A new song for ann
It’s time. This intolerable need that has been gnawing at my insides is about to explode into action. Anticipation makes me overwrought. I’m energised by the morning sunshine flowing through my enormous window, striking the soft pastel hues of the rug, meticulously matched to my luxurious creamy curtains and their organic design. I gaze at the verdant tropical landscape and breathe deeply. I am focused.
Eyeing my baroque mirror, I sweep my hair into a high-top ponytail. It’s important to keep it out of the way to ensure there is no danger of obstructing my view. I like the fact that it’s cute but perky; that it means business, like a Catholic schoolgirl on her way to an inter-school debate. Vigorously I brush to remove any reminder where He used my perky defiance to swing me into walls. My recollection of Him, fuelling my desire.
My everyday look is more ‘surprised at the door by the postie’; a medley of faded band t-shirts and garden stained shorts. Considerably less sleek than the polished domestic engineers you see in laundry commercials. For this mission I decide on a pair of khaki cargoes – for once, endowed with generous pockets to fit keys and credit cards – leaving my hands free. A simple grey t-shirt thrown over a sports bra, as I want to be able to manoeuvre freely. And of course, plain Birkenstocks – fashionable with the urban shopping set, they shout, “boring…unathletic…middle-aged…half-hearted, organic gardener.” This is how I will outwit my foes and fulfil what I crave.
Searchlights are looking for me, but I don’t want to be found. I run, but I’m only seven and I can’t get very far. My heart is frantic, and it jerks me awake. My legs whip the sheet to the floor. Sitting on my bed, I look at the wall. The lights are real and are reaching beyond the edge of the venetian blinds, creeping towards me as they move up and down the length of the bedroom. He’s back. Using His torch to goad me to look at Him. To look at things I don’t want to see. Petrified, I watch the probing light. I have nowhere to run. The Old Man next door – always watching, forever taunting, endlessly exposing.
I’m drawn to the cupboard. There’s no time, but I can’t help myself. Sliding my hand down the beautiful, oaky patina, that so charmingly offsets the hallway painted in Snow Storm, I push and hear a satisfying click. I slide open the shoe-shelf that cunningly conceals the space underneath. Organised in transparent tiny boxes are little gifts that I buy for myself. Flamingo pinks, Ceylon blues, my eyes caressing the sparkle of crystal and the sheen of gold – they console me when I feel tense. They are my refuge. The crystal angel sings. Lovingly I place the cool wings against my cheek. I stash my angel in my pocket for protection and continue. I must hurry now.
Downstairs, I suck down my third espresso, dripped from my gleaming, semi-professional coffee machine that complements the white, minimalist, architect-designed kitchen. I wash and dry my cup ensuring to place it correctly spaced amongst the others. I wipe the stone bench until there are no more streaks. Grabbing my keys, they jangle in time to the annoying wind chime next door as I march to the car. The windchime that jingled when He slammed me to floor for leaving a dirty dish in the sink. I need to stop feeling. I need to leave.
He’s agitated. Repeatedly jabbing the throttle, it throws a roar that ricochets among the flats, inciting windows and doors to fly open. The sound system is deafening – death-metal shouting my pain. My head is thumping with fear. Veins on His neck and arm bulge as He seizes the gear stick and throws the car into a donut, leaving slick tyre marks across the formerly quiet neighbourhood street. As He slams the accelerator and takes off, I clutch my seat belt and pray. We are flying. We turn at breakneck speed onto the main road as the blood rushes from my head in terror. I can’t help myself as He narrowly misses a hatchback with a toddler nestled in a child seat – I beg Him to slow down.
He looks at me and calmly says, “Look at what you made me do,” as He speeds towards the red light.
Consumed by memories, I feel anxious and competitive as I get into my car. Punk rock blares as I turn and roar in aggressive haste towards my destination. I nod my head as I scream along, much to the amusement of the P-plater next to me. He seems to approve enough to throw a casual devil’s horn my way. Surprised that I was noticed by a millennial, I feel smug that I could still be cool. My anxiety recedes a little as we nod in mutual hoon recognition and gun forward in different directions.
Heading west, I see my objective. The primary red and blue colours summoning in the hot sunshine. A malevolent, glistening snake of vehicles has already formed, impatiently snapping forward, aiming for the same target. But I’ve done my research. To gain an edge on entry, I’m willing to sacrifice being undercover by using the back entrance, even though I will be clutching a steering wheel that will feel like the handles to Hell later this morning. I park the car and I feel my excitement escalating.
Walking across the tarmac, summer heat surges upwards, instantly expressing itself as beading sweat. A parking lot that is the entry to my paradise. I aim, the doors slide open, and I sigh with happiness. Immediately I am shrouded in chilled, stale air as the doors close behind me. My body jerks into magpie mode, triggered by the incessant signs, lights and allure of shiny goods.
