Schmelentines Day – Valentines day tomorrow, big whoopsy doo. I’m not bitter, nope not me. Did you know I NEVER got one Valentines day card in Highschool? Not even a note. I had one particular friend who’s Dad nearly had to bring a bloody trailer after school to pick up the goodies left by admirers at her locker. (She shall remain nameless- last name started with a H…?) Huge stuffed teddy bears, roses, admissions of forever love… you name it. Me? Zilcho, diddley squat, nadda, naught, Tengo cero amigo y chupé- (Spanish for it sucked). –google translate that one!
So when I finally found my blue eyed Lothario and let him marry me I presumed this would be the start of a gloriously romantic chapter of my forever love. NOPE. Tengo cero amigo y chupé, yep its worth repeating. Not a romantic bone in the man’s body. I shouldn’t say that, he did take me to KFC that time, slipping that little heart chocolate under my sweet and sour sauce…
So anyway, I AM a romantic, an epic one. And as much as I hear people whine and whinge about the commercialism of it, I think its ONE-day of the year where you get to declare your love. It’s nice to get a Valentine. So I have gone out and bought lots of cool presents for Blue eyes. I wanted to snag him into going to see the movie Fifty Shades, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. He wants to handcuff me sure, but that’s probably to the kitchen sink to stop me eating his Rocky Road, not because he desires my ridiculously sweet ride, again…. Tengo cero amigo y chupé!!!!!!!!! (I didn’t really like the book anyway, cos I am a bit of a closet feminist and it riled me) and I think I should milk this getting sick thing and get a big teddy bear or something? LOL.
A few people have touched base the last week to ask how I am. I am ok. Other than the whole Valentines day thing that is. I have resorted today to cutting out love hearts with a sharp knife while wearing lipstick smeared across my cheeks like William Wallace singing Alanis Morresette (I’m kidding)
Am I ok now? Well if this all had happened 18 months ago I wouldn’t be here. The fact that I am here writing this blog is a miracle, so I dare not complain. People see me and think I look normal so I must be ok. But its not all ok, some days I wonder if it will ever be “ok”, the aneurysm is still there, still bulging, if its pops I am dead in under 10 mins I have been told. So I walk around every day with this little fragile balloon in my head, side effects that make you queasy and dizzy, but its reinforced now with Megatron H-man steel Titanium thingy’s that will not let me down. And if you sat around thinking about the balloon thing, well you would lock yourself away and bury all pins and needles. Make the most of what you got and get on with it I say!
I am on immunosuppressant’s and blood thinning meds. So I have to avoid snotty noses, coughs and bench corners. The bruising factor is so bad! It looks like I’ve gone 10 rounds with Ali or Tyson from a mild bang to the body. Gorgeous shades, there’s fifty shades of Duck egg blue, faint hues of Atomic Tangerine, Deep Saffron, Cadmium Gree, Deep Koamaru and Calf shite yellow with just a touché of Taupe and Eton (if you don’t mind)- colours people, know your colours! Seriously, someone hand me the Pantone swatches…(Tanya B? J) I’m so bruised I look like I need to go into witness protection, seriously…
I’ve had a few spills this week thanks to a couple of episodes of dizziness and crazy-not-watching- where- I- am going stuff. Minor. One involved a catastrophic spill on the ground outside. I was running, (no Ma, I am not sposed to but I needed to ok?) too fast in the pitch black night outside to the studio. What should be ready to betray my speeding ostrich legs? A Shipping Crate, big, flat, black and ominous lying on the ground and in my path. I was airborne in .2567 of a second, that fast I nearly defied Quantum physics, face planted with a possible broken foot swelling up quicker than you can say Viagra prescription.
No-one inside could hear my pleas for assistance (I couldn’t move) so I encouraged our Schnoodle dog Charlie to make like Lassie and “Go Get Dad”. To his credit he ran to the door, little trooper, but couldn’t quite muster the furry paw sign language required to indeed capture the man of the house’s attention. I was eventually heard, by which stage I had a severe case of the giggles as I could only imagine what I would have looked like flying through the air, arms and legs going everywhere. And I had gravel stuck in my cheeks which made me laugh even more for some bizarre reason. It took Little Bro and Lothario to both lift me and get me inside, (I may or may not have put on a few Kg’s since surgery just sayin…) and got the foot on ice.
Needless to say, it was badly bruised not broken, I gave Lothario a heart attack, Little Bro and my children had the giggles, because for some whack reason we share the same sick sense of humour. All is well.
I am a shocker for laughing at people when they hurt themselves. Its not the hurt bit, I don’t find that amusing, its awkward stuff. When people fall awkwardly or slip over. Have you seen the youtube clips with the super models that wobble and fall on platform heels? Well I have, left me slappin my leg and guffawing till I couldn’t breathe or see straight. If you’ve ever heard a spontaneous laugh from me it truly resembles a cross between a Hyena and a trumpet. I would love to titter and tutt like a lady, but nope, its so momentous that if I didn’t let it come out of my mouth it would wiggle down through lower intestines and come out the other end with explosive gusto. Trust me, don’t want see that. Not ever. Nasty.
