If that law firm was a person

He wears his privilege

You can see it as he walks

A halo of light – he imagines sometimes

It bouncing off his gold watch

And his brown brogue shoes.

 

His suit fits

The tailor knew his father

And the tailor’s father knew his father’s father

The shop front looks like a house

A small white villa

On Tinakori Road.

 

He adjusts his the length of his sleeves

Sub consciously

A number of times a day.

 

Interns

And juniors

Start to whisper about It.

 

He wears cufflinks

Gifted to him on his graduation

He will pass them on to his son.

 

(In the weekend

He sits on the end of his son’s bed

Reads “Harry Potter”

His son asks why “He Who Must not be Named”

Must Not be Named?

Dad?)

 

He holds a glass of golden whiskey

In his hand after a long day

 

(Sparkling halo slung off the corner of his red leather over stuffed chair)

 

He is the last one up

He turns off the tall wooden floor lamp.

And closes the book.

– Anonymous

Alternatives to teaching your disabled daughter how to walk

Darling, there is no such thing as standing on your own two feet anyway. That is just a story some people tell themselves. Yes, we all take the steps on our own but not everyone has to think about every heavy movement. They have always been light on their feet, so this tale just trips off their tongues and trickles down to us, seeping in through blood and bone. It is easy to confuse on your own, on your own, on your own with the name of your hometown.

People there will want to take these steps for you. It is okay to let them, as long as you are navigating. Even walking for you is no guarantee they will know what you mean when you tell them your feet are tired. Do not fall over yourself trying to teach them. Fall over because all kids scrape their knees sometimes and I will help you up.

 Henrietta Bollinger

The jury wants blood under the fingernails

Weeks later, when the detective interviewed him, he didn’t deny that he’d inserted his fingers into my vagina and wiggled them round. I thought it was consensual, he said.

Perhaps he interpreted my shocked gasp as pleasure and decided that was the sound of consent, because I
shook my head
nudged his arm away
edged further away from him
pushed his arm away
said “stop” quietly
said “stop” again, louder
looked him directly in the eyes and said “stop” loudly and clearly during the part in the movie just before Sully crash lands the plane into the Hudson
he didn’t stop
and none of that seems consensual to me.

Nor does the part where I had to forcefully yank his arm out of my vagina with both of my hands, and he resisted, pushing in further, and I pulled harder and turned my body so I was curled in my seat with my back to him, pulling my tights up and my dress down.

None of that is yes. All of it is heart-thudding: the plane thunders into the water and his fingers are back in his own lap.

Maybe he meant the part where I acquiesced to holding his hand. If I was holding his hand, he couldn’t do that flick again, that’s why I did it. That flick of my dress, lying on my knees, suddenly exposing the hemline of my tights for him to pull them down. The flick, the pull, the dry unexpected shove. Two fingers, maybe three.

He didn’t get as far as that the second or third time he tried though, only the first. Because the next few times, when he let go of my hand and began the flick, I was ready to hold my dress down. I held my dress down and stayed sitting there, because I wanted to know what happened in the movie and I didn’t want to disturb anyone by running out. It seemed important to know what happened in the movie because there was a good guy in the movie, and the small hushed battles over my dress didn’t bear thinking about. I was safest in the cinema, because there were people around. If he followed me out with that entitlement in his fingers, that strength in his arms, I wouldn’t be safe.

Initially, after we’d met a couple of times, he’d invited me to his place, said he’d cook me dinner. I’d had to cancel that future plan because of childcare and we ended up going to the movies at short notice. The reason I went to the police was partly because Gemma was so appalled by what happened that she called them, and they asked her to encourage me to go in. But mostly because if I had gone to his house I am certain it would have been much worse when I tried to say stop, and someday, another woman will go to his house and I do not want it to be worse for her.

I was nice to you, he said. As if the fine print for buying me a movie ticket and a glass of wine granted him access to the inside of my body. I just thought I was watching a movie and having a glass of wine.

I just want him to get a fright, I told the detective. I want him to know it’s not ok. He didn’t believe me that it was not ok. He said I was a horrible girl after I ignored 17 calls from him and finally sent him a message saying he needed to learn to take no for an answer. Go stand on your feminist pedestal somewhere else, he said. God girls are dicks. You made life so much more shit. And you need a shave, he said. All of this was screenshot and emailed to the detective.

