‘Āniwaniwa’ was first published as part of the longer story ‘Ringawera’, in Middle
Distance, Long Stories of Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Craig Gamble (THWUP).
‘I’m just gonna . . .’
‘The bathroom is next door,’ Rua said.
‘Cool.’ The man rolled over and stood, picking up the towel from the bed and holding it to his crotch. ‘Is it okay if I have a shower?’
‘Yeah, man,’ Rua said. ‘The towels hanging up in there are clean.’
‘Cheers.’ He still didn’t leave. Rua felt a bead of sweat dripping down his back and another forming in its place.
‘Oh, and can I grab another puff on your vape before I head off? I haven’t had weed since before lockdown.’
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘Cheers.’ He pulled the bedroom door shut behind him.
Rua wriggled out of bed, untangled his discarded underwear and climbed back into them. The flat was empty – his flatmates were scattered across Te Ika in their family bubbles – but he still felt exposed being naked there. He padded down to the other bathroom to clean himself up.
Rua flushed a stiffening wad of tissues. He could hear the clunk of the gas hot water and the hiss of the shower. His toothbrush was in there with . . . had they exchanged names? His profile name had been ‘Looking’. He found an old tube of toothpaste, rinsed off the dried stuff from the tube and swished a chunk of toothpaste around his mouth with a swig of water from the tap. There was still a pleasant fuzz in his head from the sesh they’d had earlier, and the hum of relaxed muscles and worn-out nerves in his pelvis.
The pipes stopped gurgling as the shower was turned off. The flat was silent again. It still had a sulky, neglected air, mad that it had been left to sit empty during levels 3 and 4. Rua towelled the sweat off his chest and back and found some bodyspray to apply. He would have a shower after Looking had left.
Looking was sitting on the bench out on the deck. He wore just his K-mart brand black, trunk-style underwear and a damp towel draped over his shoulders. He took a deep inhale on Rua’s dry herb vape. He patted the space next to him on the bench. Rua sat down, arms folded across his bare chest, oddly pleased that Looking hadn’t got all the way dressed.
‘Aren’t you cold?’ he asked.
‘No. Are you?’
‘No.’ It was warm for June. He took the vape and inhaled. They’d probably look quite cool passing a joint or blunt back and forth. No one looks cool vaping.
Rua took in Looking’s shaggy lockdown hair, not overgrown enough to hide his widow’s peak. His brown eyes were big and a little too far apart. It somehow made him look more handsome.
‘What are you thinking?’ Looking asked.
‘I’m thinking . . .’ Rua looked up. The full moon was surrounded by a perfect halo of white light, though half of it was obscured by a rimu tree in the corner of the section. ‘I’m thinking how considerate it is of ice crystals high in the atmosphere to refract light in such a way that . . .’ He pointed up at the halo. He felt his mind soften and loosen at the edges. Some of the tension in his jaw and temples gave way.
Looking chuckled silently, his shaking shoulders brushing against Rua’s.
‘And that I wish weed were legal,’ Rua added, blowing a cloud towards the moon.
‘Soon,’ Looking said.
‘Hopefully.’ ‘Hopefully. Though then cops couldn’t use the smell of weed as an excuse for warrantless searches of brown people –’
‘A shame we can’t see the whole thing.’ Looking stood up and looked towards the back fence. I bet we could from your neighbour’s place. Is anyone home there?’
‘No, not for months.’
‘Then let’s do it.’ Looking crossed the lawn to the fence and started feeling for foot and hand holds.
The silhouette of Looking vanished over the top of the fence.
Rua’s feet left dark patches in the dew on the lawn. His hands were unsteady on the damp wood of the fence and his stomach scraped against the boards. He glimpsed the jagged shape of Mount Pirongia against the deep blue of the sky before half tumbling into his neighbour’s garden.
Looking was lying on his back on the trampoline. Rua joined him, moving with exaggerated care to stop the springs creaking.
‘There!’ Looking pointed up.
The moon was directly above them, the entire halo visible, enclosing a circle of richer blue around the white disc. Only the brightest stars were visible: the three points of Orion’s belt, Venus and Mars, the pointers and the bottom star of Te Punga. Takurua, the dog star.
‘It looks like a lid on the dome of the sky,’ Rua said. ‘Like a giant would lift it off to look through to check in on us. They’d probably be mad. Look at the fucking mess they’ve made!’
‘Can you let some carbon dioxide out while you have the lid off, please?’ Looking asked the imaginary giants.
‘No that’s ozone,’ Rua cried. ‘We need that.’ He felt Looking’s shoulders shaking again.
Looking reached over and traced the pale scratches on Rua’s stomach, his touch the slightest tickle. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah,’ Rua said. ‘This is nice.’ He could smell his own bodywash on Looking. He liked it. ‘Āniwaniwa,’ he said. ‘A halo around a heavenly body. Āniwaniwa.’
Their hands found each other.