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Child Unknown

Child unknown

Box Set

Old Balmain House Book Series

 

Copyright

Child Unknown

Graham Wilson 2016

ISBN

 

Book 2 Lizzie’s Tale

Book 3 Devil’s Choice

 

This is a story of a little girl, Sophie, unseen and unknown over three generations. Yet at vital times she appears to help this family when in great need. Who is this Sophie and where has she come from is the story of the first book in this series, The Old Balmain House. Now in these two books the story has moved forward to another family, 50 years on, living in the same house and their own struggles, first the struggle of the mother to make a life for herself, pregnant after a brutal rape, without surrendering this child for adoption, and then in the next generation of her own daughter’s fight to save the life of her child through knowing who the real father is.

 

Book 2, ‘Lizzie’s Tale” tells the story Lizzie, a young unmarried mother in the 1960s, and of the choices she must make to escape from an impossible situation. Book 3, ‘Devil’s Choice’, tells the story of Catherine, Lizzie’s daughter, twenty years later, and how she must finally confront the truth behind what happened to her mother if she is to save the life of her own child. Woven through all is the recurring presence of Sophie, a child from a time long past, unseen and yet known, who becomes a friend to each child in turn in their moment of need.

 

This series tells of courageous women who rise above adversity.

In doing so they touch and bring meaning to many lives. These two books provide a story which may be read alone, however they also form a sequel to Sophie’s story, told in the first book of this series, ‘The Old Balmain House

 

 

 

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Lizzie’s Tale

Old Balmain House – Book 2

 

Novel by Graham Wilson

 

 

Copyright

Lizzie’s Tale

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2013

Shakespir Edition

 

 

 

Authors Preface

 

This novel continues part of the story of the Old Balmain House. It tells of a poor family who come to live in this house at a time when Australia was moving into the 1960s, still a highly conservative society but on the brink of major change. It imagines the life of a girl who makes a very painful journey from childhood to adulthood, at a time when teenage pregnancy almost invariably meant forced adoption and when the social stigma for unwed mothers made their lives unbelievably difficult.

While the characters are not based on any real persons, the treatment of pregnant women in society and, in particular what happened to teenage girls who became pregnant, are very much features of Australian life in the 1960s. Therefore this story is something that could have happened to a person like Lizzie; so it becomes her tale.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

It was September 1956, a warm spring morning in Sydney. Lizzie lay in her bed, she loved her room. It looked out onto the Smith Street, Balmain. In the early morning the sunshine came in, helping her get up for school.

She had just turned eight and felt very proud to be able to walk up to school on her own. She did not have any brothers and sisters, even though her parents tried to have more children. But she did not care, she was happy. She had the most wonderful friend, Sophie.

Sophie was eight too. She lived in their chimney; that is what Sophie said. She had seen Sophie lots of times, mostly after the lights were turned out. Sophie always wore a school dress. She told Lizzie she went to the same school as Lizzie did. But Lizzie had never seen Sophie at school, and Sophie’s uniform did not look like hers; it looked oldish, longer and sort of quaint, like the clothes you saw in photos taken before the war.

The only trouble was that nobody else believed that Sophie was real. Lizzie had told her Mum and Dad about Sophie. While they listened politely she knew they did not believe her. Later she had heard her Mum call Sophie Lizzie’s imaginary friend.

But Sophie was real; really real. They told stories together for hours and Sophie knew things that only real people could possibly know. She had told Lizzie of a special place in the school yard where she, with her own friend Matty, hid a jar with coloured stones and carved wood toys. Lizzie had found it, just where Sophie had said it would be. Now Sophie said Lizzie could keep these things, they were hers. Lizzie was delighted even though they looked a bit old fashioned too. She hid them in her bottom drawer; she did not want other people to see them and laugh.

Yesterday Lizzie had done a job for Sophie, an important job. Sophie’s own Mum, Maria, was old and sick. She was missing Sophie, and Sophie’s Dad, Jimmy, who was now staying with Sophie. Sophie told Lizzie this. Then she said she wanted her Mum to know that she and her Dad were together again and were both happy, and they could not wait until her Mum came to see them too. Then they would all be happy together. So Sophie had asked Lizzie to go and tell Maria this.

