I faked my death, just as I faked so much in my
life; passports, degrees, orgasms. I was a fraud. My
English Literature degree from Oxford I had bought
online at www.fakedegrees.com five years ago. My New
Zealand passport, which would allow me to stay in
that country indefinitely, had been purchased from a
dodgy friend who had ‘connections’. Even the
software on my PC (Microsoft Office, Dreamweaver,
Photoshop) had not been bought legally, but acquired
for free from other people who had burnt my CDs. I
lived with the constant fear of being ‘discovered’,
‘rumbled’, found wanting, needy, substandard and
inadequate. An impostor.
I left a note; Dear Jake, I have had enough of this
world and have decided to leave it all behind.
Thanks for the time we had together. I signed it
with a lipstick kiss. I packed everything I would
need into a hot pink suitcase I had bought from
Argos the week before. Dressed casually in jeans,
trainers, dark sunglasses, a blonde wig and a grey
hoodie, I caught a cab from our flat in Peckham to
Heathrow, checked in and sat waiting for my flight.
I felt tense, furtive, as if somebody may have
followed me and at any moment might put one hand on
my shoulder, Hey you, you’re coming with us. Nobody
arrived to drag me back.
On the flight, after two gin and tonics, I relaxed
slightly. There was a lightning storm as I was
leaving; it lit up the early morning sky with its
spidery electric fingers and made me feel that the
heavens were complicit with me, cheering me on,
putting on a sort of farewell-to-your-old-life and
good-luck-to-your-new show in order to signal their
approval of my decision, which had not been a snap
decision at all, but rather had been meticulously
thought out and planned and pondered over for many
months prior to this morning’s departure. I ate my
meal of rice and stir fried chicken when it arrived
on its plastic tray and drank a glass of red wine
and buried myself in the Jackie Collins novel I had
brought with me.
We refuelled at Hong Kong airport; I couldn’t sit
still, but wandered the airport restlessly, admiring
the orchids. In my wallet was a picture of the shack
(New Zealanders would say ‘bach’) in Te Anau that my
Uncle Quentin had left me upon his death. Planks
were missing; space for the wind to whistle through.
The paint was chipped and falling off of the wood.
It would be my space apart; I needed time out. I
treated myself to some noodles which I ate quickly
and then wandered around the airport in that
stupefied limbo you enter on long haul flights. It
seemed that there was nobody else around, just me,
and yet at the same time, the airport was packed
with people, busy. Perhaps it was more that there
seemed such a great distance between them and me, as
if they stood on one side of an ice floe and I on
the other with an ever-widening crack opening up
between us. I felt as if I were a different species.
Purposefully, I had left my mobile, my Blackberry
and my laptop at home, so there was nothing to
tether me to my normal channels of communication.
This was the moment I had dreamed of for months, and
how many others, ordinary Londoners like me, also
dreamt of slipping free of their chains; their jobs,
their mortgages, their established relationships and
setting out into nothingness? I was doing this for
everybody, I thought, rather too grandly, to see if
it could be done. Was it really possible, to set up
a life and then vacate it, leaving the empty rooms
of your old existence behind to gather cobwebs and
In the ladies room, I took off my itchy wig and had
a good scratch, feeling a little like one of Roald
Dahl’s witches. Was that a wart sprouting at the
bottom of my nose? No, and no newts in my hand
luggage either. I remained, beneath my costume, good
old Harriet May, a less-than-notable journalist who
had, during her four year career, written for a
number of not-so-prestigious UK papers and who now
wanted nothing more than to live in a shack and eat,
what did they call them? Oh, yes, huhu grubs. Huhu
grubs and supplejack. My uncle had sent me a
brochure on the Wild Foods Festival a few years
earlier and I had cast my eyes over the fine
specimens that were available there. New Zealand – a
green land, lush. There were mountains, proper ones,
with snow on them and fjords and deep lakes and
beaches both tame and wild. They had a summer there,
not just two weeks of the year when the sun made a
pitiful effort to shine. They had swimming pools in
their backyards and quarter acre sections and you
could still buy a halfway decent house for a hundred
thousand pounds. Jake would be frantic by now. He
would’ve called the cops. They would be looking for
Back on the plane, I felt lighter, freer as if I was
shucking off the baggage of the years. There was ten
thousand pounds in my bank account; my life savings.
