Here you are. One piece of The Writing for your perusal as a thank you for your wonderful patience and support while I have been writing. And while I continue to rewrite! This piece is a work in progress, barely out of First Draft, so be gentle. Now, you are all readers. As in: you all read and you all write too. So I would like you to let me know where you got confused. In fact, as a test audience, it is useful to me that you speak up We are not going to focus on grammar and layout yet. Just compre- hension. Remember - I am new at this and I love to learn. Thereis so much work ahead.
Jump in bed, said Jennifer. Quick now. Bed time. Do you want a book story or a made up story? It will be lights out soon. Jennifer lay her tall tired body along her little daughter’s bed. Move over, she said, pushing the giggling body of her two year old daughter across. You is taking up all the bed, you is, you must be a monster. Have you been eating monster cookies?
A made-up story, said Mikey, from his own bed beside her. His small four year old hands laid over his neatly folded bedclothes. He thought for a moment. The one about the little boxes and then the Dancing Bucket, he said.
Oh that’s right the Dancing Bucket, said Jennifer,her hands busy plaiting the hair of her daughter, tying a string around the ends to hold it in place for bedtime. Lie down now Baby, she said.
And the little boxes with words in them, said Mikey.
That’s two Mikey, honey, said Jennifer, dropping her sandals off the end of the bed and wriggling up to lean on the wall, her long bare legs stretched out next to the child. The little boxes are not really a story they are a memory, she said.
When I was a little girl everyone had them in their houses. Some of them were even small enough to fit in your hand. And people would write letters on them and then push a little invisible button and the letter would go to their friend. Straight through the air.
How, said Mikey.
How what darling?
How did letters fly through the air?
I have no idea Mikey. This was when I was very little. Sometimes they never even met the people they sent letters to. Can you imagine? They could send pictures and look up special dictionaries in the air that knew everything. And they were all connected by invisible wires so you could talk to people hundreds and thousands and millions of miles away.
Not millions, said Mikey.
Well, no, well done Mikey, maybe not millions. But a long, long way away, anyway.
Jennifer reached for her drink, in a jam jar, on Baby’s bedside box, the sleeve of her old cotton top pulling away from her arm as she stretched. As she brought her wine to her lips she pulled the sleeve back to her knuckles, covering the bruises then wriggled her short skirt further down her legs, getting comfortable.
And what happened to the little boxes? said Mikey.
I bet you could tell me by now. Jennifer took another sip then leaned over the quiet snuggled body of her daughter, who they had always called Baby though her name was Isabelle, to stand the jar back on the empty side board. I might have forgotten the rest of the story, she said.
Oh, I remember it, said Mikey. He sat up straighter in his bed and arranged himself as the story teller. He reached up and gathered his imaginary long dark hair and twirled it into a knot on his head. Under the bedclothes he crossed his ankles and drew them up under him, making him sit up even taller. Then he pulled his imaginary sleeves right down to his knuckles and settled his hands in his lap. He cocked his head just so and looked at his mother. Are your eyes closed? He said, with an eyebrow raised.
Of course, she said, with her head leaned on the wall. I am all ears darling.
The boxes full of intersnot, he began, um inters-net, were being used for wars and riots and Bad Talk because there was no petrol for the cars and the roads had holes in them, and the food was yuck and the people thought someone was hiding all the money from them, but there was no money left, it had all RAND-ED OUT and they started throwing stuff and being very naughty when they should have been digging gardens and feeding their kids. Then The Decline started –at this he raised his arms in the air and let them fall with a thump – so they turned the boxes off. The End.
Exactly darling, said Jennifer. And once the government had turned the internet off they took away as many of the little boxes as they could find. This was a waste of time because no one knew what to do with them anyway, once there was no internet.
And then it all went quiet, said Mikey, laying his head back on the pillow. The End. Salty has books doesn’t he?
