Reading Room    Memoir    Interview    Poetry
Kirsten McDougall


Mrs Spears from next door came to visit with a jar of chutney for Sylvia and Bea, crocheted booties for the new baby. When she heard his name she said, He’s doomed. Her husband had just died of asbestos poisoning.

At school they thought he couldn’t spell. They corrected him by printing an R after the F. He quietly rubbed out their efforts.

His mother Sylvia went to work in an office where typewriters tapped out metal rhythms and industry was sounded by a bell at the end of a line. His grandmother Bea made his breakfast and taught him to shake hands firmly. She put plasters on his knee scabs in summer, wool hats on his head in winter.

In the school holidays they rode the train into town to meet Sylvia for lunch. The lift took them to the twelfth floor of an old concrete building. He watched Sylvia’s red fingernails dance over the keyboard, pull the freshly printed sheet from the roller, place it in a folder with a satisfying click. He forgot to ask for the toilet and left a puddle under his shoes in the lift.
Why didn’t you tell me? Sylvia’s nails pressed all the buttons.
Bea growled. Leave him.
Bea pulled a newspaper from her handbag and mopped up the pee. At James Smith’s he got new undies, shorts and a custard square. When he bit into it the pastry broke and custard fell in chunks off his chin onto his new shorts. Sylvia rolled her eyes.
Jeezus Federico, she said.

Going home in the train, the smell of dust and engines in his nose, he asked Bea a question.
Why aren’t I called Fred? It had been bothering him for a while.
Bea took her eyes off the gorse and green of the Ngaio Gorge. She looked at him.
You could be anything with your name, which is why I thought of it.
All the type keys in his heart got pressed at once and stuck together.
You called me Federico?
Well, I suggested it. And for once Sylvia listened to me.
The train entered the tunnel and the windows went dark. The letters of his name untangled themselves and stood clear in their own white space.

Siân Daly
Stephanie de Montalk
Melissa Firth
Julie Hill
Wes Lee
Natasha Leitch
Mary McCallum
Kirsten McDougall  
Susannah Poole
Ben Sparks

Hosted by the New Zealand
Electronic Text Centre