Ask Me About Saturdays
by Dulcie Stone
Blue sky, through the window blue sky and cold sunshine. Great!
But it's six a.m., on a Saturday. You'd think I'd have more
Roll over, forget the sky and the sun that will dry the clothes
for once, get some sleep while you can.
He's not snoring no more, only sound asleep, glued-to-the-bed
tired. He wants a hair-cut, the gold strands on the back of his
burned neck are long and curling over his pyjama collar. My
fingers are itching, wanting to stroke them, but don't - for
lots of reasons.
`There was a little boy had a little curl right on the back of
his neck - when he was good - '
Here you go again, Peg.
Go to sleep.
Easier said than done.
Seven o'clock. What the hell? Like most Saturdays, why not?
There's too much to do and the habit of waking won't stop for
Saturdays. Besides, the boys are moving around, early work-out
at the gym, then Saturday morning street-walk to ogle the girls
- what's new? Then sport. Winter - football; their Saturdays.
Jamie - it's off with his mates, skating and footy in the
street even wearing old boots that are falling about like floppy
dog's ears. Rina, it's play and pictures, not because she wants
go to, but because she gets away from here to be with her
friends, yet not in school. Saturday afternoon flicks aren't
what they used to be plus she don't go for the same reasons, no
Elvis Presleys and Jimmy Deans no more, only all this fancy
science fiction stuff. At least I know where she is - I think?
God preserve us from the next few tricky years; no secret
they're starting already.
Bill does his own thing too. This day it's got to be the
hair-cut; but there's stacking in his week's beer, with Fred
transporting it and him; there's buying the meat bargains, if
we're lucky, that come on just before noon - with Fred
transporting it and both of them; there's football - with Fred
transporting both of them plus half a dozen cronies. Which
anyone knows adds up to the weekend with Fred and company, which
is plain bad news.
If we had a car - but Bill stands by his principles, no going
into debt, not for nothing. This day and age he's got to be
right, even if it means part of it is the `favours' he has to do
for Fred to make up.
The kitchen's a shambles; last night I never did get back to
it, the way things were it wasn't worth the effort. There's
crumbs and messy bowls and dishes and saucepans, as well as the
mud on the floor after Gary's been outside feeding Digger this
morning. So much for the sun, it can't fix mud overnight.
"How's your hand, Mum?"
"Fine, Wayne. Stitches out next week."
"Can you get off work?"
"I'll get them out after work."
"That'll make you late home again."
"Not if I can help it. Maybe lunch time will be surer." Which
means no eating again.
They come in like Brown's cows, no school or work and it don't
matter too much if they're late. Which could mean a couple of
hours for the breakfast stretch. Not that it allows for time to
start in on the mess because as fast as one patch is done, the
floor or whatever, they muck it up again. What's the use?
"Sit down, Mum. Rest your legs."
"I've got to - "
"Peg! For God's sake!"
The tea's cold, the toast soggy. Rina gets a fresh lot; she's
all over me this morning. It'll pass.
"Nice day." He leans back in the chair, tilting on the usual
two legs which creak and groan and get ready to give way maybe
"You'll come a cropper one day, Dad."
"How's your head this morning, son?"
"Sore." Gary shows him the split skin. "You pack a wallop."
No hard feelings, Gary admires him.
"Can we forget last night?" Not Wayne, he's apt to carry a
Bill makes a fist at him, and play-lunges, with the chair
teetering something frightening. "Soft - that's your trouble.
Take on boxing - do you more good than that sissy basket-ball."
"Tell us about your boxing, Dad." Rina's playing safe,
buttering up both of us.
"I told you too much now."
"Come on, Dad." Jamie's all ears.
"Your father was good." Gold hair, trim muscles, still hard and
"It's not like it used to be." Sometimes he likes to talk.
"When we were at the Hall it was the real thing. No conning the
customers like now."
"Amateurs are okay."
"Sure. But look at your big fights now. Show Bizz rubbish. Take
your wrestling - ought to be in the Actor's Union."
They've started. Time to get to the housework......
"Sit, love." He's gentle, because he means well. "We don't talk
enough no more. Too much tely these days."
