Saturday, 13 June 2015

Susan | Don't throw stones in wooden houses




Copyright Ngaire Ruth

“Will you get that muddy dog out of the house!”

“Don’t you dare,” I say, lunging at the tearaway hound before she can slap the poor old thing on its bony arse.

“She’s too old to live on the street. I’m gonna find her owner.”

With bravado I usher the dear dog out through the back door, so that the wood and wire mesh of the inner insect door makes a horrendous snap, crash and shudder on closing. 


I love that sound. I love all the sounds in the big old wooden house that is ground level at the front, on stilts at the back. With socks on you can slide from one end of the hallway to the other in a single whoosh. 

I collect stray cats and dogs and build rockeries for lizards. I also have an imaginary horse in the old stable at the end of garden. It’s in my nature.

Seems like all my new crew of waifs and strays are confined to the outside veranda and toilet for the moment then. Currently: one dog, two frogs and three cats, but the cats only seem to be homeless around dinnertime. To be honest, I’m not yet doing anything about looking for the dog’s owner, but I am only eight. I call her Susan because I call all my dogs Susan, girls or boys, family pets or strays.

****

I play ball in the garden with Susan. Soon my Dad will be home from work and we’ll take her for a walk; we’ll stop and talk to other dogs and owners and see if we can’t trace Susan’s real family. I can hear noises in the shed from the garden next door. I think it is Robyn and her brother Larkin.

"Come on Susan, let’s go and see Monty,” I announce. (The imaginary horse.)

There is giggling in the shed.

Robyn is my friend Karen’s older sister. There is a fence between our houses with about a metre’s space on either side of the fence, so her bedroom window is about two metres from mine. When we arrived at the house in Adelaide's dusty suburbs (Australia) I ran barefoot on to the lawn only to discover that it was a sharp, tough blade of grass, and it cut my feet. That was my warning. 


Karen shares a room with Robyn. We pass notes to each other via a tin tied to string. Sometimes Robyn infiltrates them and writes horrid things like “Suck his dick!” or “Get yer tits out!”

I think Robyn is bad to the bone. Like a dog with a bone I can’t help picking at it, even though she scares me – the older brother, Larkin even more.

I lean over the fence.

“Is that you Karen?” I say, knowing full well it isn’t.

“No. So piss off, mad girl!” is the reply.

“Where’s Karen?” I ask, “I want to show her something.”

The door opens and Robyn pokes her head out. Smoke billows out from the door.

“Are you smoking?” I ask.

“What do you want Miss Goody Pants?” she says.

“Where’s Karen?” I boldly ask.

“None of your business,” says Robyn. “I think you should stay well away from my little sister.”

I duck down from behind the fence, hiding my tears.

“Good. Fuck off!” says the voices, Larkin joining in.

The shed door slams shut.

****

That night I don’t send Karen a note via our tin. Instead, I count the number of mosquitoes my lizard-friend, sitting on the windowsill, eats. I try to ignore the clunk clunk ting of the tin against the window frame as Karen tries to get my attention. Eventually I drift off to sleep and I get a fever through the heat of the night and the hurt of the day. I dream of my only Christmas in England, a snowy white (1963). I dream of my mother – she is lost and calling me – and I go look for her. I am worried that we will all have to live in the outside toilet with the rest of the waifs and strays when I find her, but still I follow the calls. It’s in my nature.

In the dead of night I wake up in the wardrobe, door closed, sitting on sharp shoe buckles, head and face draped in my Sunday best, now crinkled and soaked with tears. 


My step-mum wakes with the commotion and comes to my aid.

“Did you have a nightmare love?” she asks.

“Er, no. I do this all the time,” I thought, but remembering I am eight say: "Br'er Fox was after me!”

She gives me a hug and pops me back into bed.

****

The next day Karen comes over and asks my step-mum if I can come to play.

“No. She has Sunday school,” I hear her say, “But she can come around after lunch and play for a bit before evening church.”

As we leave for church Karen waves at me from her front room window and I wave back, reluctantly. I want to be her friend but I never want to go to her house again. Not ever. No one has actually asked me if I’d like to go around to play after lunch, so no one knows that.

I am pissed off. In Sunday school I ask the teacher what the word “fuck” means.

“We are not here to learn bad words,” she says. “We are here to learn about the love of Jesus.”

Then we all sing a round of This Little Light Of Mine.

“Why do I hear grown ups using the word fuck. What does it mean?” I persist.

“Not all have been saved.” she snaps.

“I even hear children at school saying fuck.” I remark with innocence, yet expression.

