Anthony Lapwood: The Universe for Beginners

Mar 2023 | Short story

‘The Universe for Beginners’ is a story about navigating family relationships and the demands and sensitivities and precarities that can be involved. It’s also about reconnection and identity, and the regenerative potential of stories to help us understand who we are. This story first appeared in my collection Home Theatre (published by Te Herenga Waka University Press) which introduces an ensemble of remarkable characters from the Repertory Apartments. Several characters reappear throughout the collection – including some who you’re about to meet.

-Author note

Scotty closed the front door gently behind him, the click of the lock’s tongue nearly inaudible. It was dark and silent in the apartment except for the shifting glow and low murmur from the television tucked out of sight in the living room at the end of the hallway. He took a few cautious steps forwards, then paused to ease open Māia’s bedroom door. Peering inside, he could make out his daughter’s sleeping form and hear her soft breathing. She slept in the depths of space, glow-in-the-dark stars and planets strewn across the ceiling and walls. He left her to her dreaming and crept further along the hallway.

‘Mum?’ he whispered. ‘You awake?’

His mother, Eve, had one arm draped along the back of the couch. Her hand, poking out from a woollen sleeve, loosely grasped the television remote. Moving closer, Scotty caught the fluttering sound of her snoring. On the television, a late-night news host laughed in quiet gasps under the studio lights.

‘Mum,’ Scotty whispered again. The snoring continued. He slipped the remote from her hand and turned off the television.

‘Oh!’ Eve’s body snapped upright. ‘Is that you, son? I was just resting my eyes.’

‘Sorry. Things ran later than I’d hoped.’

‘Not a bother,’ she said, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands.

Scotty adjusted the dimmer to turn on the lights – not too bright. ‘How are you doing?’

‘Kei te pai. And you?’

‘Knackered. Work was a real slog. Māia was no trouble?’

‘Not at all. She’s a little angel. I’m the one who likes to make mischief.’

Scotty saw Eve glance at the clock on the kitchen wall. It was nearly twenty minutes past ten. He moved through the living room, straight to the fridge.

‘Did she get her homework done?’

‘Absolutely,’ Eve said. ‘After a quick game.’


‘Only half an hour or so. I liked watching. She was growing things on another planet and fighting men in spacesuits.’

Red World War?’

‘Hm. I think that was the name.’

‘Yeah. She’s pretty good at strategy.’

Scotty removed a snap-lock container from the fridge and spooned egg salad into a bowl. It had been his favourite dish since he was a young boy, and although it had been made for him many times by different people, it only ever tasted right when his mother made it – following a recipe that only she knew. It seemed fateful to Scotty, in hindsight, that Māia’s mother, Janine, couldn’t stomach the taste of mayonnaise and egg combined. He’d felt victorious when, two or three years after he and Janine separated, Māia also declared her love for her nana’s egg salad. That was back when Māia still lived with Janine. These days, Eve made the dish almost every time she visited Scotty and Māia at their apartment.

Scotty returned to the living room with his bowl and a fork. He sat on the couch beside his mother and started eating.

‘How did it go?’ Eve waved her hand in the air. ‘The launch?’

‘It was fine.’

‘Don’t speak with your mouth full.’

‘Sorry, Mum.’ Scotty swallowed. ‘I’m starving.’

‘She’ll get bad habits with a father like you.’

‘She keeps me in line. You know we launched a website, not a rocket?’

‘I know this much – she’s got your smarts, my mokopuna.’

Scotty ran his tongue over a speck of parsley in his teeth. ‘Sorry we haven’t seen you as much lately.’

‘Oh? I don’t keep track of such things.’

‘Yeah, right.’

He spotted something dark on the far side of the coffee table, hunched low to the ground. Eve’s overnight bag. Scotty sighed. He couldn’t call his mother a taxi – not after she’d stayed so late and come prepared. And especially not since Māia would have seen Eve’s bag and would be anticipating a nice morning with her nana. He should be thankful for Eve’s presence, and for her help. It wasn’t the end of the world if she stayed – only the end of an already long week.

