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Sandi HallWhen nurse Margaret Spindle discovers a lovely but travel-worn pregnant stranger asleep in St Peter’s – one with no handbag or luggage except a bulging black rubbish bag – she turns for help to her closest friends, life partners Fay Dalgety and Ruth Bone.

On the same day, Fay meets another stranger in Paekakariki. This is designer-chic Freddie Tasco, as out of place in the village as a riding boot in an aquarium. Fay thinks Freddie is just passing through but Freddie has much sexier plans.

In the meantime, Ruth, who runs a hydrotherapy clinic in nearby Paraparaumu, becomes concerned for the welfare of her client Mrs Deepthi, when she sees a deep cut on Mrs Deepthi’s cheek and bruises on her wrists.

Finding answers to the puzzles presented by these two strangers, as well as why Mrs Deepthi is hurt, leads all three women on a sometimes dangerous magical realism dance, with the truth finally found in Freddie Tasco’s sumptuous bed.

Excerpt from Public Sex in Paekakariki

Chapter One

To fully understand this excerpt, it is necessary to tell you that Paekakariki is a (real) kiwi seaside village of about 2,000 people, that Perdita, mute and destitute, was found in the village a few weeks earlier;

Margaret is a nurse who has given her shelter; Fay makes gourmet chocolates at home; and Ruth owns a hydrotherapy clinic in nearby Paraparaumu

Scarlet umbrella protecting her from a shower of large raindrops, Fay strolled along Wellington Road, delighting in the bouquet of scents released by the rain.  Floating on the damp air were scents of wild ginger, stinky-cat latana, and the elusive, seductive perfume of datura as she walked under a bush of its white bell flowers.

She felt full of energy, pleased with the way her new violet shorts looked below her white tee. Thick dark clouds filled the sky. Thunder pummelled them after skinny lightning streaked to the ground from their cloud bottoms.  Fay laughed aloud – really, wasn’t Nature a total exhibitionist, she thought, always in your face.  As she got to the bottom of Margaret’s steps, the rain stopped. The air was heavy with moisture, humid in the warm day.

‘There’s a poem in there somewhere,’ joked Margaret after listening to Fay describe her walk. ‘We’re on the back deck – it’s quite dray, the roof goes halfway across,’ she added, inclining her head in that direction. “Would you like juice, water, tea, coffee?’

‘Not water, after that deluge!’ said Fay, leaning her umbrella near the front door. ‘Juice please. How’s Perdita?’

‘See for yourself,’ invited Margaret. ‘I’ll just get the juice.’

Black rubbish bag in its silken net of rainbow colours at her feet, Perdita lounged in an armchair, knitting. Balls of green and white bi-coloured wool were piled in a tapestry knitting bag on the floor just  below her. From slender needles, a lacy garment was growing. Fay nodded, smiling at Perdita as she came closer. Fay touched the garment then clapped her hands together softly as she’d seen Perdita do. Perdita’s eyes glowed as she nodded back, putting a hand on her pregnancy. In the hedge across the lawn, tiny sparrows rustled the leaves.

‘For the baby, of course,’ agreed Fay, nodding, sitting in the chair opposite. A clink of ice against glass made her turn to see Margaret coming with a tray bearing a large pitcher of apple juice, three glasses, and a plate of raisin and oatmeal cookies.   Fay looked at her and inclined her head to Perdita.

‘I know,’ laughed Margaret. ‘Out of the blue.’

‘Where did she get the wool?’

‘At Dunc’s shop – the tapestry bag too. When she got excited about them, he gave them to her.’

‘Of course he did,’ nodded Fay. ‘How could he not, being Dunc.’

‘Heart in motion,’ agreed Margaret. ‘I made these this morning so they should be ok,’ she added, pushing the cookies closer to Fay.

‘Always so risky, eating stuff you’ve made.’

Blinking with pleasure, Margaret poured the juice, deliberately sitting on Fay’s knees.

‘Oi!’ exclaimed Fay, face alight.  Margaret giggled. Fay said “Hey, I think Dunc is going into business – or maybe ‘gone into’ by now – with that new man, the one who inherited Edna McVeigh’s place. They’re opening a photography business, I hear – Glenda and Harry were witnesses on their business contract.’

Margaret picked up her glass, took a biscuit and sat down. ‘Dunc’d probably be quite good at that,’ she mused, thinking of the photos of the penguins on his phone.

‘Jess told me he was thinking of doing some kind of wild life tour thing round Paekak as a tourist venture. Perhaps the photography’s for that.’

‘Makes sense,’ commented Fay, then looked over to Perdita. ‘How close now, d’you reckon?’

Margaret gave a little shrug. ‘At this stage, really hard to be accurate – could be tomorrow, could be next week – only her body knows. But I’m staying close.’

‘We’re just down the road, ‘member,’ said Fay, biting into a biscuit. She chewed consideringly, her teeth sinking into the sweet hot raisins which melted into the chewy oatmeal.

‘I hope you know how much I appreciate that,’ Margaret said quietly.

‘Wow, these are actually edible,’ joked Fay, which turned into  coughing over an errant crumb.


After relating her day to Ruth over dinner – fish and salad and generous wedges of carrot cake – Ruth said quietly,’I had a phone call from Madhu Deepthi’s husband today, cancelling her appointment. How do you feel about taking a trip to her place again?’

‘Well, you’re not going there alone,’ returned Fay. ‘Why? Do you think something’s wrong?’

Ruth looked thoughtful. ‘I don’t think she would ask him to cancel, you see. Other times she’s cancelled, she’s always called me herself, even when she had the ‘flu.’  She wriggled her shoulders. ‘It feels odd.’

‘Yeah, got to check it out, then. At least we won’t need the map this time. When do you want to go?’

‘Tomorrow, mid-morning?’

‘Okay for me,’ said Fay. ‘The Chocolate Charmers pick-up is supposed to be at eight, so I’ll definitely be ready.’

By ten twenty, they were on the road, the day already warm, its light having an olive-y shade that they agreed meant more rain. The traffic was light. As they took the turn-off, Fay said ‘What are you thinking?’

Ruth leaned a little forward, looking at a street sign. ‘Who knows?’ she whispered. She glanced quickly at Fay. ‘Oh you know. The old hope- for-the-best, be-prepared-for-the-rest’  thing. Nothing else I try works.’

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