by Sandra Arnold
Things fathers say:
Talk back to me again like that and I’ll take the side of your face off.
Your sister is worth two of you.
Say that again and I’ll knock the living daylights out of you.
Your sister could buy you at one end and sell you at the other.
Look at me like that and I’ll skin you alive.
Look at me when I’m talking to you or I’ll make you wish you’d never been born.
Things mothers say:
Why don’t you have any friends? I had lots of friends when I was your age. I was very popular at school.
Look at all the friends your sister has.
You spend too much time with your nose in books.
What? You say your granddad put his hand up your dress? What a wicked thing to say about your sainted grandfather. If he did—which I don’t believe—but if he did, it was only his idea of a joke.
Things grandfathers say:
I can’t see the clock. Tell me what time it is. If you can’t tell the time at your age there must be something wrong with you. Come here.
Things grandmothers say:
All the good looks were taken by your sister.
You’re too tall. You’ll have to marry a policeman.
Things teachers say:
I don’t know how you got yourself into this class. This class is for clever children. You must have cheated your way in here. I’ll have to have a word with the teacher who recommended you.
Okay, just because you get all your spelling tests right that doesn’t mean you’re clever.
In any case, you couldn’t have written this essay yourself. Not at your age. You must have copied it from a book.
Well, even if you did write that essay you’re still stupid at maths, so don’t get above yourself.
Things aunties say:
Why on earth are you wasting your money on sending her to a private school? The older girl, yes. But her? She’ll just get ideas above her station.
If she’s lucky—and it’s a big if—she’ll just get married and have children. What good will an expensive education be then?
We left school at fifteen and earned a living. What’s good enough for us is good enough for her. For both of your girls, if I’m being honest.
Things Private School Principals say:
So you want to go to Teachers College? Well now. I would have said you were too timid to be a teacher. But if that’s what you want then I’ll certainly write out a recommendation for you. Before I do, do you mind telling me exactly why you want to be a teacher?
Things mothers-in-law say:
I don’t agree with you that lady teachers should be paid the same as men teachers. After all, ladies have to have a few days off every month.
Oh, so now you’ve racked up a few degrees, I suppose you think you’re someone?
If you’re ever planning on starting a family you’d better hurry up. You’re no spring chicken now after wasting all that time chasing degrees.
Things fathers-in-law say:
Well, well, well! So now you’re a lady authoress?
Isn’t it time you got yourself a proper job? I mean, who reads books these days?
So you’re writing another book? I suppose all those books are in lieu of babies, ha ha. I thought that’s what your dogs were for, ha ha.
I’ve noticed you’ve piled on a lot of weight.
I‘ve noticed that sister of yours is still as trim as ever.
I’ve noticed you never wear make-up these days. And you’ve got some grey hairs. It’s not good to let yourself go like that. You need to remember that men have roving eyes. Even your lovely sister’s husband…well, the less said about that the better. But at least she has a couple of kids to occupy her, not dogs.
Things husbands say:
I suppose the way we met wasn’t the most romantic, taking that poor dog to the vet after we saw the hit-and-run and sitting in the clinic both of us covered in blood waiting for the vet to come out and tell us he’d have to be euthanised. And the look on your face as I held his paw and the way you stroked him and talked to him as the needle went in. And the way we both bawled our eyes out in the cold night air and I told you I’d always wanted a dog and you said you had always wanted one too. And as you started walking back to your car I panicked that I might never see you again and the words just came tumbling out of my usually buttoned up mouth that you had such a beautiful, kind face and not only your face but all of you and I said I knew you would always be like this, even when we were old and grey. And you turned round and said, ‘We?’ And you laughed. And I laughed. And all these years later it’s still true.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books including The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ), and Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK). Her short fiction has been widely published and anthologised internationally. She has received nominations for The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions and The Pushcart Prize. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia.