Britt woke up to the sound of last night’s beer bottles chiming in the wind. Her head was a bit sore – she was supposed to have just the one beer, but it never is just the one. The longer daylight hours had opened up a new appetite for cold drinks. She wanted to get down to the market before the sun wilted all the produce but couldn’t will herself up. She got a text message from Laura.
It was 16°C. Not hot, but not cold. 16°C is warm enough for the beach. People had started getting their knees out, appearing in denim or starched shorts. No one had seen this many knees since the end of February. Britt covered herself in sunscreen and filled up her water-bottle.
Yesterday, the supermarket’s all knowing product placement strategy had thrown her into the grips of nostalgia. She’d put the two ingredients for Kiwi Onion Dip into her trolley. She’d recently learnt that if you keep the reduced cream in the fridge, you can eat it straight away once you add the soup mix, rather than having to set it afterwards. It seemed so bloody obvious but she’d spent years doing it the other way around. That’s why you’ve got to have friends; they’ll teach you new ways to tackle the mundane.
Laura was waiting outside and they headed to Princess Bay. The car moved like a donkey looking for water. When they got to the beach, groups of people were already drinking. It was 11am – must be hair of the dog for some.
Everyone seemed to be at the beach. Britt recognised some guy she’d never spoken to but seemed to be at every gig she attended. Further down was a friend of a friend who’d talked at Britt for hours at a party about tunnel gardens, as though they were the only tunnel garden expert in the Southern Hemisphere. She pulled her sunhat over her face and adjusted her glasses in the hope no one would spot her. Sundays were not the time for polite, small-penny conversation. Summer’s Sundays were for avoiding social interactions and letting the sun linger on her legs.
Britt and Laura had to lie down to stop the wind ruining their relaxation. Britt wanted to start eating before the food got too warm or sandy. The sky was blue enough to spot planes and far away sea-gulls. They looked at each other sternly to see who was going to suggest going into the water first – it was Laura.
Hurry up, she said.
They put their bags on their towels to stop everything blowing away and ran in the direction of the few people in the water. The tide was waist level and they let themselves scream and bellow in the arms of the cold. Apparently hard swearing increases pain tolerance and this water was painful. They stayed in for a full minute, wetting their hair and letting the salt act as a balm.
They fell asleep as bits of sand stuck to their skin. When she woke up, Britt realised she hadn’t put sunscreen on her feet. They packed up in search of ice cream. The both got a scoop of gold rush; it tasted freezer burnt and they decided not to trust that dairy again.
The summer exodus had begun. The city was clearing out, as it did every year. Anyone who’s ever moved out of Wellington – especially if they get as far as Auckland – will tell you they don’t miss the weather. They’d never come back. For Britt the weather was a challenge, an invitation.
In the summer Wellington shares its secrets with the committed. Beaches wrap around the North Island like a patio. You can sit on the edge and wave at Southern neighbours. It’s funny watching people walk off the street onto the sand in their Doc Martens.
The pavements are pleasantly quiet. Britt had started wandering about listening to City Looks Pretty by Courtney Barnett on repeat and smiling at strangers. Maybe the Christmas season was making her feel friendlier?
The next day Britt woke to the sound of rain. She marched outside in her pyjamas to collect her towel from the washing line. As she walked to work, she noticed most people were back in their long pants.
Sally has studied at the International Institute of Modern Letters and is an incoming co-editor of Salient Magazine (2021). You can find her features at salient.org.nz and food writing @salevator