I have put the prologue and first three chapters in one file so that readers (let's hope there are many as the text progresses) won't have to find the blog posts and it will all be in order.
No one has commented and now I am thinking is my writing so insignificant and bad like me, that it did not even get short listed for Glen Eira My Brother Jack Literary Awards. I did not even get an invitation to the awards after being short listed and / or winning something for every time I entered since 2007. Except for 2011 when I did not enter.
My worth as a person is only measured by what I get paid for when I write. I have no worth or purpose in this world if I cannot work at something and earn money. I am a total waste of space otherwise.A parasite and a leech on society and like my 'dear' American sister in law and brother in the USA once said it is a pity you did not commit suicide years ago. I would have saved my family a lot of grief. Apparently. Saved a lot of people a lot of grief but I am still alive and nasty as ever.
Anyway here it is. About a sixth of the way through. I am sure I will get nasty Booligirl on here and the others with their comments about how I should just top myself and save trees and help my son by committing suicide and giving him a chance of a decent life. My family also agree with her. It is nice to be so loved by one's biological relatives.
The trees are still. Their leaves hanging limp in the heat. A kookaburra cackles - its mocking laughter rings harshly across the cemetery headstones and slices through the heat that bears down. There is the constant buzz of flies settling on people’s backs and hats. The unrelenting late morning sun scorches the mourners scattered around the freshly turned earth. A row of tall ghost gums that shelters the graves offers little real relief from the heat. An earthworm moved sluggishly in the blood red soil. Good clay composition, he decides. She would have approved the soil consistency and told him to plant some daffodils and freesias in it. Maybe he should bring some bulbs next week before the soil settles.
An hour ago he wanted to be somewhere else, but was bound to the narrow box of polished wood, held down by his children’s tiny hands holding his trembling fingers. They were calm. He was numbed to the day and had been for days. Tracey had asked him if Mammy was comfortable. Thomas had brought tears to the eyes of many when he went to the casket and patted it, then bent forward and gave the polished wooden side a wet kiss. He had put the rough red heart they had cut out last night and he had traced the words that Brian had written for him – I LUV U MAMMY MISS U! XXXX on it – he put that on top of the casket. Both he and Tracey were calm, but a little bewildered. At three and a half years and four nearly five years of age, death is a difficult concept to grasp. Even for adults. Someone is there and then they are not. Their bodily shell reposes and bears some semblance of who they were, the features are somewhat familiar but the light in the eyes has stilled. The vitality that flowed through their limbs is stilled. The electricity of living is gone. There are only the worms left to hollow out the flesh and then the bacteria sets to work erasing the loved features, taking it all down to the essential bones of business.
They had decided to keep the cask closed. She would not have wanted so many people gazing down at her blood drained features. He also did not want his children to remember a wan corpse. His mother was displeased too.
Don’t you think they should stay with Maria’s parents? Surely you are not bringing them to the funeral?
She was their mother.
Well, far be it for me to speak, but she should have remembered that before…
Mum. PLEASE. NOT now!
Ok, ok. But you have to face facts. It was selfish. Leaving two children and a man who loved her….why?
Mum. I don’t WANT TO DISCUSS this now.
Brian, you should not mourn such a weak person overmuch. She was flawed. Dreadfully flawed and the children do not need to go to her funeral.
She was their mother.
So they are better off without her. Get married again quickly and choose carefully. The children need a mother.
Oh, goody. I just go out onto the street and shout, Hey, grieving widower needs wife now. Taking applications over here. Now fill out this form in triplicate and if you are going to commit suicide at some stage in the future, don’t bother applying. We’ve had that experience. Must be good with young children. Have no transmittable diseases. A passable cook, but willing to learn. Active and clean. An excellent housekeeper and able to drive a car. Anything else I should add to the criteria? Ability to tell jokes on cue to distil awkwardness at the inlaws and last but not least, a fantastic lover.
Well, it is not that bad, is it?
For God’s sake Mum, it is my wife’s funeral. Today. Can’t we leave this a few weeks or months even?
The mourners moved forward slowly following the casket down to the opened grave. He was glad the children were with him. They gave him more comfort through their trusting presence and calm acceptance of Lorri’s passing into another life. Tracey’s acceptance was simply stated.
Will Mummy see God every day now? When we pray, will she hear too?
Yes, Honey, when you pray Mummy will take your prayers straight to God. It will be like having a personal messenger to make sure that God gets the message right.
Now they were numb. The pain would come later. Maybe even years later. When they understood more.
Rita and Maria, Lorri’s best friends stand apart from the rest of the mourners. Brian notices through the mind fog of a blinding headache how Lorri’s friends grouped themselves into the specific areas of her life that he could only wonder about. The indigenous writing group she had started group together over to one side of the grave, the teachers from the school – her colleagues opposite them, her grocery store owner and some of his workers, the bank teller and others from the town where they had spent the last three years. He tried to find some other link that tied them to each other apart from just knowing the deceased while she was alive. The elderly lady down the street she used to invite over on the weekend for lunches because she knew she was a pensioner on a low income and a single mother with six children stand at the back of the those in the forefront, hesitantly as though they really do not deserve to be there.
Lorri’s parents had insisted on a celebrant. They were not particularly religious. Despite he and Lorri agreeing that they did not want religious ceremony, they had agreed that cremation was not a way to go. Lorri wanted to be returned to the earth. Brian just thought fire was too much like the Christian hellfire and brimstone. She thought there was something very comforting about being returned ‘to the bowels of the earth and providing nourishment.’
