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The Knife Thrower's Daughter

Frankie McMillan


When your mama’s a knife thrower you know the meaning of perfection. It’s not good enough for her to try her best or come close, she has to be 100% on the mark so that when those  knives come hurtling towards you they land around  you, not inside you. You know it’s possible, a life without error, but you also know, and this is what you learn from your papa, that there is always a way to escape, to escape from the humdrum of routine, of rehearsals, of always being perfect.


You’re standing there against the back of the rehearsal tent, the smell of last night’s curry in the air, your  mama steadying herself, head bent.  She faces you, picks up a knife. Her tattooed arm draws back and it’s right then, you can’t help it, this wayward thought … what if you were to twitch just a little bit, and you feel the niggly twitch in your shoulders, you can’t stop the terrible thought, the way people do, who suddenly feel an urge  to throw  their babies off bridges, or leap in front of an incoming  train, or  pick up a gun and pull the trigger. 


Your mama looks at you intently, your mama can see inside you, all your dark thoughts. She knows you secretly see your papa in town.  She knows you’d rather live with him. Your mama drops the knife. She steps over the trapeze wires towards you. It could be she screams in your face.  Do you want to get yourself killed!  Or it could be she puts her arms around you.

Either way, you know it’s going to be perfect.

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her latest book, 'The wandering nature of us girls'  ( Canterbury University Press) will be launched August, 2022. 

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