Friday, 28 February 2014

rough draft chapter 6

Chapter six

The years pass like sheep chewing grass

School passed, the baby passed, years passed. Clouds passed overhead then blue sky, sometimes rain, a lot of rain, and more blue sky. Leaves turned red and fell, spouted green again and then turned red and fell again. The grass grew, turned to hay and a neighbouring farmer would come with his tractor and cut it into bales, some he’d take and others he left for dada to sell at the local market. Our cow grew old and died and we bought a sheep, it grew fat and dad slaughtered it and we had food for a few months or more. The flowers in mama’s garden mostly died except for turnips and potatoes.
‘Turnips and potatoes,’ Mama would say, pointing a crooked turnip my way, ‘nothing but turnips and potatoes grow in this soil, why do you think that is? Are they the only things that can stand his voice? Or is the soil somewhat cursed but turnips and potatoes ignore even the most dire of warning…though not for the poor soddin’ Irish of course, nothing can save them but death itself.’
All in all, as the seasons kind of rolled across our lives like shadows across the grass, the farm somehow changed and yet remained the same. Dada’s voice stayed the same. Mama’s hair turned a lighter shade of red but her kindness whenever Un wet the bed never changed and the town around the school grew bigger and bigger even though we stayed mostly apart.
‘It’s getting so a man can’t think with the houses crowding in so,’ Dada took to grumbling as he sat on the veranda in an old rocking chair he’d picked up somewhere, rocking back and forth, back and forth, drinking beer from a ‘long neck’ as he called them and all the while his eyes scanning the distant houses, his lips turned grim as if he was watching rats scurrying into the house.
Mama said nothing but I knew she liked the town inching closer. She had purchased another batch of chicks and this time she had some real layers amongst them and so the old ducks sign was dragged out, the word “duck” crossed of and the word “chicken,” written in a sprawling red paint, replaced it. Mama sold a few eggs each day to the neighbours who trotted across the paddock, in gumboots when it rained, in thongs when it was hot. The egg-buyers never came when dada was home, I guess they knew what was what and it was easy to tell when Dada was home, ‘You could hear him hollerin’ from Jupiter,’ Mama always said.
When a house sprang up almost over night it seemed, ‘Like some bastard was watering ‘em,’ exclaimed Dada, Mama looked sad.
‘Why are you sad, Mama, I thought you like the houses creepin’ closer?’
‘I do, but that house is too close, there will be consequences that I neither ask for nor deserve, mark my words.’
‘What do you mean Mama?’
‘We’ll be shifting ground the way ants move before the deluge. Your Dada is an ant and those houses are the approaching storm. I can smell change in the very air I breathe.’
She was right of course. A few days later Dada came home with a man and showed him over the farm. They shook hands and then Dada strode inside and said to no one in particular and so to Mama and me, ‘Get packin’, we’re outta here before some bastard’s sitting in my lap on the front veranda.’
‘Must we go, Mama,’ I asked her as we packed my things into a small plastic garbage bag that I hoped as clean but wasn’t entirely sure of it.
‘Dada will not be denied, and we’ve no money to run, besides Dada would track us down again, the way a fox tracks down the check pen. Of that I have always been certain, it’s the knowledge that defeats me every time I think of escape. I’d have to shoot him in the head, splattering his brains out the other side, so he was deader than that rooster we ate last week, and that I cannot do.’
‘No we shouldn’t kill Dada.’
I knew it was wrong and though I feared him at that point I still loved him. He was like a waterfall, you couldn’t help but marvel at its force and sometimes, as I have said, we might share a moment that I hoarded like the marbles I kept in the sock at the bottom of my drawer as if they were jewels from the earth’s deep.
‘You misunderstand me.  It’s not that we shouldn’t, it’s that I fear I can’t. I fear I’ll miss or the gun won’t go off or some such and then what? Then he’d know I had tried to kill him and failed and things would go from hell to worse.’
‘What worse then hell, Mama?’ I asked mostly to change the subject, the talk of killing Dada was terrifying me. It was funny (well funny is the wrong word but it will do) but in a different way Mama could scare me as fast, and sometimes more, than Dada ever did. With Dada I could feel his torment, even when he took to the torturing, I could feel how much it did him in even as he ruined me. But Mama, with Mama sometimes when she talked I knew there as one side and then there was the other side and there was no crossing that divide, not by any means magical or medicinal or any other way known to man or God.
‘Your Dada.’
And there it was, that divide. And in her words I remembered that promise. If I turned out like Dada I knew what side of that divide I would be on and it would be permanent. Dada was violent and cruel and loud and menacing but Mama could freeze me hearty in the hottest summer day.
So we sold the farm (well Dada sold it, there was no “we” in what he did) to that man and we moved to another farm a small distance away so that the town was once again a non-invasive presence.
Later the town spread close again and we sold that farm and moved again further away. That second time we ended up in a farm at the edge of the forest with a small creek as the back fence boundary that kept the forest. The third farm was the last cos it was not worth a dime and no one would ever want to buy it off us. It was at this farm that the real trouble began. ‘Third time unlucky,’ as Mama said.
