Ask Me About Saturdays
by Dulcie Stone
"I'll take you after school, Jamie."
"You'll be late again."
"Yeah." Not believing.
You can't blame him.
"Just make sure you come home to change. I'll be waiting."
"Can I come too?"
Rina in the shops!
"You can go to Kelly's."
"I want to come too."
"This is Jamie's outing."
"Some outing." Jamie's not impressed. "You're only going to the
shoe shop and groceries."
"If you're good we'll look at the toys."
"That's not fair!"
"You'll get your turn, Rina."
"It's always his turn."
"Because I'm the littlest."
"Shut up!" Bill slams out of the bathroom. "Stop the damned
I hardly slept, all the bed rest at tea time and the throbbing
in the hand, and him snoring because he got stuck into the beer
when he was left alone early. His yelling don't help right now,
on top of the kids fighting.
"We won't want tea tonight." Wayne's turn now. "There's a
special basketball meeting."
"This is different."
Are they playing up? All these nights out? It don't matter; if
they're up to something it's past doing anything about.
"Where are you going to eat?"
"We're supposed to bring a plate, in case the meeting goes on
late." Gary pretends he don't see Wayne's glare.
"What's the look for?" Bill catches it.
"I wasn't going to bother Mum. We can eat the other's stuff."
"No son of mine's going to cadge. Your mother can find
At the end of the week?
There's been no fancy cooking since Monday, not that sort of
"There's nothing, except maybe I can make a couple of
sandwiches. Shopping's tonight."
"Rot." He's not joking; he really hasn't got a clue. "There
must be something better than sandwiches."
"Here - " He throws a packet of cake mix, ready for emergencies.
"There's no time." The clock isn't going to stop because he
wants it to.
He starts on the cupboards, banging around with a racket like
machine guns going off. Clack! Clack! Clack! "There must be
"You should have let me know in time." Quiet, to Wayne.
"Don't worry about it, Dad." Wayne tries to stop him.
"We'll be late." Even Gary wants to forget it.
"Anyway, Mum's hand is too bad."
It's an excuse, at least.
They grab their lunches, and are out the door while he's still
on the warpath clackety clack through my head.
"They've gone, Dad." Rina's voice penetrates.
"It's too. late, They've gone."
"Struth! I'm late!" He gu[ps down cold tea, takes his sloppy
toast with him, and is off to meet Fred.
"You'll be home on time, won't you, Mum?" Jamie's got a memory
like an elephant.
Rina drops her plate in the sink. "I have to leave early, too."
Jamie stuffs his toast down, and follows.
"Wash your hands!" They don't hear; their heels are
disappearing out the back door.
Then there was one. Me.
Feeling stupid again, taking in the swinging cupboard doors and
the near-empty shelves and the crumby floor, the jammy table,
the sink overloaded with dishes some of them last night's they
didn't bother with.
Then there was one. Bunny me.
All the same when I need them, like last night, they rally.
They're a good bunch, all told.
Friday, more people on the bus, and tireder. Today I'm pretty
rested and the fever isn't so bad, maybe because the pills are
starting to do the job, maybe just because it was due to get
Even the legs are on the improve; it might be useful every
week, an early night - sleep or not.
She's in a foul mood, guess she didn't get no extra time in bed.
There's the Friday panic, more people, more lunches, more fancy
snacks we aren't ready for, and no way to predict the casuals
who stroll in any hour in the middle of their Friday shopping.
It makes for more problems, you make too many sandwiches
they're left-overs for maybe toasting after being in the freezer
the week-end. You make not enough and there's the panic of
last-minute jobs while the customers wait. Which she definitely
does not like. A queue is not good advertising; people walking
past keep right on walking to the next snack bar.
Plus this Friday there's my hand, which makes her unhappier
than ordinary. Except she feels guilty it happened here, so
there's not a lot she can say about it. It's awkward though, and
slows me down considerable. Main thing is, by three it's over
and I'm away early with the pay packet in my bag, the doctor's
certificate in the fire, and feeling ninety percent okay which
is the best since this wog hit. Things definitely are on the
up-grade. At last.
Home and changed before Jamie's due, nice going. What's more,
he's on time also. With Rina.
"I decided to come too." Brazen as you like, she's in her room
and changing before there's anything to say.
