you learn all of dad’s bad words by age six:
for fucks sake,
jesus christ, what’s the bloody hold-up?
they appear on the way to swimming lessons,
orchestra practice, and piano lessons:
any time he has to sit in bloody auckland traffic,
and any time you have a question
about the corporate slugs being interviewed
on the six o’clock news.
as a kid, you hear them after someone does something naughty -
when you accidentally kick a hole in the living room wall as you’re being tickled,
or when your older brother peter runs all over dad’s newly planted lettuce patch during a game of tag.
on these occasions dad gives you each a smack on the arm
which leaves a mark the same gleaming red as his yelling face.
in your pre-teens, dad doesn’t smack you anymore, but he lectures you.
by this stage, you have read a lot of books where girls ‘flounce’ out of the room,
and so you try to ‘flounce’ out of the room too, after such lectures.
but you quickly realise your dad hasn’t read the same books.
he follows you while you stomp away and says
you’d better watch that fucking attitude, too, and then you cry.
sometimes, you consider running away.
(you’ve read a lot of books where girls do this too.)
on a particularly brave day, you don’t run away,
but you sneak to the end of the garden
and hide under the avocado tree for hours.
doing nothing. just to make dad worry.
instead, your mother worries,
and peter goes to the neighbours and the dairy:
‘have you seen my sister? have you seen my sister?’
and dad is in his office the whole time,
working on his new piece titled
the condition of the working class in 1890s new zealand;
and the sun sets and you go back into the house
before anyone gets round to telling him you were missing.
peter grows up to be a master of imitating dad:
come on grandma!, on the motorway;
no, there's much nicer food at home, when someone suggests mcdonalds on the way back.
give it a few years, and you won't be able to tell if he's joking anymore:
shirt tucked in on one side and hanging out the other,
tattered jeans browned at the knees after a day in the garden,
speights old dark in hand,
teaching the kids how to spell bourgeoisie.