If pubic hair would have put him off I would grow a mane between my legs. I would grow a dark vulvan version of Rapunzel’s locks to repel him.

I got a bit of a trim I suppose, not that he’d ever know that. It was two days later that I went to the police, and after the initial interview where I somehow managed not to cry, I ended up in a blue gown at the forensics clinic while kind, softly spoken women took clippings of my pubic hair, and scraped my vaginal wall with a stick, scraped under my fingernails with another, and put my dress and several pairs of underpants in their own individual bags. I only wear black briefs and I had chucked the pair I wore that night in the laundry basket along with others, so I couldn’t tell which I had been wearing. The forensics team took custody of my dirty laundry. I wondered if their voices were naturally that gentle and calm, or if they had cultivated that softness for their jobs. How to talk to violated women while they touched parts of their body that shouldn’t have been touched in the first place.

I thought it was consensual, he told the detective. The detective told me that he couldn’t press charges because he didn’t deny what happened, and therefore it was he-said-she-said. If he’d denied it, he would have been charged. The jury want blood under the fingernails, the detective said, and I didn’t mind because I didn’t want to testify in court in the first place, I just wanted him to be scared.

Blood under the fingernails, because his DNA scraped out of my vagina wasn’t enough. I almost asked the doctors if they could do my regular smear while they were down there, but something about being sexually assaulted and having my genitals examined by strangers – gentle as they were – didn’t seem quite the right moment for jokes.

He was scared, though, said the detective. After I turned the cameras off, I gave him the hard word. He was crying when he left.

I liked the detective. I liked all the people I dealt with at the police station and the clinic. They were respectful towards me. The support people. The doctors. The receptionist who made tea. The interviewer out in Lower Hutt at the special interview place where they record everything and make sure there aren’t inconsistencies. You come across well, they assured me. Your story is believable. I felt sad for the women who aren’t as educated or articulate or who don’t have an arsenal of feminist literature and memes in their handbags. The women who don’t come across well and aren’t as believable. The women who aren’t white, or calm, or average in every way, like I am.

The jury wants blood under the fingernails, the detective said, and he was angry.

It’s ok, I said. I just wanted him to be scared. I wanted it on record so that if he ever gets reported again, the next woman will have her story validated and he will go to court. I wanted the incident to become a data point in the statistics on sexual assault. I reported it for all the women who think they aren’t believable or safe and don’t report what happens to them. The statistics tell a terrible story but they don’t tell the full story.

I wanted it on record, even though I hesitated to go to the police, because I wanted their resources to go on domestic violence cases and rape cases. I declined counselling because I was mostly fine, and I have fierce wise friends who supported me. I wanted the limited counselling resources available for the women who don’t have that support, for the woman who gets blamed or ignored because she shouldn’t be such a prude or it’s a compliment or just get over it or did it really even happen.

The statistics don’t reflect the time a man followed me along a dark street and stood next to my car while I took a deep breath, pretending I didn’t know he was there, mentally playing out the exact moves it took to unlock and start my car so I could drive away fast even if he opened a door. The statistics don’t account for the time a man stood in my path to block me, mimed the shape of my body with his hands, and then brushed past me so close his entire body slid along mine and he almost pushed me over. That will never go on record, but the non-consensual penetration at Reading Cinemas on Courtenay Place did.

He works at my university, and I haven’t had much reason to venture into the science buildings before now, but I recently had to talk myself into going to the lab for my physics paper, two years later. I wore my hood up and comforted myself with the knowledge that I would be on alert, but he would be the one taken by surprise. I haven’t seen him.

The detective offered me my clothes back, but that was the only time I’d worn that dress and I didn’t want it. I left it in the brown paper bag with my dirty underpants in the formica-furnished interview room for him to throw away. I thanked him as I walked out.

Charlotte Fielding – Find more of Charlotte’s writing here.

You Meant to Leave Us

A poem by Sisilia Eteuati

 

 

You meant
to leave us
with
nothing.
But
I see in
My son
your ears
that stick out
and
rabbit teeth
too big for his mouth.
I see in
My daughter
your almond shape eyes
your light hair.
Hers turns
golden
in the sun.
And I thank you
For taking with you
a shriveled useless heart
That could not even allow you to
truly
love yourself
and for
leaving behind
that
which was
most precious.