You have to try. "I promised Jamie. It's his shoes. Your turn
"I told her she could." Blue eyes easy and sure. It wouldn't
occur to him to be selfish.
So like Wayne my heart turns over. "All right."
"See." She's brushing hair already shiny. Growing up, and
knowing it. "I told you she'd give in."
What's to lose? We don't get that much of a chance, and last
night was good, if we can string it out a bit so much the
better. "I'm not giving in. Just changed my mind. Okay?"
The four o'clock bus nearly gets away from us. We scrounge for
seats among the school kids, Jamie on my lap not liking it but
it beats standing. Rina squeezed in beside a mountain of a woman
who unfolds all over her after she's sat. She squirms but the
mountain just flops some more.
In the end poor Rina stands and hangs onto the straps. She's
got her eyes on some Tech school girls. You can read her mind;
year after next she'll look like that, brown check uniform with
skirt barely decent just hiding her bum, brown stockings and
shoes, smart perky hat.
She don't see the over-loaded school bags with the week-end's
home-work, or the frowns because of not-done assignments, or the
fact that almost none of them has a seat, and this is what it is
like for every single school day coming and going and some have
to travel for miles.
Funny, she don't take much notice of the boys. Guess that will
come all too soon, then it'll be eyes in the back of the head
time. She don't think about why she's interested in clothes and
shiny hair and all the rest of it; even at ten nearly eleven it
just comes natural.
"Hullo, Mrs Murphy." A tall fellow, about fourteen, pimply skin
and scruffy uniform.
"Hullo." Who is he?
"You don't remember me." He's got plenty of nerve.
"Yes." The smart-alec act jogs my memory. "You're Fred Watkins
He knows a put-down when he hears it, so comes back with:
"Right. Dad drives Bill to work because you haven't got a car."
"I remember you." None of it's lost on Rina. "You're Ricky."
She does notice boys! From the look in her eye I'd better start
playing policeman pretty quick. Why should it be any different
from any of us at her age? Kidding myself again.
We sort of keep it going, being slimy polite, till our stop
which comes with more than a bit of relief. Getting off, knowing
to keep a watchful eye out for young Ricky in the not too
distant future, specially as he's too dammned much like his dad.
Jamie's shoes first. His feet short and fat like mine, hard to
fit and trying the patience of the end-of-the-week-tired sales
She's got my sympathy, a young kid not long out of school; us
to contend with, others waiting while Jamie gives her the
run-a-round, and her old mates outside the shop fresh from
school and nothing better to do than tease her. Great!
Especially when it turns out there's no shoes here to fit him
"I'm afraid you are going to have to go into a more expensive
brand." She breaks the bad news about as gently as a log falling
on a sore toe. "Martin's down the street keep them."
"I want to go home." Jamie's had enough, shopping's not his
"I'm not going through this again. It's tonight or never."
"He's walking on holes now, Mum."
"So we'll get the shoes."
"Why can't I have my footy boots?"
"When we get the money."
"You've got money now."
You'd think he could see the ten dollars burning a hole in my
"Only for shoes. Shoes first. You can't wear footy boots for
"I can't wear school shoes for football." Nothing wrong with
"I don't see why he can't."
"Rina!" Why didn't she stay home? This is above and beyond.
"Why can't I have both?"
"If you don't shut up - " Fierce, with the salesgirl waiting
and customers smirking.
"I want footy boots!"
"I warn you - "
He kicks out, misses, runs out the door.
"Thank you, love. We'll try Martin's." Out after him, like a
dog skulking off with its tail between its legs.
Through ogling school uniforms, down the street to Martin's,
dragging fighting Jamie and stirring Rina, eyes on the racing
clock. Patience is racing the clock too.
Outside Martin's. "You two make a fool of me in here, that's
it. No party for you, Rina. No football boots for Jamie next
Jamie sulks, at least that's better. Rina meets me eyeball to
eyeball. What's she planning?
Plumb-in-mouth and blue-rinse in a matching blue dress, she
looks down her posh nose at us. "May I help you?"
"He wants football boots." Rina, quick as a witch.
"I'm sorry." Six shades of red already. "Rina's got it wrong.
I'm looking for school shoes his size."
