We awaken at 6 o’clock. It is still daylight.
Unbeknownst to the schedules of Northland kiwis, we take our showers, baths (the tub is twice the size of the one at home!), and head out for dinner. My ex wears a short-sleeved shirt, so the evening glow catches on his skin. I drape myself in as much fabric as possible.
Skirts, sleeves, gloves. It’s so cold, and my ex is always walking three steps ahead.
I think, with disturbing clarity, that the next lover will not walk three steps ahead.
• • •
Now 8 PM, stores are closing. Restaurants are shutting their doors. Street lights are sparse. The moon should be rising. I look up, and there’s only blackness.
Sometimes real life is more symbolic than all our whimsy literature.
• • •
We come across a kabob cafe at the corner of the village. The windows are cracked, and a man is shuffling inside. I ask him if he’s still open. When he hesitates, I think it’s a “no.”
But he recognized my accent. The feral look on my face.
So he invites us in. My gratitude comes out in blithering half-sentences. I’m too excited to say anything intelligent. I tell my ex how lucky we are, and he stares irritably at the menu. He doesn’t like sauces. Everything has a sauce on it.
“He can cook the sauce into it or something,” I whisper.
Soft shrugs and hard frowns don’t mix. I don’t know what that means.
The man is a kind and chipper person, offering local advice as he cooks. This eases the tension in the air. After we thank him and go, my ex hands me both the meals. I have to coax him later to at least try to eat one of them them.
• • •
The next day, we head to a BBQ. It’s like a welcoming party—hosted by the time share—with free food, music, and lots of visitors traveling their way through retirement.
We extend introductions, but try as we might, we don’t fit in here. I skirt around the edge of the room, quietly, observing couples older, and more functional, than us.
• • •
At the room, we book the penguin visit at the zoo, a boat tour, then sift through piles of other pamphlets. We might’ve gotten a little carried away collecting these things.
My ex waves one about Wairere Boulders. I don’t want to see a bunch of New Zealand rocks, but I smile, because he hardly decides anything. I could agree to almost anything because of it.
• • •
But before trying any pamphlets, we head out to Kerikeri, along the North Highway 1.
There isn’t much north of Paihia. Beyond the village of Kerikeri, there’s Russell—the original New Zealand Capitol, with an old history of crime (real old, the issue’s gone now) —and Cape Reinga, at the tip of the island. Because of the lack of destinations, tourism isn’t as common.
It’s a shame this place doesn’t get the hype it deserves, because Kerikeri really delivers. We visit a nationally recognized chocolate factory, and wood, shell, and stone crafts. My ex buys me a pair of Maori earrings. “Do you like these?” he asks first, pointing carefully.
We collect way too many truffles for family, coworkers, and friends. With these, at least, we point more haphazardly.