If anyone has a Faux Pas, I find it hysterical. It can be really socially unacceptable too, not good for maintaining relationships or invitations. Like one time I was at this packed out party and the host went to run inside, and ran smack bang into the glass door in front of everyone. She hit it that hard there were fog marks left on the glass in the shape of her nostrils. The whole house reverberated with the sound of her face and body smacking into it, and she fell on the ground in shock. I let out my explosive laugh, I nearly split something only to realize seconds later the room was silent. Silence in that moment was in Nooo way golden. I went bright red, looking at shocked disgusted faces around me which left me running to the aforementioned fallen victim trying to help her up without hyena/trumpeting. Ok, so the lady might have been my mother-in-law, but she was ok, she wasn’t badly hurt and I know for a fact that my sister in law is a trumpeter too, and she got away with crouching down behind the sink and biting her fist (yeah I was so onto you Kim…).
So its Valentines Day tomorrow, hope you all get a heart, someone tells you they love you and all that mushy stuff. Thats another week of my nutbag ponderings done. Thank you to everyone who read the few chapters last week of my little novella Short Naked Latte, I got so many encouraging emails, it was just beautiful and uplifting and made me feel like a real growed-up-writer! For those that have asked below is another two chapters. If you missed the last ones peeps, they are at the bottom of last weeks blog. Short Naked Latte is a collection of short stories where all the characters are linked. These ones a bit less gentle that the last just giving you the heads up.
Much love xx Kirst
In the Beginning
‘A Faithful friend is the medicine of life’
-Bible. Ecclesiasticas 6:16
A melic of cicadas shrills in the warm night. Clumps of fescue and mounds of dry cow dung populate the paddock. Barbed wire; rusting and twisted over fallen fence posts stand like ancient soldiers in the summer night. Small shadows move within the green glow of the paddock’s centre.
The bellowing of a cow to the east mingles with cheerful giggles and sounds of “shhh!”
“You have to be quiet guys or it won’t work.”
A tent of fading green tarpaulin is pitched. Its four occupants are huddled on top of their sleeping bags around a small piece of flat wood with letters drawn on it. The aroma of warm plastic and mustiness fills the air. The ropes pegged into the ground smell of kerosene and wool fat from the shed.
Gauzy netting is zipped; protecting the young occupants from the greedy summer mosquitos.
“Lex, I don’t know about this. If Mum and Dad find out they’ll kick our bums. Your mum would have a pink fit if she found out you were doing this stuff!”
“Come on Anne, they won’t know. How can they? We are too far away from the house, and anyway we’ll hear them coming. Don’t freak out you square!”
“Lexi Nelson, I am not a square, but I do not like getting into trouble, that’s all,” said Anne.
“Come on Lex and Anne, don’t argue. Let’s just get this over with,” whispered Beth.
Lexi traced a pink finger over the alphabet letters, placing the vegemite jar in the centre.
“Now, you all have to put a finger on the edge, really light” she instructed.
Each girl timidly did as they were told.
“Beth, don’t press too hard, we have to let the glass move by itself. All we want is our energy to go from our finger to the glass. Otherwise we might push it ourselves,” said Lexi.
“Hey Lex, how come you know so much about this ouija board stuff?” asked Belle.
“Jas’ friends had one at our place last week when Mum and Dad were away for Agriculture Week. Jas was being the ‘big dumb sister’ again and told me to stay in my room, but I hid behind the washing machine and listened in” she replied with a grin. “I didn’t get to hear all of it; I nearly got caught and ran back to my room. They sounded pretty excited by whatever happened. Now we all have to be really quiet, or else we’ll scare the spirits away, and Anne if you say bad things about them it upsets them” she explained.
“You hope Lex! The only things we will scare off are the possums!” Anne was trying not to laugh now. She looked at her companions. Belle wore a look of awe watching the board with total fascination. Beth was watching Lexi with caution, rabbit-like, twitching, waiting. Lexi’s eyes were set into large round orbs, burning with mischief.
Beth was trying to look brave. Lexi made it all sound so exciting and mysterious. The pastor at church had warned their youth group about this ages ago. It was called the Occult; the priest had said it was one of Satan’s games. She wanted to join in but was weighing up the idea that she might end up in purgatory or even worse, hell. And Beth knew God didn’t want any sinners in his cookie jar.
“So who exactly are we trying to talk to?” asked Anne.
“I dunno, think of someone” said Lexi.
“Does it have to be someone dead?” groaned Beth; this was all getting too much for her now.
“Duh Beth!” said Lexi irritated. Beth could be such a chicken sometimes.
“What about Marilyn Monroe?” suggested Belle. The night was sticky and hot, but this didn’t stop Belle from cocooning her lap with her sleeping bag. She was getting the jitters with all this spooky stuff.