‘You know the first man was called Adam? She pointed out to him once.
‘And the first woman was called Eve.’
‘Brian, you are missing my point. I just did some research. You know Adam also means earth in Hebrew. Don’t you think that’s ironic?’
‘Well, if we come from the earth and we are the agent of the earth’s destruction, isn’t that suicidal. Self destructive. Kind of awful. We need to nurture ourselves more, don’t you think?
He remembered laughingly suggesting that they sell the house and go to live in a tent down by the river. She became cross with him. Then they argued and did not talk for two days. She was pregnant at the time. He put it down to moodiness. Maybe he should have been more aware.
The celebrant droned on about the brevity of life and the pain of those left to cope. He stopped short of blaming anyone. When the news had became public, some had shot questioning looks at him. Some of the do-gooders in the community had already started talking about an alternative home for the children and they were joined by Lorri’s parents.
‘Don’t you think it would be a good idea for the children to live with us for a while? ‘ Lorri’s mum Annabel had been blunt to the point last night before the funeral.
‘No. I am still their parent. They are staying with me.’
‘Oh Brian be reasonable. They are our flesh and blood too. You could visit or stay whenever you wanted. They are all we have left of her.’
‘I could say the same thing. They stay with me.’
‘So how are you going to work? Are you going to put them into childcare?’
‘No, Ella is coming stay with me. She is writing a novel and doing some research. She will look after them.’
‘You sister from Sydney? But her lifestyle is well …you know what I have heard and not from..your parents, but…’
‘I know from dear Aunty George. The family’s moral guardian. That Ella is a lesbian?’
‘Well, is she?’
‘I don’t know. Never asked her. I am her brother. Not her bloody social secretary.’
‘Well, if she is Robert and I are going to have to take charge.’
‘Look Annabel. I don’t know and I don’t care. She is my sister. Yes, she has some funny associations in Sydney, but she is their aunt. Whether she is gay or not gay has nothing to do with my relationship to her as a sister and as their aunt. The kids are living with me and their aunt. You can visit anytime.’
‘Brian, I have concerns. What if she brings a girlfriend to the house?’
‘Believe me she won’t. She knows better. Besides what if I bring someone to the house? They have already started to line up at the front door. Didn’t you know? Eligible widower with two small children, huge mortgage and small business barely on the starting block. Most of the young women in the town can hardly wait to get a go on. The divorcees have already started leaving offerings of food and other comforts on my doorstep.’
The crowd edges him forward and he is given a shovel. What do they expect him to do? Shovel earth onto the gleaming casket nestled so in the freshly dug six by four feet hole. He digs the shovel into the fresh pile of red dirt and stones. Lifting it up and thumping it down the hole, it thunders in a thudding roll of earth and stone on the wooden casket. He wants to say to someone ‘good wood that’ but does not, then feels a bellow of grief rise to his throat but suppresses it and spades another few loads of the good earth onto the casket before his dad noticing his son’s distress moves forward to take the shovel from his hands. His mother fills his mind and hands with the children when she hands him Tommy and Tracey tugs his shirt sleeve and brings him down to another space. He holds them close.
Then there is a hush in the group. Barry Salmon the school principal and Lee Hammer Lorri’s head teacher come through the gates of the cemetery, rather late. Brian wants to refuse to be greeted or comforted. He inclines his head forward and down to hide tears beginning to slide down his cheeks. Bending he picks Tracey up and she burrows her head into his neck and shoulders curling her fingers into her mouth. His arms hold the two children tightly. His jaws lock. He nods briefly at them. It is over. They walk together briskly over to the other family members and the business is done. They want to say to them, go away. Leave us in peace, but the mourners show their mettle. If they truly love her they keep silent, those unsure chatter away their awkwardness. Brian’s mother Moira turns away from Barry Salmon’s outstretched hand and she takes a tissue from her bag to cover the snub. Brian who was watching suppressed a smile. He knew his mother too well. He wished Ella was here. She would not be here for two days. Caught in Bangkok on holiday, she had been unable to get an earlier flight back to Australia.
Lee Hammer was treated to the full treatment of Moira’s withering scorn. Moira stood and stared straight into her face. Eyes hard as stone, she let Lee know in no uncertain terms how she felt. Lee either pretended she did not know or really did not care.
‘Such a pity. She has two young children. Oh sorry, had two young children. Do you think it could have been post natal depression? ……Well she doesn’t feel any pain now. Perhaps that is a good thing. These things happen..’
Moira gave her a glacial smile. Then turned her head away while Lee was in mid sentence.
‘Joel, I am so tired. When are we going back to the house?’
Picking up the pieces
His watch blipped. The noise startled him into a drowsy waking. Raising himself on one elbow, he sat up. Blearily he looked at the clock on the wall. 8 am. He lay on the lounge room couch hugging a cushion embroidered with Home Sweet Home surrounded by neat purple and lilac flowers with spiky green leaves. It was pure kitsch. But she had made all the pillows for the couch and recovered it while on maternity leave. The pattern was the only one they had at the fabrics store. He had been prepared to buy a new couch. The old one was resplendent with bits of smeared food from Tracey’s snacks and crumbs which had worked their way into the crevasses between the back cushions and the seat to fall under it in piles that had helped a mouse build nest underneath near the ready food supply. Lorri nine months pregnant had empathized with the mouse and her little ones. She had gently shifted them outdoors into the garden shed. She forgot about the snail killer high up on the shelf. She was busy buying materials for the couch and its cushions covering it and them in a way to ensure no more crumbs collected under the seats.
It was a difficult moment when Tracey reminded them of the ‘baby mices’ at breakfast one morning a week or so later.
Are the baby mices growed yet?
Yes, sweetie they are probably running around the back yard somewhere making their own nests in the grass.
Lorri had looked up. Did you check on them ever? She asked.
Yeah, he answered guilelessly, shame buried deep. They seemed quite happy. In truth they did appear to be smiling or was it a grimace of pain in death. Who knows? He buried them under the Azaleas in a secret grave covered with woodchip mulch.
You know I had thought of taking them to school and letting the kids look after them but it seemed a pity to cage them.
He nodded agreement. She went back to her embroidering and finished the couch and all the cushion covers except one, before Tommy was born. That remained unfinished. Just one corner of it with the flowers etched out but unembroidered. It sat on the ledge in her sewing room and office. It was odd that she had not finished it. Usually she did finish everything she started, no matter what. Late at night. Some people read in bed. Lorri embroidered and knitted. The cushion lay untouched for months and months. She started a lot of things in the last couple of years since Tommy’s birth and left them incomplete. If he reminded her, she had snapped at him and he felt her pressure bearing down on him. He would move away and give her space to snap back into the old Lorri.
Now he thought back on the months before last Wednesday, he realized the chasm that had opened up between him and her. Even the children. He thought he was doing the right thing. Give her time. Give her space. Respect her need to dwell apart, but maybe he should have drawn closer to her and insisted she connect more with what was happening around. Maybe that was what was wrong. He had allowed her to paddle own canoe in rough waters and she had lost the paddle and was too far away to call for help. He had thought she was ok and that she was doing fine. In reality she was dry drowning and no one knew until it was too late.
There was knocking at the door. He got up. Rita. Tousled red hair perched like an upended mop that minimized her pale face, all angles lost in a loose caftan top that was a cacophony of colour and small African plait extensions hanging down her back. Baby on one hip, holding one of her twins by the hand, the other following a close distance behind sucking on a half a cup cake in moist paper. She liked to experiment with her own fabrics and dressmaking. An art teacher and artist. . She and her dress were originals. She coloured her own fabrics and made her own quirky fashion statement with flare.
Hi Brian. You ok? She looked past him for the children and then looked him full in the face.
Yeah. Fine. Fine. She stopped him.
Don’t bullshit me. You look like crap. You slept on the couch. He looked at her helpless.
Yeah. You are right. He sighed. You shouldn’t swear in front of the kids.
You are right. Where are Tracey and Tommy? Still asleep? Can the littlies go up to their room? Without waiting for Brian’s consent she unlatched the twin and sent him with his sister to get Toms and Trace out of bed.
So get yourself a coffee. You need it. I wouldn’t mind one too. You making it or am I?
Yeah. He moved half heartedly towards the kitchen.
Yeah. What? Your parents? Where are Moira and Joel? I thought they’d be here with you?
They decided to stay in the motel. I offered them the spare room. But I think they are overwhelmed by the whole thing. It is too much to actually stay here.
So, and you don’t find it …painful? They should be here with you.
Yes and no. I can’t go into the bedroom and the bathroom well, it’s totally off limits.
So leave this place. Rent something and sell the house. I would.
It’s hard enough for the kids to lose their mum. I can’t shift houses not just now. Think about it when Ella comes.
Shit Brian. Yeah, I know, the kids are out of earshot. You can’t sink down. I have been watching you this past week. You are sinking. You have got to get in there and don’t let this bullshit get you down.
What do you mean? It’s not bullshit. Now you’ve got me swearing. It is not bullshit. My wife died. She took her own life. Instead of talking to me, to anyone who loved her about what was upsetting her, she cut us all out and fucked us all up. She left us. She bloody well left us for good. The effort of talking about it exhausted him. His anger turned to a slow ache that flooded his body and mind. He wanted to find a way to numb it. But he remembered the children now awake coming down the stairs.
Rita, let’s have coffee and leave her alone for a while. Ok. The children ran to him and he picked them both up, one in each arm. Rita put the kettle on and got three cereal bowls out. They sat the kids down around the table. The twins decided they needed another breakfast.
Why don’t you let the kids come with us for a few hours? We are going to the water park. Be a good break. You can catch up on some sleep. It is a good healer.
Humm, dunno. How long before you go?
Probably in the next half hour. I have packed a bit for lunch. Quiche, some cup cakes, salads, dips. More than enough for two small ones and an extra big person if you change your mind and decide to come. She looked at Brian.
I don’t know. Maybe it will be good for the kids. Gotta think a minute what I have to do today.
He tried to remember if there was anything important to do. The funeral was over two days ago now. Lorri’s parents had returned home. His parents had stayed in a motel and they had booked for the week. Maybe he should sleep and catch up with his parents. Although they would be angry that he had let them go with friends rather than them. He’d let them know. Maybe they would go with the Lewans and give him a much needed rest. He felt like getting drunk, drunker than he had ever been, but now he could not afford such loss of control, not with Tracey and Tommy so dependent on him for care.
Rita was moving around the kitchen effortlessly tidying and getting the children organized. She sent them out to the yard to get some tomatoes. Her youngest child had fallen asleep on the couch. He sat at the kitchen table deep in morose thought and watched her.
You know why I came over? She flicked the tea towel vigorously over the wet bowls.
He looked up. She continued to tidy and wipe up the kitchen.
Two department investigators visited Maria yesterday afternoon. She turned and lean angled her skinny butt against the dishwasher door. Maria rang me to …warn me.
Brian looked at her not understanding what she was trying to tell him.
What the department wants to find out is whether Lorri is…sorry, was mentally unfit or deranged at the time she committed suicide and long before.
What are you trying to tell me? Rita, why are you telling me this?
I am trying to warn you, Brian. They don’t want the department or any of its officers held responsible for her death. They are going to find you culpable or her mentally unstable before they acknowledge any wrong doing on their part.
What do you mean?
You mean you honestly don’t know what was going on at work? At school? Rita sat down at the table and sighed. She was dealing with a load of real crap at work. I know what a few people told me and what I saw and heard. I also know how disgusted some of her faculty members were with the way Lee was behaving. Lee was a total ruthless bitch to her. She is ambitious as hell. Sucks up to all the right people and lies if she can to put others in a bad light and make her look the golden girl.
But why? What did Lorri do to her?
She didn’t have to do anything. Lee is smart, tough and just wants to be a principal one day. She really doesn’t give a shit about the students except to make it look as though she does. She likes to have a few scalps hanging on her belt. Lorri wasn’t the only one. There was an Indian guy before her. The guy that got a compassionate transfer before Lorri came. Actually Lorri filled his position. There was also that young first year out teacher. Rachel Seendore. The one that left and nearly had a nervous breakdown because of the way she was treated. She did not like her from the start. Rachel was too sensitive and soft spoken. Lovely girl, but Lee felt she was ‘not teacher material’ and ‘would be better off being someone’s little dishrag secretary.’ That is why she brutalized her and went for the jugular. She gets pleasure from it. It is all about power. You really mean Lorri never talked about what was going on. Lee was putting her down in front of the students and she had Barry Salmon who we all know to be not the nicest of people at the best of times had her on a program to improve her teaching. It was stuffing her head up. Lee was probably trying to remove Lorri because she felt Lorri threatened her in some way or other.
Brian looked at Rita in astonishment.
What are you talking about? I know Lorri had been a bit down in the last few months. I’d come home and find her red eyed and teary, but she wouldn’t say anything. She would just say she was tired. Needed a holiday. I got her some vitamins and a tonic. I was really worried about her. She did say at one stage there was pressure at work. But there was the mortgage and she was paying that. We really needed her wage as my business is only just starting to pick up.
He put his head in his hands. He did not trust himself any more. Rita looked at him - a solid stare.
Do you know where this is leading?
No. Tell me.
They will be coming to see you soon. They are going to ask questions and they will ask you to make a statement. Be very careful what you say.
Maria said she felt awful after they left. They got her to sign a statement about Lorri’s mental state and her work place attitude and performance. It was only after they had left, she realized the importance for the department of what they were doing.
Brian said nothing. He felt that there was nothing he could say.
She realized that what she said could be taken several ways and twisted to make Lorri out to be a real psycho. That is why you have to be careful.
Suddenly Rita caught sight of the clock.
8.45. Damn. Told Hugh I’d be back in half an hour. Ok. Do you want the kids to come with us or not?
Ok. It’ll be good for them. What do they need?
Just some bathers and a hat. Flip flops. I have sunscreen and towels. Gotta run and let Hugh know what’s happening. Can I leave the kids here and we will be back in five or ten minutes with the cruiser to pick them all up. Oh and have you got seats for them?
Sure. I will take their seats out of our…my car. Brian walked her to the door and then went quickly into the garage to unbuckle the car seats. He had just taken them into the lounge room and collected their backpacks when Hugh and Rita pulled up in the drive. The four children came in from the back yard where they had been playing. Tommy and Tracey were overjoyed about the trip. He was relieved to be able to sleep for a few hours and block out the last week.
He took a pain killer and a sleeping tablet. His head hit the pillow and he was asleep. His mobile phone on the bedside table beeped with a message. It beeped a few more times in the next hour. He slept through.
The day Ella arrived from Thailand it was raining. She had come through Melbourne and hired a car at the airport. He would not have let her drive; if he had known she was getting straight off the plane and into a car to drive five hours north over the border into NSW. He had thought she would stay at the Airport hotel over night and travel up the next day. She arrived barely six and a half hours after the flight’s arrival into Australia. Apparently it had rained the whole way up. She had stopped once for a nap at a service station, sleeping in the car for an hour curled up on the backseat wrapped up in a thin Mexican poncho she bought at one of the airport shops.
Rain had battered the roof and windowpanes of the house all night. He allowed the children to sleep in. The central heating was on and he was sitting on the couch watching some video clips of Lorri and the kids together from the last few months. It was still hard to believe she was gone from their lives and he was trying to figure out when the changes had taken place. When had they started? What could he have done to circumvent or prevent the inevitable? He had gone through at least twenty clips from the last year. Lorri at the park with the kids. Lorri at Tracey’s birthday party. Lorri with friends and their children. A kindergarten concert. A crèche day for mothers, Lorri and he with the kids all in life jackets on a boat, Lorri and he on a Tasmanian holiday, Lorri doing crafts with the kids at home, Lorri and the collie dog Buddy they had had for twelve months until it met an unfortunate end because it used to chase cars on the road and bit the wheels.
Lorri took that pretty badly. She found his broken body by the side of the road one day coming back from work at the school near the end of second term. She had come through the door visibly upset.
Brian, please don’t let the kids out.
Why? What’s wrong?
I have to get a shovel. I’ve got to bury Buddy.
My God, no! What happened? Where is he?
