Oliver and the American Girl

What you remember when you are having one of your dark, lonely days—the ones where your mirror reflects you shaped like a pillow with poop for hair and feedbags under your eyes — is Foxton Beach. Those days, which transpire too often on this side of your life, are the opposite of Foxton Beach — they are pointy and littered with sharp stones. Foxton is smooth and safe and uninspired. Except that it seems that you can follow the curves as long as you want and never come back. And there’s a bach there where you fought back the dark with macaroni cheese and bottles and bottles of cheap Australian wine….

When you walk into Oliver’s office, you are expecting someone old and white with fingers that bulge. But he has Pacific skin, black rumpled hair, a smile that crawls across your whole body, tattoos wrapped around his wrists and fingers, and a drowsy hybrid Kiwi-Maori-Tongan drawl in step with his easy barefoot gait. His frayed jeans hang off his ass just so, and his belt drops just below his belly, cradling the bottom edge of his t-shirt in that way you find overwhelmingly erotic.

You realize you are staring. There’s a job to do, so you shake his hand and begin discussing your project that his theater will produce. After an hour he says in that drippy accent, “Yep, sounds good. Perfect. Fits our mission. Do you want to go get a beer and keep talking?”

“Sure,” you toss off. But your brain screams holy shit holy shit holy shit. For three (four, five?) more beers you learn that managing a theater is only Oliver’s day job. He is a writer, performer, opera singer, traveler, Kerouacian Mad One and consummate lover of being in love. And all this is exactly what you dream of when you dream. As the night unravels, he makes you forget that you are in Palmerston North, awash in the flat of the North Island, light-years from hobbits and metropolitan art centers and topography — Oliver is Wellington, Auckland, Mount Tongariro. He opens the second (fourth?) bottle of red wine.

Finally, he slurs, “Let’s get out of here. Where should we go now?” Your brain screams your bed, your bed, your bed. “We could go to my bach. It’s a beautiful night for swimming.” He has a beach house!

The roads are prolonged and straight out to the coast. He drives them with drunken effortlessness. What you are still not used to is the darkness. No cars, no street lights, a far-off homestead with one tiny porch light, and then just stars. Even the quietest, darkest parts of America are not this dark.

The land smooths out as if it were ironed by a stolid Kiwi farmwife, and the beach towns spill out of the stretching expanse. The moon is huge. The matches are difficult to find. You can no longer recall if first you swam or lit the driftwood fire, or fell into star-exploding sex. But it all happened. The moon got bigger. The water was primal. And he was a Pacific god out for his nightly stroll among the mortals. Only you didn’t feel mortal. You were exotic and ripe and hilarious.

Afterwards, he cooked you macaroni cheese. You had never had it not from a box. He had never had it in a box. You had sex one more time before passing out and in the morning he made you omelets. He dropped you off back in town. “Ciao Bella,” he said (he’s taking Italian) and drove away. In your memory you’ve replaced his Toyota with a vintage MG convertible. That’s what you watched drive away as you turned into your day.

And in the long run, you were one of hundreds of women and not even close to someone he loved. He moved to Auckland and drank his way through film school. But still, you got one day to believe in it. It’s a light burning on the softest edge of a country.

Amanda McRaven

Born in a log cabin in Virginia, Amanda McRaven directs plays and writes, for the time being, in Los Angeles. She is a Fulbright scholar to New Zealand and occasional stonemason, photographer, and stargazer. She has been published in New York ______. Magazine and muses at Stars In My Hands and Coffeeshop Heart, a blog about her constant detours to America’s most intriguing coffeehouses. Georgia In Her Mind, a memoir of the women she taught in the Virginia prison system, is forthcoming.

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