“Nah, that’s too long ago. She’ll be long gone by now. Anyway she was from America, I think that’s too far away” said Lexi in her best ‘matter of fact’ voice.
“If they’re dead does it matter where they come from? They probably travel quicker if they are dead,” said Anne.
“I know then, what about old Max Parker?” asked Belle.
“No way!” squealed Beth. “I said I would do this but I am not talking to some crazy old man who cut off his wife’s legs with an axe ”
“Ghosts can’t hurt you Bethy, I promise,” said Lexi, patting Beth’s arm.
“Honestly Lexi, how do you know that?” asked Anne.
“We won’t know unless we try!” Lexi, holding the torch under her chin. Her small grinning pixie face lit up like an evil goblin; contorted and hideous, putting the rest of the tent in darkness.
“Cut it out Lex, that’s not funny!” said Beth crossly.
“Ok, ok, chill! We’ll give psycho Parker a miss” agreed Lexi.
“What about my Grandpa?” asked Belle. “If they know us it might work better, and I know Pa would never do anything to scare us.”
“Whoever, whenever. Let’s just do it, it’s probably not going to work anyway!” said Anne loudly.
Lexi turned and wrinkled up her nose at Anne.
“All right, Belle’s Pa it is. Now everybody move in close and put your finger on the glass, concentrate on Belle’s Pa. Think of his face or something” said Lexi. “What was his first name Belle?”
“John Walkins” whispered Belle; she didn’t think this was such a good idea anymore. She had a feeling that Pa wouldn’t like her doing this. He would have thought it was a load of claptrap.
All four of the girls place their fingers back on the glass. Anne watched Lexi’s face, and couldn’t even remember Belle’s Pa, so she didn’t bother with the concentrating part.
“Johhnnn, John Walkins. Are you with us?” called out Lexi in her best opera opening voice.
“What a bloody drama queen” thought Anne, trying hard not to offend Lexi by laughing.
They all remained quiet and still. Beth and Belle both held their breath and Lexi could have sworn the cicadas had stopped chirping.
All eyes were mesmerised by the Vegemite glass and the board.
“John Walkins, this is Lexi Nelson speaking. We have your granddaughter here, Belle Hanson. Willll yoooouu speak with us tonight?”
Silence; claustrophobic and thick swirled invisibly in the air.
The glass moved slightly.
Lexi screamed, hands jumping to cover her eyes and nose.
Belle cried out “HOLY MOSES!” Her eyes rolling back in feint horror.
Beth flew under her sleeping bag with a cry of “UHHHHHHH!”
With a flash of frizzy blonde curls; Anne grabbed the board and glass and ripped open the fly throwing them from the tent as far as she could.
“I didn’t move it guys, I swear I didn’t move it!” panted Lexi, drawing in long breaths.
“Its Ok Lex, I know you didn’t. None of us did.” Anne’s hands were shaking. She felt like they were dirty now from handling the glass.
Beth was still hiding under her sleeping bag. She peeked out, her nose and eyes exposed. “Is it gone?” she asked, her voice was timid and muffled under the polyester cover.
“I think so, man, I am so so sorry. That was freaky,” said Lexi.
“Don’t worry about it Lex, tried to tell you dingus…” said Anne.
“Do you think that was really my Pa?” asked Belle, her voice warbling.
“No way Belle, Father Kent says this stuff is really bad. I think your Pa would have gone to somewhere nice, and they wouldn’t let him do stuff like that. Especially not scaring people” said Beth. Her head emerged fully now; her sleeping bag still wrapped around her.
“You had better get the board and glass Lex, otherwise Mum or Dad might see it out there tomorrow” said Anne.
“I am not going out there; I am staying here with you. I don’t want to touch it. I will throw it away first thing in the morning Ok?”
“Ok, but don’t forget, remember it WAS your idea” said Anne. Her mum always had the creepy knack of knowing when you’d done ‘stuff’, just by looking at you.
“I am so scared,” said Belle quietly.
“It’s Ok, let’s just talk about nice things before we go to sleep” said Anne.
“I don’t think I am going to sleep at all tonight,” said Belle.
Anne moved over to her sleeping bag and laid her head down on the pillow. The others did the same. Lexi put the torch on the ground so they still had some light.
“Time for some munchies!” declared Anne, ripping out a bag of potato chips from behind her sleeping bag. Inspired and hungry the other girls yanked out their stash of goodies from hiding places buried beneath pillows and sheets.
“Ah, yum, check this out! Its all melted!” yelped Beth, the biggest choc freak of them all, proudly holding up a mushed chocolate bar.
“That is so gross!” said Beth, screwing up her face in disgust.
“No way, it’s delish! You just tear a little on the end and suck the chocolate right out of there!”
“Hey? What do you guys think of Josh Phillips?” asked Lexi with a mouthful of chips.
“Oh man, are you going to talk about boys again?” whined Beth. “Boys are so boring Lex, I don’t know what you see in them.”