"If you'll be seated." She's off, Rina beneath her dignity.
"I mean it, Rina - no party."
She looks sidewise. We both know her father won't stand for it.
You'd know it, they cost half as much again as we reckoned. But
he can't go barefoot.
"Would you care to lay-by them?" Blue-rinse isn't dumb.
"We'll take them." Snappy, not to let on it cuts right into the
It'd be different if the kid was grateful. Instead, he's acting
like his throat's cut. No footy boots and not enough money for
fancy items, not even a packet of biscuits, this week.
No - some pride I got left and that tenner goes for Rina's
"You promised me a toy too."
God give us strength!
"I heard you." Rina's on a good thing this time.
"You two don't shut up, I'll take you home and come back."
"Will you!" Jamie thinks I mean it.
"Of course she won't, stupid. She's only saying that."
The Supermarket is crowded, kids bowling along every which-way,
frazzled mums with tight faces and glassy eyes seeing nothing,
with hands like robots picking things off shelves and mouths
like puppets yelling at the kids; me too.
The wire basket gets heavier, but there's only what we really
must have. Spuds and flour, vegies and bread and margarine;
nothing fancy, not even one emergency cake mix which means, plus
the biscuits, everything else is going to have to be made the
hard way. Plus of course finding the specials, all the time
working it out so there's not too much to carry because the
middle of the week shopping was missed.
Past the toy section, making for the check-out in one mighty
rush before they can make too much fuss.
Once he's cottoned on what's going on, he balks. "You promised
"You did, Mum."
"I want a car."
"He wants a car." Rina, reaching for my purse.
"Stop that!" Slap.
Crying loud as hell, nursing her hand.
The whole shop's watching.
"Cut it out!" Dragging Jamie by the hand, wheeling the trolley,
waiting in the bug-eyed queue.
You'd think no-one else ever had naughty kids. It'd be easier,
buying the damned car, but something's got to stick. So, for
once, they're going to know I mean it. Also there's this little
matter of what a toy car costs and what them flash shoes cost.
Jamie's off out the front of the store.
He comes, alone.
Looking about for Rina, the lady behind watching.
"She skipped out." The lady, smug.
"Wait till I catch her."
You might have known it, twenty minutes the check-out takes,
and Rina's long gone.
"It's scary." Jamie clings tight. Eerie, winter evening, mist
settling in, manic traffic. Scary.
"Don't worry, love. We'll be home soon."
"Are we waiting for Rina?"
"She'll be at the bus stop."
She's pretty cute. It's an old trick, getting cross then
running off means she don't have to push the trolley nor carry
the parcels. Jamie's not much help, just as well it's close
handy. Trouble is he pulls the trolley sideways, which drags you
off balance. Next time they stay home. This Friday shopping
doing extra, their stuff plus the groceries is not funny.
She's there, swinging on the trolleys stacked and waiting to be
taken back to the store.
"You just missed one." She points after the back of a bus.
"If you hadn't held me up - "
"It doesn't matter now. Give us a hand with these." Unloading
the parcels ready to get on the bus, the throbbing hand real
bad, the head fairy floss. Unreal.
"In a minute." She flips a small bundle into her pocket.
"I'm not blind, Rina. What have you bought? Where did you get
"Nothing, Mum." She's looking at her feet, shuffling around and
unhappy, caught out.
The queue is listening.
Lumping parcels, dragging grizzling Rina, we move back,
"I didn't do nothing!" Miss Innocent herself.
The penny drops. "You took something from the shop!"
"Don't lie to me, girl."
"She pinched a lipstick."
"Thanks a lot." She turns on poor Jamie.
"I didn't pinch it. Honest, Mum, I was going to put it in the
basket. I forgot. Honest! I got mad at you and I forgot. When I
got outside - " shuffling feet and eyes all over.
"You're lying, Rina."
You can't be sure, that's the trouble. She's good at it, you
never can tell. "Give it to me."
A small lipstick, the price-tag still in place. What to do?
"What are you going to do, Mum?"
"March you right back to the Manager. Maybe he can teach you a
"It's what I should do."
She waits, thinking time.
"Don't think you're getting off scot free."
But she is. You can't turn in your own kid.
The next bus is there, the queue piling aboard. It pulls out.
