Tag Archives: Fault Lines

Drift, Elizabeth Laird

The screen door rattled in its frame as Chris’s footsteps ground along the gravel path past the kitchen window.

‘Geez he can disappear quick,’ Angela muttered to the empty bowl and the newspaper, spread like a drop-sheet round her place-mat. She finished her coffee dregs and shuffled the paper into some random order, put the dishes in the sink and headed to the bathroom. Leaning into the mirror, she bared her teeth at the reflection, hastily applied a toothbrush, smear of lip-gloss, dash of mascara and just thirteen minutes after Chris, stepped out into a sullen Monday morning. The hydrangea wet her side as she pushed past the lanky branches poised halfway across the side passage. They had been just waiting to off-load their soaking cargo of drizzle. She sighed. Chris swore that he was going to borrow Mick’s hedge-clippers and open up the path to the front door. Even he said Mr Kurtz would have trouble negotiating the jungle that flourished there.

Having to use the door off the kitchen instead of the one at the front of the house was the problem. The old brick semi was a bit of a basket case in its layout. The room at the front of the house, the one with the front door in it, was going to be The Baby’s Room. That was what Angela and Chris called it when they bought the place five years ago. Instead the room was full – with Chris’s bicycle with the mangled front wheel, Angela’s kayak that needed patching after a rock oyster rendezvous, Chris’s surfboard, unused since his new job at Hamer and Wiley Lawyers devoured his free time, plus numerous boxes of unsorted paperwork and paraphernalia. The door was closed on the junk and the promise of a baby, it seemed.

Angela pulled her coat tighter and tucked her hands under her arms as she ran through the restaurant’s menu in her head. Dodging a dog turd on the footpath, she hoped the tram was on time. Sue would have a fit if she was late to work again. She pulled out her phone to Google ‘Chez’. The tram trundled into view, sparks flashing on the power line in the dingy light. Angela wondered, as she stepped into the commuting scrum, when Chris had become so ungenerous, with his money, his time, his Chris-ness; that package of a man who had looked at her with such hunger. She fumbled in the chaos of her handbag, finding her pass as the tram lurched into a sweeping bend that sent her untethered body careering into a sneering school kid. When had that hunger waned? She shivered as she recalled the press of his hands as they delved her flesh and his mouth’s ravenous explorations; those eyes that searched so deep that the rest of the world could evaporate in that moment. All that seemed like a lifetime ago. Now those eyes averted, were cast down or looked straight through her. When had the indifference become so normal that she hadn’t even noticed it happening?

Where’s the spark?, she thought, releasing a stifled groan hastily transformed into a cough to divert the stare of the woman next to her. She stepped down and faced the thirty-minute uphill walk to the dog shelter. As the tram disappeared over the rise she realised she’d left yet another umbrella, the third in six weeks, on the tram. And then the sky opened.

As her shoes began to make squelching complaints, Angela reflected on this morning’s breakfast. It felt like some blooper outtake from a sitcom, the kind of ‘Special Feature’ that came in the DVD boxed set edition brought out in time to capture the Christmas retail frenzy. The laugh track was missing however. The clichés just felt unnerving. She re-ran the opening scene in her head:

‘What’ll we do Wednesday night?’ she had asked, as she poured the milk over her cereal. She watched, dismayed as it rebounded off an upturned flake and sent a jet onto the table.

‘Why? What’s Wednesday night?’ Standing at the kitchen bench, Chris looked up from studying headlines on his iPad. He flipped the cover closed with a slap and watched Angela mop at the puddle.

‘Our wedding anniversary. Eight years of wedded bliss.’ Her voice pitched up on the final syllable. She flung the cloth at the sink and it gave a squelch as it hit the cupboard door and slid to the floor.

‘Oh yeah. Er, the pub? Wednesday’s two for one deal,’ said Chris. He turned away as he picked up the cloth and rinsed it.

‘Aww,’ Angela squawked. Chris flinched at the childish whinge. ‘Couldn’t we do something besides the pub? What about Mario’s, or Thai Dyed, or that French place up on Newland Street, Chez something-or-other?’

Chris slumped into the dining chair, not made for such a casual pose, with its rigid, high back. He tapped his middle finger on the table like a distracted woodpecker. With his eyes squeezed into slits, he imagined the scene before him filmed from inside a post box. He was a spy, an observer of this life that was surely someone else’s. He suddenly felt the urge to escape. He watched Angela chomp on her cornflakes and released a sigh across the table.

‘Wha?’ she said, displaying the mashed cereal and a dribble of milk.