By the side of the road. He must have been hit by a car. His skull is crushed in.
Oh, sweetie. He had jumped up and held her quivering body. Let me do it. You stay with the kids. He remembered that it was the middle of July. A bitterly cold day. He found buddy’s broken body up on the nature strip where Lorri had dragged it. The back wheel of the car or truck had crushed his skull when it ran him over. He gathered the dog in his arms. The body was still loose and floppy which meant that the accident had happened only in the last few hours. Probably the idiots with their Watchtower magazines, he thought. That afternoon, two neat young men sporting crew cuts, in identical dark blue suits and white shirts and ties had presented themselves at his door. Hard to get rid of and when he finally was able to make them understand that he really did not give a flying whatever about the coming Armageddon and JC’s imminent ‘second arrival’, they left. He had refused the copies of their Watchtower. The younger of the two men was almost tearful pleading with him to ‘save’ his soul. The useless bastards had left the gate open or ajar. Maybe the dog had slipped out while they were talking to him? Who knows? They were useless idiots going around pedaling their religion from door to door, no respect for the beliefs of others who had better things to do with their time. Come to think of it, what did these people do to earn a living? He thought back to that day and digging the hole down near the back fence in the soft muddy earth down by the big eucalyptus tree that they had had to cut down a few weeks before Lorri ended her life. The next door neighbor had complained about its leaves in his swimming pool. Both he and Lorri were furious and had tried to fight its removal. However they could not prove it but the tree began to die all of a sudden. The man who came from the council to remove it solved the mystery. He told them that someone had drilled some holes into the tree and poured Roundup – a toxic weedkiller – into them. That had killed the tree. Once it was dying it was a danger to life and limb. In a windstorm the whole thing could come crashing down. A two or three hundred years old tree was sacrificed for someone’s swimming pool. Lorri fumed for days at the selfishness of it all.
That bastard could have bought himself a pool cover…
Or a net…to scoop the leaves out. Brian agreed.
Instead he would rather get rid of a tree that has been there for years and years. For his piddly little pool that will probably not be there in twenty years time.
She cried for several days after that. It was selfish of the man. He agreed but it was unlike her to dwell on things. He worried about her emotional state for a while and then she appeared to get over it.
There was a sharp rap at the door and when he opened it there was Ella. A black beanie with earmuffs taming the wisps of honey blonde hair that threatened to escape pulled down over her forehead, gloves and pullover that was way too big for her slight frame. She had a pair of loose pajama type trousers in a colourful Thai cotton. She had light pink molded plastic sandals on her tanned feet which she kicked off at the door when she entered.
Bloody wet. And freezing. I had to buy these and the jumper in a service station near Sunbury.
So saying she drew off the gloves and flipped the beanie off. Her hair flew up all electric. She kissed him briefly on the cheek and strode over to the heater vent and stood over it in her bare feet.
Damn. Damn. It’s so cold. She hugged her shoulders and rocked on the balls of her feet over the vent. Finally he spoke.
So they didn’t have your size? In jumpers?
No. They were probably marketing to truckies coming from Queensland or Northern NSW who forget how cold it can be down here, anytime except midsummer and even then…anyway women are always better prepared. She paused and watched his face. Usually, except when the unexpected happens.
Ok. Do you want something to eat? She shook her head.
Coffee? Tea or bon ox?
No. She glanced over to the big screen where Lorri was paused in mid flight just after she had kicked a ball to Tracey and a friend. She looked as if she was just about to fall backwards. Her face was set in a grimace of concentration.
I still don’t believe it. I mean… Ella drew her hands up as if in supplication or prayer. WHY? She had everything to live for. She had you, Tracey and Tommy…WHY?
Brian fought for control. He felt the water build up in his eyes and cheeks. He slowly shook his head.
Did she leave a note? A letter saying why?
Slowly Brian nodded and mumbled. Yeah.
Ok. Where the fuck is it?
The police have it.
What do you mean the police have it? Have you read it?
No, I mean I tried to and they took it as evidence. Before I could even open it.
You mean you have not read it yet?
Yeah. That’s right. I called 000 and they came with the ambulance. I didn’t have time. I was more concerned that she might still be alive. I mean, I was not thinking, shit my wife is dead; I’d better look for her suicide note to find out why she did this. He paused. If there was one chance, one spark of life, I wanted her back.
Stupid moll. Didn’t she think of you and the kids? That you guys might have needed her.
Don’t Elly. Not in front of the children. Not a word.
So what about the note or letter? When do you get to read it? It was addressed to you, wasn’t it?
Yeah. At the moment it is evidence. There will be an inquest.
Oh so do they think you could have come home early, knocked her out with some sleeping pills and booze and dumped her in the bath and slashed her wrists while she was comatose?
Something like that. They have to investigate all the pros and cons. Some people have acted like I drove her to it too.
You? You drive someone to suicide? You?
Ella spun round and faced him. Her eyes searched his face. Her scrutiny was unnerving, but he was resigned.
What a load of bullshit. Unless you have changed a hell of a lot in the last few years. What are Maria and Rita saying? Are they sticking up for you, at least?
It’s kind of complicated now.
What do you mean?
Well, Maria was interviewed by two people from the Department just after the funeral.
According to Rita and Maria, they seemed very keen to present Lorri as emotionally unstable. I think the whole idea is to present her as a bit of flaky personality and to steer away from workplace conditions or events at work being responsible for her emotional state.
So what’s been going on there?
I am not sure. I don’t have the full story. Lorri did not talk shop much at home. She was becoming increasing agitated at times and easily upset lately. I thought it was just pressures, you know.