The lipstick is like a bomb in my hand. Passing back into the
shop feels like a crook sneaking through a police check, waiting
to be caught, blood pressure sky-high and heart hammering fit to
It's easy. Slip the tube back on the shelf like you had just
been thinking about buying it, collect another pack of the
on-special soap, queue back through the speedy check-out, pay,
"The next bus is gone too." Cute. She's trying to put me off
"I'll deal with you at home."
All the way, in the bus when it comes, walking with the parcels
getting heavier by the minute, resting because the hand is
giving out, scolding Jamie for dawdling, not one word can I
manage for her.
It's the shock. What if she'd been caught? What if right now we
were at the police station? What will Bill say?
Over and over they tumble, thoughts of what might have happened
and thank God it didn't, like dirty clothes in a machine -
tumble tumble - until it's like I'm going crazy because there
just is nothing else to think about, and hope to God it stops
because right now it looks like it never will.
She carries a double load, as well she might. Her face is white
and she don't never look at me, but what she's feeling is
anybody's guess. With Rina you can't tell. Could be ashamed of
herself or could be only feeling sorry she got caught, plus you
can bet she's scared stupid her Dad will find out. Which goes
for me too!
Through the front gate in the dark, with Digger bouncing fit to
bust his old bones; he thought we weren't never coming. Yapping
and dancing and grinning, at least he's happy.
In the back door, unload the parcels, stack away, no-one else
home yet; Friday night, pay night for Bill too. Late tea, which
suits fine, especially this night.
"Jamie - go in to the tely."
A change of tune he jumps at; no questions.
"Rina - "
"I'm sorry, Mum."
"Sorry is as sorry does. If I hadn't caught you, what would
"I said I'm sorry."
"Would you have told me?"
She's slinking off, away.
"Come back here. I've more to say to you, young lady."
"I won't do it again."
"That's for sure." The switch is behind the door, waiting.
"Don't! Mum! Don't!"
"Stand still!" It strikes her legs in the jeans, thump thump,
not hurting. "I'll teach you."
Off down the passage, swiping, hitting, yelling, madder with
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"To your room! Go to your room - "
Slam, the door closes on her yelling.
I'm shaking, in worse condition than her.
What will get through to her?
The switch slips back into place behind the door, what's the
Nearly seven - nothing even started. Peel the spuds, put the
savs in the saucepan; Friday night savs and spuds and bread and
jam, no time for fuss, we're all at the end of the week. Except
of course the usual pie and custard for him.
Rina. She's here, in my head, won't go away and why should she?
It's never been a problem with the boys. Girls starting to grow
up..... I'd have murdered for a lipstick, almost. Poor kid, two
women in a house of men never was meant and she's getting to be
a woman. Almost.
In on her bed, alone, with nobody to help, her mother flat out
just staying sane. It's not funny, especially at her age.
"Rina?" Knocking soft on her closed door.
It stays shut.
Guess you can't blame her.
I open it, even if she don't like it.
On the bed, head under the blankets, pretending she don't know
she's got company.
"Don't cry, love." Sitting on the bedside, but not game to
touch her bent back and covered head.
"I'm not crying." The blankets stay put.
"Love - come on out. We'll talk about it."
Why should she? What have I done she should want to talk?
"Rina - "
It's nice, a talk-through like you see in them fancy movies.
Wayne was the easiest, Gary never did go for it, like her now.
Five minutes, sitting here and now no noise at all, just the
swishing of cars past the window, and somewhere the sound of
kids playing in the half-dark under the street lights.
The spuds will be pulped.
"I wish you would talk to me, Rina."
The back door slamming and the padding of gym shoes down the
passage; Wayne and Gary home.
"Don't come out, Rina. I'll bring your tea in."
From under the covers a grunt.
I've done it again; as usual, she thinks the worst. "It's not
a punishment. It's so you won't have to face your father."
Too late. The damage is done; she stays under.
The house is dead, from the kitchen it's like no one is home
even though they're all here. It's like the word has gone out,
So what? They come to the call of food.
The three boys arrive, not speaking more than they have to.
Funny, the grapevine they have. Even though they didn't talk to
Rina or Jamie, they know.
"How was the meeting?"
"Didn't you eat anything?"
