The ballad of Kenny Mudford

By Lissa Mitchell

(This story won first prize in the Eastern Writers Group 1998
Biggest Little Short Story competition )

Kenny Mudford was found naked and face down in a storm
drain near his home in Rockhampton. He was eight years old.
The TV news showed a picture of Kenny as I had never seen
him-with his hair brushed and his nose clean. I was eight years
old too and went to the same school.

We were in the fourth-grade class. I was top and Kenny was
bottom. He was little and brown with white-blond curly hair and
scabby skin. His feet were broad and very tough and he always
wore the regulation grey school shorts and shirt, even on weekends.

Kenny lived in a falling-down house on the outskirts of town-
the Aboriginal area-with too many skinny, blond, curly-headed
brothers and sisters. Most days he came to school with no lunch
and no money to buy any.

I didn’t like Kenny Mudford. He snivelled and stank, hung his
head and twisted his dirty feet around his sore-covered legs. Apart
from his death, I remember only two things about him.

The first happened in religious education class. The Methodist
minister asked us, “On what day was Christ crucified?” And of all
the hands raised to answer, he chose Kenny’s.

“What do you want to pick him for?” Craig called from the back
of the room. “He doesn’t know anything.”

The minister was a mild man, so it frightened us to see him
suddenly angry.

“Everyone knows something, even Kenny Mudford,” he boomed.

“What’s your name?” he asked Kenny.

“Kenny Mudford,” Kenny replied.

“What’s your address?”

Kenny gave it.

“How old are you?”


“You see, he does know something,” said the minister. “And if
he can learn those things, he can learn anything.”

He smiled down and rested a priestly hand on Kenny’s head.
The class was silent, impressed more by the minister’s unsuspected
temper than by Kenny’s display of intellect. But Kenny
beamed up at the man as though he was Jesus come down from
the cross. That was the first time I saw Kenny smile.

The second time Kenny smiled was when I drew kisses on his Christmas
card by mistake. Crosses always went on girls’ cards, but you
didn’t put them on a boy’s unless he was your boyfriend. I don’t
know how I ended up putting kisses on Kenny’s.

My hot-cheeked denials made no difference to Kenny. After all,
he had the evidence. Three small crosses right under my name. He
would have shown them to every kid in the school, if it hadn’t been
for Craig.

“I reckon you drew them on yourself,” Craig said, and Kenny’s
fifteen minutes of fame was over. But afterwards I would glance up
during class to find Kenny staring at me. I always looked away.

So you see, it’s not hard for me to imagine how Kenny Mudford
ended up in that ditch. All you had to do was take notice of him,
even by accident, and he thought it was love.