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Posted on 28 Aug 2020 in Extracts, Fiction |

SAM COLEY State Highway One: extract

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We’re delighted to bring you an extract from Sam Coley’s debut novel State Highway One, winner of the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers. Told with intimacy and pace, it’s a story of reconnecting with home and confronting the wounds of the past.

Alex hasn’t seen his twin sister Amy for years, not since he left their home in New Zealand and went to work in Dubai. But the sudden deaths of their parents in accident have brought Alex home again.

At 3 a.m., after the wake, after a lot of white wine, it seems like a good idea to see if Alex’s old black hatchback still goes, and then get on the road and drive more than 300 kilometres north to Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea, home of the Te Aroha tree, believed to be where spirits stop off on their journey to the afterlife.

But Alex and Amy don’t make a pilgrimage to the tree, and after a night at a nearby campground, still in their funeral clothes, they drive back to Auckland.

In this extract, they’ve just pulled up outside the old family home and have to decide their next move.

Extract courtesy of Hachette Australia

The Mirage pulls up outside Mum and Dad’s house. I briefly, accidentally, think of it as my house. Mine and Amy’s, I suppose, but I stop myself. I don’t want to live here. It hasn’t been mine for a long time – ever, really. Now that the wake is over, it’s nothing but a big empty space full of bad memories and old ghosts. Amy can have it, if she wants, so I ask.

‘Do you want it?’


‘We can’t sell it.’

‘I know.’

‘I don’t want anyone else living here. There.’

‘We can’t just let it sit there.’

‘Why not?’

‘I dunno, housing crisis?’

‘I don’t care. What about my crisis?’

‘We should probably get out of the car.’


Neither of us makes a move.

‘I don’t want to go inside.’

‘Me either.’

The car is off, the lights are off, and we’re sitting, parked on the street out front. The reflection of us in the window means I can’t even see the house in the dark, until Amy winds it down. She looks at me.

‘Let’s take a minute, shall we?’

She opens the glovebox and grabs the cigarettes, takes two out and lights them both before passing one to me. I wind my window down.

‘Sure. Let’s take a minute.’

We sit in silence and smoke, the hiss of burning tobacco punctuating the otherwise quiet dusk. When we finish at exactly the same time and flick our butts out their respective windows, I don’t wind mine up and neither does she.

I look past Amy to the house looming on the other side of the fence, lit in the last light of high summer, the porch lamps still on.

I’m not really hungry, but I ask Amy if she wants to get something to eat, at least it’d kill some time. She considers it for a second, puts her elbow up on the windowsill and leans into her palm.


‘You wanna go somewhere? There’s nothing at—’

This is becoming habitual.

‘In there.’

She looks over at me and smiles, pink reflected in her Wayfarers glaring into my eyes and making me squint.

‘We could hit up a drive-through? Eat in the carpark, like super-classy people.’

‘Hey, I’m wearing a suit.’

‘This is true.’

I think the drive-through is a safe option. I’m not ready for actual real-life human interaction.

‘I need a drink.’

‘You absolutely do not. Not on an empty stomach. You remember back when we used to get dumped in Hamilton with Uncle Rob and Aunty Clare for the weekend and we would never want to eat anything?’

We would sit there, pick at everything and move it around the plate and then Rob would tell Dad off when he came to pick us up, always hours late, because he had raised such fussy eaters, like we were so spoiled.

‘And then we’d always make him get off at Greenlane on the way back so we could go through the drive-through.’

‘And then he’d be like, “Sorry my sister is such a terrible cook.”’

‘But not sorry enough to stop sending us there.’

I look past Amy’s head again, up at the porch lights beyond the fence. I key the ignition and the Mitzi spits into life.

‘Last chance.’

I’m talking to her but I’m really talking to the house.

Amy turns, lowers her glasses onto her nose and looks at me over the top of them. She smiles.

‘Punch it.’

I do, and with a whine of an automatic clutch that can’t keep up with the accelerator, we’re off the street and down the road.

‘Drive-through! Do you know how long it’s been since I went to a drive-through?’

‘You and me both. Is it because you can’t drive?’

‘Won’t. And no, at some point everyone just, like, collectively decided we were all too good for drive-through.’

Sam Coley
Photo: David Seumanutafa

Collectively? No, it would have been Amy who decided, and she would have done it on the spur of the moment, because she felt like it made her a more interesting person or something, and no doubt she would have decided when she was four cars deep in a line at an actual drive-through to cause maximum embarrassment to whomever she’d conned into driving her home. Everything with Amy is some kind of power play. I see right through you, sis. We might have spent three years apart, but the nine months we spent sharing a womb were enough to know you, and I know there isn’t anything you do that isn’t selfishly motivated. Hell, you didn’t even want to share a birthday.

We order and make it to the second window. I look at her and she shrugs. No real surprises there. I hand over my credit card – I really am my father’s son.

We’re finished, parked in the carpark, bags stuffed full of napkins and wrappers, stomachs and drink holders full. I try to think of ways to procrastinate further, but nothing comes. I bite my lip, dig the fingernails on my right hand into the tip of my thumb, one after the other, take a deep breath.

‘I guess we better head home.’

‘How many times do we have to have this conversation? I don’t want to go home. I just don’t want to. I can’t.’

‘What you do you suppose we do then, Amy? Live in the carpark of Greenlane McDonald’s? I don’t exactly relish the idea of being there either, but it’s not like we have anywhere else to go. Unless you want to go and live in a hotel. For, I dunno, ever? There’s still a couple of weeks before I have to go home.’

She lets that one slide.