Yes, he does. Jennifer let her head rest fully on the wall, her hair making a little cushion for her aching skull. Salty has a room full of books. He lives on a sheep station right up close to the mountains. You can see his books tomorrow.
And in the old days, said Alfie from the doorway, mimicking his mother’s voice, you could have electricity 24 hours a day and not from 5 to 5, so people stayed up all night playing stupid games on the boxes instead of sleeping. Ten minutes to lights out. Do you want me to tell them the story?
Jennifer raised her eyebrow. Pretending to sternly eye her eldest son. Will you tell it as me or as you? She said.
Me, said Alfie.
Well then, no thank you, honey, said Jennifer, sitting up and letting her hair fall back to her shoulders. I don’t want them going to sleep listening to stories of warriors and swords and dismembered body parts.
Pass me that pencil, Baby, she said, pointing to the floor on the other side of the tiny bed.
The Baby passed her the pencil off the floor and Jennifer coiled her long hair back to the top of her head and jabbed the pencil in to hold it all in place.
Is my father back yet? asked Mikey. His father’s blue eyes searching for hers.
Jennifer avoided his eyes; looking instead at Alfie. Alfie was 12 but tall for his age. His eyes were the deep hazel of his own father and Salty his grandfather. He was wearing black linen pants and an old T-shirt of hers and bare feet. The denim they saved for good, it was so hard to find nowadays. Alfie shook his head and ducked to pull a few boxes out of the room and into the corridor.
No darling. She said. Your Dad is still away.
OK, Mikey said.
There is not much light left, said Alfie quietly. Ten minutes.
Nine. Eight. Seven. Six, shouted Mikey.
Two! Two! Called out Baby. Baby is Two!
Hush, Mikey, said Jennifer. No shouting at bed time. You’ll wind the baby up. We have a big day tomorrow. We all have to have big sleeps. Lie down Baby.
Jennifer heard the bare floor rustly footsteps of Alfie as he walked back down the corridor. She heard the rustle of paper, he was wrapping. Good, they had packing to finish tonight.
She stood and tucked Baby into her bed, pulling the blankets up to her chin. Baby lifted her head for a kiss and twined her long skinny arms around her mother’s head trying to drag her back into the bed. Kisses! she squealed.
Baby lie down and I will tell you a story. But I can only tell it if your eyes are closed.
The child looked back at her mother with her own green eyes. Her skin soft and clean. Unblemished.
Jennifer went to tuck Mikey in and he snuggled down with his eyes Daddy’s blue eyes already squeezed shut with a grimace.
Ni Ni, darling, she said.
Sweet nightmares, said Mikey.
Dreams. Mikey smiled, while keeping his eyes tightly shut.
Good boy. Eyes closed Baby.
Jennifer picked up her glass, turned the bedroom light out and sat down on a chair by the door, resting her glass on the floor. A drift of gold, the last of the day’s sun that had found its way into the room from the corridor fell across her face. Her green eyes held the gold for a moment as she waited for her children to settle. She lifted her long tanned arms and resettled her thick curly hair. She crossed her ankles and tucked them to the side against the chair. She laid her hands one inside the other on her lap and she waited. When it was quiet she began.
Once upon a time there was a bucket. He was yellow with big black letters on the side. The letters said MGM. On top of the bucket there were two rollers. The bucket had a friend – his name was Mop. Mop had a long yellow handle with a red knob on the top. Bucket was full of words and letters. When Mop dipped his moppy ends into the bucket, he came out dripping with words. The bucket would wring a few of the words off him. But still Mop got too many letters and they dripped and fell all over. Don’t waste words, Mop! Bucket would say to Mop, squeezing him through the roller, but every time Mop hit the floor letters would splash up, and spread out all over the place. All mixed up and giggling like a bunch of naughties.
Bucket would groan, he hated a mess. Don’t make such a mess Mop, he would say, as he stretched his wheels out to try and make sense out of the words. When Bucket tried to tidy up after Mop he looked like he was dancing. Wheels leaping up and stretching to and fro trying to catch the letters and put them all back in order.
