Welcome to Episode Two of my Australian mystery quest novel Paternity. If you missed the beginning catch up on Episode One in my last post. You may recognise Pip's Poem from the 'taste' I posted earlier. It needs to be included here however.
Enjoy - and please leave a comment about what you thought, at the end. Otherwise it's free!
LINKS TO OTHER EPISODES ARE ON THE SIDE BAR
©June Saville 2008
The ride into the bush was an atrocity of bodies and intrusions. They forced a filthy rag smelling of petrol into her mouth, and rasping cords bound her hands and feet. She was a helpless plucked chicken.
Now they all waited in the clearing … for what?
A car door slammed once.
The pack was half men, half beasts, and their strangely long teeth snapped and gnawed at her in the moon’s light. She lay on the hard stony ground, splayed, naked and open, and they lined up, one after the other to devour her, and to leave their residue.
The pain … no matter to them. No matter her degradation and her fear. They sucked at her pride and took away her spirit’s breath. They picked her up and spat and growled and shook her; worried at her, and scratched at her with their claws.
She was their meat, and their grotesque masks of hair and flesh flashed and burned into her soul. And picked at her bones.
It was always the same dream. The same nightmare.
My mother died last night,
Secrets in the palm
of her hand.
And with her the blue eyes
Which could be icy
Or take on the hue of a summer sky
Or cloud over
Milky weak with memories,
As a child
I’d read her eyes
And know when to steal
To her lap for comfort
Or leave her alone
to her sadness …
And without living full.
Oh yes, when she was young
She lived it full.
But something happened.
Her secret happened
And she died within.
My mother Selene
Of the beautiful long limbs
And the wheat field hair
Wound round her head.
Of the stutter,
The frightened look
And the deep voice
Sunk to a whisper.
And with her the recipes,
The way to make apple pie.
Where to buy
Our favourite tea …
Little things that mean too much.
It seemed that
Without being truly loved …
She didn’t tell me
who my father was …
I asked often enough
But her lips seemed sealed,
The knowledge lying there
A lump in her throat,
Threatening her breath
Should she let it loose.
Selene wasn’t spiteful
Although she must have known
What her secret meant to me ...
I just wanted to know.
The secret strangled her spirit,
Sabotaged her life
And cut it short.
Do I look like him?
In my mirror …
Are those eyes his eyes?
With their curling lashes
And button shape
Are they his legacy?
The nose I’ve always hated
With its aquiline hook
That some call noble
And which I abhor.
Is it his?
I need to know!
I’m a runt …
Can’t reach the hanging straps in buses.
My toothpaste splatters
I leave hairs in the basin and
squeezing pimples is my thing.
I shave my legs
I don’t do drugs.
I do pump iron.
And grow vegetables
For their juice.
Each night I run miles
And top off my dinner with
Sticky date pudding
And runny cream.
I’m a woman and proud.
I am a writer —
My mother … tall and golden …
Me … small, pale
I’m so sorry
to hear the news.
So sorry …’
I’ve wanted to talk …
To ask …
Now she’s gone it seems
I want to know
About my Dad!’
At the end of the line.
‘Oh my sweet
I don’t know myself …
It was her secret.’
‘Oh dear …
I always felt …
The answer …
Lay in that wretched town.
I’d help if I could.’
A strange fascination
For outback towns.
And loved driving.
But there was one place
Where she refused to go.
Is that the key?
The street outside Pip’s study was as quiet as feather pillows before the pizza boy came. Feathers flew when the heap of old metal roared up the hill, stereo thumping. Brakes screeched, a door banged, and the guy’s boots thumped down the driveway opposite.
He was a large youth. So large that nothing fitted. The Tasty Pizza T-shirt and the jeans threatened to explode against his frame, and the inadequate baseball cap looked ridiculous …
A quiet moment and then the murmur of voices. Coins jingling. The throb of music again, fading around the corner, and the feathers settled …
What was the pizza boy thinking … did he hate his job? What was his secret? Thoughts were so unreachable.
Pip often found herself wishing to scrape away at peoples’ skulls, to peel back the layers and reveal the thoughts beneath. Perhaps that was why she enjoyed journalism. And hated unsolved mysteries.
Joe Black, news editor and a mate of Pip’s was always good for a commission when she really needed it.
‘But we’ve done economic rationalist stories on little outback towns! You’ll have to find a new angle.’
‘Joe baby, have faith. I thought a human-interest interview with that family whose son died. You know — the kid injured at football. The hospital closed down. No doctor. What’s better for the paper’s circulation than a kid dying an unnecessary death?’
‘Orright. Christ I’m soft. But you’ll have to get it into context. Talk to others to get their slant on it.’