"Dad said - " Gary leaves it hanging in the air, no need to go
on, no-one wants to.
"Rina's eating in her room. I'm not eating yet."
Silence, faces on food and ears deaf.
"I've brought your tea." Knock and go in because it's the only
She sits up, stacks the blankets around her.
"Good girl. You're hungry."
It's something she's spoken at all.
Should I leave? Yes, but so what?
She eats quick, she was hungry.
"Would you like some bread and jam?"
She nods, waits.
Again she eats quick, but before she can dive under again I
pounce: "There's no use sulking, Rina. You did a very bad thing."
The food has helped, she's stopped bristling. "I never done it
"You ever do it again I'll tell your father for sure."
"You're not going to tell him?"
"Not this time. If you're telling the truth, that is."
"Honest, Mum. I never did it before."
"So okay. For this time."
"Jamie will tell."
"He knows better. He's got his own secrets I keep."
"Him and Miss Leamon - "
Head her off! "So why, Rina? Why steal? You want something bad
enough, I'll get it."
"No you won't."
"Sure, I'll - "
Her look does it. She's thinking about the bike and she's right.
"Why a lipstick?"
"Kelly's mother bought her one."
"So why didn't you ask?"
Jesus! Who asked for this?
She's off again, under the covers.
She stops, mid-dive.
"Love - your dad and me can't help it, not having no money.
It's a fact. But we aim to make you behave. You pull a stunt
like this again, you'll wish you wasn't born."
Blankets to her chin, not moving, not talking.
"Just don't try it. Understand? You can thank your lucky stars
I'm not going to tell. You better pray I'm right about Jamie."
She's shaking now; it's awful, but somehow she's got to be
"Do I have to stay here?" White face, big eyes dark with being
frightened, a very small girl, only ten.
Remembering hurts - when she was a baby she never cried
neither. She'd be screaming mad, chucking tantrums, wheedling
into our good books, sulking in her room, anything not to cry.
Even then, poor tiny thing, she tried to tough it out. Guess
"You can come out, if you're truly sorry."
"I'm sorry, Mum. Honest." Warm arms around my neck, no con this
time, she means it. "I'm sorry, Mum."
"Tell you what. We'll save up for a lipstick, a make-up kit
even. Maybe next week for your birthday?"
Bill would kill me, but why should he know? She only wants it
for dress-ups, little-girl stuff.
We leave together, a truce for now.
The boys are washing the dishes, Jamie too. Trying to smooth
After eight o'clock.
"You haven't eaten yet, Mum."
"I will. Later."
"You don't look after yourself properly."
"I'm tired, Wayne."
"We could help you more."
"We could, Mum." Even Jamie's worried. "I'll tidy my own room
"That would be nice."
"True, Mum." Gary's not going to be bettered. "We'll get up
early. Organise a Saturday working bee. Wayne and I'll clean the
"We're not bull-shitting, Mum."
"I know." That's the problem; mostly, they mean well.
Dishes into cupboards, his tea on the hot saucepan, Wayne and
Gary to their studies, Jamie to join Rina at the tely. Quiet.
A quarter past eight.
Sweep the floor, collect the dirty school clothes for
tomorrow's wash, feed Digger.
Half past eight.
"Is Dad home yet?"
"No, Jamie. Why?"
"Can Jamie and I stay up for the movie?"
"What movie is it?"
"She wants to watch the adults only one."
"Jamie! You didn't have to tell!"
"She'd find out anyway."
"Isn't there anything else on?"
"It's your choice, Rina. Kid stuff or bed."
"I told you!" She flounces off, mad at Jamie.
The scare sure don't last for long.
"Can I watch, Mum?"
"You know better, Jamie. You can't watch adults only."
"Not that one. Superman."
"If you want to."
"Wayne and Gary want to watch the other one."
"You'll have to work it out with them. It's not often they get
the chance. Besides, you've been watching for hours."
"An hour! A single hour!"
"Work it out with them, Jamie."
"You're on their side."
Right now I'm on my side.
"Do you have to have it so loud?"'
Wayne and Gary and me watching, Jamie and Rina in bed.
"I hope he's all right."
"Is he ever anything else?"
"But half past nine?"
"Don't worry, Mum."