So when did Rita tell you this?
This afternoon. She took the kids out for a while. She told me to be careful about what I say when they come to ‘visit’ me.
You know Lorri was unhappy about work when I visited you guys about six months ago.
No. How did you know that?
Well she was taking sick days all over the place. That was unusual for her.
Yeah, maybe. Look I was so tied up in getting the business up and running. I had to look after the kids two days a week while Lorri was at work, then she was only working four days. So we had them in childcare one day. We talked about putting Tommy in the crèche two days as Tracey was going to start pre-school three days a week.
How did she feel about that?
Fine, I think. Although Lee Hammer made some comment to her about the fact that she had left it so late to have kids and now she was dumping them in childcare instead of caring for them. She was quite upset by that. And angry.
Yeah well it is probably jealousy. Lee is a stupid cow. She’s is pure ambition and not much else. I’d hate to work for someone like that.
What do you mean? When did you meet her?
Oh last year, when I came up in December. I went with Lorri to the school break up party. To help out with the kids and just moral support.
Yep. Rita was on maternity leave and Maria was going to go. She felt really alone and isolated. That is the impression I got.
She asked you to go?
Yeah. I met the famous Lee Hammer.
And? What happened?
She asked me if I was a relationship and who my ‘partner’ was.
Yeah. Then what?
I didn’t answer her. Instead I asked her if she fucked her husband regularly or was he just a pretty face? Despite himself, Brian laughed.
Well at least your sense of humour is there somewhere. Ella chuckled.
Ok, Elly what did she say then?
She got this tight angry look on her face and looked down her nose at me. So I said, WELL? Then she turned and left. She kept away from me for the rest of the night. Do you have herbal teas by any chance? I would love a lemon and ginger tea.
Sure. Go put your bag in the room. Take a pair of flannel PJ’s from my chest of drawers. I am sure they’ll be warmer than what you have.
He pottered around in the kitchen getting them both some tea while she took her backpack up to the spare room and changed into the pajamas. Somehow it did not feel so bad now she was here. Elly was cool and tough. She gave him strength to see life differently.
The next morning Tommy and Tracey were excited to see their Aunty Elly. The visit was made even sweeter with the treats she had bought them in Thailand. A beautiful toy elephant for Tommy and some beautiful dolls for Tracey in Thai national dress. She had also bought some games for them. He watched her playing with the two children for a few minutes before going into the kitchen to make them a pot of tea. When he bought out the set up tray she looked up.
So you still don’t use tea bags? Gran trained you well. You are one of the few people who still have time to make pots of tea. He shrugged and poured her a cup of tea. The atmosphere was far more relaxed now then last night when she has arrived. He realized that he was so lost in his tragedy that he has not asked her what was going on in her life.
So, what have you been doing with yourself Elly?
Now or next week?
I dunno. Your life moves very fast. What are you doing now?
Well I finished working for that advertising firm two months ago. At the moment, I am doing some freelance work and ghost writing a book. She stretched her shoulders and legs. I had to take a break so I went to Thailand to cut loose a bit.
Oh and what’s the book about? Who is it about? Can they sue you for defamation?
She laughed a full deep laugh of genuine amusement. One of the things he liked about his sister was that she was resilient. Nothing fazed her.
I can’t say. Honestly, I have to keep things under wraps until the final proofs are in.
The person I am writing about is very private and wants a certain image presented.
So it is an authorized biography?
Yes. And no.
How do you mean?
The subject wants control of what is presented in the final copy. Look I would like to have an ok but I am trying to get all the facts down and they may not turn out quite as the biographical subject would like. They have different perceptions and I guess they want to do is to buy my skills to present their truth and have it promoted.
Brian laughed. I am sure you will handle it well. You always could see the bullshit before any of us.
Yeah, trouble is this person is paying me money and while they are, I don’t write utter crap. You can’t buy truth. It is what it is. Somewhere, somehow many of us have put ourselves up for sale. They have sacrificed truth for bread and butter or cream cakes and cavier.
They were interrupted by an argument between the two children. Tommy decided that he really liked the dolls and had tried to swap a doll with the elephant. Tracey was not having it. Ella went to referee the dispute. Just at that moment, he glanced through the French windows in the lounge room and saw Maria and Rita coming up the driveway carrying two large cartoons. Quickly he crossed the room, opened the front door and went out to help them carry the cartoons in.
This is everything from her desk. Rita’s hair was pulled back into a bun. She looked wrung out.
Maria had kept her dark glasses on and her mouth was set in grim line. Brian was glad to have Lorri’s personal notes back in the house and had been dreading going up to the school in the next few days to collect her things.
Thanks guys, but you didn’t have to…
Maria waved away his thanks. Look, Rita and I spoke today and I said I would go up to the school and take her things before they got a chance to go through them and take anything that was relevant. Did you get her letter back from the police?
Well, don’t hold your breath.
You may not get it back. This time Rita added her bit.
What do you mean?
Just that. You may not get it back. Maria and I decided we would give you a chance to find out. If you do find anything, do yourself a favour. Get a good lawyer.
Hey, just a minute. Why might they not give it back?
Brian, we have got to go. Say hi to your sister and we will catch up before the end of the week. Ok?
He saw them out the door. Something was not right and no one was telling him exactly what was wrong.
