Between 2010 and 2014 Lynn Jenner made several related emotional and intellectual investigations. Lost and Gone Away is the record of these: a fascinating, ambitious hybrid text of nonfiction, prose poems and poetry. The book traverses the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake; samples and sifts through the lost and recovered detritus of the ancient world; radiates its attention out from that epicentre of loss, the Point Last Seen, from which all searches begin; and quietly, devastatingly, explores how one might think and write about the Holocaust, from far away. An excavation of loss, in four parts, Lost and Gone Away also plumbs the ability of literature to contain, refresh and explore. The cumulative result is a fresh, sobering and searching intellectual journey – a tremendously powerful work of creative nonfiction.
|Publisher:||Auckland University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Lynn Jenner began writing at the age of 49. In 2008, while studying at the International Institute of Modern letters, she received the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for the manuscript of Dear Sweet Harry, which was then published by Auckland University Press and won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry. Her poetry has been widely published in the literary journals, here and overseas, including Carcanet’s Oxford Poets: An Anthology, 2013.
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Lost and Gone Away
By Lynn Jenner
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2015 Lynn Jenner
All rights reserved.
The ring story
When everything is turned around
Christchurch, 29 April 2011
Of course, there are rumours that there has been much more looting in the Red Zone than is being officially admitted, the lawyer in Christchurch said when I phoned him about my mother's diamond ring, worth as much as a new European car, and last seen in a jeweller's shop in Cashel Mall five days before the earthquake.
Then there was a silence.
There are rumours that it is the soldiers, he said.
There's such a lot of property in there at the moment and no one really knows who owns it, he said. Most people have turned out to be very honest, he said. But some haven't.
Realistically, I said, what do you think the chances are that my mother will get her ring back?
Nil, he said. You should make an insurance claim.
Sooo, I said, feeling free to speculate now that we had received our advice, what's to stop the jeweller from keeping the ring, not telling his insurance company he has it, and selling the stone in Amsterdam?
Nothing, the lawyer said. I think you should make a claim.
He didn't respond at all to my next suggestion that we could perhaps retain a member of a motorcycle gang to shake down the jeweller on our behalf.
After a long silence he said, let me know if you have any trouble with the insurance company.
* * *
Sometime in the 1980s my mother had inherited this ring.
A canny Scottish farming woman, doing very well, thank you, was the first owner of the ring. She was a big woman with strong hands. She wore the ring to church on Christmas Day and when she went to the races.
She kept the ring wrapped in cotton wool, in a round ivory box with a carved lid inside her wooden jewellery box on her dressing table which had been brought out from Scotland. Huge dark and shiny furniture. Carved edges. Solid brass handles. When she died, at the end of a good long life, she left the ring, along with her maiden name, to her daughter, who, when she died, left the ring to my mother. The huge dark furniture and the Highland flower name went somewhere else.
Himself, as the farming woman called her husband, had inherited one farm, and then he had four, and although he grumbled about the wharfies and their revolutionary tendencies and the effect of wage increases on the cost of shipping, over the years he made pretty fair prices on his mutton and wool. In his fifties he became ill with a disease that caused unbearable pain. A long sea voyage was prescribed. That and morphine. Knowing he would never work again, he gave the farms to his sons, who lost them almost immediately.
My mother wasn't the sort of woman to go to church on Christmas Day or to the races, but for the sake of a farmer's wife from Palmerston and a Highland flower name, which had by then been lost in a sea of men's names, she would sometimes wear the ring. Mostly the ring lived in the ivory box with the carved lid, inside her plain modern jewellery box on her plain modern dressing table, its value something of a worry.
With my father lying beside her in bed, big and warm like a bear, she didn't worry too much. But after he died she took the ring into town and, with a certain amount of formality, placed it in a safe deposit box at the Westpac Bank and there it stayed, in a cool dark box, for a decade or so. Late in 2010 my mother received a letter from her insurance company, saying that the valuation on her ring was out of date. The value of precious stones and gold had been rising rapidly, the letter said, and she should have the ring revalued. What a waste of money having insurance, we said. Surely items in a safe deposit box in the vault of a bank could never be stolen. We thought this was quite funny. We did not consider that the building itself might become a pile of rubble.
My mother decided she should follow the advice of the insurance company and get the ring revalued, but there was a problem. Over the years she had lost the key to the safe deposit box. Some months went by, during which we turned out every corner of her drawers and looked for the key to the safe deposit box, but we never found it. We did find a number of keys for which we could find no locks, but that was no help.
17 February 2011
My mother paid a locksmith to come to the bank, had a new key made for the safe deposit box, opened it, took out the ring in its ivory box and put the box in her purse. Then she walked down a couple of streets to the jeweller in Cashel Mall. I'm not sure why she took the ring to this particular jeweller.
