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Thursday, 7 March 2013

Paint Job (Part 3)

rock roses - like little suns

It’s officially autumn in southern Australia, but as usual we are having a hot spell in the first two weeks of March. Why doesn’t the weather read the calendar? The Australian Indigenous people have much more accurate seasonal calendars, with five or six seasons noted in each region and no dependence on dates – entirely sensible. Soon enough the weather will become cool, the days short, and these hot, steamy days will be forgotten. At any rate, the azaleas are confident of that as they push out buds in anticipation.

And now for the finale of the three part story, Paint Job.  I hope you enjoy reading the way it turned out as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Paint Job (Part III)
Pete didn’t have much stuff of his own but, even so, it seemed pretty slack to leave his packing till the day before we had to be out. He wasn’t around enough for me to point this out to him. It was almost as if he was avoiding me.
            On our last night at Davenlea Ma decided to seriously vent her stress on a three course meal. Pete turned up at the last minute and we tucked into the fruit of Ma’s genius as if we had something to celebrate. I focused on the food and tried not to think about the next day.
            Pete pulled out a bottle of champagne. ‘We need to commemorate the occasion.’ He left the kitchen to get some glasses and returned with three champagne flutes Ma had kept in the old china cabinet.
Ma’s frown was no deeper than usual. She took another bite of pie without comment. But my mouth must have looked like the cork had exploded from it instead of the bottle. I’d had enough.
‘You can’t just pretend it’s not happening, mate,’ I said to Pete. ‘We’re out of here tomorrow and you’re acting like it’s a party. I saw Ma pack up the china and all, so what do you think you’re doing taking our stuff out like that and making it harder for us? Dammit, Pete, this is it. This is it. It’s over. We’re leaving. Got it?’
Pete was leaning back in his chair grinning. The man was as mad as a hatter.
I pushed my chair back so hard, the screech ripped through the silence. I stumbled, my furious and embarrassed exit interrupted by the smugness on Pete’s face and the twitch of amusement in Ma’s.
I flung myself back onto the chair. ‘What’s the joke?’
‘I had my speech all ready, but your impromptu one was much more dramatic,’ Pete said as he began pouring the bubbly. ‘Actually, it really is a party. I’ve been trying to find a way to tell you but Rhoda knew all along and I couldn’t come up with anything brilliant. So here it is: I am the new owner of 14 Delamere Road, Davenlea.’ He beamed at me like Santa Claus.
            I looked at Ma and back at Pete, then down at my forgotten plate, trying to add up all the pieces of the past few weeks. It had knocked the wind out of me but it didn’t resolve the anger.
            ‘You? How could you do that to us? We took you in, made you part of the family. I thought you were like a brother to me, the best kind of brother. And you’re kicking us out. You’re as bad as the rest. I’m glad we’re leaving this town.’
            This time as I started to push back my chair, Ma put her work-worn hand on mine. ‘Stay, Matthew. You’d better hear the whole story so you know who to consign to hell.’
            Pete handed me a glass. ‘Here’s to brothers.’ I just shook my head but I took the glass. I wasn’t going to waste good champers just because he was a bastard.
            Somehow between Pete’s bonhomie and Ma’s bite I managed to piece together the strange saga of how Pete had found his way to us after his mother had taken up with a new bloke. Wanting to check out the story his new stepfather was telling, he’d come across a customer who knew the man’s abandoned family and Pete had taken his plan a step further. The customer had known that Ma was cash-strapped and had put the idea into Pete’s head that he should ask to board.
After digesting this extraordinary tale, I said, ‘You mean we really are brothers?’
Pete nodded. Ma snorted.
            ‘So why are we leaving?’
            Pete looked at Ma. Ma stared back and then dropped her gaze and slumped a little.
I stared at Ma. Had Pete just achieved the impossible? I’d never seen anyone have that effect on her. Ma didn’t back down for anyone.
She lifted her head and half-turned towards me. ‘Pete said we could stay. I refused.’
‘You what?’ I gave her a look that would have bored a hole in anyone less thick-skinned. ‘How could you? I’m sixteen, Ma. I’ve got a life too, and you can’t just make all the decisions like I’m a little kid who has to follow you everywhere. What if I want to stay?’
I didn’t have the same effect on Ma as Pete. She straightened up again and turned fully towards me. ‘Decisions like this aren’t just a matter of doing what feels good. How would you pay for board? I can’t support both of us in different places. What kind of life would it be for you without your mother? You’re only sixteen, Matthew. I’m still legally responsible for you. And…’
I waited, forcing my fists to unclench. ‘And?’ I repeated.
She swallowed. ‘And I didn’t want to lose everything all at once,’ she said in a small voice. She stood up to clear away the half-eaten dishes.
I stopped her taking mine. I was just starting to get an appetite again.
‘Rhoda, Mattie’s only got another year before he has to go to the city for uni. Is it really worth it for him to change schools, move to where he has no friends, start again for one year? I told you, he can stay here with me. He can give me what the government gives him for living away from home, and if that doesn’t work out, I’m sure we can twist Rod’s arm for support.’
I nodded furiously. ‘Yeah, Dad can pay for a change. This is perfect, Ma.’
Ma glared. ‘You’d better hope the government pays up, young man.’
‘Does that mean I can stay?’ The decision lay on the edge of a blade; I tried not to look too eager. As I watched her face, usually so closed and dark, I saw what I hadn’t noticed before. Ma looked lost. I had a glimpse of how hard it might be for a mother to leave her only son, and I steeled myself.
            ‘After all, a boy has to leave home some time’, she muttered, as if to convince herself.

See you next time!
Claire Belberg


  1. Hello Claire, I have enjoyed exploring your blog. I wonder what percentage of poets are also gardeners? I started reading the poems in Women's Work on the way home on the plane. They were a good distraction from the screaming baby, the vomiting little girl the the bucking and jolting of the plane. I liked your poem and the story it tells of shifting emphasis between family and writing very much. It was a pleasure to meet you.

  2. Thanks, Donna. It was great to meet you too. Your poem reminds me why I never wanted to do waitressing! Let me know when you have another poem published. I think we're on a roll...

  3. Hi Claire, I didn't get around to commenting when you first wrote this story. Reading it again I really appreciate it more. Perhaps because my big boy who was once an only son has left home. You have written so well, especially when you describe the reactions of this woman's character. She is someone we all know or can relate to. Bless you and hope we catch up one day in the near future! Would love to just turn up and say "Hi" love Kath Horton


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