‘Got everything you need for the morning?’ he said.

Eve winked. ‘Āe, son.’

Scotty stood and took his bowl to the kitchen, then returned to collect Eve’s bag. He nodded towards the hallway, to his bedroom. ‘I’ll chuck on some fresh sheets.’

‘I’ll give you a hand.’

‘It is, yes – a very lovely morning,’ Scotty heard a woman say. The voice seemed at a distance – both real and an effect of the thick sleep he was emerging from. It wasn’t Māia’s voice, or Eve’s.

‘I think he might still be sleeping,’ he heard his mother say, a little louder than was natural.

The words see you Saturday surged up from Scotty’s subconscious, jolting him completely awake. He threw aside the blanket and pushed himself up with one arm. His back spasmed and he groaned and flopped back down. Moving carefully, he rolled onto his side, levered himself up and twisted around to look. The front door was open. Standing in a bright rectangle of morning light was Sally with her boy Samuel – and Eve.

Eve looked down the hallway at Scotty. ‘Mōrena,’ she said.

‘Mōrena,’ Scotty replied, keeping his voice down. Then, ‘Hello, Sally. Hey, Sam.’

He got up from the couch, glad he’d slept in a T-shirt and track pants, and stretched his back, unkinking it with three loud pops. He made his way down the hallway and stood at the threshold behind his mother.

‘Sorry if this is bad timing,’ Sally said. She had the strap of a nylon bag over one shoulder. ‘Are you all right? You sounded like you were in pain.’

‘No. No, no. Not at all,’ Scotty said. ‘Come in. Please, come in.’

‘Shoes,’ Sally said to Sam.

She and Sam placed their shoes with Scotty’s and Eve’s, next to the rack piled up with Māia’s footwear.

‘I was about to make some bacon and mushrooms,’ Eve said. ‘Plenty to go around.’

‘It’s okay, thank you. We already ate,’ Sally said. ‘We can come back a bit later?’

‘I was just about to get ready,’ Scotty said. ‘Overslept, sorry.’

‘Sam was up early, weren’t you?’ Sally said, looking down at her son. ‘He’s acting shy, but he’s excited. We brought a few things to contribute for lunch.’

Eve accepted the nylon bag from Sally.

‘I’ll leave you to chat while I cook some kai,’ Eve said. She raised her eyebrows with the merest flicker, then headed down the hall.

‘Coffee? Tea?’ Scotty said. ‘What would you like to drink, Sam? I’ll wake Māia up.’

‘Māia!’ Sam said.

‘Sam – Scotty asked if you’d like a drink,’ Sally said.

‘Juice,’ Sam said. ‘Please.’

‘I’ll have coffee, please,’ Sally said, then quieter, ‘I didn’t expect to meet your mother like this.’

‘I didn’t forget,’ Scotty replied. ‘I had a work thing last night and Mum was watching Māia. I didn’t forget.’

Scotty watched Sally and Sam wander towards the living room, then he opened Māia’s bedroom door. She stepped back from the spot where she had been listening.

‘You totally did forget,’ she said. ‘You’re hopeless.’

Scotty moved aside and Māia edged past him, clutching her clothes, with a towel draped over one arm. She was only twelve and already Scotty worried about the years to come.

‘Hi, ratbag! Hi, Sally,’ she said.

‘Mōrena, angel,’ Eve said.

‘Mōrena, Nana! Make sure Dad doesn’t touch my bacon.’

‘Better be quick then,’ Scotty called out. ‘My tummy’s rumbling.’

Sally and Māia sat in the back seat with Sam between them. As he drove, Scotty developed a habit of looking now and then in the rear-view mirror at Sally, then across at Eve in the front passenger seat.

‘You’re sure it’s no trouble I come along?’ Eve said.