‘Nothing. You book, I don’t mind. I’ll be late tonight. Catching Mick and Andrew for a beer or six after work,’ Chris said. He grabbed his brief case and pulled open the front door. Angela swallowed and opened her mouth to comment.

His footsteps this morning had echoed like the closing bars of some avant-garde symphony; novel sounds met with enthusiastic applause and total incomprehension by a bewildered audience.

‘I need some kind of Inspector Gadget attachment on my shoulder or head,’ Angela whined to Sue when she finally got to the office with a soaking coat and a forehead curl dispensing a trickle down her face, taking her mascara with it.

‘Excuse me? Inspector Who?’ Sue was stacking the clinic shelves with worming tablets and hadn’t bothered to turn to look at Angela.

‘You know, Inspector Gadget. He has all these helpful gadgets in his hat and coat and stuff. I can’t seem to own an umbrella for more than a week these days.’ Angela was struggling to extricate herself from the clinging coat. Sue pursed her lips as she turned and watched the spray settle over everything like one of the dogs out in the kennels had sent a squall across the room.

‘Maybe I need to build one into my…’ Angela’s voice petered into awkward silence as she noted the frown and the mess. She grabbed the roll of paper towel and swished ineffectually over the floor, bench and cupboards and sidled to her desk.

 *

‘Coming to training Wednesday?’ Andrew asked as he manoeuvered the tray laden with beers and a bowl of chips onto the table. The pub was busy for a Monday night and he pulled his stool in closer to the table to hear Chris’s reply over the din. Chris looked up from his phone screen.

‘Yeah, ah, no. It’s me and Angela’s anniversary. She’s booked that fancy French joint up on Newland Street. Probably cost a fortune.’

‘Man, you’re a tight-arse. She deserves a nice night out for putting up with you for another bloody year.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Chris thrust out his chin.

‘Well, you’re hardly the most romantic bloke I know.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Nothing. I’ll be back.’ Andrew headed to the toilets and Chris looked at Mick with a what-was-that-about shrug. They both reached for a chip.

‘Mate, I’d rather be at footy training,’ Chris moped as he ran his finger down the condensation on his glass.

‘Geez Chris. Andrew’s right. It’s a night out with your wife, not root canal.’

‘Anniversaries are like that Auntie you only saw once a year at Christmas when you were a kid.’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Mick.

‘You know, it was all like ‘Ooh, look how much you’ve grown’. The other 364 days is like your parents who see you every day and don’t notice the changes. Then Auntie pops up once a year and sees the two inches you’ve grown painstakingly over the last twelve months and makes out like it happened overnight. Ange and me, we’re just drifting away from each other and then come 25th of July each year, I suddenly see the distance.’

‘What distance? You two are great together.’

‘Who two?’ asked Andrew, returning to the table and picking up his beer.

‘Chris is having a whinge about him and Angela. Reckons Ange is like his Auntie.’

‘I didn’t say that Mick, you idiot. I said anniversaries are like my once-a-year Auntie. Look. Forget it. She drives me nuts though.’

‘Who?’ asked Andrew, ‘your Auntie?’

‘Oh for God’s sake! Angela, Angela drives me crazy. She loses her keys every day. She forgets what night I train. It’s been the same night for the past three years. She eats with her mouth open, the paper looks like it’s been through the shredder by the time she’s finished with it. She sticks these obscure pop culture references into every second thing she says. She’s got more band tee shirts than you can poke a stick at. That stupid job of hers pays peanuts and she’s always bringing home one or other of the dogs for respite, she calls it. What’s the point of an Accounting Degree if you’re going to waste it working for a dog shelter?’ Chris noted how shrill he sounded and for the second time that day, felt the urge to escape.

‘Whoa mate. Calm down.’ Andrew reached over the table and grasped Chris’s shoulder. ‘Ange loves that job. If it weren’t for people like her, there would be no shelter and all those dogs’d be put down. And she loves her music. So what if she wants to wear that on her tee shirt. Chris, what’s going on with you and Angela?’

‘I’m fucked if I know. Eight years, and two before that when we were going out.’ Chris’ voice faltered as he struggled to find some context for a problem he couldn’t clarify.

Mick shuffled the stool round the table so it was closer to Chris’. ‘Yes mate, eight years. Are you telling us that you’re gonna throw all that away? Because she eats with her mouth open and owns too many tee shirts?’

