Pregnant girl

Andrew came into the laundry from hitting the ball. The radio was playing Sadie, the cleaning lady. He liked that song. It was number one in the 2SM Top Forty.

“I did one hundred and twelve hits in a row,” he told Mum, who was rinsing Isabel’s nappies in the big concrete tub. The laundry smelled of baby poo and Napisan. Andrew didn’t mind it too much.

“Did you? Would you like to go up to the nursery and bring down the nappy bucket for me?”

Mum always said Would you like to when she meant Do it. This was something that Neal didn’t understand. Neal would say No I don’t want to, but Andrew knew that you had to say Yes Mum. Neal was a pig.

When Andrew came back with the nappy bucket, Mum told him that “a girl” would be coming to live with them. She would help with the housework.

“Mrs Alma made me eat an egg,” Andrew said. Mrs Alma was once the housekeeper, but she left. Dad had said that Mrs Alma was not satisfactory, but it was not because of the egg.

“Not like Mrs Alma. Julie is only young, and she’s going to have a baby. She’s going to stay with us until she has the baby.”

“Why?”

“She’s from the country, and she needs a place to stay near the hospital. We are helping her, and she will help me a little bit.”

Andrew stirred the nappies thoughtfully and frowned.

“Julie will help look after you, but you must be nice to her. Quiet. No fighting.”

“It’s not me. It’s Neal who fights.”

“It takes two to fight.”

“Neal’s really noisy. I’m quiet but.”

Mum didn’t agree. You couldn’t get her to say anything.

“How pregnant is she?” Andrew asked.

“Hmn?”

“When’s she going to have the baby?”

“In about six months, I think.”

Andrew could remember Mum being pregnant with Isabel. So huge she was, but Isabel was born tiny as tiny. All the extra stuff was like water that the baby swam in, so it was protected. He had read a book about it.

Mum’s tummy was all collapsed and crushed now.

“Where’s her husband?”

“She doesn’t have a husband, that’s why she’s coming to the city to have the baby.”

He’d have to think about that one.

“When is she coming?”

Mum stopped washing and faced him.

“Next week. It might be a bit strange. I don’t really know how it will work. We will just try it and see, that’s all.”

“Can I have some Corn Flakes?”

“No, you can have a biscuit.”

That wasn’t as good. He was eating Corn Flakes as fast as he could to get to the Crater Critter inside.

*

Andrew forgot all about the girl. One afternoon after school he came into the kitchen and she was there. She was sitting by the bench, next to a big old green suitcase. Mum was leaning against the cupboards by the sink, smoking. They were drinking coffee.

“Andrew, come and meet Julie.”

The girl did not want to meet him any more than he wanted to meet her. She said hello and turned from him at once to say “So where’s the shops then?” She had a pretty face, but she looked angry. Her eyebrows were black, but the tips of her hair were blonde, and the rest of it was dark brown. It was thick wavy hair, with a long fringe. She was wearing a white top with puffy sleeves, and a silly short skirt, and she had on a pair of shoes that looked like old lady’s shoes, not like her. She was a bit of a tart, Andrew supposed — he had not seen a tart before, but he guessed that this was it.

Mum was wearing her serene and superior face, so Andrew knew she was not happy. Julie sat scowling at the cupboards with her hand in her mouth. She saw him watching her and made a face. He jumped. She laughed.

“What class are you in?”

“3A.”

“3A? Clever.”

“I got ten out of ten for spelling again on Friday.”

“Is that right? Can you spell nuisance?”

He spelled it.

“That’s excellent, darling,” Mum said. “Take some fruitcake and go upstairs for now.”

*

Pregnant_girl

*

Neal came into Andrew’s room later that evening.

“Go away,” Andrew said. He was doing his homework.

“That girl’s in her room,” Neal said. “Let’s talk to her.”

“Let’s not,” Andrew said.

“Let’s knock on her door and run away,” Neal said.

“No!”

“Yeah, let’s! I’m going to.”

“You dare.”

“I’m going to.”

“Go away.”

“What’s her name?”

“Julie.”

“Julie. Come on. Let’s talk to her.”