So, after school, Lizzie had followed Sophie’s directions and walked to a big house in East Balmain, a house that Sophie said had been her grandmother’s house. It was a long way, but Lizzie did not mind, she knew it was really important. When she got there, she banged on the door for a long time. Finally a lady, a nurse, who said her name was “Sister Rebecca”, came to the door.

Lizzie told Sister Rebecca that she wanted to see Mrs Maria because she had a message from Sophie. At first the nurse told her to stop being silly and go away. But Mrs Maria must have heard Lizzie, because she called out and asked who it was.

She heard the nurse say “It’s just some silly school girl called Lizzie. She says she wants to tell you a message from Sophie. Then she was called into this lady’s room. This lady asked the nurse to go away and close the door. The nurse did, even though she grumbled.

Then the lady asked her to come and sit on the bed, right next to her. The lady was very old and thin. But she had the most beautiful eyes; when Lizzie looked at them she felt like she was talking to Sophie. Beside her bed was a picture of Sophie, the same as now, except in the picture she was wearing a white dress. There was also a picture of this lady, when she was young and beautiful; standing next to a man that was Sophie’s Daddy, Jimmy. Somehow Lizzie knew it was him in their wedding photo.

Lizzie told her Sophie’s message. At first the lady sat very still for a long minute, then she cried, but they were happy tears. Then the lady told her, if she saw Sophie again, to tell Sophie she was already packing her bags and hoped to come that night.

Last night, after this, Lizzie had seen Sophie again. Lizzie thought it might be the last time she would see Sophie like an ordinary person. Sophie was starting to fade away; Lizzie could look through her now and see across the room. Sophie had been so happy. She had told Lizzie that, even though they would not see each other after this, they would stay best, best friends, for ever and ever, and Lizzie could still talk to her and that she would hear and understand.

So, although Sophie was gone and Lizzie could no longer see her, she knew they would stay friends. This made her feel good. She knew she did not need to feel lonely, as Sophie would keep listening to her.

Today, after school, Lizzie saw Mrs Maria’s photo in the newspaper. The paper said that Mrs Maria Williams of East Balmain had died last night. Lizzie felt sad about this but it made sense, when Mrs Maria said she was packing up to leave she really meant she was dying.

Lizzie had started to realise this when Sophie faded away last night. Then she began to understand that, while Sophie was real, she was also the ghost of someone who had lived before and died a long time ago, at the time when Mrs Maria was young herself. That was why nobody else could see her. Now Sophie did not need Lizzie’s help anymore. She had gone to another place with her own Mum and Dad, a place where no one living here could see her. Lizzie knew it was a happy place, because she could feel the happiness in Sophie. Perhaps it was that place grown-ups called heaven, which they talked about in church.

Just before she had left Mrs Maria’s place, yesterday, Mrs Maria had given Lizzie a small package wrapped in plain brown paper. It fitted into the palm of Lizzie’s hand. Mrs Maria said it was a present for her from Sophie, but she should not open it unless a time came when she really, really needed it. In the meantime she should put it somewhere safe, but she must take it with her if ever she moved to another place to live, because it had a little bit of magic inside, just for Lizzie.

So Lizzie made a solemn promise that she would never open it, unless she really needed help. She knew she would keep this promise. For now she put it into the purse which she had been given as a present on her last birthday. To make sure it did not fall out she cut a little slit into the lining and put it inside the lining material before sewing the lining up again. This was the best and safest place she could think of, a place where no one else would know but where she could take it out again if needed to.

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – The Dream

 

Lizzie found herself lying awake in her bed. At first she found it hard to tell whether she was awake or asleep. She knew she had been dreaming and the dream still felt incredibly real. But now she looked through the window and saw the familiar outline of the tree in the faded street light. So she knew it was definitely her bedroom window not some imaginary place in her mind.

This was the most vivid dream she could ever remember having and it was a scary dream in which Sophie had tried to tell her something. It was a dream of warning, though the warning was hard to understand. The first part she could remember was that she was in a car with some boys. The boys were a few years older than her. She was with Julie and they were going to a party.