Joe’s deep blue eyes softened: ‘How are you doin mate? I’ve missed you … give me a ring some time?’
Pip placed her hand on his arm, there among the rows of deadline driven sub editors. ‘Thanks Joe, maybe I will call ... some time.’
Pip Holmes grinned all the way to the newsroom lift … that took care of her expenses.
At home she flipped the top from a stubby of beer and flopped onto her favourite easy chair. Joe was right of course. It was a pretty weak excuse for a story, and he was really doing her a good turn entertaining the idea at all. She felt lousy using Joe. She couldn’t help thinking he was still vulnerable, even though they’d called it a day with their relationship all of six months before. Anyway, they were still friends, and what were friends for?
What was she thinking of anyway, heading off on a wild goose chase. Was she letting her feelings about her mother’s death screw her into an irrational heap?
Pip groaned out of the chair and tossed the empty bottle into the kitchen recycling bin. Selene’s face was staring at her from a photograph on the bench top. It was her mother’s melancholy, dreamy expression – the one that hinted of her secret. Pip moved closer to the frame and traced the beloved image with a gentle touch.
Not long afterwards she hit the light switch and grabbed her suitcase from the back of the wardrobe. Mad hunch or not, she needed to do this.
The town is as sad as a dog without a tail to wag. Potholes pit the strip of tar that does for the main street and peeling paint is everywhere. Door and windows are boarded up on the only bank, and spiders’ webs are a shroud for many of the other buildings.
Involuntarily, Pip fears this place.
The pub is doing all right though … Friday night and there is a gaggle of utes outside and the din of raucous laughter within. The building needs a paint job too and several tiles are missing from a mural advertising KB Lager near the front door, but it’s not in bad nick otherwise.
A blue cattle dog snarls at Pip as she walks too close to one of the trucks. She skips sideways and up the single step into the bar.
‘Fosters light please. Got a room for the night?’
‘Yeah’ the barman wheezes, ‘I’ll fix yous up as soon as the rush dies down a bit.’
The large room is crowded with country men and women pleased to see the back of another working week. Some stare at Pip above the rims of their schooners, and others watch an intense darts match going on in the far corner.
Pip downs her first beer quickly. It had been a long and dusty trip … She orders another, and grabs a handful of free peanuts from the dish on the bar. Then she saunters over to an empty stool near the dart board. There’s room for her glass on the adjacent sticky tabletop.
Pretty typical Australian country pub. Garish red and gold carpet, tall chairs with black iron legs that get in the way, bar towels stinking of stale beer, tin trays on the floor overflowing deceased cigarette butts. The air almost solid with swirling smoke.
The match is in full swing, but without warning the man with the darts freezes in mid throw. Patrons around him stand suddenly rigid, drinks halfway to their mouths, looking in her direction. Pip knows there is someone behind her.
‘Get off that seat ya fuckin’ cunt.’
The giant of a man is standing immediately behind, well within her personal space. Pip senses the warmth of his body, sees the coarse hairs clustered just inside his bulging nose, feels the stare of his small eyes. His bad breath is suffocating.
Pip’s face is bright red.
‘What did you say?’
‘You heard. Get off me seat.’
‘Your seat! This is a public bar. What right have you …’
The man’s big meaty hand is around her arm, squeezing. Time has slowed remarkably and Pip is thinking clearly despite the pain. She notices the faded tattoo of a crescent moon nested in the tangle of hair above his wrist. She looks up and sees that his eyes are connected by a bushy brow line that stretches, uninterrupted, across most of the upper half of his face.
Then Pip feels rising panic. Who is this monster? What has she done to deserve this?
With an effort she stills the tide inside her and when Pip speaks again her words come slowly: relentless.
‘Remove your hand.’
‘You uppity bitch.’
‘Move it!’ Only the flow of red coursing her face gives away Pip’s anger.
Another voice, one of authority, brings the giant to book: ‘Crawl back into your hole Gazza. That’s no way to treat a lady.’
The voice is measured and strangely familiar. The odious one takes a step backwards, releasing Pip’s arm, and twists to face the newcomer, jaw gaping.
‘Crissakes! It’s Pippin!’ the new voice hoots.
Only one man had ever called her that …
‘Come on mate, give this slug the heave ho and come and have a drink with me.’
Gazza the giant sinks onto the now empty seat and reaches for his schooner ...
Log in soon for the next episode in which Pip embarks on a quest to find her mother's secret. Is Pip a character whose story you want to follow? Are you on the edge of your chair? Or do you feel sleepy right now, and disinterested? Is the town familiar? Please tell me in a comment.
The foregoing is excerpted from Paternity by June Saville. All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.
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