Brie Sherow 2014

We return from a day at Sea World and open the front door to hear bubbling and sloshing of water in enclosed spaces. The sun is nearly down but in Texas the heat stays after the light is gone. The air is heavy in the summer and it hangs on our limbs. It makes everything move in slow motion. It makes everything move in slow motion for me, but my baby sister moves in a parallel dimension.

Evan runs in the house ahead of me, leaping and twirling. We both know something is wrong, the air is always damp but today it is also rotten. I move cautiously, footsteps light on the cold stones of the front hall and trying not to breathe too hard, sneaking a glance around the corner into the living room. Tippy is running in circles, barking and chasing his tail. He can never catch it, snapping his teeth and his tail whips towards the tall white shelf with Mama’s shell collection. His feathered tail sweeps the shelf and Mama’s shells scatter across the floor, sinking into the soaking burl.

Evan is already there, giggling in her discovery of the disaster. She jumps, splashing her feet in the puddled mess. Our carpet is a swamp. I don’t want to get my feet wet but I come closer to assess the damage. The fish tank is leaking, leaking badly, it’s already all leaked out, only an inch of water left. While I had spent the day watching sharks and Belugas, my own fish had been suffering slowly. The survivors are piled at the bottom of the tank, gills struggling, mouths bubbling. They are covered by the dead bodies of fishes already gone, belly up, dried out.

Evan can’t contain her excitement, she already has the net and pleads with Mama to flush them herself. She loves watching them spin in circles as they get sucked down. Round and round they go, the Tiger Barbs, the Gold Dust Mollies, the Red Fire Guppies, the Rummynose Tetras. A whirlpool rainbow of fishes.

Salty tears blur their tiny bodies until all I can see are trails of neon spiralling down the toilet bowl. The toilet gargles like a sea monster’s giant maw, swallowing my fishes. After they’re gone I imagine their dull eyes staring up at me through the dark pipe. My baby sister squeals with excitement.

Evan loves all creatures, she loves bringing them into the house. Nothing is safe from her, snakes under rocks, beetles in the dirt, and spiders on trees. The green anoles in the spiny yucca plants shake their little stubs. The lizards drop their tails when threatened by predators, or by my sister.

I love animals too. I spend hours setting up obstacle courses for my gerbil, training him to run through a simulated wild environment with surprises at every corner. When I’m confident in his abilities I will set him free in the backyard.

Evan imagines the flushed fishes swimming through the sewers, back out to the rivers, where they can be captured and brought back to the tank after their adventure. I know better, I know that they are dead.

I am a practitioner. My explorations are careful and considered. I take note of everything around me, and my understanding of the world is based on what I’ve already learned. My sister is a wild philosopher. Her world is, and always will be, infinite in scope and possibilities.

My mother’s bed

Frankie McMillan 2014

here she is, the unhurried length of her under the blue candlewick. She is reading again. This time it’s ‘The Sparrow,’ a biography of Edif Piaf.

When It gets lonely in the house we lie on her bed, our voices singing like Sunday. There is a squabble over who will get up and make the tea. My mother gives a dramatic sigh. She shifts a layer of newspaper from the bed to find her purse. She pays my sister a shilling to make a pot of tea and a tray of cheese scones. But it has to stop, my mother says. Other children, proper children would do it for nothing.

Eventually her bed becomes an island and we have to swim over to get to her. Arms and legs flailing over the rising mess. ‘Get up. Get up’ we say. But my mother raises the book higher. Then one day Edith Piaf gets lost in the tide and my mother holds up her pale arms like a woman, drowning. ‘You win, you win,’ she cries.

Falling in love the abseiler repeats the same tricky descent, over and over

Frankie McMillan 2014

Because he was an abseiler he was used to going back to what he knew and for that reason his first girlfriend was his only love. He thought he saw her in a picnic area by the Hanging Rock. She sat on a rug, her red skirt ballooning in the breeze. He let the rope drift through the descender. As he fell, lichen and rock and inch and toehold she held up something from her basket. At first it was just a tiny blur of white but as he came closer he saw her take a sniff of the sandwich as if something were off. It was a moment, the abseiler realised, which could go one way or another. He wanted to call to her. Of course she would wonder who the man was on the end of the rope. His bottom looked ridiculous in the harness. He let himself fall some more.

