Oh, the pain of not being criticized. I cringe when I think of the times I’ve read out my fabulously written story to our writers group and no one makes a comment. I know the story hasn’t hit the mark. Perhaps the intent is not evident or the characters aren’t realistic or the pace is wrong or the ending is blah, blah, blah.
It’s what is unsaid that makes it so painful. Please, someone speak up. Tell me something good about the story and then lay the bad stuff on the table so I can right the wrong.
I’ve convinced myself that a critique is about the story not the author. OK, I’m happy with that. I want to learn how to improve my stories and am more than willing to rewrite, even many times. Just give me a clue as to how to go about making changes.
Last year I attended workshops with Natalie Sprite that taught me how to accept my emotions that escaped as my words rushed across the page. Through three days of typing and crying, a story emerged. It’s mostly fiction tinged with fact. I hope you read it. Feel free to comment. It’s my gift to you.
THE BIG WALK.
“Do youse love I’m?” The question comes from left field. I stop packing clothes into a suitcase and stare at this bear of a man. Empathy doesn’t fit with the tribal tattoos laced across his face and neck. I cough and shake my head. His dark eyes bore into mine.
“So that’s, no?”
I pull my cardigan tightly around my chest,
“Not for a long time, no.”
He lifts a tea chest and stands at the top of the flight of stairs,
“Then we’ll get this stuff loaded quick.”
I want to scream, “What else can I do? Our son deserves two parents, not a mother dead and a father in jail, and that’s how it’s heading.”
Instead, I rush to find my handbag and keys and slam the back door of our family home one last time.
I drive towards the coast. The one knot in my life line to freedom, our son, keeps unravelling through my thoughts. I picture him lying on his bed, his face striped from the sun through the wooden Venetians, the lost look in his eyes when I told him we have to leave and the sound of his voice, thick with emotion telling me he wouldn’t come.
A semi trailer passes and my red Cortina is pulled in the slipstream to the other side of the road. “Shit.” I force my mind to focus on driving. A rest area sign flashes by and I take the exit and park next to a picnic shelter. Bile fills my throat as I slump in the seat.
An hour later I wake to the sound of surf. My eyes feel gluey and I try to stretch my legs; then frantically wrestle with the steering wheel and fling open the driver’s door. The Lilly-pilly trees’ long shadows stretch across the bitumen robbing it of the warmth from the sun. Constant traffic on the highway pounds like waves. I check my watch. I’m already late for the removals truck in Lennox Head. I’m busting for a pee but slam the car into gear and charge out to the highway.
Kiwi, my Maori removalist slurps the dregs from a stubby and burps. He leaps up from the veranda of the cottage I’m house sitting for six months. His big boots thump down the three steps and he whips the suitcase from my hands and I nearly fall over.
“Thank you.” I smile.
“No need to. That’s what I’m here for.” He towers over me and his sweat smells like honest work. Our hands brush as he folds the money into a ragged Billabong wallet.
”Take care, Missus.”
The boxes are inside. The fridge hums. I sing, “She Drives Me Crazy” as I unpack the kitchen gear. My writing desk creaks with the load of my typewriter and books.
The night breeze carries the smell of pizza and the steady beat of music through the Terylene curtains. I find it’s a short walk to the pub where loud laughter and a group of dart players greets me. Self consciously I nod and hurry to the servery. Soon I’m chewing on pizza on my veranda. In my head I hear the crunch of my teeth against the crisp crusty base.
Across the road, flapping bats screech and feed on the nectar of the Ti-trees framing Lake Ainsworth. The stench is like sweet vomit.
Lying on the bed, the exhaustion of the past few months draws me into a deep sleep. Murderous cries shock me awake and I rush to the window to see a curlew gang strutting under the street light. Their mating calls raise the hairs on my arms. I lock the doors and windows before climbing beneath the sheets. My son’s photo on the window sill smiles back at me.
A fortnight later, “Love Shack” belts out on the car radio and I shout the words to the world. My heart pounds with the thrill of seeing my boy again. The three hour trip takes forever but there’s a car park close to the Coles Capalaba entrance.
I dance around a man pushing a trolley of groceries, “Sorry” I say without glancing back. My breath comes in bursts as I peer ahead, willing David to be waiting for me on the seat outside KMART. The seat is empty.
I turn and look in all directions, squinting for a sign of him. Then I sit, waiting. I wriggle on the edge of the seat, scrutinise every teenage boy who walks towards me. My mouth’s dry and I run my tongue under my top lip and gulp. My breath is buried under disappointment. My watch’s minute hand takes an hour to move.
