issue 3

october 2015

issue 3 - october 2015

Marion, née Gerard - Kay Ramsbottom

Somewhere in my past you vanished. I wonder if you’re still alive. I’ve looked for you on Facebook but I only know the name you had at school. Maybe you shed that identity, like you shed that first baby, something too difficult to deal with. You were my golden girl, my Gerry, my bestie. So compact and lively, the one I wanted to be. Did you know I wanted to kiss you that night at the beach, with the moonlight on the water and the taste of cigarettes on our lips? But I didn’t dare; it might have ruined our friendship.

I moved away after school, started work, got engaged. You partied hard and moved from job to job. We kept in touch, phone calls and visits. One day a letter from you. You were pregnant, you weren’t ready, you were broke – could I help? I drove you to the clinic, held your hand as we passed the hissing women. They called you whore and baby-killer. I wanted to defend you, told them to shut up, mind their own business. At the door a big security guard urged us in. “Don’t argue with them, it only makes them worse.” Afterwards he let us out the back door. I gave you the money. Five hundred was a lot back then.

I heard from you less often. You were still the party girl, still seeing the same guy. If you missed the Pill three days in a row you’d wash it down with vodkas and hope for the best. You got pregnant again. You waited too long to go to the clinic and they wouldn’t let you terminate. You wore baggy clothes and told your mother when you were two weeks away from due. I visited you and we sat at the picnic table with the baby playing in the dirt at your feet. His skin was all red and crusty. You looked at him with nothing in your face as you flicked ash off your cigarette, and said, “He has eczema. He cries all the time.” I thought of you drinking and smoking your way through the pregnancy. I’m sure you loved your dog more.

There was another letter. You needed more money, for reasons I can’t remember. I wrote back explaining why I couldn’t lend you more. I gave you details: my income, my bills. After Len left me I was scraping by on $70 a week. Couldn’t you ask your mum, your boyfriend Greg? What were you doing with your own money, were you in trouble, on drugs? I probably wasn’t tactful, but I had my own shit to deal with. I’m sorry I sent it.

We talked. You understood, you said. Forget it. Come over and visit me this weekend. When I got there, you were out. Forty minute’s drive, petrol wasted. After it happened again, I learned to ring your mother first to check you were home.
“Hi Mrs Gerard. It’s Kay here. Can I speak to Marion, please?”
“Hello Kay. I’m sorry dear, she’s at Greg’s today.”
“Oh, she asked me to come over. Do you think she’ll be back later?”
“I don’t think so, dear. She only just left.”

Maybe you were just forgetful. I cut you lots of slack. 
“Hello Kay. Sorry, dear, Marion’s on holiday.”
“On holiday? But… how could she afford that? She, um – this is embarrassing – she owes me money.”
Mrs Gerard sighed.
“She owes me money too, dear. Quite a lot actually.”

I finally took the hint, and I let you slip away. Over the years I heard about you through mutual friends. You had four more sons. Five boys! You married their father Greg. If only I could remember his last name. I’d love to talk to you again. I don’t understand what I did wrong.

I wish I’d risked the kiss on the beach instead.

Childhood - Kay Ramsbottom

I remember fear first
opening the letterbox and finding a huge spider inside.
later it ran up my arm and sat on my head in the backseat. I screamed. My father laughed and shooed it out of the car. I wouldn’t sit in the backseat for weeks. I hate spiders.

I remember
strange symbols on the bedroom walls and a man’s voice droning low in a language I couldn’t understand. Then a different bed, cool dry sheets, a bubbling kettle making steam to soothe my cough.

I remember
sharing chocolates with the boy behind me in the plane, he passed them through the gap between the seats. Orange-filled chocolate squares. We ate the whole box. Later he vomited. The smell forever linked with orange-cream chocolate.

I remember
the attic room in my grandma’s house with a pretty eiderdown, impression of silk and golden dragons, a magic plant on the windowsill whose leaves folded up as I stroked them.

I remember
a huge park, an empty nutshell, a squirrel’s neat paws on my white ankle sock.

I remember
fingers sinking into warm red squishy paint lined up in white buckets in the sun patch on the classroom floor.

I remember
icy sweet silky milk from crates, the concrete bunker shaded under trees, keeping it cold until playtime.

I remember
Lauren and Bob standing over me in class, arguing about what girls have down there. I lifted my skirt up, pulled my knickers out, show-and-tell. I showed. Lauren told. Mrs Dodds made me sit in the corridor. “If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

I remember
breathing deep enough for two as Mr Kelloway carried me on his shoulders into the pool where the water was over his head. I really believed that vital air could pass from my skin to his.

I remember 
my brother and his best friend Greg, they were ten years older than me.
They told me cows were horses, and horses were cows.
They told me fleas lived in my hair and used my nose as a ski ramp.
They smeared Vegemite on my face and pinned me down while the dog licked it off.
They held me upside-down by the ankles and tickled until I wet myself.
They pegged my dolly to the washing line and shot her full of holes.
They made sparrows disappear from the garage roof (little puffs of feathers drifting on the wind).
They showed me a dead rat floating in an ice-cream container of its own blood.
They put me to bed after telling me monsters lived in the wardrobe but only came out if the doors were open; they left the doors open.
They closed the bedroom door slowly – “goodnight Kay, sleep tight” – while one crawled under my bed, then shook the frame and made ghost noises; the other investigated and said no-one was there.
They showed me how to climb the big tree.
They took me with them sliding on sheets of cardboard down the faces of the sand hills.
They taught me to punch like a boy.

I remember
cycling home with plants to make a terrarium for my mum in hospital. Flash of white car, black tyre. Lying on the road looking up at the silhouette of trees against the sky. Trying to sit up. Passing out from the pain.

I remember
reading my brother’s hidden pornography. Such riveting cartoons! Playing boyfriend and girlfriend with other girls, kissing squeezing humping throbbing. Boys weren’t as interesting back then.

I remember a feeling too big to name
my mother wracked with waves of pain, tears wetting my hand as she pressed it to her face, kissing my fingers when the worst had passed, whispering “thank you, thank you”. Don’t look at her grey short chemo hair, don’t look at her wasted body, don’t hate her.
Feel nothing, feel nothing, feel nothing.

Contributor's Note

Approaching the final semester of my degree in Computer Graphic Design, I was inspired by the readings at the Mayhem launch to enrol in ENGL314 – Creative Non-Fiction as my elective. I've explored childhood memories I thought I'd forgotten, and discovered I really enjoyed this genre of writing.


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