Vapours

By Clark, Sherryl | Hecate, January 1, 1993 | Go to article overview

Vapours


Clark, Sherryl, Hecate


Vapours

It arrived nearly six months after her mother died, a small brown cardboard box which rattled when she shook it, and smelt musty and motheaten, like her mother. She cringed at the guilt which sprung to the surface as she unwrapped it. There would be photos, mementos, worthless to anyone except her mother: she shoved the box roughly to the back of her wardrobe and slammed the door.

It was an unbearably hot day; a gusty northerly blew hot dust into every sweaty crevice. The kids complained endlessly, bored with each other and the long weeks of holidays; the old fibro house offered no relief on any count. Em spent most of her time screaming as they whined underfoot, driven to tormenting her in response to their own unhappiness.

Noel was working ten-hour days, which helped their money situation (her mother always condemned hire purchase; hadn't she ever needed anything?) but left her with three children to deal with on her own.

The wind-driven heat set up a familiar throbbing in her head which increased in intensity every time one of the kids yelled or cried. Eventually all she could do was sit dumbly on the threadbare couch, tears dribbling down her face as her hands clenched and unclenched in time with her pounding head.

Carrie, nearly nine, laid her small hand on her mother's shoulder.

`Mum do you wanna lie down or something? Mum?'

Em bit her lip and closed her eyes, trying to will the pain away. `Yes, love, I heard you. I think I will. Dad'll be home soon. You'll have to watch Damien and Susan for me. Can you do that?'

`Course I can. Can we have an icy pole?'

`Yeah, sure.' Em staggered to her feet, praying her head wouldn't actually fall off her shoulders. `If there's any problem, come and get me straight away, OK?'

`Yep.' Carrie was happy, ready to play Mother at a moment's notice. She waited until Em was curled up on the candlewick bedspread before herding the twins in the direction of the freezer. Five year olds were easily bribed and she had a small store of lollies as well.

In the end the heat defeated all three of them and Noel found them sprawled on the floor in front of the TV when he arrived home.

`Hi Dad,' chirped Damien, his energy returning at the sight of his father. `Weatherman says the cool change is coming.'

Noel grinned at his son's beaming face. The kid was bright, already reading books and asking endless questions. He overshadowed Susan, left her sitting quietly in the corner scribbling on scraps of paper.

`What's for dinner?' Noel asked, slinging his work bag onto the hook behind the door. `Salad?'

Carrie glanced up from the television screen. `Dunno. Mum's still asleep.'

`You're kidding! Again? What is it this time, another bloody headache?'

`Yep.' Carrie returned her attention to the screen.

Noel stood for a moment in the doorway of the bedroom, frowning down at Em huddled on the bed. No dinner, no kids bathed and in pyjamas and, of course, no sex later, that's for damn sure! He'd been worded when the headaches first started, insisted Em went to the doctor, made sure she filled the prescription, although the pills just knocked her out. These days his patience was worn very thin; he'd even caught himself thinking it was all in her mind. The pale, strained face, the tears, the occasional vomiting -- he guessed they were real enough, even though they always seemed to come whenever.... He shook his head and went to see what was in the fridge.

15th April 1862

Mother said today I must choose the fabric for my wedding dress. She has made all the arrangements but for the dress -- I must do this myself. I don't know why it is so difficult. Silk is the obvious choice, white, and Grandmother's veil. Yet I cannot bring myself to say `This one.' It is as if that would put a final irrevocable seal on my life. Of course I love Robert, and life will not really change at all, only I shall be living under Robert's fine roof instead of here with my family. …

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