Last week I posted a taste of my novel Paternity and the bloggy mates wanted more. Today I begin at the beginning with Part One and will continue the story with regular episodes posted here.
Enjoy - and please repay the favour with feedback via a comment. That's the only royalty I require! (Unless you're a publisher and then we can talk.)
LINKS TO OTHER EPISODES ARE ON THE SIDE BAR
PATERNITY – A NOVEL Part One
© June Saville 2008
They waited with some sort of bizarre discipline, although straining at the leash.
The vicious wind set leaves scuttling on the ground, and branches arching against the bright night sky. The full moon saw it all, and intensified the shadows at the bases of the trees. She felt freezing then, and fear took over from the anger. What did they intend with her?
Soon two white lights shattered the gloom, appearing first at the top of the track. They followed its bends and twists until they lit the clearing and then the target directly … blinding her.
The car door slammed once.
By age 22 Violet Selene Holmes, yoga fanatic, had saluted the sun in a dozen different countries. She draped her long limbs on the sand at Goa as the saffron sun swelled above the Arabian Sea, and, less comfortably, on mountainsides in the Andes, the Himalayas, and among the Kurdish sheep on the slopes of Mount Ararat.
Her mother named her after a flower, and an old fashioned one, although Violet was anything but a delicate petal. Given the choice between a rough pebble-strewn path and a smooth one, she’d take the pebbles.
Her second name was borrowed from the moon goddess of Greek mythology. This was Selene's favourite, and she used it throughout her life.
Selene paid for her fares from a cache she began collecting at age seven, and she travelled alone. But she knew how to party.
She had been roaming for three years, luxuriating in the sights and sounds and smells of other lands, when her thoughts turned homewards. Selene found herself longing for the toss and tumble of a Sydney surf, the smell of eucalyptus leaves burning in a barbecue fire, for streets clogged with Australians — whatever their hue, whatever their accent.
So the young woman with the wheat field hair booked a flight home and did those things which had set her aching while on foreign shores. She steeped herself in old friends and familiar places, but a year or so later she felt again the old need to move along. This time she would explore the vast spaces of her own land ...
The thin strip of gibbers and gravel which had passed for a road for the last two hundred kilometres became wider now and Selene’s hands relaxed on the smooth vinyl of the steering wheel. She could even see signs of desultory attention from a grader. The car picked up speed, rattling by occasional clumps of ancient pine trees, branches gnarled and foliage bedraggled, and spewed dust high into the air. The dust changed colour to red, and eddied and swirled, to settle on the stumps and drunken fence posts on either side.
The town must not be far away.
She took the bend too fast, and had to wrench the wheel to avoid a row of mail boxes on posts set too close to the road. They stood there like abandoned skeletons with no real connection to humanity. Where were the people who got letters in this godforsaken place?
Everything she saw was evidence that people had been there — not that they were there now. A tractor ravaged of moving parts, and rusted. A wattle and daub hut, collapsed upon itself. A lonely sentinel chimney, fireplace attached. Willy nilly tangles of barbed wire, battered baked- bean tins and scattered shards of lager bottles.
The car groaned towards an outcrop of round red rocks lying topsy turvy on a sudden rise. It heaved up the hill, gasped as it came to the top, and died.
In the distance, a small town lay all but concealed on the flat below, as though resisting prying eyes …
Selene stormed out of the driver’s seat and tugged open the bonnet. Her tall frame doubled itself as the fair head bent towards the engine, seeking reasons. There didn’t seem to be any. Finally, she locked the car. Her boots clomped rhythmically, exciting the red dust as she made her way down the slope.
The sun’s glare ricocheted from the galvanised iron walls of a shed dimly labelled War Memorial Hall, and bounced off the road to hit the figure of a soldier dressed in World War 1 uniform, ramrod straight as the gun he held aloft. The cenotaph warrior was the token human being in the place, for the single street was hushed, and empty apart from a clutch of cars shimmering in the relentless light at the far end.
This town was the product of a time tunnel. Small windows of a shop front winked at her, sharing Selene’s delight at its wares. Rolls of cloth, scissors, umbrellas, packets of needles, children’s clothing dangling raggle taggle on wire hangers, and shoes. A battered and cracked mannequin stood proud of her daisy-showered cotton dress, and rubber knee boots. There was a sign on the wall: Closed for lunch.
Next door two small wooden houses leaned against each other, also in siesta.
However, the milk bar was open. The long fake marble counter was coloured with rows of sweet jars, bottles of ice cream soda flavours, stacks of plates and containers of cutlery, all reflected in the long mirror engraved with a likeness of the Parthenon, and swirls of leaves and flowers. An endless row of cubicles with laminated tabletops set with salts and peppers, menus and sugar, lined the opposite wall.
