Ask Me About Saturdays
by Dulcie Stone
The back door slams.
"Take off your shoes."
"In here, Jamie. I'm in here."
He's in the kitchen doorway, water pouring down his rain-coat
into a puddle on the polished lino which was done again this
morning, after they all left, with their mess of marg. and
crumbs of weeties and lord knows what else all over. One of
these days we'll get a decent lino. Maybe.
"I'm sorry." He takes off the coat.
"Hang it in the laundry."
Laundry - joke. It's not a real laundry, just a stuck-on lump
of iron out on the verandah plus a few timbers against the
weather, but what else are you to call it when it's the only
place to do the wash?
At least Bill did that much. When we bought it there was just
one of these ancient wash-houses stuck in the middle of the back
yard, with a two-foot wide `path' to walk on. Great. Summer and
winter was hopeless, dust and heat or rain and cold, take your
pick. Spring and autumn wind, cold or hot, frost; take your pick.
So there it is, the verandah-cum-laundry, for better or worse.
The custard at last thickens, pours into a jug to stand on the
bench to cool. Another fun affair which don't make for laughing;
scrubbed wood benches and cracked sink like Gran used to skite
about because she was better off than the neighbours with their
Now the laundry floor is awash too with the flood from Jamie's
coat. Hell. But he's only a kid.
"It's all right, love." He pulls away from cuddling. Six - a
big boy. "Get into the bath and put on dry clothes."
"Can I watch Lassie?"
"What about your home-work?"
"Miss was busy. She let us off."
"Are you telling me the truth?"
It'd be nice to hug him.
"Okay. Watch Lassie after your bath, then practise reading till
"You let Rina swear."
He's gone so we can't argue.
First, hang the sodden coat above the trough, collect the muddy
shoes from the back door, clean them, then come back to peel the
spuds and carrots and pumpkin.
Rina's late, stopped in at Kelly's for sure. In my day we told
our mothers when we'd be late.
It's after five before she's yelling at the back door. "I'm
"Take off your shoes."
"They aren't wet." She takes a carrot; the crunch of her teeth
stabs like a knife.
"Ask! Ask me first!"
"You're in a mood."
"Watch who you're talking to. Don't side track! Why are you
"I went to Kelly's. Her dad drove me home." Crunch.
"Next time tell me."
"I mean it."
"But I don't know. I don't know in the mornings."
"You can come home and ask me first."
"It's too far. Why can't I have a bike?"
"Don't start that again."
"You're not fair."
"Rina - I'm too tired to argue. Please don't start."
Round and round we go like kids on a merry-go-round except
there's no merry, just go-round and go-round, and the legs feel
like a mouthful of aching teeth except it's my legs. "Rina -
please - "
"Shit!" Off, in a huff.
At least she leaves me alone.
The stool's not much help. By the time you pull it all round
the kitchen to peel vegies and fix saucepans and the stove you
might as well walk, if you can walk, but sometimes you get the
feeling another step won't happen.
Bill says to get the varicose operation and bugger the money,
but what with the pay packet that wouldn't arrive for six weeks
and more off my feet, plus the doctor's extras on top, there's
no way, not till I've got the screaming meamies from the legs
which is right now, feels like, this minute.
Back to the panadol; the pain shows in the face. Bill might be
dull, but not that dull.
Gary and Wayne arrive after the pain is easier and tea's on the
"Hi!" Wayne waves his way through.
"No pumpkin, Mum." Gary spots the peels.
"Hello. Nice to see you and all that." Sarcasm's not our thing,
"Sorry, Mum." Gary don't even blink. "Give my share to the
"Jamie'll eat anything." Wayne's back, laughing. "Any given
"How was school?"
They don't hear.
The tely blasts louder.
They're in the lounge, no light, the blue flicker of the screen
dancing around the cold room.
"Jamie, I told you to do your reading."
No answer, They might as well be on Mars.
"Jamie! Rina!" I turn it off.
"Hey! Mum - "
"I should think so. Welcome to real life."
"It hasn't finished."
"It'll finish without you two. I need a hand."
Ache ache back to the kitchen. I don't know which is worse,
walking on them or standing on them; the pills are wearing off
already, just with the walking.
"Why do I have to eat pumpkin?" Rina pulls a face. "Gary and
"Give it to me." Jamie will eat anything, like Wayne says.
"When you're their age......" For the thousandth time to Rina.
"I'm thirteen." Gary nudges Wayne, taking a rise out of Rina.
"I'm fifteen." Wayne nudges Jamie.
"And I'm baby bear." Jamie falls about laughing, with the gravy
dribbling down his chin in a brown sticky river, like mud.
"It's not fair." Rina's favourite word for the month. "They're
picking on me again."
"What's for pudding?"
"Bread and jam. There's pie from last night with custard, but -
"I'm not hungry."
Spoilt miss, left-overs not good enough for her. She's already
back at tely.
"I thought you wanted to hear the News?" Wayne reminds Gary.
