Bluffing for Beginners - chapter one

NOW. Ruatapu Island, New Zealand

“No! Jesus, no. You can have it, Em, I’m out.”

Warren, the (apparently temporary) love of my life, couldn’t have walked backwards from our new life together with more haste. He waved his hands out in front of him, palms outwards, and retreated towards our newly acquired utility vehicle. Before him, capturing his gaze like a fearsome Gorgon, stood the house we had bought sight unseen from the other side of the Tasman Sea.

I turned, hands on hips, from him to the house and back again. “Come on. You can’t be serious.”

He looked at me then, the whites of his widened eyes matching the pallor of his face.

“Babe,” I said gently, “it just needs a bit of work. It’ll be fine.”

Through the scraggly foliage of what remained of a front garden, the house revealed itself in all its glorious dilapidation, a state that was not evident in the carefully staged photographs on the real estate website. The weatherboards were cracked and missing entirely in the odd place, the roof sagged in one corner, and what had looked like a lovely moss-green paint job was, in fact, moss. A whole wall supporting a vibrant and very damp ecosystem.

“It’s fucked, Em. It’s completely fucked. We’re completely fucked.” He’d backed himself up against the ute and with a slack-mouthed focus on the house, blindly groped for the driver’s door handle.

“No, we’re not. It’s just an unexpected challenge. We can cope with it. Warren,” I cooed, trying to get him to look at me again, “it’ll be alright.”

Warren, it appeared, did not agree with me. He’d found the handle and started to open the door.

“We’re doing this,” I said more firmly, moving towards him. “This is what we wanted. We’ve given up so much to be here. You need to give it a go.”

“I don’t. I really don’t. I’m going back.” He scrambled into the cab and buckled himself in, the seatbelt framing the soft round of his belly.

I pulled my shoulder-length red hair into a bunch behind my head and exhaled through pursed lips. Then I dropped my hand and said in the sing-song voice of condescension, “You’re not going back to Melbourne. We just got here. Come on, let’s go and have a look inside. I bet the view’s incredible from the back.”

“I can’t…I can’t…” He shook his head, his wide eyes still fixed on the building. He reached for the keys in the ignition.

“Warren!” I said sharply, my patience failing. “Snap out of it. You’re having a panic attack. Look at me, Warren.”

He kept stock-still, but his eyes dragged themselves away from the spectre of the house and focused on me.

“Take some deep breaths. Deeeeep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth.”

His eyes remained locked on mine as he turned the key.

“Fuck’s sake. What are you doing? Think about it.” I took the deep breath. “Just stop and think it through. We’ve made a massive commitment to be here,” I said more softly, “to get some balance back in our lives. Work part time, play part time.” Through the open window I placed my hand on his arm and smiled reassuringly at him. “We’re a team. We can make this work, and we have more than enough money to put this house right.”

“You could come with me,” he said through a weak smile.

“No.” I shook my head and said with the reasoned calmness of a confident mother, “I’m not going, and neither are you.”

He was quiet for a moment, then he blinked. “I’m sorry, Em, I need to get off this island.” He put the ute into reverse and backed out of the driveway onto the road. I ran after it, grabbing the driver’s door at the window slot.

“Warren, stop! This is crazy.” He didn’t look at me as he thrust the ute into first gear and accelerated forward, throwing up a shower of gravel and leaving me coughing in his dusty wake. “Warren! WARREN!” I punctuated his name with a single, throat-rending scream. “You coward,” I hollered at the ute’s disappearing bumper. “Why don’t you grow a big, hairy, luscious vagina? You…shitarse, you shitarsehole!” Just like my choice in men, effective swearing wasn’t my strong suit. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t hear any of it.

The ute rounded a corner and disappeared behind a curtain of fern fronds, and my abuse dissipated into the indifferent island air.

Warren had deserted me with nothing. Not my suitcase, nor my handbag, not even a key to the sodding house. I was stranded on the bush-clad fringes of an island 250 kilometres from the mainland. If I didn’t manage to intercept Warren before the ferry left again this afternoon, I would be sans everything for another week until the ferry returned.