2014 Joint Winner, Year 6 Short Story:
Jade Robinson, Balmain Public School
My mother was doing that thing she did. That thing with the rag in the sink. She would grab the detergent and spray it, then squeeze it one way and squeeze it the other. Sometimes I’d wonder how much longer that red scrap of fabric, with blue birds and a huge chocolate stain, would last. But I shouldn’t have bothered. The next day I was going to Grandma’s, and getting away from our rundown unit in western Sydney.
My Grandma was no ordinary Grandma though, she wouldn’t sit around knitting, or hassle you to put a jumper on, and in fact, when I hopped off the bus in Melbourne, she drove me straight to Luna Park. She went on the Tango Train and screamed with me, ate a huge ice cream with me and stuck to the wall in the most hilarious position in the Rotor. She didn’t much care about the strange looks from the ticket salespeople, or the pointing and whispering about her from teenagers. In fact, she happily feasted on a stick of candyfloss with me.
But I guess that was really the end of the good stuff in the holiday. It’s not that Grandma suddenly decided to take up knitting, or that Grandpa Tom lost lots of money in the races, nor did we have to take a trip to the hospital. Actually, it was when Grandma was telling one of her stories. You see Grandma and I played a sort of game. At night after dinner, when Grandpa took the first sip of his tea, I would point to one of the pictures on the wall. You can’t imagine how many pictures were on the four walls of their lounge room, let alone their house! And so, Grandma would tell me their ‘life story’ as we liked to call it.
That particular night however, I chose a picture just behind Grandma’s treasured toffee jar nestled between a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day and a picture of my uncle Robert on his trip to Cambodia. It was a black and white photo depicting a young man in his twenties, leaning back on one of those very old fashioned tractors, one of those ones people collect nowadays. He was brushing his chocolate brown hair away from his face and smiling one of those very cheesy toothy smiles that reminded me of my little sister. He had the same electric blue eyes as my own. He was my father.
It wasn’t so much that I was blind to the truth. It was just that I had seen the truth differently. I mean I knew that my father died, that was the reason for my mama’s depression, and that the police had treated his death as suspicious, but I never really wondered about it. The thing Mama did with the rag in the sink was bad enough; I didn’t want to draw out any more emotions lurking within. But Grandma was more than happy to tell me about it.
“That one, that’s your father,” Grandma told me, craning her head over her prized toffee jar. “Nice bloke, he was. Very organised as well, I guess you didn’t borrow that trait from him.” Grandma gestured towards my messy suitcase. “Born in Adelaide in, well, it must have been 1960, or something like that, to Mr and Mrs Trebly. Grew up in Darwin though, and met your mother at a New York City nightclub. Quite a traveller he was. Anyway that photo was taken on Mr Trebly’s farm when your mother was just pregnant with your little sister. But I bet you’re most curious about, what happened–“
Grandpa interjected with a warning tone, “Eliza.”
“Remember what we promised to Ashleigh?”
“She deserves to know!”
“On her 16th birthday.”
“It’s her father! She needs to know”
“Don’t make it any worse for Ashleigh!”
“Ashleigh! What about Michael? We can’t keep it from his own daughter!”
“Katie and Crimson will be taken away!”
“Mrs Trebly never saw her grandchildren.”
“The welfare department will take our grandchildren! We’ll never see them again.”
“Katie, I think it’s time for you to go to bed.”
“Just admit it. We all know Ashleigh killed him”
The room went silent. Literally, you could only hear the buzzing of a mosquito, which was soon swatted away by Grandma. Both of them were reduced to tears. We didn’t do much for the rest of that holiday: it was as if Grandma had simply lost her spark. She never finished that story.