A Sunday Essay, Research Paper
The leaving was easier than she thought.
All those nights practising it in her head. Just wanted to look at the gardens,
so pretty in the spring. Just wanted to see the gardens. Except in the end
nobody asked. She simply put on the good blue dress, combed her hair and walked
down the corridors, taking care over those polished tiles, and pushed out
through the heavy double doors.
Outside. Out through the garden. Trying not to run but wanting to. Outside. Out
through the gates and here she is walking along the footpath looking at the
daffodils. Just like anybody else.
She breathes in the air. Sniffs it. Sucks it up and rolls it around in her mouth.
So different out here. Different even than in the garden. Sitting on those seats.
Sometimes she takes off her shoes. Rolls down her rights so that she can feel
good rough ground under her feet. She digs her toes in, and rubs her soles into
the earth. They say, look at that Jessy getting herself all dirty, Jessy you
naughty girl you’ll get a chill. Time to go inside, girls.
?Funny that. Being called girl. Naughty naughty girls wetting themselves and
pinching. Quiet good girls slumped in the seats in the garden with their mouths
open. Waiting for it. Drinking in death.
Her voice shakes when she asks for two sections. She wants it far too much.
Practised that too in her head over and over in the nights. Listening to them in
the corridors. If Mary *censored*s herself again tonight she can sleep in it.
Listening to the cries and the calling, I have to get home. I have to, the
children want their dinner. She sits in the bus away from the window. Afraid to
look out. Cars and people on the footpath. People watching. For her. Tom says
it’s a nice place, Mum. Warm and clean and friendly and plenty to do. Except
that everything to do there ends up with dying and there are better places to do
that and better people to do it with.
She grips the sides of the seat with her hands and they are hot and sweating.
Jack said I don’t want to leave you, Jess. Jess? And she took his head in her
hands and cradled him against her body. Rocked and rocked him, tender and gentle
for the last time and whispered to him and held him strong and tight while he
needed it and then let her tears wash down over her face and down over his. She
kissed his mouth and it was still warm and it tasted of salt.
She manages the steps and the post office is there down the road. She has her
book ready in her bag but how much?; she has to think, too, about the withdrawal
slip. All thats done for her now. Tom said it’d be easier. Tom doesn’t know
sometimes easier is harder. In the end she stands still and quiet and breathes
in deeply. Makes herself think to write the name and the numbers. She has to
stop and hold her hand to stop the shaking and rub in some warmth. Her hands are
always a surprise. She can never believe they belong to her. Greyish with the
brown patches and the thin fragile fingers; skin haphazardly stretched on bone.
Jack loved her hands, traced over supple smooth flesh with his fingers. In the
end its only bones that are left. In the end your bones get cold and they ache.
The young man behind the counter has Jack’s blue eyes that she smiles into and
he takes her book and slides it back to her with money. He says have a nice day
and she echoes it back at him, a nice day, have a nice day. Her heart is
Out in the streets she panics a little. All these people and talking and music
and the cars slowly nosing. There is a red-capped boy swooping in and out of the
crowd on his skate-board. It is how Jean Legget broke her hip and she steps
quickly back and a woman drives an elbow into her shoulder. Sorry, sorry,
Frightened now. There is a man playing a guitar and singing loudly. She closes
her eyes. Back. Still get back for lunch. Not even missed. Tomato soup and
scrambled eggs and little triangles of dry toast. Tuesday. Eat up girls. Lovely
lunch. Easy to go back, (just in the garden, lovely day). Except she promised.
She opened her eyes. Think. Think hard. stay still and slow and think. She
looked every day at the timetables. Tuesday. Eleven-fifteen departure. She folds
her arms around her body and squeezes. Stop. Stop the shaking. Jack strokes her
arms and her thighs and back and breasts. Breathes into her ear and her mouth.
Warm and sweet. So sweet. (I can’t do it Jack.)
Walk slowly. Move your body carefully out of the way of the people cars
skateboards bikes. Plenty of time. Eleven-fifteen departure. She asks the woman
with the red puffed up hair for the ticked. I-am-visiting-my-son. She practised
that too and her voice comes out with hardly a quiver and she smiles her triumph
over the counter. The woman smiles back. She doesn’t understand she is dealing
with an escaped convict.
She has the ticket and the change in her hand. Almost there. Almost. The steps
are higher and more difficult than she remembers. Hold on tight to the handrail.
Push down with your hands and one foot at a time? The driver comes down and he
winks at her and takes her arm. Alright love? Yes. Alright. Love.
And suddenly it is the adventure she knew it would be. Sitting high up on the
bus beside the window. Nobody will look for me here. I’m doing it. I’m doing it.
Going home like she promised. She beams at the bird beside her. Black-black hair
and tiny silver rings in her ears and in her nose. I-am-visiting-my-son. The
girl squints back at her with remarkably green eyes. Yeah?
It is hot in the bus. Hotter the further they go. Pictures fly past her; houses,
motorway, farm houses tucked up away in the trees, cars, hills and trees. She
takes her handkerchief from her bag and wipes her face. Missed. Past lunch.
Search parties and helicopters and dogs. She dabs at her cheeks with the
The gypsy-girl looks at her. Alright are ya? A big hot? She twiddles with
something above their heads. Air conditioning. Better, eh? She smiles. A
glorious benevolent smile. -Michelle. Its me name. Michelle.
