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  • Heather McQuillan

memories in mist

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

I hear the name of our destination as we explore a new piece of coastline. I ask, is this the only road in? and I think of the police cars hurtling around these bends. Maybe their sirens pierced a mist that closed back over like it does today. I read about the massacre in the news and saw the pictures on TV as I nursed my youngest. I thought that one of the dead children looked like a child I'd once taught. 'Hell in Paradise' read the headlines.

To our right a ship is being piloted past the peninsula. It separates the mist. Its horn ghost-echoes from the other side.

We arrive at this place that is a name and a story to me but there are other stories in the name. Ara = Pathway. Moana = the Sea. I put these two together but the known story still dominates. The one of a man with ill will and guns. It is a story thirty years old, the same age as my youngest, but it is a story of our time. A precursor, maybe. A warning we failed to listen to.

I pull my jacket closer as we walk along the mole. The sea is gentle. Perfect conditions for the divers with tanks or snorkels that slip from the rocks into the kelp. I see a smooth black-brown body curve and dive. Barry tells me it didn't have a snorkel. I realise too late it was a sea lion.

The ship leaves the harbour pathway and the mist behind. It draws away around a marker and the pilot ship returns to port. Layered over the memory of the Aramoana massacre, I place stories of ship and horn, mist and sunlight, scuba divers and sea lions, unicorn shells and sand that squeaks. The man with the guns remains. A warning echoing through fog.

In the car on the way back we talk about memories and how there are people around the world who hear the name of Christchurch, our city, and will know only a story about a man with guns, or about earthquakes.

This week, the February 22nd earthquake has been in our memories for ten years. Overlaid on the memories of that day are our stories of survival, and people who helped, and black humour. Stories of digging the longdrop, the free dahl and rice from the local Indian restaurant, the trajectory patterns of soya sauce. The other memories have not misted over although our timelines are unclear... was it the next day? the day after?

In another couple of weeks it will be two years since another massacre was laid into our memories. Another man with ill will and guns.

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