“Shall we have another verse children?” she offers, brittle as bone, the bone I keep biting at. “This time: Everywhere I Go.

Once the new verse begins she turns to me and whispers, with frothy spittle escaping from clenched teeth: “Some children say bad words because they are evil children without god in their hearts.”

She is not as scary as Robyn and Larkin. I am in a learning zone where curiosity reigns because there is the word school in Sunday school. So I am just surprised. I am sure the hymn goes: Jesus loves all the little children, all the children of the world?

The verse is over and I ask if we can sing, “Jesus loves all the little children, all the children of the world, even evil ones.”

I am the first child to have detention for Sunday school.

****
I am still not clear on the word fuck but my suspicions that Robyn and Larkin are evil grow ever stronger. Since the grown ups seem to be busy picking on god’s creatures and little children, it’s up to me to do something about it.

This means I need evidence, which in turn means I have a purpose for braving Karen’s house. We are in her room.

“Are you scared about starting your periods?” I ask her.

“No. I don’t think about it. It’s a long way off,” she sighs. “Robyn has periods and they make her boobs big and she smells.”

“Ugh, does she?”

“Smelly as pooh,” encourages Karen, knowing my fear and loathing for Robyn.

“Smelly as pooh and wee.” I say, with emphasis on the and.

Robyn enters the room. We are horrified.

“It’s my room too.” she says with a glare and with that jumps on her bed and stretches out. Her presence is menacing.

She looks up.

“Well don’t worry about me,” she taunts. “You two little love birds just carry on.”

“I must be going,” I say. “I’ve got church.”

“What again,” says Karen. “Twice in one day?”

“Good thing too you little weirdo,” spits Robyn.

I want to cry.

“Robyn! I’m telling mum,” says Karen, and makes her exit and I quickly follow for fear of being killed.

“Oh, get lost,” mumbles Robyn, making herself comfortable.

****
That night I don’t send Karen a note via our tin. Instead, I count the number of mosquitoes my lizard-friend, sitting on the windowsill, eats. I try to ignore the clunk clunk ting of the tin against the window frame as Karen tries to get my attention. Eventually I drift off to sleep and I get a fever through the heat of the night and the hurt of the day. I dream of my only Christmas in England, a snowy white (1963). I dream of my mother – she is lost and calling me – and I go look for her. I am worried that we will all have to live in the outside toilet with the rest of the waifs and strays when I find her, but still I follow the calls. It’s in my nature.

In the dead of night I wake up in the wardrobe, door closed, sitting on sharp shoe buckles, head and face draped in my Sunday best, now crinkled and soaked with tears.

My step-mum wakes with the commotion and comes to my aid.

“Did you have a nightmare love?” she asks.

I say: I’ve wee’d in my jarmies and on my shoes. (I am only eight after all.)

She gives me a hug, cleans me up, gets fresh pyjamas and pops me back into bed.

****

Karen asks me to come over to play after tea.

“We’re gonna play karaoke. My mum will be there so Robyn and Larkin can’t be horrible to us. My uncle is coming over as well. Dad says he’s a famous politician.”

And so it is that I sing along to “Puppet On A String”, “Knock Three Times” with Australian’s Labour Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

They make jokes about me being quite the little show off for a girl from a family of Liberals. I don’t understand.

Robyn and Larkin are allowed a snippet of wine and beer, respectively. Karen and I get ice cream. All the grown ups are smoking. The more they drink the more they smoke and the louder they get.

“Makes you want one,” Robyn says to Larkin.

“Come into my room,” whispers Karen to me. “I’ve got some evidence for you.”

Karen and I go into her room. She lifts up Robyn’s pink flannelette cover and pulls out a red beauty case. She opens it.

“Here,” she says, throwing a packet of cigarettes at me. “This is where she keeps them.”

I let out a gasp. I don’t know what to do. If I take them Robyn will know and she and Larkin will murder us, which will hurt a lot in the build up. If I don’t take them I have no evidence. I freeze. Karen takes the packet back and returns it to the case. Snaps the lid shut, puts in back in its place.

I follow her back to the family room, now vacated by the grown ups, and then through to the extension at the back of the house. It turns out to be Larkin’s bedroom. It smells. I have never experienced the aroma of a teenage boy’s dirty socks and pants, sweaty shoes, messy sheets, the floor an obstacle of various sports bags in which scientific experiments seem to be happening with old bananas, forgotten boiled sweets and dirty tee shirts. The walls are covered in pictures of footballers and girls in bikinis on surfboards. Instantly I am repulsed and want to run.