Check the hot food, refill the almost-dry saucepan, give up on
the apple pie, cold will do.
"Sit down, Mum. Make the most of the rest."
"How's your hand, Mum?"
"Sore." Not to mention legs and head and chest.
"Why don't you go to bed? We'll look after him."
Nine - forty.
"Mum?" Rina from the doorway, hiding in the dark passage.
"Go to bed."
"I can't sleep."
Aching out of the chair. "I'll tuck you in."
She hangs onto my hand like a little toddler.
Light out here, passage light on, tuck her in.
She folds my hand into hers, warm under the blankets, rests her
head on it, long eyelashes stroking as she opens and closes her
eyes, trying to sleep.
The years between seem like they never was and we're back at
when Jamie was expected and I had to stay home with her, before
play-group and school and everything else that's changed.
"Would you like a story, love?"
The eyelashes stroke yes.
A story for a near teen-ager? What's wrong with Cinderella?
Dressed up a bit to account for her age, and bring on the
"Once upon a time there was this poor little girl. She ..... "
Into it, changing it to suit. Rina quiet. "......her dress was
pure silk, white, with real pearls and....."
"It's Dad!" She hangs on tight.
"I'll have to go, love."
"Don't tell him!"
"I promised. Let me go. Please, Rina."
Tight fingernails bite in.
"Rina - let me go."
"Peg! What's going on?" Falling into the half-dark room.
"Sh! She's asleep."
Quick, she lets go.
"Where's my tea?"
"Where it always is." Easing him out, closing the door behind
"What's going on? I'll kiss her goodnight."
"She's asleep. I was checking her blankets." Slow, ease him
down the passage.
"What's for tea?"
"Savs. Plus apple pie."
"Shit! Don't you cook nothing else?"
He's into his chair, waiting at the table, teetering on the
back legs and thumping onto all four when the food's put in
front of him.
"Shit!" But tucking in like he hasn't eaten in a week.
Quick, pie and custard and cup of tea before he finishes the
spuds and savs.
"That's more like it." His favourite, apple pie. "Take this
He shoves the tea which spills across the table cloth. More
"Would you like coffee, love?"
"That supposed to be a hint? Bring me a beer."
Beer, cold from the fridge where it's been waiting, chilled
glass he likes.
"Put a head on it! Struth! Don't anyone wash the grease off the
glasses round here?"
Another glass, tilting carefully. It froths.
"Good girl." Arm around my waist. "You're not a bad old girl
Collect the dishes, wash them, wait.
"Another bottle!" Crash, the empty falls to the floor.
"Are you okay, Mum?" Wayne, rushing to the sound.
"Go back to your tely, son." Sweeping up shattered glass,
"Little Lord High and Mighty to his mother's rescue." A sneer
he's been sitting on all week.
"I'm okay - Go, Wayne." But shaking.
"We'll be in our room." Wayne and Gary making themselves scarce.
"What's on?" Bottle and glass and stink out of the kitchen into
"The boys were watching the movie, one of them classics - "
Sitting in the spare chair, waiting, leaving the dishes stacked
He fiddles with the controls, loud, bright, onto a football
panel; winter Friday night. What else?
Back to his chair, beer and cigarettes, eyes battling to stay
Head splitting, legs and hand and chest aching.
Too soon to leave.
From his chair the bottle, empty, sliding to the floor, the
snores at last louder than the football panel.
Slow, soft, out of my chair, turn it down -
"What's going on?" Snorting awake.
Please - not tonight. "It's too loud."
"Rubbish!" Staggering to the controls, he turns it full blast.
"You'll wake the kids." It comes out before it can be stopped.
"Bill - you'll wake the children." There's no other way to go,
it's too late.
"Stuff them." Back to his chair, brooding, sleep gone now for
Football panel loud, him watching.
Maybe it's over.
Loud! Boom! Bouncing off walls and ceiling, echoing -
I've moved - it's happened without me knowing, out of the
chair. To the sound controls.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"It's too loud!" Shouting, but hearing only the tely.
"Don't touch it!"
Shaking, scared, walk away. Don't answer!
"Where do you think you're going?" Shouting, above the tely.
No more shouting. I point to the bedroom.
"Come back here!" Orders to a kid.
Say nothing, not tonight, Friday.
