Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chapter 1 - Normal Chaos

Eleni was happy.

The girl sat in front of the blaring tv, feet splayed wide on the dirty carpet, eyes glazed over at the cartoon in the glass. Her mother was cooking something in the sweltering kitchen, slamming cupboards and swearing, the whoosh of water in the sink, the fisssk of another beer can opening. A bedraggled man was pawing his way through the debris heaped on the coffee table, looking for a cigarette lighter and angrily kicking each item that fell from a precarious pile. Ting, clonk, objects hit the opposite wall, leaving small marks on the grubby wallpaper. Finally giving up, he strode into the kitchen. On the tv, credits rolled and the ad-break began, breaking Eleni's hypnotic gaze and making her more aware of the adults nearby.

She listened as the man foolishly entered her mother's domain. Seconds later her mother was yelling.

"WELL! Don't eat it then, ya silly cunt! Get your own feed! That other slut will look after ya, fuck off back to her place, deadshit!" Thud, cupboards slamming again, the jank of a stirring spoon hitting the saucepan. Muttered conversation too low for Eleni to hear. And then more forcefully, "Get out. Don't come back."

His steel-capped boots clomped out the front screen door, which swung closed again in his angry wake.

Eleni's mother placed a pink plastic bowl in front of her. Sausages, mashed potato, and baked beans enticed her, and they smelled delicious. Fridays were always the best. Mum got paid and dinner was the best!

Eleni was happy.

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Within minutes of her mother hanging up the phone, a small blonde woman had arrived, three children in tow. They bounced around the living room, screaming, while Eleni continued to shovel potato into her mouth with a teaspoon. The blonde's swollen belly stuck out from beneath a cropped t-shirt emblazoned 'Grab My Ass'.

Eleni's mother raised her voice over the melee. The bedraggled kids found floorspace and accepted their plastic bowls, finally quieting enough for the adults to carry a conversation at normal volume. "So yeah Jade, I told him to get the fuck out of my house..."

Jade blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke and rested a beer on her belly with her other hand. "Good girl. God, wish I could tell my dumbshit to fuck off, but it's his house. And I've only got three weeks to go anyway so I'm not moving now. What are you gonna do about yours? You gonna try and get rid of it?"

From the floor beside her, Eleni looked up at her mother, who was nodding agreement. "I don't need another kid. And that dickhead's bloody useless. Bastard reckons he hasn't got any money for the appointment. I got half the money now, next pay I'll have enough. But I'm fucked, hey. Too many weeks. Cunt doctor said they won't do it by then, it'll be too late."

Eleni took her bowl out to the kitchen, thinking about the cunt doctors, and the bastards who wouldn't pay for abortions, and the dumbshits who wouldn't fuck off.

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In the morning Eleni woke up to her bed-mate's giggling. Both girls were covered in sweat, while the hum of insects and the smell of mown grass wafted in through the open window. They sat up, squinting in the bright sunlight and chatting to each other about playing under the garden hose. As they entered the kitchen, the two boys were squabbling over cereal.

Eleni poured some into the blue plastic bowl, sloshed milk in, and bent her ear closer, in order to hear the crackling.

From across the table, the smallest kid watched in fascination, taking in Eleni's look of excitement and wondering what she could hear. He leaned his head too close and got cold, wet cereal all over his ear and cheek.

Three kids laughing, one crying, and Jade shuffling in hungover, with knots in her hair and a bleary expression on her face. The water gurgled into the kettle and she tossed a damp dishcloth in her son's direction. "Wipe your head, and then you little shits can get outside and play."

Chocolate cereal, hot days and getting wet in the sprinkler. That's what great weekends were made of.

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On Monday afternoon Jade's kids tumbled into the house. Eleni's mother set out a few hours' supply of junk food and told the four kids to stay inside until the adults got back at dinnertime. HA! Eleni knew that 'dinnertime' might be tomorrow morning. Cool! Staying up late was the best!

But when Jade's car finally arrived back in the driveway at 2am, two police cars followed and Eleni's mother was nowhere to be seen. The slamming of car doors had woken the children and they peered out the bedroom window at the flashing red and blue lights. Officers huddled with Jade for a moment and they whispered together. Eleni tried studying Jade's face in the glow from the streetlight, trying to figure out what was going on. Normal normal, mouth and eyes smeared after an ordinary night at the pub. Eleni guessed that Jade would take them all to school in the morning, like the last time her mother got locked up. Normal normal.

But nothing was normal.

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To her immense surprise, Jade didn't say a word about Eleni's absent mother. She didn't even speak to Eleni. All she did was order her own kids to find their shoes and go with the nice policeman.

NICE policeman? Nice? Jade hated cops. She was chainsmoking and irritible and on edge, gnawing the edge of her mouth and tapping one high-heeled foot, and her clothes were a filthy mess. A gust of wind whipped through the house and Eleni shivered; three officers were standing in the lounge room and staring back and forth between Jade and Eleni.

It seemed to take forever before two of the officers left with Jade's kids, and the woman moved towards an armchair, sinking like a deflating balloon. Rummaging through her handbag, she produced a packet of chewing gum. Then finally she seemed to remember that Eleni was in the room; and Jade handed her the rest of the pack. The remaining police officer shook her hair out of her uniform hat, then sat down on the sofa and tried unsuccessfully to get the busily chewing child to join her.

"Your Mummy is very sick, Eleni," said the cop, trying to speak in gentle tones. "We're going to take you to see her soon. But it's a long way. Can you get some clean clothes on for us, and we'll take your pillow for the trip?"