This is the first chaptor of a short novel I am writing.
|Outside the heat of the sun was roasting the ants on the asphalt. The birds were
sheltering under the wilting leaves of the gums. The old black lab was neck deep in
a newly dug hole, his usually pink tongue white from dehydration draped long and
limp from his mouth. Two cats were spreadeagled on the window ledge in a most
ungainly fashion, their heads stretched backward entwined like a pretzel. I couldn’t
remember the last time it had been as hot as today, the air as still, the smell so
sweet. Oh yes, the smell. It was the scent of the gardenias as they dried out on the
big bush that grew near the front porch. The flowers that were yesterday pristine
and white were now brown and shriveled but the smell------oh, the smell so divine. It
wafted through my bedroom like incense , intoxicating and soothing.
The purple curtains on my window hung still, faded and worn . I remember when
she’d made them for me. We had a huge fight over the color. I wanted the purple ,
she wanted the pink. I hated pink and she knew it. We always argued, always. I
won this one but there was many that I hadn’t. She was so strong and stubborn
and...........Why did she have to always be right? I am fourteen, not a child
anymore. I can make my own decisions, on my curtains, on what I wear.
She hated my taste in clothes . They were either too low, too short, too old, too
black. She hated black. She would say “With all the colors of the rainbow why
would you choose, black. I wouldn’t wear black at a funeral!”
With its precarious position compromised one of the cats fell from the window
ledge, the other startled jerked and jumped off knocking a vase to the ground. It
smashed, its contents and stale water all over the polished boards. The smell of the
water drowned out the gardenias and instantly ‘sobered’ me, my head spinning as I
rose too quickly off my bed. My hand moved across the sheet.. It was wet from my
sweat . My t-shirt was soaked. I pulled it over my head still feeling uneasy and
wiped up the water with it. Throwing it in the corner of the room that was a
designated dumping ground for things that I would deal with later. Although later
usually never came. The pile was high with dirty clothes, old shoes, homework and
rubbish. I would deal with it later I promised myself. Right now I wanted a shower.
Cooler, I left my body wet and wrapped myself in a towel. The shower had cleared
my head but my legs felt stiff and sore and my back ached. The kitchen was at the
back of the house where the gums shaded and protected it from the afternoon sun.
It was painted in yellow, a bright egg yolk yellow. White lace curtains draped the
windows and a vinyl red checkered tablecloth covered the big oak table that had
belonged to her grandmother. Ants ran across the sink and into the cup, its
contents becoming a feast for them. I wondered whether tea leaves were
considered a delicacy to them . I grabbed a glass and filled it with cordial from the
fridge and sat down at the table. Water dripped off my hair onto my back and down
my spine. It sent a shiver through my body , and my hand shaking I slopped some
cordial on the table cloth . I imagined the ants on the sink sending out some sort
of telepathic message to tell the other ants about the spillage and expected them
to be crawling all over the sticky cordial at anytime .My glass was hardly empty
when they came .A long line of ants surrounded the orange pool like wild animals at
a watering hole. A small regiment climbed my glass . I sat watching fascinated by
their skill. Their determination. Oblivious that at anytime I could wipe them out with
a single swish of a tea towel or squirt of insect spray. I watched them one by one
they picked up droplets of the cordial and made their way off the tablecloth, down
the table leg, to the floor, up the wall, onto the window ledge and out a small gap
under the window.
My hair had stopped dripping, almost dry as I contemplated getting dressed. The
air once more filled with gardenias. I fought the urge to become intoxicated by their
scent and pulled on a pair of shorts. My dresser drawer was jammed so I grabbed a
T-shirt off my dump pile. It was clean enough although she wouldn’t think so. She
would be saying “I wash your clothes, can’t you wear something clean?. Can’t you
wear something other than black?” No, she wouldn’t be able to let it go. Not her.
The cats were now spread out on the bed, again wrapped up in each other like
pretzels. I opened the window to let in the cool breeze that usually came through
about this time of the day, The dog had moved from its cool pit to drink from the fish
pond. It dipped its feet in and splashed around madly. I imagined the fish in the
pond traumatized from the ‘tidal wave’ the dog had caused in its effort to get cool.
