By the same author
|© Copyright 2003-2009 K S Mulholland|
Chapter 1 - Can't get much worse
Holidays are supposed to be good times, Priscilla wrote in her diary.
Her hand faltered, as tears sprang to her eyes. Through her sobs she made her fingers continue, then why is it that life can be so bad? What have I done to make it like this? Why did Missey have to die? Why did we have to move into this house? Why can't Mum and Dad be here all the time? Why should I have to share my own bedroom with some French girl?
She turned aside from her little writing desk to gaze miserably out of the window. Below, at the rear of the house in the twilight, there was a garden; or what should have been a garden. Now it was trampled and littered with broken cupboards and drawers and all the junk disgorged from the gutting of kitchen and bathroom and laundry: the spaces left inside the house were musty-empty, smelling of forgotten past lives and people who now belonged only in faded photographs.
'I wish...I wish Diary, that I could go back', Priscilla whispered, tracing her finger down the dusty glass of the window pane. For some moments she stared, within her mind, back again at Christmas Eve, to just two weeks ago, to another house: a pine tree laden with bright ornaments, presents and packages, her brothers, both singing and laughing, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, mother...and Missey. Poor, dear Missey.
Priscilla let her tears fall, her eyes misted, unseeing.
She had grown up with Missey. From her very first memory, Missey had been there.
Yet Missey had quietly died, without any fuss, as she had lived. On Christmas eve.
Oh my Missey...My poor, dear sheltie...My dearest Missey sheepdog. It isn't fair...It just isn't...
Priscilla's bedroom door banged open and Henry blundered in, tripping over the piles of clothes and shoes and general disorder that she hadn't even bothered to begin to sort out.
Henry picked himself up, holding a soiled, white sock.
'Phew, you might throw that one into the laundry basket.'
'Has knocking on a bedroom door gone out of fashion?' Priscilla said, wiping at her eyes.
'Nah! Knocked as I came through. Musta heard me. Anyway... hey Sis! Still upset? Look, you have to get over it sooner or later. It's what happens. Animals die'.
It was like a knife in the heart.
Animals die. But they shouldn't.
'Yes, I know that, little Brother, now what do you want?'
Henry looked a trifle hurt, both by the 'little Brother' taunt and the very idea that he might be wanting something from his older sister.
'Mum asked me to check that you'd made some room for Monique What's-Her-Name and cleared all your stuff off her b...'
BANG! BANG BANG! CRASH! BANG! RUMBLE!
'It's five o'clock, don't those carpenters ever go home?' Pricilla moaned, covering her ears.
'That's not the carpenters, they went half an hour ago. That's the plumber, and if you want to use a toilet you'd better hope he stays until he gets the job done or you wont be getting...'
'Thankyou Henry, I don't need an explanation, and yes, I guess I can make some room up here. Help me to get those boxes over there. The little ones might fit under my bed and the big ones can go next to the wardrobe. Then we can heap those piles of clothes and school books on top'.
Henry pursed his lips and twisted them sideways, it was a mannerism that he'd made his own from his earliest years.
'What do I get for it?'
'You'll get a blast from Grandma if you don't. Don't argue, just help. I promise to help you with your room.'
'Louis has already got our room sorted'.
He would, thought Priscilla, that's the kind of older Brother I've got. Mister organised. Mister pain in the a...
BANG! THUMP! BANG! CLATTER!
...ask your mother for sixpence.
Priscilla pulled some drooping strands of long, fair hair away from her eyes as she dragged a cardboard box out of the pile, and together they slid it across the wooden floorboards.
'I miss her too, you know,' said Henry, purposefully not looking at her, in case she got all misty again.
'I know you do', Priscilla choked, trying hard to keep back the tears.
After all, it was only a week into the new year and just so much had happened since Christmas day.
First Missey, then a mad scramble to move and relocate to Camberwell, into a house that had seen much better days. This house was so old that it actually had an attic and a cellar that was converted into a bomb shelter in the second world war. How long ago was that?
'When do you think Dad will get in?' Henry asked, to change the subject.
'Tomorrow, Mum said. Sometime in the morning.'
'I suppose you're not too happy with having to share for a while?'
'You have to share too.'
'Yeah, but Louis is our brother. Monique Frenchy-What's-Her-Face isn't your sister. Still,' Henry smiled, 'it won't be forever. In a couple of weeks the house will be sorted out and we'll all have our own rooms.'
'But how long will she be here? Her Mother and Father will have to find somewhere to live when they arrive and that might take a while.'
'Look Sis', said Henry, struggling with a rather large suitcase, 'it's only going to be for a for a week or so, then she'll be going with them to their new home, and after that it will all be just like a bad dream.'