“Well Beth, you are a girl and I am sure you know how we make more girls, so chances are you are going to like boys one day!” said Lexi giggling.
“Not now I don’t!” said Beth proudly.
“Come on Bethy, your nearly 14 for God’s sake” said Lexi.
Beth did not answer, she rolled her eyes, looking at the roof of the tent.
“It’s okay for you Lexi, all the boys think you are cute” said Beth quietly.
“Cute? Yeah like a garden gnome, look how short I am!” responded Lexi. It was true; she was the midget of the group. But she was aware of the fact that some of the boys were paying her attention which no longer revolved around rough and tumble friend stuff.
“Oh yeah, right, a garden gnome with long shiny straight brown hair, brown skin and you’re skinny!” retorted Beth.
“What about you Beth? You are so pretty, I bet you could have any boy you wanted, any of you guys could” shrugged Lexi, shoving more salty chips into her mouth.
“What? Are you blind as well as deaf Lex? Braces, curly brown hair that looks
like tangled horsehair and I’m fat! Anyway, like I said, boys are gross anyway.”
“You are not fat Bethy,” said Belle in horror.
“Whatever, it’s puppy fat, that’s what Dad says. I’ll grow out of it,” replied Beth.
“So, what about Josh?” asked Anne, giving Lexi a nudge with her foot.
“He’s really good at footy, and he smells nice. When we have phys-ed he always tries to pick me as partner. And he has a nice smile. His teeth are straight. Teeth are important you know” said Lexi.
“Yeah, thanks Lex” said Beth; her braces revealed; her gums stretched across cool metal. They were still so annoying and felt lumpy in her mouth. Everyone told her that it would change and she would get used to it. But now it was just plain annoying.
“Except for you, you dag!”
‘What about you Belle, got your eye on any cute boys?” asked Anne.
“Yeah right, like that would happen for me. They would have to like me back wouldn’t they?” said Belle.
“Come on Belle, its good to like someone. Your always talking to Michael Dantore at the canteen, do you like him?” asked Lexi.
“He has got nice eyes, and he reads out loud in class really well,” said Belle. “But still, I haven’t really thought about it. It doesn’t help when you’re the tallest girl in your year, with no boobs to boot. Plus Dad would kill me if he ever saw me with a boy” she added quietly.
“He will have to let you one day Belle,” said Anne softly.
“I wouldn’t tell him anything anyway. Not after the other night” she mumbles.
“What happened the other night?” asked Beth, they were off the subject of boys now, and she felt free to listen in.
“It’s not important,” Belle mutters.
“Come on Belle, we are your very best friends, we tell each other everything. You can tell us Ok?” said Lexi, rolling over onto her stomach, resting her chin on her hands.
Anne, Beth and Lexi look at Belle and wait. Belle rarely talks about her father. They’ve all seen it first hand though; nothing she told them would surprise them. Make them angry maybe, but not surprised.
Belle takes a small breath in. She knew she ccan trust these girls with anything. They do share just about everything. But all their dads are friendly, smiley and nice, it was so hard when hers is the opposite. What her Dad said the other night shook her to her middle, it wasn’t something she wants to talk about. But like anything at 13, the need to spill was like an itch wanting to be scratched. It was a need to share, in secret.
She goes on to tell them that they had been sitting down to dinner last Wednesday night; her, Steve and Mum. Dad was still out the back, so they sat silently waiting for his return. They never ate until he sat at the head of the table. Steve was fumbling with his knife and fork. The familiar snap of the back flyscreen door echoed through the house. Mum gave Steve ‘the look’, motioning for him to stop stuffing around with the cutlery.
Dad walked into the kitchen with a big smile on his face and his chest puffed out like a Mallee bull. This was not good. His teeth were perfectly white and straight, and when he bared them like that he looked like a cattle dog with distemper. You were not sure if behind that smile was a snarl. When he smiled, it dripped with sarcasm and punishment.
He carried something in his hand. Belle looked up and saw what it was. Her heart stopped beating on the spot and Belle looked down at her roast potatoes.
It was her poetry book.
He walked up and put a foot up on the chair, leaned forward and juggled the little yellow book from hand to hand. Where had he found it? Oh God, it was every secret thought and desire she had ever had, dashed behind that little yellow cover and hidden under her mattress in her bedroom. What had he been doing in there? Had he read it?
“Well would you looky what I got here? Eh? Our young Miss here seems to think she is quite the writer” he said jovially.
Belle glanced at her mother. Her mother’s lips were clenched so tight they had gone white and were now a thin line. Her face was pale, two small traffic light patches blazed on her cheeks. She was silent. Her hands were placed neatly in her lap, as she looked intently at her napkin. Belle recognise a long time ago the interest leaving her mother’s eyes, replaced by a vague fear. The little red patches on her face were like a traffic light for Belle, Mum was officially leaving the room in her head.
Bill opened the book and roughly flicked through the pages. Belle cringed; the book was precious to her.
