If blood should stain th.., p.45

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, page 45

 

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
 



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  ‘What do you mean?’ asked Scarlett evenly.

  ‘He mortgaged the house,’ said Mrs Taylor flatly, her fluttery social voice giving out, looking down at the hedgehog slice. ‘I’ve got my shift at the supermarket; that keeps us going day to day. But we can’t make the mortgage payments, not on what I make. So I was thinking, maybe you could lend us the money. It wouldn’t seem like tuppence to a family like the Thompsons.’

  ‘Lend, or give?’

  ‘Lend, of course,’ said Mrs Taylor with the vehemence that meant it was just the opposite. ‘You wouldn’t want to see your family put out in the street.’

  Her words stopped. Silence filled the café till it bothered even Leafsong, who almost began chopping carrots, just to batter it away. At last Scarlett said, ‘You could sell your house and rent a cheaper place. A little flat.’

  ‘Where would your brother live then? Like your dad says, blood is thicker than water. We’re your family and if family can’t ask for help, who can?’

  ‘You . . . you never helped me.’

  ‘But you didn’t need it! Or not from us.’ For the first time Mrs Taylor seemed to realise that the silence was not an acceptance of her scenario. ‘Sharon? Just a bit of help would mean the world to us.’

  ‘I don’t have the money to help you.’

  ‘But your sister does.’

  ‘Then write to her. Please, write to her. Tell her what you told me. I’m pretty sure she’ll decide to help you. She loves using her money to help people.’

  Once again Mrs Taylor only heard what she wanted to. ‘You really think she will? Oh, that’s wonderful, darling. You wait till I tell your dad. And you and your sister must come to Dad’s birthday dinner. Get to know your real family.’

  ‘My real family? Yes,’ said Scarlett slowly. ‘I’d like to know them.’

  ‘Then that’s settled.’ Mrs Taylor glanced at her watch. ‘If I get away now, I’ll still be able to do my shift at the supermarket. I told them I’d need tonight off, but I can call them. Do you mind?’ And then as Scarlett shook her head, ‘Is there a phone nearby?’

  The café phone was in the kitchen. ‘There’s a phone box on the corner, down near the post office, on your way out of town,’ said Scarlett, her voice as cold, her face as white as vanilla ice cream.

  ‘I’ll ring them now. You don’t mind my ducking off, do you, darling? After all, I’ll see you next week.’

  ‘No. I don’t mind at all.’ Scarlett lifted her cheek for Mrs Taylor to kiss. The coral-coloured lipstick had been eaten off with the hedgehog slice.

  Leafsong wondered if the woman would attempt to pay for her tea and slice. But apparently she assumed that Scarlett’s riches would cover those too. She left, leaving only a whiff of not-quite-rose-scented talcum powder.

  And Scarlett, her face expressionless, her hands clenched.

  Chapter 79

  Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 11 November 1975

  . . . if Whitlam does call a double dissolution, it will mean a full Senate election rather than the usual half Senate election. A double sitting of parliament would pass the twenty-one bills the Senate has already rejected twice, as well as the Supply bills that allow the government the money to operate . . .

  JED

  Her world had ended.

  Jed looked at the note in her hand.

  Dear Jed,

  I asked Nancy to pick me up before you woke. When you get this, I will be with my mother, on my way to Sydney. I am grateful for all you have done for me, but I am also tired of being grateful. I have been grateful all my life. I need to be myself, succeed or fail, without you there to pay my way.

  You can’t buy love, and you can’t buy a sister either.

  I’ll phone you from Sydney.

  Scarlett

  She had never realised. Jed Kelly, who had money now, but of course had never let it change her . . .

  An illusion. For she had. ‘I don’t want to be a millionaire,’ she’d said to Tommy. And she had been right, back then.

  Money gave power and she had used it. Worse, she hadn’t even known she was doing it.

  Money, her careless abuse of charity, had driven Scarlett away. Yes, Scarlett needed help. But not a flat of her own, not a car. Jed had been so drunk on giving that she had never realised that giving too much might burden others.