I had no commitments, not anymore. I had, to put it
bluntly ‘buggered off’. I did not intend to be
easily traceable. I wanted to pull off a vanishing
act, a disappearance, whoosh, up in a puff of smoke,
into thin air like some third-rate magician
performing a cheap trick. Now you see her, now you
don’t. Vamoose. An escape artist.
I spent two days taking in downtown Auckland (I
bought a second blonde wig to match my first) and
exploring the beaches of the North Shore. Wanting to
see the city, I had allowed myself this time before
flying down to Queenstown, from there to take the
bus to Te Anau. I was missing my laptop a little; my
fingers were in the habit of rapid typing and with
no keyboard to drum upon I found myself tapping away
at the top of the little wooden dresser in the Sky
Hotel. I had checked the top drawer upon arrival; no
Bible, Gideon’s or otherwise, though the liquor
cabinet, I had gratefully noted, was stacked high
with miniature bottles of spirits of which I made
short work, reprimanding myself as I did so.
Easy on the liquor, I told myself. You don’t want to
make a habit of drinking. You will need will power
and discipline to make this new life work.
Queenstown was hideous; it was the ski season, so
the place was packed with tourists – Japanese,
German, American, they were there in droves,
swarming over the city like ants. The whole place
was geared up to cater to them, with its expensive
boutique shops and over-priced restaurants. I hid in
the YHA and cooked a simple dinner of steak, beans
and spuds washed down with a couple of Steinlagers.
I didn’t want to think of myself as a tourist; I
wanted to be local, a Kiwi girl, at home. I didn’t
want to be camera to the eye, click, click,
clicking. I wanted to blend in to the landscape.
The one electrical appliance I had bought was my
iPod. Sigur Ros, which Jake had given me last
Christmas, provided good company on that winding bus
trip, through the spectacular scenery that greeted
my eye as we wove our way towards Te Anau. Closer
and closer, closer to the dream. Further and further
away from the life I had come to despise and in
which I had felt so trapped. I was shedding neuroses
like a tree sheds dead leaves, springing back to
life like a Jack released from its box. I applied a
fresh coat of lipstick and wriggled my toes. The
lipstick was called Fuschia Shimmer – it was a shade
of pink that Jake always like me to wear. Jake
worked at Reading University, in the Cybernetics
Department there. He was part of a team that was
developing a robot that had, or at least could
simulate, emotions. It was a long commute for him;
he worked from home two days a week and occasionally
stayed over in Reading. According to him, his
research was of global importance.
“Imagine it,” he used to say. “A robot that can
feel. They’d make great companions for old people,
or could be used to help raise kids. A sentient
machine. Something that would fly through the Turing
He was very engrossed in his work; it wasn’t work so
much as a grand passion and he found it difficult to
disconnect, to switch off. I would be talking to him
about something, what to have for dinner, say or
what I had accomplished during the day and I would
get no response and realise that he wasn’t with me
at all, but off, somewhere else, lost far in his
mind, ‘on another planet’ as they say, not the
planet of our marriage but ‘planet AI’ where he was
a sort of God who had the power to create life. The
robot he was developing was his real wife and he
gave more time and attention to it than he did to
me. Lovelace was the team’s name for the robot they
were creating, named after Ada, rather than Linda. I
had only met Lovelace once. We had a most pleasant
conversation; she was very congenial. I liked her.
She seemed to have a personality all of her own and
I was most disappointed when Jake switched her off.
I found myself wondering if he didn’t sometimes wish
that I had a switch so that he could shut me down
when I became tiresome. All that was behind me now.
My tiny world was about to expand. I walked the
three miles from the bus stop to the shack.
The shack was unlocked. Three large bugs with
enormous feelers, which I recognised as wetas from
the Wild Foods brochure I had been given,
consolidated in one corner. I swept them out with a
broom that Quentin, or whoever had been here last,
had thoughtfully left behind. The place was musty
and stank, so I threw open the creaking windows and
let in the cold winter air. It was freezing, below
zero, but I was rugged up, prepared, with my hot
pink beanie with its matching scarf and my polar
fleece and my thick wool trousers and socks. The
shack was simple but it would do. There were four
rooms; a bedroom which contained two bunks, with the
plastic casings around the mattress worn and split,
a kitchen which contained a jug (thank God!) and a
small electric hob with a grill beneath it. The
cupboards were completely bare but for an ancient
tin containing five teabags, a few chipped plates
and cups and half a packet of rice. I would have to
walk back to the supermarket tomorrow. Stupid old
me, I should’ve thought about food before coming all
the way out here. There was a bathroom, which
contained only a bath and a sink, no shower. A
mouldy-looking sofa sat in the living area, a number
of springs poking up through its cushioned surface.