The World’s Happiest Pudding

Frankie McMillan 2014

In my childhood my mother took in boarders and in this way I developed a tolerance for the odd behaviours of men. They were noisy, they put posters of big breasted woman astride motorbikes on their walls, and sometimes they cried because they were missing a woman. Mostly though they were hungry. At the dinner table my mother fed them first with soup so they didn’t need such big plates of meat and on Sundays, when they grew restless, she served them roly poly pudding oozing with burnt jam and topped with clotted cream. That silenced them; they had to stagger to their beds to sleep it off.

All this is by way of saying there are ways to manage things. I tell this to my daughters. There they are striding the tussocky hills, pale legs lit up by the sun. ‘What odd men?’ they say, ‘ what are you talking about?’ One stops to examine a tiny flowering shrub and I think that one will always save herself. She stands lost in the wonder of the purple star shaped flower, her head bent low. Then they are both striding up the steep hill again and I struggle to keep up; too soon I will be the Innuit woman left behind in the snow, waving her family goodbye. ‘I’m talking,’ I yell, ‘ about how to keep everyone happy.’

Brie Sherow

Brie Sherow is a freelance planning consultant involved in community development, urban policy, and arts initiatives in the recovery of post-quake Christchurch.  In Australasia, her narrative non-fiction has been published by The Pantograph Punch and Freerange Press and her fiction has been published by Yen Magazine and Flash Frontier.  She recently graduated Cum Laude from Hagley Writers Institute and is looking forward to her second year of study in the program.

an extract from ‘Matakaea : of sea and stone’

Bernadette Hall  2014

as for the ship-wrecked sailors

they punched holes in zinc with a hammer and a nail and so wrote down
their names and the name of their ship and the date of her sinking

they hardened points of karaka wood in the fire to make a meat hook
for smoking mollymawk and fulmar and penguin and seal meat
they never let the fire go out (they had 20 matches)


Thin water fans out like roots through the sinking sand. How deep?
Too late to think about that. Her boot sticks. She wrenches it out.
Not all that deep. But good to clamber up onto the gravel mound,
to stand there, the sea tilting in around her. The big heavy swells,
the jumpy little breaks as the wavelets turn, running out of steam,
each bright peak splashing and leaping, the way the painted horses\
jumped up and out and down on the carousel at the bottom of the steps
in Montmartre. The little wavy horses running back now to the sea.


there’s a log washed up on the beach and someone, a child perhaps, has stuck
slim stones into the splits in the timber … there are shags flying low over the water,
a pied oyster catcher is calling pipit pipit, pipit, a tern is wheeling like an axehead,
showing off its white brilliance (how simply KM would write the finer details)
and I’m thinking about the thinking of the maker, the one who set the stones here,
the tall ones at the front, the short ones behind, each stone turned in the hand,
weighed in the hand and inserted into the log, the impulse behind that simple pleasure.

Spooky Gurl

Vivienne Plumb 2014

We sat in our heavy red cotton bloomers and tunics. All girls doing Physical Education had been requested to report to class in the school hall. In the hall we had to sit still and listen to a local police officer who talked to us about accepting lifts with strangers. He told us a story: a girl accepted a lift with a stranger, and her dead body was found in dense scrub two years later. After the talk, when the boys and girls classes had mixed together, Denise Fox asked Michael Cassamento what the police officer had talked to the boys about. Road rules and that sorta stuff, he said. You mean if you were driving a car? Yes, he answered.

Generally, boys and girls did gym in their separate all-boys and all-girls classes, but that particular day Mrs Hutton was teaching us how to dance the Pride of Erin. This seemed like an old-fashioned dance we would never be able to use, except maybe working as an actor in a television period costume drama. At the end of the dance class the girls were requested to join together once more and go back over the main points that the police officer had given us:

  1. Say no thanks
  2. Scream if assaulted and make a lot of noise.
  3. If you are in a position to do nothing else, then observe everything around you. Memorise the offender’s face and any identifying marks such as moles, tattoos or scars. Memorise any pertinent facts about the inside of the car.
  4. Dial 111

Denise Fox and I rolled our eyes at each other. We were always being told stuff like that because we were girls.

I once accepted a lift with a stranger after I missed the bus to primary school. I was running for the bus but it went right past and didn’t stop. As I stood at the bus stop sobbing, a woman drove up in old Jag and said, I saw what happened, would you like a lift to the school? She said, I just took my daughter, Caroline, to the school and I don’t mind driving back there. I got into her car, although I had been told not to accept lifts with strangers. I wanted to believe that what she said was true. The inside of the car was knee-deep in fawn upholstery, far up the scale from my father’s old Renault. I stopped crying. In the middle of the steering wheel there was a fancy gold piece of filigree. I liked her car. She offered me a tissue from a box she had in the glove box. It was one of those travel boxes of tissues. We didn’t use paper tissues in our house, we couldn’t afford such luxuries. I took the tissue even although I had been told not to accept gifts from strangers. The woman drove me to the school. Thank you, I said. I was in time for the first bell.