Belle looked over at Steve. A playful smirk etched onto his lips. He enjoyed it when she got the limelight.
Bill cleared his throat theatrically.
“Let’s see, oh yes listen to this. You will just love this, VERY insightful” he read.
“Dad can be so mean sometimes. I don’t know why Mum puts up with him. He hit her again last night just because she stuck up for Steve. He hurt him bad for not cutting the wood properly. I was outside feeding the chooks and heard Steve crying afterwards. Then I listened to Mum cry out the back. Why does he have to hurt everyone? Sometimes I think he is a coward. I know this isn’t poetry today, but I needed to let some steam off.”
Belle gulped. She heard her mother make a strangled sound in the back of her throat.
Bill tore out the page and threw it at Belle’s face. The paper fluttered against her brow; floating down to the floor. Belle bit her bottom lip hard.
“Well my dear little Isabella, to begin with; I do not intentionally try and hurt any member of this family. I simply DISCIPLINE!”
He reached over Belle and pounded the table with his fist. The plates rattled nervously. She didn’t dare duck her head but sat as still as a mouse, relieved when his fist missed her head.
“So mean sometimes…well goodness me, this is the man that puts clothes on your back, puts food on your table, sends you to school; slaves his arse off to look after you miserable good- for- nothing- pieces- of -shit, and this is what I get. I tell you what you spoiled little bitch…” he leaned in close and Belle could feel the heat of his breath on her cheek and the acrid stench of fresh cow dung drifting from his clothes.
“You can forget hanging out with those ditsy little friends of yours from now on. They put dumb ideas in your head; make you think you’re too bloody good for all of us. The reason your mother puts up with me is because she couldn’t get anyone that would have her. Got herself knocked up on purpose, makes me friggin’ marry her, only to have you, an ungrateful and spoilt little bitch.” Bill’s nostrils flared and his lips drew back in another snarl.
Belle turned her head away and looked at the calendar. It was on January with a picture of a eucalyptus tree. Ashy coloured bark tinted with hues of burnt orange from the sunset.
“LOOK AT ME!” he roared into the hollow of her neck.
Belle jumped in her chair and snapped her neck around to face him. She looked up into her father’s eyes, blue with specks of grey. Sparkling angrily, challenging and ready.
“You will respect me. You will show me every thing that you write from now on. If I see any of this again, you will wish you had never graced this pitiful earth with your presence. If I hear anywhere of you telling people this whacked up bullshit I swear girl, you lot will get more than a clip under the ears!” He boomed into her face; spittle flying from his mouth.
He reefed her up off her chair by the arm. The chair fell to the floor with a clatter. His fingers ate into the soft part of her arm; biting the muscle.
He pushed her hard in the direction of the kitchen door. As his grip lessened, Belle’s feet tripped along the hard wood floor, trying to find their way. She could feel her bladder about to give way. Humiliation and shame hung over her heart like a sopping wet and heavy sheet left out in the rain.
“Now, go to your room and don’t come out until tomorrow, I do not want to see your stupid face” he said calmly. He turned and threw the yellow book with perfect aim into the rubbish bin near the sink. The plastic lid slammed shut with the force, greedily consuming its new occupant.
As Belle walked to her room she heard her father say, “Now Steven, would you like to say grace?” in his nicest Sunday voice.
Belle finished telling her story with a wobbling lip. Two large tears dropped from each eye, she quickly brushed them away.
Her three friends were a shocked audience. Shocked by the horror of a parent reading something so personal. Shocked by the words he used to describe Belle and her mother. Also shocked by what he said about them. Her friends. Shocked that he physically touched her in that way, all angry.
Beth quickly moved over and put her arm around Belle’s shoulders.
“That is total crap Belle. You are not stupid or full of it. What he does is horrible, I can’t believe he did that to you” Lexi tapered off, unable to find the words to describe her disgust at Bill and feeling for Belle.
Anne’s first reaction was a desire to hit that idiot man. He was so mean to Belle. Belle was soft and sweet. You didn’t do that to soft and sweet people. Big bully. How could Belle’s mum just sit there and put up with that? Why wasn’t Mrs Hanson kissing away the tears?
“Belle, you know we’ve talked about this before, but I want you to listen. You know that this is all wrong. Mum has said you can come and stay with us. She is a teacher, she knows what to do with stuff like this” said Anne.
Belle’s head shot up to look at Anne, she fiercely wiped her tears with her trembling hand.
“NO! Anne, you mustn’t say anything! You promised. You all promised. You don’t get it. He really would do more than just hurt us. And it wouldn’t just be me; it would be Steve and Mum. I wouldn’t be able to see any of you anymore. Please, guys please don’t say anything!” She was petrified; she wanted to hit herself for saying anything in the first place. She should have known; people don’t always do what they promise. How could she be so stupid? Shut your mouth, shut your mouth…
Lexi looked at Anne and Belle; feeling useless.
Anne moved over and hugged Belle’s other side. Lexi leaned forward and patted Belle’s leg.