Thank You To My Nurse

A Poem by Rosie Jimson-Healy

Thank you to my nurse, for turning a blind eye to the crumpled figure of my partner, sleeping in the blue plastic hospital chair next to me, so I wasn’t alone at night.

Thank you to my nurse, for stroking my hair while I cried.

Thank you to my nurse, for smuggling me a brown paper bag of sandwiches at some ungodly hour, when I was finally allowed to eat again (they were delicious).

Thank you to my nurse for waking me softly, smiling, with blood pressure cuffs and pills every three hours.

Thank you to the nurse who painted my best friends nails when she was alone in mental health care.

Thank you to the nurse who told my mum not to leave hospice to buy lemon zinger tea bags on the double, because nana was dying, and sometimes when people are dying, they don’t know what they say.

Thank you to the nurse who will help me when I have babies, when I’m weak or sick, when my partner is hurt, when my brother falls off the back of a car again, when my dad doesn’t take care of himself, when my mother is in pain.

Thank you to our nurses, for your knowledge, for our comfort, for your heart.

I Want My Bike Back

I want my bike back.

Even though I never want to ride it again and I was sick of mountain biking, it’s still my bike and I want it back because he bought it for my birthday and the idea that she’s riding it now tears me up, knowing that he even put a new seat on it for her so that she’d have a smoother ride.

He wasn’t interested in giving me a smoother ride.

He told me I should be grateful the bike had front and rear shocks, alloy body, flasher than any of my friend’s bikes, he said.

I didn’t tell him I didn’t want shocks or an alloy body. I didn’t tell him I preferred the bikes on the other side of the shop, the upright ones in mint-green with baskets and a bell on the handlebars, like the ones they ride in Amsterdam with a stick of bread poking out the top.

I didn’t say that.

I said thank you instead.

He smiled and pushed the bike out of the shop.

I left my sweat on the handlebars of that bike, wishing every minute of the climb to be over, closing my eyes in terror on every slick corner.

I hated that bike but I want it back anyway because it’s mine, and even though it was a dud-ride it was my dud-ride. I want it back because he bought it for my birthday and the thought of her riding it tears me up and some things are sacred, even bikes.

Spotlight on: Refugee stories

It’s time for New Zealand to step up and welcome home more refugees

A practical, hands-on guide for everyone who wants to do their bit.

“We get to decide our national character. If we want it to be one of manaakitanga and welcome, we can work on that while we’re lobbying for an increased quota. We can build up a stash of goodwill and energy that we’re happy to spend on people who need care and hospitality.”

Read the article here.

The story of the famous writer who arrived in New Zealand as a refugee and a nobody

A haunting and affecting essay by Adrienne Jansen.

“We’re thinking a lot about refugees these days – not only the Syrians, but also the Colombians, the Burmese, the Afghans, the Iraqis – and about changing countries, the lost and found of it. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the loss of language – it’s not just about communication, it’s about power, and identity.”

Read the article here.

How do you settle when your loved ones are in danger?

A well-researched and sobering investigation into the process of family reunification. Tessa Johnstone peels back the layers of the New Zealand Immigration System.

The current system puts families in a queue – a very long queue, jostling with hundreds of other at-risk families. There are currently more than 1400 applications, representing some thousands of family members, waiting to be processed under the Refugee Family Support Category. Immigration NZ estimates it will take at five years to work through them.

Read the article here.

Together We Make a Nation

An unmissable series of short documentaries.

Together We Make a Nation weaves together video, delicious recipes, data visualisation, cracking yarns and moments of shattering sadness.

Read the full story on The Spinoff, here.

 

 

Community Law Manual – New edition out now!

At nearly 1000 pages long, it’s a far cry from the ring-bound resource of its earliest iterations. But in the most critical way it hasn’t deviated at all. The Community Law Manual exists to make our justice system fairer and more accessible to all.

From its humble beginnings in the 1980s as a loose leaf resource in a ring-bound folder, the Community Law Manual has grown and transformed into a glossy-covered, 1000 page book setting out complex legal information in clear language. Accessed by hundreds of people every day, the Community Law Manual is comprehensive yet accessible, offering real-life examples to help everyday New Zealanders understand the practical application of the law.

We know from our statistics that the Manual is accessed online by over a million users every year and we also sell hundreds of hard copies. The demand for the Manual is evidence of its value, yet for all of that the Community Law Manual remains staunchly committed to its founding principles and is completely free online to everyone who needs it.