‘I don’t know what I’m saying. I just know that I’m unhappy. But the stupid thing is, I don’t even know it ‘til my bloody anniversary comes round and I realise I have to force myself to do something special for Angela and it feels like some mammoth effort.’

Is that what married couples do? he thought as he pressed his fingers into his forehead. We work, eat, sleep, get up, do it all again. Going through the motions. Once I couldn’t keep my hands off her; now I don’t even see her. We were gonna travel, have kids, fix up the house, I was gonna make partner. Images from a misplaced future bombarded his thoughts.

‘Where’s my bloody Machu Picchu?’ he said out loud. Oh God! he thought. Now I sound like a raving loony. His fringe flopped over one eye. He stared at his friends like a sleepwalker waking mid nightmare.

‘Mick, get us another round mate,’ said Andrew. He downed the dregs in his glass and stacked it onto the five others perched on the tray. ‘I remember that day Chris.’

‘What day?’

‘Your wedding day, you moron. You were both so bloody happy. All those things you are whinging about are all the things you loved about her; her scattiness, her sense of humour, her passion for her work. You’ve changed a bit, just quietly.’ Chris looked up with a chip poised halfway to his mouth. ‘This new job for a start, you’re making a packet but you still complain like you’re a student living off two-minute noodles. You work every minute God sends you and you don’t do anything.’ Andrew brought his hand down on the table and the stack of glasses clinked and shook.

‘Whadya mean? I play footy, I ride my bike.’

‘Mate, you haven’t ridden your bike since you pranged it two years ago and I don’t mean you, I mean you and Angela. She rang Michelle the other week to go to a gig with her. You’re thirty-two years old, you’ve got a great job, plenty of moolah. Can’t you loosen up and live a little?’ Andrew moved the tray onto the empty table next to them to make room for the new glasses.

‘I thought I was having a few beers after work with my mates. I didn’t know I was going to be nominated for Arsehole of the Year.’ Chris finished tearing the coaster into a spiral and chucked it onto the table.

‘I am not calling you an arsehole, you dickhead,’ said Andrew with a grin. Mick returned with the beers and they drank in silence.

Andrew broke the awkward pause. ‘See you at training Mick. Chris, Ange is a great girl. Get your head out of your bum and make it work hey. Enjoy Wednesday night.’ He gave Chris and Mick a gentle thump then strolled towards the door.

‘I better head off too Chris. Big presentation tomorrow. Take it easy mate. You and Angela will be fine. You two are solid.’ Mick followed Andrew onto the street.

Chris tilted his head, closed one eye and watched the bubbles rising through his lager. He didn’t like examining his own life. He knew he was pretty good at dissecting other people’s but his was just fine if he didn’t look too close. He and Angela didn’t fight. They didn’t even argue much. When had he stopped loving her? A continental drift moved them apart. He could hardly see her standing on the far shore, waving, grinning, and spilling her breakfast. The realisation felt like a punch. ‘Now what?’ he muttered.

 *

Angela ran her fingers down the wine glass and grasped the stem. I wonder if I get the habit from Chris, or if he got it off me? she thought as she watched the trail appear through the condensation. The candle flame wavered as she tapped her foot against the table leg and reached for the menu again.

‘No, I’m fine thanks,’ she answered the hovering waiter as she checked her watch for the millionth time. Her phone sat in silence on the napkin she had taken from her lap and placed in front of her. She hit the button and the image of Chris and her grinned out of the screen. Just how she could have missed a call or text when the phone was under her nose was unknown and she felt the welling desperation in the action even as she did it. When half an hour turned to 40 minutes, then 45, she snatched up the phone. ‘Yeah, it’s me. Give me a call so I know you’re ok and how long you’re gonna be. Want me to order you a drink? Anyway, wondering if I should start calling hospitals. Yeah, er, call me.’

‘Shit.’ It came out like a slow leak from a tyre. What if he had forgotten or worse, decided that football training was more important. Angela glanced at the door through the mood lit couples and the gentle chinking of cutlery on plates. There was only a twenty-dollar note in her wallet, a bit extravagant for one glass of Sav Blanc. She couldn’t bring herself to face the waiter so slipped it under the base of the glass and stepped in silence out into the neon strip. The air was cold but she walked anyway. It would give her time to think but her mind numbed to blankness after she had reconsidered the possibilities one more time.

The house was hunkered in darkness as she fumbled in her bag for the key. A shudder passed through her and she opened the door. She swung her handbag onto the bench, her keys jangled to the floor and she turned and flicked on the kitchen lights. She froze and felt her skin burn as fear hit her body.

