by Frankie McMillan
Though we don’t do much together like other families, don’t go on holidays and stuff because Papa lives down by the river in half the house and we stay with Mama in the other half on the flat, we still go to Sunday dinner at Grandmother’s house and though Mama and Papa bicker over the table there’s things they agree on still, like the terrible government and the terrible war in Afghanistan and us kids sit and listen to their voices rumbling on over our heads and sometimes a good story will pop out like a shucked pea and it might be a story exactly the same as every other story to roll across the table but sometimes it’s a story we’ve never heard before like why Mama ran off with Geordie Lovelace and why it was that Papa brought a gun.
Because all Papa wanted to do was scare the living daylights out of Geordie Lovelace, let him know there was consequences to what he did. But Papa got the wrong motel room and inside was a visiting optometrist with glasses and eye charts laid out on the bed and, who at the sight of Papa wielding a gun, ran into the bathroom. And Papa hammered on the door saying he was sorry, so very sorry there’d been a terrible mistake but already the optometrist was phoning the police and Papa panicked and he says he don’t know why but he grabbed a pair of spectacles from the bed and walked slowly as he could with them on, past the reception and out to his car. This is when Mama takes over the story. She says her and Geordie are lying by the beachside pool when the phone rings and her boyfriend says don’t answer that but Mama says, I have to, it might be something’s happened to one of the kids and she answers the phone to hear Papa has crashed his car, his head is bleeding, glass in his face, he needs her, honey, come straightaway.
So some things go from bad to worse but what us kids don’t understand is why can’t they go back from worse to bad. It was only a little bit of fighting and bitching between them and Mama still drove out to rescue Papa but she never stayed long and soon after that Papa returned with a chainsaw and ripped the house clean down the middle. Takes Papa all week to drag half a house down to the river bank but he says he can’t see any other man putting up his hand. And us kids and even Grandmother know not to ask the whereabouts of Geordie Lovelace. Instead our parents, full of chicken and gravy and Grandmother’s roly poly pudding, smile at us kids and say how lucky we are, all of us alive with roofs over our heads and telling each other stories and if this is what folks didn’t do on a holiday then they sure as hell didn’t know what they did do.
Frankie McMillan is the author of four books, the most recent of which, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, (Canterbury University Press ) was longlisted for the 2017 NZ Ockham awards. In 2005 she was awarded the Creative New Todd Bursary. Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009 and winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition in 2013 and 2015. In 2014 she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017 the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. Her latest project is Bonsai: best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, (CUP, 2018) edited with Michelle Elvy and James Norcliffe.