"The boxing, Dad - "
The clock goes round, their practice is going to be late which
is not unusual for Saturdays. It's great. He don't hog the
floor, he lets them have a turn and he listens even about sissy
basket-ball, because any sport gets him in.
Life had been different he'd have been a champion at one of the
sports, he's built for it, loves it, is easy talking about it,
not uncomfortable and shaky like with other things. Times like
this, when he's not tired or drunk, when he's talking sport, you
can see why I had to fight the other girls off.
Rina's eyes are popping, this time for real, no crawling here
in those eyes and that look of downright worship. Once, she
looks me over and sort of frowns; you can see her brain ticking
- `what did he see in her, mousy Peg O'Callaghan that was?'
How could she know? I was something too, before babies and work
and worry ruined this body and lined this face. For a second it
makes me feel good, knowing she can't expect much different
neither. Shame! She's not a bad kid, worth extra effort.
"Penny for them, Peg." He's noticed.
"I was thinking - we weren't a bad couple in our day."
"What's this? Our day? I'm not over the hill!"
Quick, he's out of his chair, lifted me high, and is racing
down the passage.
"After him!" Gary chasing, laughing.
"Catch him!" Wayne, guffawing fit to bust. "He's got my mother!"
"Put me down!" Kicking, screeching, laughing. "Bill! Put me
"I'll have to. You're too damned heavy." Eyes twinkling into
"Stop! Stop thief!" Gary's having a ball.
"Help! He's got me!"
Round the house, yelling, laughing, chasing, past Rina and
Jamie like stunned mullets still at the kitchen table, starting
for the back yard.
"No! She'll see us!"
"Mrs Fry! Are you there, Mrs Fry!"
"Bill! You're terrible."
Plomp! Suddenly dropped in the middle of the back verandah.
Too scared to look. Looking -
Two eyes, nose, puppet's mouth, standing on the side fence. Mrs
She thinks we're fighting again, let her.
It's a riot, laughing till we can't no more, sides aching, Bill
holding warm, kids close. Great!
"I'll make another pot of tea." Wayne, as ever.
Rina's kiss. "I love you, Mum."
"That's nice." Bill tussles her hair. "You grow up to be half
the woman - "
"You're only saying that, love." Batting flirty eyelashes.
Feeling young, teasing, giggling, like it was. Like it is.
"Was she pretty, Dad?"
"The boys queued up."
"Yes, but was she pretty?" Gary laughs.
"What do you mean - was?"
And so on, another quarter hour or more - great - fun -
"Jesus!" Crash! His chair legs hit the floor. "Look at the
He's gone, even before it sinks in, grabbed his coat and out
the door racing to Fred's. Saturday.
"Sorry, Mum." They mean well. "It's too late to help now."
They scatter like panicky geese, in all directions including
one - out of here.
The toilet flushes over and over, the bathroom taps run a
deluge, there's shouting and running and slamming doors and
goodbye in four different ways and me - alone.
With the mess.
One minute exciting and good, the next - this is what it's
about, Rina. Roller coaster ride - up - high - down - when
you're on the top you don't look. But it's there - waiting -
Filthy floor covered in food and mud and spilled drinks and a
fallen knife they're too lazy to shift. Benches caked with
margarine and jam and honey and vegemite, not to mention weetie
crumbs and milk dribbles and tea-pot overflows and tea-leaves as
well as unstacked plates, cups, saucers, and God knows what else
from last night too.
So okay, Rina. You fly high you dive low......
Tea-towels no longer stacked away clean dripping from odd spots
where sticky fingers have left them, one still on the floor.
Doors and drawers unclosed, open and littered with fallen crumbs
from on top because they're too careless to even shut them
before buttering their toast. Filthy cigarette trays spilling
ash, butts stinking in his emptied tea cup, I could cry.
Carry the sticky tea-towels to the laundry - the floor inches
deep in clothes to be washed, the tap running from where Gary's
filled Digger's bowl and forgotten to turn it off,
The kitchen - or?
The bed first?
On the floor the knife, honey gluing it. So the floor first or
walk honey all over, Jamie I could kill you - golden curls and
Why can't they make their own? They have, pulled them up,
hoping I won't look too close, but they haven't changed the
sheets plus Rina's scooted off without even pretending (I love
you Mum) so much for crawling.
