Chapter 3

Flyers for Jaffas


A year after the traumatic box-making experience and with the memory partially repressed, I wanted to earn extra money. Mum suggested posting flyers in letterboxes. It sounded like a good idea.

Living in the country, I was occasionally jealous of my townie friends who biked urban streets with friends while I biked alone down our sand driveway, in a paddock, or along our gravel country road to stop and stare at animals.

Some town friends talked about an after-school paper round.

After riding their bike to the local dairy or store to meet fellow paper-round friends and collect, fold and stuff piles of newspapers into their bike satchels, they got to cycle the neighbourhood delivering the news.

I wanted to deliver the news.

In the country, our newspaper arrived wrapped in waterproof paper, thrown from a speeding Rural Post delivery vehicle’s window. The newspaper landed somewhere on our property’s fifty metre frontage, which meant on the roadside, in long grass or amongst shelter belts. After school, one of us three girls had to get out of the car and retrieve the newspaper. If it wasn’t visible, we had to hunt in the tall grass and shelter belts.

The appeal of a paper round was the co-paper-rounder banter and camaraderie, fun and independence, and getting to spend paper-round money on candy. I could see myself loading my bike with newspapers and cycling along the footpath, throwing newspapers at houses, smiling to myself while being my own boss, knowing I would reap the rewards of recognition, trust and respect bestowed upon all paper-rounders by loyal customers.

Because I knew exactly how a paper round worked.

Biking the streets, greeted with appreciative shouts from regular customers, a paper rounder would receive a “Thanks heaps” from Mr Old Person watering his lawn and a “Thanks love” from Mrs Housewife leaning out her kitchen window for the sole purpose of expressing gratitude for the page twelve weather forecast promising blue sky so she could plant her geraniums in the morning and walk her children to the park in the afternoon.

I imagined a paper-rounder occasionally stopped at Mr and Mrs Happy Couple’s house, and, after leaning their newspaper-laden bike against a low fence offering a view to Mr and Mrs Happy Couple’s perfectly manicured garden, the paper rounder would watch Mr Happy Couple stroll down the driveway, his hands in the pockets of his grey pleated dress pants, and the paper-rounder would hand deliver the newspaper. Mr Happy Couple would smile and tousle the paper-rounder’s hair making the paper-rounder feel like the most valued person in Mr Happy Couple’s world. Mrs Happy Couple would follow, wearing a nineteen-fifties floral dress and high heels, a plate of fresh home-baked cookies in hand. After twice declining the still-warm cookies, the paper-rounder would select the smallest biscuit and with modest gratitude – a character trait of all paper-rounders upholding the values of a respectable vocation – say “Thank you”.

For some reason my paper-rounder impression was set in nineteen-fifties urban America.

However, the beauty and charm of a paper round would never be mine. Instead, I got a one-time supermarket flyer delivery job to be completed on foot.

My younger sister Sam, Mum and I sat cross-legged on the lounge floor folding approximately three-hundred yellow flyers for delivery to houses in the University Area. I was thirteen years old. Sam was nine and a half.

Folding the flyers into envelope-shapes suitable for slipping into letterboxes seemed to take hours, and after ten minutes I was bored.

At thirteen, I had lived a sheltered middle-class life. Our house and those of friends and my parents’ friends, were clean and tidy and homely and nice; I thought everyone’s houses were clean and tidy and homely and nice until I went to Wilde Avenue in Halstead city, a poor area notorious for people who, for various reasons, struggle with life.

Mum, Sam and I went with Dad – who before my parents became apple orchardists worked as an electrician – to Wilde Avenue to fix an oven in a state house.

After parking on Wilde Avenue outside the house, Dad grabbed his tool kit and got out of the car.

“Lock your doors,” Mum told Sam and me. It was an out-of-the-ordinary request to which we immediately responded and, in the quiet car, Sam and I took in our surroundings.

Identical square wooden houses built close together, with peeling paint, no gardens and unmown lawns, had thin wire mesh fences similar to the mesh used to make our pet rabbit hutches. Many of the houses had cars in different states of dilapidation parked on their unmown lawns. Some cars had different coloured panels or concrete bricks for wheels, and one car, having been lit on fire in the street, was a blackened frame. Some cars with missing doors had small children playing in them, as if the cars were play equipment like a jungle gym in a playground.