‘Nana,’ Māia said from the back, ‘nau mai. You’re always welcome.’

‘You just love me for my cooking,’ Eve said.

‘We-e-e-ll, love is love,’ Māia said.

‘Oh,’ Eve said, ‘I’m right, am I?’

‘Jokes,’ Māia said.

‘Jokes,’ Sam mimicked. ‘Jokes!’

Scotty pulled into the parking lot at the top of the hill, beside the terminus of the cable car that ran between the Botanic Garden and Lambton Quay. They walked the short distance to the lookout and watched as cloud shadows played across the harbour, then weaved their way along the tar-seal path to their destination – the observatory, Māia’s pick.

Nearing the ticket desk, Scotty offered to pay for everyone.

‘Don’t be silly,’ Sally said. ‘We can split.’

‘There’s one extra on my side.’

‘Let’s go halves,’ Sally said, and turned to the man at the counter. ‘Family pass, plus one senior? Split it down the middle, please.’

‘Hello, Scotty,’ the man said. He looked at Sally. ‘You’re familiar.’

‘Do I know you?’ Sally said.

‘Ashton. He’s in 4D,’ Scotty explained, as Sally swiped her credit card. ‘This is Sally. She’s in 1C.’

‘The apartments,’ Sally said, and shook her head. ‘For goodness’ sake.’

‘Small world.’ Ashton grinned, then put through Scotty’s half of the transaction. ‘And how’s the interstellar girl?’

‘Rocketing along, as ever,’ Scotty said.

‘You know, a new planetarium show’s being polished up. A sneak preview could be in the offing – on the house. I could keep a few spots open?’

‘I’m sure she’d love that. Thank you. Wouldn’t Sam enjoy that?’

‘It’s very generous,’ Sally said. ‘Are you sure?’

‘No problem.’ Ashton handed over their tickets, then waved across at Māia and Sam, who waved back. ‘I’d better let you get on with your morning.’

‘Seems like friendly service,’ Eve said to Scotty, as they moved away.

‘Yeah. Nice bloke,’ Scotty said, stuffing the tickets into his jacket pocket.

Māia quickly took the lead, with Sam close behind and the three adults trailing.

Ritual of retelling . . .’ Māia began reading out loud, unseen, her voice coming from beyond the place where two walls curved together into short, nested spirals, forming the narrow entrance to the museum’s permanent exhibition.

The construction of the entrance meant you had to turn through a tight arc as you passed through, as though spinning forwards, as though being born.

Scotty let Eve and Sally go ahead. When he entered, Māia had already finished reading and moved on. She was showing Sam the large, clear tubes that reached the ceiling and were packed with grains of sand that, as she explained, were still, incredibly, fewer in number than all the stars in the sky.

On the wall where Māia had been reading, the text was positioned at a height that invited the attention of children, anyone from Sam’s age up to Māia’s. The font was too small to be read from where Scotty stood. Even so, the lines came easily into his mind: Every time the creation story is retold, the Universe is brought forth from the void once more.

He knew these words by heart, having passed through this gap between the two walls countless times, with Māia always rushing ahead, reading the words aloud. Along the wall to the left, the universe unfurled from the seed of the Big Bang. Along the wall to the right unfurled the story that starts with the parentless Io-matua-te-kore: In Io was the potential for everything in the Universe.

There were other ways to enter the exhibition, but they always began at this point – the beginning of the universe.

Eve was standing where Māia had been a minute earlier, appraising the rightward wall, reading the words, bent forwards to see better.

There is no end to the story, because creation never stops becoming. There is always a new generation waiting to add the next lines to the story.