“We won’t say anything to anyone, will we guys?” asked Anne. The two other girls nodded in agreement.
“I won’t say a word to Mum or anybody. You can trust us. It doesn’t make any of this fair. But if you’re sure that’s what you want, what can we do?”
Belle slowly nodded, tears were dripping off the end of her nose onto the sleeping bag.
Lexi cocked her leg and blurted out a massive trumpet fart. And the four girls started giggling which turned into crazy full belly laughs and tears all mixed in together. Belle’s tears dried up with the laughter, and normality was resumed for now.
“I tell you girls, it’s them potato chips that do it!” cried Lexi.
After lots of talking into the early hours of the morning about Paris, moonlit dances and pretty dresses, the four friends slept and dreamt.
‘No escape, no such thing;
to dream of new dimensions,
Cheating checkmate by painting the king’s robe,
So that he slides like a queen’- Robert Graves
A green velvet chair worn on the arms reclined; large wool covered feet sat propped up against the end. Warmed against the open fire; Bill Hanson sipped from his black- tea- no- sugar, absorbed in the replay of Landline. A few crumbs from the carrot cake served earlier sat on his chin.
Susan Hanson sat in the sun room; soft jazz crackled from the radio beside her. The tick-tack clacking of her knitting needles worked around the wool. She was knitting nothing in particular; a long weave of orange and red; 2 metres in length now, half piled on her knee; the rest coiled around her slippers.
His bedroom door jammed shut; Steve Hanson’s hand flicked through the tattered pages of a hidden magazine; screeching guitar blared from his silver boom box. A rusty can is purposefully wedged against the door. It would rattle an alarm. He is pleased and frustrated; each girl is positioned in a way he didn’t think possible. He hasn’t seen girls like this before. Frank from school gave him this copy; it had to be at least 10 years old, but Steve did not care. Bare boobs were enough for him to ogle at, he didn’t care if their hairdo’s were out of fashion.
The old man was in a shit of a mood. Ten more chooks were taken from the shed the night before, and the traps didn’t work. For some reason this is Steve’s fault for not trigging them right. His right ear thudded with swollen resentment from the reprimand. Being thirteen sucked.
Six metres down the hall; a cream wooden door, cracked and worn stood ajar.
Bill pulled the handle on the recliner and moved quickly to turn the volume down on the TV. Resonating growls sounded out from the side of the house.
“Bloody foxes!” he swore. Bill staggered for the back door and grabbed the shotgun from behind the fridge then shoved on his work boots. The dog’s growling quickly turned to savage barks.
He’d blow their bloody heads off, friggin feral vermin. They wouldn’t steal one more chook. Bill cradled the gun under one arm; flipped the safety with the other hand. He carefully opened the fly screen, he knew how cunning the mongrels were; a farmhouse door would scare them off quick as buggery.
The crunch of gravel and small squeal of brakes caught Bill by surprise. It was a blue Datsun, not a fox.
“Who the bloody hell is this?” he muttered; and placed the gun down beside the patio chair. He strode towards the headlights; he squinted against the glare. Visitors were a rarity on his property, and straight up unusual at 9:00 pm on a Tuesday night. “Sit down” he yelled at the dogs. Their barks zipped stop.
The Datsun hummed in neutral; whoever it was, they weren’t turning the car off. The headlights deadened to parks; the yellow flouro of the porch light shone on the car’s bonnet. The car door grated open. Its occupant stepped out into the light.
“Who’s that then?” asked Bill gruffly.
“It’s Marissa Kinkley Mr. Hanson. I am here to see Belle, please excuse me for the time, but I won’t be long” she said politely, her hand rested on the doorframe of the car.
“I’m not sure what you’re here for Mrs. Kinkley, but Isabella is in bed, it’s a school night” said Bill.
“Yes, well that’s a matter I am here for Mr. Hanson. It seems Belle has not been to school in more than a week, with no contact made with her teachers. I was concerned for her, and I would like to see her if that is all right with you” said Marissa, her heart fluttered around like a bird in a cage, but her voice kept its edge. Instincts had brought her to this place. Over many years she learnt not to ignore the odd gut sensation. It gave her the courage to keep her act together. Bill Hanson was not a man to irritate.
“As I recall you have not been Belle’s teacher for a long time, and I don’t see why her concern should be any of yours. Isabella is our daughter, anyway she’s been crook. She’ll be back soon, so you can head off now if you don’t mind. It’s not the hour for visits or stickybeaks,” said Bill, dismissing Marissa with a wave of his hand as he turned for the house. The edge to his voice was like jagged steel scraping.
“Belle has been a dear friend of my daughter’s for many years now Mr. Hanson and she means a lot to our family. I do not wish to make this unpleasant, but I have been made aware she might not be as good as you say. If it’s all the same I would like to see for myself,” Marissa returned politely, cautiously.
Bill slowly turned back, shaking his head slowly, teeth gritted together.