The gardenia trees leaves drooped solemnly and the brown flowers now covered the
ground beneath it. I looked at the gums to see if there was any sign of movement.
Such stillness. The air was thick and I felt ill. A feeling of nausea filled my head as I
lay back down on my bed. The cats barely moved , their hot fluffiness against my
leg. I nudged them off the bed and they fell to the floor . Both raised their heads
looked up and went back to sleep not moving from where they fell. I lay on my
back, my legs raised to try and dispel the horrid feeling I had of passing out. Cold
sweat covered my brow and I felt my heart thumping like it was going to jump right
out of my chest. With each beat of my heart a drip of sweat rolled down my temple.
Thump, drip, thump, drip. I slept.
It was dark when I woke . There was a breeze coming through the open window.
The purple faded curtains flapped and waved like they were dancing to the music of
the rustling leaves of the gum trees . I could hear noises from the kitchen .Voices.
Talking quietly, inaudibly. I listened but couldn’t make out any of the conversation. I
thought about the spilled cordial and wondered if the ants had finished transporting
their haul. I should have cleaned it up. She wouldn’t have liked me not cleaning it
up. I was always a disappointment when it came to housework. She was
the ‘queen’. She loved housework. She would iron her tea-towels not once but five
times . She would iron it flat, fold it once, iron it, fold it again, iron it, fold it again,
iron it , fold it a final time and then iron it again. Underwear, sheets, towels nothing
missed her ironing board. She was like a madwoman, a woman driven to insanity,
ironing everything in her sight.
I sat up the breeze washing over my face like a cool face cloth. The nausea had
gone. I was hungry now and so thirsty but I wasn’t sure if I could face anyone. The
front door slammed and the voices faded off down the front path. I was safe. Safe for
awhile. I made my way to the kitchen. There were more dishes in the sink.
Although these were washed. No ants to be seen. The tablecloth was clean. A note
lay on the table. It was for me. It read. “T .Be back late. Make sure you eat . D.” T
was what they called me . My name was Therese. I hated it and it had been
shortened ever since I was old enough to tell everyone that. D was Dad.
I stuck my head in the fridge. Salad, cold meat, left over lasagne. Left over from
when though. I opted for a sandwich and grabbed the bread out of the pantry. Ants.
They were all over the bread. Obviously, the juice wasn’t enough for them. I threw it
back in the pantry and wished them a hearty meal. It looks like baked beans for
dinner tonight. A large glass of cordial a micro waved bowl of beans later and I
was ready for another lie down. I resisted the urge to return to the bedroom,
bypassed the lounge, TV was not enticing, the porch was my final resting place. I
sat on the step and placed my feet in the dead gardenias . Lifting and turning them
with my toes. Hoping to get the last bit of scent out of their dry brown petals. The
old black lab gingerly lifted his body onto the step beside me flopping down
exhausted he placed his paw on my lap. In the distance I could hear the cats
getting into a fight with the neighbors . Inseparable as they were they hated other
cats and were well known for causing many a feline war. She had named them
Starsky and Hutch after a TV show of the 70's. I had no idea who she was talking
about but the names stuck and strangely enough suited them.
The old black lab was named Diesel because he had been born in Dads old diesel
Ute. He was the runt of the litter but now resembled more of a Newfoundland than a
Labrador. He was huge.The breeze had become stronger and the air was distinctly
colder. A cool change had obviously arrived. I knew I should probably go inside but
there was something about the weather change that kept me on that step. It felt
wild. It felt real wild. Diesel decided it was too much for an old dog and took off
under the house where he slept most nights. I picked up a handful of gardenia
petals and ran into the front garden. Into the wind. Tossing them into the air the
wind whipped them up and lifted them like a tornado scattering them everywhere. I
ran around the house like a two year old squealing and laughing uncontrollably. I
felt so euphoric. The intoxicating smell of the gardenias again surrounded me. I felt
like one of the petals .The gum trees were singing to me. I felt lifted by the wind. I
Darkness surrounded me. The ground was hard and wet under my body. Light rain
showered my face. How long had I been laying on the ground? What had
happened? FLYING! My head it hurt. . There was a bump the size of a golf ball
above my right ear .FLYING. I carefully got to my feet . My legs barely held my
weight and I staggered through the back door and into the kitchen. I flopped down
into the chair and holding my head in hands tried to regain my senses. Thirsty. So
thirsty. There was a glass in front of me and I drank the left over cordial in it . It
wasn’t until I put it down again did I realize it was covered with ants. I washed it
down with more water from the tap. She would have been screaming at me by
now “Don’t drink the water. Its tank. Boil it first”. I filled my glass again and drank
some more .Washing the ants down. What a trip they would be having. Down into
the acids of my stomach. Poor ants. They were such hardworking fellas.