“I think that one looks like Robyn, don't you?” Larkin says to me.

I am frozen with fear. He has never spoken to me directly before.

“I’m better looking than that you sod,” Robyn squeals and jumps on his back, wrapping her legs and arms around him and licking his neck, like a dog, at which point he throws himself onto the bed, Robyn attached.

“Ow,” she says, “You bugger,"shaking him off and shifting position so that she is sitting on top of him now.

“Wow. Look at those boobies,” says Larkin. “Rubbing them with his nail-bitten hands.”

Robyn is laughing.

“I hear you’re gonna tell on us at school for smoking?” says Robyn, throwing her head back, riding Larkin, as I do my imaginary horse.

“Well, no, I haven’t,” I stutter. “Grown-ups do it,” I splutter.

Larkin turns and look straight at me: Well we thought if you’re gonna squeal than you should have something really good to tell.

And Robyn grins. The smile is my evidence that she is totally evil. I have heard that the devil often wins.

Karen leaves: “She’s wasn’t gonna tell,” she says. And in that moment I realise that I am going to die. My friend has betrayed me.

“Wanna see a boy’s willie when it’s big?” Robyn asks me, stroking her brother’s leg.

“Mmmmm,” he groans, “Get it out. Suck it,” he shouts, laughing so much he can barely get the words out.

“Suck that dick!” shouts Robyn, continuing the mean game.

“Get yer tits out!” shouts Larkin.

I don't want to see a boy's willie and certainly not a big one. Death is suddenly preferable. I am sick. Raspberry ripple ice cream everywhere on the grubby carpet, splattered on the sport’s bags, dirty socks and half-read magazines.

Their mum comes to the doorway.

“Stop fighting you two,” she bawls.

“We’re not,” they exclaim, unravelling themselves from each other.

Then she sees the sick.

****

That night I don’t send Karen a note via our tin. Instead, I count the number of mosquitoes my lizard-friend, sitting on the windowsill, eats. I try to ignore the clunk clunk ting of the tin against the window frame as Karen tries to get my attention. Eventually I drift off to sleep and I get a fever through the heat of the night and the hurt of the day. I dream of my only Christmas in England, a snowy white (1963). I dream of my mother – she is lost and calling me – and I go look for her. I am worried we will all have to live in the outside toilet with the rest of the waifs and strays when I find her, but still I follow the calls. It’s in my nature.

In the dead of night I wake up in the wardrobe, door closed, sitting on sharp shoe buckles, head and face draped in my Sunday best, now crinkled and soaked with tears. 


My step-mum wakes with the commotion and comes to my aid.

“Did you have a nightmare love?” she asks. I nod. She gives me a hug.

“How about Susan sleeping in your bed tonight?” she suggests. And for the first time ever, I give her a hug.

“I just miss my mummy,” I say to her truthfully.

“I know love" she says” no more, no less.

Then we go get Susan from her bed in the open-doored outside toilet on the veranda. Her claws trip trop on the wooden floor in the hallway and after a small amount of time convincing her that she's allowed on the bed, she happily snuggles into my open arms. I don't know who is more pleased with themselves, she or me. I sing Susan to sleep to a made up song that goes: Everywhere I go, Susan will come too, to the tune of This Little Light Of Mine. And I promise her that I will never ever go next door again. 






Saturday, 6 June 2015

Light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

Copyright Ngaire Ruth

This is a love story. There is no romance.
At the end play: The Fall "How I Wrote Elastic Man" 

SHE’s crouched forward, concentrating on her breathing and focus, waiting for the signal.

She can hear their voices and footsteps now, as they turn into the alley, ever closer. One boy has a local accent, dragging out every vowel, missing the letter at the end, the other, snap, snap, snap. Who would wanna be his friend? He keeps taking a breathe halfway through a sentence.

“Give it me. Watch it. Where can we?” Pause. “…Smoke it?”

****
It takes Meesh a long time to walk up the stairs to the 4th floor and Sall’s flat because she wishes to go unnoticed. There’s no lift, two flats to a floor, each door opposite the other.

It takes Sall a long time to answer the door which adds to Meesh’s fear of “being observed unknowingly by god knows who”. It’s not that the elderly woman finds it difficult to get to the door quickly but there are a lot of locks and chains to negotiate before she can open it.

“Alright Meesh,” she sings.

“Yeah. You?”

“Huh,” she tuts.

And without being told Meesh makes her way down the long hallway to the orange and tan kitchen on the left, at the end of it.

