Ask Me About Saturdays
by Dulcie Stone
Bill snores through the alarm, which is still clanking when I
leave in dressing-gown and slippers; it's the only way to wake
him in a good mood.
The radio's on in Rina's room. No surprise. Guess who didn't
switch it off.
In the kitchen - switch on the radiator, put on the kettle, get
out the Weeties, bread, everything; get the lunches from the
fridge, pack their boxes - five of them but not mine, it's for
free at the Snack Bar. It goes with the job.
They come in like Brown's cows, rubbing their eyes and yawning
and go crook because I'm too busy to wait on them.
Fetch the iron. The rain has stopped but the uniform is still
damp. the steam's like a fog, hot and sweaty.
"Eat your breakfast, Mum." Wayne's already showered and
dressed. He has to leave early for a special assignment in metal
"I don't have the time. I've got to dry this.
"Use your new one."
"Then I'd have no spare. It costs."
"Money's not that tight."
"You know better."
He doesn't argue. He knows better.
Last week we sat down and worked it all out. Even if he goes to
work next year money won't be too much easier;
sixteen-year-old's don't earn too much. Besides there's still
the other three, and Bill's not getting any younger. There's
plenty of strong young men around; the way work is, labourers
are two a penny. Anyway, Wayne wants to go on, if we can manage.
He'll be a good electrician, with his brain. It's a great trade;
you always want one of them. They make good wages too, but it's
a long way off if that's what he wants to be.
He knows there's no argument. It don't stop him. "You should
take time to eat properly."
"I'll grab a piece of toast. Don't worry."
"You ironing my overalls?" Bill's red-eyed, puffy. Another late
night watching tely and drinking. Guess it beats thinking.
"I left them at the back door. They got soaked yesterday."
"You didn't tell me."
"Anyone with half a brain would work it out."
"I'm sorry. There's fresh ones in your drawer."
Now the uniform's only a little bit damp. It'll be right on the
"See you!" Wayne's off.
" 'Bye." Quarter hour to go; time for a cup of tea, a quick
slice of toast.
"I can't find them." Bill, looking helpless as usual.
"The top drawer. Top left hand drawer." For once not set out
ready and waiting for him.
"I looked there."
"I'm sorry. If I'd known you'd need them - "
"Don't forget to do the dirty ones for tomorrow." He's yanking
one leg after the other into them, tearing at worn hems,
panicking at being late.
"I'll try to wash them before work." There goes the breakfast.
"I'll be late tonight. Fred's got a birthday drink at the pub."
"Have a good day, love."
"Huh!" He hates the job. Winter and summer, rain, hail, or
shine, he's outdoors. He used to like it, when he expected to be
put on as a tradesman. Nowadays he's not got the papers. The
trade just grew past his schooling. Poor Bill.
"At least it looks like clearing up today." Trying to make him
So like Jamie, he pulls back away from being kissed, being
soft. "For what it's worth."
Back door slamming, he stomps off, out the gate, Digger
barking goodbye, down the road towards the corner, hurrying to
Fred's for his morning lift.
Yesterday's overalls, left by the back door, are wet and muddy,
stiff, from the wallowing filthy job he's on right now. There's
no way to get them washed and on the line in time, it's too late.
"Gary! Gary - can you put these in to soak?"
"He's gone." Rina's washing the breakfast dishes.
It starts, the panic. Don't be late!
"Rina - "
"I haven't time." The panic is there for her too.
"I'll do it." Jamie drops the tea-towel like a hot brick. "Rina
can finish these."
"No you don't." She shoves the towel back at him, eyes on the
clock. Like me.
Overalls waiting to be washed, uniform waiting to go, steaming
damp. I haven't washed, dressed, eaten - not even got to the
The clock hands race.
The bundled overalls and folded uniform fit into the big
carry-bag. Quick once-over the face, the hair, into skirt and
jumper, kiss the kids. Bladder waiting, fit to bust. No time.
"Rina! Don't forget to lock the house."
The bus pulls into the corner, waiting.
"Just made it again today," he grizzles, starts straight off.
Lurching down the aisle the heart's pumping something awful and
the sweat's soaking like a river.
We don't talk, too much bother.
He stops in front of the shop.
On goes the work smile, easy, cool.
" 'Morning, Peg." The Boss calls from the kitchen.
"Have a good night?"
"So so." Poor bladder, it just gets to the toilet.
The damp uniform sticks to the panic sweat. Great. First
the chairs off the tables ready for the ones who like to sit a
while, next wipe them over - the day's started, straight through
to morning tea break at ten-thirty.
"I've got to go to the laundromat."