I would often endure excruciating toothache. One half of my face would be swollen and sore. It might be the right or the left, it might be upper or lower. We didn’t have much money. My mother wouldn’t send me to the dentist until I was writhing on the bedroom floor in agony, howling and groaning. Most of the time she preferred to dab a brown concoction on my teeth. It came in a dark green bottle with a red screw lid. I don’t know what it was called, my sister and I called it the Brown Tooth Stuff. It smelt bitter, like bark and old leaves boiled up and left to stand for a while. It was a medicinal smell. It was strong enough to stain the sink and the floor, if spilt. Where did my mother get this liquid? When applied to the teeth it numbed the pain, leaving a strong, sour taste in your mouth. The name on the label was written in French. My sister told me that, as she was learning French at school. If my father saw my mother applying this liquid to my teeth he would become furious, and say, that’s not dealing with the source of the problem. My mother would look guilty. She might falter, and ring the dentist to make an appointment. We all entertained our own fears. Mine was the fear of pain in my mouth, and ultimately, the fear of the dentist and his drill. My mother feared what my father would say. He was the only one who could influence her.

At school assembly we were told that a man had been offering sweets to children outside Devo’s, which was the shop opposite the entrance to the school. The proprietor’s name was Mr Devon and so we called the shop ‘Devo’s’. Mr Devon was a mean old bastard who sold sweets and pies, candy bars and sticky drinks, licorice straps, ice creams, and sausage rolls and iced finger buns. He delivered pies and sausage rolls on order to the school every day. If you were in the shop trying to decide what sweets to buy, he would tell you to hurry up. He wore a scraggy old cardigan even in the heat of summer and had hair coming out of his nose. We hated Devo but he didn’t care, while he was supplying the goods, he held the power.

At the assembly we were told not to accept sweets from strangers, not to talk to strangers, and to walk straight to school and not to linger. We were never told why these people wandered the streets offering sweeties to children. My friend, Helen Pickleberry, seemed to know more about it. The lollies might be drugged, she told me. That was a revelation. I waited for a drugged lolly to be offered to me so I would be able to blatantly refuse it. Needless to say, that never happened.

My father grew up in the country and remained a country boy at heart. He loved the trees and the animals, insects and birds and flowers. While other neighbours grew roses and chrysanthemums, he was planting native bushes and trees around our house. We had wattle, banksia and waratah. He always said of creepy spiders and other crawling reptiles, and flying fruit bats, they are probably more scared of you than you are frightened of them. Then he would coax whatever it was into a container and carefully place it back outside to roam the world and live to terrorise me another day.

Open ‘public’ spaces felt safe to me when I was a child. The bush felt safe if I did as my father told me and made sure I took water and matches and a jacket. My love of walking took me across many terrains, including highways and cities. Inside the house, I enjoyed discovering strange spaces where I could hide and no one could find me. I climbed on top of the big wardrobe and also underneath the bunk bed. I preferred small spaces that I could poke my body into. I sat in my cubby on top of the wardrobe with a drink and some biscuits and read books and drew maps and plans. My mother entered the bedroom, she was looking for me. I held my breath and watched. ‘Where is she?’ my mother said out loud to herself. Her perplexed expression made me want to laugh. ‘Spooky! She has vanished into thin air!’ she said and left.

My mother declined to discuss fear. She preferred to talk about the moments when we had stared fear in the face, dealt with it, and moved on. Experience is a great educator, was one of her countless mottos. But I was a cowering sop ready to admit that I was scared right from the beginning. I cried a lot. Sometimes my sister kicked me, pushed me, or placed a sticky hand over my mouth and told me to ‘shut up or I’ll blow you to smithereens’. My way of coping with anything was to wade naively in. Once I reached the middle and realised what I had got myself into, then I would begin to panic, the panic would generate activity, the activity would attract attention, and then someone would come to my rescue. Or not.

Sometimes the fear can saturate you. You can feel your heart pumping and the adrenalin pouring in, but you can still be frozen, like a ‘roo in front of the headlights.