A warm shower beckoned me. My head throbbing incessantly. I looked in the
mirror as I removed my damp muddy clothes . My hair was stuck to my face with
the blood from my head. I looked into the eyes of the thing that stared back at me.
What was this I saw? This thing wasn’t me , surely not me. The blood and the mud
washed off . The shower base filling with the putrid grime , the plug hole not
allowing it to wash away. My head bled some more and the water became bright
red . I stood there for ages clearing my head and trying to wake from what only
could be described as a nightmare. My warm flannelette pj’s felt like heaven when I
put them on. I stripped my bed and threw the sheets on the dump pile. I will clean
it up in the morning, I told myself. Clean sheets, a warm doona , was all I needed
now. My bed welcomed me with the smell that freshly ironed sheets have. I really
did need to sleep. Dreams haunted me. Dreams of dead gardenias and ants. Ants
they were all over me . Picking at my flesh . Taking one morsel of me at a time .
One morsel at a time they took me. Off my bed, across the floor, up the wall and
out the window. Until there was nothing left of me . I was gone.
It was dawn when I woke . Birds have no respect for the sleep-in . Music from the
radio in the kitchen drifted into my bedroom. It was playing a song that I recognized
although I didn’t know the words. It was cheery and melodic. I touched my head ,
the bump had subsided and the blood hardened . I couldn’t smell the gardenias but
the rain had left a freshness in the air. I thought about the night before and
dismissed the craziness of it all putting it in the ‘dump pile’ of my mind. That was
another pile I would get to later, of course. Toast and fresh coffee tempted me . I
needed to meet the day head on. I needed to get to the table and ..... eat my
breakfast.The kitchen was empty, warm toast was on the table , a half drunk coffee
next to it. I grabbed a piece and slathered it with jam. It hardly touched my lips
before I swallowed. I was so hungry .I ate another and another. Coffee, I needed
coffee to wash it down. She didn’t like me to drink coffee. She drank tea. English
breakfast was her favorite. I didn’t like tea. I felt like a granny having it in the china
cups she would insist upon me using. “Tea must be drank in a china cup” she
would say in her ‘school ma’am’ tone. Coffee was what I needed. Coffee. I filled the
biggest cup I could find and went back to my bedroom. My sanctuary. My
sanctuary from what though. Nobody was ever here. In fact I couldn’t remember that
last time I saw anyone. I crawled under the covers and propped my coffee on the
pile of books at the side of my bed. No, I wasn’t studious. They were the right
height for me to put things on. I hadn’t even read one of them. One day I may read
them but not today. Not today.
Starsky and Hutch were huddled together outside the window meowing to get in. I
wouldn’t be getting up to let them in, not anytime soon that is. The back door
banged. It must be Dad. I heard a scuffle and a yelp. “DAMN DOG.... MY
TOAST...”The door banged again. I considered telling him it was me but that
would mean leaving the warm snug comfort of my bed. Not today. I’ll make it up to
Diesel later. My eyes are heavy and again I find myself curling up in my foetal
position to sleep. My doona surrounds me. Warm, cosy ... that smell ...fresh ironed
My door creaks when it is opened and that was what woke me. It was hours later.
