This is the part of my job I love the most, waking up before dawn to conduct routine maintenance on the flags that fly on top of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. This morning the skyline is like a picture my mother kept in the front room while I was growing up — black velvet with silver embroidery.
I’ve made the trip to the apex of the bridge for many years now, but every time I look out across the harbour to the city, it seems different. On grim days, the buildings are made of brushed steel. On others, mist swaddles the cityscape in white silk. When it’s fair, the reflection of the Sky Tower reaches all the way across the water and the sea and sky reflect the purest shade of aquamarine.
I park under the trusswork of the bridge and climb out to meet the morning. Stubbs is already there fiddling with the harness.
“Isn’t it my turn?” I ask.
“It is, but… well. The boss called last night. Said you might not be up to it. Because of your… you know… your mum.”
“I’m okay. Please let me do it.”
“Back to bed for me then. Sorry for your loss.” He slaps me on the shoulder and plods off. “Whatever you do, don’t jump!”
I pick up the harness, shrug it over my shoulders, fasten the clasp and make sure the guideline is secure. I climb up the box truss to the flagpole.
Once there I follow the usual routine: drop the flag, check for damage, test the lines. I look away from the city now, towards the sugar refinery. The sky is lightening to the same deep blue as the flag, the red stars becoming visible. I hold the flag in my hand; the breeze pulls at it. I could let it go and watch it float ever downwards becoming one with the invisible currents of the inky sea. Instead I attach it to the halyard, raise it to the top, and then let it fall to the halfway point. Following protocol is important when you honour the dead. I climb down and do the same thing on the other side.
Later today motorists might notice the flags at half-mast, they might wonder what person of importance died. They will listen to the radio to see if they missed hearing about a head of state or minor politician. And when they hear nothing, they will forget. But I will not.
Laura Alexandra Hunter indulges in creative pursuits. She occasionally tweets using the handle @LauraLxH.