A row of slowly moving ceiling fans hummed a greeting.
‘Afternoon,’ she smiled in relief. The chubby man behind the counter was tied at his middle by the strings of an apron, and his hesitant nod came framed by a moustache, curled and drooping on either side of stacked chins.
‘I’d die for one of your milkshakes — caramel malted?’
‘Just arrived in town?’ He craned his short neck towards the street.
‘My car threw it in at the top of the hill … Lucky to get so close.’
She sat in the corner of one of the cubicles fondling the coolness of the glass, which was thick and squat. The tumbler came empty, accompanied by a tall dented aluminium container filled with creamy milk and froth. You poured the drink into the glass yourself, and there was enough for two helpings. There were no straws, and as she drank, the froth tickled her nose.
The smell and sound of crackling bacon sidled its way from the kitchen, soon followed by the proprietor and a hamburger on a plate. A fly buzzed in his wake.
‘With the lot!’ He slid the plate across the slippery table towards her. ‘I’d have thought you’d be busy … it’s lunch time,’ she glanced around the empty cafe.
‘If you must know they generally wet their whistles at the pub first, and maybe eat later. Watcha here fer lady?’
‘Just wandering. Is there a mechanic?’
‘Gazza’ll probably fix you up. Ask at the bar.’
The clatter in the pub ceased immediately she walked in from the street. Schooners of beer stood ignored among the slops on the bar, and every eye leered in her direction.
'Ladies’ lounge is out the back,’ the barman whined.
Selene chose not to hear: ‘Is Gazza around? I’m after a mechanic.’
The little knots of drinkers, wearing broad hats to a man, stood mesmerised. Then, as Selene stood firm, the entire bar seemed to shift weight from one foot to another.
‘I’m after a mechanic!’
Finally, a mountain of a man extracted himself from the crowd, lumbered over, and breathed a stink of rotten eggs at her. Selene thrust her hand forward to force a greeting and immediately wished she hadn’t. The fellow had hair growing on his palm!
‘Got car problems eh?’ The drinker’s currant eyes flicked over Selene’s jeans where the denim stretched tightly across her thighs.
‘At the top of the hill. It died at the top of the hill … ’
‘Oright. I’ll see ya after I’ve had me lunch.’
Selene drifted into the street just as the last of the sun began to disappear behind a hill. A bed she’d organised at the pub bent in the middle like a hammock, and the shower rose down the hall was broken, but it was all clean enough. Her car was supposed to be on the road next morning.
She thought about the wild ride up the hill in the rusted old ute, engulfed in Gazza’s breath of bad eggs. The mechanic was a soaring suet pudding with cold eyes staring from slanted brows that met at the bridge of his nose. He was impervious to her attempts at conversation. However, once they reached her car he was a changed man: methodical and efficient. To each his own.
That peculiar disinfectant smell of pubs in Australia lingered even on the footpath outside. The barman was hosing down the tiled wall with its mural of brawny footballers advertising KB Lager. He seemed to ignore her, but directed the hose closer as she passed, splashing her shirt. She could feel the damp spreading on her skin.
Where were the women? She hadn’t even caught sight of the ladies’ lounge.
A couple of doors down there was a grocer’s shop with long scrubbed counter and bags of potatoes and onions near the till. Closed. A lone petrol pump outside cast a long weak shadow …
It was good to be in the open air after the smoke and stench of the pub. A full moon sat majestic in the sky, occasionally blotted out by scudding clouds. Washing on a decrepit clothesline flapped with the strengthening breeze …
This place was so silent. The moon withdrew again, and the shadows disappeared as well, becoming one with the sombre darkness.
Close to the cenotaph at the far end of the street Selene paused before an aged building: Guardian Printers. The town had a newspaper! She pressed her nose to a window, opaque with grime. It was now too dark to see anything.
An engine roared somewhere. The moon came out from behind the clouds. She strolled on towards the hall at the edge of town, and then crossed the road. The engine was still roaring. Some hoon trying out his V8. The engine screamed repeatedly, but the car remained hidden.
An abrupt howl and a shriek of tyres, and Selene, startled, stared down the silver road towards the pub. A red Holden screeched into view and was thundering toward her.
The three faces in the front seat of the car gleamed white with the return of the moon. They sneered at her: evil ghosts.
The car propped.
‘Ya fuckin’ cunt. Git in!’
Selene’s body became a spring. She leapt to the side and was running. Her legs were pistons. On foot now, the men clamoured after her, increasingly near and shouting obscenities. The buildings, monsters on either side of the street, mocked her plight.
What did you think of Part 1? Have you seen a town like this? What will happen next? Have a guess and leave your idea 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.
Go to Episode Two