Because I am a woman, I am often asked if I would like a ride ‘right to the door’. I am asked if I will be ‘all right’ getting home on public transport at night. I am surprised at the number of women who dislike walking the streets at night. I have always been a night walker. In the summer, it is wonderful to walk at night when the air is cool, or even in the early morning. Because I am a woman, I have been told to shut the gate, lock the door, put a pair of men’s gumboots outside the front door, keep the ground floor windows shut, make sure I have an outside light, not to bother answering the door to strangers, never to let anyone in the house I do not know, particularly if it is a male, not to allow people inside to use my telephone, never to offer a cup of tea, and not to wear clothes that look too ‘sexy’. On the other hand, I should not dress ‘like a bag’, or ‘like a Sunday School teacher’. I should not linger in public places. I should make sure I stand in a pool of light at the bus stop or on the railway station, but I should not speak to men, never accept lifts with strangers, and never accept lifts from men, especially if there are more than one male in the car.

My first sexual experience was in a car. It was after the school ball. We didn’t go ‘all the way’, but we went close to it. I have noticed that cars are popular spaces to engage in sex, considering they can also be so uncomfortable.

My father had a second cousin of some sort who used to come and visit. He was related somehow, although I never knew how. He was an older man, single, and he drove a big stationwagon. This was before my father bought his Renault. And this relative, so-called Uncle Stanley, used to take us for drives and buy us ice creams. He was someone we knew. He gave us lollies and we were allowed to eat them. Years later, my sister confessed to me that Uncle Stanley had felt her up and taken photos of her when she was getting changed out of her swimming togs. We had been told we should like him. We had been told we should like him because he bought us ice cream and took us for drives to places we had no money to go, like the beach. But I realised that I had never much liked him at all.

Bella knows

Viv Smith 2014

earthworms have five hearts and people have hearts too but they don’t use them as much as they should. She doesn’t know where the other four hearts have gone. She knows that pink is a bad colour and that her friend Rosa is a bully but she doesn’t want to talk about it. Bella knows that Luka, a small Abyssinian cat, eats ground up meat and kumara. It’s like baby food. Luka is the smallest in the family. She’s like a baby. Her face is like a furry space alien. Or an old lady. At thirteen, Luka is much, much, older than Bella and has sore kidneys. Luka is going to die; Bella knows this. Bella also knows that her Dad will be sad because he’s had Luka since she was small enough to curl up in one hand. Luka was a gift from Lance. Bella knows that her Gran is old and will die too. Maybe not soon, but one day. Bella knows it’s not just age that makes you die. She knows that she has to sit quietly on the big blue sofa at the hospice, drawing, while her Dad delivers the lunches. Bella knows that some of those lunches won’t get eaten. Bella knows, ‘If you can’t remember how to draw a monarch butterfly, then start like this . . . they are black and orange and white.’


People don’t turn into butterflies when they die. Bella knows this. When people die, they go out the dispatch door past the main reception. Bella wants a hamster for her seventh birthday, which is five days away. She knows her Dad would like her to have a hamster like the one he had when he was small. Bella knows you aren’t allowed hamsters in this country so her Dad has been talking about a guinea pig. Bella’s been talking about guinea pig poop. She knows a song about poop. The song only has one word, but she changes the rhythm to tease her Dad. Bella knows this is not a good song to sing at Fish on Fridays. She knows her Dad doesn’t like going into the rooms of the people who don’t want him to serve them fish, but that’s better than not serving. Not serving was sitting by Lance’s bedside for a long time when he was moved out of the big bed at home and into the small bed here. Everyone said, ‘Lance is comfortable.’ But Bella knows that he didn’t feel comfortable. He grew angles that poked her.


Bella knows what her Dad and the Chaplain are talking about. She says, ‘I know that you are talking about not talking about things.’ Often there are so many things to not talk about that the air gets really heavy. It was really heavy when her Dad sat by the small bed for a very long time and Lance wasn’t even in it anymore. Bella knows about the stained glass in the Chapel down the hallway. She says it’s like being underwater. When you cry, Bella knows, the world becomes stained glass. Then your eyes go pink like the white rabbit at school. It has poop like the raisins that Lance used to put in her lunchbox. Bella knows how to draw rabbits. She draws them for the rabbit people who sit down with her on the blue sofa. They don’t talk much but they like her felt tips. Bella knows to bring extras so that they can draw too. Sometimes, they copy her rabbits. Or they draw bees. Or flowers. But mostly they draw butterflies. At times, Bella knows, they forget how. If you can’t remember how to draw a monarch butterfly, then start like this . . . they are black and orange and white.



