Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle

from Autobiography of a Marguerite


The doctor just said there was no cause and no81 cure, and if I didn’t take those drugs I would end up in a wheelchair82

I felt embarrassed when I had to buy food,

The first time I wore my mother’s shoes, I broke my ankle

My sister wanted a ride to school but my mother said no, because there was nothing wrong with her and she needed the exercise

She felt sick so she didn’t eat and then she felt sick from not eating,

Sometimes, at school, people would ask me83 what was wrong and I would say, Nothing, this is just my face

81 The heat’s oppressive, all the windows are wide open and there’s not a breath of air.
82 The door shuts.
83 A woman with a sallow complexion, slim, not beautiful, but interesting.



Once, in the middle of a dinner party, she left the table and drove home because he wouldn’t stop flirting with the host

My father had planned to take my sister and I to Europe at the end of the year and my sister said, I’m sorry but it seems unfair if we have to cancel just because you can’t travel,

At my uncle’s house we84 weren’t allowed to have friends over

My mother was too sick85 to stay and had to come back to New Zealand,

For my86 birthday my mother bought me a canary cage—she said, when you’re better, I’ll buy you a canary

84 In the night the void of absence is vast.
85 The room is empty. The only furniture is two chairs and a table.
86 She puts the black silk over her face. She says, “I’m a writer.”



I stopped reading and writing for a year afterwards,87

My mother made us go on a long hike in terrible weather

She struggled88 to cope with

I was so angry with her that I tried to make myself faint, in protest

My sister and I were sitting in our room listening to them shouting, we knew that we couldn’t leave our room for a while—I was eating an apple and thought, I should have more snacks in my room for situations like these

But she still felt like she didn’t know what she wanted to do in her life:89

87 It’s dark. I can’t see the words I’ve written anymore.
88 Like a swimmer caught between a mudbank and a rock.
89 “Are you afraid? Afraid of yourself?”



By Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle

lives in Auckland. Her first book, Autobiography of a Marguerite, has recently been published by Hue & Cry Press. The footnotes in the work here use found material from novels by Marguerite Duras and Marguerite Yourcenar.