Southerly by David Haywood


Letter from a Beautiful Berton Sister

I like a happy ending. In fact, a visitor perusing my bookshelves can easily identify the books that end well. A Room with a View and High Fidelity and A Patchwork Planet and all of Austen are dog-eared and sellotaped-up from being read so often. Jude the Obscure, on the other hand, sits in near-virgin condition in the 'H' section, read exactly once, when I was 19.

I do realize, of course, that happy endings usually occur only in fiction. In the real world, Stalin and Franco died in their beds, and the New Zealand Herald still employs Garth George as a columnist. Unfortunately, as a general rule, the bad end happily in life, and the good unhappily. That, as Oscar Wilde nearly said, is what non-fiction means.

The ending of one of my own bits of non-fiction seems to have frustrated a few people. The essay 'The Beautiful Berton Sisters' in My First Stabbing describes how my friend Jonathan -- a humble wood-cutter's son from Totara North -- ended up with the beautiful Sarah Berton, a goddess with astoundingly excellent hair.

I've counted more than a dozen emails complaining about the ending to this piece. And even one actual physical letter from an 84-year-old, no less. In indignant-looking copperplate, she writes:

Come, come, Dr Haywood. You can hardly leave us hanging like that. Did Jonathan and Sarah get married and produce beautiful children? Your audience demands an answer!

Well, I hate to bring my audience down. I'd really prefer not to say. Although, for people who simply must know, I can provide a slight clue: the answer is an anagram of the word 'on'.

You see? Non-fiction really does suck when it comes to endings. Even my friend Gschwendtner, a normally optimistic guy, became sorrowful when I broke the news to him. "Oh, this reminds me of entropy," he said. "How we will all die. Even the universe."

But then, a week or so ago -- entirely unexpectedly -- I received a communique from Sarah's sister, Susan Berton. Not, I'm pleased to report, a letter from her lawyer (as I'd often feared might happen); but instead, a rather nice email, saying that she'd read the piece and enjoyed it, and providing a brief update on the lives of her beautiful sisters.

Susan, as some of you may remember, had also been mentioned in my essay:

Susan was the youngest of the Berton sisters... she was not only extremely cute, but she also had copious quantities of X-factor. Men used to fall for her like they'd been pole-axed. She worked in a pizza shop, and -- on one single day -- she once had three different men profess their love for her: a delivery boy, a co-worker, and a guy in Wellington who phoned about a yeast order. That's right, she had so much X-factor that it could travel down telephone lines as far as the lower North Island.

In her missive to me, Susan finished up by giving a few details of her post-essay life (as it were). One particular passage leapt from the page:

It so happens that I am still in love with the guy in Wellington who phoned about the yeast order -- and we have created [a daughter], who is about to go to Intermediate School.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I present the rarest jewel of real life -- a genuine happy ending.

David Haywood is the author of the book 'The New Zealand Reserve Bank Annual 2010'.

(Click here to find out more)

His previous book 'My First Stabbing' is available here.

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