22 February 2011: Earthquake Day
Our main concern was her, but her main concern was her house, her cat, and the fact that there was no power, water or sewerage. I don't know when she first remembered the ring – it might have been after a few days. It is also possible that she remembered straight away and spoke about it, but for a few days I wasn't listening.
I do remember that we talked about it a few times during March. She would use a pragmatic tone. Oh yes, she would say, the ring is almost certainly gone, but it doesn't matter really. People have had such terrible things happen to them. Then we would discuss those terrible things.
As time went by our discussions changed a little. We would each say that the ring was lost. I would say it was lost in the same way as I might refer to the scent of honeysuckle in an English country garden before World War I. She would say the ring was probablylost. It took me a few weeks to notice this difference, more time to realise that the person who should do something was me, and more time again to actually do anything.
In the meantime I attended a poetry reading at which a woman collapsed, took out a new mortgage and read books about sculptural representations of the Holocaust.
19 March 2011
I phoned the jeweller's shop in Cashel Mall. There was no reply. I pictured the phone ringing in the Red Zone. Perhaps there were other phones ringing? There was an email address in the jeweller's advertisement in the Yellow Pages, so I sent an email.
I don't know how things are with your people and your business – I hope you are all alive and unhurt, and that you might be reading emails. My mother had a diamond ring in being valued on Feb 22. She has asked me to enquire about the ring. We assume it would be in your safe and that you can't access it. Could you please help us with any information on the ring? It isn't as important as people, but it is of sentimental as well as financial value to my mother who is in her eighties. It would be great to hear from you
My email came back to me with a message saying the jeweller's inbox was full.
31 March 2011
My mother read an article in the Listener about frustrated businessmen who were unable to get in to their businesses in the Red Zone because Civil Defence authorities wouldn't give permission. Gerald (his real name), a jewellery valuer, also from Cashel Mall, was quoted. He found it hard to understand some business people taking a passive attitude, moaning about not being able to get in to their businesses, and meanwhile he had been in to his business three times, he said. My mother thought Gerald might know something about the ring situation because his shop was near the jeweller. I thought that idea was a bit far-fetched, but said I'd try to contact him.
I looked up Gerald's name in the Yellow Pages, phoned his business and the call was redirected to his cellphone which heanswered. He told me he had been in to his business, got all his stock and computers, and had now moved his business into a new location in Papanui Road. I asked Gerald if he knew how I could contact the jeweller with my mother's ring. He didn't, but he thought perhaps he remembered valuing the sparkly old thing. He told me he would check his records in case he still had the ring.
He phoned back the next day and told me he had valued the ring on the morning of 22 February and returned it to the jeweller at lunchtime. He also told me the jeweller's name was Ted (Gerald didn't know his surname) and he gave me Ted's home phone number.
Now there was a trail. My mother took the ring to the jeweller named Ted on 17 February. Ted sent one of his shop assistants, with the ring, to Gerald, the valuer across the road, on 18 February. Gerald took photographs of the ring and wrote up the new valuation on the morning of 22 February then he took the ring across the street, back to Ted the jeweller.
2 April 2011
After phoning several times, I reached Ted's wife. I asked her to ask him to phone me. He didn't so I phoned him. I caught him at home on the third try. I asked him if any of his staff had been killed or hurt in the quake. He said there were a few cuts and grazes, but nothing more serious. He had a broad Devon accent and a defeated air. I distrusted him instantly.
I explained the trail to him and asked him if he had any ideas about what might have happened to the ring.
Was it in his safe? I asked, thinking of a business like the Mercedes factory where every step would be guided by a protocol that never varied. He told me that he was only the owner and did not actually work there, so he did not know how the ring would have been handled, and he had no idea where the ring would have been at the time of the earthquake. He had not been allowed in to his business since the earthquake, he said. He also said that he might not be continuing in business. I felt as though I was trying to hold on to a small undomesticated animal. It was wriggling and its eyes were darting from side to side, looking for a dark hole it could run away into.
He said he would ask his staff if they remembered the ring and get back to me.
9 April 2011
I phoned Ted again. He repeated that he had not been in to his business and did not know anything about the property which was there at the time of the earthquake. He made no offer to keep in touch, so I said I would phone him weekly to see how things were progressing. I wanted to keep his mind on our problem.
17 April 2011
I rang Ted again. He prevaricated some more. His shop was in Zone 12, he said, as if that was important. The closest he had been to his shop was the fence. Etc. Etc. At one stage he began a vivid description of the minutes straight after the quake.
He and all the staff scrabbling around in the broken glass and bricks, picking up whatever jewellery they could lay their hands on, taking it down to the basement where they had a wall safe. Power off, the basement in total darkness, aftershocks and sirens and people screaming.
These were the first things he said which I believed.
They shoved, that was his word, shoved, whatever they had in their hands into the safe, but they were only able to lock one of its two locks. After that, he said, the police came and made them leave the building.