Neal left. Andrew followed him. Julie’s room was located at the far end of the landing, away from the other bedrooms. Neal rushed to the door, then stopped.

“You knock.”

“No, you.”

Neal knocked on the door and ran back to hide behind the banisters of the stairwell. Andrew did not run — it was too rude to knock and run away. After a moment Neal came back. The door opened.

“What do you want?”

“Do you like your room?” Neal asked. He pushed up to the door, but Julie blocked the way inside. She was wearing a pink quilted dressing gown and slippers. She didn’t look pregnant.

“What do you want?”

“We want to say hello. We used to play in this room, except when Mrs Alma lived here.”

“Who’s Mrs Alma?”

Neal was trying to squirm past Julie into the room.

“She was the housekeeper,” Andrew said. “She was old.”

“How old are you boys?”

“I’m eight and Neal’s seven.”

“That’s right,” Julie said. She had been told that already. She was not really asking.

“This is my room,” she said. She was not going to let them in. Andrew pulled Neal’s collar until he came away from the doorway.

“Don’t!” Neal freed himself. He grinned at Julie. “How old are you?”

“I’m — how old do you think I am?”

“Tell us!”

“No — you guess. If you can’t guess, you have to go away.”

“Twenty!”

“Twenty! Jesus!”

“Older or younger?”

“Christ! Whaddya reckon?”

“She’s younger, dum-dum,” Andrew said. “Twenty is really old.”

“I’m sixteen,” Julie said. “Now go away.”

“No, you have to let us in.”

“You didn’t guess!”

“You told us. That’s cheating, so you have to let us in.”

“That’s dumb, Neal. I’m going,” Andrew said, but he didn’t leave. It was exciting standing at the door with Julie. Sixteen. That was not so old. Eight plus eight is sixteen.

Julie and Neal kept bickering. She looked cross, but maybe she did not really mind. What else did she have to do in the room anyway?

“I bet I can hold my breath longer than you,” Neal said. Julie laughed.

“You’re an idiot.”

“Don’t call me an idiot. You’re an idiot.”

“Don’t call me names, little boy.”

“Don’t call me little boy.”

“Are you really going to have a baby?” Andrew asked, to change the subject before Neal got angry and did something dumb.

“What? Who told you that?” Julie said. Her eyes were narrow. She was not very nice.

“Mum.” Andrew felt his face going red.

“Mind your own bloody business, why don’t you? Geez!” She pushed them back and slammed the door.

Andrew felt bad. He ran back towards his room. But Neal threw himself at the door, shoved it open and went in.

“Get lost!” Julie yelled. There were sounds of a struggle, and moments later Julie and Neal reappeared in the hall, fighting.

“Stop it!” shouted Mum, coming up the stairs. Oh boy. Andrew was glad that he was out of it. He stepped into his room and shut the door. Still, he could hear Neal being dragged to his own room and threatened with Dad. Then he could hear Julie shouting, and Mum answering her in a low voice, but not for long. Julie slammed the door, and Mum left her.

*

Neal was in big trouble. Dad gave him a talking to. Mum talked to Andrew.

“Julie’s room is out of bounds.”

“Yes, Mum. But Julie shouted at you, Mum.”

“It’s not easy for Julie, Andrew.”

“Why?”

“She doesn’t really want to be here.”

“She doesn’t have to, does she?”

“She doesn’t have much choice, really. She can’t go home until she’s had the baby.”

*

After that, Julie stayed in her room a lot. Mum tried to get her to help, but she wouldn’t do much. She would hang out the washing, and would stand for half an hour over the ironing. She did not know how to cook, and Andrew watched Mum try to teach her — simple things, like boiling vegies and grilling steak. Julie was sort of interested, but the waiting was too much for her. She would make herself a cup of Nescafe and have a cigarette, and the pots would boil over, the steak would burn.

She burned the fish fingers, the first time Mum left her to make dinner for the boys. She did not make vegies. They had burned fish fingers with tomato sauce, and biscuits for dessert.

“Just shut up, willya?” Julie said, when they complained. She wouldn’t talk to them. She went to her room.

