Barry and I left for the church right away. A reader had called to tell us that a woman from Tuatapere had won a million bucks in the Golden Kiwi. This news was astonishing but to top it all off, the woman was getting married. Today! In less than an hour! She had become a millionaire on her wedding day. It was a truly unbelievable event. We ran to the car, pulsing with excitement. Barry was the chief photographer. I was the junior reporter.
No one else knew. We would be the only ones there. The photo would make the front page and my story would too. I would get a byline. They would put it on the wire. I might get a byline in other papers as well. The problem was, it was a Saturday. No paper on Sunday. Still, this was huge. I was stoked.
Barry stopped to buy a bottle of Bernadino Spumante for the happy couple and then he floored it. Empty film canisters rolled from side to side in the back seat. The flat green paddocks sped by. Paddock-hedge-paddock-hedge-paddock-hedge-gate-house. Sheep-sheep-sheep-sheep-sheep-sheep.
We both smoked a few of my B and H special filters. Barry took a racing line down the middle of the narrow roads. The Southland Times hatchback was bright yellow. We were a killer bee buzzing towards our target.
The church was small and wooden. It sat in a paddock. The paddock was full of sheep. Six or seven cars were parked on the verge. The church door opened. Two people came out. The woman was tall, plump and plain. She had dark hair and thick glasses and a puffy white dress that did her no favours. The man was little. His suit was an unusual shade of dark brown.
We rushed up to and told them we were from the paper.
‘Congratulations!’ Barry shouted. ‘The wedding, the Golden Kiwi.’
He thrust the bubbly into the man’s hand but the man said no. ‘We don’t drink,’ he said. ‘Temperance,’ he said. ‘Christians,’ he said. ‘We don’t want to talk to you.’
Barry quickly handed the bubbly back to me. He said some more things I couldn’t hear and the couple let him take a few pictures. They wouldn’t pose though. No kissing or cuddling. They just stood as they were, two startled people on the steps of a church. Baa, baa, went the sheep.
Barry exploded when we got back in the car. ‘Bloody wowsers!’ he yelled. ‘Give me that champagne. We’re bloody drinking it!’ He popped the cork, took a slug and handed the bottle to me. I had a good slug too. The bubbly was warm and sweet and flat. After two more gulps, it tasted alright.
By the time we got back to the office, the bottle was empty and I was drunk.
Barry went off to his darkroom and I threaded my copy paper into the Imperial, lit another special filter and started to type. The story wrote itself. I mentioned the sheep, the strange little church and the dour couple (who were such modest millionaires).
Just as I was finishing up, a man called from a paper in Melbourne. They wanted the story for the Sunday. I said okay and the man took my copy right away over the phone. My head buzzed. I was still drunk. ‘Ha, ha,’ the man laughed. ‘What do you think your editor will say when he finds out you’ve sold your story to us!’ He hung up.
Barry must have sold his photo to the Australians as well but I don’t remember anything about that. All I remember is what Barry had captured in his shot, not the story we wanted, something truer. It was the bride’s face, her big, hard determined eyes staring out from behind her glasses, her refusal to be anything other than what she was, a plain brown kiwi, not a dazzling golden one.