The second farm, as roughly as I can calculate it was when I was about eight and the third farm when I was ten. The spreading town was speeding up but this third farm was in the wrong direction (or right according to Dada) for that spread. The town was being pulled towards the city as if cities were magnets and towns small bits of metal that can’t resist the pull. We were safe now, safe from that spread, safe from the city’s pull out by the forest’s edge were only people seeking firewood, meat or mushrooms seemed to venture.
That was a good thing about the forest. Dada would often drag me along with him and we’d collect firewood that was just lying on the ground waiting for us to come along and pick it up. Once I picked up a log and a brown snake was underneath and before I could scream Dada grabbed that snake by the tail and gave it such a flick he snapped its back and that night we had snake stew. The meat tasted a bit like chicken though different too and I wondered as I ate it if its poison would do me in as I slept that night. It didn’t, but then again I probably didn’t sleep that night but lay there listening to Dada and pissing myself as I usually did.
The first farm had several paddocks (besides the two, one at either side that we kept for our own adventures that Dada had rented out to a local dairyman and that money paid his drinking. To get to the first house we had to walk from the road through several gates. If we had have had a car (we didn’t) we would have needed in winter to part it on the road cos the paddocks were just mud in winter.
The house was a wreck but it was a solid wreck with a wire door at the front that squeaked and banged; a sound I still miss to this very day. The house had several rooms beside the two bedrooms and the spare that was full of junk. The second farm as a bit like the first though the paddocks Dada rented out were fewer and the walk from the road longer. The house was newer which meant it was in worse condition than the old farmhouse built sturdily at the turn of some century or other. It had two bedrooms, a lounge room and a kitchen. Both had indoor bathrooms and outdoor toilets and laundries.
The third house was a shack, three rooms and an outhouse/bathroom out back.  There were some sheds but the sheds were empty and the floors were earthen, not cement. It had a kitchen/lounge/drying the clothes room, Mama and Dada’s bedroom and my room. It had paddocks filled with the bones of old machinery but no animals, and we never brought any animals to that place.
Mama didn’t even try to sell eggs for two reasons. One ‘cos no one came near that place, only foxes and feral and two, Dada sold the chickens with the farm.
‘Well I sold it as a chicken farm so it had to have chickens in the package,’ Dada said to Mama when she got angry at losing the chickens.
‘They weren’t yours to sell.’
‘What’s yours is mine, that’s the way marriages work,’ replied Dada.
‘This is no marriage, remember, this was abduction, so what’s mine is not yours except by theft!’
Then I remember Mama stormed off and tried to slam their bedroom door but the thing kept swinging open and Mama kept slamming it shut and it kept swinging open until suddenly the three of us were screaming with laughter, screaming so hard my sides ached and tears rolled down my cheeks.
That third farm, even though it was a wreck, was my favourite through my childhood (until everything changed) mainly ‘cos of the old machinery that littered the paddocks like the skeletons of giant creatures rusting in the open air. That machinery fascinated me for hours on end, calling to mind all sorts of games where I rode giant machinery or fought huge monsters or found myself trapped in the land of dinosaurs.
Adding to the games was the brooding presence of that forest. It wasn’t a large forest, I know ‘cos once Dada and I walked from our side to the other side, where a highway with trucks and cars and stuff cut through the countryside, and we did that walk in two days, camping in the fort the first night and thinking we would take a week or two and really explore it but we popped out the other side, like the shining, brown heads of the case moths that carried those sacks about as portable homes until they changed and flew away, leaving the stick sack behind as a memento, ‘like a postcard from the Riviera,’ Mama used to say.
Anyway, despite is smallness, that forest was dark and silent and home to foxes and feral acts and even small roos or wallabies I guess, and all sorts of other creatures; goannas and snakes and suchlike. I would go in with dada but not on my own, on my own I could feel its presence, could feel its eyes and if it were watching and waiting to catch me unawares.
Playing in the yard the brooking forest just added to the game somehow, maybe it helped me think there was danger, that a dinosaur was just around the bend or I was fighting a monster and so on and sometimes at night I would sit by my window and stare out at the dark fence that was the forest and I often thought I could sense it sitting at its window looking back at me and I wondered if I could talk to that forest, and if it could answer me, what that forest would tell me. Would it be full of horror stories, or mysteries that I didn’t know about or maybe some idea of Dada’s temper and how best to avoid it, or even maybe, the courage to just get out of bed, even if Dada was up and relieve myself.
I liked the forest being there as long as I was not there, or if I was Dada was there too. Sometimes I caught Mama staring at the forest and I wondered what she thought about that forest. Did she see it as a possible refuge? A place she could run into and lose herself from Dada? A place where she could finally be free of him?
Once when she was looking at the forest as a wind was blowing and all the trees were swaying so the racket of the leaves meant even Dada’s voice would struggle to be heard I asked her.
‘What do you think about when you look at the forest, Mama?’ I asked.
‘It makes me think about many things, about the story of little red riding hood and how wrong that story is, how wolves are not in the forests, they are in the towns and that a forest would possibly be the safest place for a little girl to hide in.’