Even when Julie left a mess in the kitchen, Mum let her be.

Neal and Andrew were both nice as pie to her. It was too scary having someone so grumpy in the house all the time. Dad was grumpy, but he was mostly out. Besides, you could make Dad happy by getting ten out of ten, or winning a race, or answering questions, but you couldn’t make Julie happy. She just sat around miserable with her hand in her mouth.

As the weeks went by, Julie swelled up in the middle. Mum took her shopping and they bought some maternity wear. Plus Mum gave Julie some of her own maternity wear, and they spent time together round the sewing machine altering it to fit.

“What’s the point?” Julie said one time “I’m still going to look like a cow.”

But Mum ignored her. Later, she said to Andrew:

“Tell Julie she looks nice.”

Julie was wearing an embroidered dress that was tight around her titties and all loose across her round tummy, sort of a hippy dress. It was all right, but Andrew was dead scared to tell Julie she looked nice. But Mum meant it. So Andrew went to Julie where she was hanging washing on the Hills hoist.

“You look nice, Julie,” Andrew said to Julie’s feet. He felt himself blush.

“Did your mum tell you to say that?” Julie said at once.

“Yes,” Andrew said. He forced himself to look up. “But it’s true.”

“Oh yeah,” Julie said, but it was all right.

*

Andrew wasn’t sure that Dad knew about Julie, until one evening Dad came into the kitchen when Julie was there, and he said “Hello Julie, how are you?” and she said “Hello Mr Walker”, which didn’t answer the question, but Dad didn’t care — he went to the cupboard and found a jar of beer nuts, and then he went back to the living room.  Andrew followed him, because he liked it when Dad went to the bar. He liked the rubbery smell of the frost in the bar fridge, and he liked to collect the beer bottle caps.

Dad took the beer nuts to the bar, then he went and turned on the TV, then he went back to the bar and poured himself a beer in his pewter tankard. Andrew pulled himself up on the bar stool and picked up the bottle cap. It was a “DA” cap, but the opener had creased it crooked, and two of the little flanges were torn up. Sometimes Dad deliberately eased the cap off, going round and round with the opener, so he could hand Andrew a cap that was like new. It wasn’t a good sign if he didn’t do that.

“Julie’s funny sometimes,” Andrew said.

“Is she?” Dad said. He wasn’t interested. He stood behind the bar drinking his beer and crunching his beer nuts. He had undone his tie and his top button. He watched the TV news through half-closed eyes.

“She chews her fingernails. Just on one hand.”

“What’s your mother doing?”

Andrew went to look. Mum was upstairs, sitting at her dressing table, putting on make-up. When he went back down, Dad had moved to a lounge chair. There were soldiers on the news.

“Is there a war, Dad?”

“In Vietnam.”

“Against the Japanese?”

“That was World War Two.”

“Is this another war?”

“There’s always a war,” Dad said. “Not always a big one.”

He explained. There was always something to fight about. Right now it was communism. People wanted peace, but not as much as they wanted victory. Australia fought in lots of wars: Korea, Malaya, Vietnam. It was better to fight in other countries.

*

Julie showed no interest in Isabel. It seemed strange to Andrew. She did not want to pick Isabel up, or help feed her, or push the stroller. One day Isabel was crying while Mum was in the garden, and Julie said to Andrew:

“Make her shut up, willya? Go and get your mum, quick.”

Andrew picked Isabel up and brought her out of the nursery.

“Don’t bring her here! Jesus!” Julie said.

Andrew took Isabel outside, and Mum took off her gardening gloves to take her. She sat down under the big palm tree and fed her.

“Why doesn’t Julie like Isabel?” Andrew asked.

“It’s not Isabel,” Mum said. “I’m sure Julie is a bit funny about babies.”

“Why?”

“She isn’t going to keep hers.”

“Why?”

“She’s too young. She’s not married. She’s going to give her baby up for adoption.”

“But that’s for orphans, isn’t it?”

Mum sighed.

“Sometimes girls get pregnant when they don’t mean to. Sometimes they can’t look after a baby. And other people can’t have babies even if they really want them —”

“Why?”