A fireplace was in the living area; there were ashes
in the grate and I wondered how recently there had
been a fire. There were no mirrors anywhere so I
could not check my reflection. The bookshelf in the
living area held a few musty old volumes of
Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Gideon’s Bible I had
looked for earlier in the Sky City Hotel and an old
map of the area, which began to fall apart at the
creases when I opened it. The toilet was outside, an
outhouse; I would have to buy a torch then. There
was no garden to speak of, though you could see that
there had been one once, for stones had been used to
divide the yard up into sections. Behind the house
was a large patch of native bush and to the front
was the pebbly shore of the lake and the jetty which
I had seen in the photograph. Best of all, parked up
outside the shack (I knew I had to start calling it
a bach) was a rickety old pushbike that would serve
me well. I didn’t want a car. A bike was just the
ticket. I wouldn’t have to walk to Te Anau tomorrow,
I spread out my sleeping bag and placed my
belongings on one of the lower bunks in the bedroom
and was boiling the jug in order to enjoy a mug of
tea when I heard heavy steps, a man’s steps,
crossing the front porch. A brief knock.
“Hello, anyone home?”
I quickly applied some face powder then moved
towards the door to answer him.
“Hello there,” I said. “You must be a neighbour of
“Indeed I am. Name’s Dave. Pleased ta meetcha.”
He was enormous, well over six feet tall; if I had
to estimate I would say six foot four or five and
built like the proverbial. His hands were what I
really noticed; great callouses bloomed on them and
the knuckles were red and swollen up to half again
the normal size.
“Come in,” I said. “I’ve just boiled the jug.”
“Oh na na, I can’t stay. I was just on my way to
mend a fence that borders your land. I’ve got the
land behind yours but I live in town. You might see
me out here from time to time, so I just thought I’d
introduce meself to the new girl so as you didn’t
get a fright if you see my around and about.”
“But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,” I
quoted, but it was lost on him of course, he simply
said ‘Eh?’ and squinted down at me from his gigantic
height as if he was hard of hearing.
“Do you need me to contribute anything? For the
fence, I mean. If it borders both of our properties,
is it my responsibility or yours?”
“Well, nobody’s been out here for years, see, so
I’ve always taken care of it but I suppose that
technically it’s half your responsibility.”
“Oh, I’m happy to pay.”
“Oh the money’s nothing. It’s more the effort, if
you see what I mean. Checking that the fence posts
haven’t rotted and that the wire hasn’t been damaged
where some animal’s tried to get through.”
“Don’t worry, I
won’t throw you in at the deep end. But if you’d be
happy to help out from time to time...”
“Yes, of course.”
“What do you do for a living then?”
“I write romance novels.”
It was only half a lie. I hadn’t yet written one,
but that was what I intended to do out here, in the
middle of nowhere; lose myself in a doctor/nurse
fantasy, or the tale of a ski instructor seducing a
pupil or a man gradually helping an amnesiac woman
to regain her memory, or a story of love across the
class divide – the son of an earl falling for a shop
Dave looked amused.
I’ll be seeing ya round, I guess. Nice to meetcha.
What did you say your name was again?”
“Oh, I didn’t say. Lola. Lola Sullivan.”
that’s unusual. Met her in a bar down in old Soho
eh? You’re not a tranny are ya?”
“No, no, I can
assure you that I am one hundred percent female.
Last time I checked anyway.”
“Yea, good on ya.
I’ll see ya later.”
stomp and he was gone. What was he doing out fencing
at dusk? I made my cup of tea; sat out on the porch
sipping it slowly, smelling the fresh native forest
which smelt like heaven.
Dinner was a plate of congealed rice, with nothing
to decorate it. I would have to be more sharp, I
thought. I really should’ve remembered to bring
groceries with me.
Early morning frost coated the grass at the side of
the road. The bike creaked and groaned and felt like
it hadn’t been ridden in many years, which
undoubtedly, it hadn’t. The chain needed oiling. I
pushed my way back into town and parked my new
vehicle outside the local store. My requirements
were simple; meat, vegetables, bread, perhaps some
pasta, matches for the fire, that torch of course
and light bulbs in case the ones in the bach blew.