Then she registered that the figure sitting at the table was Chris. Wearing his new shirt, smelling of aftershave and hair gel, he raised his face from where it rested in his hands and turned to look at her.

 

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The Great Divide, Antony Pincombe

The events of my childhood in Broken Hill shine like a beacon, yet events that happened only yesterday fade and blur. I am aging. The past seems haphazard, a passing haze of scratchy moving pictures. But the memories of my early childhood are as vivid as a Van Gogh. One day in particular stands out. My recollection is like a scene from a movie, it is 1966…

I was walking toward Lee’s house across the road from my own. A little button nose, followed by big brown eyes, a tangle of black curly hair, peek around the fence post. Dana Lee, small, brown skinned, with a mischievous grin, was peeking at me. She was spying, on me, Aiden Shanahan, the boy with a shock of blonde hair. I was six years old, Dana five. Her head poked out, then quickly ducked back. I knew she was there but we both loved the game. The moment arrived, Dana sprung, catching me in a hug. We both giggled, I grabbed Dana’s hand and we walked into her yard.

I see Tara Lee, Dana’s mother, a tall slender woman with long dark hair, tending Dana’s little brother, Robert. He puts rocks in his mouth. I want to ask Mrs Lee if I can take Dana for her first day of school. I am nervously chewing my golden fringe, almost stuttering as I ask the question. I shifted nervously from foot to foot, furiously searching Mrs Lee’s face.

She frowned and looked at me.

‘I don’t know Aiden.’

‘Please Mrs Lee, I can get the other kids to like her.’

A fist lands in my tummy and I double over. I look at Dana and she is glaring at me. Gosh girls can be funny sometimes.

‘Cor Dana, what was that for?’

‘Mind your manners Aidie.’

I also notice Mrs Lee’s face. If she could have gone white she would’ve.

‘What do you mean Aiden?’

‘She ain’t gonna know anybody. I can tell her who they are,’ I say, my brow beetling.

I am nervously balling my fists. Mrs Lee purses her lips and looks me in the eye. Robert has discarded the rock for a wriggly worm.

‘I’m sure you do Aiden. Don’t you think it’d be a better if I took Dana on her first day? Not all the gubbas will like it.’

I scratch my head trying to understand, maybe I missed something here.

‘Oh! You can come along too Mrs Lee,’ I say eyes wide, my grin almost splitting my face.

‘Please Mum! Aiden’ll take care of me, please!’ Dana’s face is all screwed up.

Mrs Lee smiles and I feel we’re winning the game. But then a dark look comes over her face and I see a shiver run down her body.

‘Aiden, do you remember what happened with Ted Ford last week?’

****

I sit here on my porch, my mind meandering to the incident in question. Tara was tending Robert in the front yard, Dana and I were playing in the middle of Mercury St. I was laughing, pointing ball in hand at Robert, who was eating a beetle. Dana laughed too. I saw Ted Ford, a local from a few blocks away, swerve down the street. Ted was drunk. I could smell the alcohol fumes leeching from his body, the closer he got. My father used to smell like that every Friday night. Dana and I moved off the road behind Lee’s fence. He stopped and looked at Tara Lee behind the fence, protectively hugging Robert to her breast. He glared at her with pure hatred in his bleary eyes; a grotesque expression consumed his face. ‘Yer bloody boongs. Who asked yous to live here? I sure as hell didn’t. Why don’t yous black cunts get the fuck back to yer humpies where yous belong? Just fuck off!’ I was so frightened that day. Dana said later, her father, Nick, had a word with Ted but people like him don’t change.

I see myself a little boy cringing and looking forlornly in Tara’s eyes, I was close to tears.
Standing in front of Tara Lee almost in tears. Dana hugging me.

‘It’s alright Aidie, Mr Ford isn’t here now.’

‘I’m sorry Mrs Lee, me mum says Mr Ford’s a nasty drunk, she don’t like him.’

‘Aiden not all gubbas are like your mum.’

My mother was special, all the neighbours loved her. Mum always said ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’

As if the clouds had blown away leaving an azure sky, I watched as Tara Lee on bent knee smiled and ruffled Robert’s head. She promised to talk to her husband Nick. He was an easy going bloke and he nearly always gave in to Dana and I. The look in Dana’s eyes had the same glint, that must have been in mine. She was giggling and telling me how much she wanted us to go to school together. We had been inseparable before I went to school the year before. Dana hugged me. I pinched her cheek playfully. We ran off to play on the black bitumen of the wide road. There was little chance of being hit by a car unless Cowboy Jackson left the pub early. Cowboy Jackson, the Railwaytown drunk, drove an old black 1930’s Ford. Very badly. So badly, he once managed to hit a tree in Mercury St on the opposite side of the road. Cowboy was doing what we called the ‘snake slide’. This is where a car is driven in a swerving motion to the right and left across the road. We were always off the road by five o’clock when Cowboy left the pub. Rows of kids would line the street yelling encouragement to old Cowboy every evening, ‘you go Mr Jackson’, ‘watch the tree Mr Jackson’. If he’d been black he would have been arrested.