-Its a pretty name, Michelle. -Yeah? She smiles again.
-The girls takes a chocolate bar out of her bag and slowly chews,
what does he do then?
-He? Her heart is thumping, (who?, what does he do?) -Sorry?
-Your son that you’re visiting. What does he do?
-Hasn’t practise this. Think. Thinks.
-In a bank. He works in a bank. -Yeah?
Grins. Proud of me Jack. Can still do it. Think on the spot. Forget how to in
there. Jenny Oliver with her faded blue doll eyes and pale pouched face.
Standing still like she’s suddenly remembered something and there is a thin
stream of urine slowly slowly running down her legs making a skant dark yellow
puddle on the floor. You watch the puddle on the floor and her face crumple and
you are almost crying her shame with her. Except there are no tears. When you’re
old you can’t even pee or cry properly. And nobody touches you except to wipe
something.Closes her eyes. Her son in a bank.
Because of the neighbours telling about her.
The burn and then the fall. It could’ve happened to anybody, leaving the stove
on like that. But the pain, the searing ice-cold biting grip of it. Dazed for
that week or two after but feeling a bit better and that branch needed taking
off. Blocking the kitchen window. She always likes to see out and it was easy
hopping up on the step ladder and it wasn’t too high except she leaned too far.
Falling and the branches clawing savagely against her body. She heard the faint
snap that was her arm. Falling in and out of the gold red silver pinpoints of
light, I’m dead now, aren’t I? One of the kids next door saw her. Lucky,
could’ve been there all night, could’ve died out there. Marvellous for her age,
but.Lucky? Vomiting; choking on it and sour all over her. Smelling it in the
ambulance. Hating it and herself. She’d never hated her body up till then.
She saw how Tom looked at the black eye and the bruises and the red weeping sore
on her hand and the plaster. Mum please. Mum please. His eyes are Jack’s. She
can never say no to them.
I can’t keep a proper eye on you now we’re in Wellington and with Kate away
until next year. Mum please, its best. We only want what’s best for you, Mum.
She wants to gather him up into her arms and make it better except now its her
who’s little and vulnerable and weak. Now she’s the child except he’s too busy.
What’s best for me. What’s best for me is dead or back how things were. Me and
Jack and Tom and Katy. On the orchard. Up Central. Jack said it, what about an
orchard up Central? and the words were a mystery and a magic. Down at the river
with the stones hot and the water like green glassy ice. At night. Your hands.
Jack, soaping my back in the bath. You hands strong and brown and firm and
moving down my young shoulders, my young hips, my young firm belly. Your hands,
Jack and your body with mine, spooned against mine late in the hot dark. My hand
cupped on your hip and Tom and Katy breathing soft and strong from the next
rooms. That. That or dead.If you think so dear. If you think so.
But they are there and she holds onto Michelle’s arm getting down the steps. The
heat hits her. Dry and searing. The utterly blue blue sky and that sun of her
face. She feels it through her dress in the remembered way and breathes in the
heat and catches it in her throat. An orchard up Central.
She is hungry, suddenly, for the first time in months and she buys a pie and a
cream bun and takes them to the park. She eats them out of the brown paper bag
and the gravy is hot and salty against her lips and runs over her chin. She
slowly licks the cream with her tongue. Glorious. Glorious day with the sun on
her shoulders and arms and head. She chews slowly and watches the tulips
gleaming and silky in the light. Jack’d say it’s a scorcher.
She takes a scarf from her bag and wraps it around her head. It is almost
finished. Now the last part.
She finds the taxi stand beside the memorial and she directs the driver. She
will tell him the house. Visiting-my-son. On the orchard. Lovely day. And
soaring over the familiar road. Nearly. Nearly home. Around the curves and past
the pines and the school and the store and the pub and here is the last corner.
She watches for it and cries out for him to stop. No, not down the drive. She
likes to walk. Somebody is expecting me. Somebody is waiting for me.
She waits until the car turns and then she begins to walk down the gravel road.
She doesn’t look at the house. It is not the same any more and nobody is there.
This is her home, this is the place that she loves. Here, where each season is
sharp and so defined it is a drama, a celebrated event. The poplars turning. The
napkins frozen stiff and white on the line and the sun frozen way up behind grey
glass. The delicacy of cherry blossom then the golden days. The dry searing heat.
She follows the gravel road and then she is down onto the track. She has to push
at the lupins and the wild thorny rosehip bushes to get through. She will have
to tell him to cut it all back again.
But here now is her river. The dark jade of it. The glistening silver skim of
the surface. The soft thick trees edging it. She walks over to it and cups water
in her hands and pours it over her face and sits on the stones close to it and
watches and listens. She can’t hear them yet but they will come. She lies back
on the warm hard stones and digs against them with her feet and her hands. The
sun is beating, beating and she holds her face up to it.
She closes her eyes for just a moment and rests her cheek against the warm
stones and then she hears the voices. It is Katy, Tommy, calling, crying out,
laughing and she opens her eyes to watch. Their smooth little brown bodies
glisten in the water. Katy throws back her head and her long wet hair streams
around her shoulders. They glide along the river on the tyre which is like a
black sleek seal. Jack comes then and places he hand on her cheek. He draws her
head against him cradling it against his body. He rocks, rocks her; he is so
gentle, so so tender but his hands are strong and he holds her tightly while she
needs it and he whispers, whispers against her ear and his mouth tastes like