'No, I'm in the bad dream right now, and I have another bad dream to look forward to; Hopewell Hall.'
'What the heck's so bad about that?' Henry scratched at his freckled cheek. 'I can't wait till next year. Then I'll be out of kid school and out of Grandma's clutches. I'm really looking forward to being with you and Louis, all of us boarding together, out on our own.'
'I sometimes think we've always been out on our own,' muttered Priscilla, staggering under the weight of a large pile of clothes, 'and as for Hopewell Hall, well Louis told me that their motto is "Hopewell, you Helpless, Hopeless." He says they still have the cane and the strap, and they don't like girls.'
'Getaway!' Henry broke into a wide grin. 'You're pulling my leg! Louis is having a lend of you. He's been there all last year. Don't see him coming home beaten up, do you?'
'He's too good to get beaten up. And anyway, how long will we be there for? We've been in that many different schools since we started going. First in Sydney, then down here in Melbourne, then in Brisbane and now back in Melbourne. Why can't we have an ordinary life?'
'Because,' Henry said flatly. 'You know the answer to that. Mum and Dad...'
'It's always Mum and Dad, I can't...here, help me lift this up...see why we should...'
'Priscilla and Henry!'
A voice, a very commanding voice, rose from the floor below.
'Dinner is hitting the plate. Get down here, washed and ready, now!'
THUMP! THUMP! GRIND, SHATTER, GRIND!
'Beat you to the wash basin!' shouted Henry, leaving off his task and running out onto the landing. In a moment he had darted down the corridor and into the upstairs bathroom.
'If it's working,' cried Priscilla, leaping after him.
Scrubbed and slightly breathless, Priscilla and Henry hurried down the stairs.
'We will all be eating in the living-room again tonight,' said an imperious voice looming behind them. 'The dining-room and kitchen are still beyond habitation. However, I have managed to concoct a meal in here on the barbecue. Find yourselves a space, some cutlery and a plate. You will have to eat off your laps.'
Grandma Black stood, like the statue of liberty, directing them toward a pair of open cut-glass doors.
THUD! SCRABBLE, RUMBLE.
A rather plaster-dusted plumber emerged from an adjoining corridor, dragging out the remains of a hand basin and leaning it against the wood-panelled wall. 'Toilet, vanity and shower are up and running down 'ere,' he said, wiping his eyes. 'That should keep yah goin' until I get back tamorra to clean up and get on with it.'
'And you will be back, nine o'clock on the dot, tomorrow morning, Mister Prentice, or...'
'Don't you worry Missus Black, you've got me till it's finished...'
'I've got you, Mister Prentice. And if not...I'll get you.'
'Yeah, good-oh.' Hard old biddy.
'Bad thoughts, bad sports!'
Bugger! She must have a crystal ball! Prentice frowned, gathering up the last of his tools and heading for the front of the house. He rattled toward a room at the left of the hall and slowed, hearing a women's low voice.
' ...yes, I killed him. Yes, and I'd do it again. He deserved what he got. How many beatings do you think a woman has to endure before she fights back? What about my children? What about them? We could never be safe, not even if I took them and ran off. He would have found us. He always has in the past. Last night...
Last night...was...well, he came home, drunk as usual on payday. This time he laid into the kids, smashed things, threw our belongings out into the garden...I couldn't stand it anymore...'
Prentice the plumber risked a glimpse into the room and saw a woman standing there, her back to him, a telephone to her ear. Shaded light cast from a standard lamp, somewhere to the left of the open door, threw the shadow of a very large carving knife, clutched in her dangling hand, against the far wall.
Distantly, Rachael Davies, (this was the name she used as an actress) heard the thumping of tools banging into a van at the front of Two-Twenty-Two A. There came a crashing of gears and the screech of tyres as the plumber's van roared away.
'Rachael. Dinner is ready when you are.' Grandma Black looked around the doorway of the second of the two front bedrooms. 'Give it a rest and come and eat. You can only rehearse for so long you know.'
' I know,' said Rachael, putting the phone down and sliding the knife into an open drawer. 'But I just can't seem to get it anywhere near right. The script is woeful and my dialogue is the pits! I mean, how am I going to make something out of, "I couldn't stand it anymore!" Pathetic! This writer's just treading water. She couldn't get out realistic dialogue if her life depended on it! I don't know what I'm going to do with the script, other than shove it down the toilet!'
Rachael turned toward Grandma Black with a flourish of her hands. 'That is, if we have a toilet to shove it down?'
Amelia Black gave her a long, patient look. A look that said, I've heard all this before: even at your best, you're still at your worst, and even at your worst, your still at your worst.
'Well lady, you can't make lines into food, and no nourishment means 'no show' in the big television studio that awaits you. Eat first! See your kids. Study lines later!'
