Family photos Napier (2)A
A lesson in love
by Mercedes Webb-Pullman

Robyn didn’t teach me to ride
but she let me practice on her bike,
an eighth birthday gift from our parents.
I expected a new bike too.
By the time my birthday arrived
I could take my hands off the handlebar
for a short time, and stay upright.

I spent hours at the bike shop, compared
styles, brands, colours, tires, gears, lights
and brakes, seats, hand grips, baskets,
carriers, until I fitted all my preferences
into one perfect bicycle. When Mum
took me outside that morning, I expected
my wishes had been heard. Instead,
a grandmother bike, a deformed relic
leaned against the woodpile. My eyes
sprouted tears; I fought not to cry.

The handlebar sat almost straight, with only
one brake control lever, for the front wheel.
You pedalled backwards to engage the rear brake.
You couldn’t free-wheel, the pedals always turned.
If I lifted my feet, they would whack into the back
of my calf. And old-fashioned balloon tires
that no one else at my school had; I know
because I checked. Hard, brown leather seat,
the carrier just a wire flap. I can still taste
my shock, disappointment, hastily stifled
jealousy and resentment, and a dawning
dislike of myself. I could see places where
the new paint didn’t quite match.

What did I know of love? My father found
time to fix and paint, between overtime shifts
that kept him exhausted, yet I resented this bike,
this gift, and hated myself for feeling that.
My father leaned over, rang the bell,
‘See, I even fixed this for you!’ and smiled.
In his eyes, his sad understanding.
He loved me anyway.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me (with siblings) the year of my eighth birthday. I’m the girl with glasses on the right.


Mercedes Webb-Pullman graduated from IIML Victoria University Wellington with MA in Creative Writing in 2011. Her poems and the odd short story have appeared online and in print, in Turbine, 4th Floor, Swamp, Reconfigurations, The Electronic Bridge, poetryrepairs, Connotations, The Red Room, Silver Birch Press, Otoliths, among others, and in her books. She lives on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand. Visit her at