Mallawindy, page 13
‘Just great.’ Melissa left for the bathroom and David’s hand was around Ann’s waist. She leaned against him, needing his support. The guy in blue walked away and the other males dispersed.
‘So, you’ve been to London? You didn’t tell me you were a world traveller,’ David said. ‘Tell me about yourself. Tell me where else you’ve been.’
‘Not to London.’ She laughed. ‘He who enjoys a good novel is never in need of fast fiction.’ Her head rested against his, her free hand replaced Melissa’s around his waist. He didn’t step away from her. He drew her closer, so close.
It would be so easy. Tonight she was a different person, a whole person. She found out why when he stopped kissing her.
‘What have they been giving you to drink?’ he asked.
‘Fruit punch. And I’ve been giving it to myself. It’s got watermelon in it. See.’
He took the glass of pink juice from her hand, tasted it. ‘It’s spiked,’ he said. ‘It’s full of vermouth. No more, Ann.’
‘What’s vermouth?’ The glass reclaimed, she tested it too.
‘I can’t take you home drunk. Don’t drink any more.’
‘What about you? Anyway, I don’t ever want to go home again. I like it here. I like me here. See that guy over there, in the blue,’ and when David looked where her glass was pointing, she added, ‘Well, he keeps following me around and calling me Brown-eyes. Every time I look up, he’s staring at me, or leaning on me.’
‘The whole world is staring at you, but you are mine, and if you were not staring at him with your big brown eyes, then you wouldn’t know that he was staring at you.’
Her head felt wobbly. All the tension had left her muscles. She felt free, and so happy. The noise, the voices and music were playing directly against her eardrums. She wanted to dance, wanted a reason to hold David close. She wanted to swim with him, swim beneath the moon, and be a boneless puppet and let him play her strings.
But the blue shirt was back, his hand on her shoulder, so sure of its right of possession. She slid away, stepping around David’s feet.
‘Where’s your wife, Tony?’ David asked.
‘Home in bed where all good wives should be, barefoot and pregnant,’ Tony Blue Shirt replied. ‘Where’s Melissa, Dave?’
‘Melissa who? What are you doing for a crust, these days, Tone?’
‘I sell cars. Want to buy a good used car?’
They laughed. Ann stepped back, and leaned against the wall, dissecting the conversation. Totally unfunny, she decided. Drunks at a party laughing at unfunny jokes. ‘I sell cars. Want to buy one, Davey?’ Utterly without humour, she decided, and she tossed her head back and laughed with the other drunks. For minutes she leaned there, a part of the group, waiting each time for the laughter, performing well until she grew bored with the game and laughed in the wrong place.
Their group expression gave her excuse to return to the punch-bowl. They were still laughing when she wandered back. Perhaps having left the clique, they now laughed at her. Maybe someone here knew she used to be Dummy Burton, or perhaps she looked as drunk as she felt. Apart from the woozy nausea, drunk was a delicious feeling. Never before had she seen people with such clarity. From the outer circle, she studied Tony.
He looked more like her father than Johnny. She laughed alone then, giggling for minutes while wondering who her father might have been sleeping with twenty-odd years ago. Everyone in Mallawindy knew he slept around. Had he passed on that noble brow, that straight aristocratic nose, hair as black as a raven’s wing ... or a crow’s wing.
‘Old Ted Crow, where did he go? Gone in the trees, like the birds and the bees,’ she said. No-one took any notice. ‘Who is Ted Crow, little Annie? Who cares who he is tonight,’ she said, and she giggled again.
Tony turned to her. Again his hand reached out to claim. A hand like her father’s. Long fingers, clean well-shaped nails. ‘By the way Tony, did your mother happen to know your father’s name?’ she asked.
The question seemed innocent enough, but like well-oiled, wind-up toys, jaws dropped all around her, telling her plainly that she’d hit a nail directly on its head, if she could only concentrate long enough to recall what nail she’d hit – . Maybe she should stop saying whatever came into her head. Try to concentrate. Johnny used to always keep telling her, ‘Concentrate. Concentrate, Annie love.’
