Mallawindy, p.30

Mallawindy, page 30



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  ‘Put it away. Please put it away. Please change that shirt,’ he said.

  ‘She’s growing like a weed. Three months younger than young Frances Williams and inches taller already.’

  ‘Stop it, Ann. You can’t hide from this. Mandy is dead. Put that dress away.’ He took it from her hands, placed it over the back of a chair. Minutes passed while her eyes stared at the tiny frock. The only life in the house was a cat, meowing for food at the back door.

  ‘Get it out of the house,’ she said.

  David walked to the phone, dialled. He spoke quietly, then returned to the kitchen, to sit again until he heard a tentative knock on the front door. The telephone began its ringing as he handed the cat to a work mate. Ann pulled the plug from the wall, cutting it off mid ring. Then all was silent, as it should be.

  ‘Your mother always wanted us to have her baptised,’ David said minutes later.

  ‘I know of a good cure for warts too. Toss a dead cat over a convent fence at midnight. Let God’s little helpers look after their altar boys. I’ll look after my baby.’

  ‘For God’s sake, don’t do this,’ he moaned.

  ‘Good old God just wiped out the only decent thing I ever did do. With one God almighty stroke of his pen, he wiped her name off the roll. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh.’ Again she sat in silence smoothing the frock. She smiled as she fitted three fingers into the tiny sleeve and buttoned the neck.

  ‘Put it away,’ he whispered.

  There was too much pain in her. Something was going to give. Words were becoming hard to find. Her hands spelt ‘Cremation,’ then she forced that one word out.

  He shook his head and stared at the blood-stained blouse.

  ‘We let her live . . . free. We have to let her stay free.’


  ‘There will be no hole in the ground, not for my baby. No-one will . . . cover her with dirt, David.’

  ‘Stop it, Ann. You’re killing me.’

  She glanced at him, then back to the small dress. She brushed at the dirt, shook the frock, brushed at the dirt.

  ‘Put that dress away.’

  ‘It blew across the lawn to meet me. She’s out there, David.’

  ‘Put it away, and take that shirt off.’

  She stood, looked at her shirt, and she stripped it from her as she walked to the sink. She took up a box of matches and held a flame to the fabric of the tiny frock. The cotton caught, blazed. She dropped it to the sink, watched it turned to ash, as her hands, two graceful entities, began signing. ‘Fly to her with north wind. Fly to cloud. Home to sunset. You be free now my beautiful. You be yesterday dust on the wind that blow in my eyes. Make me tear.’

  The room had filled with smoke. The smoke alarm was chirping. It was better. She couldn’t hear him, barely see him.

  He slapped her. ‘Scream, damn you. Cry for her, Ann. Cry, and give me leave to cry with you.’ He slapped her again, then his hands strong on her shoulders, he shook her like a puppy at play with his rag toy.

  She looked at him, rubbed at her eyes, trying to clear them of smoke, of fog. ‘I want to cry,’ she said, then her hands signed. ‘My heart cry too big.’

  He watched her hands, but could not read them. He looked at his own hand, reddened by the slap, then at her white face, her reddened cheek. And he wept.

  She had never seen his tears before. She watched the blue, blue eyes fill, overflow, trickle silently away. Her sigh, a series of sighs, she placed her arms around him, pressed her face to his. He had tears enough to spare, to share.

  TAYLOR. Amanda Elise. Infant daughter of David and Ann.

  She has left this world to explore eternity. Funeral private.

  Bronwyn on Ann’s left. David on her right, so close to the small white coffin. It was covered with flowers. Everyone sent flowers.

  I baptise thee in the name of the father and of the son.

  Dearly beloved, we are gathered here.

  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

  Everything got swept away with yesterday’s dust, spilled milk, a trickle of golden syrup, even blood. And if the wind couldn’t blow it away, you shovelled it up and dug it into the garden.

  Sweet Mandy, just another little pawn in the big chess game of life. One wrong move and checkmate. Pack up all the bits and put them in a box.

  David out of reach, weeping again. So many tears. So like another’s tears.