Dancing bucket, said Mikey.
Eyes closed, said his mother softly.
Jennifer waited again until all was still. The air was quiet and gentle around them. All tension gone. The gold of the light seemed to withdraw into the walls, warming them as the sun dropped lower outside.
But sometimes Mop drank too much, she continued, and the words and letters got all jumbled up.
One time Mop came out with these letters. PEESL. What could that word be, thought Bucket. I need to find the word. Unjumble those letters. I need to tidy up.
Sleep, said Mikey in a tired far away.
Ah, thank you, she said, quietly. Her voice dropping to a vocal breath.
Then the mop dipped back in just the tiniest amount and came out with the letters OG and OT. Now what words could those be, said Jennifer from the darkening chair in the doorway, her voice as quiet as sleep itself.
Go To Sleep, answered Alfie said in a stagey whisper from the kitchen.
Jennifer smiled and waited in the chair a few minutes more. Then she rose and moved her second son down under his worn but beautifully quilted covers, then covered her only daughter with herfavourite full length red velvet opera coat from the old days. She kissed them both so lightly that it entered their breaths and they sighed as they tucked further down under the covers, dropping down with feathery steps into sleep.
She picked up her wine jar, just as all the lights in the house went out. She paused for a moment to get her night eyes, listening to the gentle breaths of her two youngest children. The best of her second marriage was asleep in this room. This small bedroom with the mean carpet and tiny window open to the city air now. She tiptoed around the packages of clothes rolled in linen and tied with string, and went out to join Alfie.
It was dim in the kitchen with only a candle in the middle of the old formica table. The council green walls fell away in the gloom, the cold pale linoleum floor took on a gentler look. Though small, in candlelight, it felt bigger. Or maybe that was because they were systematically emptying it.
Make sure we pack that down deep said Jennifer, passing the candle, seeing it gust with her movement. The movers will steal candles, sure as eggs.
Eggs, said Alfie with exaggerated longing.
Your grandfather will have eggs and milk and meat and, oh, I don’t know what else. We just need to get there while the coast is clear.
He’s rich, said Alfie.
He has land, said Jennifer nodding. That is rich I suppose. But not rich like us. We have a family. We don’t need money.
Only poor people say you don’t need money to be happy, Alfie said.
There was a quiet for a while as they worked. Clearing the benches of the accumulation of old mail and newspapers, throwing out the wildflowers that were allowed to dry in the painted yellow vase and rolling precious cups and glasses in old linen and towels. Stacking, reducing. Taking paintings off the refrigerator doors, packing the old plastic magnets, seeing rubbish where there was no rubbish before. . Things became small and sad when taken from their locations.
I can’t believe my grandfather is sending a truck. It must have cost a fortune in petrol coupons. Alfie said. Jennifer nodded. Hmm, she said.
The peace rolled about in the little green kitchen that had seen the tumours of violence and misery erupt, as they gently stripped it of its personality. They took up the rugs, and stacked the chairs and she finished the wine as they worked. They began to clear the last of the top shelves.
What if he comes back tonight, said Alfie.
He won’t, said Jennifer. She stood on a chair and opened a high cupboard door and pulled out three small boxes. The tape on them was very old but still sealed. The cardboard boxes showing signs of age and handling. Maybe he’s gone for good this time.
I never liked him anyway.
Alfie, that’s enough. I want to talk about it even less than I want to think about it. Just leave it alone.
She turned back to her work. Alfie watched her for a moment, the recipe books poised in his hands, then he dropped them in the box and reached for the others.
I don’t know why you hid those in the kitchen cupboard, he said. What if someone found them?
Do you know where I hide cookies?
You hide cookies?
In the tea towel drawer. She looked pointedly at him.
Alfie snorted this time and carried the box of books out into the corridor.
Anyway, she said to herself, I don’t think people care about this stuff anymore.
Have a lovely day.