"You've got an assignment. Remember?"
"Can I eat my pudding in the lounge too?" Jamie's polished off
three extra serves of pumpkin and is still up for extras.
"I'll help with the dishes." Wayne, as always.
He washes because he likes the cosy feel of the suds on his
"How was school today?"
I stack the dishes away, check the heat under the plate
steaming on the saucepan on the stove, collect the ironing
This weather there's always waiting for washing to get dry
enough to iron. Which has to be better than summer, when it's
the reverse, with it always ready and waiting so there's too
much to keep up with.
Wayne sets the ironing board in front of the tely.
"You should make Rina do some." Gary shifts for a better view.
"Speak for yourself." Wayne's sorting non-irons into a spare
heap, folding carefully so they'll be fit for use. "I don't see
you knocking yourself out."
"It's Rina's bed time." Anything to head off an argument.
You can't blame them. They've got their lives to lead. It's a
miracle Wayne even tries to help.
"Can I phone Kelly?" Rina pretends she hasn't been listening.
"Its' your bed-time. Besides, you can't keep pestering Mrs Fry."
"She likes me visiting."
"It's too late."
"I'll only be a minute."
"I know your minutes."
"Dad's not home."
"It's not the point. What do you want to phone her for, anyway?
You were with her a couple of hours ago." Damn, the steam is
burning and the legs are going again; still.
"Can I get you a chair, Mum?" Wayne don't miss a thing.
"No, love. Thanks. It takes longer. I just want to get it done."
"Can I, Mum?"
"Rina? Can you what?"
"What about the stool?" Wayne's still in there trying.
"No - "
"What?" Steam in my face and in my head, fogging, tired.
"Can I phone Kelly?"
"No! I told you."
"Just a minute."
"She said no."
"I wasn't talking to you."
"Leave her alone, Gary."
"I can't hear." Now Jamie's in on the act.
"What do you want to phone her for?"
"I've got to talk about my party."
"You promised. You said because I missed last year."
"You did, Mum." Wayne says I did, I must have. Last year this
time was even worse, Gary starting at Tech, Jamie starting at
school, taxes up, income down, work shaky.....
"I'm sorry I forgot. Phone Kelly."
"The party. What about the party?"
"Tell her she can come to tea."
"The other girls too?"
"The other girls too." Anything to turn off that whining voice.
"Jenny Thomson too?"
"Your father won't like it."
"You want a party? Forget Jenny Thomson. Ask your nice friends."
"When Mum? When?"
"Rina - I'm tired." It slips out too quick.
"I've got to tell Kelly."
"Can't you think of anyone but yourself?" Wayne's cross with
her; their Mum crying none of them need.
"It's not your birthday."
"If it was, I wouldn't be making such a fuss."
"You're too damned good to be true." Copying her father.
"Shit!" Now it's Gary. "I can't concentrate. Goodnight!"
"Why can't I have all my friends?"
"Talk to me tomorrow. Just phone Kelly and tell her it's on."
"Count me, too." Jamie's show is ended, he can think about
"You're too young."
"You came to my birthday."
"It's only for girls."
"What'll I do?" Jamie makes a face. "Scare them?"
"Mum?" She still hasn't left. "Can we go to McDonald's?"
"You didn't let me! It's not fair!"
"Mum? Can we?"
"Bed!!! Go to bed!"
"But Mum - "
"Now look at what you've made me do!" Tomorrow's uniform is
scorched. "Stop arguing! Just stop arguing!"
Jamie turns up the tely. Wayne clears out after Gary. Rina goes
What to do? A clean uniform every day, it's the rule. Has to
be, with the stains of sauce and pickles and fruit and
everything; a clean uniform every day.
The burning smoke is blinding. The smell chokes. Pumpkin and
sausages heave, I'm going to be sick. No!
Turn off the iron, carry the board into the laundry with the
unironed things, stand the red-hot iron on the sink to cool.
Jamie's too close to the screen.
"Bed time, love."
The blue uniform with the dark brown iron-shape burn is still
on the floor. There's a small hole where it's scorched right
through. It'll have to be mended with a panel from an old one.
God knows there's enough of them. Four years worth, since Jamie
could be minded, pouring out of cupboards, all waiting to patch
new ones getting older. Blue, always blue.
Today's uniform goes in to soak; it might dry over-night.
Ironing in the morning. Early.
Back in the kitchen Rina's not home yet, her minute can be
Get out the bread, the margarine, cheese, jam, vegemite, set
slices out on the bench. Sandwiches all day, sandwiches half the
In the laundry the uniform's still not real clean, not soaking
long enough, so scrub and hope for the best. Outside. It's
stopped raining. It might dry over-night. Don't pray for rain -
joke - not funny.
The verandah light reaches nearly to the clothes-line, but the
last few feet you have to feel your way in the dark. The line
picks up the light's glitter, but it's cold and the wind goes
right through to the bone. What if it don't dry in time? There's
a new one in the drawer but once it's in circulation there'll
have to be money found to buy another spare.