“Because they’re not fertile. And those people have to adopt babies. So for Julie’s baby, it might be better —”

“But doesn’t Julie want her baby?”

“It’s — she can’t. Her family doesn’t want her to.”

“That’s bad,” Andrew said. He thought for a moment.

“Doesn’t Julie’s baby have a father?”

“Yes, but he’s no good,” Mum said. “Now listen. You must not talk to Julie about this. She’ll get upset.”

“I don’t talk to Julie, Mum. She won’t talk to me. She doesn’t like boys.”

“Perhaps she’s learned her lesson.”

Andrew thought and decided it was a joke. He thought of something else.

“Dad said there’s always a war. Is that right?”

“Nearly. Yes.”

“That’s bad too.”

*

Gilligan’s Island was the funniest show on TV, except for maybe Get Smart. Hogan’s Heroes was pretty good too. Andrew wondered why they didn’t make a show about Vietnam, but maybe wars weren’t funny until they were finished.

Mum didn’t like Gilligan’s Island. She said it was very childish. So Andrew was surprised when Julie came into the living room with them to watch. Neal and Andrew liked to lie on the floor right in front of the TV. Julie sat in the lounge chair behind them. She laughed at the same jokes as they did.

“Geez he’s an idiot, isn’t he?” she said, when Gilligan knocked himself out. “I love him!”

Was that true? Girls were like that. They fell in love. Andrew wondered about the father of her baby. Was she in love with him? He had cheated her. She was angry because he had cheated her. Gilligan would not have done that. Gilligan knocked himself out whenever Ginger blew him a kiss. Andrew knew how he felt. It made him weird just thinking that Julie had done it with a boy.

Gilligan’s Island made a change in Julie. During the commercials, she started talking to Andrew and Neal. She liked the way the castaways made things out of bamboo: huts and chairs, and even a drill and an irrigation machine. Neal said it was stupid, you couldn’t do that. Julie said that was why she liked it. They talked about being shipwrecked. Julie didn’t understand why they didn’t just build a raft and leave. They  did try — the boys explained — they built a raft but the sharks ate it. Andrew told her about Robinson Crusoe, who built himself a fort. Julie said she wouldn’t bother with that, not if there were caves. Andrew said caves were too dark. Neal said that if he was shipwrecked he would hunt. Julie said that she used to go hunting with her father and brothers.

It was the biggest thing she had ever said about herself.

“What did you hunt?” asked Neal.

“Kangaroos.”

“Really?”

“And rabbits.”

“Did you shoot a kangaroo?”

“Yeah. Mostly Dad shot em, but I shot one.”

“Andrew can’t shoot because he can’t shut one eye.”

“Shut up!”

“Can’t you shut one eye?” Julie asked, and she winked at him, left, right, left, right. It looked funny.

“I can’t do it” Andrew admitted.

“Andy-Pandy can’t wink! Andy-Pandy can’t —”

“Shut up Neal!”

“Yeah, shut up Neal. He said he couldn’t do it.”

The commercials ended then, and Neal threw himself down to watch.

After that, ad-break by ad-break, Julie and the boys got to know each other. The boys got to know that Julie was from Walgett, that she had finished with school, that her Dad didn’t like girls swearing and that her Mum collected dolls. Her favourite fags were Alpines (just like Mum). She did not like the city, snobs, alcohol, chicken, brussel sprouts, peas or asparagus. She did not like being pregnant, although she refused to say why. She did not like the why question at all. She expected all her statements to be self-evident. Contradiction made her angry. If you made her angry enough, she stuck her fingernails into you. She read Woman’s Day, not books. She listened to country music on 2KY instead of pop on 2SM, using a brown transistor radio small enough to keep in her handbag.

What Julie learned about Andrew and Neal they did not consider. Neal told her about the cat having kittens in his bed, about riding his bike faster than anything, and how he got into trouble at school when they were doing painting because he painted on the girls. Andrew told her about cutting down the dandelion army, about building the treehouse, and how the sugar ants made trails all along the driveway for miles and miles.