My clock said 2pm. I hear Dad’s voice. “She’s asleep. She’ll call you later. She
needs her sleep”. Needs sleep. Me. That’s all I ‘ve done for...... how long has it
been? Voices, inaudible coming from the kitchen. They’re talking about me? I
couldn’t hear, it exhausted me trying. My eyes wandered across the ceiling, down
the wall to the floor. The ‘dump pile’ was breathing. There was movement. Surely
my eyes were playing tricks. Up, down, up, down. It was breathing .I lifted my
covers and swung my legs off the bed. My feet nervously touching the cold floor .I
slowly moved towards the pile. Reaching down. The pile ‘jumped’ at me. Starsky
and Hutch underneath it. Obscenities exiting my mouth with such ferocity I scared
myself and jumped back onto the bed. Memories of a small child turning the light
off and jumping from the door way to her bed so the monster underneath couldn’t
get her came flooding back. My heart pounding the cats long gone out the open
door. The day was still cool, although no more rain had fallen. It was dry and a light
breeze blew through the gums. I opened my window to freshen the room. Dad was
off down the front path again. This time Diesel was with him on a lead. He hated the
lead. He knew that only meant one thing . The Vet. I wondered why he was going
and laughed as Dad strained to lift him into the Ute. Fifty kilos of dog has got to be
I smoothed my sheet, gave my doona a good shake .That was my bed made.
Progress, I thought. The ‘dump pile’ was spread over most of my bedroom floor. I
kicked it with my foot as I passed and vowed to do it later. Right now I needed to
eat. My stomach felt cramped and empty. A strong metallic taste in my mouth, my
tongue seemed covered in fur. Flinging the fridge door open I grabbed a coke. The
ring pull broke off in my hand taking a nail with it. My cuticle bled as the nail bed
had been compromised. The pain so bad I stuck it in my mouth . The culprit coke
can ended up in the bin and I settled for cordial. The bread in the pantry was ant
free so I made myself a ham sandwich. Leaving my mess on the table behind me I
juggled cordial, sandwich and an apple and made my way to the lounge room. The
rule was no food in the lounge, (bedroom or bathroom) but I was safe as the house
again was empty. My three sisters were staying at the G’s house (that’s
grandparents) for a week. I couldn’t face it as they were her parents and as crazy
as she was. One time Gran had us wash to footpath out front of her home with
bucket and soap because quote “She was so embarrassed about its state” . To
this day I thought it looked fine, at the very least the same as all the other
neighboring footpaths. Gramps was a different story. He was an inventor. He was
the original ‘inventor’ of one of the very first “ thingamajigs that hold up the
whatchamacallit on the doodads.” He would spend hours in his shed on some
obscure invention, which could have been cool except we were NEVER allowed in
the shed. I remember one Christmas Day I snuck in and had a good look. There
were vegemite jars and rusted tins full of screws, nails, bolts and nuts. Boxes piled
high with plans and diagrams. Every hand tool ever imaginable hung on the wall.
The silken webs of spiders that called the shed their home lined the walls like small
party decorations. Brand new boxes of power tools were shoved unceremoniously
under the benches. Gramps had a problem with ‘electric ‘ tools. The family kept
buying them for him and they were never even opened. I remember thinking there
would most likely be another to add to the collection after that day .
That Christmas was the last one that I really enjoyed. Aunty Sal had come down
from Cairns. She was my favorite Aunty. She was only twenty four years old and
had moved from home when she was seventeen. She traveled all over Australia and
always had the greatest stories to tell. I always wanted to be like her and imagined
that I would be as soon as I could ‘escape’. Her hair was a deep auburn and she
had dyed purple strands framing her face. I loved her purple hair. I even dyed mine
the same but had to dye it back before I started school. She had a spider shaped
nose stud which sat in the crease of her perfect nose like she had been born with
it. I would never get away with a nose stud as long as I lived at home but that would
change, as soon as I could ‘escape’. Aunty Sal wore tie dyed dresses she had
made herself. It was the only time that color felt acceptable and cool .I think it was
the only time she approved of Sal. She thought Sal to be frivolous and irresponsible.
I’m sure she was jealous as Sal had become a success with a booming business
in Cairns selling her tie dyed creations to the public. I aspired to be just like her...I
longed to be her.
The front door slams and Dad stomps passed mumbling to himself rattling his keys
in his hand. I quickly shove the empty plate and glass under the coffee table and
follow him into the kitchen.He’s searching through a drawer, mumbling and
grumbling. “Dad.... What have you lost?”
“Wallet” He said tersely. “The dogs ill. It’s his cancers. They’re getting worse....” He
finds his wallet walks passed me, stopping only to give me a quick kiss on the
forehead. That was strange as Dad never shows much affection. A kiss is a big
deal, although this seemed ‘matter of fact.’ The front door slams and I am alone
again. The news of Diesels illness makes me feel guilty that I let him take the
blame for the toast this morning. Was that only this morning ?....it seemed like
days ago. Poor wretched thing, silly old dog.