  And Sam? Was he chained by her money too? Would he still be up at Tuntable Falls if she hadn’t offered . . . demanded . . . cajoled . . . assumed, that was the word, assumed with the arrogance of the rich he would leave everything that so many people like him were creating there and come to her, to fulfil the dream made possible by her money?

  Was that why Sam hadn’t asked her to marry him again? Because, like Scarlett, he resented being grateful, controlled, having his life mapped out for him by her money? No, not her money. The way she used it.

  Last night she’d had a sister and a man she knew loved her, as she loved him.

  Now? No sister. An illusion made from money. And Sam?

  She didn’t know.

  She sat and rested her head in her trembling hands.

  She simply didn’t know.

  Chapter 80

  ABC Local Radio, Gibber’s Creek, 4.45 pm, 11 November 1975

  ‘And well may we say God Save the Queen. For nothing will save the governor-general . . .’

  That was Gough Whitlam speaking ten minutes ago from the steps of Parliament House.

  NICHOLAS

  His world had ended.

  A few hours earlier the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, the supposedly ceremonial representative of the British queen, had dismissed the elected government of Australia, and had asked the Coalition under Malcolm Fraser to form a caretaker government till an election could be held.

  The Labor government, and his place in it, had vanished as sharply and unexpectedly as his legs in that explosion. And this day too had come with unseen manoeuvrings by the enemy.

  It was impossible. Governments could not be sacked by a man who was there only to shake hands, cut ribbons, tell people they’d done a jolly good job. And yet it had been.

  Gough Whitlam had planned to meet Kerr at one pm to request an election not just for the House of Representatives, but for the Senate too, another double dissolution that would mean that if — when — Labor won a majority in both Houses, they could pass every bill the Coalition had blocked.

  But Malcolm Fraser had visited Government House just before Whitlam’s appointment. Rumour said he had left by the back door just as Whitlam came in the front. And at one-thirty pm Sir John Kerr announced he had sacked the Whitlam government, and placed Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Country Party Coalition in its place as a ‘caretaker government’ until an election could be held. An election for the Lower House only, not the Senate election Whitlam had requested to pass the backlog of bills and allow the elected government to govern.

  At two thirty-five Malcolm Fraser had informed parliament he was the new prime minister. The House of Representatives — Nicholas included — had immediately voted a no-confidence motion, legally dismissing Fraser from the prime ministership.

  That was the way the law worked. The House of Reps voted, and that was it. And yet at four forty-five pm the governor-general’s secretary had stood on the steps of Parliament House and read the proclamation dismissing parliament. Parliament could not legally sit until it was recalled. Until they were recalled, they could pass no more laws.

  Malcolm Fraser — and those others who had manipulated this whole affair — had won.

  Now there would be an election in which Labor would be handicapped, shamed, because so many would believe there must truly be a compelling reason for a government to be dismissed like this, secret terrible things and major incompetence.

  Yes, they had made mistakes. Bad ones. And, yes, the economy was in trouble. But every western economy was in as much trouble — and look what they had achieved!

  He could hear the chanting outside Parliament House:
‘Shame, Fraser, shame. Shame, Fraser, shame . . .’ Then Whitlam’s voice. The world always fell silent when Whitlam spoke.

  Nicholas limped to the window. Even from there he could hear Whitlam’s voice, pounding into the silence of the hundreds gathered outside Parliament House, hear him calling on the people not to rebel, as so many in the crowd obviously wished to, but to maintain the rage, enough rage to throw out this new government imposed upon them by an unelected official. To make their feelings known at the election.

  ‘Shame, Fraser, shame,’ muttered Nicholas. He grabbed his stick. No, this was not the end! Not even the end of the beginning. This was a time to harness the anger of Australia.

  Chapter 81

  ABC Local Radio, Gibber’s Creek, 5 pm, 11 November 1975

  ‘We want Gough! We want Gough!’

  A crowd of more than 2,000 people has already gathered outside Parliament House this afternoon . . .