So much for promises too, all the wonderful help they talked
about. Might as well strip ours while I'm at this end of the
Sheets on the floor, walked on with muddy boots. Pillows dumped
on top, clothes from last night underneath, pyjamas in the
passage to the bathroom, cigarette butts spilled from the
ash-tray where he's had his Saturday morning bed smoke.
Stinking shambles. Where to start?
No one to hear.
God help me, not a tidy inch nowhere.
"P - i - i - g!" Sick with the weight of work not done.
Sh! You bring it on with your own fear
Take it easy, Peg, no big deal, a step at a time.
Butts into ash-tray.
To the kitchen fetch tidy-bag
Bundle sheets pillowcases carry to laundry stack in washer
Clothes - sort into bundles - dirty clean dirty mud
Steady, stay cool.
Take the butts from the shirt pockets and carefully check the
pockets of overalls and trousers. Check the boys things too.
Rina's for tissues. The mess tissues make of the wash if you
miss them is something atrocious. And biros.
Calm calm, turn on the washer, pour in the detergent, set the
controls old and past-it but still doing the job, like me, not
Calm - down the passage to the bedroom - shambles.
Pick up his left-overs, matches, empty packet under the bed -
Sh! Not again. Please, not again. Behind the door, mud-stiff
filthy socks. But the heavy wash is on -
"Bastard!" Tearing throat.
Lie quiet - calm - calm -
Stinking beer mattress stinking-butt pillows looking at flaking
paint ceiling old - yellow
Over-tired. Over-wrought. A few minutes......
I can look at it all again. Sensible. What else? There's no
other way, nothing else to do.
Every small sound starting up like a scared rabbit - bunny
What's to be scared of?
They come in they'll get it; enough's too much.
But they won't; damned sure they won't.
That's right, leave me alone, go off. Leave me with the lot.
When's my turn? When do I get to leave you with it?
I should stay here, let them find the filth they leave, let
them come home to the stink and the dirt and the butts and the
beer and the sweat and the tumbled beds and the sink full of
Sh. Lie cool.
Soft, slow, not to start again, I move.
Into the bathroom, sponge hot face. Towels where they left them
on the floor and in the bath - Not Fair!
You're sick that's what.
Sick? A wreck - blood pressure cut hand rope legs - a mess
wreck stop being stupid
Pull yourself together, Peg. Grow up.
Close my mind and start work - dishes washed and dried, washing
sorted and set for the second wash, floors swept ready for the
mop, beds stripped and made and bed-rooms set straight, lounge -
Five empty bottles and he's out buying more and we're supposed
to be skint.
Verandah swept and scrubbed, paths swept, next-door puppeting
over the fence and quick-answered not to be rude so Rina can use
the phone and we all can if we need to, close my mind and keep
going don't stop for nothing because too much time's been wasted
day-dreaming - stupid - nightmaring.
The kettle's boiled, coffee in the cup. Once the washing's done
you can see daylight. Time to grab the coffee before they troop
back in, dirt and filth -
Outside with the first wash, hang it on the line, back to the
Sheets in the basket, pillowslips -
Through the whites a stain - brown, and crushed brown flakes of
the unsmoked cigarette that's been missed.
If you're careful you can pick off the strands easy enough,
slow and careful. Time.
The stain is for good.
Stinking sheets under stinking ceiling to sleep with.
Scrub it. Scrub the stain, it will come out. Not true. My
fingers are sore, and my legs and my head and my hand
Do the wash again, back into the tub -
Outside, and the cleaned verandah is spotting and the steady
thump of rain on the iron roof -
The wash on the line drowning
Please God no more
"No - o - !" Tearing throat
And a mother trying to stay sane - I can't
God - make me stop - tearing throat
My clock inside won't turn off - they'll be home soon.
You'll have to stop.
Panic to the time-clock.
You're a fool, stop that noise.
God make me stop screaming.........
Back inside my self, sane. The work is waiting.