Distracted by a man dressed in pink, the hair on my arms prickle and stand to attention. The gait is so familiar, as is the oval of shiny scalp, peering through the side-combed, black hair on the back of his head. I freeze – my breathing quickens, and I gasp. My legs twitch, and as I turn to run, a hand taps my shoulder.
“Are you alright?”
The furrowed brow shows concern, but I stare oblivious at the neon-frocked teenager in front of me. Urgently, I glance back and realise that the shape of the shoulders is wrong, and He would never deign to wear a salmon shirt.
“I’m fine…I’m sorry that I bothered you,” I stammer.
“It’s no bother, I was worried about your breathing. My dad has asthma and you sounded just like him.”
She’s sweet, but she really has no idea. Breathing deeply, I calm myself and head to my target as my lust for gratification continues to grow.
Rumbling promises a storm that never seems to arrive. At forty degrees, the heat is infernal, and darkness dominates as the blinds remain closed against the sun. Sweating, I sit on the worn carpet against the dark walnut timber of the hulking wardrobe that covers the other window. Placed by Him to keep intruders out, it traps and suffocates my sister and me in our tiny cell. In her haste for freedom, my sister is getting married, leaving me to bear this room alone. Screaming erupts from the kitchen. Running down the hallway, I find Him about to hit my sister’s horrified face. I shriek – His hand lowers – He glares at me while my mother stands impotent in the background.
I’m disgruntled to see a group of yummy mummies clad in active wear, have beaten me to the front of the queue. It’s difficult to see past the kaleidoscope of see-through yoga pants, camel-toes, strappy tops and orthotic sneakers, but I won’t be distracted. One of them gives me the dreaded female top to bottom once-over and easily dismisses me in her superior over-exercised manner.
Her colourful strategy is admirable – her mouth, a red so provocative, it hypnotises anyone to follow her whim. As her eyes reach my sandals, they don’t bother to come back up, but slide to the next competitor. I grin. I’m no longer a threat and I recognise those lips for the power they try and fail to yield. She looks like a Sarah, or Jane, or maybe even a bolshie Karen.
The doors slide open and I seize a trolley. Its unwieldiness slows me down against the incoming tide, but fortunately, a wobbly wheel means I’ve created a trolley jam. A crazy indoor-plant person, recognisable by the succulent printed t-shirt she’s wearing and large, resin, cactus earrings swinging from her ears – huffs as she gets stuck behind me.
While a man from a young couple wearily dragging several toddlers across the threshold, exclaims, “Oh, come on.”
“I’m so sorry.”
I flash what I hope is a charming smile as I secretly applaud my ability to delay my rivals.
Soft and lush. A blush-pink, velvet accent chair, is what I’ve been coveting. A posting on Facebook by some random mum and they sell out quicker than lollies in a school tuckshop. I adore the chair’s simplicity and pastel hue, knowing it will fit perfectly in my light-filled bedroom. A chair I know will comfort and caress while I try to forget.
The chair is demanding rescue, but I run into interference. Appearing both frail and confused, an elderly couple dressed in their casual best, absently stand in the middle of the aisle. Aided by the cane he is using; the husband blocks any means of escape. Peering at labels, both of their spectacles well down their noses, they squint, failing to read the tiny print. As they gaze round and see me, their eyes light up. Sliding my phone out of my cargoes, I pretend to press answer and start speaking furiously.
“No, I didn’t feed the dogs this morning. It’s your turn. It’s also your turn to do the laundry”, I say as I look at them, shrugging and rolling my eyes.
I bring my trolley to a halt and rapidly do a U-turn, faster than his hand that is creeping towards me to pull me to a stop.
It’s my birthday. At last I’m a teenager. My sister has given me a small diary with a tiny lock and key. It’s the prettiest thing that I own. Covered in swirling pinks, blues and greens, it has a gold fairy embossed on the cover with a tasselled pencil attached to the side. Eagerly I turn the key, sliding my hands over its glossy cover, feeling the sprite’s soft edges. I marvel at the smooth blue-lined pages and begin. Just three little morsels about my school day. He bellows for me. Locking the diary, I put it gently in the drawer and close the bedroom door behind me. Later, I’m eager to resume writing – but the bedroom door is ajar. Furtively, I peer through the doorway to see my mother reading the three frivolous sentences I wrote. I never open that diary again. I no longer trust anyone.
Guilt whispers as I recall the elderly couple’s vulnerability – until I glance backwards. I see the yummy mummy who dismissed me earlier, trying to pass the elderly couple – studiously avoiding their interested glances. I watch as the old man angles his cane out enough to trip Sarah, Jane or bolshie Karen. She stumbles and apologises and becomes entangled in the process of reading out labels of three different toasters, to help with the couple’s decision process. Her imperious lipstick fails with the near-sighted couple and I suspect she will be there for some time. I trundle off – amused and impressed at the old man’s deviousness.