Dana and I stand nervously in front of Nick Lee. He looks a bit like the British actor, Dirk Bogarde, a fact not lost on many of the neighbourhood girls.

‘So you wanna take me daughter to school tomorrow Aidie?’

‘Strewth, Nick ya know I do,’ I say, eyes wide.

‘Cheeky little beggar, it’s Mr Lee to you,’ I can see Nick smiling behind the hand.

‘Sorry Nick, I mean Mr Lee.’ I am fidgety, I don’t get nervous like this playing in the footy grand final.

****

Nick Lee said ‘yes’, of course he did. Dana and I danced around like a pair of whirling dervishes. I remember Dana yelling, ‘Yeh! Aidie yer takin’ me to school,’ we ran off into the road. At that moment my brother Gerry and our friend Bear emerged from my front gate. Gerry is four and Bear, who’s real name was Ronny Tines, is the same age as me. Ronny got the nickname because he was a big solid kid with dark shaggy hair.

‘Dana, here’s Gerr and Bear,’

‘Gidday,’

‘Gidday Dana,’ yell Bear and Gerry as they approach.

‘You guys wanna play brandy, hidey or hopscotch?’

‘I’m for brandy,’ from Bear.

‘Hidey,’ from Gerry.

‘Hopscotch,’ from Dana.

‘Crikey, we won’t get ter play anything if you all wanna play different games.’

Suddenly a voice splits the summer haze.

‘Yous a loser Shanahan, you and yer boong Piccyninny.’ The voice is Teddy Ford’s, Ted Ford’s son, and he is accompanied by his best mate Johnny Butcher. Bear turns toward the two new arrivals, his face red, he has a furious look in his eyes. Ford and Butcher are just not bright enough get the picture. A primeval growl escapes Bear’s mouth and suddenly the boys get the message and back away.

‘S’ok Bear they’re just idiots.’

‘I know Aidie but they always pick on Dana and I don’t like it.’

‘Bear you’re my hero,’ Dana hugs Bear.

‘Johnny Butcher and Teddy Ford, don’t you think it’s about time you got home for tea?’
Good old Mum. I don’t know how many times she saved the day. The sun crept slowly down the horizon. Painting the sky pink and purple, the land red and black as the golden orb descended between the two. Tomorrow was a land far away, a dream-time phantom, a new dance for a new day.

****

I wake very early and raise Gerry from his comfy bed.

‘Aw, Aidie can’t I stop in?’

‘Nup, gotta get used to it Gerr, you go to school next year ya know.’

‘At’s nex year Aidie, not now.’

I am chewing my fringe, all nervous energy and anticipation.

‘Sure is Gerr, but I’m takin’ Dana to school for her first day.’

‘Cor really!’ says Gerry rubbing his eyes.

‘Yep. I gotta be on havior Gerr.’

‘Mum says we gotta be on havour all time Aidie.’

‘Yeah well, I ain’t one of the saints Father Leo keeps on about Gerr.’ Father Leo is the priest at St Marys Catholic Church, which we Shanahan’s attend.

‘Dunno about no sains Aidie,’ says Gerry screwing up his face.

‘S.A.I.N.T.S. Not sains.’

‘How’d yer know that.’

‘Father Leo, bloody hell, Gerr.’

‘If yer don’ stop swearin’, mum won’t let yer go ter school, Aidie.’

All of a suddenly I am frightened, I can feel the colour draining from my face.

‘Strike me Gerr, yer could be right. C’mon let’s get goin’.’

We ran from the sleep-out to the kitchen where Bonnie Shanahan, our mum, is making breakfast. Mum was a grey haired, small sparrow of a woman with hazel eyes. She always seem to know what we’d been up to. She looked up from the stove as we entered the kitchen and smiled, giving us both a hug and went back to the stove.

‘Start of school today Aidie, I see you’re ready to go.’

‘Yeah mum. Have to get Dana and her mum soon.’

I see tears running down mum’s cheeks and I ask her what’s wrong.