Scotty saw Māia as proof of that. He saw her as the kind of becoming that he feared he hadn’t been for his mother. There was a broad movement to Māia’s life that he recognised from his own – the movement away from a parent then back again. Although, Māia had never completely left Scotty – he and Janine had always shared custody. Still did, in theory. Whereas Scotty and his brothers had been taken away from Eve. Had been placed into foster care, because the state said that it would be safer. That the children couldn’t be kept together. Eve had been left to endure the violence of her husband until, years later, he went into one last drunken rage, put one last hole in the living-room wall, and his heart failed him for good. Many of Scotty’s memories of his father were hazy – he’d been so young when he went away, that sharp start to a slow and sorry letting go. He hadn’t been there to witness the changes in his father’s face that night, but he had imagined it many times – the man’s sour-milk complexion, webbed with inflamed capillaries, turning at last a dull and chilly blue.

Ahead, Māia and Sam were playing at the gravity well, supervised by Sally. They sent coloured bouncy balls rolling across bright nebulae and constellations, the balls circling one another in wild orbits as they spiralled towards the curved funnel’s centre, which narrowed into darkness – a black hole. The balls circled quicker and quicker towards it, then one after another finally vanished.

Scotty put a hand out, bracing against the Big Bang.

Māia knew her grandfather had been troubled and had caused her grandmother pain. She knew that, because of him, Scotty and his brothers did not see their mother for a long time. For Scotty, not until he’d almost finished high school. He wondered if Māia ever wished she’d had the chance to meet her grandfather, to discover for herself something of his human dimensions. She’d once met Bill and Carol, who had provided Scotty with his final foster home. He had stopped receiving Christmas cards from ‘B + C’ by then, but Māia was insistent. It had been a short visit, a ticklish afternoon tea during a tour north one summer holiday, the ageing couple still busy with their rosters of children. Was it wrong that his daughter had met Bill but neither of her grandfathers? Scotty thought Janine’s dad had died of cancer, but he couldn’t say for sure which kind. He’d been young, though – gone before Janine had finished high school. Dead like Scotty’s dad. Dead years before any of his children had children of their own.

Eve was touching Scotty’s arm. She was asking if he was all right.

Scotty let out a long breath.

‘Good, Mum. Tired still, I guess.’ He wanted to say, I had this feeling of falling inwards. Instead, he said, ‘Got lost in my thoughts.’

Sally approached them.

‘I think they could keep going at that for hours,’ she said. ‘Māia says you two come here a lot.’

‘She’s keen on space. Reckons she’ll be the first human to set foot on Mars. Big dreams for a twelve-year-old, eh?’

‘She’s a sharp girl,’ Eve said.

‘Sam loves space too,’ Sally said. ‘He’s sure he’ll make contact with aliens one day.’

‘Māia will teach him a thing or two,’ Eve said. ‘Looks like they’re getting along together.’

‘Yes. It’s nice to see,’ Sally said.

‘He’s your only one?’ Eve said.

‘Mum,’ Scotty said.

‘It’s just a question.’

‘It’s okay. Yes, Sam’s it.’

‘I’m not prying.’

‘I don’t mind,’ Sally said, as Sam came towards them, walking pigeon-toed. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Need to pee,’ Sam said.

‘Back in a minute,’ Sally said. They disappeared down a tunnel painted black and latticed with glowing strips of neon green.

Scotty and Eve watched Māia as she sent bouncy balls spiralling once more through space. There were a few other families that Scotty could see wandering the exhibitions. He noticed they were mostly fathers and sons. It wasn’t always like that, but often it was, and Scotty wondered if they were single fathers too.

There was that word – too. But Scotty was dating Sally, so he wasn’t exactly single. Though he wasn’t entirely with Sally, either. They weren’t together. Being together was something

bigger. Between dating and being together was a long stretch of – what exactly?

‘She seems nice,’ Eve said.

‘Yeah, Sally’s good,’ Scotty said. ‘She’s great.’

‘You look happy around her. I like to see it . . .’ Eve’s voice seemed to fold back on itself. Scotty thought he knew what she’d been about to say – to ask.

‘I’m sorry I hadn’t told you. We’re just taking things slowly, trying to be cautious. For the kids, for ourselves.’

‘I understand.’

