Monday, March 11, 2013

A short story

During our week in Bali, cousin Val and I had many conversations about family and related happenings.   One was particularly interesting, wherein Val told me of some neighbours who went feral and created big problems for her family.  I urged her to write it up as a short story and she has done so, with names and places changed. Congrats Val!

  She held my hand tightly and smiled at me as I said “ Do you remember me?”.She gazed at me and slowly said “ Yes I do, you were my lovely neighbour in Crew Street all those years ago” She had been quite beautiful back when I had first known her; tall and slender, brown skinned with lustrous black hair but now she looked ill and old. She also had a damaged eye. It looked as if she had been cut right across the eye and eyebrow with something sharp. I didn’t want to think of how that might have happened. 
      I worked in that hospital and had noticed her name on the inpatient list and I decided to visit her, not sure what her reaction would be. We had a troubled past Lorraine and I.
     We were both young married women with toddlers when she and her family moved in next door to us and although we never got to the coffee morning stage of friendship, we would chat over the back fence and most mornings her two littlies Susan and Kenny came into my yard to play with my 2 and 4yr old sons.  They arrived chubby and shiny and bubbling with excitement, because today might be the day I would take them on a picnic.  With no money and no car I was limited in what I could do to entertain 4 children but a picnic was do-able. It was walking distance to Queens Gardens and a much longer walking distance to Hyde Park but on a nice day, a very pleasant walk. Usually the children, mine and hers, would just play in the sand heap my husband had made and their imaginations turned the cartons and boxes I put out for them into anything they wanted them to be. But picnic days were the best.
      One washing day, while pegging out clothes, sheets nappies etc, she told me the news that would change everything --- and for the worse.  She was pregnant with twins. All was well until I offered to help, perhaps at bath time. But “No “ she said “ my sister is coming to help me, she was brought up in the Mission like me”   “ Lovely” I said. But it wasn’t lovely. Anything but. Her sister arrived with her own 8 children who I found were feral, little thieves. The very few actual toys my children had, gifts from my parents and grandmother, all disappeared within days, and I learned very quickly not to leave outside any object I wanted to keep. And although I knew where things had gone I didn’t complain or request a return, thinking that this state of affairs would not continue for too long and we would return to normal. However I was wrong.
     Her sisters  “help” degenerated into drinking, and as the drinking continued the downslide  into arguments and indeed, fights, began. The happy little ones who were such a pleasure, became surly and joyless and no longer came into my yard to play. At first Lorraine’s husband Bill, just complained angrily about the chaos and mess in the home and the state of the neglected children, but it wasn’t long before he started drinking too.  The sister eventually left, but we never returned to our previous easy relationship. In fact a lot of verbal abuse came our way along with rubbish thrown over the dividing fence, and I could no longer allow my children to play outside.
       One terrible Saturday, a day I would like to forget, I heard an odd sound at the front of our house and I went to investigate. To my horror Bill was holding Susan by the wrist and beating her across the lower back with a hockey stick and the sound I heard was the breath leaving her body in gasps. Running back into my house, I tried to get my husband to stop the beating, he refused to get involved but he did phone the police.
     The result was one I should have anticipated but in my ignorance of such matters I did not. The welfare of the children must have been uppermost in the minds of the authorities and they were all removed from Lorraine and  Bill’s care, and they had no doubt who was to blame for that. After one particularly savage night of abuse that went on for hours, we realised we had to move. We had been saving for years to buy our own home and although we didn’t have enough to buy what we would have liked, we bought what we could afford at that time. 
       Moving was difficult, my four children had been born there and although it was substandard housing, it was the only home they had known and we had been happy until recent events. We didn’t see Lorraine or her children for many years, but did read in the West Australian of Bill’s death and later of Susan’s engagement, that is until I visited Lorraine in the hospital.
     She seemed to have no memory of the bad times and we spoke of where all our children were now, who was married and who lived where, and I found Kenny was married and lived in the same suburb as my oldest son, and that Susan also was happily married  She held my hand  throughout my visit and when I got up to leave, she begged me to come again. I did go back and we talked again in the same easy way and I realised that I had not been wrong in my original high opinion of her, that she was a victim of circumstance and time. That by the grace of God it might have been me.
       She was discharged soon after my second visit and to my great sorrow I read of her death about a month later.  :You could say she was a victim of the demon drink, but it was more than that. The veneer of quiet capability and serenity she had, was not strong enough against the pressures of the world in which she lived. Even now so many years later, on thinking back over my part in her life, I couldn’t in all conscience say I would do anything different. That I was responsible for having her children taken from her is a burden I still carry and putting myself in her position doesn’t help. Also, I wonder if I should have admitted that fact to her when I met her again, but I have to say  I was so relieved that she did not remember that; it would have been impossible to bring it up and I was too cowardly to do so.
     So it is with mixed feelings that I remember Lorraine, but I will never forget the beauty of that lustrous long black hair and her tall slender form, and the quiet voice and the charm of the person I first met all those years ago.  


Anonymous said...

Kev, I really enjoyed reading Val's story. Well written and interesting. Val should write more stories about her life,Marg

Bernie said...

A sad story and very well written. Val witnessed much which many of us have. She should feel good for saving the children, they wouldn't of been happy in a home filled with drink and violence. Good on you Val.....:-)Hugs