  You invented me too strong, little Annie. You shouldn’t have been so happy in Narrawee. You should have shed a few tears on my blueprint. Everyone cries. Look at Ben. His eyes are raw jagged wounds, pumping tears straight from his heart.

  She drew her eyelids down, safe from Ben’s pain, and she moved back, deeper into the dark place. Can’t breathe in here, Annie. Can’t reach . . . have to . . . get away.

  Ben watched her attempt to stand. He saw her collapse at David’s feet.

  word colour

  Noise had colour, substance. Strange, she thought. I have never noticed the shape of noise before. Head turning from side to side on the pillow, she dodged a ball of crumpled noise that bounced off the ceiling of the hospital ward.

  It was the cleaning time. The nurses were there, bringing with them their business-like noise. They changed the sheets, tried to wash her, comb her hair, but they couldn’t touch her. Nothing could touch her. She was away, locked safe behind the looking-glass. Their noise, splashing against the looking-glass, only made her image less clear. But in the night, when the shadows hid the light, and nurses hid in quiet comers, she travelled unseen down the long corridor of the years, seeking that book of the yesterday time, where each white page was filled with Annie’s words. And she had time to read all the pages, and they made her free. Free, but with no place to go. Only the bed. Only the pill sleep. She liked the pill sleep. Sleep was beautiful.

  The man with the ocean blue eyes came to her bed often. He tried to touch her. She couldn’t let him touch her. Each touch, each cluster of his words hammered at her brain, trying to make her remember the other one who had worn his eyes. She was gone. Gone with all the other yesterdays. Gone into black.

  ‘Mandy,’ he said.

  The word hung before her. Lump of death squeezed into grotesque form. It creaked and crackled and fell on her bed from a great distance. A falling star, defiled by blood.

  Don’t look. Don’t think.

  ‘Physically strong,’ the other one said.


  They were coming too fast now. She backed off as the words spilled to her pillow.

  Drug, tending to sooth. It unravelled slowly, like the words in the fat man’s little blue book that had her name on it. Her name, written beneath the other name, the John name that wasn’t her Johnny. The John who found the bones, not powdery, not bleached like other bones. No teeth, like the other skulls. Then that John died, and her Johnny ran away, his golden ring twinkling in the sun.

  ‘Ann, Ann, talk to me.’ Again his words came at her. Dear impotent missiles, falling like chocolate-coated snowballs.

  He loved me best – better than Melissa. And Johnny and May, they loved me best, and Mr Fletcher. Four people loved me best in all the world. I was someone. They thought I was someone, when I really wasn’t anyone. Funny really. They loved a reflection.

  I’m just a reflection, an opaque rejection. I won’t pass inspection.

  ‘Psychiatrist. Tuesday.’

  All mental disorders must be trained to erupt on Tuesdays, Annie Blue Dress.

  A chuckle bubbled up from her core. She thought of her father and the spiders in his briefcase and the soft, funny mouse curled there and she wanted to giggle at the grand joke he played on the world, but the giggle burst before it reached the surface.

  The blue eyes saw the giggle. They came close, then she saw the slim silver light fall from his pocket.


  Splat to her sheet.

  Cold metal splat.

  Torpedo shaped splat. It sat there, waiting to expl
ode, to blast her from this place. But she didn’t want to leave this place. Not any more. Out there was too hard. Little Annie didn’t want her to leave again either. They were glued back together where they belonged. Friends again.

  She could touch the torpedo though, if she wanted to. Just touch it. Her finger reached out. Touched. It rolled the metal. She watched the light move as the sheet moved. Her finger continued rolling it forward away from light, back again and into light. Away. Back.

  ‘Paper.’ David was already halfway through the door. ‘Where will I find a writing pad?’

  ‘It’s unlikely that pen and paper will help, David. Whatever is preventing her speaking is not physical. You saw her with her old teacher. He tried communicating with the deaf signs. I’ve already let it continue too long. Had I been made aware of her past history earlier, I would have suggested moving her to a hospital where they have the facilities – as Dr James no doubt will suggest.’

  ‘Ben said she did this when they sent her away to the deaf school. Just nothing, a closing down, the nuns said. She came out of it, and she will again. She showed interest in my pen, Pete. That is the first spontaneous action I’ve seen since the funeral.’