He took the carton into the lounge room. Then with a mug of hot tea in hand and he pulled the coffee table up and rested his knees against it. Then, he lifted the carton up onto the couch beside him. The tedious task of sorting began as he separated the notebooks, plastic sleeves and folders into piles. Students’ note books and project work, he placed on the floor near the couch. Lorri’s personal files and lesson materials he placed on one end of the table. The work was nearly complete when he found it. Wedged between some student notebooks near the bottom of the box, it was a Tudor 240 page exercise book. As it did not have a name written on the front cover, he opened it. The handwriting was Lorri’s familiar slanting script. He began to read. The first entry was dated sometime in 2010. Eighteen months prior.
11 March 2010
I am not sure what the real problem is any more. Everything I am doing lately seems to be wrong or needs redoing because it is ‘inappropriate’ or I am told it is not appealing to the students. I chose a text that Lee has told me, is just wrong for the class. I thought we could do ‘Trust Me’ a collection of short stories but I was told they were ‘too childish’ and I had to do ‘Before I die’ which would deal with more mature themes. ‘She chose the text. It is rather grim. Before I die’ a short novel by Jenny Downham, about a girl who has only a few months to live and she wants to live life to the fullest. While it is well written, it deals with some risky behavior by the sick girl and her girlfriend Tessa. The two girls smoke, take drugs and indulge in some really risky sexual behaviours. Do we need to be so obsessed with drugs, drink and rock an roll? Lee thinks it is all about educating students to the potential dangers and teaching them to deal situations but we leave moral issues alone. Lee and I had words about what is appropriate and then the next day she gives me back my Visual Lit task for year 10 and tells me to make it block style and not indented. I said, ‘lee does it really matter?’ She says ‘Of course it does. Do as I ask you.’
I see the two other Year 10 teachers’ tasks on the desk. Neither of them is indented. They are block style. Is this petty or what? I indent the text and she looks at it for a few seconds and says to me, ‘I have changed my mind. It looked better before. Put it back into block style.’ Lucky I had the text saved in the other format. I just print it out again and take it over to her. She looks at it. Then she takes a red pen from her set of different coloured pens laid out on the desk, lined up next to the rubber and pencil sharpener on the left hand corner of her desk. She slashes through the second paragraph with the criteria and tells me ‘You need to rewrite it. The language is too sophisticated for students in year 10.’ I could not for the life of me see what was so difficult about the language used. So I asked her for suggestions, after all she is the head teacher.
There and then, she said to me, ‘you are a teacher too, you should be able to figure it out.’ I had to redo my Year 10 task for the Visual Literacy Unit a total of nine times and then when we finally got it right it was the original wording except for the use of ‘organize’ instead of ‘classify’.
I had changed it and changed it and then it went back to the original wording. I was beginning to feel desperate. I have never felt so wrong in all my life. I felt like the dumbest of the dumb. Unworthy to bear the title teacher. I just hope that this is not going to continue. I used to always have such a good report with my HT ‘s and students and my working colleagues. I just can’t understand what is going wrong. I left work with a dull ache like a tight band around my head and my heart pounding. I had marking to do, but did not want to stay at work at the school. I decided I would do it at home and bring my work in tomorrow in the morning. Brian will be there to get the kids up. I so need this job. We need this job and the money. I must try and do what she wants. I must not lose my job at any cost.
Brian took a long sip of his coffee. He began to feel like he might need something stronger. He flipped through the pages of the exercise book. It was 240 pages and possible two hundred pages of writing with possibly forty pages unwritten at the end. The next entry was dated the 16th of March, 2010. It was a Tuesday. It was not a long entry but it was water stained and the page was crumpled. She had underlined several words heavily.
16th March, 2010
Why is she doing this? What does she gain by it? I have not yet figured that one out. I have always worked in collaborative workplaces. It is as if she hates me! I want to work with her. I do not want to lose my job. Today one of the students passed a note in class. I happened to be standing behind her as she passed it into my hands instead of the student sitting behind her. I had been walking through the rows of students. A big year nine class with 28 students and nine of them are on behaviour cards including this girl. She tried to grab the note from my hands and actually crushed my fingers in her effort to retrieve the note. I did not let go of it and asked her to remove herself from the classroom. She just said ‘Make me!’ I sent a student out to get the head teacher. Then I stood next to the door of the classroom and asked her to leave the room. She began to shout and throw her things around.
‘Fuckin ‘ shit. You fuckin’ dickhead of a teacher. You are a fuckin’ bleedin’ dickhead.’You know that?’ she came up to me and stood close breathing her smoke laden breath into my face. I tried not to grimace. Then she swung her bag around and wacked me with it. Clearly intentional. While shocking, it was not as bad as what happened next. I gritted my teeth and said as quietly as I could, ‘Please leave now and stand outside.’ She laughed and told the class,’ She’s in me way. Should I smack her out of me way?’ the class burst into laughter and some applauded. Lee Hammer marched down the corridor her blonde corkscrew curls bobbing. She stood at the door. The laughter died.
Looks as things are a bit out of control, are they Lorri? Then she turned and addressed the students.
You need to behave for Mrs Witz. Don’t you lot want to pass your School Certificate next year?
There were a few mumblings and then an audible comment from the back row of students carried to the front.
‘Ow ken we pass with a fucken shit of a teacher like Witz. Sack the bitch and get someone else in ‘o knows what they’re doin’.
Lee stood at the door and scanned the students who fell silent. She turned to me and the student with her bag slung by this time over her shoulder.
‘Finish to question four,’ I told them ‘and then write a reflective response to the text.’ I motioned with my hand for the girl to leave the class room. Lee stood back from the door and waited.