Thursday, 27 February 2014

rough chapt. 5

Chapter five

A train trip to the city, a visit to the Dental Hospital and ice cream,

One night while I was wriggling like a worm trying to stem the flow but knowing it was coming, sure as daylight, it was coming, something changed in my mouth and suddenly the whole world turned into a giant ache. I pissed the bed hoping the release would ease the pain but that’s only made me cold and achy. Nothing to do but rock back an forth and wait ‘til the morning to see if Mama would know what to do.
The next morning as soon as I heard Mama stir I howled, not caring even if Dada heard. The pain was so great that it didn’t matter; he didn’t matter (perhaps I hoped he’d knock the tooth out).
‘Mama!” I howled. Then louder still, proving beyond doubt that at least part of me was like Dada. ‘MAMA!’
Mama came running into my bedroom and sat upon my bed. One look at I saw her face whiten and I knew it was bad, I knew I was dying. I was going to heaven or hell and wings or fire was waiting and I didn’t know which but I knew for certain I did not want to leaver Mama, unless it meant the end of pain but that’s not what the nuns said.
Dada walked into my bedroom and said, ‘What’s the yellin’ all about? It’s Sunday and I thought I could sleep a bit.’
‘Sleepin’ ‘cos there ain’t any drinking pits open yet,’ Mama replied.
I howled again, the pain so bad I thought I would puke.
‘So what is it, then?’ Dada asked.
‘He’s got a toothache,’ replied Mama.
‘All that noise for a damn toothache, you sure its not all his teeth and maybe a kidney and liver for good measure?’
The rest of the day passed in a fever, me rocking back and forth Mama putting wads of brandy soaked cotton wool into my mouth.
In a few of the still moment when I was able to actually listen to her words, I found out the following day the three of us would travel to the Dental hospital by train and get them to see about my tooth. If the pain hadn’t been so great I was have been whooping (secretly of course, it wad the pain that made me able top holler in the first place) for joy. A train trip and the city - two dreams in one.
I somehow pushed through that day and night, Mama sleeping beside me in the end and carrying me outside when I need to piss, not that it meant I had a dry night, my sheets were soaked by my sweat, still at least sweat doesn’t sink nothing like piss does. I wished Mama could sleep with me every night and carry me outside so my pissing would cease and the rash between my thighs would go away but I knew not to ask. I was never going to convince Dada to let Mama sleep with me and I knew it as one argument that Mama could never win.
The train trip was horrible. Every jutta-jut…jutta-jut of the train was like someone whacking the side of my mouth so the pain just throbbed and banged and kicked and screamed inside my mouth. For the entire journey I sat in Mama’s lap and buried my head into her breasts but even that brought no relief from the pain.
We rushed though the hustling and bustling of the city where people like ants ran about laying trails for others to follow, some scouts and some returners, with or without. The sheer numbers was too much and I just wanted to shut my eyes and close the whole city out, its smells of oil and petrol and people, its noise of whacks and honks and voices and feet and car doors slamming like metal trees in the storm.
In the city though I was handed to Dada and in his arms I at least new I was secure, no amount of scurrying people would prise me outta Dada’s arms. So Dada ran with me jiggling and moaning (I had nop more energy to holler by that point) and Mama hurrying beside Dada taking three steps to his two so every now and then she had to do a little skip to keep beside him and Dada hollering as we went ‘Get outta the way, the boy’s dying!’
Eventually we found the Dental Hospital. I didn’t know how but later Mama told me Dada grew up in the city and new it well. Mama said dada was like that, once he learnt a thing he never forgot it, especially directions and stuff like that.
I remember lying down in the hospital and a nurse was standing beside me in a crisp white uniform and I liked her smile and the blue eyes that shone under the bright long lights. Then a man in a white coat, a dentist, came in and touched me bad tooth and I think I tried to kick him and bite him bit Dada held me still.
‘What is it?’ Mama asked.
‘How much will it cost?’ Dada asked.