They told her everything, the way kids do once the walls go down.

“Dad bangs our heads together if he catches us fighting.”

“When Mum’s blonde, that’s a wig.”

“I killed a lizard.”

“I cried today.”

They competed for her attention.

“Watch me do a somersault.”

“Look at my paper aeroplane.”

They petitioned her with grievances.

“Andrew hit me.”

“Neal bit me.”

And to most of this — confessions, demonstrations, complaints — her response was the same:

“Yous kids don’t know how lucky yous are.”

*

One night Mum and Dad were going out together. They were taking Isabel in the bassinette. It was a dinner party and Isabel would sleep in the next room. Julie would look after the boys.

They had fish fingers and peas for dinner, and ice cream for dessert. They watched telly. At half past seven they had to stop. The boys were excited. They did not want to go to bed. Julie said: “Let’s play Snap.” Hurray! They went into the living room to play Snap on the coffee table.

Andrew was not good at Snap. Whenever two cards the same showed up, his heart went bang and he jumped instead of slapping his hand down.

Julie was good. When she played, the tip of her tongue showed between her lips.

“Snap!” she said, “Snap!” and she picked up more and more cards.

But the best Snap player was Neal. Julie got lazy after a while, but Neal kept his head down over the table, watching intently. He smashed his hand down hard, every time. If you got there first, he hurt you.

“I’m the best,” he said, when he won. “Let’s play again.”

Andrew sulked. Julie said it was bedtime and led them upstairs.

Neal had ants in his pants.

“Tuck us in” he asked.

“You’re joking,” Julie said, but she tucked him in, kneeling on the floor next to his bed to get down low enough. Neal thrashed his legs under the covers. Andrew watched, excited.

“Now you, go on.”

He ran and dived into bed, so that Julie could tuck him in. But while she knelt beside his bed, Neal ran into the room.

“Hey! I done you already!” Julie yelled.

“Read us a story,” Neal said.

“Get back into bed!”

“Please read us a story.”

“No way! I hate reading.”

Andrew was shocked. “I love reading,” he said.

“You read yourself a story then. Read one for Neal.”

“Not for Neal!”

“I don’t want Andy-Pandy. I want you,” said Neal, and he came up to Julie and sat down crosslegged on the floor. He stroked her fuzzy pink slippers.

“These are nice.”

“Get off!”

Julie shuffled her feet away from him.

“You could tell us a story from your mouth,” Andrew said.

“What’s that?”

“A made-up story. That’s what we call it when Mum tells a story. A story from her mouth.”

“Tell us a story or we won’t go to bed,” Neal said.

Julie threatened him, but without conviction. She sat down on the bed. Her weight pinned Andrew’s legs under the covers. He slid his hand down and into his pyjamas. He pushed his foot under Julie’s bottom.

“Cut it out!” she said, and he cut it out.

They were boys. They would do things to her, if only they knew how. They did not know how. They had seen their parents naked, but only dressing, undressing, washing. They had seen Dad’s Playboy magazines — he kept them in the study, in the sideboard with the atlas. Pretty girls half robed in pretty things, with enormous boobies. Sometimes their bottoms were showing. Never between their legs. Nevertheless, the boys knew that between their legs they had a vagina, a sort of a slit. Mum’s was long and hairy. Baby Isabel’s was just like a crease between her legs. To make love you put your penis into a woman’s vagina. You did it when your penis was hard.

Andrew heard it first from his mum.

Yuck, he thought then. His mum smiled at him, so he asked: “What does it feel like?”

“It feels nice,” she said.

He felt uncomfortable.

Later, his dad insisted on telling them all about it. But, even then, how it might actually ever happen — how people could go from talking to doing it, how you might make a girl do it — that was impossible to visualise.

Besides, you had to have sperms, and you only had sperms when you were older.

“What’s the matter with you?” Julie asked.

“Nothing! I was just thinking.”

“That’s enough of that. I don’t know any stories.”

“I’ll tell you a joke,” Neal said.

“No, don’t,” Andrew said.

“Go on,” Julie said.

“No, don’t,” said Andrew.