The tears stop me seeing but I make my fingers move, slow,
picking off the tobacco strands, scrubbing, setting to soak,
sorting the wash that hasn't been stained.
Listening to the rain.
My fingers stop. All by themselves without being told, they
decide not to work.
The clock - eleventhirtyfour. Four bells and all's well.
Except it isn't. I'm not.
The clean kitchen helps, it's finished and ready and waiting
for the next meal.
The next mess
Leave the washing on the line.
The next mess
You're grown up and nobody must know
The kettle boils slow, like it wants them to find me. The
coffee burns my mouth. Sudden, like someone slaps my face, it
So okay. This one more time it's okay. Over. Past.
Steady feet, steady head, except the tears keep slipping down
my face like slow rain on the window; they're going to have to
stop before twelve o'clock.
Outside Digger's got his nose poking out of the kennel door,
glaring at the black clouds and the heavy rain; and me - as
though it's my fault.
There's no help here, mud and wet and drowned clothes and
slushed verandah that might as well not have been cleaned at
all, with the rain splashing across it and the leaky roof
sloshing a river. No wonder the floor-boards are rotten.
So the tears mix with the rain and no one could tell which is
which, especially me because it seems they get worse with the
Inside again, there's clean towels in the bathroom, and wash
and make-up and comb and put on a fresh dress. Behind my eyes
they're waiting, the tears, yet everything's still steady which
don't figure, but is happening.
The next wash is ready to hang out, the sky's as black as ever.
It's no use adding this lot, too. Sorted out, there's one lot in
front of the heater in the lounge stretched around half the
room, the other hanging around the laundry, dripping water on
the floor and cluttering it to the ceiling. No point doing the
lot, wait for tomorrow rain hail or shine.
Twelve comes and goes; nobody.
Prepare the lunch, when they arrive it will be hysterical.
Jamie first. "Mum!" Crying, limping on a bloody knee, covered
in mud and wet through.
"Don't walk on my floor!"
On hands and knees, mopping at the mud, tears waiting.
"What about my knee!" He's hurting.
"I'm sorry, love."
Forget the stupid floor.
He's at the table, started on his hot pie, fresh heated.
Wayne and Gary and Rina come in. Together.
"We picked her up." Gary's wet through too, like the others.
"She was with Jenny Thomson."
"You told me you'd be with Kelly!" Jenny Thomson. Bad news,
thirteen going on eighteen, no good for Rina.
"She wasn't home."
"You tell me where you are! I'm sick of saying it!"
"All right! You don't have to yell!"
"Can you hurry it up, Mum?" Gary again. "We're late."
Rina - why fight? Forget it.
The usual Saturday lunch, standing at the table, wolfing down
the meal that's ready and waiting, as though it was bread and
water with me the jailer, rushing off to change, again, which
means more washing. Then out the back door like the devil was
after them which he isn't and I'm not. While the tears watch,
listen, wait, shut behind eyes getting ready to let me down in
front of them which I won't.
Saturday lunch. What's new?
"Can I have a dollar extra?" Rina.
"Because Kelly does."
"Kelly's mother - "
"Kelly's mother has plenty of money," Rina smart-alecing more
than usual. "I know, don't bother."
"That wasn't what I was going to say." It was, but no way she's
going to know. "I was going to ask does Kelly's mother know
about your party next week?"
It turns her round, especially when we end with her getting the
dollar. It means breaking into the tenner, but better that than
have her heading for shop-lifting again.
They've gone, when he finally comes in, back from the hair-cut,
buying the beer, collecting the end-of-the-week meat specials
him and Fred line up with one of their endless mates, and
whatever else he finds to do Saturday mornings. Talk? So long as
it means he's not here to help, it seems.
"You'll be late to football."
"I got caught. The butcher had to do an order. We had to wait."
"You didn't have to."
"You know another way to pay our meat bill?"
"The Supermarket has specials."
"Not this special." Whether I like it or not, out comes the
mince, the sausages, the chops, the soup bones - laid out like
corpses on a slab, waiting to be inspected and admired.
Which I do on cue, like a puppet. Pull the strings. Shades of
head and mouth and eyes over the fence. On cue. Pull the
strings. Funny. Who's laughing? There's the rest of the house
"Don't you like the hair-cut?"