Funds generated from the sale of the hard-copy Manual are channelled straight back into production costs for the next year so that each year it can be updated, refreshed and improved. Here’s a glimpse of what’s new in the 2018/19 edition of the Manual.

What’s in this edition that wasn’t in the last one? 

New Disability rights chapter

This year, Community Law has collaborated with individuals and organisations from the Disabled and Deaf community to produce a new chapter on Disability rights. This includes all the topics in the old “Health and disability” chapter, but is much broader and more practical. It covers things like supported decision-making, discrimination in employment, a person’s right to use New Zealand Sign Language, reasonable accommodation, and access to special education services.

Domestic violence

The Domestic Violence chapter has been rewritten to make it more accessible and relevant to people experiencing DV. There’s also a new section on preparing to leave a relationship, a new popout guide to protection orders and new content added to the “other resources” section at the end of the chapter.

Refugees and Immigration

We’ve split up the Immigration and refugees chapter into two chapters: ‘Immigration’ and ‘Refugees’, and updated the entire chapter for changes to policy over the last year. We’ve also added new content about citizenship and community organisations refugee sponsorship schemes.

Begging, busking and sleeping rough

Our “Neighbourhood life” chapter has been refreshed and now includes some other aspects of living in the community, including laws around begging, busking and sleeping rough. Our “Driving and traffic” chapter also explains the laws about dodging bus and train fares (“fare evasion”).

Specific law changes

As we always do, we’ve updated the Community Law Manual to include the various specific law changes that happen every year – for example:

  • “Dealing with Work and Income” covers the Ardern government’s Families Package passed in December 2017, including the new Best Start and Winter Energy payments.
  • We’ve updated the “Employment conditions and protections” chapter to include the new parental leave entitlements, which increased from 18 to 22 weeks on 1 July 2018.
  • We’ve explained a change in ACC policy about whether you’re covered if you break a tooth on a small stone or other foreign object that’s gotten into your food (the bad news is you’re not covered anymore).

We’re also steadily including more examples from real cases to help show what the law can mean in real life and to give a better idea of what it’s like trying to enforce your rights. We talk about how courts and judges have been interpreting and applying the laws we’ve explained in the Manual. For example, in the “Wills” chapter (under “Making a will”), we’ve summarised some cases showing how judges have taken a liberal approach to deciding whether informal notes like emails and text messages can be a legally valid will in some situations. Online readers who want to delve into the details of these cases to find useful comparisons to their own situations can follow the case links we’ve included.

Every year the Community Law Manual evolves, changes and grows. With a combination of support from volunteers, funders and like-minded organisations, Community Law is able to respond to changes in the law, keeping pace with developments in society and technology in order to provide a legal resource that supports the most vulnerable in the community. At nearly 1000 pages long, it’s a far cry from the ring-bound resource of its earliest iterations. But in the most critical way it hasn’t deviated at all. The Community Law Manual exists to make our justice system fairer and more accessible to all.

By buying a copy of the Manual you are not only getting a hard copy to keep within arm’s reach, you’re also directly improving the chances that others in the community will be able to do the same. Together, we can continue to improve and refresh the Manual, next year and beyond. Order your Community Law Manual 2018–2019 now. Email: info@wclc.org.nz

 

Busking: The unwritten code

The council brought in all these new laws. Time limits and noise levels and shit. Gotta have a permit, can’t work one spot for more than an hour. Gets me wild.

The thing about busking is you gotta know where to set up. Location is everything. Don’t bother wasting your time outside a bank, rich people are mean-as, won’t throw you a cent. Outside a chemist’s the spot. You’d be surprised how generous sick people can be. Nothing makes a person feel better than knowing there’s someone out there worse off than them. I look at them and smile and as soon as there’s eye contact, boom, hand goes straight to the purse.

And another thing. There’s an unwritten code when you’re busking. You don’t go and set up next to someone. There’s this woman, she plays the violin. Doesn’t matter if I’m here first, she’ll go and set herself right beside me, I mean like right there. Gets me wild. I say to her ‘lady, we’re not in a fuckin band, get your own spot.’ But she doesn’t listen. She’s got no manners. I’m not like that. If I come down and she’s there, I go somewhere else. I got manners.