  ‘It fell to her bed. She played with it. She also kicked a basin of water at one of the aides yesterday – ’

  ‘No doubt telling them, the only way she could, to keep their hands off. She hates hospitals. I should have kept her at home like Bronwyn wanted me to.’ David walked away in search of a writing pad.

  The silver torpedo was lost when Ann opened her eyes. It remained lost for most of the day because little Annie didn’t want her to find it. But she found it. She found it, clipped to the writing pad, tucked beneath her pillow. All through the next night she held it, and at dawn when the world was silent, she placed its point on the blank white paper.

  Little Annie wouldn’t make it move.

  But as the light grew stronger, so too did the fingers.

  Deep mid the gums where the soft winds moaned, and sang their song

  to the dusk.

  I picked the flower from the tallest reed, growing out of a charred

  black husk.

  And neath the soil, I saw the worm sit waiting patiently.

  His name was death and black his breath.

  But he smiled at you, and me.

  High on a hill was the black crow’s nest. They stole the flier’s name.

  You heard their words, you dried their tears, you played their silly


  But the play is done. The waiting’s o’er. You’ve found the key that

  fits the door

  Now lovingly go fit their shroud. And with each stitch, we’ll laugh


  Oh silent night, unholy night, when all was fear, when all was fright

  You gave them time. You played your part.

  Now the play be done, let the living start.

  Annie E. Burton. Dec. 1990

  ‘She’s in there. She’s still functioning on some level.’ David and Doctor Williams spoke quietly beside the bed. For the first time in over a week, some of the strain had left David’s face.

  ‘You say she’s got a briefcase of similar – ’

  ‘I’ll dig it out and bring it with me in the morning. The psychiatrist is due around nine, you said? I’ll want to speak to him before he sees her.’

  ‘He said nine.’

  ‘I’ll be here.’

  Williams reached for the pad as David slid it beneath his wife’s pillow. ‘I’d like to keep it, show Dr James.’

  ‘She won’t destroy it. She’s never destroyed them. Leave it with her, Pete.’

  ‘Does she look more relaxed to you?’ David and Matron Hogan were standing beside Ann’s bed.

  ‘Hard to say, Mr Taylor,’ the big woman replied. ‘She hasn’t altered her position for hours. Doctor left instructions that she was not to be disturbed,’ she added, noticing the visitor’s hand reach for a wisp of hair curling across his wife’s mouth. Her patient ignored the contact. ‘Perhaps she is more relaxed.’ Eyebrows raised, Matron watched his hand gently stroke the woman’s cheek. Then dark eyes opened. Wild eyes. They locked onto the blue. Slowly David withdrew his hand.

  Ann looked at the hand, and to her own, and to what it grasped. It was his pen. Silver. Gift from Mr Fletcher at Christmas. She offered it.

  ‘Thank you, my love,’ he said. She sighed, then slept again.

  David refused to leave. He sat by the bed, catnapping in the hospital chair. Matron Hogan, with some telepathic perception of unrest in her hospital, wandered the corridors in her dressing-gown. Near dawn, she brought two cups of coffee and watched with David a while.

  ‘Doctor James is very good. A down-to-earth man, and not at all the stereotype image we are inclined to imagine. He’ll probably suggest moving your wife to the psychiatric hospital in Daree.’

  And Ann’s eyes opened. They sought, found David. ‘No,’ she said, and he sprang up from his chair, leaned across the bed.

  ‘No, my love.’


  ‘You’ll stay here, close to me. I promise you. I promise I won’t leave you.’


  ‘I promise.’

  ‘He locked the door,’ she said. ‘He locked the door. It was him.’

  ‘But now it’s open. No more locked doors. I won’t let anyone lock you in. I promise.’ His hand reached for her hand. Her finger touched, and he linked his with hers, kissed her fingers. Her free hand rose to his face, wiped at tears. She looked at her hand. Damp, tasted the salt on her tongue.

  ‘No more tears, my David,’ she said. ‘No more tears.’