  MATILDA

  Her world had ended. That bright dream begun when she was twelve years old, a world where women voted, where every person no matter what the colour of their skin had the same rights throughout the country. The hope that had forged her father and ended in his death. The world she thought had come, and in her lifetime.

  Gone.

  No! She would not accept it! The people of Australia would not accept it. Fraser and Kerr had won a small, sordid battle, nothing more.

  The war was still there to win.

  Matilda grabbed her stick, and hauled herself to her feet, startling Maxi from her doze, then limped towards the phone.

  Chapter 82

  ABC Local Radio, Gibber’s Creek, 11 November 1975

  . . . as tens of thousands of workers around Australia begin an indefinite strike until the Whitlam government is reinstated, ACTU president, Bob Hawke, appealed for calm among ALP supporters . . .

  SCARLETT

  Her world had ended.

  Scarlett O’Hara, who could overcome any obstacle, was an illusion. Her birth family had abandoned her once, and now they had abandoned her a second time.

  Go back to Jed? Beg her pardon, hope for the charity Jed would offer? Remain the elf of River View, pretending she could survive without the hands of others? Stay here with Leafsong, washing dishes, waiting tables? Which was not the life she wanted, and everyone would know it, from the girls at school to Jed. To become a waitress at the Blue Belle would be nothing more than a childish act of defiance.

  There was nowhere . . .

  ‘One day you will walk.’ She had half forgotten the words. Words so stupid she had dismissed them.

  There was one place left. The community of the Chosen of the Universe. Even if Ra Zacharia couldn’t heal her — and despite her desperation, she had no faith that he might — they would give her a room, food, help. Time to work out what she could do, and what she couldn’t. A world beyond Jed, beyond charity, because she could cook, weave, be part of the work there.

  Had she misjudged Ra Zacharia? Even Jed’s investigator — how DARE she! — hadn’t found out anything bad about him. He had never even asked Jed for money. Mark had accepted the fading of their friendship as her exams took more of her time and dreams of a new life at uni replaced what was mostly pride that a young man might like her.

  Scarlett flushed. What was the phrase? A handbag. Was that how she had used Mark, as a handbag to wear on her arm, to show off to those who pitied her? Could she repay him by accepting his community as a place of refuge?

  Her promise to Jed not to go out there had ended when she left Jed’s house. This was, in fact, the best way of all to show Jed that now she had left school she was truly free.

  She turned to her friend, watching her steadily as she peeled the skin from baked capsicums. ‘Leafsong, please, could you drive me to the Chosen of the Universe?’

  The pale blue eyes gazed at her. Leafsong shook her head.

  ‘Please! Please, Leafsong.’

  Another headshake. A gesture . . . But Scarlett had no patience for gestures now. The last rag of her control shredded. ‘If you’ve something to say, then say it! You can speak! I know you can speak!’

  Again the pale blue gaze; again the silence. Once more, a slow shake of her head.

  Scarlett wheeled her chair around. ‘I’ll hitchhike then. I’ve done it once before. If I can get a lift to the turnoff, I can make my own way down the track.’

  Could she? Could her chair handle the ruts? If it tipped over, she couldn’t get it upright again. Or could she? She had never tried. PROBABLY it would not work. Today she didn’t care about probablies.

  She pulled open the door, then found a hand on her shoulder. Leafsong held Carol’s car keys in her other hand.

  Scarlett bit her lip. ‘I’m sorry. Thank you.’

  Another headshake. A look as if to say, ‘Are you sure?’

  Suddenly hope overcame all knowledge and analysis. ‘I want to walk! I have to try! Jed wouldn’t let me!’ No, that wasn’t true. Her own trust in the medical profession had stopped her trying. And fear too, maybe.

  It didn’t matter now. One try, that’s all. And if that failed, at least she would have a place to stay for a few days, out of sight of Jed, the Thompsons, the girls from school. Time to work out what to do next. A place where she could phone the dean of the Women’s College, once her exam results were out and she had the scholarship she knew she’d get. Time to work out how to cope with university in a wheelchair if — when — Ra Zacharia failed to heal her.

