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isabelle mcneur


One summer, my dad brought me along
to a christening. He sang along to every hymn
and sweated. I bent my head and mumbled.
I had been in a church maybe once before this,
for a funeral. As we crossed the asphalt to the car,
I asked him since when did he know
all the songs?

Since always, he said. He went to church every Sunday,
like everyone did back then. He got kicked out of choir
every time he opened his mouth. I laughed, because we
yelled him down whenever he sang along to the radio.
I tried to imagine the child who had these things
happen to him, but it slipped through my hands:
the impossible picture of your parent
before they were your parent.

We got in the car. The baked metal of our seatbelts
had us flinching. I asked him how was it
that we could spend our lives with people
and not know such simple things about them.
He didn’t answer. His hands were having trouble
settling on the hot plastic of the steering wheel.

I tried to picture the boy who would turn into my father,
his throat an uninterrupted line, his cheeks smooth,
standing outside a church waiting for choir to end,
nudging rocks out of place with his shoes
and living a life that had nothing to do with me.
The days filled, making a life that was wholly
his: moments he would keep behind his teeth
out of embarrassment or lack of opportunity,
quiet days he would forget, snapshots he would
only remember because someone had a camera handy.

All of them gathered into something solid,
constructing the man that would one day
sit next to me, grey and moustached and
unknowable, swearing under his breath
at the summer heat.

Isabelle McNeur is a Christchurch-bred Wellingtonian currently studying Creative Writing at Victoria University.