  ‘No, my love,’ he wept. ‘No more. You’re here. No more tears.’ Her hand fell back to the bed, and her gaze returned to the ceiling. ‘Ann. Stay with me. Ann.’


  ‘Stay with me. Stay with me. Talk to me.’

  ‘Hold me. Make me stay.’

  Weak but determined, the next morning Ann left the bed. By the following evening, her bag was packed. Had she been strong enough, she would have walked home, but she wasn’t strong enough to walk further than the garden.

  The nurses gave up trying to keep her indoors. Malcolm Fletcher came early and stayed late. Bronwyn came too, but she didn’t stay long. No smoking in hospital wards. She played with her packet of cigarettes while stalking the room. ‘I’ll see you at home tomorrow, Annie,’ she said, and she left, a cigarette in one hand, her lighter ready in the other.

  ‘That’s what I need, sir,’ Ann told her old teacher when they were alone again.

  ‘I will have no part in procuring that diabolical weed for you, child.’

  ‘Something to hold,’ she said. ‘Bronny knows. Something to hold on to when the world gets too hard.’

  He turned away, understanding her need for something to hold. ‘Pop into bed. Sleep and get well, child.’

  ‘Please, sir. If you won’t, I’ll walk to the cafe in my dressing-gown.’

  She had never asked one thing of him, in all of the years he had known her, had never made one demand, accepting what he chose to give. He purchased the cigarettes and lighter, then running the gauntlet of Matron Hogan and her watchdogs, he smuggled them into the one who needed something to hold.

  ‘God bless you, child,’ he whispered and he waddled away.

  Ann walked down to the sunroom, now in darkness, she slid the glass door wide and crept out to the garden where she wandered beneath the country stars until the black of night gave way to the blush of a pink dawn. The air was warm, it smelt of roses. She loved the country nights, loved to wander the silent world of shadows and scents and scuttling things while the world slept. But this night was like none before. Morning would come, a new and terrible morning.

  She knew it all now. She shook her hair back and lit another cigarette. Smoke sucked into her lungs, she strived to fill her mind, herself with anything, anything that might still her memories.

>   Doctor Williams found her in the sunroom at 10 a.m. The psychiatrist was waiting. ‘He’s here to see you, Ann. Come along. I assure you he doesn’t bite.’ Taking her arm, he led her back to her room where he introduced her to the lanky stranger.

  Her strength was still away. Williams left, and she walked to the window, unready yet for strangers. She offered the new doctor a cigarette, expecting to sidetrack him into a lecture, but he accepted, producing a lighter from his pocket.

  ‘Have a seat, Mrs Taylor,’ he nodded towards a chair.

  ‘I thought you preferred your patients horizontal. Does it give the average headshrinker a feeling of power?’

  ‘Feel free to lie down if you’d be more comfortable. I imagine you must be feeling weak after so long in bed?’

  ‘I’ll feel a lot better when you leave for your next appointment.’

  ‘Yours is my only appointment today. I spent some time looking at the contents of your briefcase, Mrs Taylor – ’

  ‘Ah ah. David explained, of course, that I am the medium for a wandering spirit. You should see me when I’m possessed, Doctor James, I froth at the mouth, bite, snarl. He gets a weekly rabies shot.’

  ‘I am free until two. Do you know any good psychiatrist jokes?’

  She raised her eyebrows and flashed a wide plastic smile that she held for a moment, then allowed to slide.

  ‘You’re claustrophobic, I believe, Mrs Taylor?’

  ‘All the more reason not to commit me. Lock a claustrophobic woman in a padded cell and she’ll go mad.’

  ‘At what age did you realise you had a problem?’

  ‘What has that got to do with anything?’ she asked.

  ‘It is a topic I thought you may wish to explore.’

  Her fear of locked doors and city lifts was restricting. Perhaps she may sidetrack him yet, and learn something constructive in the process. ‘The city,’ she said quickly. ‘When I first moved to Melbourne, I noticed that lifts sucked the air from my lungs. I can’t use underground trains either. Everything slows down. Goes to black – ’ She sucked on the cigarette, noticed her hand shaking, and she despised its lack of control.


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