Edited by Tessa Duder and James Norcliffe. Clerestory Press for the School for Young Writers
This brilliant series presents tomorrow’s writers today and The World’s Steepest Street is the biggest, richest collection so far, bringing together 150 pages of the best young New Zealand writers’ work from all corners of the country and overseas.
Stories, poems, non-fiction, drama. Comic, wry, moving, witty. These young writers confidently demonstrate that the future of New Zealand writing is in sure hands.
Always open-eyed, often astonishing, the pieces in this collection will delight and linger.
My jester’s eyes are nothing like the sun,
although, with the stage lights on his glasses
I s’pose it’s an easy mistake to make.
In fact, from some angles he looks almost normal;
he doesn’t wear the bells of a jester.
Sometimes I wish he would, ’cause I think there’s
something nice about a man who tinkles.
Instead, he wears the bow and uniform
of a Raggedy Doctor, and can dance
with the grace of inverted dignity.
He’s one of those who will hide from the world
in plain view, safe knowing that the people
won’t bother to look past his floppy curls.
And he’s mine. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Man in the Right-hand Seat
I can sense my first-officer’s cringe as he stares out the windscreen of the cockpit of our ATR-72. Only having been accepted with Mount Cook three months prior, I thought this would be the ideal opportunity for him to flaunt his flying skills. From Christchurch he will fly the routine 5007 flight to Invercargill.
The flight has started well but both of us know that soon his skills will be put to the test. Even though we are at 18,000 feet, they still tower above us. “They” being the clouds that all pilots fear, Cumulonimbus, Cb, the beasts of the sky that take you on the ride of your life. They stand like cliffs in front of us. Such a harsh test for his first day in command, but fifteen years earlier I had been in his shoes, in something with a lot less hospitality than a Mount Cook ATR.
The beasts were in front of me like cliffs, just as they are today, but as the monsters devoured me the usual roar of the two engines on Mainland Air’s PA-31 Chieftain was nothing compared to the deafening noise of hail smashing and crashing into the windscreen. He had said to me “If you can fly in this, you can fly in anything.” I knew this was my test. The autopilot was struggling to hold us on course – I could see the course bar moving left, then right, the wind veering and backing as the beasts digested us.
He sat beside me. He, the man with 13,000 hours of flying time, sat in silence and gazed outside into the infinite abyss of white. He looked like a man staring out the window of his car on a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive. His tranquillity unnerved me somewhat. This was short-lived as I came back to the harsh reality that in little over ten minutes I would be starting my approach into Invercargill. The distance between us and Invercargill rapidly reduced. Before I knew it the distance measuring equipment or DME ticked over 40 nautical miles. This meant it was time to call Invercargill tower.
I knew that the weather in Invercargill would have changed dramatically since the 7.00 forecast I had been handed that morning. The cold front coming in from the south would have turned the light and variable wind to a howling, squally 40-knot southerly, the clear skies to black, and the dry runway to a two-kilometre stretch of asphalt that would resemble the Oreti River.
My mouth went dry when I called Invercargill. They confirmed everything that I had thought, and told me that the cloud base was 700 feet. This meant that the beasts would probably spit us out over Queens Park.
I set my altitude-hold to 2000 feet and engaged it. We left our altitude of 6000 feet and started a 500-foot per minute descent into the grey nothingness that now surrounded us. The beasts threw us around like a child’s play toy.
At fifteen nautical miles from Invercargill he handed me my approach chart. I set my course indicator to the inbound track and began to intercept it. The palms of my hands, now ponds of sweat, restricted me from gaining any satisfactory grip on the control column. Still we were a box in a sea of white, unable to see anything except the refraction against the clouds of the light from the landing lights. “Five miles two thousand feet, looking good,” called the man who sat in the right-hand seat.
“Four miles, one thousand six hundred feet, fifty high on profile.”
“Three miles, one thousand two hundred, dead on profile.”
“Two miles, eight hundred, looking …”
He stopped talking as the beasts spat us out like a child spitting out its first taste of a vegetable. Even though we were still slipping and skidding across the sky, the sight of the red warehouse roof, cars crawling the city streets, and best of all, the threshold of Runway 22 – four lights on the left hand side, two red, two white – was one that took an immense weight off my shoulders. He turned to me and, with a smile in his eye, said “Bloody Perfect!”
Turning to look at my first-officer I realized that the man in the right-hand seat was now me. I was the man that I had looked up to when I was in his shoes. I knew all he was thinking about were the clouds like cliffs that loomed in front of him. Should give him a word of encouragement, I thought. But instead, I turned my head to fix my eyes outside the cockpit, and settled into Sunday afternoon drive position.