When Te Kaiwhakaruaki comes/ bodies are sent tumbling through the sand dunes by Frankie McMillan
Me and Bobby under an upturned dingy on the beach trying to get it off with each other but overcome with laughter and lying there in a sandy tangle, outside the night coming down, the sigh and heave of the ocean and Bobby saying, how many other men have you had and me saying I could count the fingers on one hand and saying what about you and kind of bracing myself as if to hear bad news and kind of thinking, why do we even ask these dumb fuck questions and in the silence that’s when I heard something change in the water and listen I say to Bobby and Bobby listens and something is out there, maybe a boat coming to shore , maybe a dredger, the nets being hauled in but no, Bobby says, that’s a different noise, he grabs my shoulder and taniwha he breathes into my neck and I squirm away and taniwha Bobby breathes into my ear and I just about scream at the thought of a monster reptile out there in the water and then I tell Bobby it’s actually his wife out looking for him and Bobby says what wife and then I say what taniwha and we go on like this for a while and then Bobby says he didn’t realise how cold the sand got at night and his leg is getting a bit cramped up and I say, do you want to quit this and Bobby says, no, we’ll sleep here tonight if that’s what you want and the thing is I don’t know what I want right now. I do know my friends would say it was legend that Bobby and me slept under an upturned dingy on Parapara beach when there was something weird out there in the sea but another voice in my head and this is my Nanny’s voice says, You get gone, girl.
Later I will try and explain Bobby’s disappearance. How I ran off and Bobby, curious about the big wave, stayed behind. But my throat has been scoured clean of words. If my Nanny were alive she’d say Te Kaiwhakaruaki, must have smelled human flesh, must have flicked its tail, excitedly, sending a mighty wave speeding towards the shore. And only a heahea boy would stay behind, his mouth agape with wonder.
But that is later. Right now Bobby is trying to quieten me with his body, his feet digging into the sand, his hands on my shoulders. You are my number one girl, he breathes. In the cramped space, I turn my head and listen.
Taniwha — In Māori tradition, taniwha are supernatural creatures, similar to serpents and dragons in other cultures. They were said to hide in the ocean, rivers, lakes or caves and were capable of causing a tsunami. Te Kaiwhakaruaki, the terrible taniwha, inhabited the Parapara Inlet in Golden Bay / Mohua, Aotearoa New Zealand.
Heahea — Māori term for foolish, silly etc.
Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her most recent book, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions was listed in Spinoff as one of the ten best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 ( Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University) New World Writing, Cleaver, and Atticus Review.