‘Nothing Aidie, I’m just proud of you son. There’s time still Adie, not even eight yet. It’s only a five minute walk after all.’

Mum is smiling while tending the sausages and eggs. I think ‘aren’t old people strange’ but forget about it almost immediately.

‘Yeah, but we wanna get there early so Dana can see the other kids,’ I say eagerly.

‘Fair enough Aidie. Sausage anyone.’

Mum always bought Hannigan’s sausages, the best in Broken Hill.

‘Yum!’ Gerry and I both yell.

****

It was February in Broken Hill, as the sun rose high, heat shimmered on the black bitumen. Kids emerged from houses all along Mercury Street in school uniform. I walked over to Dana’s house as she, her mum and Robert, emerge from the front door. Dana ran to meet me.

‘Cor Dana, the school dress is real nice on yer.’

‘Ta Aidie,’ she beamed.

We started our journey to school in high spirits. The school was next to the church, one street over from ours, on Gypsum St. The school yard was bitumen hemmed in by native pepper pod trees. Kids streamed toward the school. Women dressed in white Nun’s habits stood at the school gate. As we approached, several boys broke from a group near the pepper tree at the entrance of the school.

One of the boys, Pat Waters, was a sort of cousin. Pat was unofficial head kid at St Mary’s school. Even though he was only in grade one, he was one of the biggest kids at St Marys, which went to grade three. Tara Lee stopped at the gate and talked to sister Mary Helena, a crow of a nun with a pinched mouth, hooked nose and sharp beady eyes. She might have looked like the wicked witch but she was really quite sweet.

‘I hope Dana will be ok Sister.’

‘Don’t worry Tara. She’ll be in Sister Mary Maximilian’s class. She’s a very gentle Nun. She’ll make Dana welcome.’

‘Thank You, Sister,’ a small smile crossed Tara’s worried face.

‘Don’t thank me, thank them.’ The old nun was smiling as she pointed.

We were playing not far away and I heard everything Sister and Tara said. In that moment I was filled up like a big balloon with a fuzzy sort of feeling. They were both looking at us playing with a group of other kids. With a last wave Tara Lee turned and walked back along Gypsum St pushing the effusive Robert. I saw there were tears in her eyes and thought big people were weird. I looked at Dana and she was as happy as a sleepy lizard in the sun, I think she’d forgotten her mum already.

****

In my daydream I see Teddy Ford and Johnny Butcher approach the group of kids we are playing with. Butcher’s father was a copper, renowned for beating up black fellas. He and Ford are in grade three, two grades above Pat and I.

‘So yer brought yer picaninny ter school did yer Shanahan,’ says Ford, the smaller boy, with an ugly sneer.

‘What do yer want Teddy?’

‘I’m gonna give you and yer picaninny a kickin’,’

Butcher, a big lad, lunged at Dana with an itchy powder pod, from a Pepper tree, in his hand. Itchy powder doesn’t just itch, it burns and can leave nasty scars. He threw powder all over Dana. Immediately she started to itch and burn, her face reddened and the visible skin started to blister.

To her credit Dana just glared at him. But soon there were tears in her eyes.

‘What did I ever do to you, Johnny?’

I was angry as hell but I wasn’t the first to react. Pat quick as a flash turned Butcher around to face him and punched him in the mush. Butcher dropped on his bum, Pat removed an itchy powder pod from the tree and poured it down Butcher’s back.

‘Take that yer bugger, see how you like it,’ said Pat.

Butcher started to scream and writhe on the ground. By this time I had Teddy Ford in a headlock wrestling on the ground. Teddy was a bully. As with most bullies, he was a coward and was already calling dibs. Sister Mary Helena saw the brawl and told us to knock it off. The result was a visit to Sister after class and a hot hand from a deadly cane. The bell sounded and children all over the playground moved toward the classrooms. Dana picked herself up, bearing her pain, she fronted Teddy Ford.

‘Teddy, me mum says if yer say nasty things about people, it’ll come back ta bite yer bum.’

She nodded and walked off with Pat and I, leaving Teddy stunned.

‘Yer sure told him good Dana,’ said Pat

‘Aidie my skins burnin’,’ said Dana with tears running down her cheeks.

I looked at Dana’s skin and it had started to blister badly.

‘We’d better hurry and wash the itchy powder off, Dana. Let’s run.’

Dana gave a big nod of her curly head and we all ran toward class.