She tried to concentrate as she watched the people take fast mechanical steps backwards, but Tony didn’t step back. His fingers tightened their grip on her arm and he hissed, close to her face, ‘You smart-arsed, bitch. Give me a night or two with you and I’d make you crawl for it.’ And he pinched her breast.
She wasn’t concentrating when her glass of pink couldn’t-give-a-damn juice hit the self-satisfied face. She was as surprised as he was. Just a reflex reaction. She didn’t mean it to happen, but she giggled as she watched a ball of watermelon land on black hair, slide slowly down, hit the floor.
No-one else was giggling. The host was beside Tony. David took Ann’s arm, but she’d been dodging this man all night, and she wasn’t going to run any more. Couldn’t, anyhow. Her legs weren’t quite right. She giggled as the room silenced. Glasses froze, half raised to lips; even the crooner on the record-player stopped crooning and started to hiccup. Some comment was necessary. Ann looked around her at the plastic people dissolving in alcohol.
‘Aunty Bessy always says that the next best thing to a knee in the right place is a glass of water in the face,’ she said.
The crooner gave a heart-stopping hiccup, an amazing trill, jumped a few tracks, then crooned on, and glasses continued their pathway to lips.
David drew her into the kitchen. He sat her down on the tiled floor, sat beside her. ‘Did you know him before tonight?’
‘Then who told you about his mother?’
Her head was at peace on his shoulder, and she yawned. ‘He looks like my father – acts like him too. I just thought he might have known Tony’s mother ... in the biblical sense.’ She yawned again.
‘Who are you? I picked up a girl at a bridge in Mallawindy this afternoon, a shy kid I planned to spend my life with. You are like a stranger. I don’t know you, Ann.’
‘I like you not knowing me. But he knows me. Look at him, David.’ Tony had followed them to the kitchen. He stood at the door, his eyes shooting daggers.
‘I’d better get you out of here. He’s a bad drunk, and so are you.’
‘I bet he is, but I’m just a happy drunk. It’s turned my worry knob to the off position, so everything looks just fine, except him. Ever since I got here, he’s been after me. Every time I take my eyes off the floor or the ceiling, he’s staring, like he knows everything about me.’
She looked at the door to prove a point. Tony caught her eye. Quickly she dropped her chin to concentrate again on the tiled floor. Minutes later, when she knew how many tiles it had taken to cover this floor, she looked up again and his lips mouthed two little words she had seen many times before.
‘See. I’m right. How does he know I can lip read unless there’s some ancestral brain-cell link?’
‘Jung.’ She scrambled to her feet, pushing herself off from the wall, negotiating the space between her and the door. David wasn’t as fast to his feet.
‘Please repeat your last words after I find a full glass,’ she said.
‘Fuck you, you smart-arsed bitch.’ Tony spat the words at her. ‘I’ll get you.’
‘Would you know what to do with me? I’ve heard it ... on the best authority, that your other appendages are as limp as your wrists. They tell me that your wife has an annual ... an annual stud booking with the local bull – ’
David was between them. He tossed Ann over his shoulder and carried her through to the laundry and out to his car, then he poured her into the back seat and drove towards Mallawindy, his laughter non-containable. At the halfway mark, he pulled off to the side of the road, and cli
‘Your mother says I’m dangerous.’
‘I thought you were asleep, and I wouldn’t touch you tonight with a ten-foot pole,’ he said, drawing her head to his lap.
‘Melissa told Penny something like that.’
‘Shut up, Ann, and sleep it off. I can’t take you home like this. Your father will castrate me.’
‘More likely to shoot you, if he was home. But thank God, he’s not home,’ she said. ‘Hey, is the world spinning or is it me, David?’
‘It’s you. Close your eyes and count sheep.’
‘Bessy took some pigs down to the Daree show last year and Branny and I went with her. We went on one ride where they put you in this little room like a barrel, then it spins around and around until you can walk up the walls like a fly. We did. I bet I could walk up the walls of the world tonight. I’m spinning, spinning, spinning.’
‘Close your eyes.’
‘I’ll fall off if I close my eyes.’ She giggled and lay watching the world turn. ‘Annie,’ she whispered. ‘Little Annie, give me a hiccup to let me know you’re still alive. Yoo-hoo, Annie. Come out, come out wherever you are and meet Ann of inebriation.’
