- Deborah's article was first published in the NZ Book Council monthly E-Newsletter #29, 26 May 2011
Francie Craig is a Stage 3 English literature student at Canterbury University and a boarding house manager at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch. As well as writing she loves to mosaic in her spare time.
Do you know that painting? The one with the clocks melting like lava in a lamp? Well it was like that. Everything, the trees, the houses, the grass, the brick wall started to melt around me. And then my knees began to sway. 'Oh God this is it. This is an eight. This is the alpine fault. Right the best plan is to get to the middle of the road away from falling buildings.' I look over my shoulder. No cars. I move towards the road but I’m drunk in my movements. I’m like a newborn deer with knocky, knobbly knees. I feel my legs buckling. I crouch on the curb and watch the square wall become a sphere; globing towards me. Earthquake.
I stand up. The ground is still for now. I’d better find my cell phone. Mum and Dad will be worried. I run into Winchester House and there is a paler version of my colleague standing in the doorway.
“Shit what was that?”
“I don’t know.”
I open my bedroom door. There is dirt everywhere. My pot plants are smashed. My heaters are dangling from the ceiling. I can’t find my phone. I feel bad in here. This room makes me panic. My colleague tries to call my phone but it is not connecting. I look at her.
“Shit, shit, shit. Let’s get out of here.”
We go down to the day school. Girls are crying. I search for my girls and I hug them and tell them that this is the one time it is okay to swear at school. If they had heard me a moment ago I would have been on ‘duties’ for a week. This makes them laugh through the tears, well some of them anyway.
I run down to the end of the school to check on the other boarding house manager and her family. Her babies, thank goodness, are in the car.
“How much more can we take? People won’t be able to do this anymore,” she says. I hug her.
“It’s okay,” I say. But I don’t know then that for some people it is not.
Maureen Sudlow was born in New Zealand in 1944 - a war baby - and intends to be the 'Grandma Moses' of writing. She has lived in most areas of New Zealand as her husband was in the NZ Air Force. She says, ‘I've got lots of rejection slips on the walls of my study but have had a few poems published.’ Maureen recently completed a Diploma in Creative Writing with Whitireia and has been short-listed for the 2012 Storylines Joy Cowley Award.
My mother died in between the Christchurch earthquakes – not as a result of them, but simply too tired to worry about staying alive. So in December 2010, after the quake in September, I went home to say my last goodbyes. Even then the city was shattered, worse than I had expected.
When I visited the Arts Market I could see a lot of quake damage, more so among the stone buildings of the old University. Many parts of the complex werestill cordoned off, with scaffolding very much in evidence. However, despite the damage and the drizzle, most of the market stalls were doing good trade. In the centre of it all an adult choir in white robes were singing Christmas carols with brass band back-up. The spirit of the place was amazing. Everywhere there were smiling faces and friendly chatter. On the footpath was a large cupola that had been carefully removed from the Great Hall. Incongruously, it had been decorated with Christmas lights.
But I felt as though I was walking in the ruins of my life. I found it hard to grasp that my mother was no longer there..
We lifted your coffin.
You were light,
the husk of a seed
winnowed by wind.
But when I held
in my hands
of sinew, blood, and bone
that once defined
the limits of your life,
my arms were stretched
with the weight
of my grief.
Back home in Northland, and the February quake struck Christchurch with devastating intensity. I knew then that my childhood was finally lost and finished with. My mother and my hometown were gone – or changed beyond all recognition. This was a lonely place in the journey of my life...
Margo Knightbridge grew up on a farm in North Auckland, as a member of a large extended family who all loved music, and in particular, singing. Margo has been involved in singing, either in choirs, small ensembles or as a soloist, for most of her life. She works as a librarian.
I appreciated being able to read your reflection on the year since the Christchurch earthquake. Firstly, I was amazed to read of the article in the Sunday Star Times in which the journalist wrote in such a dismissive way of the experiences of those affected. I had not seen the article in the newspaper, and I can tell you that I was enraged when I read your description of the contents of the article.
I thought about my sister and her family and all the stresses they have been through and continue to go through - and they live in one of the less affected areas. I thought about the fact that they need to come up here for rest breaks every two or three months just to get away from the shaking.
I reflected on my husband's elderly cousin, who was pinned under a heavy storage heater on 22nd February, emerged with extensive bruising and a broken foot and spent weeks in hospital recovering.
I thought about my husband's two nephews and their families and the boys having to relocate to new business premises as their old ones had been destroyed in the quakes.
I thought about my niece, a student midwife, attending births in Christchurch Hospital while the building swayed and rolled around her.
I thought about all these things and more, including all the lost and injured animals, and I include myself among the stressed as I obsessively listen to early morning radio news broadcasts to check on what has been happening during the night.
And I thought about the memorial service that I attended on 22nd Feb 2012, at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland, and during which, at the first sound of the organ playing softly, my at-the-surface emotions took over. I started to weep and could not stop.
Roz Nicol attended Sacred Heart Girls College in Hamilton. She has travelled extensively living and working for some years in England and later in Queensland, Australia. She has had a children's book published, also various travel articles and has a screenplay waiting assessment. Four years ago she remarried and now lives with her husband in the Henderson Valley.
A typical summer evening, hot, dry. Windows wide open to catch the breeze. In the kitchen somewhere above me I hear a crackling noise; in a nanosecond know we are in trouble.
It is a country house too far from anywhere to save. 'Old wiring' the fireman said sagely the next day in his routine report. We had what we stood up in. Insurance would help but not much. Older daughter at uni, her sister and me at home, husband away on a job. We checked the pets were okay and stood outside with neighbours to watch life as we knew it go up in smoke.
People say misfortune and pain make a couple closer. But sometimes everything becomes too much and one or both need distance. That year had not been good. Economic stresses. Illness. A child lost before it had a chance to live. 'Enough,' we agreed. Bitterness, blame, despair. Later we became good friends.
Before the fire I'd collected treasures for the new house we would one day build. Now everything was gone things I thought I couldn't live without. The parameters shifted; a strange phenomenon took place within my psyche. I, the inveterate hoarder, now spurned possessions, stability. I travelled with my daughter, both working spasmodically until she tired of the gypsy lifestyle and returned to New Zealand.
I couldn't settle and carried on. I wanted nothing more than what would fit into two suitcases. I'd learnt not to trust the fickleness of fate. You have treasures, inanimate or mortal and pouf! They go.