I step over the cats sun baking on the front step as I go down the front path to the
letter box. There’s a handful of letters and bills, junkmail and a postcard. I read the
back of the postcard soon realizing it’s a ‘chain letter’. ‘Luck....send to you
friends.....will come back two fold.....bad luck if the chain is broken’. I rip it into
pieces, tempting bad luck to find me. Like a wave overwhelming anger consumes
me, my chest hurts and my face burns as it fills with blood. I throw the pieces of
postcard in the bin near the front gate and flop down next to it. As I sit there in the
dirt I noticed the ants weaving and zig zagging their way up the top of the bin.
Somehow this calms me and I sit there motionless. They come back down the
other side of the bin with their haul. Weaving and zig zagging all the way to the
ground, across the dirt and into the long grass. I sit there for ages , admiring their
efforts and reveling in their genius. I think when I come back I will be an ant. Small,
insignificant but definitely part of the big picture. I feel small and insignificant now,
not part of the ‘big’ picture. What really is the ‘big picture’? And would I know it if I
saw it? Far too deep a subject to explore when I still had the dump pile in my room
to contend with. Today would be the day that I tackled it and rid my room of
the ‘monster’ I had called friend for too long. The pile was to go today, yes, today
was the day. Of course that would mean I couldn’t let my mind wander and the
distractions had to be kept at bay, ants and gardenias needed to vacate the site
and the mind cleared for some serious cleaning.
First I needed to lift my tired sore body which felt like forty not fourteen up off the
dirt , away from the ant covered bin, up the front path, pass the gardenia pot pourri ,
over the ‘cat pretzel’ on the step, through the front door, ignoring the shrill call of the
TV in the lounge and into my sanctuary. My hovel as she would call it. The
dungeon where dragons lay, with the faded purple curtains that danced in the
breeze to the ‘music’ of the gumtrees as they swished in the wind. Where the smell
of dirty washing had overpowered the intoxicating smell of the gardenias and ants
crawled over the dirty cups that sat on the pile of unread books beside the bed.
Today was the day!
Three loads of washing , two garbage bags of rubbish, a sink load of dishes, a pile
of unfinished homework, four pairs of smelly runners, old magazines, and the list
goes on and on.. It all cleared away to reveal what lay beneath the pile. Three
photos. I stared at them lying on the floor. One of them was of me when I was three
or four. My hair was fairer and curly . I was tiny and fine unlike I am today . My
fourteen year old body transforming too quickly for my liking. I was wearing a pink
fairy costume, a tiara on my head, wand in my hand and the most glorious wings.
Like a butterfly. They sparkled as if they were covered in diamonds. I was running
around in the front garden. In front of the gardenia tree. It was smaller then but
covered in flowers. White, pristine flowers. The grass was greener than I had ever
seen it. Green and lush. I was laughing and waving my wand. The memories of that
day came back to me, they engulfed me, surrounded me. It was my birthday and
she had bought me the fairy costume to wear at my party. Of course it was a
magical fairy party, complete with fairy clothed guests, a Barbie cake and the
obligatory fairy bread. She had stayed up late hanging balloons and streamers so
as to surprise me in the morning when I woke. For my birthday I wanted a Barbie
and she had given me the most beautiful china doll. I wasn’t disappointed as three
of my guests had bought me Malibu 'Barbies'. The doll was so lovely and delicate. It
had fair hair and fine features and was wearing a pink fairy costume complete with
wings. I loved that doll . She told me it reminded her of me.
