THIS WAY UP

I’d been looking at people the right way up all my life. Through the spy hole in my mother’s belly button, I saw their downturned mouths and knew they were happy. In the darkness, I hooked the corners of my mouth and pulled them up to my chin.

I watched as people’s legs trotted them across the sky, and with the earth above me and the heavens at my feet, I dream-peddled. I saw their arms unhinge to 90 degrees when, like backwards-blooming flowers, they unfurled to squeeze the whole great globe of my mother.

Then I was born and at first I loved my mother. With my eyes screwed shut, I stuck like a magnet in her arms while she rocked me over the endless fall to the floor.

I loved my father too, for about a minute. Then he pinned my cot to the carpeted ceiling and left me there, dangling over the abyss. All night I cried out but he would only swing me over his shoulder and say, “There, there,” before pushing me back at the Axminster.

“Come down from there now,” my mother started saying, “Come down for me, my little upside-down cake,” as I set the wardrobe shuddering with another handstand, desperate to walk on the floor.

“Stop your bloody clowning,” my father would say, one eye on the door.

“Take a look at the kid, will you? Frowning away,” people said at my third birthday party, as chunks of icing crumbled from their mouths and fell crunchily upwards. “You ought to smile, you know,” they bellowed, bouncing their faces closer.

After a while I got my feet to stick properly to the ceiling, but I missed my old ways too much, so I began walking on my hands. My parents relented. Bought me gardening gloves. I wiggled into them and stepped, up up up the front doorstep, step, step, my palms crunching over the sky that glittered with ice and grit. I walked the town, passed blind through crowds who inspected my feet, scooted over cracks and grates in the footpath, over grass that stretched into green sky, down at the seaside under skies of wooden boardwalk that rumbled with the feet of thunder, with stars beneath my feet and the veins of bare trees and the moon a stepping-stone.

About the author
Zoë Meager is from Ōtautahi, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her short stories have been published at home and abroad, most recently in Turbine | Kapohau, Landfall, and Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She's fiction editor for takahē and a fiction reader for Overland. There's more at zoemeager.com