Screaming wind slicing to the bones, no time to grab the coat,
teeth clattering like a jack-hammer.
The machines are full. "I'll be back to do these at lunch time.
Can you save me a machine?"
The girl frowns. "What time?"
Nothing's easy. "Two. Can you save one?"
"Leave them. I'll put them in for you." She's a new kid, nice.
"Thanks. I'll save you a sandwich."
Two comes round and the damned overalls take all the lunch
The kid's name is Esther; turns out her mother and me went to
"You're lucky to have a job. Does your mother work these days?"
"She has to. Dad left years ago."
"Is that so?" What's new? "I have to work, too. Still got four
"It's not cheap. Even with a father."
Poor kid, she looks jealous, as well she might. Fathers
just about come under the heading of luxury commodity, more ways
Afternoon - clean, put away, stack away, check tomorrow's
"Run along." The Boss finally says it. "I'll finish here."
She knows Jamie's too little to come home to an empty house.
Anyway, she doesn't believe in what she calls latch-key kids.
It's one of the reasons she keeps me on, even though I stay home
when they're sick. She's reckons I've got principles about the
kids so the same must go for the job. There's a lot of `help
yourself' in places like this. She should know.
Hurry. The wind worse than ever and, it seems, my coat thinner
than ever. Teeth going a treat but there's no choice. Week-end
left-over specials you want, today's the day.
The Supermarket's next door to the cheapest vegie place, should
be time for both. There's not. Even quick quick and pretend not
to see Esther's mum whose rushing too, there's still only time
for greens and a bag of spuds. Which is damned annoying to say
the least, it means another missed lunch to catch up at the
Supermarket or, again, trotting around at the end of the week.
Which is not needed on these legs in this wind.
On the bus I fall asleep. It's the same bus every night nearly,
they're used to it. They wake me at the corner, but the aching
legs have the staggers. Rest, before off again. Stagger,
The house is filthy, left in such a rush.
But Jamie's right on my heels and hollering for a hot cocoa and
chocolate cake. We're just about out of cake, you'd think they'd
get stuck into pumpkin to fill the empty spots, anything else
they eat like pigs. Anything not cheap!
What to do first?
Cook or clean or -
The vacuum motor drowns the sound of Rina coming in.
"I asked them to the party."
"Rina!" The nerves are shot too. "Don't creep up on me like
"The girls are coming to the party."
"What party?" Switch it off, take time for her.
"It's not funny."
She's getting too big for her boots. Eleven! At eleven I hardly
opened my mouth, Dad would have wallopped me, but then he'd have
been home to do it.
No Dad home, it's over to Mum. "There'll be no party if you
don't pull your head in, my girl."
"I didn't say nothing."
"I don't like your ways, lately, Rina." We wind the vacuum cord
into the machine, no more of this today. "You're getting very
uppety. I am your mother."
"Sorry." But sarcastic.
"You'd better be. Your father hears you cheeking me, he'll let
you have it."
"Have what?' Sly, quick eyes corner-wise.
Better not go on.
"Here." Cross, shoving the cleaner at her. "Do your room, it's
"What about my homework?"
"Do your room first."
She drags the machine to her room, bump bump into the walls and
doors already scratched and chipped from other tantrums.
"Rina - " She's got to learn better -
Leave her alone, enough for one day.
She slams the door behind her.
You'd think you'd get used to it, peeling vegies, mincing
left-overs, making puddings, biscuits for lunches, cakes, trying
to wash the dishes as they're used to make less fuss later, and
God knows what else all at once.
My head's bursting, I feel sick. The smell of food -
I haven't eaten!
There's no time for anything except a piece of chocolate cake,
but it sits like a wet log on the empty stomach, and the orange
juice to wash it down just curdles like sour milk on top. Yuck,
as Rina says.
There's no sound from inside her room.
The room's empty, the vacuum cleaner behind the door, the bed
not made, papers and textas and tissues all over - a brothel.
No Rina - the window wide open, cold air pouring in. She hasn't
even bothered to pretend.
From outside children laughing. There she is, borrowed roller
skates on, racing down the hill with her friends, hair flying
behind and face red in the biting wind, laughing free and happy.
"Rina!" Anger chokes the shout she don't hear.
She topples and the kids crowd round till she comes up
Why anger? Poor kid, she didn't ask for me and Bill and no
money. Look at her mates, happy and free and mums inside where
they ought to be doing the housework.
It don't take long to make her bed, vacuum the room, pull down
the window; Wayne and Gary are coming in the front gate.
Wayne stops in the doorway. "You should make her do her own
"I don't mind."
