(edited by Laura McPhee-Browne)
Most people think that Werzy is my twin sister. I did too, until Mum told us both the truth when we needed our birth certificates for a History project in Year 8. It was bit of a shock to find out that Werzy was my Aunty and one month younger than me.
See, my mother is the eldest of thirteen, and when her Mum, Nanna Cornelia, had Werzy — her thirteenth — it was all too much. We took her in as one of our own and moved, quick-smart apparently, from Adelaide up to Brisbane.
Werzy took the news a lot better than I expected; my surname, date of birth, star sign, and parentage hadn’t changed, but Werzy’s whole world was turned upside down. So her nonchalant attitude seemed odd to me at the time. What I didn’t know then was that she had a much bigger secret hidden away in her fubsy body.
Werzy got her nickname in primary school. Her first name, Wilhelmina, drew the attention of Brad Cunningham, a bully who was prone to a bit of rodomontade which I thought was to cover up his bad case of haplography. I found out later though that his dad was a blue-singleted wife basher who drank every day until he became catawampus. Poor Brad, no wonder he couldn’t spell. Anyway, Willy, as we called her at the time, always carried a dictionary around with her. She was a logophile, and if you think I’m a bit verbose it’s actually all her fault.
‘Wilhelmina, Wilhelmina, she grows on a rock and couldn’t be meaner,’ sang Brad one little lunch, when we were made to sit under the camphor laurel trees to drink the free, warm milk.
‘He’s suggesting I’m rupestrine,’ said Willy, unperturbed. She showed me the word in her dictionary and I laughed. Brad didn’t take too kindly to my cachinnation, so he stood up, walked across the cracked asphalt and punched me in the nose. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I cried. Wilhelmina stepped in and kicked him in the groin.
Brad dropped to the ground like a sack of starchy tubers and the whole of Year 5 sat stunned with opened mouths. After all the kerfuffle, the principal called a school assembly. He gave a ten minute lecture on bullying, and appropriate and inappropriate responses. Then in front of us all, he gave Willy, yes Willy, two cuts of his cane and then Brad got six. The assembly was dismissed and I spent the rest of the day trying to be as apatetic as possible because by now the whole school knew my sister had stepped in to defend me. If I knew then what I know now maybe I would have cried out, ‘She’s my Aunty, not my sister,’ but I’m sure it wouldn’t have made a difference.
For some reason Brad spent the rest of Year 5 trying his darnedest to get on side with me and Willy. I didn’t mind since I figured that if I could be seen joking around and even rough-housing a bit with the boy who got six cuts of the cane without even a wince, maybe the humiliation of being the boy who needed his twin sister to step in for him might wane? Brad even tried to use big words to gain our favour. He consulted with the librarian and together they found the word lexicomane. He started calling Willy ‘Lexi Comane’, but my twin sister, once again, stopped him in his tracks. She said, ‘Brad, lexicomane is not a real word. If you desired to attribute a word to me to characterise my propensity to use big words, you could have scrutinised the thesaurus a bit more thoroughly and found sesquipedalian. Now that is a real word.’
Brad was without word. For a moment anyway. He picked up a stick off the ground and threw it at a noisy crow in the tree. ‘Did you know I can throw a rock from the top of Mt Gravatt all the way into the Brisbane River?’
‘Your mendacity metagrobolises me,’ said Willy.
‘I give up,’ groaned Brad. ‘You win, Willy Wordsworth!’
And that was that. Out of sheer frustration, Brad the bully, trying to ingratiate himself with the master of the lexicon and the swift kicker to the testicles, had popped out a nickname that stuck like the proverbial mud. Like wildfire the name Willy Wordsworth swept through Sunnybank State Primary School.
In the weeks ahead it got trimmed and morphed. Willy Wordsworth was truncated to Wordsworth, then that was transmogrified into Wordsy. And then finally, in true to form Australianisation, it ended up rolling off our tongues as Werzy.
After Mum told us that we weren’t twins, Werzy and I grew apart a bit. It wasn’t really because she was now my Aunty, which we decided to keep as a family secret for the moment, nor that she was still a word freak quick to violence; it was more that in High School the boys hung out with the boys and the girls looked down on us as immature and despicable. Werzy was fine with me one on one, but at school, even though she was quite a tomboy, she hung out with all the pretty girls in our year; the very same girls that us immature and pimply boys used to fantasise over.
Brad Cunningham and I would watch them from the other side of the quadrangle.
‘Why doesn’t Werzy invite us over to hang out with her mates?’ Brad would ask from time to time.
They would laugh and hug each other, even hold hands as they walked to period five after lunch. It was then that I first thought Werzy might be a lesbian.
‘Did you know Tina Westbourne is intimately allied with that young and hirsute PE teacher, Mr King? It’s ridiculously clandestine and she has unmitigatedly succumbed to limerence. It’s quite disconcerting,’ said Werzy one afternoon after school as we divided up the rest of the milk left in the fridge. ‘He’s a certified philanderer. An interloper of the worst kind,’ she continued, with spittle forming a line of ebullition along the lower labium of her mouth. She was optically verdant and beastly, and clearly jealous of Mr King’s success.
By the time we reached Year 12 Werzy got over Tina Westbourne by having several sexual dalliances with other girls — and I was still a virgin! On the night of the graduation formal she called Mum and Dad and me into the loungeroom to announce that she was a man trapped inside a female body. I was discombobulated, and didn’t know whether to say, ‘Sure bro!’ or ask, ‘So now you’re my Uncle?’
Inside my busy mind I was reconstructing the world. I realised that Werzy wasn’t gay after all — she was a he, and therefore as heterosexual as moi. I took it all in my stride and in the car as Dad drove us to the formal it dawned on me that Werzy was now uniquely and perfectly placed to help me crack onto Tina Westbourne. Howzat that for serendipity?
Sean Crawley writes short stories, songs, non-fiction and the odd angry letter which he occasionally sends. He won the Hervey Bay Arts Council Short Story Award in 2015 and has been published online and in anthologies, the most recent being The 2016 Newcastle Short Story Award. Sean has worked in education, mental health and once owned a video shop in a dying town. He writes early in the morning at his desk currently located on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.