Another photo was of Diesel . He was only a puppy, and was curled up in the
laundry basket asleep. His coat shiny and black contrasted beautifully with the red
satin ribbon I had tied around his neck. He had been born 6 weeks earlier in the
back of Dad’s Ute. The runt of the litter of twelve. Each of his brothers and sisters
had found a home. He stayed with us . His mother passed away only a few months
later from a snake bite. I thought how he used to follow her around. He was always
at her heel. She would drop her hand by her side and Diesel would lick it. Although
she would complain I know she loved him. I hoped he would return that night . He
hated to stay away , he pined so badly. The third photo was of her. She held a
baby in her arms. She was younger then. Her hair was long and draped softly to her
shoulders. Dressed in a hospital gown her eyes looked tired , her cheeks rosy and
her smile so wide. Dad sat next to her leaning in close his face almost touching the
bunny rugged bundle that she held so tightly in her arms. That baby was me. They
looked so happy. I put the photos inside one of the books that were stacked
beside the bed giving myself a mental note to read my way through them soon. I
dusted and swept and hung my clean clothes in my now tidy wardrobe. I cleaned
my dresser. Threw out the wax covered containers where my incense and candles
usually smoldered. I even shook out the faded purple curtains. Dust filled the air.
The particles joined the stream of pink sunlight that came through the window. It
was dusk and a beautiful sunset was forming , pinks and mauve filled the sky. I
loved the sunsets here . They were always more spectacular , more colourful more
breathtaking. I watched until the sun disappeared behind the trees .The glow of the
sun flickering through them glowing golden against their darkened silhouettes.
I made dinner that night. Dad was tired and ate very little. I asked about Diesel and
he said he was spending the night , dismissing any questions about his health with
a grunt. He wearily rose to his feet and reached for my plate. I heard myself saying
words that were not often used by me. “I’ll wash tonight...” He relented without
comment and took himself to bed. I realized how he had seemed to age overnight.
The creases on his forehead had become deep furrows and his bright blue eyes had
lost their sparkle. His hair , although always thin , had become grey and lifeless.
The young Dad that I used to joke and laugh with had been replaced with a sad and
worn out old pensioner, surprisingly he was only forty. I washed the dishes, even
stacking them away, wiped down the benches and the vinyl red tablecloth.
Cicadas hummed outside , and another ‘feline war’ started outside the kitchen
window. I tripped over Starsky as I carried another load of washing to the now
bulging clothesline He took off inside , his faithful partner following. I fumbled for the
pegs, the distant porch light the only light. The sky was near clear, stars salted
across the blackness. The moon was creamy white and nearly full. The lawn, wet
from the night air, cooled my bare feet. The long blades of grass tickled as they
pushed between my toes. The cicadas momentarily stopped their incessant
noise. There was an eerie silence. I strained to hear a sound. A dog barked in the
distance. The monotone voices of the news came from the TV in the lounge, I could
hear Dad snoring in his room. The traffic from the highway at the bottom of the hill
caused a low rumble, air brakes of the trucks that steamed through our little
seaside hamlet all through the night screeched and squealed. The cicadas again
hummed and the ‘quiet’ night became a symphony of machine and nature. It
seemed almost melodic. I closed my eyes and listened to my night time lullaby.
In my bed that night I slept soundly. The long day was over and I felt a sense of
achievement I had not felt before. It lulled me and comforted me. I slept a deep
sleep, no dreams .....no nightmares, just ...sleep.
The smell of bacon and eggs woke me. I had slept in. It was 8am. I could hear
voices coming from the kitchen. One was Dad. The other vaguely familiar. I lifted
myself out of bed my curiousity getting the better of me and my empty stomach
giving some added incentive to leave the warmth of my doona. There were two
suitcases in the hall. One had a bright silk scarf tied to its handle. Dad was at the
stove turning spitting bacon over. Eggs their yolks dripping , sloppy grilled tomatoes
spilling off the edge of the heavily laden plate onto the vinyl red checkered
tablecloth. Toast burning in the toaster. The back door flung open. It was “Aunty
Sal....!” She dropped the basket of dry washing she was carrying and grabbed me.
Her embrace was hard and I returned it even harder. She pushed me back and
cupped my face in her cold smooth hands. Her eyes were as green as emeralds,
her spider nose ring had been replaced by a small ruby . Her purple hair was no
longer. It was now a fiery red. She had it cut short and she looked almost elfin. “Let
me look at you T” she gushed. “Such a young woman now... so grown up!” She
entwined her arm in mine and lead me to the table. Sitting me down she grabbed
plates from the pantry and juice from the fridge and both her and Dad joined me.
She talked non-stop at the table. Dad only occasionally looking up to nod in
acknowledgment .Her face was so animated. She talked of her flight, Cairns and
her thriving business. Dad excused himself and left the table to make a phone call.
