When Ruth met Louise it was instant recognition. It was falling in love. So quickly and deeply did they fall that those around them watched aghast, with incredulity.
“They’re only best friends because they’ve both got dead parents,” girls at school chided. And it was true, and more meaningful than anyone could imagine.
To find someone, after ten years, who had also had a parent die. And both at the auspicious age of seven! They were meant to be.
The other major thing they had in common was getting out of it. They just loved it and had the best time together doing so. They would sit all night together at a party with their cask of wine or bottle of rum and coke mix and a bullet between them and no one else could get a word in edgeways. It bothered people. It bothered people that they had no interest in anyone or anything else when they were together. Quite often people accused them of being lezzies, or thought they were weird sisters.
The two girls did dress, talk and move the same. They read the same books – Bukowski’s short stories and poems, The Rachel Papers, Black Dogs – and listened to the same music – Exile on Main Street, The Pogues, Nick Cave. They had the same ideas and mostly could not say with whom one started or finished. Quite often when they met somewhere they showed up in the same outfit: a velvet mini and a muslin shirt, or tight jeans and a big T and ankle boots, or an op-shop kaftan cut short. They both had long dirty blonde hair; Louise’s eyes were green and Ruth’s were blue.
Straight out of school they got a boyfriend each and all went flatting. The girls were still inseparable and believed they were invincible. Fortified by their friendship and their youth, they took massive risks. Of course they had a code. It worked like this: if things were getting out of hand, one would distract, while the other sought a way out. Distracting required a bit of give and take – a bit of flirting certainly and sometimes more. Usually Louise worked this part, while Ruth found their way out.
The night they met Nick they were on a bender. They had been out for a long time and then found themselves in the car with a very wired one. They mostly could not remember exactly how they got from one situation to another, only random details, like climbing out a window and walking along a glistening empty road for an eternity.
Nick was a funny guy, a bit unusual. It was hard to place him. He had a suit on, which was weird on a Saturday night, and wore glasses. He was sort of geeky, but he had something edgy and live about him. And although he was a skinny white guy with a nice car, he had a tattoo on his right forearm. That was before it was fashionable for middle-class white New Zealand men to have tattoos.
Nick’s tattoo was quite prominent across the flat smooth inside of his arm, visible when his shirt rode up. It was the Dutch word Vrijheid, written in schoolgirls’ long-hand, and Ruth understood what it meant.
He did not come from the city – that much you could tell. You could tell by the way he moved and looked about, as if expecting something to appear in the distance, to surprise him. He had an animal sense of nervous anticipation about him; a bit jittery, like horses in a lower paddock before a storm. You could imagine him doggedly, nervously searching out higher ground. There was something windy about him, something a bit wild. The girls liked him straight away. They liked his energy, his intelligence, and his strong sense of come what may.
It was close to dawn by the time he took them to his office on the eleventh floor of the corporate building on Queen Street. He worked for Equiticorp and it was 1988, just months before the big crash. Nick was doing well, in that late 80s’ sort of way that even some of the biggest players, worth around $600 million by now, were saying out loud in the papers could not last much longer, and it didn’t. Soon enough the index would slump causing a world-wide recession and the brief imprisonment of a handful of the executives that had caused it. But this was before any reckoning and Nick was just an upstart anyway, just riding his first big wave. He must have been only a few years older than the girls, maybe early twenties, but he already had the Beamer, the massive mobile phone, and the Sacks suits. But he was also already showing signs of becoming a bit pent up, like those guys get. He was already starting to look a little compromised, a little contorted, like his body would soon forget how to move freely, how to really fuck.
He was pretty angry actually, in a self-conscious sort of way.
“This is me now,” he kept belting out in a mocking voice, bashing the side of the fist on the glass as they rode the elevator up to the top floor, ‘This is me now, up here in this fucking fucked building. In this big glass tower! Ha! My old man would be proud to see me here, he wouldn’t believe it. Me all the fucking way up here!’
But he knew he was working in a house of cards.
“It’s all over now,” he raged at one point in the night, “It’s all over now baby blue. We’ve been read the fucking riot act.”
