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Hot Potato

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April 18, 2019

When I left New Zealand in 1985, I called home every month or so. International calls were pricey so there was always a sense of urgency on the other end as the phone was passed around like a hot potato. ‘Do you want to talk to your brother?’ ‘Reg Barker is here fixing the shower. Do you want to say a quick hello?’ ‘Your sister wants to tell you something. She’s pregnant again.’

At the beginning, I was young and living on the cheap, first in Australia and then in Japan. From there it was Britain. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m back in Australia. I now call my 86-year-old mother every day. Calls to New Zealand are included in my call package. I’ve told Mum this but she still reacts as if I am calling from the pink coin phone in a gay bar called ‘New Sazae’ in Shinjuku ni-chome (the bar still exists).

‘He-llo!’ she answers, all breathy with enthusiasm. I greet her and announce that it’s me. Mum sighs. She never sighs when my sister Jocelyn calls. The sigh is just for me. First, because I am more irritating than my sister. Second, because Mum still thinks a toll call is something significant that requires her full attention, like the introduction of decimal currency.

During our last call, Mum brought up the subject of my brother’s kitchen. He’s building a new house and has plans for something snazzy. ‘Bruce wants a black kitchen,’ Mum says. ‘Who the hell wants a black kitchen?’ Bruce perhaps, I suggest. ‘How will he ever keep it clean? Black will show every spill.’ I remind her that he has a cleaner. She sighs, irritated.

I called my brother afterwards. ‘Mum says you want a black kitchen,’ I say. ‘She’s worried about how you’re going to keep it clean.’

Bruce laughs. ‘I’m not going to have a black kitchen.’

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