Mallawindy, p.12

Mallawindy, page 12



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He was silent for minutes, his eyes watching her. There were questions he wanted to ask about Sam and May, but in the end he said, ‘You say you remembered the hospital, and a boy. Try to recall his name. Work your way through the alphabet. Try to find the boy’s name.’

  He started with the A’s. ‘Adam. Alan.’

  She shook her head. Shook it at the B’s, the C’s, at the X Y Z’s. ‘It’s a short name, starts with a vowel, I think. I can almost see it written in red. Maybe it’s got an E in it.’

  ‘Edward. Eric,’ he said.

  And she sprang to her feet. ‘It’s Eric, and his other name was ... was ... Eric ... His surname started with a J-o-n. The same letters as Johnny. I know it. I know it, sir. I can see it written, and it is red.’

  And it wasn’t all she knew. She remembered a colouring book. Eric had a colouring book. He gave her a red crayon. But though they spoke of the boy and the book for an hour, she could take the memory no further.

  David came each Saturday through October, and his lips became more demanding, and his hands strayed from hand, and waist, to her shirt buttons, to her breasts.

  ‘No more,’ she said.

  ‘No more?’ he asked.

  Her eyes down, she shook her head.

  He came in November and the heat was intense. It drove them to the river. For hours they fished, and frolicked in the water. Ann dived deep, and deeper still, striving to reach the river’s floor.

  ‘You’re a nut,’ David accused, after one dive found him looking for her, concern on his face. ‘I thought you were stuck under a log. I thought you’d drowned.’

  A water nymph in her natural element, she laughed at him, and dived again, grasping his ankle this time and dragging him with her to deep water, just as she did with Ben, or Bron. But he caught her to him underwater, trapped her there, kissed her underwater, near lost in her mermaid hair. They surfaced, both gasping for air.

  ‘Does Melissa swim?’ she asked.

  ‘No. And forget Melissa. I have, a long time ago.’

  ‘Why doesn’t she swim?’

  ‘Because her legs are like turnips. Yours are like slim silky eels,’ he said, pouncing again, dragging her back into the silent world of opaque green, his arms locked around her hips. Her back arched, and her small breasts were close to his mouth. His mouth sought them, but she grasped his head, pushing him away, while bubbles laughed out through lips turned up in play.

  Tumbling rolling bodies entwined in a liquid land where his hands dared too much and she wanted too much. So close, she could feel him hard against her. Something she had feared no longer seemed frightening – not with him. She wanted to hold him, to close her eyes and her mind and be closer to him, closer than this.

  Let him slip her strap from her shoulder, let his mouth seek, find. Let his lips make the world go away. But it wouldn’t stay away. It would just end the magic and she knew it. She pushed him away, dived deep and swam strong, underwater.

  ‘Are you ready for some lunch?’ she yelled, emerging near the bank.

  ‘No. I’m ready for you,’ he replied. Two deep breaths and he was after her, swimming into uncharted waters.

  ‘Lunch or nothing,’ she said.

  He walked with her through the trees to the gate. ‘I don’t want to let you go, Ann. Half of me is being drawn away, lost to me for a week. I want you. I want to sleep with you. Stay with me tonight. Please stay with me tonight.’

  ‘I can’t,’ she said.

  He locked her in his arms, kissed her until she wanted to stay. ‘I’m going to buy you an engagement ring for your birthday.’

  Then she pulled away, covered her mouth with her hand, safe from him. ‘I’m too young. You’ll get bored with me soon, David.’

  ‘Idiot girl. I can’t remember a day I’ve enjoyed more than today. I want to be with you tonight, tomorrow. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I love you.’

  ‘I’ll have to go. It’s almost six.’

  ‘Saturday is not enough for me any more. Can I come down and meet your parents?’


  ‘No. Just like mat. What about me, what I want?’

  She stood before him, shaking her head. Saturdays were all she had. Her father spent his at the hotel. When would he go to Narrawee again? ‘Maybe after Christmas,’ she said, closing the gate between them.

  David watched her walk barefoot down the track. The ground was rough; she had feet like a native. He’d dated a few girls, slept with a few, but this one had managed to get under his skin. Her face attracted him, her voice held him, now he was in over his head.