"I'll get you another bottle."
Bottle, glass, pour, then slow - edge from the room.
"Sneaky - " Chuckle, it's supposed to be funny. "Sit with me,
Peg. You don't have to work tomorrow."
"Too tired - getting in early." Sneering again. "Got a headache
"You know I'm sick."
"Shut up!" Tely again, a panel argument, football.
Full circle. He won't go to sleep for hours. My head is
splitting. Shaking, scared, tired, sick. Not a child.
"I'm going to bed."
He don't hear.
To the door, soft.
"You looking for trouble?" Out of his chair, grabbing, tearing
the sore hand.
They come running, Gary and Wayne.
"Keep out of this!"
"I'm all right boys."
They come on, the two of them. "Leave her alone."
"Get your hands off Mum."
"Punk! Who do you think you are?" Twisting my wrist, wrenching
"Don't!" Screaming I can't stop.
"Let her go!" Wayne, pulling at him.
He drops my hand, swings at Wayne, misses, hits Gary.
From the floor where I fall they're giants, hitting, swinging,
"Stop! Stop!" Not again, please not again -
"I'll teach you!" Twice as big as them, strong from labouring,
pounding Gary, not knowing it.
"Dad!" Wayne grabs from behind. "Dad! You're hurting him!"
He's off balance, battling Wayne from behind.
Gary gets him in the belly, sudden.
He goes down, the floor shakes.
"Get out!" I stand between.
The boys wait, not sure.
"Get out! Quick!"
They go, but slow, unhappy.
"Bill - Bill - "
"I'm sorry, Peg - sorry - " He's sobbing, ashamed, drunk-shame,
but at last manageable.
Poor damned bastard. You can't blame him. Working like a slave,
worrying about the job, us tying him down, kids' school fees,
wife sick, young punks queuing for when he can't make it no
longer - money - no money - . And God knows what else.
The beer helps, if only it didn't make a mess of him.
We get to his chair, me on the arm, stroking his sore head.
"It's okay, love. I understand." I wish I didn't.
"I'm sorry. Tell the boys I'm sorry." Crying drunk, maudlin.
"It's okay - don't worry."
"Why do I do it, Peg?"
"Because you're tired too."
"Stop me. Make me stop."
"Didn't I try?"
"You're a saint, Peg."
"True." It'd be funny, if you could see the joke.
"Tell them now, love." He asks. "Tell them I'm sorry. Don't go
to sleep on a fight."
"You tell them." Full circle.
How many more Friday nights?
Not all, which is the problem. You never know.
You never know neither how much of it is because you're waiting
You wait, you get tense, tight and scared. Before you know it
you've done something to make it happen.
Like now. If you'd stayed quiet it might have been okay. But
no! You're so damned scared it's going to happen you bring it
on, bring it on with your own fear!
"I'm too ashamed to face them." He's begging.
"All right. If it happens again, you'll have to do it yourself."
He holds my hand against his head.
"I mean it, Bill."
"It won't happen again."
In the bathroom, Wayne mopping up, Gary sore and sorry.
"Your father says to say he's sorry."
"Sure - that's why he sent you."
"He is sorry, Wayne. He can't help it."
"He doesn't have to drink."
"Wait till you're his age with a family hanging round your neck
and a job that could give out any minute. Talk to me then."
"Why do you stick up for him?"
"Why do I stick up for you when you're in trouble?"
"It's self inflicted."
"It's their way. The blokes he works with." Not for the first
time, they hear it. "At least he gets over it quick."
"So why go through it?"
"We've been through all this, Gary."
Out, hoping they clean their mess.
Wayne's following. "Why don't you leave him, Mum?"
"Eh!" None of them ever said this before. They're growing up.
"Why don't you leave him?" Gary backs him.
Two kids, teenagers, bloodied, wounded - by their own dad.
Waiting. Not moving.
"You could, Mum."
They have to be answered. "How?"
"Easy. Just go."
Think. Think careful. They're serious. Tomorrow. Leave it till
They're not about to move.
"What would happen to you two? To Jamie? Rina?"
Off pat, ready: "We'd go too." They've thought it out.
"How would you live?"
"We'd leave school."
"We talked about it, Mum - "
"Mum - we're old enough. We could rent a place, it couldn't be
worse. We even worked out you could stop working, with both of
us making money."
