When my dear friend Lisa and I were out walking early one morning, the sun peeping over the horizon across the water over by the sugar factory, she told me a story from her childhood, about how it felt being a first generation Chinese New Zealander. Her story became this story, which was long-listed for the 2017 NZ National Flash Fiction Day competition. So, this one’s for you Lisa. A warm congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to Flash Frontier, where this story first appeared.
Lisa Joe, Baylys Beach, 2017
A Machete, a Plastic Bag and Mum’s Gumboots
by Caroline Barron
For years, the click and yawn of an opening car boot filled me with dread. As kids, when we drove over the Pae-koks to Foxton in Dad’s Telstar – brand new, white, with a maroon racing stripe and burgundy velour upholstery – and Mum saw a creek flanked by pillows of green, or an autumnal field blooming with white puffs, she’d shout, ‘Pull over! Pull over!’ in her Chinese-Kiwi accent. Dad always did, relishing the gravel skid before yanking the boot latch.
We loved to help Mum who, out there, marched the roadside in her gumboots, a different Mum to the apron-wearing one tending the bamboo steamer at home. This Mum wielded a machete with super-heroine ease, lopping off bunches of watercress and tugging dusky-gilled mushrooms from dank soil, pressing them into plastic bags my sister and I held open. Back at the car she’d wrap the watercress in The Evening Post to later boil for soup. The mushrooms she’d sauté with garlic and bacon and serve on rice.
After I turned eight, I refused to help. She’d yell for Dad to pull over. I’d groan and fold my arms. It might have been okay in Guangzhou, but here Kiwis didn’t scavenge for food on the roadside.
Yesterday, I walked across the school field holding my daughter’s hand. She pointed at the line of shade hugging the fence.
My high heels sucked in and out of the soggy ground. I glanced around. It will only take a minute, I thought. She crouched down, gathering her skirt beneath her knees – a family of white mushrooms dotted the grass – and lifted a spongy edge to peer beneath.
“Brown gills!” she said. “We can eat these ones.”
I reached into my handbag for the plastic bag I always carried, and held it open.