A smile twitched his lips, but he held his silence, hoping the lack of an interested audience might put her to sleep. Better to arrive home late than to take her back like this.
‘Melissa hates me, you know, David. All the time she was charming me with London this, and London that, her eyes were slicing off bits of my flesh and feeding it to the goldfish.’
‘I hate you too. Turn your brain to the off position and go to sleep.’
‘Is it safe?’
‘You’re safe. I don’t make love to drunks.’
‘But you ride penny-farthings. That’s what Tony called Melissa. He didn’t know we were distantly related. He said she was a pneumatic penny-farthing. A bit more class, a little older, well pumped-up tyres, but basically the town bike – anyone could get a ride since you parked her back on the street.’
‘Ann. This is not you, and certainly not the you I love. Watch your mouth.’
‘He said I was a red racing car and – ’
There was only one way to shut her up. He kissed the mouth, relaxed by spiked fruit punch, and she spoke against his lips. ‘You said you wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole.’
‘My anatomy has been much exaggerated.’ He kissed her again while his hand traced a pathway from face, to throat, to breast. ‘God, I love you. I’ve been seduced by you, Ann, ensnared by you. Who are you?’
‘Love me?’ she said. ‘Even when I’m drunk? Even when I insult your friends?’
‘Even more when you insult my enemies.’ Again he kissed her and his fingers worked their way beneath her shoulder strap.
‘That word will be your downfall. Call me Dave, or Davey. Learn to say it with a nasal twang. I love you. I want you.’
‘What if I don’t love you, don’t want you?’
‘You do, and you talk too much.’ His lips stopping further protest.
Hang the consequences. The ring was in his glove box. Perhaps this was the way to get it on her finger tonight. He slid the zip of her frock down. He unhooked her bra, and she lay in his arms like a rag doll, her lips opening to him. It had been a long time since his last back-seat lovemaking, and the last time he’d had a little assistance. His hand found the silky slip of stockinged thigh, crept higher.
She was eighteen, old enough to make her own rules. Let her stop it if it must be stopped. He’d had too much to drink too. Blame the beer. Blame the moonlight and the lonely road. His hand slid up to the elastic of her briefs.
‘I think the world’s stopped spinning because I’m falling off it.’ She rolled to the floor, and he gave up on the back seat.
‘Will you come to a motel with me, Ann?’
‘No motels in Mallawindy. Anyway, I’m sober now. Maybe next time.’
‘A life of celibacy doesn’t suit me.’
‘You could go back to the party and get Melissa. I’ll walk from here.’
‘Jesus. Jesus. What have I done to deserve this?’
‘Mum’s always saying that. She doesn’t know that Jesus never listens.’ She opened the door and tumbled out to the road. ‘You know, I once asked him to do one tiny little thing for me. I made a bargain with him, and he tricked me into reading all but thirty-seven pages of the Bible, then behold, Jack Burton arose from the dead and shot Mickey ... and Father Fogarty still had the stinking audacity to expect to re-do me Catholic. Can you believe that?’
‘Get in the car, Ann, and who was Mickey? Some other poor fool who fell for you?’
‘He was my dog. He was fourteen, and he would have lived to seventeen, because I looked after him. We buried him near the willow tree,’ she said, heading off into the moonlight, straightening her dress as she went.
‘Get back in the car, Ann.’ He walked to the front seat and started the motor. ‘Get back in this car, Ann.’
For half a kilometre he followed her before she agreed to get back in. On the remainder of the trip, he learned more about her than he had in five months. She told him her brother had run away when he was nearly sixteen, and one day she’d have to find him because he remembered all the things she’d forgotten, and she told him her father was away in Narrawee, so she probably wouldn’t get murdered tonight. She told him her mother owned the farm, and her father just boarded there, part time.
‘Do you love, me?’ he said when they were at the gate.
‘I’m too young.’
‘You’re eighteen, allowed to vote, allowed to love, even allowed to drink.’
‘I’m sixteen,’ she said.
‘You’re not. You said you’d turn eighteen in December.’