‘The boy has a bad tooth that will have to come out. And I think we can cover the cost, but looking at his teeth I think we need to maybe remove several so the new ones can grow into the spaces we will create.’
‘Take ‘em all,’ Dada said, ‘or as many as you want so long as its free.’
Then I was being wheeling along on a bed that flew or was like a train or something and then under lights and a gas thing stuck across my mouth and I was counting back from one hundred…ninety nine…ninety eight…
I had a dream that I was sailing on the ocean aboard that flying bed, beside me was a crocodile who wanted to eat my leg but Mama was also on the bed and so was the nurse in white with the bright blue eyes and blue as the sky above as and every time that crocodile looked at my leg my Mama she just whacked its snout with a large metallic spoon and the funny thing was that in the dream every time she whacked that crocodile I felt it though it didn’t hurt, just somehow shook my brain about in my head.
When I woke there was no pain but the nurse and Mama took me to a shower stall and they held me up while I spat out blood as if I was nothing but a blood machine, galleons of it coming out like milk out of the cow.
Mama soothed me as I stood under the shower and I remember a part of my groggy brain thinking, ‘So that’s how a shower feels, I like it, though without the blood,’ and I wasn’t even embarrassed that I was naked and the nurse was holding me as well as Mama.
Finally the bleeding slowed enough where they could pack my mouth and dry and dress me and send me and Mama and Dada off home with the nurse saying, ‘Just give me ice cream.’
‘Mmmmmm,” I said.
‘What?’ Asked the nurse who couldn’t understand me with all the stuff packed in my swollen, ruined gob, but Mama understood, I could lose my whole mouth and she would still understand me, would Mama.
‘He said he doesn’t know what ice cream is.’
The nurse looked startled then and I wondered just how bad this ice cream stuff must be.
‘We live far from town,’ Mama added but we will get some and take it home with us.’
‘Mmmmmm,’ I said and the nurse looked at Mama.
‘You will love the taste of ice cream,’ Mama said and I was happy.
We went slowly back to the train. The city was quieter ‘cos it was just starting to get dark but Dada found his way after we went to a large shop that had everything in the world inside, or so it seemed it was so large and there Mama told me they got some ice cream for me.
I sat in the train and tried to stay away but after a time my mouth began to really ache and then I fell asleep and I don’t remember anything much until I woke up the next day and my mouth was sore but it was different and not as bad though I felt weaker than hatchling that’s fallen out of the nest and can’t hold its oversized head up, but flops about preparing for death.
Then Mama entered my bedroom with a bowl and in the bowl was a hunk of white stuff. I wondered if that was for making new teeth to replace the ones the dentist had taken out.
‘This is ice cream,’ said Mama, ‘and I am sure you’ll just love it. This is vanilla ice cream and when I was a little girl I loved vanilla ice cream and my Mama used to make it for me but I never learnt how.’
Then Mama started to cry I guess ‘cos she missed the taste of ice cream which made me think it must be good so I sat up in bed and got ready to eat it and then mama fed me, fed me ice cream and no wonder she cried. Ice cream was just the best thing in the entire whole universe, better even than anything I could imagine so from then on I never imagined anything but ice cream.
It took many days for my mouth to get better but the ice cream only lasted two and after that I had stew but only the watery bit of it and I dreamed of ice cream and still dream of it and when I am able I buy it and eat it until I am full and nowadays my best flavour is hazelnut or maybe just chocolate but sometimes I still buy vanilla and it feels like my mouth is getting better all over again.
I think I was about nine when we when to the Dental Hospital and I never saw a train or the city or ice cream again until I was twenty one and dada kicked the ruin carcass of me outta home and told me to crawl under the nearest rock and live or die ‘cos it was no skin off his nose.
It was some days after that that I made it to the city and it was still an amazing place but it was always and ever too loud and there were too many people and the noises and smells and rushing about was all too much for me so I never stayed there for long.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