  She let Leafsong fold the wheelchair. Her hands shook as she clicked her seatbelt fast, watched Gibber’s Creek slide by, a dog lifting its leg outside the newsagency, the utes with hay bales, a new tank, a sparkling unfaded petrol pump outside the stock and station agent. Bitumen, and then the ruts.

  The open gates between the high wire fences.

  She was crying. She bit her lip to stop the tears. The car topped the rise. Scarlett gazed around. What had happened? Sun-whitened plastic on the community’s greenhouses flapped in the wind. The gardens were choked with weeds, thistles the only green in the overgrazed brown paddocks.

  Was the community abandoned?

  Suddenly she remembered what day it was: 11 November. The day the aliens were landing. Had they all gone to the landing place already? Scarlett had a sudden hysterical vision of all the Chosen filing onto a flying saucer. But there would be no flying saucer, so how long would they wait there? Days?

  She could not even get up the front steps without help. Please, let someone be here, she thought. Please, this is my last chance.

  Please. Please.

  Chapter 83

  ABC Local Radio, Gibber’s Creek, 11 November 1975

  ‘Kerr’s cur’ — that is how Gough Whitlam, former prime minister of Australia, referred to Australia’s new caretaker, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

  RA ZACHARIA

  His world had ended.

  Ra Zacharia steadied himself at his desk as a bolt of lightning flashed across the shadows gathering at the edges of his sight.

  No! Not today! Of all days, why must his body fail him now? He forced his vision to clear again. There. He could still do it. Still force his body into harmony with the universe, control the rogue cells that tried to multiply within his brain.

  But today he needed more.

  He had forced his body to do too much. Had lost the unity of the universe. For when he had reached the wheelchair girl’s house that morning she had been gone.

  He had left the car, had walked around the house, quiet as the space between the suns, peering through the window at the Kelly girl asleep in tossed sheets, the wheelchair girl’s empty bedroom.

  He had tried the café where she met Mark 23. The door was locked.

  He had given up, waited till the time the baby slept.

  Paths with too-bright flowers. The colours hurt his eyes. He needed darkness, the peace between the planets. Chatter from the refectory. And then the door to the matron’s quarters, open, for who locked the
ir doors in Gibber’s Creek, except the crooked girl with her crooked brain, at her café?

  A living room. Sofa, chairs, a television set, shelves with too many photos — a young man, a baby dressed in lace. Two doors. Displaced as he was from his true power, Ra Zacharia still knew the right one.

  He opened it.

  The boy was there.

  He reached for him, and the woman screamed. Lashed at him with her hands, and then a metal bucket that held soiled nappies. The matron screamed again.

  He ran.

  She must have been sitting, dozing perhaps, in the dim corner. The world had too many dim corners now. Too much light in parts, and then too little.

  It was the power of the Elders, he thought, sliding into his car, driving away from the growing tumult behind him. Already his body must be shifting to a new plane.

  He had to find the girl. He had to! He could not bear this transition long!

  He tried the door of the café again. Locked. Nor, he knew, with sudden clarity, would the café open today. He could hear a woman’s voice. Emotion.

  Nothing was right. But of course, today, nothing would be ‘right’, for all was changing as the Elders brought their vessel in. He should have expected routine and expectation to dwindle more and more the closer the Elders came.

  Should have known his expectation would crumble too. This day. This One Day. This day from which all other days would flow.

  But would he flow with them?

  His body felt . . . lost. No longer soaring. Simply gone. Yet his fingers had still opened the car door; found the keys.

  He found his way home and stood, eyes closed, trying to feel the Elders come. And knew that he was not perfect.

  The tumour was still there. Which meant not only did he not have two complete miracles to Sacrifice today. He could not even, as a last resort, give them himself. The aura he had thought was a blessing of the Elders was the tumour stealing away his sight, his consciousness.

  He would not let it happen! He was still strong, even if not perfect! But with no Sacrifice to draw them, the Elders would not make him whole.

 

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