Back inside quick, shut out the icy wind.
"You left the iron hot!" Rina home, finding fault.
"What other way is there to leave an iron?"
"I nearly burned my hand."
"Here," I stab the knife at her. "Try spreading some
sandwiches. Do something useful for once."
"Why me? It's always me."
She starts to work anyway, quick, to get it over. Together we
move into it; it still takes time, but not so much.
"I'll finish." She tries hard, it don't hurt to let her know
it's appreciated. "Thanks, love."
"Can I watch tely?"
"It's too late."
"What about Jamie? You let him."
The penny drops; I forgot to check him.
He's on the lounge floor, tely low.
"Jamie! Go to bed!" A short fuse, shorter than normal. Scary.
"It's nearly finished.
He's off, frightened at last.
Rina watching, smirking.
"You too!" Following, this time checking, policing
teeth-cleaning, washing behind ears, the lot.
Cooler, him lying in bed, looking up, not sure about being
"Good night, love." He lets me kiss him, to be sure it's
passed. "Sorry I yelled. But you have to do as you're told."
Into Rina, radio on, light out, kiss goodnight. Check Wayne and
Gary doing homework, back to finish the lunches.
"Where have you been?" Bill staggers out of the lav.
"You're home." This short fuse is getting shorter.
"I've been here quarter of an hour. Where've you been?"
"With the kids." His quarter hour's like Rina's minute, what he
wants it to be.
He takes the lid off the saucepan that's keeping his tea hot.
No wonder the kids carry on.
"They were on special."
He pushes the pumpkin off, onto the stove; it sticks and burns,
a stinking sick smell. Watch the stomach.
It's already getting hard to scrub off.
"Leave it. It'll keep."
He's at the table, waiting; watches his beer is poured so it
The plate's hot, the tea-towel thin. There's not enough food
without the pumpkin.
"What's for pudding?"
Just as well there's plenty saved for him because the kids
didn't get stuck into the custard.
"What's on tely?"
"Monday Movie." As if he doesn't know.
I shove the program guide under his nose.
"I can't read that. Bloody small print."
"You should get glasses."
"Don't start - " He shoves the guide back.
"I thought we might watch the new show on Seven."
"What new show?"
"It's a variety show. You know, talks and acts."
"Huh." He can't stand them.
"This one's supposed to be good. They were raving about it
"The Boss and - "
"A woman's show."
"Not that I know of."
"Watch the movie. What is it?"
"It's - " No hope once he knows. "It's Audie Murphy. Real old."
He skids his empty plate across the table, goes.
Fresh water, detergent which isn't cheap. Not like the old days
when bar soap went further. You can't hardly buy it and if you
did the kids would turn up their noses.
Light off and in the lounge-room the tely's on again. He's
zonked out in front of it no different from Jamie.
"Rina wants a birthday party."
He don't hear.
"Bill!" He wants a hearing aid and glasses.
"You talking to me?" Eyes don't leave the movie. "You don't
have to shout."
"Rina wants a party for her birthday."
No answer, not until ten minutes pass when there's an Ad.
"What birthday?" He leans forward, making a fuss about
listening in the Ad. time so as not to interrupt the picture.
Audie Murphy has a lot to answer for.
"She's eleven next week."
"We promised her a party."
"Eleven! Time goes - " Mind on the tely again, watching the Ads.
"I'll want extra house-keeping."
"Sure." For Rina. No problem. "How much?"
"I'll work it out Friday."
"Eleven! She's eleven!"
"I thought - McDonald's." Might as well try now.
"What's wrong with her own home?" Predictable.
"They all do it."
"You tell her I'll be here. I'll be here early. We'll have
"But - "
"Shut up!" Ads ended.
Audie Murphy smirks at me; he's won. Forget it. He'll give
in, but when and how is anybody's guess. Enough, for tonight.
Next Ad. "Bill - do you mind if I turn to the Show a minute?"
"Just to see what's it's like."
"God, woman! Get off it! I'm bushed."
Which makes two of us.
Too late, Ads finished, Audie back, fists smirk and all.
"I'm going to bed."
Not worth his answer. If he even hears.
He pours another beer; his sort of answer.
Down the passage with strips of light under their doors, all
shut. It'd be nice to talk to Wayne and Gary. Not fair. They're
studying. From Jamie's room the sounds of snoring, true or false.
True. He's asleep, not pretending. I pull the blankets away
from under his nose and, asleep, he pulls them back again. Kiss
the bit of forehead poking out. If only - Light off, door
Rina - radio on, low; she'll go to sleep with it on. Leave
The bed is cold, the sheets freezing. I pull the blankets
around my head. As Bill says, no wonder Jamie does it. I hope to
God the uniform dries, if it's too damp I'll have to stand
around drying it with the iron. Which means get up early, test
the legs - . Maybe unpack the new one? Then save for the next?
What about the party?
Best set the alarm half an hour ahead -
Later, there'll be Rina's light to switch off - before