By Lynn Huang
They were going way too fast.
Andrew, usually the careful driver in Singapore, was behaving like a go-cart driver now that they were on the country roads of New Zealand. After another tailgate-and-overtake sequence – this time of a large RV - Lynn wished heartily that she had gotten her driving licence in time for their honeymoon.
"There are speed limits," she offered. "We'll get a ticket, if we don't get killed first."
"Lots of Singaporeans get tickets," Andrew said nonchalantly, ignoring the other possibility. "Nobody I know has ever paid."
They both agreed that such insouciance in the face of the law was totally unacceptable for two law-abiding Singaporeans. But then, this was not Singapore, and they were on honeymoon.
Still, Lynn wished Andrew would go slower. They were southbound on the west coast of the South Island, having stopped at Haast for lunch, and were heading inland through Haast Pass to Lake Wanaka. The surrounding beauty grew monotonous after a while. There were no other cars on the road for miles, besides their little Suzuki. Jet lag was setting in. They needed coffee badly.
So when the little wooden signboard of "Coffee" appeared at the entrance of a side-road, Andrew had turned in immediately, no questions asked. They drove through forest for another 15 minutes, and were on the verge of turning back when they reached a gravelled clearing, with a small but solidly-built wooden cabin and some chairs and tables outside. A friendly golden retriever wagged his tail twice at the visitors, and went back to sleep.
The café was run by a couple, who could be anywhere between 40 and 60 years' of age, with the muscular, weather-beaten frame of people who have spent their whole lives outdoors. There were no other customers in sight. Ravenous from the drive, Andrew and Lynn ordered coffee and hot burgers, and went outside for a walk while the woman went to work cooking behind the counter.
The café was ringed by trees, which appeared to provide thick forest cover. But that was deceptive. A small path at the back of the cabin led them quickly through the trees into a large clearing. There was a glint of water in the distance – perhaps they were nearer to Lake Wanaka than they thought? But in the foreground, there was an intricate wooden structure. It was less than two storeys in height, clearly disused, its white paint peeling, and with some of the supporting beams fallen to the ground. It was fenced up.
The café's ageless owner had joined them, golden retriever at his heels.
"Yeah, that's a rollercoaster," he said, anticipating the question-mark in Lynn's mind.
"Came with the property when my grandfather bought it. Built in the 1930s, when folks still had the mind to build these things before they were all shipped off to fight in the war. A wooden one – same pedigree as the Giant Dipper in California."
The man's Kiwi lilt made "pedigree" sound like "pea digree". He went on to explain how the wooden rollercoaster worked, and how wooden ones had a certain charm compared to the prefab steel tubular ones nowadays, but Lynn was not really listening. Instead, she made her eyes trace the contours of the structure, where the car – presumably wooden too, but nowhere in sight now – would start, where it would accelerate, and then whoosh down along the slight bend. It was a strange feeling, like being the only visitors in a museum of medieval court jester costumes.
The waft of sizzling bacon and fries beckoned them. The man concluded by saying, "It's too dear to take down now, but it's still good Kiwi rimu wood. You won't find another like her in Westland", and with his accent, Lynn thought he had said "wasteland".
Back in the café, Andrew proclaimed over cheeseburgers and fries that he liked rollercoasters, especially those "360-degree ones". I've married a speed demon, Lynn thought. She recalled her white-knuckled fear in Hong Kong's Ocean Park, riding the Viking, which had looked so tame from outside. She had kept her eyes tightly shut throughout the ride. She mentally set a threshold on what sort of theme park rides she'll go on with Andrew. Maybe a few tamer Disney rides, but no Six Flags.
"I always like to sit at the very front of the rollercoaster," Andrew continued.
"Physics says that the G-forces are stronger at the back," Lynn shot back, anxious to puncture some of Andrew's alarming bravado.
Ignoring her, Andrew was making large circular motions in the air with his coffee spoon, mimicking the 360-degree rollercoaster turns. To her consternation, a large blob of latte foam landed on Lynn's nose. Andrew collapsed in merriment.
They reached their motel on Lake Wanaka just as the sun began to set. As they brought their bags into the room, the setting sun lengthened their shadows to five-metre giants on the asphalt.
Andrew had promised "no dull nights on our honeymoon", but after his shower, he fell asleep almost immediately, exhausted by the day's driving. Lynn stayed awake for a while, but there was nothing on TV except rugby and the news, and she soon feel asleep too.
In her dream, Lynn was in a different time and place. Andrew and her were in the car driving out to Tokyo Bay. It was night, and the neon lights in Odaiba shimmered in the distance at the far end of the Bay. Then she saw that they were not heading to Odaiba after all, but were instead driving on a rollercoaster track, which looked brand-new, paved with glistening asphalt. In the middle and at each side of the road, there were thoughtful luminous road markings. Just ahead the road heaved – it was the beginning of the 360-degree turn. Andrew said, we need to go fast now, or we'll fall like fridge magnets from the track. In her dream, Lynn grasped the physics of this as inevitable. Keep to your lane, she said soundlessly, as Andrew floored the accelerator, and they hurtled forward and crested the top of the turn. There was only the night-sky above and the neon lights below, and absolute silence.
Don't close your eyes now, Lynn told herself. Especially not now.QLRS Vol. 5 No. 3 Apr 2006