“Do you have any seeds?” I asked the gentleman
behind the counter and he pointed me towards a small
rack, a scanty collection; my choices were spinach,
radishes or carrots. I bought two packets of each
and because he didn’t sell potting mix and informed
me that nowhere else in the town did either (You’d
have to go to Queenstown for that, love) I prayed
that the soil on my patch of land would be rich
enough in nutrients for the seeds to sprout and
I creaked and groaned homewards, with my bounty on
my back, then changed into my swimming costume,
intending a dip in the lake. That would wake me up,
bring me to my senses, keep me ‘with it’. Then I
could tackle cleaning the bach and getting
everything organised. Organisation and structure
would be key, or else I would just drift through my
days without getting anything done and I did want to
get things done, I had plenty to do. I wanted to get
on with those romance novels.
There was a speedboat on the lake. It bounced across
the surface of the water, its roaring engine cutting
the silence. I dipped one toe into the water. A
mistake; the lake was freezing. Better to simply
leap straight in. I took a breath and dived; the
shock of the cold left me gasping. I did four brief
lengths of the jetty before hauling myself out of
the water and drying myself with a towel. The trick
had worked; I felt awake, alive, my senses shocked.
A fish leapt, breaking the surface of the water with
a splash before diving back under. The boat was out
of sight now, but you could still hear the distant
drone of its motor.
When I returned to the bach, Dave was sitting on the
“I was just in the area,” he said. “So, I thought
I’d come see how you were settling in.”
“Oh, fine, fine.”
It was vaguely
creepy having him there; he was after all, still a
stranger, an unknown quantity.
“Won’t you come
in?” I said politely, opening the door.
He rose to his
feet, stomped into the bach.
“Oh, you’ve done
wonders with the place,” he said jokingly, looking
“Yes, it’s not
much to write home about, is it? Still, it’s mine.
Home for now.”
“What part of the
UK you from?”
“Ah, the big
smoke. I’ve been to Blighty meself a couple of
times. Didn’t think much of the place. Better over
“Yes, I dare
“It’s a bit odd
“It’s odd you
being out here. A woman alone and all that. Come all
the way from London just to live in a tumbling down
I didn’t say
“How’s about that
himself down on the old sofa, his legs, with their
muddy brown boots on the end of them, stretched out
in front of him. Christ, he was enormous, like
somebody had stuck a straw in a normal man and
inflated him. Enormous and nosey.
“You got a
husband then? Kids.”
“A husband. No
“He gonna be
coming out here too then?”
something that sounded like ‘no’.
“You’re a brave
“Brave or stupid.
“Milk and two
thanks. I like it sweet.”
I took him the
cup of tea.
“Any biscuits? I
love a good piece of shortbread, me.”
He blew on his
tea, then slurped at it noisily, while I merely
sipped at mine.
“I used to have a
wife,” he said suddenly.
“Oh. Used to? I’m
“Oh, don’t be,
she isn’t dead. She ran off with a chef from
Queenstown who was down here having a holiday.
Bitch. She had everything a woman could want down
here and what does she do but run off with the first
ponce who comes her way spouting talk of ‘fine
dining’. Fickle, like all women, no offence
I sipped my tea.
“She’d never have
the guts to do what you’re doing, just rough it in a
shack on your own. That’s admirable in a woman.
I checked my watch.
“Well, I can see
you’re keen to be getting rid of me. Listen, I’ll
need some help on that fence early next week. I’ll
come by and get you. You got sturdy shoes?”
“Oh na, you’ll
need some decent boots. I’ll bring you a pair of
Trisha’s old ones. She left a lot of stuff behind.
You can have some of her old clothes too if you
“Oh no, that’s
“Yea, I’ll bring
them anyway. Somebody might as well get some bloody
use out of them.”
stomp and he was gone.
I had brought five exercise books with me from
Britain, hopeful of filling them up. I should’ve
brought the laptop after all, I’d probably have to
buy one now, that’d be a trip to Queenstown. I wrote
three romantic beginnings, but none of them held
much promise so I tidied up the shack a little and
then went outside to chop firewood, using an axe
that I had found by the back door.
