The Frog and the Bunny Rabbit

An excerpt from John Summers' new book, The Mermaid Boy

The following is an extract from John Summers' new book, The Mermaid Boy
Available from Hue & Cry Press

Read John Summers in conversation with his editor, Lawrence Patchett, here

From 'The Frog and the Bunny Rabbit'

We waited on the edge of the wide and dusty road out of Kaikōura. We watched a dozen or so cars go before the hatchback stopped. It was a clapped-out and rusting thing. A young African man was hunched over the wheel and he shouted to us to get in, get in. His urgency was contagious. I folded the passenger seat forward and jumped into a heap of clothes on the back seat. I pushed them to one side and propped my backpack on top. Gareth passed me his pack. There was no place for it but my lap. The driver stomped on the accelerator as soon as we pulled the door shut. It was like robbing a bank.

He forced the tiny hatchback along those coast roads at 140 kilometres an hour. The engine whined and the body rattled violently. The windows were wound down and the wind bellowed in and out. The radio was partly tuned to the Concert Programme and every so often a snatch of Mozart would fill the car before the reception was lost. He overtook car after car. He did it impatiently, passing on yellow lines and around corners. If there was any incline, the hatchback struggled to pass, and we would drive in the wrong lane for several minutes, parallel to the other car, the man hunching closer and closer to the wheel as if this would help us get the lead.

I felt my stomach as a lead lump. I looked to the wing mirror, trying to get Gareth’s attention, but it was twisted so that all I saw was myself: an anxious man raising his eyebrows and pulling horrified faces.

We hurtled over a bump in the road and the car lifted off the asphalt just slightly. My head was jolted up and then down. I saw a far-off flash of red and blue.

‘Police,’ I said.

The driver lifted his foot from the accelerator and pumped the brakes. We moved sedately past a parked police car and, knowing he would speed up again, I regretted that I had told him.

‘Thank you, thank you,’ the man said. He offered us cigarettes and, when we declined, he rolled one for himself, balancing it on top of the steering wheel. Now that he had slowed, it was possible to talk.

‘Where have you come from today?’ I said.

‘Roxburgh. I need to get to Blenheim by four-thirty to cash a cheque at the bank.’

I figured he had been apple picking. Gareth and I had once spent two weeks there doing just that. It had been another suggestion of his I had regretted. On my first day I barely made minimum wage. I struggled with the heavy ladder and was scolded for not picking enough ‘colour’. But we worked below low, rolling hills and a warming sun. After a couple of days I got the hang of the ladder and the colour quota. I was making okay money in what I could then see was a beautiful place.

‘That’s a long drive,’ Gareth said. ‘Why didn’t you go to a bank in Christchurch?’

‘Couldn’t get a park.’

We were out of sight of the cops now and he pushed the accelerator down. The conversation was over.

The hatchback continued to flap and rattle. We passed every car until we came to a row backed up behind a tanker. The man muttered something in another language and drummed his fingers. We were last in this long queue, tailgating the second to last. I watched him, hoping he could wait just a little, but the speedo began to creep up, and he swung the car out to overtake. We sped past the first and the second car, and still he kept going. We passed another. All this time we were in the wrong lane, winding around those blind corners. The sea was on one side, rock cliffs on the other. I tried to look to Gareth, and again the man in the wing mirror looked back. He was solemn now, and his lips were strangely bright. Was he wearing make-up? I stared till I realised the blood had drained from my face, leaving me red-lipped and pale, a vampire in the back seat.

A blind corner was ahead and we were alongside the tanker’s back wheels, trying to pass it too. The hatchback beat on. Its engine was roaring but still the man wanted more from it. Another car appeared. It came around that blind corner and sounded its horn as soon as its driver saw us. The man let out a high and desperate whinny. He tried to turn back into the queue of cars but it was tightly packed. There were more horns, and he hunched right over the dash, determined now to get past the tanker. I closed my eyes. Vivaldi flooded the car.

Read John Summers in conversation with his editor, Lawrence Patchett, here

The Mermaid Boy launches on Thursday 7 May
6pm at Unity Books, Wellington

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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