  He wanted her tonight. Didn’t want to drive away. He wished her older, but he liked her innocence too, and the clean uncluttered lines of her. She was as tall as he, but pencil slim. And her eyes – one minute wide, laughing, the next like a frightened faun’s, pleading for one last chance from a hunter’s gun. She walked well, easy, her head high. He knew so little about her. She dressed well, spent her money wisely, spoke with the trace of an accent, as if English might have been a second language. She was dark enough to be Greek, or Italian, but not with the name of Burton.

  Since the night of the picture show, she had refused to go near the town, and she always seemed to breathe easier once out on the road. She’d introduced him to no member of her family; he’d caught a glimpse of a young girl spying on them from behind a tree, and he guessed it was her sister. He’d sighted her brother in a paddock one day, but that was it. Most girls dragged him home to meet their parents whether he wanted to or not, but she never spoke about them.

  An enigma, he thought. I’ve stumbled on some Brigadoon, stumbled on some once-a-week town, and I want to move into it with her.

  ‘Marry her,’ he said to the gate. ‘Marry her.’

  As he walked towards his car, its twin sped by, turned down the Burton track. The driver had to be her father. Big, dark as Ann, he drove like a maniac. David watched him out of sight.

  Maybe she knows what she’s doing, he thought. Wait for her birthday. Only six weeks away. ‘A short engagement, and a fast wedding,’ he told his car.

  David didn’t come to Mallawindy over Christmas. Ann telephoned him from Bessy’s place, told him she couldn’t get away. Ellie was huge with the baby, and Jack, a whisky-drinking bull the family dodged around. The farm could afford to buy a new kitchen suite and new cupboards, but what was the use? The old table was solid and the tubular metal chairs stood up to Jack’s rages. Most of the doors on the old cupboards had been replaced with curtains on elastic. Elastic gave. Thank God he never attacked the lounge room, Ellie frequently said.

  He couldn’t. That was his room. Liza’s memorial. His books, his good furniture was in there. It was his oasis in the place he named Chook-Shit County.

  Ann never used the lounge room. She sewed in her room, and she dreamed, and she wished Christmas and her father gone; She thought of David, and his kiss, and his hands, and her blood trickled around her body like honey through honeycomb. She thought of the day at the river, and knew that she couldn’t allow any more such days or she’d end up trapped like her mother was trapped, like Janey Fraser was trapped. But with David, it would be a very fine trap to be caught in. With him, nothing could ever be bad. He was gentle and funny and ... and his body was ... beautiful. And he had said he loved her. Somebody loved her. He had a block of land where he might build her a sane house.

  The days continued to drag by.

  Then the letter and the cheque came from Narrawee.

  Dear Jack, Ellie and family –

  Sam and May would be at Narrawee until mid January. Sam wished to speak to Jack – if he could spare the time.

  Two days later, Jack picked up his briefcase and he drove away.

  Peace. Laughter. Cards at night with Bessy and Bill. Pure, delightful peace, and David on New Year’s Eve.

  the baby

  Ellie’s baby was due in a week. She wanted it out and in her arms. She wanted her old energy back. All the farm work fell
to Ben and Annie now, but at least with Jack away, everyone could relax and get on with it.

  It would be a different birth, this one. She’d have time for the new baby, be able to give it more too. She was sitting in the kitchen, doing a crossword, and willing a small nagging ache into the familiar pain when Ann entered with a boy she introduced as David.

  ‘Nice to meet you, David,’ Ellie said.

  Such a nice looking boy, and well spoken too. So, he was the one responsible for the change in Annie. Ellie was delighted. Her daughter hadn’t missed a Sunday at church for months. It was a miracle and there was no doubt about it. After all the years of worry, to look at Annie now, standing there, like a normal girl, holding her boyfriend’s hand; it was more than Ellie had ever dared to pray for. She crossed herself, thanked God and Father Fogarty – and this David, and she wished her back would stop aching and her stomach start.

  ‘Could I take Ann to a New Year’s party in Warran, Mrs Burton?’

  ‘If you don’t have her home too late,’ Ellie replied.

