‘I’ve received the name he’s given you,’ Margaret says, smiling familiarly as if she’s known her all her life – which is literally true. Margaret waits expectantly for her reaction. Although what that should be is unclear.
‘My name?’ the girl asks, mystified. ‘My name is Amanda.’
‘Yes, well dear, that was just between the two of us, to make it easier to chat. I’ve been calling all of you Amanda, until we’re given the actual name.’
‘Oh,’ she replies. The sense of self she has been building is destabilised, as if the foundations had shifted overnight. She had no idea that this vital part of her identity had been provisional.
They are sitting together on a wooden bench under the shade from a Jacaranda tree. Above them bends a high clear atrium and above that, shut out by the glass, the distant cloudless sky. Margaret likes to take her here. It’s a favourite space of hers because of the sense of being outside without the flattening heat. In the absence of knowing any better, it has become hers too.
A bank of lobelia overhangs her shoulder and taking a handful between her fingers, she plucks anxiously at the orange heads, scattering the torn petals.
‘Well, don’t you want to hear what it is?’ The girl’s head is bowed and Margaret peers under her hair. Unable to hold onto her secret any longer, she tells her, ‘Evelyn. You’re to be Evelyn.’ Her excitement overflows into her voice, so that the collection of syllables emerge in an enthusiastic peep.
‘Eve-el-lyn,’ the girl repeats to herself, her tongue forming itself around each unit of pronunciation. Her fingers take hold of a bunch of lobelia stalks and she rips them free from the earth, crumbs of moist soil dropping in her lap.
‘Well? What do you think? Do you like it? Does it feel like little old you?’ Margaret asks, Margaret being her name, Margaret having always been her name and not something anyone is expecting her to change.
‘I’m not sure,’ Evelyn says.
‘I thought you’d be excited. It’s a sign you’ll soon be able to graduate.’ And when Evelyn still fails to look thrilled, continues, ‘You should be glad. Evelyn is a gorgeous name.’
‘Listen dear, trust me, it could have been far worse. They’re entitled to come up with whatever they like and you wouldn’t believe the ideas we hear. Evelyn, on the other hand, is sophisticated, grown-up. It rolls off the tongue. It possesses a maturity that you can grow into.’
‘I’ll try my best, Margaret,’ Evelyn replies with a note of resignation. She repeats her new name inside her head – E-velyn, Eve-lyn, Evel-yn – getting the hang of the cadence, so that when she uses it next, it will come out straight ...
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