Rachael shook her head, her dark auburn hair swinging (as she imagined, in slow motion) around her shoulders. 'Fine. Half hour. Talk, eat, communicate. Then back to work. I've got to get the words working...Do something with them to get out a better glimpse of this killer mother...Maybe I can do it with pauses...Silence sometimes fills in gaps...'
Priscilla was saying, between mouthfuls of vegetables, 'I heard Mollie tell Grandma that she won't come to clean here until we get the house sorted out.'
'Irish Mollie is a compulsive Irish cleaner, and she's also a compulsive Irish tidier. So much so that she has to have a place clean and tidy before she'll go near it, "Oi won't be comin' here ta thus place again till ut's up ta scratch. When ya get ut roit, clean and toidy like, I'll be taken a look and makin up ma mind. Thas my last word on it, 'cept ut must be better then than what it is now", smirked Louis, cutting into a sausage with gusto. He had not long come in from the garage after trying to make some sense of all the boxes and furniture stored there. 'She'll come and clean for us, I'm pretty sure of that. The big problem with Mollie Maeve, as in the past, is finding everything after she's been.'
'At our other house it took me three days before I found my lizard,' said Henry, chewing thoughtfully.
'Where was it?'
'Gizzard (Henry was heavily into pirates ) was in with my shoes, Cilla.'
'Because I had him in a shoe box, I suppose...'
'Hello, my flock!' said Rachael, breezing in and heading for the sherry decanter sitting with a collection of other bottles on the mantelpiece. 'I think a little wine with the...er...chops and things, will sharpen my appetite.'
'Hmmph,' said Grandma Black, rather disapprovingly as she entered.
After dinner the three children were in the kitchen ( or what was left of it ) washing the dishes in a sort of makeshift sink that was simply two large car fridges filled with hot water, placed on top of a coffee table.
The actual sink and its accompanying taps, along with the rest of the new kitchen cupboards, was still under plastic wraps: all sitting on top of the new, plastic-wrapped benches filling most of the area of this large, white-tiled room.
Through the lead-light kitchen windows, Priscilla could see that even at eight in the evening it was still not dark. With daylight savings in Melbourne, at that time of the year, night was yet a little way off.
'I'll be glad when the dishwasher is up and running,' Louis remarked, wiping a plate and stacking it with some others.
'Yeah,' said Henry, peering at a glass he had just dried to see if it had any streaks. He pursed his lips and squinted. 'I don't mind so much filling the dishwasher and emptying it, but this is like slave labour.'
'Better not let Grandma hear you,' cautioned Priscilla, smiling.
'She's outside bringing in the washing. I just saw her go by with a basket,' Henry said, with a grin.
'Yes, but she does have some kind of second sight, or second hearing. I bet she's listening right now,' said Louis, so seriously that the other two both looked around at him. 'Only joking.' He smiled, rather broadly, and Priscilla was reminded immediately of their mother.
'Is Mum still rehearsing?'
'S'pose so. You know what she's like before actually going into the studios. Gets right into the role. Vagues off a lot. "Her Art, her Art!" ' Louis swept a hand up across his brow. 'I sometimes wonder if she's got another kid somewhere named Art.'
' I sometimes wonder if she remembers she's got three kids,' laughed Priscilla, handing Henry a pile of cutlery. 'She gets so involv...'
The front doorbell chimed.
'I'll get that! Mum wont even hear it!' Henry bolted from the kitchen, leaving Priscilla still holding the forks.
'He'll do anything to shirk wiping up.' Louis laughed.
The doorbell chimed again.
About the only thing that works in this house, thought Henry, racing up the hallway. He had a fleeting glimpse of his mother, through the second bedroom door, standing distractedly, holding the telephone, the knife half raised.
No wonder we never get any phone calls, She's too busy using it as a prop. He skidded to a halt and threw open the heavy panelled front door. Through the security door he saw a tall man standing there holding two large suitcases.
'Dad!' Henry shouted with joy, unlocking the latch and throwing back the grilled door.
'Henry! Mate, am I glad to see you!' Matthew Black, his large frame filling the space, dropped the cases and bent to lift and embrace his son.
'Dad! We thought you weren't getting in until tomorrow!'
Footsteps were racing up the hall at Henry's back as Matthew set him down.
'Took an earlier flight and got lucky with connecting ones, Son.'
He turned toward a small figure standing directly behind him. She advanced out of the growing twilight.
As his brother and sister reached his side, Henry gasped, 'You're b...'
'Yes,' said the girl facing him, 'I am black. I am Monique Bateleur.'
And with that, she promptly burst into pitiful tears.
Chapter 2 [Next]
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