When I was ten I left hospital with my leg in plaster and it would be that way for six months. It meant I couldn’t cut through Jackman’s yard to climb the steep dirt path to get home from school any more.
Instead, I had to catch the bus and crutch-walk back and wasn’t able to slide down that path with my mate Pumpski in the wet season when the mud mixed with the Bridal Creeper vines. The Bridals scratched us on our way down and one time we bent Mr Dettin’s fence but he didn’t care. He used to trap us and talk about Rosebud Kitmaster model trains and wooden buttons, but his story’s for another time.
Mum made Mrs Drummings the new baby sitter and house cleaner and she was an enormous potato in a floral dress. A big crease went through the middle of her face above her nose, and the two squints above it reminded me of twin moons drowned in a dark pond in an ancient forest. She was twenty eight but I thought she was sixty but really strong. She’d lift my little brother up on her sandal and put him somewhere else when she stomped about.
“Go there bunny. You’re in my way.”
He was three and when she did that he blinked like a dog that was shoo’d away. He didn’t care, but years later he’d get annoyed when we teased him about it.
Mrs Drummings was in our house five times a week when only us kids were there. She called the shots and looked in the storage boxes and drawers and learnt where everything was. I asked her one time why she wanted the key for my dad’s desk in the study.
“It’s because I have to clean everywhere. You go ask mum and dad and they’ll tell you the same.
I never asked mum and dad because later that day her daughter turned up and scared me quiet, and that girl was meaner than a snake cut twice one way and twice the other. She was a nine year old ball of farts and muscle that followed me around the house like I had dynamite strapped to my head and she was trying to light the fuse. I had to face her when she cornered me next to the downstairs freezer.
“Why are you always going where I’m going?”
She jumped at me like there was lightning and snatched my left crutch and banged the freezer with it.
“Going? THAT’S where you’re going if you don’t like my mum!”
I was happy when she ran and chucked my crutch in the pool because I got the chance to make it up the stairs and push the bed against my bedroom door. That incident was unpleasant enough, but three days later she scared the tripe out of me with her cloaked doll collection.
She unrolled a velvet bundle and I saw fifteen daggers with names scratched on their handles. “Jane” was the biggest one and “Bob” was next to it. She stared at me and said nothing and I knew that if I flinched she was going to grab one and let it talk really close to me.
“Dad got these from the war. He’s sad now and doesn’t want them so now I got them and they are my new dolls because they killed all the old dolls.”
The next day I went to Mrs Drummings and told her about it and she kissed me on the forehead and smiled. I had never seen her teeth and her breath made me think of drains when the wet season flooded the streets.
“She won’t be back and she told me the secret of your coins.”
I never remembered telling anyone about my coin collection, but I was so proud of it I didn’t care how she knew. I showed her my 1966 silver fifty cent pieces and copper pennies in plastic boxes that had never been touched. She sat on my bed and giggled about stamps and I said I had a collection of those too. For two hours she was my new friend and we talked about how some people liked to keep necklaces and snow-globes. I wasn’t wary of her any more but the next day it was different.
The bus dropped me off and I crutch-walked home and saw her sitting in her Mini in our driveway. She rolled down the window and her face was red and wet and I knew she had been crying when nobody was around to see.
“Ian get in. I want to talk.”
I got in and she put her head on my shoulder and cried. When she spoke I could feel the adult voice rumble down my whole side and it was weird.
“Hubby died in my arms last night. Agent orange finally got him and now I need you to be the man of the house when I clean.”
I got out of the car fast and hobbled to Pumpski’s at the end of the street and didn’t come back until dark. Dad was at the dinner table and he had a sheet of paper in front of him while mum looked over his shoulder. She was mad too.
“We made a list of the stuff she pinched. We’re off to see the police.”
Dad kept looking at the list.
“She didn’t clean today. She just came and burgled the place.” He shook his head. “Dumb bitch.”
Dumb? She was smart. She got to keep my coins and stamps, and when she told the cops about her husband that died on her they even gave her a shot of whiskey. I reckon that if it was a bloke who robbed us and his wife had just died then I’d have got my coins back.
Original artwork, © Ian Williams. 2013.