Beyone the Line
  Seven Stories by Jane Turner Goldsmith
  1  North of Goyder’s
2  RU OK?
3  Silk Reams
4  Boy, Falling
5  Graduating
6  Dear John
7  The Skies Will Be Clear
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  September 2016 Fiction Issue
 
 

Graduating

“Get in the car,” Mum says. “Just get in, no complaints and get your seatbelts on.”

We are in the middle of Letters and Numbers on TV, weird I know but we all like it. I can tell Mum is in a mood and there’s no point protesting. Robert flicks off the TV and we stand up and stretch a bit.

“Where are we going?” Nathan whines. His too-long hair flops over his puffy eye, he’s got a germ in his eye, Mum says, and careful you don’t catch it.

“Just get in the car. Don’t make me say it one more time.”

Robert and I get it. We make our way to the front door, not fast, but not stopping to grab our bags or anything. I wonder if this time will be different.

Nathan shrugs and follows us to the car where he goes for the front seat, even though it’s not his turn. He’s the youngest and he’s spoilt and he doesn’t get it, but Mum is in a mood and so Robert and I say nothing and let him stay there.

“Where are we going?” Nathan asks again.

Mum doesn’t answer. I look at Robert and he looks at me. I tell Nathan that we’re going to a place where no-one gets hurt anymore, and to stop whining and be for once like an imitation of baby Jesus on the wall and to just shut up.

We drive. Nobody says anything. Even Nathan shuts up.

Mum stops at Aunty Judy’s and tells the boys to get out. I open my door but she tells me to stay there — but then, to get in the front seat. Mum gets their backpacks from the boot. This time is different, and I don’t get it. Something tells me to shut up, to not ask questions in front of Aunty Judy. Aunty Judy had been waiting in the driveway to meet us, in one of those orange sari-type dresses, a hibiscus flower behind her ear, as if this is a holiday. She hugs Nathan and tells him there’s a new lizard, and won’t that be something to tell the kids at school (where they went for a term last year but, oh, that’s another story).

Aunty Judy lowers her body so she can peer through the window at me. She smiles fakely. Her flower falls and she scoops it up and starts to put it back in her hair, then thrusts it at me.

“How are you going, love? I’m sorry, I…”

I never hear the end of what she was going to say since Mum is in the driver’s seat and slamming her door shut. I wave a tiny good bye to Aunty Judy, who has stopped pretending to smile. Mum reverses the car. Aunty Judy waves back but the boys just watch us go, Nathan leaning against Aunty Judy. Robert’s face looks all grey and he stands a little apart. Mum is checking her rear vision mirror and wiping her hair off her face. She jerks the car forward.

“Aren’t we going to the shelter? How come the boys are staying with Aunty Judy and I…”

Mum doesn’t answer, it’s like she doesn’t even hear me. She chews her lip. Such a brief goodbye to the boys, a quick hug each and a nod to fake-faced Aunty Judy. No talk of when we’d be back. I’m mad, suddenly, that she didn’t let me pack anything, like we might just be going out to the shops, to be out of the house when Dad — I’m not even going to call him that anymore — got home.

As if reading my mind, Mum tells me she’s packed my stuff, and that it’s in the boot. “I remembered your jewellery box.”

“And my deoderant?” I try to swallow but I’ve got a hard lump in my throat. “Mum! Where are you taking me?”

“Cindy — it can’t be helped. Your brothers have got Aunty Judy. I need to take you to…”

“Take me to where?” I shout. I always thought Aunty Judy liked me too, even if she wasn’t my real aunt. There’s no-one on my real father’s side, nobody even knows who he is. At least the boys have a real aunt.

Mum checks the rear vision mirror. “We’re — you’re going to Gran and Pops.”

Inside the car it is all swoony and hot. “No, Mum!” I shout over the revving of the car. The broken plastic vents on the dashboard jump out at me and look all weird. “Not to Gran and Pops!” My grandparents live forever away, HOURS away, in a hot stuffy house three blocks from a yellow horrible beach and a garden where only pigface grows. What about school, what about my friends?

“Cindy, it can’t be helped. It’s just — the way it is. And you’ll be safe there. He doesn’t know where they live.”

It’s all been planned, for weeks, I bet. The cars flash towards us on the other side of the road. Mum is still checking her rear vision mirror, more than she needs to. Now we are on the boring dusty highway over to the Peninsula where Gran and Pops will be sweating into their matching recliner chairs. Gran will be shuffling through the stations on satellite until she settles on the shopping channel, and Pops will be reading his paper.

“What about school?”

“There’s a little…local school…I think.”

“I don’t want to start at a new school. I’ve only got a term until High School.”

Mum says nothing. There is nothing to be said.

“What about my graduation?” I say it in a strangled kind of voice, because to take that away would be to literally strangle me. I can’t work out which is the worst pain, being separated from my brothers, or the fact that I might miss my primary school graduation, where I’d been chosen to be Master of Ceremonies. We’d found a cool dress, Mum and me, at the thrift shop, but you would never know — Sapphire Blue, the lady on the desk had said, and with a gorgeous sash, you’ll look like Princess Grace of Monaco, she’d said, whoever that is, they’ll all be listening to you. And will there be dancing? Oh! she said. All eyes will be on you!

“It’s just not safe anymore,” Mum says, and I can’t cry in front of her, now, because she’s nearly crying herself. So I miss out on being able to cry, too.