Jeni Curtis 2014

Do you remember? Do you remember when he called you princess? Daddy’s little princess? You’d snuggle on his knee and smell the muskiness of his jersey and know you could do no wrong.

Do you remember when it all changed? There were harsh words and slaps and your mother cried and wouldn’t go out of the house. You hid under your bed and would not come out, even though he was leaving.

Then there were the letters and the promises. Soon you can join me, they would say. Soon. Soon. Australia was so far away. He moved from place to place looking for work. Nothing seemed to suit. But one day you’d be there, with him.

In the meantime you lived with your mother. She moved too. There were schools in Motueka, Greymouth, Alexandra. You lived in a housebus. You liked travelling up so high in the passenger seat, looking at the bush, the mountains, the sea. You hung a crystal from the rearview mirror and sometimes the bus was full of rainbows. You made friends and then left them. Your mum made friends, and sometimes you went to play in the park while one or other visited. You’d wheel around and around on the roundabout till you got giddy, or swing so high on the swings that your feet seemed to reach the clouds. Sometimes your mother’s friends brought you toys. Sometimes mum got a black eye and then you’d be in the bus travelling to the next town.

At one school and another you’d tell the children about your father. He was a vet who went out after bush fires and patched up koalas and wombats. He was a snake man who was called in to rescue snakes when they got into houses and to take them out to the bush again. He was a friend of Steve Irwin and wrestled crocodiles. One day soon you’d join him and help him out.

There once was a girl who ran away to join the circus. She travelled in a painted caravan, with the lion tamer and the bearded lady who were kind to her and taught her how to walk the high wire. She would draw her breath and dance, high above the crowds, whose faces looked like so many coloured balloons, far below. First one foot and then the other, the black satin slippers glittering with beads she had sewn herself in the pattern of a heart. Balance came easy to her, up in the air. She knew how the birds felt, their feathers lifted to the breeze, the lightness of the uprising wing, the downsweep of buoyancy. She knew that if she wanted she could leap into the sky and soar, all scars removed, her skin translucent as a rose petal held to the sun.

Then when you were about twelve, your mother decided to settle down for a while. Her mother’s sister had left her a bit of money, enough to rent a regular house in Christchurch. She got a decent job in a supermarket, and you started high school. You had to take the bus and you hated it. Everyone stared, you said. And the kids at school made you feel strange. You were sure they talked about you. But as time went on you found a friend in Cassie and her friend Luke. They didn’t like school any more than you did. They knew Kyle who was old enough to have his licence and you’d all drive out to Spencer Park in his Nissan Bluebird and spend the day in the sun in the sand dunes, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Sometimes you could walk for hours up and down the long stretch of beach looking south to Brighton, or catching the distant white of the Kaikouras to the north. You wrote a lot in your notebooks. Poetry or snatches of songs.

Your mother welcomed the way your friends came round and played music and video games. It made it feel like family, she said. You liked it too, the company when they slept over. The darkness never seemed so dark, then. You’d all camp out in the lounge, watch dvds or play games. Until, of course, the truancy officer caught you out. You told your mother you wouldn’t go back to school, that you’d study from home. You wrote to your father and asked him to let you stay, but he had moved again and the new house was not big enough, and besides, he was waiting for an offer of a job, further up the coast, maybe as far as Cairns this time. “Soon, my princess,” he wrote. “Just have patience. All will be well.”

There once was a girl who ran away to live with the gypsies. She lived in a painted caravan, with hearts and flowers carved into the pointed gables. She was looked after by a fortune teller whose head was covered in a lacy scarf with small coins sewn around the edges. By day the girl gathered heather from the side of the road to sell to people who needed good luck. The fortune teller told her that she would meet her true love and he would erase all of her sorrows. At night, in the firelight, she would listen to the plaintive music of the violins and wait.

Kyle was really understanding. You could talk to him, you found. He lived with his older brother, since his mother had remarried and moved to Greymouth. His father had cleared out years ago. He knew what it felt like to be alone and to dream of something better. He told you how beautiful you were and how you should become a model. You told him that you wanted to be a writer. You wanted to travel, maybe you could go together, just take off, the two of you, and work your way around the world. You wanted to see the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu. He promised you he’d take you to Paris, the city of love. You liked the way he held you, and stroked your hair, and kissed you so gently. “You’d better take precautions,” your mother pronounced when she realized what was happening.