I walk unsteadily to the coffee counter and order, all the while praying David will come running towards me. The thick coffee cup rattles in the saucer as I rush back to the seat.
And there he is. Searching for me.
Here’s my seventeen year old boy-man. I squeeze his muscles defined under the Stussy tee shirt sleeves and grasp his bony wrists. One wrapped with a Bali surf bracelet and the left one bears a diving watch. He’s tall and I rest my head against his thin chest, so thin, so very thin.
“I thought I’d missed you.”
“I stayed at Trev’s last night. He gave me a lift here.” His hand warms my back.
“Trev from cricket? How’s the new team?” I can’t take my eyes off his tan face.
“Good, we all get on.”
We sit and I pat the crusty scabs on his knee from skateboarding. Somehow, the massive lump in my throat clears,
“I like your flat top,”
He flicks his head and runs his fingers through his razor cut blonde hair and I smell his familiar shampoo and clutch at my heart. He wraps his strong hand around mine, “Don’t cry, Mum.” He gives a lopsided smile and I scramble in my bag for a tissue.
Families push trolleys through the food court, their voices strained, as they rush past us on their way to the car park. The intensity of the lighting all around us belies the shadows cast by our past. We’re no longer mother and son sharing that domestic ritual. This new life of abandonment is foreign to both of us.
“You know you can come to me any time? You can bring friends. There’s two bedrooms and a sofa in the cottage.” I squeeze his hand.
“Yeah, I know. When I get a car.” He nudges me in the ribs and raises his eyebrows.
I laugh, “O.K. We’ll see what I can do. Are you still at Red Rooster?” His words are lost under Target’s PA system but I notice he’s giving a quick wave to a beautiful girl in aerobic gear who strides by. His face flushes bright red.
“That’s Lisa from Red Rooter just gone past.” He watches her glide through the automatic doors. “Yeah, I got a four hour shift Friday night and Saturday arvo. It’s cool.”
“David, are you OK with living with your Dad? He doesn’t get angry?” I bite my lip. “Violent?”
He looks at his feet and wriggles his toes in his thongs.
“No. He’s never there. We watch TV sometimes but most times he’s out, dancing or night clubbing.” He keeps his head down and I swallow and fiddle with my hair comb.
“Would you be better with Grandma until you finish TAFE in a couple of months?” I roll my opal ring around and around my finger.
“No, she lives too far from TAFE and anyway, Jase’s Mum and Dad have offered to let me stay there.” He’s breathing fast and stutters out the last words.
“Maybe that’s not a bad idea?” I’m thinking out loud. “ you and Jason have been mates since pre-school.”
“Yeah, it’s got to be better than being by myself all the time.” He rubs his eyes with the back of his hand and clears his throat. “I’ll tell them today that I’ll stay.” He pulls at the neck of his tee shirt, “It’s not just TAFE keeping me here. I don’t want to leave my mates.” I lean in towards him. He takes a deep breath,
“I thought, Dad, you know, the split. I thought we’d get closer…” He clenches his jaw, “It’s not your fault.”
I look into his misty eyes and it’s like looking into a mirror. The stubby bristles on his jaw are soft under my fingers. He smiles, the braces tracking grey metal rails across his teeth.
“Mum,” he says quietly as he bends to pick up my shopping bag, “Don’t worry, I’m doing OK.”
The grass is long and junk mail sticks out of the box when I drop David off. No sign of his father’s car.
“I have to rush, Love.”
“Wait.” He runs up the drive. My eyes tear up at his gangly limbs that seem far too long for his body.
There’s a heap of junk at the bottom of the front steps. It’s my writing books and pink silk kimono we bought in Kyoto. Something glints in the sun and I cry and belt my fists against the steering wheel, “The tea set Mum left me. Smashed.”
David runs back clutching a photo album to his chest.
“I kept this for you. Dad chucked away a whole lot of stuff…” It’s the album of our holiday at my Mother’s and as I open it, the first photo I see is her face lit up with the candles on David’s fourth birthday.
“Thank you. It’s precious,” I say, “and so are you.” He kisses me through the car window and knocks twice on the roof of my car. “See you in three weeks,” he grins.
I’m grinning too as I drive back along the highway, remembering our morning together. Someone toots and I see Kiwi’s removals truck passing me in the opposite lane. I flash my lights at him and turn up the radio.