I first saw her at the public art gallery, in the exhibition featuring street art from around the country and around the world. She was wandering around like so many tourists in this city; with a backpack and a camera, seemingly with no particular place to go. From a colorful beanie came, long black hair falling over slim, muscular shoulders. She paused and stared hard at the exhibits without giving notice to the school age children on field trip, who ran and shouted around her. The black hair gave way to a black tank top over a slim torso, complete with small, firm breasts. Short legs hidden in paint stained green canvas pants, trailing down to small toes between sandals, small toes adorned with bright blue polish. She must have felt my stare because she turned towards me. I wanted stare at her and smile, I wanted to challenge her. Instead, I quickly looked away. What a dork.
“Are there more of you up here?” Silence. “Things will go a lot easier if you cooperate with us, asshole.”I wandered around and looked at the different exhibits, mostly killing time until they opened the theatre for the Sunday afternoon movie. January was home to Street Art Sundays at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Each Sunday of the month, broke students and hip hop heads shared the theatre with the gray haired retirees from the donor list. Today’s film was the new Banksy movie, guaranteed to have people sitting on the floor, and I wanted to get there early enough to grab a seat. Towards the back there were cluster of empty seats, I settled in and put my headphones on, trying to hard to portray unfriendly. A little hung-over, and thoroughly exhausted, I just wanted to watch the movie in peace. Perhaps take a couple swigs off the wine I’d poured into a Gatorade bottle the night before. Just something to take the edge off, something just slightly offensive.
Since I junior high school I’d felt the need to act up. For no apparent reason, I loved pushing the boundaries, I still do. Nothing super felonious, just pick pick pick at authority. Just for a reaction, for a confrontation. Just a little excitement, a little feeling. Sometimes I shoplift candy, which I almost never eat. Today I’m going to drink wine at an art gallery’s free film screening. And pretend to be French when they eventually try to eject me.
The lights dim and I unzip my pack; congratulating myself on finding yet another way to ease into yet another hung-over Sunday. And then, with hardly any notice at all, she’s sitting next me. Like a cat, or a gymnast pixie, she’s comfortable and relaxed, eyes already focused on the opening bit. Smooth.
Slowly, I set the pack down. Now what. Do I dare drink in front of her? I tried hard to squint towards the right, catching her profile in the dark theater. Legs tucked under, her toe nails appeared to glow in the dark. How fucking rad. I paused, still a little slow from the night before. This was unexpected. Who did this pixie think she was, interrupting my Sunday ritual? Fuck it. I reached into my bag and pulled out the wine. A long gulp, as I didn’t know how many I’d be able to take, before tucking it between my legs. She seemed not to notice.
I pulled again, feeling relatively safe, when she leaned over to whisper softly in my ear, “are you going to share that wine? I have this vicious hangover…” I turned to look at her full on, just the hint of a smile danced across her lips, eyes smiling up at me in the darkness. And that accent? Untraceable in dark whispers, I was intrigued. Still relaxed, still comfortable, she seemed to offer more of a challenge than a request. Without comment, passed her the bottle. She took a long pull, sighed an exhale of contentment, and passed the bottle back. Wild.
The movie was decent, but I was only half paying attention. We’d passed the bottle back and forth until it was gone, and then sat in silence. I was conscious of my ratty jeans and well worn hoodie. I wondered at the holes in my Chucks; were they artsy and punk rock? Or just old and cheap?
“Go go go go,” I whispered into the darkness, arms high above my head. The officer hadn’t seen her yet, she could still get away. “Get the fuck out of here!” I whispered with as much urgency as I could muster, the officer approaching me cautiously.
And then the movie was over, the lights flickered on. We all adjusted to the brightness, but now I wondered what was to happen? I get myself into these situations, where I meet girls, beautiful, brilliant, amazing girls…and then I let them go. These brief interactions, these snap shots of life that I don’t act upon. Wasted bits of life. And then I hate myself for it. And I drink too much, thinking about it. Dwelling on it, and dwelling on myself until the next situation presents itself, and the next opportunity is lost. I had just about resolved to say something, anything, when the matter was settled for me.