4th chapter (rough/unedited)

Chapter Four

Baby Jesus in the Paddock

I heard Dada’s voice shout, ‘Jesus!’ and pushed aside the curtain to see what was happening. Dada stood in the paddock not more than three feet from my window staring down at the bundle on the ground. I saw the bundle move and then I heard it cry out and I knew dada had found a baby in the paddock, a baby Jesus.
I followed mama outside and watched her and she knelt and then picked the baby up into her arms.
‘Don’t touch it!’ Dada shouted at her but Mama ignored him and cradled the baby close to her chest.
‘Didn’t you hear me, woman,’ Dada said, ‘I mean it; put it back on the ground. Quick put it back.’
Mam turned and walked back inside the house and I followed. Behind me I heard Dada shout, ‘On shit now two bloody mouths squawking for food, to babes never givin’ me peace or quiet, and all I want is quiet.’
Mama stopped in her tracks and turned back to look at dada and she said ‘if you ant quiet maybe you should stopper your mouth and cease all the shouting, you’ll just make this poor babe cry louder with the racket your makin’, so hush up and let me see what’s what with this child of the paddock.’
Mama started walking and I followed her into the house and up to the kitchen table that I has sat at a million times I reckon but I had never seen it with a baby on top of it and so the whole room seemed different that morning and Mama laid the baby on the wooden table and then slowly unwrapped the blankets it was wrapped it. Blankets that were more like rags, the state they were in.
Dada came inside banging the door behind him and the baby started to wail again, kicking it little legs and waiving its tiny arms about, like a bug trapped on its back, unable to flip over and escape.
‘Well?’ Dada asked.
‘Well what?’ mama replied.
‘Well nothin’ I was just makin’ a comment, is all.’
‘Then shoosh and let me examine the babe and see how it is.’
‘I’m off for a drink,’ then,’ said Dada and with that he left the house and was gone for several hours.
‘Mama,’ I said, ‘how did the baby come to be in the paddock, did it fall from the sky, is it baby Jesus, Mama? Did it miss the stable where it should have been found?’
Mama stuck a finger in the baby’s mouth and I watched the baby suck hard.
‘The poor little thing’s starving.’
‘Is it Jesus, Mama?’
‘It’s certainly a miracle,’ Mama replied, ‘how else could it have survived the night in the paddock, out there under the stars, cold and hungry and abandoned?’
‘What shall we do, Mama?’
‘First we’ll try some milk, here stick your finger here while I warm it some milk.’
Mama took my right pointer finger and placed it at the baby’s mouth and then I felt its tip lips and then its gums and I felt it life wanting suck as it tried to draw something out of my finger to ease its hunger. Knowing about hunger I felt for the baby, felt for its hunger, its uselessness that meant it could do nothing but waive about and suck at whatever happened to pass its lips.
Behind me mama clanged about, plonking a saucepan on the stove and adding milk to it. She lit the gas and I watched her banging through the cupboards while waiting for for the milk, all while that baby sucked and sucked as if trying to get all of me into its tiny mouth.
After a few frantic searches in a couple of cupboards Mama found was she was looking for.
‘Ah I knew it as still here. I always thought we’d have another child, though now I know you’ll be my only child Brith.’
‘Only me, Mama?’
‘No more, not for me.’
When the milk was warm, Mama filled the bottle and tested its warmth on her elbow.
‘Why the elbow, Mama?’ I asked.
‘Cos that’s how my Mama did it,’ she replied.
Mama moved to the table and picked the baby up and pulled my finger out of its mouth. My finger popped free and its tiny mouth kept sucking until the nipple of the bottle slipped in and the baby began to drink.
Halfway through the bottle dada returned but he wasn’t alone. Beside him stood a policeman, dressed all in dark blue, the large gun, a magnetic lure on his hip. I looked at that gun and wondered what it would be like to hold it, to shoot it, to hear it go off. Dada had a rifle for rabbits and birds but a gun, like in the cowboy paperbacks Dada read and then gave to me to read.
‘Constable,’ said Mama, though she glared at dada like he was the devil come to feast at her table.