As I head towards my beloved chair, I go past the children’s department and become lost in the endless rainbow of toys. I’m aroused by sensations as I brush my hands over the plush offerings and my heart aches at the loss of an event that will never happen. He who made it so.
It’s sweltering, but I mustn’t stop scouring. How could I have missed those watermarks on the shower door?
Slapping my forehead and sending droplets of sweat flying, I repeat my internal monologue, “Clean every day.”
I stop for a moment and embrace my belly. A small flutter makes me smile. She will be coming soon. She will be stronger than me. The door slams open.
I look at the pink teddy-bear clutched in His hand and hang my head.
“I didn’t allow you to buy this. Where did you get the money?”
Trembling, I sink to the floor and huddle, forming a protective crouch around Her. Slap – my ear is ringing, I can only hear echoes now.
“Why haven’t you finished? You’re not only a thief, but a lazy slut.”
Dragging me up, He flings me towards the sink and I cannot help but hit the edge of the marble counter. Feeling something crucial inside me tear, I fall as the floor starts to fill with red.
Quickly I move to homewares. The chair doesn’t seem enough anymore. I need more. I need all the time. Finally, I’m distracted by the burnished copper of Balti dishes. Only $2 a dish! And spoons – shiny, silver, serving spoons, perfect for each dish! I stack ten of each into the trolley pledging to cook a curry that evening. Oh look, a new Indian cook book! I throw that in as well. As memories are shoved aside, my mood shifts as the hole in my heart closes a little.
It’s time for the chair. I see a model of it placed on the floor and I sit to make sure it’s comfortable. It’s surprisingly pleasurable – enveloping my body in sweet luxury. I place a box in my trolley. Only one chair left now. I see the crazy indoor-plant person and Sarah, Jane or bolshie Karen heading in my direction, their eyes widening at the thought of missing out. I don’t want to stay and witness whatever carnage comes next, but as I leave, I see bolshie Karen’s reflectors on her sneakers flash in my direction and the shop recedes as my memories gain force.
I’m outside, and the sun is in my eyes as I lay on a stretcher. Placing my hand on my belly, I try to sit up.
“It’s OK love, you’re safe now.” The paramedic looks at me with such tenderness and pity, that I know She’s gone.
Everyone is so kind - it sickens me. I failed to protect Her. She was going to be stronger than me. She was going to leave.
Shaking my head clear, I’m determined to make my way to the cashier. Yet I eye the items in my trolley and feel shame. Perhaps, ten dishes is too much, and I think no, I have dinner parties all the time. I struggle against the rebellious thoughts that are invading the rituals I perform to make me forget. The ones I require to make me not feel.
The cashier is friendly and can’t help making small talk.
“Lovely chair, isn’t it? We’re almost out of stock, you’re lucky to get here as early as you did.”
She makes me feel like I’ve done something worthy and it feels wrong.
I hand over my Visa, but it declines.
“Sorry. Maybe I put the wrong pin number in?”
It declines a second time and the cashier looks less friendly, especially as the queue lengthens. I pull out my Mastercard. The EFTPOS machine flashes a familiar law and order blue that wrenches more images back into my head.
The policeman is standing at the foot of my bed in hospital.
“Your neighbour with the chooks had some eggs for you and came to see you. She saw what He did and called us. I’m sorry that it wasn’t in...”
My hand goes up to stop him from saying it. It won’t be real until he does.
I remember now. The wail of the sirens, the blue of the car and uniforms. Him. Screaming and spitting, still trying to get to me as the police shove Him inside the van. Him. He hurt Her. He hurt me. Him.
Blinds are rolling down automatically as the sun shines in, removing the halo enveloping the judge. The defence barrister keeps pummelling questions at me, while I sit in the witness box and calmly answer them. I will be strong for Her. I look directly at the Jury, ignore His scowl, and plead – using my scars, using Her strength, affirming my neighbour’s statement with courage I never had before. As the gavel cracks, I know it will be fifteen years before he’s free. Fifteen years before I need to feel fear again.
The Mastercard works and the sale rings through. But I don’t gain any satisfaction. The memories have forced me to understand that these rituals will not bring Her back. Will not bring me comfort. It is time to accept my loss. It is time to accept she’s gone.
I leave the trolley, ignoring the exclamations of anger, and walk away. Strong for the second and final time. I take the angel out of my pocket and as I walk, I toss it in the bin. The doors open wide, and the heat from the tarmac rushes to embrace me as it warms me to my core. I lift my head with pleasure, even as tears swell in my eyes.
“Hey lady, nice car!” It’s the boy from this morning.
“Thanks,” I say as I get in my car and turn on the engine.
The need no longer controls me. He no longer controls me. I watch the primary colours recede in my rear-vision mirror. I turn on the radio and I find a new song.