In the night, I awoke to the sound of heavy
breathing outside my window. Terrified, faking
bravery, I grabbed the torch that was on the floor
beside me and headed outside, shining the light
directly into a face which contained two small
gleaming eyes. A black shape scurried off into the
bush. Heart thudding I returned inside. Sleep did
not return until I took a Seconal.
“Possums,” pronounced Dave, having been told of the
incident when he arrived the following morning, with
a truck full of fencing posts and wire. The
chemical taste of the Seconal was still in my mouth
though I had cleaned my teeth twice to be rid of it.
He handed me a rubbish bag full of old clothes.
“Get changed into
something old,” he said. “Those poncey clothes you
wear aren’t good for working on the farm.”
I did as I was
“Jump in the
ute,” Dave said, when I emerged from the bedroom.
“You are good for it aren’t ya?”
“Oh yes,” I said.
“Yes I’m ‘good for it’ as you say.”
In the ute, Dave pushed a pair of boots much like
his own towards me and said, “Here, put these on.
You need decent shoes out there, not those little
city things you ponce around in. You need what real
His world, I
suppose, was divided into ‘ponces’ and ‘real
people’; a dichotomy, black and white with not much
room for shades of grey.
The ute jerked and shook along the gravel road.
Window down, with the breeze in my face, it felt
good. Wasn’t this what I had dreamed of, back in
Britain - wide open roads? Dave stank; old sweat and
unwashed clothes – his odour assaulted my nostrils.
stretches for miles,” he said, when we arrived at
the fence that needed repairing. “As far as the eye
He gestured to
the open fields where cattle and sheep grazed.
“I think I’ll get
you pulling out staples,” he added and handed me a
pair of fencing pliers.
It was tedious
work, but not difficult. Dave was busy digging out
old fence posts that had rotted. I wanted to keep up
a conversation, but had no idea what I could talk to
him about. What did we have in common, this rugged
man and I? What could we talk about? Sheep and
rugby? Dave said nothing, just gave the odd grunt
and the occasional nod in my direction to indicate
that he was happy with my work. At eleven, he boiled
the billy and handed me a cup of tea and one of his
“Gotta keep the
tucker box stacked,” he said, patting his stomach.
When we returned to the bach, Jake was at the door.
I froze. God, how he had tracked me down to this
remote corner of the earth? He stared at me,
scowling, as Dave and I approached.
“I found your
itinerary on your laptop,” he said. “I guessed your
password. Your sister’s name. You’re lucky I haven’t
called the cops. Yet.”
I nodded slowly,
feeling like an animal caught in a trap. He stood to
one side of the doorway.
“Aren’t you going
to invite me in?”
“Do come in,” I
said icily and pushed open the door.
Both he and Dave followed me inside. Jake turned to
“And who, may I
ask, are you?”
“I’m Dave. Lola’s
“Lola? Who the
hell is Lola?”
Dave pointed at
me. Jake sneered.
“Oh, had a name
change have we. Listen, Harriet, this whole escapade
is completely juvenile. I don’t know what you think
you’re trying to prove.”
“I’m not trying
to prove anything.”
Jake held out his
Harriet. Doesn’t that even mean anything to you?”
I sighed heavily
and lowered myself down onto the sofa.
It’s over between us. I’m a new person now. I won’t
say all of it was bad, but I grew to hate my old
life, the life I had in London. I need a fresh
start. It happens. People get tired of their old
shackles and they want to start again somewhere new.
Just let me go. Set me free.”
He looked like
I’d slapped him in the face.
“But what about
us? What about the seven years we spent together?
Don’t they mean anything?”
“You heard the
lady,” said Dave. “It’s over.”
“You keep out of
it buddy. This has nothing whatsoever to do with
“Forget me Jake.
Just go back to London and find a new woman. Work
hard on Ada. Get famous. Dazzle the world.”
“But I’ve flown
all this way. I’m not returning without you.”
returning with me.”
He yanked off his
wedding ring and threw it into my lap.
“You can have
that hunk of metal back. I assume you don’t want any
of the possessions you left behind, either?”
“No, you can sell
it all on eBay.”
“Good. I’ll do
that. See ya later. Good fucking riddance.”
He strode out of
the shack, slamming the door behind him.
“Moody bugger, ain’t he?” commented Dave. “You okay?
Fancy a cuppa?”
Dave and I sit out on the front porch, drinking cups
of tea. I am no longer Harriet May. I am the
beginnings of Lola.
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