I was at a loss to know how to do any more for my mother, who, I now realised, felt guilty that, after three generations, the ring had been lost on her watch. Those were her words. My partner and I talked about options. Could you phone the police if you suspected someone of an intention to commit a crime? We thought not. What if Ted was not dishonest – just useless? Looking at this now, I see that a couple of weeks went by in this phase. I can think of no reason why so much time passed, when the next step is so obvious.
28 April 2011
I emailed my mother's solicitor for advice. I thought about asking a lawyer near home but decided that a lawyer who was doing business in Christchurch would have more of a feel for what was going on than a lawyer from Paraparaumu. I was imagining Ted in court as I wrote this, so I was careful.
Good morning Kerry
I have made a time to talk with you tomorrow, April 29 at 2.30 about the best way for us to proceed regarding a diamond ring that belongs to my mother and is missing in the earthquake. The ring was at X Jewellers being valued on Feb 22. There is no dispute about that. The ring is an antique, with sentimental value as well as an insured value of more than $50,000.
My mother has asked me to help her to recover the ring, if at all possible. At this stage, I am uneasy about the attitude of Ted X, the business owner, having found him evasive at best and probably lying once that I am aware of.
I wonder if Ted is making any reasonable effort to locate the rings and what the standard operating procedure would have been for handling rings like this – would they always be put into a safe on return from valuation? And therefore what the chances are of recovering them from the safe?
And I wonder what is to stop a business owner in this situation from claiming from his insurance, leaving my mother to claim from her insurance, and recovering the ring himself?
I imagine the building will soon be demoslished [sic]. Once that happens there is no further chamce [sic] to reciver [sic] the rings, so there is possibly some urgency.
I have tried to engage Ted in discussion about the recovery of the rings but he is not helpful. I have also left a message for the other owner, Mr B, (17/04/11) asking him to contact me and have not had a response.
I would like advice about what to do next. I imagine there are lots of situations a bit like this in Christchurch.
1 May 2011
Two days after I spoke with the lawyer, Ted phones. He has been allowed in to his business for fifteen minutes, during which time he has retrieved my mother's ring, which he is now keen to hand over to us. I ask him to keep it until I am next down in Christchurch, on 23 May. He agrees. I am to phone him when I arrive in Christchurch.
23 May 2011
I arrive in Christchurch. The shuttle driver tells me there is a vagrant living in the Grand Chancellor Hotel, eating the food and drinking the drinks left behind in twenty-six storeys of minibars. He follows the sun around the building to keep warm and sleeps in a different room each night, according to the driver.
The hotel building, supported with truckloads of concrete while complex negotiations are going on about who would pay for demolition, is on a clear lean. I see that as we pass nearby. Many of its windows are broken, curtains flap in the wind, and there are stories in the paper of expensive belongings people had left behind in the panic of evacuating the building.
According to the driver, the man was spotted by police as a mobile dark shape on infra-red thermal imaging equipment, the building itself having reached the ambient temperature of Christchurch in May.
After that there are earnest conversations between the passengers about how the man could have got past the cordon and whether he had been homeless before the earthquake or not, the answer to this last question apparently making a huge difference to the whole situation.
24 May 2011
I phone Ted to arrange the handover. He suggests I meet him at 7 pm the next evening, in the car park of a disused garden centre in Marshlands Road. I say no to the garden centre car park in the dark. I suggest we meet at a BP petrol station near the garden centre which I assume will be better lit and have more people around. He agrees. Don't forget, he says, there is a charge of $175 for the valuation. Bring a cheque made out to X Jewellers.
25 May 2011
I ask my mother if she would rather stay home while I go get the ring, but she says no, she wouldn't dream of letting me go by myself.
We drive out to the BP station, work out the direction Ted will come from and where we can park and watch who is coming and going.
We put two torches in the car, one with a big heavy handle. We tell two other people where we are going and instruct them to call the police if we are not home by 9 pm. Down the phone from Raumati, my partner hums the Harry Lime theme.
We arrive at the BP station fifteen minutes early. I park and we begin surveillance. After a while we see one car with a woman driver pull up. I write down its number plate. Then another car, and another, each with a woman driver. I write down all the number plates because when someone finds our car and our battered bodies, the number plates will help them find who did it. Then, about 7.07 pm, Ted pulls up in an old grey Toyota Corolla. I know it's him because I had asked him what sort of car he drove. We stay in the shadows, watching what is happening. A little pattern emerges. A woman gets out of her car and approaches Ted's car. He gets out and they walk to the rear of his car. In the red light of his tail light, he gets a package out of the boot, unwraps it, shows the woman something, she signs a piece of paper and goes back to her car. She drives off. After the third woman has driven off, I drive our car up behind Ted's car and leave the lights on. We wait.
Excerpted from Lost and Gone Away by Lynn Jenner. Copyright © 2015 Lynn Jenner. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsONE The ring story,
TWO The panorama machine,
THREE Point Last Seen,
FOUR I ring the bell anyway,