The suns beats unrelentingly down on the black asphalt, heat spirits play and cavort as moisture leaches from the earth. Memory clouds softly close around the events of a time far away. Sitting on my verandah my reverie is broken by my companion who asks me, ‘you having a bet in the cup?’

 

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Flowers and Tea, Grace Mitchell

‘You useless woman.’

The voice resounded through the café and rang through her brain, opening up the doors to the memories she had long ago tried to forget.

The small ornate tables and the talking customers disappeared as the café was overtaken by grass, leaving Samantha standing confused and bewildered in a field. Hearing the voice, she turned around, only to see her father and mother on top of a nearby tall, grassy hill. They seemed to be both smiling and waving down at her. Dazed, she found herself smiling and waving back. The smiles on their faces seemed to glitch for a second into the look of anger on her father’s face and fear on her mother’s. They instantly turned back into smiles as though nothing had really happened. Just as children would, her father pushed her mother down the hill and her mother joyfully rolled down the grassy knoll. With a large smile upon her face, she rolled down to where Samantha was standing. There she landed, though not as a bundle of joy like a child who was playing, but as a messy heap with her arm at an angle that an arm shouldn’t naturally be in.

Looking into the fearful and weeping eyes of her mother, Samantha felt her gaze rising to see her father. There he stood menacingly above her, on the top of what was no longer a grassy hill but an old splintery wooden staircase. He stared at her for a moment before walking away, leaving her bruised and battered mother to find help by herself. Samantha wanted to pick up her mother and help her, but she looked at her hands only to find they were too small to ever help move an adult. In fact, her whole body was too small to help her mother; she was just too young. So she did the only thing she could do and sought a way out of this horror. There to the right she saw a darkened door; it didn’t seem to fit with the old house. So she ran to it and pushed it open with all the strength that her five year old self had. Stumbling on to the other side of the doorway, she found herself out of the memory and back to her twenty year old body. Not only that but when she looked around, she found herself in an ancient wooden corridor that was lined with dark wooden doors.

Tree roots showed through the floorboards and the more she looked, it felt like she could feel her mind tear and warp just like the wooden planks. The corridor before her looked like it went on forever, with all the tree roots and grass growing out of the wood, or maybe it really was because it did truly go on forever. Feeling drawn to one of the dark wooden doors down the corridor, she felt her feet start to move, like they had different ideas about the door than her mind did. Walking across the unsteady flooring, she saw the wooden ground under her feet start to crumble and break. Suddenly at the door, she didn’t have a moment to think about the dangers of her surroundings. Instead her hand shot out, and she let herself into another world.

Another world being her old kitchen. There was the old dirty sink filled with plates, and the fridge displaying a pathetic drawing from her six year old self. Then, of course, there was dear old Dad sitting at the table, right next to the gathering pile of bottles. Except…this time, the pile wasn’t as big. This time, half of the pile was smashed all over the floor, along with a smear of blood. It was now that Samantha suddenly realised which memory she was in. It was the night he had thrown the glass bottles at her mother, the night when…

There was her mother in the kitchen doorway, with a shotgun in her hands. The same weapon that was her right to bear. The same gun she had to protect herself from intruders, but this time it was her husband who was the trespasser. A trickle of blood came down her forehead as she stood glaring at her husband, with fire in her eyes that even devils would be scared of.

‘Harold,’ she said, announcing herself to the poor excuse of a man before her.

Samantha’s father turned around and his face instantly turned into shock, and then anger. His hand grabbed a bottle, as if to punish her insolence. ‘What are you going to do, you useless woman?’

A loud sound echoed through the kitchen as if to answer his question.

A golden flower flew out of the shotgun’s barrel and slowly careened over to Harold’s chest, where it hit in a sudden shock and then, there were petals everywhere. The petals escaped from his chest as he slowly fell to the ground. Samantha turned from her father, who looked like he had just robbed a flower shop, and then to her mother. Samantha, in shock, looked down at herself to see a petal on her dress.

She quickly turned and ran for the door, without looking back at her parents. She didn’t want to see her mother give a giant sigh of relief before finally saying the words, ‘I’m not useless.’ She didn’t want to see her father’s body give its last heave. She didn’t want to see, she didn’t want to remember.

Instead she found herself back in the hallway, which now looked like the floor was crumbling beneath her feet. Nevertheless she kept running to the next door way, which was all she could see. Back in the hallway, the part of her dress that the petal had fallen onto was now stained with the dark red of her nightmares. She needed to keep running to get away; she needed to get away in case reality wanted to make its presence known.