‘So if you want to go check into the Hilton and watch movies and order room service, that’s something we can do, okay? My Amex can handle that. And after I go home, if you want to stay there, my Amex can probably handle that too.’

‘After you go home?’

‘I have to go at some point. I have to go back to work. I was already pushing it with—’

‘What do you even do that’s so important, that you have to get back to when your whole—’

‘I told you, I work in music. You know that. Now what do you want to do? You want to go and live in the Hilton?’

‘No, I do not want to live in the Hilton, are you fucking stupid?’

‘Intercontinental, then? Quadrant? Hyatt?’

I’m searching now, but she’s only looking angrier.


Her face gets more and more squashed up with every suggestion. No doubt these are all places she wouldn’t be caught dead. Any second she’s going to say, ‘I don’t want to stay anywhere from a TripAdvisor Top Ten,’ with the snarl she reserves for buffet restaurants while looking down her nose at me. One last try, tentatively—

‘Sky  City?’

‘Fuck you, Alex.’

I’m trying to do the right thing here, and all I’m met with is hostility. She’s such a brat. I’m glad I didn’t stop to say goodbye three years ago. She would have only made it about herself.

‘What do you want then? Just tell me and I’ll get it for you.’

Jesus fucking Christ, I am my father now.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘I said I don’t know. I don’t know, Alex. I don’t know what I want. I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to live in a hotel, I feel like I’m being pulled in every direction at once and at the same time I feel so heavy I can barely move. I can’t hold on to a thought for more than thirty seconds and I’ve spent the past week having no idea what I’m supposed to be doing or where I’m supposed to go, sitting around at home waiting for you to turn up, walking around and around in circles from the kitchen to the pool to the bedroom to the porch, waiting for something to happen and now you’re here and your solution is to go and live in a hotel and watch movies?’

Amy’s face is red and she’s starting to cry. I try to murmur some noncommittal, uncomfortable response but she cuts me off.

‘You finally show up after fucking off out of everyone’s lives for three years, and all you do is ask me all these dumb fucking questions. Do I want to live in a hotel? You think I couldn’t do that myself if I wanted to?’

I really don’t know what to do with her. She’s sobbing and her nose is running. It looks a bit ridiculous. I feel kind of sorry for her but at the same time, I mean, they were my parents too and you don’t see me getting all weird about it.

‘So what do you want then, Amy?’

‘I want a cigarette.’

Amy thumps the glovebox and the contents spill out onto her lap. The box of Lucky Strikes, a lighter, windscreen-wiper detergent, hand sanitiser, a handful of mix CDs and a fold-out road atlas of New Zealand. She pulls out a cigarette, sticks it in her mouth and lights it. I hang for a second before I realise she’s not going to offer me one. She starts to pack the rest of the stuff back into the glovebox and everything goes in except for the road map, which she unfolds, section by section, fold by fold, until she has the whole country laid out in front of her.

‘I don’t want to go home.’

‘You’ve said as much.’

‘But, you know. You’re here. You’re home, you’re home.’

I’m not really sure where she’s going with this, she’s starting to not make any sense. At least not to me.

‘Amy –’

‘Fuck you, this is your home. Not this drive-through, not this carpark, but here. Here.’

She’s shaking the map in front of my face, stabbing at random places with a finger like a conspiracy theorist about to crack.

‘So you’re home, okay, you are. You’re home now, don’t fuck off again.’

‘Amy, it’s really not that simple.’

‘We went north, right? To say goodbye, we went to the very top of the country, and we went somewhere we never went before. Look at all the places we’ve never been – Wellington, Hokitika, Queenstown. Te Awamutu. Twizel! Fuck it bro, I’m not done driving yet. This is what I want to do. I want to go home, and I want you to come with me. This is our home and you’ve barely even seen it. Me either! I want to go from here …’

Finger on Cape Reinga.

‘… to here.’

Finger at the bottom of Stewart Island, right at the bottom of the map. An edge of desperation in her voice.

‘Come on, Amy. Don’t be –’

‘Don’t be what? You said you have two weeks, right? We can smash it in two weeks. One there, one back. easy as. Look, State Highway One runs all the way from the top to the bottom. We already took it from Cape Reinga all the way here, why stop now? Let’s do it, let’s do the whole thing. There and back.’

‘Shouldn’t we be in a yellow Mini then?’

‘Come on …’

‘The whole of State Highway One? In two weeks, there and back again. Is that really what you want to do?’

‘Do you?’

I should say no. I know I should. I don’t even like her very much. We shared parents, and we look a bit similar, that’s where it stops. We weren’t even born on the same day. We were never friends. We barely spent any time together when we weren’t forced to, and then she fucked me over the first real chance she had. I should leave this carpark and drive back to the house and start to get on with whatever the rest of my life is going to look like. Every cell of my brain tells me that this crazy idea is just that, a crazy idea with no merit and every chance everything will go wrong, with no real purpose except for avoiding having to go back inside that house, if only to delay the inevitable, even for a couple of weeks. I should say no, Amy, we need to go home. I should say no, Amy, we ought to go home.

Except Amy didn’t ask me what I should do.

Amy didn’t ask me what we ought to do.

She asked me what I want to do.

I don’t want to go home.

I want to see home.



Promise? There’s the map, the country, laid out in front of me. What the hell, right? Life can wait.


Amy looks over at me and smiles. ‘Punch it.’

I laugh. ‘You really have to stop doing that, you know.’

‘Never!’ And she shrieks with laughter all the way to the motorway on-ramp.

From Sam Coley State Highway One Hachette Australia 2020 PB 384pp $32.99

Like to keep reading? You can buy State Highway One from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.