Couple times I’ve been moved on. The council brought in all these new laws. Time limits and noise levels and shit. Gotta have a permit, can’t work one spot for more than an hour. Gets me wild. Took me months to get a permit last time and I then I didn’t get asked to show it once. Waste a bloody time.

There’s this place downtown, outside Noel Leemings. Yeah. The manager there hates me. Accuses me of playing the same song over and over again. I tell him, ‘bae, I’m not a fuckin’ juke box and I wasn’t put on this earth to entertain you.’

But if you wanna know the truth, I do it on purpose. Bob Marley especially gets him wild. I wait til I know he’s on the counter and then I start up. Say I remember…. when you used to sit…. in a government yard in Trenchtown….  Sure enough, nek minute, here he comes, wild as, telling me to get lost. Fark, cracks me up.

But I gotta get my laughs somehow. This ‘aint an easy gig out here. You have your good days and your bad days. A good day I might get a hundred bucks. Bad days I get nothing but a fuckin’ head cold. People look at me like they feel sorry for me sometimes, ‘specially in winter when it’s pouring with rain.

I know those looks. It’s a look of dollar signs.

Fighting for Justice – Working at Community Law

“There is no such thing as an average day for our community lawyers.”

Lawyers often get cast in a rather unflattering light. You don’t need a lawyer when everything is going right in your life. Instead, they are often the bearers of bad news or the person you have to turn to when you’ve already got the bad news. They are there on the edges of relationship break-downs, evictions and letters of demand. Yet in my 6 years working at Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley (CLWHV), the lawyers I have worked with are anything but the vultures described in pop-culture jokes. They are consistently passionate about fighting injustice, driven to get the best for their clients and motivated to ensure everyone in our community understands their rights.

There is no such thing as an average day for our community lawyers. They spend their days travelling between our advice clinics in the suburbs, supervising the drop-in clinics in or presenting legal education for free in between making sure any client work they have is being attended to. This month I spoke to three of our current lawyers, Kate, Sarah and Ione to find out what working at CLWHV means to them.

Prince Billy By Michaela Keeble

Billy joins john down in the paddocks at the end of the village. Beyond the paddocks, a swollen stream full of celery weed. Beyond the stream, Whitelock Farm and the national park that fixes the boundaries of the village so it can never grow any bigger.

John is in bare feet even though the ground is sodden. His jeans are rolled at the bottom and he’s wearing an old work shirt, hot pink singlet underneath. His face has eroded into hard lines, but his hair is a bright crown of curls, which makes it difficult to figure out his age. He seems old, but his hair is so full of life.

John slips the bit into Rocky’s mouth, buckles the bridle and swings himself up on to Rocky’s back. He doesn’t use a saddle. He says he used to, but when the leather cinch finally broke he weighed up his options and went au naturale instead. John rides Rocky most places, or just walks. He doesn’t leave the village, doesn’t own a car.

John might not be too old, but Rocky is. Their fastest pace is a walk, like cowboys.

“Come on, Prince Billy,” John says.

Billy doesn’t know why John calls him Prince, but he likes it, that’s for sure.

“Stay away from behind us.”

Rocky kicks. Billy learned the hard way. His hooves are steel-shod because most of the town’s streets have been sealed, and when the tide is high and the beach is inaccessible, or when the southerly is bad and John wants to get somewhere quickly, they take the road.

John is riding to the shops to buy some coke for his vodka this afternoon, and the daily paper. He says he prefers smoking pot to drinking but it’s not that easy anymore, not in this town, full of yuppies and dickheads and people who obey the law even while they pretend not to. He’ll stop for a coffee at the cafe, unless there’s already too many people. But at this time of the morning, just past 8am, the village is quiet. He can have a smoke and read the news in peace, and there won’t be too many kids to get up in Rocky’s face.

Sometimes – not enough but he’s always grateful – John reaches down and swings Billy up in front of him, so Billy is straddling Rocky right up on his withers. Rocky is part Clydesdale, he’s a giant. Today isn’t one of those days, but Billy won’t ask. John has his reasons and his moods, like Rocky, and if they don’t want him up there he’s not going to beg.

So Billy trots alongside them in the gutter, hand fluttering up now and then to rest against Rocky’s heaving chest.

