On the Kaipara

On the Kaipara
Andy and Dad always stopped off at the church before going fishing. Andy looked through the window as they crunched over the gravel, and waved to the man inside.

Pastor Cunningham sold tackle and bait and rods from a room at the side of the church, even on Sunday mornings, and even when it was still dark. He would read the Bible with his feet up. He opened his shop half an hour before dawn — even on Christmas and at Easter — according to sunrise times listed in the Kaipara Harbour Fisherman’s Handbook, which he put together himself each summer using the photocopier in the Church office.

The shop smelled of bait and ice and oil, and that black tea the pastor drank. There were always strange shadows on the wall made by the rods standing at different angles in the window. Pictures and maps of the Kaipara harbour were pinned to hessian boards. The room seemed crowded and full and was always warm, even in the black winter mornings.

“Nice morning,” said the Pastor.

“She is,” said Dad.

Andy had seen pictures of priests and church-men, on TV and in books: Pastor Cunningham looked like none of them. He looked pretty much like Dad, hairy and tall and brown from the sun, with a pot belly where he would sometimes rest his hand, or his tea, or his glass of beer. He dressed in shorts and a brushed cotton shirt, red or blue usually but with other colours running through it, except on Sundays when he wore his brown corduroy trousers and a shirt and tie.

Cunningham was his first name, and his last name was Thomas. Cunningham Thomas. Andy had first thought he must have had them backwards, but no, Mum said that was the way it was. Backwards was forwards.

Mum had grown up with Pastor Cunningham, and so had Dad. They’d all been kids together. Some people, like the big kids at Andy’s school and some of the grown-ups, called Pastor Cunningham a different name. They called him Sly Bacon. Mum didn’t — Mum called him Cunningham — but Dad did. Actually, most often Dad just called him Bacon, and he didn’t seem to mind.

Pastor Cunningham pulled a bag of bait from the chest freezer and handed it to Dad. The bag had frozen into a strange shape, like a squashed sausage. Dad pulled out a two-dollar note from his pocket. The pastor raised his hand.

“I’ll take a smoked Kahawai, next time you come by,” he said.

“You’ve always been a gentleman,” said Dad.

They walked back to the car. The sky was beginning to glow.

“How far we going today, Dad?”
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