“There once was these three mosquitoes and they went off to sleep and in the morning —”

“Shut up Neal,” Andrew said.

“I know this,” Julie said. “It’s stupid.”

“In the morning they get together and one says Where did you sleep last night? and the other one says I slept on a mountain with a big cherry on top and the next one says Yeah? I slept in a cave —”

“Shut up Neal, it’s dumb!” Andrew yelled. He could feel his face burning. It was the stupidest joke in all the world. He would die if Neal told it to Julie. He hid his head under the covers.

“Yeah, shut up Neal. It’s not funny, that joke,” Julie said.

“You know it?” Neal said. He was laughing.

“It’s not funny. Shut up and I’ll tell you a story. I’ll tell you a story, all right?”

Neal sort of shut up, but Andrew could tell he was whispering the joke to himself. But Julie wasn’t listening. She began her story:

“Um, when I was your age, like, or maybe ten, I dunno, we used to hang around down by the river where people used to chuck stuff. All the kids did. There was old cars and, ah, old records and stuff, clothes maybe, or you know, junk and things, and piles of stones and mullock heaps. You could get bits for a billy cart, or anything. Anyway, we used to play there.”

“Was it dangerous?” Neal asked. He was hooked.

“I’m telling you. We used to play chasings and hide and seek and all that. It was real good for hide and seek, but one time this kid called Ivan hid and we couldn’t find him.”

“Where was he?’ Neal asked.

“She just said they couldn’t find him,” Andrew said.

“We looked everywhere, we thought. We looked in all the burned-out cars. We even looked under this big pile of reeds someone had pulled out of the river. We had nearly given up and decided that he had gone home, when somebody looked in this old fridge, a big old fridge with a green door and a big silver handle. It was on its back, and most of us couldn’t even get it open, it was too heavy. That’s where he was.”

“You said you didn’t find him,” Andrew objected.

“Well we didn’t find him — until it was too late. He was dead.”

“Dead?” squeaked Andrew and Neal.

“Suffocated,” Julie said. “He got in and closed the door, and there’s no air in those old fridges, they seal up tight. There’s no handle on the inside. You can’t get out. He might have shouted and kicked and everything, but nobody heard him, and he suffocated. Dead.”

“That’s horrible,” Andrew said.

“Was he really dead?” Neal said.

“Dead set dead.”

“What did he look like?”

“I didn’t look. My brother looked. He looked and then he ran straight home.”

Neal was pale.

“What happened after that?”

‘Ivan’s Dad came and got him.”

“Were you in trouble?” Andrew asked.

“You bet!”

“I would have kicked the door open,” Neal said.

“You can’t. It’s the way they work, those old fridges, they lock.”

“I would have!”

“Nah, you can’t.”

Julie smiled from her seat on the bed down on Neal, hugging his knees on the floor. Andrew felt his legs squashed under the covers. He pulled himself up.

“I bet you weren’t allowed to play there any more.”

“We never was allowed — but we went back anyway. And at night …”

She paused suspensefully…

“At night, if you went there, you could hear … tap, tap, tap!”

“Was it a ghost?” Andrew asked.

“Tap tap tap! From the fridge.”

“Ivan’s ghost!”

“I would just push it open,” Neal said. “I’m strong.”

“Time for bed now,” Julie said, getting up.

“I’m going to read for a while,” Andrew said.

“All right. Come on Neal.”

As she led Neal from the room, he said: “You made it up, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Neal, I made it up. Anyway, you wouldn’t get into a fridge like that, would you?”

“Of course not. Not me.”

Andrew thought about it. He couldn’t stop. She made up the bit about the ghost. But he thought that the rest was true. He imagined the boy, so proud of his hiding place, until he realised that it was not a hiding place, but a trap.

*

Weeks went by. Julie was bored. She grew so big that everything made her mad. Nobody could go near her. She walked with her feet pointed out the side. She sat like a wobbly sack. She hissed. Her face was red all the time.

“If she doesn’t have the baby soon, she will have to go to hospital,” Mum said.

“Why?” Andrew asked.