“What about you?” I hardly dare ask, so it comes out in a whisper. I’m not sure, when Mum doesn’t answer, whether it’s because she hasn’t heard me, or whether it’s that she doesn’t have an answer.

“Where will you go?”

There’s a single tear rolling down Mum’s cheek.

“Stop it, Cindy.”

“Why stop it?” I yell. “Are you just going to leave me at Gran’s, then — is that your plan?”

“Cindy, stop shouting, it’s not like I have a choice.”

It’s then that I see the marks on her arm. They’re smaller and rounder than bruises and they look a bit infected, tiny round circles, all red and raw. I don’t dare ask. There’s nothing I can say. I try to swallow. The lump in my throat hurts.

“Oh, shit,” Mum says, looking in the mirror.

I turn to look at the traffic behind. He has a white ute, and there are millions of them on the road, just like his, so why is Mum worrying? I guess that is the thing though, now. My mum is scared of anyone in a white ute on the road. Scared of everyone.

“It’s okay, Mum. How would he know where we are going?” I try not to think about the sapphire dress, or my brothers.

“He just always knows.”

“Slow down, Mum. You don’t need to speed.”

I imagine him at Aunty Judy’s place, rattling the flyscreen door and demanding to know where we are. Aunty Judy yelling that she has no idea and that she will call the police if he tries to break in, and I can hear the rrrrippp of the flywire tearing, as he swears and crushes his fist through it, all the neighbours, just anyone walking by in the street, all seeing, all staring, no one doing anything.

Aunty Judy wouldn’t tell him — would she? But maybe to get rid of him. Maybe to protect herself and my brothers…

Suddenly I’m not sure of anything, ever again, in the world. The one person I thought I could rely on to keep me safe, Aunty Judy — I am no longer sure of.

“I thought she liked me.”

“She does, Cindy, of course she does. But…”

I’m wildly trying to latch on to someone, anyone, whose loyalty to me doesn’t blur into the chaos of what is happening at very fast speed, right now, if Mum doesn’t slow down.

I try to imagine Gran, could I ever lean into Gran like Nathan leant into Aunty Judy? Gran, stretched out there in her chair for hours on end, only occasionally moving her hand to scratch her inner thigh (embarrassingly) and very (only very) occasionally to fart. Gran’s floppy folds of skin, which I kind of like as they are soft. Gran doesn’t talk much but at least she cooks dinner. There should be dinner.

Pop? Sitting straight in his chair, all stiff and upright. Pop’s eyes travelling over the lines of his magazine. Very occasionally burping, the only movement he ever seems to make. Pop has a way of suppressing his burps until they are almost up to the top of his throat — you can only just see them moving past his Adam’s apple. Pop has no idea I spy on him; he never looks up. I can watch for ages and ages and he doesn’t have the faintest idea.

Pop once tried to swim out past the jetty, and not for a race, Mum told me. You mustn’t disturb Pop once he is in his chair.

“Gran and Pop love you,” Mum sniffs, as if she is not really convinced.

She’s shaking now, and still driving too fast.

“Slow down, Mum!” You’ll kill us even before he might I think but don’t say.

“I’m sure I saw him — there’s a car driving like a maniac behind us.”

“It couldn’t be him.”

She’s driving like it really could be him.

I close my eyes and think of the sapphire dress. Thai silk, the lady at the thrift shop said. It’s got two colours shot through it, look how lovely it is when you ripple it!

I watch Mum side-on, gripping the wheel, look at her pocky skin, her pimples almost like mine and her mouth snapped firm shut, clenching her teeth or her forearms and crying now, crying so hard, how can she see? Mum! I shout again you’re going too fast but she just leans forward on the steering wheel not even looking behind her anymore so I look and I can see a million white utes behind us and there’s one weaving in and out of the cars but it couldn’t be him, it couldn’t be. And Mum is driving too fast and she’s going to kill us, even before he might and I’m yelling at her to slow down because I want to go to my Primary School Graduation in my sapphire blue dress and I want to look like Princess Grace of Monaco whoever she is and I want to have everyone listen and have their eyes on me and I don’t want her to crash the car and I don’t want to die. Mum! Slow down, the sapphire dress, and Nathan and Robert and Gran and Pops who will surely go for a very long swim and now I hear screaming, but it’s not Mum and it’s not me, it’s a siren, the siren I want to hear because only that siren and the blue and red lights that glow like sapphires, like rubies, that Mum has always run from, because HE always managed to talk her round, only they might save us and when they flag us down and when she finally has to slow down or we’ll go smashing into the cop’s car parked right across the highway, when Mum stops, when they ask her to step out, when they want to see her license, when she goes mental, I step in the way and snatch the licence and I tell that cop that if they don’t take my mum I won’t be able to wear my sapphire dress because we will all be killed and I don’t want to die and I want to be the Master of Ceremonies and then the lady cop lets my mum go and Mum falls to the ground like a slinky, bawling her eyes out and the lady cop bends down to my level and puts her hand on my shoulder and asks me a question.

She asks me in a way that — I can tell — she actually, really wants to know the answer:

“Tell me, Miss, what we can do so you can get to wear your sapphire dress?”

And I can tell, as well — that she’ll believe what I am about to say.

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  © Jane Turner Goldsmith, 2016

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