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An Oasis In The Dust


The mercury hovered somewhere above forty. The car had turned from the breezy windswept comfort half an hour ago to something that now felt like a fan forced oven with the temperature on full.

The vinyl gathered sweat from our bodies and pooled it into the seat, and humid skin stuck to soggy clothes, which in turn stuck to seats.

The road stretched onward through the never ending Mackenzie country, a belt of grey that trailed away through the fired gold tussock and beyond to the cool shimmering blue of the mountains in the distance.

"Can we stop somewhere for a swim Dad, pleeeze," our voices rose from the back.

We heard him sigh and the car ground to a halt beneath a shady tree, the lake sized pool glistening in the dust clogged heat. We ran from the car, my brother and I, stripping our bodies down to nakedness as bare feet tiptoed across huge flat river rocks to feel the glacial freeze of a true mountain lake.

Bodies were dipped, the heat and dust cleansed away. We laughed and splashed and ran, the water icy cold and clear as speckled trout raced between our outstretched hands.

Twizel, the town of trees, shimmered in the distance, identical rectangular boxes on identical squares of land. Built for the sole purpose of housing the hydro workers and their families, Twizel was a temporary, stark town without character, without a past and without a future.

"The place that wasn’t there ten years ago and won’t be there in ten years time." Said Dad as he squinted into the distance.

He liked Twizel in a strange sort of way, but then he liked hydro dams, railway lines and power poles.

We spent a full two hours in that frigid mountain lake before we were dragged back to the torturous interior of the dust caked Hillman Hunter.

We made one last stop on the shores of Lake Pukaki to view New Zealand’s tallest peak. Across the cerulean blue of the lake Mount Cook jutted above the other peaks, tall, serene and noble as if it boasted all the secrets we would never understand. My brother and I pointed to the dusty road that disappeared into the labyrinth of mountain peaks.

"Take us there Dad, pleeeze."

No amount of begging would change his mind and we climbed into the car, turning back to catch one last look at the mountains before they disappeared into the horizon and we headed toward civilisation.

It was a full twenty years before I ventured back down that road again. Through an adult’s eyes, little had changed.

Twizel is still there, still identical rectangular boxes on identical squares of land, though colourful gardens now adorn the streets and new subdivisions are being built. It has a character now, and a past, and perhaps one day, a future.

The mountains still rise out of the Mackenzie basin and the dusty heat still sweeps in during summer, driving the temperature well into the forties.

My brother and I pulled over on the side of the road and inspected the mountain lake we had discovered on that blistering hot day. It was more of a large pool than a lake, an overflow from the hydro dams, but the water still cool, clear and inviting. A few large speckled trout moved quickly beneath the surface.

He turned to me and smiled and just for a moment I was transported back in time to that oasis in the dust.

Copyright© 2005 Ellen Hoy.


He and She smoking outside the pub

They sit close to each other
In plastic chairs.
Cold wind blowing.
He, large, bulky, black moustache
Spreads his face.
Bald head, stained teeth.
Smoke wafting in white waves
Over her Asian face
Peeping black almond eyes
Plump little mouth
Settled in a Buddha half-smile.
Stubs his cigarette
Puts his big arms around her
Strokes her skin.
She pulls away in an angry stance.
'Please', she says, 'not here'.
'What's wrong with here?', he yells.

'You stupid New Zealand man
You know nothing!'
And then she spits at him
It lands on his lips
He lights another cigarette
Gulps his beer
Doesn't look at her as
She walks away.

Copyright © Elizabeth Wagner