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.’

Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is an award winning fiction writer and poet. Her publications include ‘The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories’ and a collection of poetry, ‘Dressing for the Cannibals’. Recent short stories have been selected for Best New Zealand Fiction, Vintage, 2008 and 2009. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the International institute of Modern Letters and a Certificate in Adult Teaching. In 2005 she was the recipient of the CNZ Todd Bursary. She is currently writing a second collection of short stories which will be published in 2015.  She was the winner of the 2013 National Flash Fiction competition.  Frankie was the co-recipient of the 2014 Ursula Bethall Residency at the University of Canterbury and an enthusiastic tutor with over ten years of teaching experience at the Hagley Writers’ Institute.

Window into the 20th Century

Frankie McMillan 2013

Kafka : every revolution evaporates and leaves only the slime of a bureaucracy

even when they closed their doors
sealed up the entrance ways, I could hear

the Russian songs; the passionate
laments of snails and that’s how

I knew to build little doors inside
my home for when the withdrawal

times would come; each door more tight
than the other and in the deepest

recess of my domicile I dared
to loosen my load,  hurl

my papers out into the snow
where I imagined they might fly

the street of Prague. Such an act
of kindness, the way a mind,

in the architecture of the dark,
can travel where it wishes

Snail explains his harpoon to a captive audience

Frankie McMillan 2013

They trawl through long grass –
believers of Cupid

so who is Snail to tell them
that not all his endeavours

come off?  There is the issue
of his short sightedness

last time he fired his love dart
it missed        took seven

days to make another.
Once he shot her in the head

he had to crawl over rough surfaces
make slick promises

about the enduring path of
always           forever

his audience, Snail knows
do not study the restraints

of courtship
or carbonate darts

but they do like his double glazed shell
the privacy it affords.