"It's fine. Why?"
"You might have noticed."
"I did notice. It's nice."
"You blind or something?" Preening like a cockatoo.
"I can see it's different." It's thicker at the neck like the
kids wear it. "It makes you look younger."
"That's what I reckon." Pleased with himself, but still on the
edge of the mood. How many beers already? Or is it like Rina?
Catching it from talking to stirrers? Don't ask.
"Your lunch is in the oven."
"Be there in a minute." Off down the passage, mud and all, to
wash. "What's this!"
"We can't afford it!"
The heater on in the day-time.
"How am I supposed to dry the clothes?"
"Same as others."
"You won't buy one."
"Why the hell should I? One thing I'm not going into debt for -
a bloody clothes dryer."
"I can't dry them under the verandah. It leaks."
Because you won't mend it.
"You can't dry them in here!" He switches it off, no argument.
"I'm cold, Bill."
"Put on another jumper."
The wet clothes glare at me, like Digger hating the rain.
"Where's my lunch?"
Work - more work - calm -
Saturday half gone and all's well.
Work days are easier, every Saturday I know it. Week after week
I kid myself.
They say, when it's not there, you forget what it's like - pain.
Home beats work.
Stew for tea because they'll come in cold and wet and
hungry and because it will heat up in the week for another meal,
everything helps. Peeling, cooking, thickening, waiting.
They'll come in looking for trouble too, tired.
Tired? From having fun. Great. He'll come in falling down drunk;
if his team wins - happy, if they lose God help us all. So here
I go again, bristling already, just in case, bringing it on if
I'm not real careful.
So for once stop it.
They've won. Happy. Surprise. He's not too bad at all. Maybe
he's learning too, maybe it was last night, maybe lots of things
except almost for sure it won't last.......
Is it me?
Saturday three-quarters gone and all's well.
Maybe okay again.
Dishes time, with him in the lounge, Wayne and Gary off again
with their mates, Rina and Jamie helping.
Not quiet, though. Because the tely's blaring football, the
radio's screeching the Top Forty, Digger's barking at Saturday
night traffic or just because he's sick of his kennel.
No, not quiet, but steady.
"Jenny says I can go to her place to watch tely." Rina's
finished her work.
"I don't want you with Jenny Thomson. I told you."
"She's got her own T.V."
"I don't care what she's got. Keep away from her. You've got
enough of your own bad ideas without learning more from her."
"But I want to watch the picture!"
"So do I." Jamie's going to start now.
Fancy thinking it could last, peace. Stupid.
"You can watch when your father says you can."
"After stupid football."
"You cut it out, my girl, or you'll watch nothing. You'll be in
"It's Saturday. I can stay up."
"If I say so. Not if you give me any more of your cheek."
"Dad says I stay up Saturday nights."
No answer, and she knows it.
"The picture will be on soon, Rina." Jamie leaves to be with
"Jenny's expecting me." Rina digs in.
"She's in for a surprise. You won't be there."
"Without asking me first? You know better."
"I'll ask Dad." She starts for the lounge.
"Rina!" Watch it! "Come back here!"
She keeps on, through the doorway.
"Ouch! My hair!"
"Come back here when I tell you!"
She's strong, fighting all the way back to the kitchen.
"Do as you're told." Yank, hands full of hair.
"Mum! You're hurting!"
"Shut up out there!" From the lounge, he's heard.
"Dad!!!" She yells for him.
Quick, I slam the door between.
"He can't hear you!" Face close, insides screaming, panic back,
tears waiting, sore throat cringing.
"Dad! She's hurting me!"
"Shut up! Shut up! Shut u u u u u p!!!" Hands slashing across
her face won't stop........
She falls onto the floor, hair tearing free.
Sh - listen -
Rina sobbing. Tely loud.
He hasn't heard.
Down beside her, holding fast. "I'm sorry, baby. Mummy's sorry."
She curls away.
"Rina - I'm sorry." Soothing torn hair, bruised face. Tears -
"Mum?" She's seen. She's seen the tears.
"Rina, love. I didn't mean - " Sick, wanting to vomit.
