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1 A monologue
As she turned away, she said, “Really?”
She was only half a step away before a barely audible “No” tried to find a voice over the hum of the bug zapper.
“Not this time.” as she turns back around.
Her voice croaky with a level of conviction known only by one who isn’t used to saying no.
“This time will be different.”
Staring at her reflection in the dirty mirror.
Eye balling herself like a boxer facing off against their opponent.
With a little more conviction “This time will be different.”
“This time will be different.” A rhythm was building as her shoulders went back.
“This time will be different.” Her other self started to appear clearer through the lipstick smears.
As she reflected on all she had been through a long suppressed part of her broke free.
“I was born for a purpose.”
“I am loved even if I don’t feel it.”
“I am worth more than this.”
The eyes in the mirror lit up as the dust started to tremble with her new found resonance.
“Freedom is mine for the taking.”
“I’ll never be a slave again.”
“You’re legacy will change others lives.”
That little dingy bathroom started to feel like an open air stadium full of cheering fans.
“I will change my destiny.”
“I’ll find the courage to help others get out.”
If the neighbours didn’t hear her shout “You are a lioness” they would have heard the guttural yell that followed.
As she pulled back from the mirror a red tear drop flowed down the shattered glass.
2 BILLY TEA
Harry sits. Elbows perched on knees, forearms hanging loosely in front of him. He reaches for the blackened stick beside him and pokes at the white hot coals.
‘I used to do this all the time’ he muses. ‘Go bush. No one to bug ya out here, accept the fly’s’.
Jess swigs her Billy tea then as is customary, flicks her wrist and tosses the last of it onto the fire, listening for the hiss and rush of steam.
‘Those were the days, right Harry?’
Harry moves on his haunches, agitated.
‘Those were the days! None of this political correctness bullshit to worry about. None of this turnin on the news to violence every day. Naaar… Nar, give me the bush any time… Nothin to worry about out ‘ere’.’
This burst of animation quickly fading, he states into the heat haze, once again mesmerised by a different time and place.
Jess looks at the old man’s eyes, sad and tired, watery from the smoke. Decades of toil, torment, joy, love and loss, compounded by old age, his hope slowing fading.
‘Got a story for me Harry?’
‘Not today love. Not today… I’ll sing ya a song.’
His voice faint in places and crackly in others, the ol bushy does his best to crank out a tune.
‘I wrote that out here you know. In amongst the Buloaks and Gums, before the land was cleared.’
As she turns away and surveys the now sparse scattering of trees she says ‘Really? Just how dense was the scrub before the farmers came, Harry?’
Harry raises his head, lips pressed together in a thoughtful grin, eyes dreamily cast upward to the right.
‘I used to come here as a whipper snapper. With my brothers, on the way to the creek. The place was covered in wildflowers. We’d pick em on the way home sometimes, for Ma, so she’d let us off the hook for takin off for a swim.’
The two laugh.
Relieved to see a glimpse of the grand dad she remembers from her childhood, Jess settles in to listen, as Harry remembers his.
As she turned away, she said, “Really!”
“Well that was the truth,“ she replied. “You horrible little child,“ she yelled as she chased the girl around the yard with her slipper.
“I only told butcher man the truth.” was her plea for leniency.
The heat and the dust were the same as usual, but the loud yelling bothered her. She left the house when no one was noticing and walked to her safe place. The place where the men’s voices weren’t loud and cross but happy, and the smell was different, and the shop was cool.
She climbed up on her favourite seat and talked to the man. He had a fat face and wore a funny apron. She thought it unusual for a man to wear an apron. She waited quietly for him to give her a piece of sliced meat. They didn’t have sliced meat at home. It tasted so good.
It really bothered her to hear the loud voices at home, but here it was quiet except for the sound of the big knife chopping. People came into the shop and were surprised to see her sitting there, some old ladies made a fuss, and asked her why she wasn’t at home.
She felt peaceful and happy. She started to tell the man about home like she usually did. It was about her stepsisters and evil stepmother.
The butcher man lifted the edge of his apron to his face and had a little chuckle.
“Yes, little girl,” and, “tell me more,” he would say. Another opportunity to tell confide more about all the injustices that she had suffered at the hands of these people who lived at home.
She finished her story and her slice of meat, climbed down from the stool, waved and pushed the very heavy door, and walked home.
She did get home, and her mother was cross because she had looked everywhere for her and couldn’t find her … again.
4 A Debt to Pay
As she turned away, she said, ‘Really?’ leaning over to turn off the television. Adjusting the phone to her ear, she takes a deep breath. ‘After all this time you want me to do you a favor? You’ve got a cheek; you’ve hardly spoken to me for years! And why now? What strife have you got yourself into?’ she snaps.
She can hear his hesitation as he takes a quick drag on a cigarette. ‘I want an alibi,’ he demands.
She can’t believe it. ‘What?’ she yells, her voice rising. Her mind reels – what has he done now? She’s always feared it would come to this.
‘Why the hell would I give you an alibi?’ she barks at him.
‘Because you owe me big time,’ he retorts. ‘I haven’t forgotten what you did.’
She sighs and slumps onto the couch. ‘Don’t go on about that again,’ she moans, ‘it’s over and done with for gods sake.’ She feels the dread starting again; old fears, tightening her gut with raw panic.
‘It might be over for you, but it’s not for me,’ he shouts into the phone. ‘I’ve never said anything to anyone, but I will if you don’t help me with this,’ he threatens. ’Don’t think you can get away with it!’
‘What have you done?’ she groans, sinking further into herself as pounding anxiety grips her.
‘This stupid sheila, she reckons I stalked her house. I wasn’t near the bloody house. She’s trying to dob me in because I told her friends that she was sleeping around. I heard she’s going to the cops, reckons she’s scared of me.’