Meesh sits down on the one chair and Sall comes in behind her, straight to the cooker, stirs a saucepan on the hob.

“Chicken stew,” she announces proudly. “Left over from yesterday’s roast chicken.”

“I’ve gotta make Charmane's tea yet,” says Meesh.

“Take some of this for ‘er.”

“Yeah alright. I’ve already peeled the veg,” Meesh replies, remembering the last time she took home Sall’s second day stew the whole family had food poisoning.

“So you haven’t got the time for a quick Bloody Mary then?”

Meesh's eye’s light up. Sall’s BM’s are exceptional: it’s the dash of lime, the generous pinch of Tabasco, the sprig of mint, torn off from the kitchen window box.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

As part of the ritual Meesh shuffles out to the hallway, across to the front room (Hi to Toya watching TV), and out the balcony door. Sits on the chair nearest the wall; Sall needs to be near the door, always in and out. Meesh texts her daughter: Sall’s just made me a drink. Won’t be long.

“What’s the funny smell?”

“Grease. I’ve had to grease the pipes and all the bits ‘ere,” she points out, leaning dangerously over the balcony. “He’s been trying to get in. Banging on the door all night until the neighbours call the police. Now he’s trying this way.”

Poor Sal. That son of hers just won’t leave be. Says wicked, mean things about her then begs for money, then beats her. “Surely he’s too heavy to climb up a plastic drainpipe?” Meesh encourages.

“It ain’t plastic and he’s a skinny bastard,” retorts Sall.

Quiet.

Sall makes sure Meesh is comfortable and has had all the latest details of recent plantings and re-pottings explained and then she goes off, to come back with a book in her hand. She gives it to her, moves the clean laundry piled up on kitchen chair and shuffles off back out the door in to the flat with it.

Daughter texts smiley reply. :) 

“I presume you’re gonna light a fag?” throws back Sall, as she stumbles, arms full with crisp, white sheets and equally crisp, white towels, “I don’t want these stinking.” (I see Sall is still using bleach.) She can’t actually see her feet, negotiating the step over the steel doorframe she needs to make from memory.

Sall has lived here all her life. Everybody on the estate loves to have a good old bitch about her, but they bloody make sure they whisper because some time soon they will probably need Sall’s help. Meesh is not from the estate. She thinks the most revolutionary thing about Sall is how she's maintained a very shiny black fringe with the rest of her hair, blonde, in the same style for thirty years. 

The book says in gold lettering Comprehensive Diagnostic Manual of Medical and Psychological Terms. It is pretending to be leather, but of course lacks the depth of colour, sheen or texture which makes boring brown so acceptable. It says: I’m important but I’m bluffing. Careful here it will be important to Sall.

Meesh does indeed light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

She jumps up and leans over the balcony to flick her ash.

“Where you puttin’ that ash?” snaps Sall, returned.

“Obviously,” Meesh sarcs, gesturing with her hand to the ground far below.

Together they stand, leaning over the balcony: suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

"Don't let Toya see me," whispers Sall.

“Are you gonna sit for a minute now?” says Meesh, ignoring her. 

“Oh, yeah. I want to ask you about that?” she says, head nodding towards the book. “You know I can’t read properly don’t you?”

She didn’t. It seemed odd because she knew for a fact that Sall nicked books. She stole them from the secondary school in which she was a cleaner. The other people she cleaned for – intellectuals in Georgian houses – appeared to Sall quite hopeless, being unable or unwilling to sort out their own dirty messes or clutter, and it bemused her that they were happier and more successful than she, despite these huge flaws in their character. That is lack of cleanliness according to Sall.

Another thing, they all have vast quantities of books, on shelves, which go with the dust and the clutter scenario. If you ever see fit to move one single little book though, it’s noticed. A boundary Sall has tested, initially in her quest to steal as many books as possible.

Sall’s logic says that it’s the lack of dust and books in her life which perhaps are the only things stopping her rise to a great success and fulfilment. And so she sets to rectifying this by stealing as many books as possible (from people and places she considers are superior to her) and begins to educate her-self and everybody else, of course. And just like magic, the dust gathers as she sits, absorbed.

Education is an evangelical thing for Sall. One week: the water cycle is explained in full to everybody who calls.  She makes sketches for you while explaining. The next week: Alice in Wonderland, inventing a great game: just open it, read the first sentence you see on the page and take that as your quote of the day.   

What does this mean? She says, frantically sifting through pages to find the spot, marked with constant opening, stroking he pages flat. "It’s a bit harder to understand than them children’s books I’ve got."

“Is there something wrong with you Sall?”