‘I wanted to be sure first, to save the disappointment if it didn’t work out.’

‘She looks quite sure, if you ask me. Convenient arrangement, too.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Living in the same building.’

‘Sally told you?’

‘Āe. When we were putting lunch together. You leave two wāhine alone, we’ll korero about all sorts of things.’

‘It’s not like I’m knocking on her door every night.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Eve said, chuckling. ‘She didn’t say much about all that.’

Scotty blushed, but he was glad Eve and Sally could be friendly.

‘You know what I like most about her?’ he said. ‘How she is with Māia, and with Sam. She’s good with them.’

‘As are you.’

Māia returned the bouncy balls to their holder beneath the gravity well. She came over and announced she was going to capture satellites.

‘All right, dynamo,’ Scotty said, and they followed her to a low door that led into a room Scotty knew to be decorated like a space-shuttle pod. Grey panelled walls, survival props and a videogame console that Māia would sit in front of for as long as he’d let her.

‘I feel like I’m just guessing my way through all this,’ Scotty said.

‘Nobody has all the answers.’ Eve pointed at a man with a baby strapped to his chest and a boy leading him by the hand. ‘You can bet he’s making it up as well. We all do what we can.’

‘Māia has this points system. I get a point every time I do something dumb. The points I’ll be getting today! She makes me buy her something when I’ve racked up enough.’ Scotty paused. ‘It started as a joke. I still don’t know how she counts them up. Sometimes it’s like –’

‘She told me about the points,’ Eve said. Scotty frowned. ‘A while ago, when I asked where she gets all her shoes. She likes being with you. Not just because of the shoes.’

‘I really don’t know. I try.’

‘Watching you be a father to her, it makes me think about back then. When you were a boy.’

‘Mum –’

‘And your brothers.’

‘Mum, you don’t have to keep going there.’

‘I don’t go there, son. It stays with me.’

‘Yeah. I know.’ Eve sniffed, and Scotty searched his pockets but found nothing that he could offer her, only their entry tickets. ‘Same here.’

Eve fished a tissue from her handbag. ‘There’s so much I wish I could have done for you. For all my boys.’

Scotty moved as if to touch Eve but tucked his hands back into his jacket.

‘Have you heard from your brothers?’

‘Sure.’ Scotty hesitated. ‘I called and spoke to Joel a few weeks ago. He says he’s doing okay.’

‘Is he?’

‘I think so.’ Scotty recalled his eldest brother’s voice – quiet in a way that could have meant many things. ‘He’s getting there.’

Eve wiped at her eyes again, then returned the tissue to her handbag. ‘We should talk about something else. I don’t want to look a mess in front of your new friend. Is she – ka mōhio rānei ia? Does she know?’

‘Just the main stuff. Not the details about how things happened.’

Eve nodded.

Scotty swallowed hard, taking the truth down into his gut. The truth was, he and Sally had talked more, one time. He hadn’t said much, but it was enough. Sally had said that she felt awed by his mother, in a sense, and Scotty hadn’t known how to take that, hadn’t been able to ask what she meant. He had sat there silently in Sally’s apartment, with that feeling of falling inwards, leaving Sally to apologise and change the subject. Even with Janine still hovering in Scotty’s mind – the demands she’d made to know more, for him to be able to give her more, to give their relationship more – he had realised that night with Sally that, as little as he had said, he should have waited longer to say it.

‘Māia really enjoys being around you,’ he said to Eve. ‘You give her this real energy. After we see you, she’s all Nana this and Nana that. Have I told you that?’

Eve cleared her throat. ‘What’s happening with Māia’s mother? Is she still moving overseas?’

‘Yeah. She’s getting married in Chile in November.’

‘She knows you’re seeing someone?’

‘Kāo. Janine doesn’t care, not really.’

‘I know it’s been tough, son. But she cares for her daughter. How will they keep in touch?’