‘It’s the law,” said Dada, ‘I’m just doing what’s right. Ain’t that right Officer.’
‘It’s a serious offence, dumping a baby, we will investigate and find the culprits.’
‘You think the mother’s not mad already, must be to dump her baby, unless the father took it out and dumped it, only men can do such things and not feel the grief.’
‘We don’t know anything at this time.’
‘Well it’s a boy baby and its healthy and it can stay here until you find the mother it so desperately needs.’
‘I’m afraid not madam,’ said the Policeman.
‘Your afraid of what?’ Mama asked as she lifted the baby up and facing her across her shoulder while she patted its back until the baby let out a large burp.
‘Regulations state I must take the baby back to the town, we’ll have the doctor check it over and then place it in the orphanage until we discover the owners and the courts decide its fate.’
‘Regulations be damned,’ mama shouted, ‘you’ll not be taking this baby from me, not while I am alive and kicking your shins as hard as can be!’
‘’Stop your fussing, woman,’ dada said and he reached across and took hold of both mama’s hands where they clung to the baby.
I watched his hands grabbing hers, I saw the effort he put in to that gripping of her smaller hands, thought I might hear her bones break (or looking back, I imagined I might have listened for that sound). The policeman watched also, said nothing, did nothing, ‘Patient as the spider waiting for the fly,’ as Dada would say when he sometimes went out fishing with me.
I saw the pain in mama’s face. Pain for the baby she would surely lose, pain for her small hands crushed in his two and I dearly wanted to kick dada but when I moved I felt the policeman’s hand on my shoulder and I froze to the floor which the baby, the policeman and Dada would just go and leave me and Mama alone.
Dada dragged mama’s right hand off and then he slipped his right hand between her shoulder an the baby and soon he was holding the baby and Mama was crying and shouting and the Policeman stepped across and Dada handed he baby to him and then without a word the policeman left the house and dad followed him.
Mam looked at me, tears rolling freely down her cheeks. ‘If you,’ she said in a voice I had never heard before, a voice lost and yet hard also, a voice I never wanted to hear again, ‘turn out like your Dada then I will not want any part of you or yours.’ That is what Mama said to me in that kitchen, the table between us, on the table the emptied baby bottle and the tears still rolling down her cheeks.
‘Mama,’ I said, ‘I promise I will not be like Dada. I will not take baby Jesus off a mother who found him in the paddock.’
‘It will be hard for you,’ Mama replied, ‘boys become men and men only think of their own needs and everything else be damned to hell for eternity.’
‘I promise, Mama.’
‘And I will hold you to that promise, Brith, else you shall truly be Patrick Congerhill and lost to me for eternity.’
We never saw the baby again, never heard about it. There were rumours I heard about years later. Rumours that a certain Councillors daughter had been foolish and when the father discovered the truth he would not have that bastard staying a single night under that roof. Do not be shocked, it was a wilder time back then, babies not seen as human until much, much older, and even then if black and female, maybe never.
Sometimes I would catch Mama sitting at the table, her eyes staring out the kitchen window at the paddock where Dada found baby Jesus and I knew what she was thinking about, I knew she was wondering about that baby and whether it was alive or not, whether it ever found its ay back to its own Mama and even, I guess, whether it remembered Mama’s brief caress.
When Dada came home that night I heard an awful row as I lay in my bed. I heard their screams and even some things breaking and then I heard Dada stomping around outside for hours and I ended up having to wet the bed and lay in it all night, shivering, thinking of baby Jesus in the paddock and hearing over and over, Mama’s voice that I did not ever want to hear again.
I remember as I lay their, shivering, waiting for the dawn to bring sunlight and a chance to be warm again, I chanted over and over as if to ward off her voice, “I will not be like Dada, Mama, I will not be like Dada…’