‘Well where the hell were you?’
‘With me mates, doing a job. I can’t tell the cops that though, can I?’ he sneered. ‘You only have to say I was at your place all night, that’s all you have to do.’
‘I’m not getting caught up in your mess,’ she snaps again.
‘Well you think about it, because I can make your life very, very messy,’ he warns, and slams down the phone.
‘You little bastard,’ she spits.
As she turned away, she said, ‘Really?’
Milo almost didn’t catch what Chloe said. The wind had picked up and was whipping around them, managing to seep through layers of scarves and jackets, chilling right down to the bone. He shouldn’t have said anything, but he’d already put it off too long. Milo glimpsed his Dad buying a pack of hot jam doughnuts from the van near the market entrance, and wondered if he’d made a mistake. Surely it was time to give living with his Dad a go, see if they had a relationship worth salvaging.
It would mean leaving school and starting somewhere new.
It would mean leaving his Mum behind.
It would mean leaving Chloe.
Milo pushed his hands deep into his pockets, shoulders curved in a hunch against the wind.
‘I’m sorry, Chlo. I didn’t know when else to tell you.’
She’s not looking at him, focusing on moving her homemade candles from the trestle table into a battered cardboard box. Her hands are blue with cold, and the drizzle starts to set in, sending people around them scrambling for cover.
‘It’s fine, Milo. I guessed anyway. Your Dad’s been hanging around and you two actually seem to be hitting it off for once. Besides, I think this is the first honest conversation we’ve had in a week. I knew you were hiding something.’
She’s blinking quickly as she glances at him, dark eyes bright. Chloe finishes packing and Milo reaches out to take the now soggy cardboard box from her, but she nudges him away with her elbow.
Milo’s dad is waving a hand at him, hood pulled up over his head, half eaten jam doughnut in one fist.
‘I’d better go,’ Milo mutters.
Chloe nods and opens the passenger door of her Mum’s car, dropping the box of candles in roughly. She slams the door shut, walks over to Milo, quickly, purposefully. Wraps her arms around his neck and draws him in, kissing him, momentarily forgetting the drizzle, the cold.
For a moment, time stands still.
6 Days of Purple-Black
As she turned away, she said, “Really?”
“Yes, Mrs Armstrong, I’ve got some stuff you can cover it with.”
Jessie Armstrong tightened her grip on her straw basket. “Thank you, Mrs Beresford for your kindness, but it doesn’t need covering.”
Stan Parks looked out the window of his butcher shop, watching Busybody Beresford and Jessie Armstrong. They’d lined up with their ration books at the counter and he’d watched the other women react to the purple-black bruise on Jessie’s eye. He saw them shift sideways— uncomfortably—and some of the bolder ones raised an eyebrow.
Stan respected Mrs Armstrong. On the days when one of her eyes was purple-black, her dark hair would be pulled back tight and her face free of the shade of a hat, or the round, dark glasses some of the women wore.
When he’d been a prisoner-of-war, shredded of who he once was, Stan would teeter to roll call with death-touched somnambulism, wearing every scrap of mistreatment doled out by his captors, reminding them of his resolution to survive.
On the days when Jessie had a purple-black eye, Stan turned the other women over to Arthur to serve, and he’d wrap sausages and smoked tongue in white paper for Jessie, throwing in a piece of beef for her eye. He doubted she ever used it.
Lex Armstrong could throw sheep’s carcasses without breaking a sweat and agreed when Stan Parks asked him for a hand. Lex wouldn’t take money from an ex-POW, but agreed to a beer while Stan cut some chops for the missus.
Stan slapped the meat down on the huge wooden block, cutting it with long sweeps and short nudges, crafting it into chops.
Lex had heard that after the camp was liberated, Stan had unblinkingly taken a sword and sliced the life out of the commandant.
“Your missus sometimes comes in here with a shiner.”
“That’s none of your business, mate.”
Stan held his knife up, checking the edge before wiping it on his striped apron and sliding it into its scabbard. “You could be right. Mate.”
7 The Favourite Daughter
As she turned away, she said, “Really?”
Samantha could not believe her ears. Kate, her only sister, had just told their mother that her favourite daughter was back now. Samantha was spent; existing only on the caffeine she had drunk on the plane. It was a long and never-ending flight from Melbourne to Singapore. She would have normally slept, but how does one sleep when the woman who gave you life is fighting for her own?
Samantha had spent most of the flight reliving the conversation she’d had with her brother the night before.
“Samantha, have you booked your ticket?” Michael asked.
“No, should I?”
“I did what you asked. I gave Mum a kiss and told her that you love her. As I left her, I felt that she won’t last long. My gut is telling me that you should be here.” Michael continued, his voice shaking.
Samantha had put down the phone, tears rolling down her face. She wiped back the tears and immediately hit her computer keyboard. She had to find a way to be by her mother’s side. They’d had an unusual relationship. Not the average mother- daughter relationship. Sometimes they interacted like enemies; they shouted at the top of their voices, phones slammed, feet stomped. All these seemed trivial now.
With all of that, how could Kate think that Samantha was the favourite daughter?
She threw her handbag on the floor, smiling as she did so. She imagined her mother saying, “Oh my goodness… please do not put your bag on the floor! Even though this is a hospital, the floor is dirty…”
With tears rolling down her face, Samantha took her mother’s hand in hers and placed a kiss on her forehead.
“Mum, I’m here. I’m sorry I left when you asked me to stay. Please forgive me. Mum, I love you.”
“Help!” Samantha called out to the nurses. Her mother’s heart beat had stopped. She took her mother’s cool hand in hers and placed a kiss on her pale forehead.
She could not take her eyes off her mother.