And Fancy Free

By the third time my brother was arrested, we were experts at posting bail. I was up late reading David Copperfield again and answered the phone. “We’ll be by soon,” I told Jono, then I finished the chapter and woke mum, who muttered beneath her breath, “Fuck me.” While she dressed, I bundled Aryana into a blanket, though it was a warm night and in the back seat of the car her skinny limbs quickly kicked free, pale in the sodium glow of the street lights. I was a careful driver, the needle hovering on the speed limit, and Mum fixed her makeup on the ride. Ever since she’d turned forty, she’d grown vain.

At the station, we marched straight to an Officer Keegan at the front desk. “Robbed a dairy,” Keegan said, glancing quickly at my loose breasts as though they were to blame. Not that if Jono tossed any of his proceeds my way, I’d spend the cash on lingerie. I hadn’t exactly planned on rocking across town bra-less and in my pajama pants, anyway. I jiggled my boobs and Keegan’s ears flushed red.

“Crap, I’m short,” mum said, searching through her wallet for cash.

“Don’t look at me.” My arms were full with Ary, who at seven weighed heavy on my hip. “Officer, could you…” I pouted.

“Fine. We’ll just take the $500.” Keegan had seen this act before.

Mum thanked him extravagantly even so when Jono arrived.

“Why aren’t we sleeping?” Ary asked as I snapped her into the car seat.

“Your uncle got lost,” I said. Jono smiled sheepishly at her and she cast him a peeled look.

In the greasy half-light on our way home, Mum hummed until I told her to shut up. I did not want to know the name of the booking clerk. I did not want to lie to my child. I did not want to feel proud that I could bail my brother from jail in ninety minutes flat.

I called my boyfriend, Tim. “You’re right,” I said. “It’s time we moved in.”

Mum wasn’t enamored with my plan. “This house isn’t good enough for you?” she said.

“Ary, teeth brushed now!” I called down the hall. Then I swallowed back the last of the powdered coffee. “Onehunga’s no St. Helier’s.”

She stubbed out her cigarette. “You reckon you can afford St. Helier’s rent? How’re you going to eat?” The single mother’s benefit I received was fine for the edges of the city, clogged with panel-beating shops and bottling factories. But even with my work at the Historical Society, my pay wouldn’t stretch to a flash postal code.

“Tim’ll chip in.”

Tim doesn’t work.” Mum tossed the dirty dishes in the sink for later.

“He’s studying.”

“Honors. You know that’s not even a degree?”

“Ary!” I could hear the cars already on the highway. We were late. “I don’t want to haul my daughter back and forth to jail. I don’t want her hanging around the same type of kids who knocked me up at sixteen. The type of boys who convinced dumb nuts over there to rob a dairy. No offense, Jono.”

“None taken.” He grinned, lifting the blanket he’d thrown over his head to keep out the bright, morning light. “I want her to go to school with posh children, who read books for nine not five-year-olds. I want her to think she’s good enough to have the same dreams as them.” Mum leaned against the counter and sneered. “Love, that wasn’t what held you back. Thighs as wide as your smile.”

Mum was right. I’d never struggled to dream. I’d dreamed my way beneath a beautiful boy, who understood juvenile detention, not the world. Then after he dumped me for growing fat with our baby, I’d dreamed my way through school certificate and several papers on New Zealand history at university. Lately, I’d dreamed me and Ary into Tim’s house, where they had wine every night from bottles not a box. Tim’s mum didn’t like me, but his step-dad didn’t mind looking down 99 my crop-tops and he paid for half our love shack, so. He even crawled on his knees to help me scrub clear the new apartment’s mold, while Ary helped Tim stencil Parisian landscapes on our walls.