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

third rough chapter of novel

Chapter Three

School for a short time with Nuns and Caffolicks

I was five when Mama enrolled me in school. It was the local Caffolick School, Edward The Confessor, was its name and when mama found out he was the patron saint of difficult marriages she said that was the right school for any child of hers.
‘Besides,’ she added when tucking me the night I was told about going to school, ‘it’s the closest school to walk to.
First I should set the record straight about the Caffolicks title, I know that’s not their real name, I know they are Catholics, but it was a joke between Dada and me. And hear is another thing I should clear up. Dada was always loud and often yelling at me, but sometimes he was in a jolly mood and then he and I could chat and joke and laugh. I just always had to be on the lookout, even when he was laughing ‘cos his eyes could turn hard at any moment and then the moments between us passed, or changed.
So Dada always called them Caffoliks, ‘cos all they do is lick the arse of God.’ is what he loved to say and then he’d laugh, his big, roaring lughm, his head tossed back, his green eyes shining and his mouth open, letting the roar of his laugh exploding out of his mouth like a shooting star bursting across the night sky.
‘Caffolicks, Dada?’
‘Damned right, Sonny Jim, Caffolicks and their damn pestering priests and whispering nuns. I went to a Caffolick school when I was young though not for long, I hated the nuns, hated the priest and mostly I just hated the whole experience.
‘Will I hate it too, Dada?’ And even as I asked it I could see the change, the light falling out of his green eyes so that they turned hard, the way he swallowed and his dam’s apple went up and down. Dada had a very large Adam’s apple.
He looked at me with those eyes of his that had turned hard and said, ‘I hope you hate it, its what you deserve, no less.’
Then he walked away, leaving me wondering, as I often did, why the change had come upon him but anyway, that’s why I call them Caffolicks, because Dada did. His words had unsettled me and so that night I asked mum about school.
‘But what is school Mama?’
‘School is where you will learn and where you will find a way out of this hellhole of a farm.’
‘But I do not want to leave you Mama.’
‘No, Brith, the idea is for you to take me with you.’
‘To school, Mama?’
‘No not to school, to the world beyond school, beyond this farm, when you are older and have grown wise because of all the things you will learn in school.’
She kissed my forehead and left me to my sleep. I heard he door close and I lay back in my bed, hands under my head, staring up at where the roof was though to was too dark to see it. I wondered about school about leaving Mama, about having to wear shorts and a shirt and shoes and socks. I hardly wore shoes on the farm, even in winter, I preferred going about barefoot and often bare-chested or just with an old singlet. I hardly felt the cold and in summer my skin turned dark.
‘Black as the ace of spades,’ Mama always said.
Mostly, that night lying in my bed, I wondered about the strange creatures called nuns that Mama had told me about.
‘What are nuns, Mama?’
‘Nuns started off as women.’
‘And are they still women?’
‘Sort off, but different too. For starters, they have no hair and must cover their baldness in shame. Plus they wearing these long, black dresses that make them waddle like the ducks., and they have these beads, the roses or something they are called, and I think they use them in self-defense but I am not sure. You see the nuns marry their God.’
‘Do they have babies?’
‘I think you children are their babies.’
I remember I started to cry when she said that and then mama came and hugged me and kissed my cheeks and said, ‘Shhh, you are my son, you will always be my son but at school they will treat you as their sons and daughter so that away from home you will still be loved.’
That calmed me and that night as I lay in bed, I could not help but think about the nuns and about school I wondered what it might be like and whether I would enjoy school or miss my Mama so much I would be miserable. I remember thinking I was caught, as Mama would say, between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand I wanted to enjoy school, but on the other hand, I felt guilty and then on the third hand, not that I had three, but still you get the idea, I was scared that school would be terrible which meant I would miss Mama horribly.
That first day was a blur. One thing I do remember. I remember leaving Mama’s arms and going into the classroom, first I thought the nun said glassroom but I thought that strange ‘cos the room was wooden and dark with only a small row of windows along one side. I sat at a desk in the middle of the room, I can’t remember what the desk was like, or even how I sat in the one I was sitting in. I just remember sitting down and waiting, watching at the other kids sat down, some boys, some girls, and then a few of them, started to cry, and then most of them started to cry, a few really bawling, their chests racked with gigantic sobs as if the ocean was inside them and it as swelling large like the waves I saw when I lived by the seaside, but I am letting the story run away, the seaside comes much, much later.
In the classroom someone shouted and then we all looked at the row of windows and we could see our Mama’s faces pressed against the class and we could see they were crying to. I saw my mama crying and I think I then started to cry too and so we all sat and cried and the nun walked around saying ‘Shhh!’ but we cried harder and harder still. Then the nun went outside and we heard her shoo our mama’s away and everyone started to quieten down after a while.
That is all I remember of that first day at school. The windows, sitting at the desk, all the Mamas’ sad faces pressed against the glass and the children crying. Oh and that our nun was not a nun, or she was, but we were not to call her a nun, we were to call her sister, even though she was not our sister (and anyway, I thought they were to be our mothers, not our sisters) and her name was Sister Annette.
Oh and I made a friend. His name was Paul and we played together everyday of my one and only year at school and then I never saw Paul again.