‘She said she’d come back and visit early next year. Then Māia could go to Chile for a few weeks the year after. Janine’s happy to cover half the airfares. Which still leaves the other bloody half, of course. But there’s Skype.’

‘Things will look up. Little by little, you’ll see.’

‘Sure. I just don’t want Janine to become a bad memory for her, you know? I don’t want to become one either.’

‘Nobody ever wants that. Your daughter doesn’t hold anything against you. It’s good you’re having another go, starting again.’ Eve looked over Scotty’s shoulder. ‘I could take care of the tamariki tonight.’


‘I can watch them at your place.’ Eve was whispering. ‘You two can take off, have some time to yourselves.’

‘Sorry we were longer than expected,’ Sally said, coming up alongside Scotty.

‘Found you,’ Sam said, tapping Scotty’s leg. ‘Where’s Māia?’

‘Oh. She’s taking a drive through space.’ Scotty pointed towards the low door.

‘Hold on. I thought you were hungry?’ Sally said, gently taking Sam’s arm. She looked at Scotty. ‘I’m not interrupting?’

‘No, no. We were just chatting,’ Scotty said. ‘You’re hungry, Sam? I guess it must be about time for lunch.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Maybe an early one.’

‘I’ll get Māia,’ Eve said, and she went across to the shuttle-pod room and peered inside.

At the Rose Garden, they arranged themselves around a picnic table and unpacked the lunch that Eve and Sally had made. Eve prompted Māia to give the karakia kai. Looking at the food in front of them, Scotty said, ‘I’m a little more peckish than I’d thought – let’s tuck in.’ There were cut sandwiches, bananas and mandarins, muesli bars and biscuits, a thermos of hot tea, a bottle of orange juice and another of water.

After they’d all finished eating, Scotty reached into the chilly bin for cups and milk for the tea, and discovered the snap-lock container with the last of the egg salad.

‘Anyone else keen?’ he asked.

‘I’m stuffed,’ Māia said, rubbing her stomach.

Sam took a break from running around the picnic table and rubbed his belly too, shouting, ‘Stuffed! Stuffed!’

‘Oi – Samuel, enough of that,’ Sally said. Then, to Scotty, ‘Yes, please. I’d love a try.’

Scotty split the serving between them. After Sally had devoured a couple of forkfuls, Eve said to her, ‘Good kai?’

‘Really good,’ Sally said, and picked parsley from between her front teeth. ‘I haven’t eaten egg salad in forever.’

‘Can I have some?’ said Sam.

‘You told me you were full.’

‘Found room,’ he said, poking his side with a finger.

‘It’s all finished, sorry. Have a shortbread if you like,’ Sally said.

Sam scarcely chewed before swallowing, washing the lumps of biscuit down with more juice from the cup that Sally handed to him.

‘I’ll make extra next time, to go around,’ Eve said.

‘What’s in it?’ Sally asked.

‘Oh, eggs and mayonnaise, salt and pepper, a few fresh herbs. The secret’s in how you combine it all together.’

‘Not even I know the recipe,’ Scotty said. ‘I’ve asked a hundred times.’

‘Samuel, sit down a minute, please. Give your lunch a chance to settle,’ Sally said.

Sam was walking quickly back and forth along the grass verge that marked the boundary of a garden plot, balancing with his arms held out. He stopped suddenly and made a gulping sound, then vomited a stream of food and orange juice at the base of a starkly budless rose bush.

‘Gross!’ Māia said. ‘You little spew bomb.’

‘Samuel!’ Sally said. ‘Watch your top, please. Come here. I told you to settle down.’

‘At least he has good aim,’ Scotty said, passing Sally a small stack of serviettes. ‘By and large.’

While Sally cleaned Sam up and carried him to the car, Scotty and Māia and Eve packed up the picnic gear. Māia took Scotty’s keys and shut the gear in the boot.

Eve indicated the place where Sam had been sick. ‘We should take care of that.’

‘Oh, right.’ Scotty dug the toe of his shoe into the soft soil and flicked it over the vomit until it was covered, then he and Eve rejoined the others in the car.