Skinny dogs wandered Wilde Avenue, their heads and tails lowered, sniffing the gutters, and no one seemed to notice they weren’t tied up or behind a fence. People sat on concrete front-door steps, smoking and staring at nothing and movement and us in the car. Most of the people were Māori, the people living in New Zealand before the British began colonising in the late seventeen-hundreds, and everyone walked around slowly, like it was exhaustingly hot.

Inside the car, the three of us sat in a bubble of silence.

Delivering flyers, I discovered the university area was somewhere between Wilde Avenue and houses in town, where friends and family lived with people called students.

My mother pronounced the word students like she had flicked something repulsive off her hand, which meant I was already prejudiced against these people I discerned were filthy and barely tolerable.

The day we trudged up and down the university streets, spreading the news of This Week’s Specials, was hot and still and the sun was burning my skin. Mum walked along one side of the street while Sam and I walked the other, occasionally detouring to cul-de-sacs to stuff flyers in letterboxes.

Most university houses were single storey, wooden or red brick, had decks and garages, and all favoured overgrown gardens: quite different from home.

After dinner whenever a day offered more heat and light, mum would weed, mow, trim, water and dig in her garden. There was a rose garden at the back of the house surrounded by a shrub garden; she evenly spaced marigolds and pansies in flower gardens the length of the house parallel to pathways; and along our country driveway between and below trees, she planted more flowers and shrubs. Her gardens were so large that, “By the time I finish the last garden, the weeds have grown in the first, and I have to start all over again.” But she didn’t mind. She was always brown and her biceps large from digging and lifting in the garden and on the orchard. I would ask, “Show me your muscles,” and she would flex one bicep like a body builder with a reluctant smirk suggesting she was uncomfortably proud.

In the university area, trees half covered windows, overgrown vines clung to the sides of houses and creeped into windows, and lawns were long enough to hide small children. It was as if garden lovers had once lived in the university area, but a dramatic event had caused them to immediately leave town. Years later, nature was reclaiming their houses and students had moved in with too many couches and bicycles.

Bicycles and couches overflowed onto decks and lawns in the university area, and some bicycles hung from trees or were discarded on the street or leant against houses. Rain-soaked couches sat beside letterboxes.

Delivering flyers proved difficult. Some letterboxes were full of other flyers, free local newspapers and rained-on mail which had dried then been rain-drenched again. Some letterboxes were bent on their supporting posts or smashed on the ground, neglected and abused, missing out on our flyer delivery, never to know about This Week’s Specials.

The university area wasn’t Wilde Avenue – I didn’t see dead cars, people or starving dogs; I didn’t see anyone. It was as if the students had evacuated town for the same reason the original people who liked gardens had disappeared. Maybe there was something supernatural about the university area which made gardens grow faster than usual and people want to leave.

Payment was one-point-two cents per flyer. I had to deliver sixteen flyers to make twenty cents which was the smallest amount I could think of that bought anything I wanted: a giant Jaffa, which was a chocolate ball encased in a thin hard red orange crunchy layer.

Walking around in the heat, hating every minute of the gruelling job, I thought about giant Jaffas.

“I’ve earned enough to buy one giant Jaffa,” I told Mum, passing a couch next to a fence missing a few palings.

Mum stared straight ahead. “Let’s just get this done,” she said, taking a deep breath retrieving another flyer from her plastic bag. “And stop complaining.”

“I’m not complaining.”

We knew I was complaining.

And I knew Mum was pissed off. I recognised in her a familiar quiet stubborn determination she exhibited when realising the point she was trying to prove was weak, or when she was not prepared to deviate from a non-negotiable.

Crossing back to the other side of the road, I avoided a white plastic outdoor chair missing a leg masquerading as household trash.

I hated this.

Driving home, our flyers delivered, my mother, whose top mantras include “You only get out what you put in” and “You should always finish what you have started,” reneged.

“Well,” she said, “That wasn’t worth it. Was it?”

From the back seat of the car Sam and, I exhausted and sunburnt, stayed quiet. Hours of flyer folding and walking in the heat equalled eight dollars and a University Area education.

We should have pushed the flyers under a hedge or couch with all the other piles of flyers I saw in the university area.

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