“If you know what’s good for you Kinkley, you will leave my property. Small townsfolk mind their business, you’ve offended me and my patience is gone.”
The driver’s door of the Datsun opened.
“Let Marissa check the girl Bill” came a gruff voice. The old man leaned out, one hand on the bonnet, the other tightly gripping a cane.
“Doc Jones?” asked Bill, surprised.
“Yes Bill, it’s me. No one wants to offend you. Just let Marissa say hello to Belle and we will leave you to your evening” he said, his voice low and commanding.
“Doc, I don’t know what this bird’s been telling you, but Isabella is fine, just a bit off colour. She’s probably sleeping anyway,” said Bill.
“All the same, Marissa will only be quick.” Doc Jones nodded to Marissa to go inside. Marissa walked lightly around Bill to the porch door. Each step deliberate and steadied, underneath all she wanted to do was sprint.
Bill watched her pass, glaring at her in grim astonishment and turned back to Doc Jones.
“How’s things anyway Bill? Farm keeping well? Your father always did run this place ship shape,” said Doc, his hand tapping rhythmically on the car roof.
Bill stood with his hands on his hips; a small smile tilted the edge of his lips.
“Keeping as good as can be expected Doc. Rain’s been a bit sparse, makes it tough but I’ve still got the best oiled farm in the district, it’ll be fine. Now I don’t know what all this crap is, but you will do well not to change any subjects with me bloke. I’m not a stupid bloke. You might have been friends with my folks, but that doesn’t mean you have a right coming out here with that nosey parker prying into my affairs. A man’s family is his own business.”
“It seems you have a very short memory son. Marissa wants to keep this as pleasant as possible, I don’t want to have to rake up the past; and you know and I know that secrets are left better to rest; but you leave me no choice. I may be old now Bill, but my memory is still as sharp as a tack. You were only 18 when your folks asked for my help. I helped them, but they’re gone now. Loyalty was to them not you and lets just say son that we can all just keep those secrets, or I can go visit the Sarge Torrence in town if you prefer? ” said Doc Jones; the friendly lilt in his voice did not hide the threat well.
Bill took in a small breath. His grin disappeared.
Inside the door; Marissa looked around quickly. She hoped Belle’s bedroom was still in the same place. Marissa had not been here since Belle was a girl and they were picking her up for a sleepover. Faint jazz music came from the front of the house. Marissa walked through the kitchen and breathed in the aromas of casserole. She turned to her right and saw a cream door slightly open.
The lights were on in the room and Marissa pushed open the door. She glimpsed in the room and saw Belle lying with her back to the door.
“What is it Mum?” Belle asked quietly, not turning.
“It’s me,” said Marissa softly.
Belle jumped around startled and fell off the bed, scrambling to her feet, her feet slipping on the carpet.
“Mrs. Kinkley?” she asked; alarmed.
Marissa gasped out loud, her hand slapped to her open mouth and she rushed toward Belle.
Belle’s lips were beige and small crescents of purple hung like tiny curtains under her eyes. Her face looked like someone had placed a suction cup on her forehead; sucking every droplet of blood from her face up to one large bulbous purple welt above her eyes. Small imprints formed the distinct pattern of a Farmer’s work boot.
Realising what Mrs. Kinkley must have seen; Belle shrank away, and covered her forehead with her hand, also bruised and partly bandaged.
“Did he do that Belle, did he do that to you?” she whispered, violence edged its way into to her voice.
Belle nodded slightly, she looked down at the ground and blushed “Mrs.Kinkly, what are you doing here? You should go,” urged Belle meekly.
“Get your things, right now. Doc Jones is in the car waiting. Get your things love, please!” Marissa tried very hard not to let her anger be heard and to remain calm.
The Plan had changed. Very much changed.
“I…can’t, where, where is Dad?” asked Belle, her voice wavered like an out of tune musical note.
“Isabella, get your things now, look sweety…help me!” asked Marissa as she scanned the room in frantic haste. She grabbed Belle’s school bag and opened her wardrobe, ripped clothes off their hangers and stuffed them into the bag as quickly as possible.
“Where do you keep your underclothes?” she asked Belle.
Belle did not answer, her lips parted but no sound would emit. With zombie like numbness she pointed to her chest of drawers.
Marissa darted to the chest and pulled small fragments of knickers, bras and socks out and into the top of the school bag.
“Is there anything else you need right away?” asked Marissa.
Belle did not answer. Her voice had evaporated.
Marissa did another quick search of the room and grabbed a pair of sneakers and black school shoes from under the bed; piling them up on top of the armful she was weighted under. Her chin resting on top of the bag and shoes, she used the other to gently pull Belle’s arm; motioning her out the door.
“Come on Belle, we’re leaving” she said quietly. Fierce rage sparked and threatened to ignite each time Marissa looked at Belle’s face.
A beautiful face, hideously coloured with unnatural hues. Intentional ruination on a child’s face was not something she had witnessed before, women yes, children no. When she reflected on it later she would realise that at that moment, something had broken inside her, changed forever.