Scotty was thankful for the flatter route out of the Rose Garden, avoiding the winding roads they’d taken from the other direction earlier. He plotted a course through downtown that had, he thought, fewer traffic lights, heading towards the apartment block beyond the central city’s southern boundary.

‘Is everything still okay back there?’ he asked. ‘Won’t be too long.’

‘Stinks of spew,’ Māia said. ‘Open the windows some more?’

‘We’re okay,’ Sally said, checking Sam’s sleeping face. ‘Just ate too much is all. And got a bit overexcited.’

Māia was the first out of the car once Scotty had parked behind their building. She loudly sucked in a lungful of air. Sally slid across the back seat and slipped out through Māia’s open door, then went around to collect Sam.

Inside, Eve and Māia climbed into the elevator and headed for the apartment above, taking the picnic gear with them, while Scotty went with Sally and Sam to their place on the ground floor.

Outside her front door, Sally said, ‘Sorry for the bad end.’

‘Can’t be helped,’ Scotty said. ‘Mum offered to take the kids for the night. Maybe another time?’

‘That’d be neat.’ She kissed Scotty on the cheek. ‘Have you ever met Liv and George? Retired couple, right next door there. They’ve looked after Sam before. They might be okay looking after both of them, every now and then.’

‘Mum really won’t mind,’ Scotty said. ‘But good to have options.’

Sam let out a moan.

‘Text you later,’ Sally said, then jiggled her keys in the lock and disappeared inside with her son.

Scotty entered the stairwell. The elevator was not much quicker than taking the stairs, after waiting for the cab to descend then the slow grinding upwards. And Scotty liked the stairs. They brought him into himself, allowing him to move under his own power, at his own pace. He paused at the next landing. Had Sally meant to suggest that her neighbours babysit the children instead of Eve? Sally had enjoyed the day, and Eve’s company, hadn’t she? Why wouldn’t she want Eve to stay involved? Scotty replayed Sally’s voice, looking for something in her tone that might confirm her intentions – either a reaction against the true circumference of his life, or an attempt to expand it.

An ache struck at Scotty’s temples. He waited three long breaths then continued up the stairs.

Eve opened the door to the apartment when he knocked.

‘How about a cup of tea before you take this kuia home?’

‘Sure,’ Scotty said. He followed his mother to the living room.

‘Turn that off,’ he said to Māia, who had loaded up a saved game of Red World War. Beams of light were streaking across the television screen while she sat lost in a dream of the future.

‘Oh, it’s just a little fun, nē?’ Eve said. ‘Give her half an hour. We’ll have a cuppa and a little rest.’


Eve began fussing with the kettle and mugs. She smiled at Scotty, and he saw that something was resonating, still singing within her, a string plucked and a note held. He saw, too, in the slight tremble of her bottom lip, that she felt as tired as he did.

A little rest. A little fun.

Little by little, things will look up, his mother had said.

Well, maybe the world depended on little things. Big things happened, of course – they came crashing through lives all the time. But weren’t big things made from little things? Little by little, couldn’t things get worse, just the same as they could get better? Little by little, you might not even notice it. The little things could be relentless like that and – and the kettle boiled then –

– and Scotty told Eve to take a seat, he’d finish making the tea.

Note: ‘The Universe for Beginners’ incorporates the following exhibition text from Space Place at Carter Observatory:

In Io was the potential for everything in the Universe.


Ritual of retelling

Every time the creation story is retold, the Universe is brought forth from the void once more. There is no end to the story, because creation never stops becoming. There is always a new generation waiting to add the next lines to the story.


Anthony Lapwood (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Whakaue, Pākehā) has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing through the International Institute of Modern Letters. His fiction has been featured in a variety of publications and anthologies, and his debut story collection Home Theatre was longlisted for the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Visit or follow Anthony on Twitter and Instagram @antzlapwood

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