“Well, I didn’t think so but now I wonder,” she says, pointing nervously at the part she wanted me to read. Am I the person Johnny says I am?

Page 68
Sexual deviant: bisexual

“Why do you want me to read this tosh?” declares Meesh, exasperated.

“It’s medical innit?” replies Sall. “So I can get it fixed?”

“It’s these blokes that need fixing Sall!” Meesh snorts. “It’s a bunch of blokes with too much spare time. And it’s a very, very old book Sall.”

Sal knew in her heart it was wrong but it was in a book, written by someone cleverer than her, in a place of learning for other people who are cleverer than her – it must be right. And this was why everything bad happens to her.

****

She hopes that they don’t decide to sneak a quick smoke behind the three large green refuse bins she is hiding behind. It’s a good spot because there are no CCTV cameras here.

Light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

Screams above from a distant balcony on the estate, a bored gang of overdramatic pre-teens, but she doesn’t budge – although it’s enough to stop the “smoke stop” as the boys swerve and continue on down the alley, kicking up beer cans and shuffling dirt on the rough concrete with the toes of their slick trainers.

She tries to stay dead quiet and dead still, otherwise the empty plastic bag she is holding open, with both hands, will crackle and she’ll be found and dead first. She thinks: last chance to throw it now and let it float quietly to the concrete. Maybe slip a hand inside the sky blue roller skating socks that I love, for the kitchen knife?

She forces herself to loosen her clenched teeth, open her mouth, and breathe: short, quiet and controlled. Wait.

She can see their backs now, just, one has his hoody up. (Damn those things.) The other has a smart polo shirt on, chinos and boat shoes. Shame she’s going to have to kill the better-looking one first.

Now they are a few paces ahead. She creeps up behind them and jumps out in time to slip the bag neatly over pretty boy’s head and firmly grip his neck. She twists the handles tightly, like a wrench, but has not expected the full force of a young, healthy body reacting against such a shock, or indeed the prospect of death. She hasn’t figured on having to hold the weight of the boy by the head either, skinny bastard, she had thought is not a heavy bastard. She hadn't figured on his punching power either – at a mechanical, rhythmic speed on any part of her body he finds in the panic - or the sound his neck makes, as his muscles clench and rip in repulsion.

The second boy lunges forward at the girl and grabs her clenched, whitening fists, which only serves to help take the weight, ensuring that the two of them are holding on to the bag very securely indeed. There they stand, hoody boy bawling, tears and snot and spit and clinging to his mate’s neck, trying to keep him on his feet but at the same time helping to kill him. Girl, fixed stare, too-late-to-back-out-now, kicking out at boy two, so that the dying teen finally sinks to the ground, his neck, surely broken by now as it’s tugged this way and that, but no.

And it’s the sound of dying boy’s exaggerated breathing, the little pit in the plastic bag going in and out where his mouth should be, accompanied by the sound of flapping white plastic, which makes both of the teenagers stop, in the end, mouth’s gaping, panting madly. 

They let pretty boy Johnny drop with a thud to the ground, the other boy skidding as he tries to get his balance.

“You’re …fucking crazy!” he bawls and makes a dash for it, only to struggle since his fashionable trousers are now around his knees. He wipes his mouth, pulls his trousers up and turns to look at the girl once more, and then runs.

The girl removes Sall’s yellow washing up gloves and turns them inside out, then tucks them in to her jean’s pocket. She checks around on the ground, in case anything circumspect that can be traced back to her has come loose in the struggle: all her clothing intact, bangles, bells on her ears, ring in her nose and on her fingers, all there, keys, coins (she’d counted them earlier), phone, Oyster card, all there. The only thing she is leaving behind is the plastic bag on the boy’s head. She was sure it wouldn’t be any danger to passing ducks or other wildlife, unlike the boy. She ambles on, never once looking down or back.

****
Sall: Meesh forgot to take the chicken stew I put by for her!

Toya: “Yeah, I can see,” she says knowingly, raised eyebrows, as she negotiates a difficult manoeuvre through the kitchen door, with the washing machine crammed behind it, dinner dishes balanced in both hands, and over to the sink.  

Sall, at sink: Have you seen the washing up gloves?

Toya: No - putting down the dishes, cracking noise of china on steel, rattle.

“Careful,” grumps Sall. “Where are my bleeding gloves?”

Toya: How do I know?

Sall: Well they ain’t here.

Toya: And I haven’t got them.

Sal: Someone’s nicked them then.

Toya: What would anybody want with a pair of dirty, old washing up gloves?


****