  They stayed for dinner. Annie wasn’t much use in the kitchen, but she and Bronwyn tossed a salad together, and they ate it with cold boiled eggs and leftover lamb. It was a relief not having to cook for Jack. With any sort of luck, she’d be back home with the baby by the time he returned. She’d have her energy back.

  Annie had made another new dress. It was short and red, definitely her colour. It looked well with her dark hair and eyes. She’d bought a pair of platform shoes too. They made her look even taller. Ellie watched the couple as they left at eight for the party. Such a handsome couple. Annie looked twenty, she thought.

  ‘He must be of our faith,’ she said to Ben. ‘That would explain Annie’s new interest in the church ... not that she’s old enough to be thinking weddings for a few years.’

  ‘She seems very natural with him, doesn’t she?’ Ben said.

  ‘She kisses him too,’ Bronwyn added her own piece of information. ‘How do people get the air in when they kiss, Mum?’

  ‘Bronwyn!’ Ellie said.

  They were on the road to Warran when David handed Ann a small blue velvet box. ‘Happy birthday, Merry Christmas, and marry me soon, all rolled into one.’

  Wide-eyed, Ann looked at him and at the box. She didn’t take it.

  ‘Open it,’ he said, and when she wouldn’t, he opened it himself. A small lone diamond stood proud on a slim golden band. ‘I love you, Ann, and I believe the feeling is mutual. Take it. Put it on for me. I’d like to introduce you tonight as my fiancée.’

  ‘I’m ... too young. I can’t.’

  ‘You can. You’re eighteen, and now in control of your own life.’ She shook her head, turned her face to the window. ‘It’s got to the stage where I can’t imagine a life without you. I’ve got a block of land, and I want to build a house and plant a garden. I’ve already looked into getting a loan from the bank.’

  She took the box, closed it and placed it in the glove box. ‘Don’t spoil tonight,’ she said. ‘I’m free. I’m out of that place and I’m going to a party. Don’t spoil it.’

  His concentration returned to the road. He hadn’t expected this response, but he usually got what he wanted, and he wanted her. Okay, so he’d gone the wrong way about it. He’d ask her father for her hand. Do it the old way. Do it slow. But he would marry her.

  The party was at a property two kilometres south of Warran. There were hordes inside and out, and more continued to arrive. Ann stayed close to David. She watched, surprised, as he tossed down a glass of beer. She drank fruit punch. She watched his glass refilled, emptied, as the voices grew louder. After the third refill, she walked away from him, and he didn’t see her go.

  The fruit punch was spicy and cold, and the night was hot. Her own glass refilled, she looked for a corner, out of sight of a tall guy in blue who kept following her. Maybe it was her fault; twice he caught her staring at him, but only because he looked a bit like Johnny. Tall and dark – even his nose, and his jaw. His eyes weren’t Johnny’s eyes, and his voice was ... was slimy.

  Two minutes later he found her in her corner and he put his hand on her bare shoulder.

  ‘Where have you been hiding all my life, Brown-eyes?’

  ‘Excuse me,’ she said, sliding out from beneath his arm and hurrying outside to the garden.

  The stars were bright tonight. She stood, her back to the warm brick wall. She’d expected there would be young people here, but of course they wouldn’t all be. Some looked about forty. David was probably the youngest. Twenty-four. Johnny’s age. And the ring he’d bought. It was an engagement ring.

  ‘Stupid,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t have let him think I was eighteen.’ She walked down to the road, looked towards the city.

  Warran was like the hub of a buckled wheel, with spokes leading off in six different directions. Her new shoes weren’t made for walking, and there was no bus tonight. She was stuck here until midnight. Sucked into a vortex that had begun to spin. Where would it spin her out?

  She shouldn’t have let it all start, but she didn’t know it would end up with him wasting his money on a ring. The kids on the bus changed their girl and boyfriends like her father changed his socks. There was no such thing as love at first sight, except in books. But she had loved David at first sight, and she knew it.

  ‘That’s where you’re hiding. Come back in, Ann.’ David found her in the drive. He put his arms around her, kissed an ear he found amid the curls.

  ‘You smell of beer.’

  ‘And you smell of spice and kitten’s breath,’ he said. Unable to claim her mouth, his lips traced a path to her throat. She pulled away, but he caught her hand and drew her back inside where he introduced her to two married women who must have been at least thirty.