Sal and Dad had known each other since she was four. She was a ‘pre-menopause’
baby as Gran had her at forty six. Dad was twenty then and she looked upon him
as a big brother. They loved to debate world topics and had had some memorable “
stoushes” in their time. Sal was the only woman other than her than made him
laugh. He was considered to be serious and quiet natured but not when Sal was
around. Most woman thought him to be distant and somewhat aloof. She never
seemed jealous of their friendship ,in fact seemed to encourage it. Often she would
step aside from board games saying “You two play.... I ‘ve got ironing to do “ and
with that she would pull out the rickety old ironing board and iron everything in
Sal washed and I dried . Her chatter seemed unending until...... an awkward
silence .She looked at me, then at the suds in the sink, then at me again. I know
what she wanted to say but neither of us said anything we just continued the
dishes in silence. Dad called her into the lounge. She shook off the suds from her
hands, wiping them on her multi colored gypsy skirt. Embracing me again she
kissed me on the cheek. Her scent was floral, like jasmines and her face was cool.
She whispered she loved me, squeezed my shoulder and left. I finished the dishes
and put them away. Emptying the dry washing in the hamper I brought the rest in
and pulling out the rickety old ironing board I ironed. I ironed sheets, towels, shirts
and even underwear. I ironed the tea-towels, five times. I ironed them flat, folded
them, ironed them, folded them , ironed them ,folded them, ironed them , then
folded them one final time and ironed them again. When I had ironed everything in
sight I put them away . I had never realized how much better the linen looked all
stacked neatly in their little ironed piles before now. The feeling of achievement
again visited me. I wanted to share it but when I passed the lounge Dad and Sal
were locked in discussion .Not wishing to intrude I continued onto my bedroom. My
sanctuary. Sleep beckoned me. I felt so tired I lay on the bed and slept.
Sal’s soothing voice woke me . Her cool, soft hands brushing my hair away from
my eyes “T...Therese” She lulled. I opened my eyes .Sal had never called me
Therese. Only she called me by my full name. “Therese, its time to get up . Your
Dad and I need to talk to you .Wash your face and meet us in the lounge.” With
that she stood up and left the room. I sat up wiping the crusty sleep from my eyes.
I knew there was going to be a time when I could not avoid this conversation. Sal
being here made it seem easier. I gingerly lifted myself off the bed. My head
spinning. The uneasy feeling from the day earlier had returned. My heart was
beating in my ‘throat’ as I stood my legs barely holding my weight. I gripped the
head of the bed as I steadied myself, the feeling barely subsiding I willed myself to
the bathroom. Nausea overwhelming me I just made it to the bathroom in time to
grab the porcelain toilet. I was vomiting uncontrollably. My stomach cramping I was
soon dry retching. Sal, hearing my plight, was soon rubbing my back comforting
me. Dad was at the bathroom door. Sal actioned and waved him away and he left
closing the door quietly behind him. I leaned back, the cold tiles icy on my spine.
Sal wiped my face with a wet cloth her soft voice cooing in a comforting tone . Cold
sweat from my forehead ran into my eyes, I closed them , they stung. We sat
there for what seemed like an eternity .Sal continued lulling me with her words.
She turned on the bath, undressing me , she helped me into it. Any
embarrassment that I would normally feel was non-existent . The bath was warm
and sudsy .My head felt too heavy for my neck to hold up. I supported it on my
drawn up knees. Sal washed my hair . It felt good. I had almost forgotten about the
bump on my head.. The soap irritating the cut I was soon reminded. The gentle
spray of the hand shower rinsed the bubbles down my body . Struggling to my feet
she helped me out of the bath patting me dry like a baby, she applied talc and
wrapped me in a towel. I couldn’t speak, my mouth felt dry and still tasted of bile.
Sal pulled a t-shirt over my head and helped me into my underwear. She tucked me
into bed and pulled the faded purple curtains closed. Sitting on my bed she stroked
my forehead. My eyelids became heavy, I wanted water but the words couldn’t form
inside my mouth. It was only seconds before I was asleep. I felt Sal’s presence
beside me. I felt protected. No nightmares, no dreams just sleep.