Swinging open the door before her, Samantha ran into a room that was dimly lit. The first thing that really that hit her though was the noise. The noise of screeches and roars. She cringed at the noise of fists pumping and hands slamming. Slowly and unsurely she walked into the dim lit room. As her eyes adjusted, she was shocked to see that the room was filled with metal cages. Cage after cage, they seemed to go on forever or at least as far as she could see. The screeches of birds and howling of monkeys were louder now she was inside, and she found her hands scrunching up the edges of her shirt. In the cage nearest to her was a big gorilla thumping his chest, making sure all that saw him knew that he was the boss here. There next to him, in her own separate cage, was the meek form of her mother.

Hands clenched tightly around the edges of her brightly coloured shirt. She seemed so pale against the bright orange that hung off her small and thin body. A small taut smile came to her face as she saw her daughter come closer to her.

‘How is school, honey?’

Samantha didn’t know how to answer. Not only was the question too ordinary for a situation that was so bizarre, she was pretty sure the last time she checked, she had graduated from high school.

‘Mum…’

‘Yes, what is it Samantha?’ Her mother said with the same kind eyes she had always had. They looked like total strangers to the rest of her body now.

‘I…I miss yo-’

A sudden barking from the next cage over made Samantha jump. Her mother’s neighbour wanted to be heard and feared, especially by little girlies like her. Samantha looked at the terrifying muscular black dog, and then back to her mum, whose eyes looked at the floor. Slowly fading into the background, only the orange suit stood out. Not wanting to see her mother disappear, Samantha felt herself running down the lines of overbearing cages. It was there at the end of the cages, she found the same familiar door waiting for her.

Grabbing the door’s handle, she pulled it open and rushed through, only to find herself in midst of a puzzle of the few pieces of mossy timbered floor left. Looking around wildly, she knew she had to get out of here. She had to get out before the whole place around her broke apart and she fell to the abyss below.

Then she saw the golden wooden door. The door that had a cute etching of a teapot on the front. Her safe place, her haven. Without a second thought, she jumped from piece to piece of the ancient wooden floor, without ever looking down or thinking about what would happen if she missed, until she was at the door that smelt of roses and tea, the smell of home.

Looking back, she found the once full of life hallway and the many doors had all disappeared around, leaving only her and this final gateway left. She didn’t care though; she only wanted to go forward anyway. Grabbing the handle, she pushed and welcomed the world before her.

The first thing she saw, of course, was the alligator. It wasn’t acting like most alligators would, as it was not only sitting cross legged on a garden chair but it also was holding a cup of tea (luckily it was an alligator, because if it was a crocodile it would surely have not liked tea, since it is made with fresh water and not salt water). It had its pinkie extended; after all, he did have manners. He did look remarkably like the soft toy she had once owned, which had stolen her heart as a child with its big toothy grin.

‘Hello Samantha, my dear,’ the alligator said politely, as he looked at his new company. ‘Please do come and take a seat.’

Samantha walked over to the garden table and chairs and sat down with a large smile upon her face. ‘It is so good to see you again Sir Reginald.’

She calmly took the spare tea cup and poured herself a cup of tea. Then she leaned back, letting the tea cool down as she took in the little garden she had walked into. There were rose bushes everywhere that scented the place so wonderfully, and the white garden seating that consisted of two seats and a small table, just seemed to come out of a Home and Gardens magazine. Then there was, of course, Sir Reginald sipping his tea slowly, looking dashing in his top hat. Samantha gave a large sigh as she relaxed in her chair. She needn’t run here.

‘So how has work been?’ Sir Reginald politely inquired.

‘Quite terrible, the other day this couple came in and-’

The teapot crashed, shattering into pieces of ceramic as the tea escaped on to the café’s floor. Samantha’s gaze had been slowly following it as it had fallen out of her hands, and then suddenly, with that loud sound, she was back to her job at the small café by the train station. Back to her reality, back to here and now. Quickly kneeling to the floor, she started to pick up the pieces of the teapot.

‘I’m so sorry.’ She said as the customers peered in to see what the large crashing sound was.

‘Why do you always make a mess of things?!’ A man’s voice broadcasted himself from halfway across the room.

Samantha looked up to see a large man harshly pulling a woman by her arm out of the café. For a second she swore she saw her father’s face but with another look, she could see it wasn’t. So she stopped, with the ceramic pieces limp in her hand for a moment, as she watched the couple walk out. It was only when they were out of sight that she went back to cleaning up the mess she had made.

After all, she had learnt a broken teapot can easily be cleaned up.

 

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