How Paul and I became friends.
It’s hard to explain really. Best as I can remember it, and it was long ago now, in that faraway time of childhood when memories are trickier than eels, slipping and sliding from fact to fiction in the twist of a tail. This is how I remember it. At some point a bell rang and Sister Annette said we could go outside and play then the children, me included, lined up and walked outside and we stood around in small groups or alone. I was one of hose standing alone ‘cos I didn’t know any of the kids.
Opposite me was another kid standing alone and we just looked at each other once or twice and then we just, sorta charged at each other like two small bulls and we banged into each other and we did that five or six times. I had a bloody nose and Paul’s shirt got torn and then he put his arm around me and he said, ‘We are now friends.’
I think about a day or two later we learned each other’s names and then we played together every before, after and during school that we could. By week two we even at together in the classroom and raced each other to put our hands up to answer the questions, even if we didn’t know the answer, that didn’t matter, what mattered was my hand beater his or his hand bating mine. We kept score inside his desk and there was never more than one or two in it either way.
Sister Annette called us the school’s very own,  ‘Cosmos and Damian,’ but Paul said he was Paul and I said I was Patrick though she could call me Brith if she really wanted to.
One other thing I remember was school sports day when we all raced each other or did long and high jumps, discus like the Greeks and even javelin throwing. I was not much chop at anything until we did the one lap of the oval and in that o outran everyone; even Paul who had won the two sprints earlier. I wasn’t fast but I could run at full speed longer than anyone. Sister Annette said I was like Pheidippides the very first marathon runner as she game me the sash with WINNER to pin to me shirt and take home with me.
I remember Dada ripping that sash off my as soon as he saw it saying I was no show pony and what did winning mean anyway. That night Mama whispered that I was a winner and that’s what made Dada angry, ‘Cos he wouldn’t know how to win a race even if he was the only one in it.’
School passed quickly but I learned how to read faster than any other child and loved the books, devouring everything I could, reading, reading, reading. Maths was a struggle, the numbers always getting jumbled in my head but reading…I think I even began to dream about books that year. Paul and I stayed friends and I even got to know a few of the other kids though their names slip away from me now, all except for Paul, though his face is now lost to me.
Then the year ended and we all said goodbye thinking we would see each other the very next year and I guess they all did, but not me. What happened was that the nuns came to visit a few days after school had finished and unfortunately for me, they came when dada was home and not sober.
They knocked on our door one evening. I opened the door wondering who it was ‘cos I don’t think anyone had ever knocked on our door, certainly no on I could remember.
‘Hello Sisters, I said.
‘Hello Patrick,’ they said in unison. Then the older nun, Sister Bridget asked, ‘Are your parents home and could we have a word with them?’
From behind me I heard Dada growl, ‘And what word would that be?’
‘You are the father?’ Sister Bridget asked.
‘So his mother informs me, though I wouldn’t put it past her to be lying about that just so he could inherit me farm.’
The two nuns blinked at his words, startled by the anger and the horridness of them.
‘We need to talk about Patrick’s eternal soul,’ said Sister Katherine.
‘Damn his eternal soul,’ said Dada, ‘not that he’s got one, of course, only you Caffolicks believe in such nonsense.
The Mama tried to intervene saying, ‘Please Roger…’
And Dada hit her, once, hard cross her cheek. It was the fist time I had ever heard dada’s name but not the first time I had seen him hit her.
The two nuns both gasped and then dad just started searing and screaming as he shoved them out of the house telling them I was never coming back to school and they could all be damned and he hoped there was a hell for stupid little nuns and their silly ideas about souls that needed saving.
Then he slammed the door in their startled faces and said to mama and me,
‘Well, that’s the end of schooling for the boy. He’ll need books from the library and that will do and say no more or you’ll get another and harder whack this time. And now I am going out to escort those nuns completely off the farm and I will have a drink or two at the local before I return.’
Then Dada left me and Mama and we heard him screaming after the nuns like he was chasing away stray cats or some such and that was the end of my Caffolick schooling at Edward The Confessor Caffolick Primary School.
Sadly, it also meant I would never see Paul again,. I remember years later I took to wondering past the school, limping back and forth past its gates and around the small town, dragging my ruined legs about, hoping to see a glimpse of Paul somehow, even though by then I had forgotten what he looked like and besides, what would we have said toe ach other, but then, and many times in my life, I think I would have liked to have had a friend again.