‘No,’ she corrected. ‘You said you thought I was eighteen or twenty, so I took the eighteen. I knew you’d run a mile if I told you the truth.’
‘What’s it matter? Some people know all about life when they’re six and some are still spoilt kids when they’re forty. Life gets handed out like bunches of grapes, and we have to eat the bunch we’re given, and keep eating them until we’re dead, so it doesn’t matter if a few of us get little sour bunches, and some get big sweet ones. When they’re gone, they’re gone and there is no more.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Can you walk a straight line yet?’
‘I can do what I have to do, when I have to do it.’
‘If you want to do it,’ he said meaningfully. ‘Hop out and walk around for a while. Get your head straight before you go in.’ Guilt was riding him now. He could see the lights still burning in the Burton house. Her mother was probably worried sick.
‘Hop in. Hop out. Sit down. Roll over. Woof. Woof.’
She was only a kid and it was almost two o’clock. He’d picked himself up some half-grown thing from the Mallawindy forest and got her drunk. ‘I wish you’d told me the truth months back, Ann.’
‘Then you wouldn’t have come back.’ She was out of the car and not walking well, the rough ground not so stable beneath her platform soles. She walked to the gate, flung it wide, then rode it to a bone-jolting crash against the post.
He stood watching her. She was more the child tonight than he had ever seen her, and he loved her more. ‘Do you still want me to come back, Ann?’
The gate closed. She was in, and he was out, locked on the other side by a rusty loop of wire. He hated that bloody gate ... he wanted in, wanted her. Wanted to rape her on the grass in the moonlight.
‘I don’t feel any different at sixteen to what I felt at eighteen five minutes ago.’
‘Saturday?’ he said, kissing her across the top rail.
‘At the bridge,’ she sighed, and she ran.
Ellie had been leisurely packing her hospital case
She saw the car lights at the gate as she closed the case, fixed its strap in place. It must be Annie and David. Jack saw the lights too. He’d been cursing his brother’s name since he walked in the door, determined to start something too, but Ellie had aborted it so far. And now Annie was home, and God help her. Jack was waiting in the yard, priming his belt.
‘Where have you been, you little slut?’ he yelled as she wandered through the chicken-wire gate.
‘Celebrating New Year.’ Ann, dodging around him, ran for the rear of the house.
‘Who drove you home?’ he roared.
There was no reply, but Ellie heard the bedroom door close. She sighed, relieved. At least Annie had decided against taking him on tonight. He never went into the girls’ bedroom. If Annie stayed in there. If she just stayed in there.
Ellie lifted her hospital case to the floor, then grasping her stomach, crouched over the table, riding down a contraction. They were coming fast. She’d have to go.
‘Who was she with?’ Jack was at the passage door. ‘I asked you, who was she with?’
The pain eased. Ellie took two short breaths. ‘She’s sixteen, Jack. He’s a nice boy. It’s good for her to mix with people.’ She picked up her case. ‘Can you get me up to the hospital, love? I think I’m running out of time.’
‘A nice bloody boy. You wouldn’t know nice from shit. Get in here, you black-headed little slut,’ he roared. ‘Get back in this room now.’
Shoes off, Ann came to the eastern door, stood leaning there, the length of the room between herself and her father. Ben was up too. Bronwyn followed Ann from the bedroom, stood behind her in her nightie.
‘I’ll have to go, Jack,’ Ellie said. ‘The baby is coming.’
‘Bloody baby-bearing bitch. A poor bloody man drives all night and gets home to this.’
‘Yes. You’re probably worn out, love. I wasn’t thinking. You go to bed. Benjie can take me.’
‘Don’t tell me to go to bed like your bloody kids. I’m God here. No-one tells me what to do here.’ He picked up a chair, threw it. It hit the case, which hit Ellie’s knee. She tripped over it, grabbed for the table, but fell heavily. Ben ran into the room. He stood between his parents. ‘I’ll take her up to the hospital, Dad. Go out to the ute, Mum. I’ll just get dressed.’
Other author's books:
- Trails in the DustMoth to the FlameDiamonds in the Mud and Other StoriesThe Seventh DayThorn on the RoseJacaranda BlueWind in the WiresMallawindy
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