Excerpt from In the Time of the Manaroans

By | 1 October 2020

In passing

Then there is Suzie. Just once there is Suzie. She rides up on the back of Lenny, her arms around Eddie Fox’s waist. A woman with a face veil made of soiled black lace. Part Māori, perhaps, with unruly black hair, she wears an ancient biker jacket, oversized men’s jeans cinched in with a belt, and work boots. I listen out for the visitor’s rough voice, but she is mostly at pains to merge with the sputter of male small talk circling with the passing joint. That she is one of those women for whom men count most is apparent. Women always recognise such women. My attempts to categorise Suzie, however, fit about as well as her jeans. She is a statement but one I cannot read.

I try not to watch as Suzie feeds morsels of the evening meal behind the veil. Despite her efforts to merge, the bravado of her costume sets her apart. I am perversely envious of her veil, and of her liaison with Eddie. Is she Eddie’s girlfriend?

One of the men shrugs off my naiveté. She’s just passing through.

Increasingly familiar with hippy stonewalling, I persevere and am rewarded. The origin of Suzie’s veil is a house fire. A house fire. Intimations flicker of a life in wild flux, a life lived harder than many of the itinerants I have met so far.

Interesting tragedy notwithstanding, I decide Suzie is a poseur. The counter-culture is full of poseurs, even I know this, though where you draw the line in a society that runs on dress-ups and self-reinvention, I don’t consider. Even so, Suzie is like Emily Dickinson’s circus. Although it has passed, still you feel the red in your mind.


The morning after a group of Manaroans arrive I enter the kitchen and another century in the process.

Someone sits on the sofa while another parks on the lino and leans back into the other’s knees. With sleepy murmurs or in silence, the first plaits the hair of the second. Both men and women participate for long hair is omnipresent. Not my father, who has shoulder-skimming hair light as a pixie’s, and who finds the casual display of tenderness confronting. Lonely as we are for touch in the Floodhouse, the spectacle of so much everyday intimacy is as hard to bear as it is to resist. Softly clattering dishes, my father staves off the allure.

But if Kate is visiting, my little sister, who has a swathe of thick, dark hair, lends her small pointy Venus hands to the action. She is pleased to be released from the artless hairdos our father renders before school each morning and into a woman’s care.

Thinking my constant thoughts about who wants whom, I watch the handiwork unfold from the discrete unit of the unravelling wicker chair.

One morning Claire beckons me over. I struggle to keep the strands taut as I interweave them, and try not to tug her scalp. It is intimidating and an honour to be invited to braid Claire’s hair. Her plait reaches to the small of her back. In my nervousness I feel the process is a bit like grooming the tail of a thoroughbred that, hyper alert to contamination by nerves, might shoot out a back leg if you make a wrong move. In reality, Claire is sanguine.

Once, I witness Eddie Fox offer himself up to Claire’s brush. I’ve seen him smooth his jet hair shiny and flat with one hand and loop a perfunctory band around with the other while on his way out the kitchen door. I thought he would jeer at the communal hairdressing, but Claire works her rough magic.

When John of Saratoga submits his mussed tangle to the rite, Sylvie threatens scissors but negotiates without. Saratoga bobs his crow head and exposes ruins for teeth. Concave as a reed and as sarcastic, Bruce likewise capitulates. The Scotsman is rarely sighted on our sofa. Stoned Monolith, a wit has dubbed him in reference to his semi-permanent watch with bong on the Manaroa sofa. Bruce isn’t particularly welcome at my father’s, and the feeling is obviously mutual.

I plait Doug’s cloud of hair once only. A stubble-cheeked man, only four or five years older than me, with attractively padded hands, Doug gives the impression it is embarrassing being such a peach. His country courtesy conversely makes me feel that anything longer than a few basic sentences of conversation is a bit over the top. Doug is the place where sentences go to founder or die or be met with a diffident giggle. Sentences being my family’s mainstay, we see far less of Doug than I would like.

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