"Just like that? You'd both get jobs? Don't make me laugh."
"Don't you even think about leaving?"
"I'll tell you two something. Once and for all. I made my bed,
I'll lie on it. Your father's a good man, as men go these days."
"When he's sober."
"Which is most of the time. You two smart-alecs put yourselves
in his shoes for half a minute. He don't have to stay. He could
walk out and forget us any time he chooses. He don't. Not like
others I could name." Like his own brother who went bush.
They understand, because they see their Aunt penny-pinching and
trying to raise her brood on her own.
"He's not the only one, Mum. You have more worries than you can
"True." Tonight's the night for truth! "It's just not on, me
"How can you stand it, Mum?"
"Sometimes I don't." But not that truth -
"You never say anything."
"What's the point? No use crying over spilt milk. It could be
worse. Think about it."
"Rina's not getting much of a life. Listening to us fight."
"Leave Rina to me."
"She's still awake."
"I'll go in. Meantime - you two settle down. Maybe now you'll
think about some sort of decent education, so you don't finish
in the same pickle."
Maybe they've learned something, because this time they don't
come on strong with more arguments.
Rina's under the covers, pretending.
"I know you're awake."
"Mum - " Warm, clinging, at last crying.
"It's over, love."
She cries something awful, my heart aches for her. What can I
do? Nothing's going to change.
She's got to learn this is what it's all about.
In the end she falls asleep with the pillow wringing wet;
careful, not to wake her, I slip a dry towel under her head.
Creeping down the passage, feeling the way in the dark not to
disturb them; enough for one night. Too much.
Into our room, stinking with stale beer and sweat and
cigarettes, deafened by his sodden snoring; at least being with
Rina took the time.
Undress slow and secret and climb into bed warm and safe beside
him. Safe because it's over for this time with no one hurt bad,
all of them asleep and another two days before work again.
But Saturday coming.
Months to holidays, though already the pills are stopping the
sickness. Except the fight didn't do the hand no good so it's
throbbing, plus of course the legs making themselves felt as
In his sleep he turns over, his heavy arm falling across my
chest, but not on the scalded part which is getting better quick
It's true, like I told the boys. It could be worse. Don't I
know it. Mum had it worse, Dad belting her for real, not just
when he'd had a few too many. Her day, you couldn't even think
of leaving. Bill used to ask her - why don't you leave? God
preserve Rina, maybe she'll do better. She's seen enough she
should learn from.
Mum used to be fair dinkum scared of him; a big man, strong as
an ox and ruler of the house for sure, no argument allowed, not
even from my brothers who grew up bigger and stronger and left
because they couldn't stand it.
Mum - scared? Sure, she was terrified.
Me - I'm shaking scared. Though somehow it's different.
Not scared of Bill, for sure. Not even too worried he'll hurt
me for real because he won't. Except maybe by accident. Besides,
I can duck, or run, till he dries out.
But scared -
Of trouble, of fights?
Think about it, Peg. No!
Scared of thinking?
Stupid - you know you bring it on. You're so damned frightened
he's going to be in a mood you ask for it, you make it happen.
Scared of thinking - of me - of what I'll do.
Stupid, go to sleep.
The snores break and he sort of sobs and his arm flops around,
he's dreaming. A nightmare.
"It's okay, Bill."
He steadies, quietens. He'd never forgive himself if he really
hurt us, it's the grog. But what else can he do?
He was beautiful, yellow hair from the sun and blue eyes and a
boxer's muscles, but wouldn't hurt a fly and really very upset
every time Dad beat Mum. His mother and father, when he was
alive, never did anything like it, he said. I never knew the old
man, he died when Bill was a kid, which is why he got not much
education, had to leave and get a job to help his mum. Had to
leave home to do it, too, at fifteen.
We met because he came to board when he moved to town for work.
I just came home from school one day and fell for him like a ton
of bricks and that was that; waiting to grow old enough to marry
and neither of us looking for no-one else.
Never did, never could.
Which is why, I guess, he breaks my heart now. He shouldn't
have to go through all this, any more than Wayne and Gary and
Jamie should have it ahead of them.
Outside it's raining again.
God - don't let it rain tomorrow -