One of the few details the girls would remember about the office up there was how weirdly devoid of human traces it was. It was all windows and views onto the two streets below and an impressive fit-out and lots of phones, but the desks and the walls were otherwise totally bare. The space itself looked mass produced, repetitive and cellular – like the bright yet strangely depressing photographic images Andreas Gursky would make of stock exchanges, supermarkets and office buildings in the late 1990s – and it was difficult to discern the real thing and the reflections that looked like they might reproduce into infinity. Everything looked freshly processed and newly appointed, not like a place where twenty or so people had worked day and night for the last five years, as Nick told them they had. There was nothing human about it, except for a massive clear-glass booze cabinet, stocked with top-shelf liquor and party packs of nuts and stuff. And there was a T.V., a couple of video players, a stereo and other gadgets.
When they got in there they cranked up The Cult, opened up the scotch and rum and vodka and basically just trashed the place.
It was never a planned thing. It started with them spinning around on the chairs and kicking the walls and desks as they passed to keep the momentum. Then one of them accidently kicked in the glass door of the T.V. cabinet and when the glass exploded so did they. They simply got the fever, kicking everything, breaking it and chucking stuff around. Throwing the contents of the bags all over the place and stabbing with scissors at the upholstery on the desk chairs. They ripped the phones out of the sockets and used the receivers to smash the computers. They tipped stuff out of all the filing cabinets and then doused it in alcohol. At one point Nick pissed all over the couch in the corner. They just screamed to the music turned up to the max. Why did you kiss the world goodbye? Ciao baby! Then they chucked the big stuff at the glass windows. They turned out the lights and the city was all around them, blinking sleepily, while they trashed the place. Nick took his pants off and pulled his tie loose. The girls took their tops off and were dancing with their eyes closed and their arms in the air in between hurling stuff around. Ruth stomped her boots and shook her head violently. They were all really wasted and in a frenzy. They were screaming. Then someone noticed light rubbing its way into the streets and the pinkish morning in the room.
When they turned the music down they thought they could hear the waking of the building—lifts working maybe, or a vacuum cleaner—and when they turned the lights on they blurrily registered that they were undressed, wet, panting. The place reeked. They looked terrible. Someone had vomited and then, not saying much if anything, they started to loot the place. They took bottles and whatever food was left and any stationary that was not ruined. They took as many electronics as they could carry, even the broken stuff. When the girls were ready to leave Nick reminded them, swaying like a lit Len Lye, that they had to wait for him to get them through the many security checks. Only he had the card to swipe them out of the room and into the lift and out of the building. He dressed himself slowly and the girls looked around the room. They did not look at each other. They saw the place and wondered what had happened. It had been a great night, a really crazy one, but what had they done? And really, why?
Their canvas army bags were lumpy with stuff and their sticky arms were full of gear that they didn’t really want. But they took it anyway. Fuck it, they thought, these guys all take whatever the hell they want, and so they took it anyway. But when Nick dropped them home they just dumped it brokenly in the middle of the lounge.
They had such a good place, Ruth thought drunkenly, as she peered passed the loot in the lounge at the furniture and pictures in the apricot morning light. She often did that, take stock of what they had made, focus in on some scene in a room: lavender or honeysuckle in a jar, an orange wool blanket folded on the couch, a stack of records leaning against the wall. And when she got off the bus from University she usually ran down Islington Street—that was how much she loved coming home to their flat; she literally ran to get home. Other people also gravitated to what they had made. There were often a few on the veranda when she got home and when friends crashed at theirs, Ruth made them up a bed with sheets. And even though nobody ever really cooked in that flat, the girls grew salad in Louise’s mother’s pots. Their boyfriends worked in restaurants and brought home leftovers to share. They even had a sort of cleaning roster. It was a great flat.
Ruth stood up and gave the pile of stuff a good kick, then she grabbed Louise by the forearm and hoisted her from the couch. The girls giggled stupidly as they took off their boots and skirts and crashed in Louise’s empty bed, falling asleep together in the warm prism of morning sunshine.