"Want a hand?" His fingers are itching on the clasp of his
"No thanks, love. You've got your homework."
Gary's nowhere to be seen, trust him.
Outside it's nearly dark. They'll be yelling for their tea.
It's bedlam, yelling kids, burning cakes, boiled-dry potatoes.
So much for being sorry for Rina.
They are all washed and waiting at the table, like hungry
wolves, mouths open and eyes ravenous. Yuck.
We're just started when the door slams.
"Daddy!" Rina drops her fork. "Daddy's home!"
His tea's on top of the saucepan, hot. Mine on the table
"Looks good." He washes his hands at the sink, dries them on a
tea-towel because it's too much trouble to go to the bathroom.
Why argue? This battle, too, is history.
"You're home early. I thought you were having a birthday drink
"They're having it at his home." He takes the plate. "Ouch! Why
didn't you tell me it's hot?"
No `thank you'. Nothing.
"They're putting a turn on at Fred's. You're invited."
I feel sick; sh!
"No big deal. You should go."
The kids have gulped their's down, and escaped. We're alone at
the table, him eating, me - the food's cold, the stomach lead.
"Betsy came the heavy. The bitch won't let Fred out."
Answering is not on.
"You're not eating." He's wiping caramel topping from his chin.
"Good idea. You'll enjoy the supper. Betsy sure can cook."
"Bill - " The coffee's bitter.
"Eh?" Suspicious, he knows what's coming; we've been this round
"Do you mind if I don't go?"
Please not tonight.
He slams his plate across the table. "I can't win! I come home
early. I go to all the trouble - Not you! Not you! What is it
"Shit! Always something. How sick? Should I stay with you?"
"How sick? Sick enough to stay home tomorrow? I'll call a
"Bill - "
"I get it! Too sick for my friends!"
"I'd like to go. Honest." Not true. I've been there - the grog,
the foul mouths, the snickering pig men and the whining bitch
"Just don't complain when you're not asked next time."
It's quicker to wash and dry the damned dishes alone; no help
from no one.
Digger eats my cold tea, a bonus.
He's dressed and ready. Blue eyes, blonde hair, handsome in his
wool jacket and best trousers.
"Love - I feel better." Maybe this time will be okay. "I can be
ready in ten minutes."
"I'm late." His lips soft. "I'll be home early - "
"Do you have to go?" If only -
"I'll be home early." His skin smooth, sweet with after-shave,
his strong arms gentle.
"Bill - "
"Keep it warm, hon." His hands under my skirt.
"The kids - " But my hips move with his hands.
"I'll be home early."
My groin aches. In the dark passage, throbbing, tied in knots,
wanting him, hating him, ashamed, aching -
Sick - screaming sick.
Into the bathroom, burning head on cold tiles -
The kids - stop!
Naked cruel light on grey face in yellow mirror.
Old face in yellow mirror
"Mum! Where are you? Mum!"
"Coming, Jamie. Coming - "
* * *
Outside, through the window, the streets are cold, silent and
In here it's dead, no noise but warm and cosy and safe.
I tuck the nighty around my feet, drag the blankets into a
So tired so very tired with no sleep no peace
I should have gone but he never goes with other women never has
Uncomfortable with women - me even - except in bed
They try - the young women try - he's beautiful
Stop! You're a fool. Go to sleep.
Fred's car at the gate, sneaking soft with lights low because
it's late and `Peg's asleep'.
The car goes. His feet stumble down the passage.
"I'm not asleep."
Stale beer and sour after-shave. "Honey - "
"Damn." He fumbles shaky fingers.
I help him lift the nighty.
A minute -
"Honey - " He rolls off.
Pull down the nightdress, the shame is the same; if only I'd
gone with him.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, love."
* * *
The kitchen floor freezes my bare feet.
I need the pain.
I make hot tea, open the window to the winter ice. Cheeks
chill, freeze, pain pierces, pain -
No one comes, no one knows, will ever know so sorry so -
Outside a late car sloshes through the gutters, its lights
spray the window and disappear.
I'm shivering, not tired. Have I ever been tired? Never it
feels like. There's always been pain and cold and no one else;
too much pain. Not enough. The legs argue - too much -
The sleeping pills are at the back of the cupboard; the second
time in a week the rule's going to be broken.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow's Wednesday, busy as hell.
Don't. Don't take them, you'll be clumsy and useless, risk the
Slow, not wanting to, they return unopened to the back of the
Back in bed, warm, cosy, stinking beer, snoring garlic,
grunting half-words angry - some party!
Counting snores like counting sheep, with grey streak of dawn
and milk wagon padding past on muffled hooves.