They’re holding the Olympics on the lawn outside our house. A bearded man does a funny hopping run and then heaves a javelin into the air. The camera follows its slow, shuddery arc.
In the next shot, my father is on the ground with the javelin sticking out of his back, writhing around on the grass. My mother marches into the scene, all efficiency in an umpire’s uniform, and pulls out a measuring tape. My father tries to get her attention by writhing more vigorously. “Help!” he’s mouthing. But she is busy measuring the throw, and the javelin-thrower is pacing back and forth proudly in his knee-high socks. Eventually, my father lies still.
I play the clip over and over. Is my father dead? It looks like he is. But then he appears in the next scene, where he and the bearded man are trying to put up a tent and end up sword-fighting with poles. It’s weird that these old people have such young faces and long hair in these scenes. And it worries me that these scenes were filmed before I was born. It must be like watching a scene that only happens after you die. Here’s a time when you don’t exist, and nobody seems to care that you haven’t got there yet, or that you came and left early.
I saw my first UFO in summer. I was on the trampoline in the near-dark. Under my feet the mat was warm and alive, pushing me into the sky as if each time I went up, that was a heartbeat.
There was a bright marble in the sky. It was shining a corridor down to Mrs. Dale’s farm. It floated over the Easter cross on the hill and then continued calmly on toward the airfield, and then, I guessed, toward Otorohanga. Straight away I knew what it was. I’d read the books – Flying Saucers and Aliens!; The Unexplained; The Extraordinary; Bigfoot and Other Unsolved Mysteries. I crashed-landed on the grass and ran for the house.
“I saw a UFO,” I shouted at my parents, who were reclining in front of the television. They looked at me sleepily as my brother came running. We climbed onto the veranda railing to stare determinedly at the sky. My UFO had long gone but within two minutes we’d located another one. We found two more the night after that, and once, terrifyingly, we saw one landing on the hill near the abattoir.
The more we looked, the more we found, like Billy who saw tiny people living in trees in The Minpins. I often wondered aloud why the UFOs chose to visit Te Kuiti, and my brother reminded me that Te Kuiti was on the edge of space, just like everywhere else in the world. The aliens couldn’t tell the difference.
I’m thinking of curling up inside the big bass drum like a pillow when somebody throws open the door. I’m on my feet. My book and my rice cakes fall all over the floor.
Two fifth formers gawk at me. “What are you in here for?” one says.
“Nothing. What are you in here for?” I feel my throat start to ache and my nostrils flare so I look down at my skirt. A bit of gladwrap is stuck to it.
“We’ve got clarinet.”
“Oh yep.” I nod and nod. I will trick them into thinking that nothing funny is going on here.
First I look at them. They have wide, sullen faces and flat eyes and sweaty hair. No matter what you say, they’ll think you’re stupid. They’ve been playing something on the Rec; pieces of grass are stuck to their knees.
Then I say, “Well, I’m just going.” As I bend down for my book the gladwrap falls off and floats to the floor. My face is boiling. I want to smack my hand into it like they do on TV – really smack it hard, so my head flies backwards and comes off. How could I let myself be found like this?
Being found is like spontaneous human combustion, a phenomenon my brother has told me about where a person explodes. The difference being that I spontaneously explode into a giant. It would be much more convenient if I could simply turn into someone else each lunchtime. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it – I’d just sit quietly during SSR, reading Roald Dahl and waiting for the bell, and when it went my skin would shimmer and I’d vanish into a blue flash like Sam in Quantum Leap. He leaps into someone else’s body at the end of every episode. “Oh boy!” he always says when he figures out where he is. I like thinking about Quantum Leap. I don’t believe it’s impossible to turn into someone else.