Billy has some dog in him, that’s what John says. Half boy, half dog, like a sweet mongrel puppy without an owner. It helps Billy to think of himself like this. Helps him work out how to behave, even though he has a mum. The kids at school say she’s a hippy. She likes crystals, and doesn’t shave her legs or under her arms – but Billy can’t see how that’s a bad thing. The real problem is that even though she laughs a lot, and pretends to be happy, she’s always talking with people Billy can’t see.

He wishes she would tell him what to do, or how to do it, but she never does.

When they reach the cafe, John ties Rocky to a street pole. Billy fetches the bucket from inside and fills it at the tap, hauls it outside and stands there while Rocky dips his muzzle in and out, frothing up the water a bit, looking sideways at Billy. Billy loves him so much, even though Rocky is mean and would bite if he got half a chance and John wasn’t around to give him a whack.

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school, Billy?” The cafe owner asks. She’s standing in the doorway with one hand on her hip, grey hair spiked into a peak.

“Reckon I could have a hot chocolate?” Billy says in reply. She’s safe, she doesn’t make him feel greedy or rude for asking. A few minutes later she returns with his hot drink in a takeaway cup, a few marshmallows piled on top. He perches on a wooden chair at John’s table. John puts down his paper and raises his own cup of coffee. “Cheers, Billy,” he says.

Billy should be getting ready to go to school, but it’s a Friday, and recently his teacher asked his mum if Billy could stop coming to school on Fridays. “What do you think, Bill?” His mum asked, as if it was his decision, and he said, “Okay,” because it was what the teacher wanted, even though he liked school and didn’t understand why it was best if he stayed away. John used to be a school teacher and he thought Billy’s teacher should be fired for asking Bill to leave school. “She can’t do that,” he said, “it’s against the law.” But Billy wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do about it. He wished John could be his teacher, and not Mrs Brunton.

Billy doesn’t want to risk outstaying his welcome, so when he finishes his hot chocolate he jumps up and says, “I’m gonna go check the river, see if I can catch any flounder. Want one if I do?”

“Right, Prince Billy, sure,” says John.

“I’ll drop one round before Scouts tonight”, Billy says, mainly to let John know he’s still going to Scouts and hasn’t dropped out yet. He’s never caught a flounder big enough to eat.

“Good Bill. See you later then.”

BILLY MAKES HIS WAY back along Marine Parade towards the river mouth, but at Peel Street he diverts suddenly right, away from the sea, up the hill towards the Norfolk pines he likes to climb. They line the street like plastic lego, weird and symmetrical. He’s half way up the tallest tree when a car skids to a stop beneath him. At first he thinks it has stopped because of him, because it’s against the rules to climb these trees, because he’s supposed to be in school, but the driver door opens and Finn’s mum gets out, swearing at the boys inside the car.

“Finn! Get out you filthy little shit. Get those pants off.” She marches round the front of the car and yanks open the passenger door. “We’ll have to go home and change and you’ll all be late for school and I’ll be fucking late for work.”

Finn must have wet his pants in the car. He falls out the door and stumbles to the trunk of Billy’s tree. Billy prays Finn won’t look up. He doesn’t want Finn to know that anyone has seen him, or seen his mum being so mean. Finn takes off his shoes and pants and Billy himself looks up through the crowded branches towards the sky, refusing to invade his classmate’s privacy.

Finn’s in Billy’s year at school. He’s lucky, at least that’s what Billy thought till now. He’s smart and good at sport and the teachers like him. He always has new runners. He and his brothers all look the same, a happy gang. They also look like their mum and dad, who go to parent teacher interviews and school working bees and know every kid in school by their first name. It’s a shock to see Finn’s mum being cruel.

Finn shuffles back to the car, naked from the waist down, and his mum slams the door after him. Something makes her look up and she sees Bill, hiding above them. Billy thinks she’ll swear at him like she did at Finn, but instead she forces a smile across her face, pretending nothing just happened.

“Hi there, Billy, what you doing up that tree?” Her voice is strained and suddenly ugly. She’s trying not to show her surprise. “Kids, eh?” she says, as if he’s not a kid himself, as if he’d have done the same thing to Finn if he were Finn’s mum, running late for work.

She eases the car away from the curb, driving slowly now. She pulls a U-ey and drives back the way they came. Billy breaks off a long pine tendril from the branch above him and throws it like a spear, after the car.

