working rows in the sun day heat all playing their part, contributing their share as though there was nothing else to strive for, nothing else to wonder and dream about. Work from one sun day to the next, to propagate crops, to share the resources, but never to wonder what was beyond.
Did my parents find out? They must have.
He continued to prod and poke at the dirt, pulling and breaking, revealing what lay hidden below, the potatoes fully grown and ready to be bagged and carried away.
This job – like any other job – just a job. A ceiling repaired, a fence installed, a garden tended, trees planted, vines trimmed and thinned. What did any of it mean? Subsistence towards a dim day of rest, games, stages set for children to play on; while the adults watched and were entertained, only to return to their work the next day.
But what was that on the horizon, out there beyond the mist? Was it just more mist, heavier and denser? Was it only clouds settling down into the cold recesses of the waelfog?
Or was it something else? A shape. Like hills. Grey and distant. Too far away to see clearly, but nevertheless there.
Something. Something was there.
He turned around. Meridule was behind him, staring down at his pitchfork. The prongs had pierced through three separate potatoes.
“Not everybody likes holes in their potatoes.”
“Sorry Meridule. I was a bit distracted. Had other things on my mind.”
“Yes, well, you might as well put those three aside for yourself. Better eat them quickly though – with holes like that in them, rot will get in quick if they’re left out.”
“Sure. They’ll be perfectly fine for a potato salad during late quarter before Dark arrives.”
“That’s my boy. Try to be a bit more attentive. We have a lot more work to get through now as a community. Duties have to be moved to take up J’nifer and Sauel’s farming work. Your friend, Sere’aen, is one of those doing extra work over there in fact. She’s a hard worker. You could do well to follow her example.”
He patted Jansuell on the shoulder and began walking away as attention was returned to pulling the potatoes off the prongs and inspecting their holes.
“Jansuell?” Meridule had stopped and turned around, nodding towards the mireline. “It’s just waelfog.” He shrugged. “There’s only death out there. Great bowels of mist too cold for our sun drenched bones.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because if there was anything else, other people – not just your parents, but people before them – would have come back alive to tell about it.”
“Did some of them come back dead?”
Meridule laughed. But it was a condescending laugh and the old adult frame seemed to mock him in the stance it took.
“Jansuell, no one comes back at all.”
Some updates to keep me updated.