  Penny was from Melbourne. She asked what Ann was drinking, and brought her another glass of punch.

  ‘One of my brothers lives in Melbourne,’ Ann said, just for something to say.

  ‘What suburb, Ann?’

  ‘I’m not sure. He’s just moved.’ Her tongue was loosening. She was feeling better, safe on a couch between two women.

  ‘Where does he work, Ann?’

  ‘Teacher,’ Ann said. Maybe Johnny was in Melbourne. Maybe he was a teacher. He had been her teacher, and she couldn’t admit that she hadn’t seen her brother for nine years. She looked at the rings on Penny’s hand. Three rings. Engagement, wedding and eternity. Her mother only had the one ring. No time to get engaged.

  Rings. Everywhere she looked tonight she saw them, big ones, little ones.

  The memory came at her hard, jarred her, and she spilled her drink to her frock, but she didn’t notice it.

  Walking with Johnny in the sandhills, treading on his footprints, safe in Johnny’s footprints. Following him and ... and ... and a flower. It was growing on a reed. A reed flower, but reeds didn’t have flowers. Her hand picked it, locked it in her palm. And Johnny wanted to see –

  Her eyes closed and she conjured up a clear mental image of her brother. His hair had been as black as her own, but straight, his eyes a lighter brown, his father’s eyes, but they held a different expression. Tall. Tall as his father, but his hands were Elbe’s, his fingers shorter, his palms and wrists broad. ‘Remember,’ that hand said. Fist to temple, tapping the temple. She had made the same sign, then her fingers opened, blew the thought away. ‘Forget.’

  Chill of liquid through her frock. She looked down at it, brushed at it. Penny offered a tissue, and Ann looked at the offering hand, but she was away again. Just for a flicker of a second she was standing with Johnny on the sand. His face was sad, his eyes beautiful, worried. ‘Tell me, Annie love. You have to tell me.’

  Then Johnny went away. Went down the road and the big truck came and it took him away, and all the safe was gone. And ... and ... and ... nothing. Slam. Bang. Head first into a wall of opaque glass.

  Slowly she took the offered tissue, blotted the spill. Gone. Gone into nothing.

bsp; David had returned some of that safe time to her. Maybe she should sleep with him. Get pregnant. Make her own wedding dress and get away, get far away from Mallawindy, and everything. Start new again. Be a new person. Mrs Taylor. Safe Mrs Ann Taylor.

  She looked at David. He was standing with the host. He caught her eye. ‘Okay?’ he asked. She blushed at her thoughts, and turned her face away to the group of women immersed in babies and motherhood. She could be one of them if she had a baby. She’d have something to talk to them about. Maybe tonight when they got back in the car, she’d take the ring out of its box and put it on, and he’d kiss her and she’d just let his hands do what they wanted, what she wanted. She’d let it happen. Just be close to him, then closer, and after the first time it would be easy. That’s what Janey Fraser said.

  The thought of it made her stomach feel weird. Nice weird. Lots of the girls on the school bus did it. Janey Fraser was only twelve months older than Ann, and she already had her baby, born three months after the wedding. Ann drained her glass. She felt weird, giddy, throbbing. She looked at her watch. Still an hour to midnight. She looked at David, then the tall guy in the blue shirt winked at her, as if he knew what she was thinking. She tossed her hair back and looked at the wallpaper. The women were laughing at something, so Ann laughed too, then she stood and walked to the bar.

  It was close to midnight when David joined the group of males surrounding her. There was no way out of the tight circle, no way she could shake off the hand of the guy in blue, so she stood there, laughing with the rest, and saying anything that popped into her head. It was easy. Melissa had attached herself to the group. Blonde. Dressed in yellow – a plump canary, who wanted to get David in her cage.

  ‘I’m missing you,’ David said, close to her ear.

  Ann turned to him, smiled, then continued her conversation about London. ‘I flew over with Dad when I was sixteen,’ she said to Melissa, but her new friend had lost interest in London.

  ‘How are you, Hon?’ Melissa’s arm slipped around David’s waist.

  ‘Great. And you?’ He stepped away.


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