“Hey, I’m Laine.” Yes, you look like you could be Laine. “Hi, I’m Sean.”
“Hi Sean, thanks for the wine, I needed it. You look like you did too…can I buy you a drink? I know a decent café a couple blocks from here…” She let it trail off, as I would come to learn was her habit. Whereas I usually found such a move obnoxious, with her, it was just attractive, mysterious. It made one wonder what was to come after that dot dot dot. The hint of a suggestion was more than enough most times, with most men; she knew what she was doing.
“You fucking punks think you’re so cool, vandalizing this city. Well it’s not cool; see how cool you think a night in jail is, asshole. Actions have consequences asshole, actions have consequences.”
So we went to the Al Bar on Stuart Street, and she bought me a pint. A decent, imported pint, not a shitty domestic one. The beer in New Zealand sucks. The accent came from Israel, by way of South Africa. The girl came to Dunedin to study, now in her last term, she planned to travel the world and fall in love, settle down to make babies and play mother. She was an artist and a dreamer, the mischief in her eyes was very real when she asked if I’d ever seen her mouse.
“Yes, Rupert the Mouse.”
“I bet you have,” she said with a smile as she took a sip, “He’s small, yellow and purple, and he hides in the alleys, all over Dunedin.”
“If you actually notice the street art here, you’ve definitely seen him,” she challenged. Holy shit, she was right. Her little “Rupert the Mouse” was everywhere in Dunedin. Peaking out of alley ways and car parks, on abandoned buildings and down from rooftops; everyone knew that little yellow character.
“That’s you, seriously?” I asked, with a bit of a buzz, and a bit of skepticism in my tone.
“Fuck you,” she finished her beer with a fake scowl, “I was going to let you kiss me.” She said, as she got up from the table, and stomped to the bathroom.
I sat back and finished my own beer, amazed with the evening. Hangover long gone, sitting at a bar, with a beautiful girl. More than that, a beautiful random girl. A girl from the scene, the same sort of girl I see every day, but never get up the nerve to approach. And what’s more, she was amazing. With eyes that dance when she talks, and an inner passion destined to break hearts world over. She was the girl that keeps boys dreams alive.
She came back from the bathroom, and slumped next to me in the booth with dramatic exaggeration. “You can buy me whiskey if you want, but I’m still mad at you, and I’m not sure if I’m going to let you kiss me or not…” Again, she trails off. So we started drinking whiskey.
What the fuck’s your name, boy?” Silence. “I said, what the fuck’s your name!” I could hear him getting closer.
We drank some whiskey, and we drank some beer. The only ones in the bar at closing time, the barman kicked us out with a smile, and wished us well with a wink. Hand in hand, she pulled me into an alley, just a block from the bar. “You could kiss me now, if you wanted to.” She said in a way that left no room for an alternative. Not that I was interested in an alternative. I leaned down, lightly grasping her slender face in my finger tips, and kissed her softly, lightly. I leaned back as she smiled, eyes still closed, lost in the moment.
“Come on, I want to show you something.” So we walked, hand in hand down Princes Street, pausing only to duck into dark alleyways for a quick kiss, a delicate touch until we were in the back lot behind The Lone Star. The fake tex-mex restaurant was closed and dark this late on a Sunday night. I looked at her questioningly.
So up we went, first to the upstairs patio, then to the roof. From there we danced across the rooftop to the building next door. With its slanted tiles, it made the perfect spot to lay back at look at the bright night sky. The Southern Cross on display, she held my hand, and wondered where I came from. I wondered the same to myself.
The officer twisted my hands my behind my back and cuffed me too tightly. He was overweight and middle aged. His breath smelled like gin. He leaned into me from behind and whispered into my ear, they’re going to love you in jail tonight, boy.” But I just smiled straight ahead at the maze of chimneys and air ducts that Laine had disappeared into. For her, I would trade this night in jail anytime…