“Wait!” said Belle loudly, pulled from Marissa’s grasp.
“Belle, please, we can get more things later, Doc Jones is in the car outside waiting” urged the older woman frantically.
Belle leaped to her chest of drawers and kneeled, her hands gripped each end of the bottom drawer and shook. The wood creaked and gave way. She reached in deep up to her armpit and pulled something out, then ran across to Marissa.
The woman grabbed Belle’s arm and pulled her firmly through the kitchen and pushed her in front and out the back door.
“Where’s Mum and Steve?” whimpered Belle. “Oh God, he’ll kill us you know!” she raced, pulling back from Marissa, she started backing up, her feet padded backwards, towards the kitchen.
“Belle, honey, come on. Get moving,” urged Marissa, repossessing Belle’s arm with locking grip. Belle’s hands prickled with sweat and salt, her face like a flying fire, burning hot.
Belle looked up, her father’s back was turned to her, Doc Jones faced her.
The Doctor looked up.
He saw Belle, he saw her face in the glow. Her strawberry coloured lochs were pulled harshly into a ponytail. Belle was a tall girl for her age, but now she looked so tiny.
The yellow light from the porch shone on the right hand side of her cheek.
Bill noticed the doctor’s attention falter and turned to see Belle.
“Where do you think you’re going girl?” He growled.
Belle stopped on the spot. Her bare feet gripped the gravel painfully.
Marissa shoved her roughly forward.
“Get in the car love, get in the car.”
Belle put her head down and followed Marissa’s push walked straight for the car. They walked around Bill, a purposeful radius.
Belle passed the shadow of the house and in her peripheral saw a sudden upswing of a moving arm as Bill reached out for her. Marissa pushed her again, running now, opening the back door of the Datsun and pushing Belle into the back, jumping in behind her. Marissa turned and yelled something out to Bill, Belle couldn’t hear her. She was concentrating on her heart-beat and the sound of the car revving.
“You leave here Girl, you will never be welcome back!” Roared Bill.
“You won’t take what’s mine you arseholes!” He screamed, and ran for the patio chair.
“I …I think he’s getting his gun” whispered Belle.
“What Belle?” asked Marissa.
“I…I said, I think he’s GETTING HIS GUN!” she cried out with hysterical urgency.
Marissa looked at Belle, then up through the front windscreen.
“Timothy!” She screamed.
Bill Hanson strode toward the car; a long dark object rose up to his shoulder.
Doctor Timothy Jones planted the Datsun in reverse, grey dust spinning amongst a hundred flicking of stones and gravel. Bill’s shadow disappeared in the white powder.
As the car plundered down the driveway; its 78 year old driver gripped the wheel; Marissa Kinkley cocooned the girl with her broad milky arms.
“Bloody Hell Timothy Jones, I didn’t know you could drive like that” Marissa said quietly.
“Yes, well when a man holds a barrel in your direction, there’s no room for dawdling Marissa,” replied Doc Jones, clearing his throat nervously.
“What is the plan now my dear?” asked Doc Jones as they reached the small lampposts that marked the valley boundary.
“Let’s just get this one back to my place and we’ll have a cup of tea to start with” said Marissa, as she looked down at Belle, the girl’s eyes were squeezed closed, her arms quivered.
“What will Herb say about all this?” asked Doc with a lowered voice. He did not want to add to Belle’s upset.
“I’ll take care of Herb. He adores Isabella here, and I think he will be wrapt to have her around the place. But the gun business back there can’t be spoken about again Doc. My husband has one of his own, and I would prefer it stays locked in the shed” said Marissa.
Belle’s shoulders slumped and she felt the big rock in her chest crumble into sand. Sobs and murmurs mixed with the gurgle of tears and mucus. One hand touching her cheek; the other clasping a tattered yellow book.
“Mum, will she be ok?” asked Anne, her voice small and squeaky, when it wanted to be stronger and more mature.
“Come here” said Marissa, motioning Anne to come and sit beside her on the couch.
Anne sat beside her mum and looked at her, wanting the right answer, needing adult reassurance. Something had changed, the world had changed. When Anne saw Belle walk through the front door, everything slowed down. A second of time ticked, it was an eternal second. Ideals, opinions, fear and sickness whirled dangerously around in Anne’s chest. Would anything ever be the same again?
“She is going to need space and time honey, lots of it” said Marissa, patting Anne’s hand.
“But her face? Mum what about her poor face?” Anne whispered, fumbling with her hands, trying to warm them.
Marissa reached and pulled her daughter close.
Anne let go, deep sobs coming from within.
“Her face will heal Anne. Her face will heal,” whispered Marissa.
“When I have kids, I will love them, not hurt them” said Anne with quite conviction.
Herb walked over to his girls and looked at them both squarely.
“She belongs here now Anne, with us, where she will be safe” he said sternly.
Marissa looked up at the closed bedroom door and silently prayed.