BILLY SLIDES DOWN THE trunk and decides to go to the river after all. He spends the rest of the morning building complicated traps for juvenile flounder. They shelter in the river mouth, just above the tideline. You see them best if you lie flat on the bank where sand chunks off like icebergs into the fast-running water. You have to relax your eyes to see their rounded diamond bodies, perfectly camouflaged on the river bed, no bigger than an adult’s hand and mottled the way adult skin goes. Eventually you make them out. They’re not very clever. You sneak up behind them, put your hands under their bellies and pick them up. They barely even flap around.

By the end of the morning he’s built three separate complexes with four or five fish in each. Sometimes he thinks of the traps as farms. He’s farming the fish, sorting them into pens like salmon or sheep. Sometimes the traps are more like hotels. He’s rescuing the fish, giving them brothers and sisters, keeping them safe from predators and dangerous weather.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s only playing. Soon enough the tide will come in and engulf the beach. Salt water will dissolve the sand traps and the fish he has caught will rejoin the ones he didn’t see, didn’t catch.

BILLY IS FIRST AT the Scout Hall, and mucks around in the park while all the other kids are racing home from school for a snack, changing into their uniforms and racing back by 4pm.

It’s a few months now since he stole his mum’s EFTPOS card and withdrew $60 at the dairy to pay the Scouts fees. He did ask his mum, and it wasn’t the cost that stopped her from saying yes. She wasn’t tight with money, she just didn’t agree with Scouts. “It’s all bullshit, Bill. You know you have to swear allegiance to the Queen. Well, to the painting they’ve got of her in there. And all that ANZAC crap. They’re just trying to indoctrinate you.” She was exaggerating, of course, having a bit of a laugh, but she didn’t understand how badly Billy wanted to join.

He already knew how to use her card. She always sent him down the shops to buy bread and milk, maybe an icecream if she was in a good mood. He knew her PIN off by heart and even though at first he’d been scared of the EFTPOS machine and didn’t know whether to press the cheque or the savings button, the dairy owner helped him work it out. Eventually it became easy, and Billy learned how to say Sanjeet’s name, and Sanjeet would ask, “How are you, Billy?” and even if he didn’t really want to know, “How’s your mum doing these days?” When the card got declined he let Billy put it on tic until his mum got paid the following week.

So when Bill decided to withdraw the cash from his mum’s account he knew he could do it without being found out. But he wasn’t prepared for how bad it felt. His hand was shaking, he couldn’t look Sanjeet in the eye and he nearly got the PIN wrong. In the end, Sanjeet didn’t seem to notice and was already looking over Billy’s shoulder to the daytime soap on the TV. So Billy got away with it. Gave the $60 to Dan, one of the scout leaders, who assumed it’d come from Billy’s mum cos the notes were flat and clean. And Billy became a scout. He stashed his t-shirt in his school bag and because he got home late anyway, his mum never asked or suspected a thing.

ALL THE KIDS COME skipping and running down the hill to the hall, some of them on their bikes, some on scooters. “Billy!” they cry, “You’re so lucky you don’t have to go to school,” “Mrs Brunton is such a bitch,” “She’s only ever nice to the girls.” Eventually the leaders manage to get them into their sixer groups and they do their pack cry and spend the next hour and a half running around like loons.

Billy stays to help the leaders clean up, and its past dusk when he steps out of the hall into the park. He sees Rocky and John lumbering up through the track, returning to the paddocks at the end of the village. Rocky is so black only the gleam in his eyes is visible.

“Prince Billy!” John cries. “Come on up here.” He leans down and pulls Billy up in front of him. He smells of vodka and isn’t even holding Rocky’s reins. “We’ll take you home, won’t we Rock?” and Billy really does feel like a prince. Dan comes out of the hall and thinks John has come to pick him up deliberately, and that is really as good as having a real dad, better even, because John is an ex-teacher and pretty important in the village.

John lets Billy take the reins. “That’s right, Bill, soft on his mouth. You’ve really got the knack.” Billy feels down through the leather to Rocky’s mouth, and from Rocky’s mouth to the horse’s brain, and thinks, “I’ve got you Rocky,” and he holds on to the warm leather all the way home, where John lets him down and kicks Rocky onwards.

Billy is so euphoric he forgets to take off his scout shirt, but when he goes inside his mum just looks at him and says, “Are you a scout now, Bill?” and seems pleased.

WHEN HE GROWS UP, Billy thinks, he’ll get his own horse, and look after children. Maybe he’ll be a teacher. Maybe he’ll be a vet.