‘So what’s going on? ‘She asked Tess. Tess screwed up her face and looked weepy.
Miss took a note from me ‘and. She snatched it and ‘urt me ‘and. She held the hand up for Lee ‘s inspection. It looked perfectly ok apart from the chipped black nail polish.
There was not a word to Tess about the fact that she was not supposed to be writing notes in class and no mention of the fact that black nail polish wasn’t a part of the school uniform. She turned to me.
‘Well, Mrs. Witz I guess you owe this student an apology. She says you hurt her hand.’ The students in the row next to the corridor wall tittered.
‘Mrs. Hammer, I think you may not have understood the situation. Tess was meant to be doing her work and not passing notes in class. In fact, I confiscated the note she was passing to the student behind her and she tried to snatch it back from me. Then she swore when she was asked to leave the room and actually belted me with her school bag when I insisted she leave.’
‘You were gunna read me bloody private note. ‘and you was standin’ in tha way otha door. ‘ow do you bleedin’ well spect me to go out when ye fat carcass is in me way? Ay AY?’ Lee put up her hand for quiet.
‘Shh, stop now Tess. Mrs Witz will apologise for snatching the note. And Lorraine, you need to stand back from the door, if you are asking a student to leave and you are in the doorway, it is kind of contradictory. You need to give students clear instructions that they can follow. Tess you can come with me and finish your work. Have you got all your work and your things? I will take the note and you can have it back after the lesson is over.’ She held out her hand for the note and like a chastised school girl I gave it over. She turned and said to me over her shoulder, ‘Lorraine, we need to talk in the first half of lunch.’
‘I have yard duty near the canteen.’ I blurted out.
She paused. ‘Do you? Ok, I will swap someone and you can do second half. We need to talk.’
I went back into the classroom seething and feeling completely misrepresented and deliberately undermined. In a daze I stumbled through the last half hour of the seventy five minute lesson. The bell went for lunch and I walked up to the staff room. Lee was there in the staff room. She had her booted foot up on the chair. She looked at me as I walked in.
‘That was most unprofessional. You are not to touch students.’ Taken aback, I blurted out, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘You apparently grabbed the note from Tess and you held her hand and used your finger to stroke her wrist. Then you stood so close to the door that she had no choice but to use her bag between you and her and she accidently hit you with the bag. She was so freaked out by what you did with the note and trying to hold her arm.’
At first I was furious and then amazed. But what was worst was that this Head Teacher was telling me that I am some sort of female pedophile and trying to come on to a student and a girl at that. It would have been funny, if it had not been so disgusting. I tried to tell her my side of the story and she did not listen. She blathered on about duty of care. I told her she should ask some of the other students in the room what had actually happened. I had the note in my hand because I had seen her try to pass it behind her while she had her head down and pretending that she was working. The boy behind her had half risen in his seat to take the note. That was what alerted me and I had indicated he was to sit and I took the note intended for him. She realized split seconds later and that was when all hell broke loose.
The conversation with Lee Hammer was bad enough, because it ended by her saying she would have to discuss this incident with the principal and other head teachers. I went down to playground duty. Tess was standing over to one side with her group of friends. They were the rough tarts of the town and proud of the fact. Sad little girls. I took my place near the lunch lines and ignored them. Suddenly I felt a presence at my back. It was one of Tess’s overweight friends with too much make-up and attitude.
She leant close to me reeking of cigarette smoke. I moved away, but not before I heard her whisper. ‘Lessy bitch. You are gunna get the sack. Leave Tess alone.’ I felt something close to palpitations and my chest hurt. I pretended I had not heard and I wanted to say to her how dare you? Leave me alone. But I could not. I decided to ignore irrelevant behaviour and do my duty. The bell went and I was lucky I had a spare. I decided to revise my lesson plans and do my registers for the first semester. The events of the day had upset me. Things were to get worst. Lee came in at the end of the day and told me that she had arranged a meeting with the principal and her to talk about my issues.
I want to talk to Brian about this but it seems so stupid. How do I say to my husband, one of the students today accused me of making a pass at her when I disciplined her for doing the wrong thing in class. Is he going to believe me? Is anyone going to believe me? The Head Teacher did not believe me. I decided to read and just do my job and it will all sort out. Hopefully. Tonight is Tommy’s second birthday. Work has become such an uncomfortable place.
Brian stopped reading. He put the exercise book down and walked over to the room they used as their office. There on the desk was Lorri’s last letter to him. He did not want to read it again. Instead he went to the phone and called Ella.
‘Where are you?’
‘Down in the coffee shop writing. What’s up, bro?’
‘Can you come back soon? I found a diary of Lorri’s in all that stuff that Maria and Rita bought over from the school.’
‘Ok. Where are the kids?’
‘They are with Rita and her children. She picked them up from childcare at midday and they are in the park.’
‘Ok. I will come now. Have you made anything for dinner or do you want me to get something from the supermarket? Why don’t we have fish?’
‘Fish sounds good. Ok. See you when you get here.’
‘Get rid of the old man kvetch. You sound half dead.’ The phone went dead and he debated whether to ring her back to protest or ask her what she meant by that remark. Instead he went into the kitchen and began to do the dishes. If they were going to make dinner, it should be in a clean and tidy kitchen. The potted happy plant looked very unhappy. He sprayed it and gave it some water. Then he had to clear the ledge of dead and dying herbs. The floor needed cleaning and the refrigerator was smeared with small palm prints. The family would soon be home with one notable exception. He needed to clean up.