She was feeling good too, because she’d met Pete, who was a decent, kind man, she said, and you thought she was probably right this time. He moved in, and the two of them worked in the garden together and planted a vegetable patch, and Pete made short work of all the hangers on who dropped in and ate the food and sometimes stole from your mother’s purse. You weren’t sad to see them go, even Cassie and Luke, more like relieved, because you had Kyle. It was almost like you were happy.

Yet, deep down, you knew it couldn’t last. One night you went to a party. Kyle got really drunk and crashed his car on the way home. Neither of you was hurt, and why he blamed you, you did not know, but he did, and he hit you, badly. Broke your arm. So that was that. Pete told him to go and never come back. It was almost like you had a father, Pete protecting you.

There once was a girl who ran away to live behind a waterfall. The water descended in sheets of lace, each drop a promise of redemption. Green mosses grew like velvet on the rounded rocks and small trees dipped their spring leaves in the glassy pool that was her mirror. She saw herself each day, the lines of old sorrows fading. Small fish clustered in the shallows, their fins barely moving as the sun filtered through their fine clear veins. In the mirror pool the light shattered into rainbows and one day she looked and she was no longer there.

Now there was no one, really. You made up with Cassie and she’d come round and you’d do your hair and nails together and talk. A lot of the time you spent on line. Of course you were meant to be doing your correspondence lessons, but they didn’t seem to have much point. Your mother and Pete made sure you kept up with assignments; they were keen for you to have your education. It was much more fun though to be talking with people around the world. There was Jodie in New York and Dave in London, and others who were awake in chat rooms when you were meant to be sleeping. They could be there and not there at the same time. You didn’t have to meet them, be judged by them, be hurt by them. You could laugh and joke and be yourself – or whoever you wanted to be.

That’s how you met Sam. His father was a lawyer and his mother was in real estate and they all lived together in a big house in the west of Christchurch. He was in his last year of school and you met on weekends as he was studying hard for his end-of-year exams. He was gentle and kind. He made you feel beautiful and he made you laugh. You both liked the Foo Fighters and REM, and thought Bono was overrated. You shared your dreams, how you’d like to adopt babies like Angelina Jolie, and you joked about running away together. But then his parents arranged a GAP year for him and he was leaving. “We can write,” he said. “This doesn’t have to be the end.” You cried and he grew petulant and you called him a boy, and then, well, that was that.

But it wasn’t, was it. At first you thought you had the flu, or food poisoning, or something that made you feel miserable. And then you realized. You sat on the edge of your bed and looked at the pale silvery lines on your arms where you had cut yourself once before and ended up talking to the stern-faced lady at Youth Specialty Services. You didn’t want anything like that now. You kept your secret. You didn’t want this taken from you. You curled your arms around yourself and whispered to all that was within.

And when she was born, she was perfect. Remember how you gazed at her blonde hair and blue eyes? She was beautiful. She was a little princess. She was one thing that would not leave you. You smiled at her and knew you could give her the world.

Her name is Atela

Lisa McKenzie 2014

I don’t know what it means in English. It doesn’t really exist in Samoan. But in German, it means Eagle. Adler. Atela. The proud, imperial eagle of the Reich. Gold, shiny. Before it got painted broken black, white and red.

It is my aunty’s name and probably never anyone else’s. Her mother made it up, staring out into the hazy blue of Apia Bay. I can see her there, stroking her rounded belly. Out on the reef lay a ship.

Samoans do this, don strange names upon innocent babes. They make their own rules. My mother’s name is Societe. I found out it meant Society when I was 12. Her other sister’s name is Limasene. Five Cents.

And the story goes the Adler lay broken for years. A German man of war, trailing ripped sail cloth and sharp tooth spars with a snarl on its belly. I wonder if Grandma was sorry she named her daughter after this defeated ship. Gunboat diplomacy quashed by an island cyclone.

My husband’s family don’t say Atela, they just say aunty. Perhaps their mouths forget the lumpy Samoan sounds that don’t quite belong. Like a crooked pe’a tapped upon the pale buttocks of a sailor from Dusseldorf. Or perhaps they just enjoy the feeling they get calling her aunty.

I call her aunty. I always have. Warm, intimate. Like a dusty-skinned hug that smells of coffee and bread. Atela is cold and distant, like the faint call of drowning men, broken heads and graceful fingers, floating in the water.