"Can I go to Jenny's?"
You can't blame her.
Shaking, shamed, scared, we clean ourselves in the bathroom,
collect our rain-coats, walk half a block, only talking when we
I'll have to talk to her - but this is what it's about, all
"Tell Jenny's mother I'll pick you up at ten o'clock."
"The picture won't be finished."
"Ten o'clock, Rina." It has to be this way.
She don't argue.
She knocks on the door, the light swallows her inside.
Back through water-shined streets, spraying gutters, rain
misting through the umbrella, slow, freezing wind on hot face.
The gate, rickety and old and not mended neither.
Outside the house, watching it, waiting, not moving.
Cheeks lumps of ice, wet, numb. Good.
Thin night traffic while they're all at where-ever they were
hurrying to. No one walking, too much sense. More sense than me
standing out here freezing to death.
But you did beat her.
Burning hands sticking to the ice metal gate, tearing free
Inside the house again, the house cosy, he's had the heater on
long enough to warm it through.
Hang the coat ready for going back later, join them in the
It's dim, flickering blue of T.V., steady orange of gas, the
It's good. The house cosy, the chair waiting, Bill sober. Jamie
I've made it, pulled out of it, made it to here.
Saturday night and all's well. At last.
Sunday coming, the week ahead with the legs and the blood
pressure but not the bronchitis which is under control and not
the hand which is nearly ready for the stitches to come out. The
job safe still. Another week - and I'm going to be ready for it
- hail rain and shine.
It's not too bad, he's left on the football replay because
Jamie don't mind it; the game is close and there's no punch-ups.
Besides, he'll turn to the picture soon and we can sit and watch
like a real family.
My ears get used to the noise and my eyes start to see in the
gloom. They see okay. Above the gaslight, on the mantle, the
dark blue vase, smooth and silky. In it, the red rose-bud,
plastic. Mothers' Day - a week tomorrow. Good. This is what it's
about, too, Rina.
Cosy. Family. Together - we'll make it -
The eyes see okay. Curling blonde hair long on his sun-burned
neck. Jamie -
They see back-breaking washing that was getting dry chucked
into a moulding heap under the window! They couldn't!
They did. They've thrown it there, out of their way. THEIR
"Jamie! Move back!" Sharp, because that's all that's left.
"Leave him alone, Peg."
Cool it, Peg.
The replay ends, the Ads, then the picture.
"Where's Rina?" Football finished, he notices she's missing.
"At Jenny Thomson's. I'll get her later."
No problem. Second guessing him is impossible.
"Get us a beer, son."
Jamie's off, happy.
Don't spoil it, Peg.
The crumpled wash that will have to be straightened and hung
again under the window. Waiting.
They couldn't do it. It's done.
"It'll do you good. Relax you."
Tomorrow. Just another Sunday. No breakfast in bed. Blue vase.
Plastic flower. Smiles.....
"What!" Steady, Peg. Steady
"Try a shandy. Do you good."
"No - thanks." Tomorrow then Monday - Tuesday -
"Are you sure?"
"I said no!" Easy, girl -
"You should. Relax you."
Fingers curl, stiff with staying quiet. Don't spoil it, Peg!
"Are you okay?"
"Sure." Please, stay still.
"You don't sound all right. What's wrong?" He starts from his
Don't touch I'll break
"Peg." Soft, gentle, his rough hand strokes.
His fingers touching, testing. "You're cool enough."
"Sure - " Ice wind ice panic
"Here's your beer, Dad." Jamie. Happy. Helping.
Beer and bottle and Bill, back to his chair.
A real family. Peace. Quiet. All's well.
The washing. Messed. Waiting.
Quiet. All's well. Don't spoil it.......
But you did hurt her.
Forget it, Peg. It's over.
Out of control.
Not seeing. Not hearing.
Out of control...........
You did hurt her, Peg.
"You've got me worried." Clink of glass, bottle, gurgling beer,
A real family. Roller coaster. Highest high lowest low
Out of control.........
"Jamie. Get your mother a glass - "
"Peg?" He can't settle. "What's wrong?"
Poor Bill trying so hard.
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong."
Tears, soft rain running down their window
They must not know