“It’s overdue.”

*

Julie sat on the verandah, staring, chewing her fingernails.

“What’re you looking at?”

“Nothing.”

“Get lost.”

Andrew went a little bit around the corner and had imaginary battles. It was a fort. The enemy came in waves. It was hand to hand. He stabbed and slashed as they came over the wall. He was wounded high and low. The dead piled around the fort made a staircase for the relentless attackers. It —

“Hey! What’s the matter with you?” Julie yelled at him.

Andrew came back round the corner. Julie was sitting on the edge of her seat with her belly held in both hands. Her eyes were wide, her teeth bared.

“What’s all that … bloody noise … ”

“Are you all right Julie?”

“Course not.”

Andrew went in search of Mum, but it seemed to be a false alarm.

Next day: no Julie. Mum was extra tired.

“We took Julie to the hospital last night,” Mum said. “She had the baby.”

“Is it a boy?” Neal asked.

“Yes, she had a little boy,” Mum said. “Don’t ask her about it.”

“Is it adopted?” Andrew asked.

“Yes. Don’t ask Julie about it when she comes back.”

“Is she coming back?”

“For a little while.”

When Julie returned a week later, it was like the first time. The green suitcase. The sour face. But she sat down with them to watch Gilligan’s Island.

“It wouldn’t be like that, no way” she said after a while. The castaways were eating a merry feast on their bamboo table.

“Why not?” Neal asked.

“They’d be starving.”

“It’s a tropical island,” Andrew said.

“They’d be fighting.”

“They do fight,” Neal said.

“Nah, really fighting. And those girls, what do you think would happen to them?”

The boys weren’t sure.

“You’re a pair of babies.”

“No I’m not,” Neal said.

“It’s not real,” Andrew said.

“That’s right.”

“But you can pretend.”

Julie hissed.

“Yous kids don’t know how lucky yous are.”

She went outside and smoked a cigarette. Andrew waited for the ads, then followed.

“Are you all right, Julie?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What’s it to you?”

She blew yucky smoke at him.

“Did it hurt having the baby?”

“C’mere.”

When he came close, she put her fingernails into his arm.

“Ow!”

“Does that hurt?”

“Ow! Stop it!”

“Imagine a hundred times worse.”

There were four pink crescents in his arm, stinging like blazes.

“Is that why you only bite one hand?”

“What? Yeah, that’s right. Otherwise, I’d have to do this —”

She slapped his face. He started to cry. She held him from running, saying:

“Don’t! I’m sorry. Shh… I didn’t mean it.”

He knew she did. He stopped his tears.

“What was your baby like?”

She blinked. He watched her face slide.

“I didn’t look,” Julie said. “Just go away, willya?”

Andrew went. In a few days, it was Julie’s turn to go. He did not like to say goodbye. It was too strange to think that she would be gone forever, as if she had never been. Not that he wanted her to stay. He did not like Julie. He wanted the guest room to be empty again, so that he could look out the window.

So he waited in his room, hidden under the desk, until he heard Julie bumping her bag downstairs, and then he went to her room, which was no longer her room. He looked through the window. Then, at the last minute, he ran downstairs and out to the driveway. The green suitcase was being loaded into a dusty Holden by a gingery man with a sour face. Julie’s father, Andrew could tell.

Julie and Mum were standing apart from the car.

“Thanks Mrs Walker,” Julie said, and Mum hugged her. A couple of tears tricked their way out of Julie’s eyes.

“Goodbye, Julie,” Andrew called, but too quiet to be heard. He didn’t like the look of the dusty car, or its angry driver.

“Goodbye, Julie.”

“Yeah, seeya Neal,” Julie said, not looking.

How could Julie say that? Andrew was not like Neal. Neal didn’t care that Julie was going. He was somewhere else.

“It’s Andrew!”

“Yeah, seeya Andrew.”

But she wasn’t looking. She wasn’t looking at anything. She went and sat in the car, and Andrew went back upstairs before it left.

 

©2008,2018 Craig Bingham
— An earlier version of this story won the Todhunter Literary Award, 2008.
It has not been previously published.

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