They were all dressed up and excited. One of the men seemed to be her friend, Julie’s, boyfriend, they were holding hands together. The others were people she did not know, but they must have been rich because one of them owned the car they were riding in, and they were all well dressed with expensive clothes. Later in the dream, three of these boys wanted her to leave the party and come for a drive with them.

Julie and her boyfriend were still at the party talking to some other people and she could not really see them. Lizzie sort of liked the boy who owned the car and he seemed to like her. Now he wanted her to come back to the car with him.

As she stood just outside the front door of the party house and was deciding whether to go, suddenly, there was Sophie standing in front of her. Sophie was pulling at her arm and trying to get her to go back inside. Sophie was just the same as she had looked all those years ago, when she had lived in her bedroom chimney. Now she seemed so little; almost babyish really as she stood right in front of Lizzie, trying to block her from going to the car with her boys, Sophie said it was dangerous and begged Lizzie not to go.

But Lizzie had walked straight through where Sophie was standing. It felt like she was knocking Sophie aside, even though she disappeared before Lizzie got there. Of course Sophie was not really there. Now she had woken up and realised that it was only a dream, even though it felt so real. Sophie had only ever been a ghost and she had vanished from Lizzie’s life a long time ago when Lizzie was only just eight. She did not remember talking to Sophie since when her Dad was living here. So she decided it would be childish to listen to her now.

Soon Lizzie would be fifteen. It was silly to let something from all those years ago interfere with her life now. Sure she had promised Sophie they would stay best friends for ever, but that was just a kid promise; one did not pay attention to those when grown up, as she was now.

But, as she tried to brush this dream aside, she had a bad feeling and a voice inside her mind kept telling her that she should listen to Sophie, that Sophie was her real friend and would not come all this way to tell her something unless it really mattered.

The trouble was that neither she nor Julie had a boyfriend. Certainly they knew no one like the boys in the dream. And, even if they did and went for a ride in a car with these boys, what harm could it do. Deciding that she had thought about it enough she fell back to sleep. When she woke the next morning the dream was pushed out of her mind, soon to be forgotten.

It did come back, just for a second when she saw Julie, but it seemed too silly to tell her grown up and fashionable friend, the one who everyone in school had voted the cleverest, most beautiful and most likely to succeed person. If the truth was told, Lizzie was a little in awe of Julie who seemed much cleverer and prettier than her. Julie had much nicer clothes and things because her parents had a lot more money. She lived in a nice house over near Birchgrove Oval, and her Dad worked in an office in the city and drove a fancy car called a Jaguar. Perhaps Julie did know boys like the ones in her dream, but she had never introduced people like them to Lizzie.

Still Julie had become her friend at school and most morning teas and lunchtimes they sat together and talked to each other. She did not know why Julie payed attention to her. Even though some of the boys at school seemed to like Lizzie too she realised she was much plainer than her beautiful friend and her clothes and hair were not nearly as nice. She made most of her own things with her mother’s sewing machine using whatever material was available, whereas Julie bought hers in expensive department stores, like David Jones in Elizabeth Street.

Lizzie was fourteen and would be fifteen soon. She had lived in the same house and slept in the same bed for all the life she could remember. But much had changed from the life of her childhood.

Lizzie now had one brother, David. He was only five years old. Her Mum had three miscarriages, after her, before David came along, and after each her mother seemed to go off to a place inside herself where she barely talked to other people and forgot about all the things that ordinary people did, like housework or going shopping, or putting on nice clothes. Sometimes, for days at a time, her mother would barely come out of her room, and she would forget to wash herself, do her hair or almost anything. Then it was just Lizzie and her Dad who had to manage. Lizzie started to do the housework and the cooking, even though she could not do it as well as her Mum.

At first her Dad had been good and had tried to get her Mum out. He had also helped do a lot of the housework. But as it went on, year after year, gradually it had begun to get her Dad down too. He always worked long days on the docks and it was hard heavy work, lifting and carting things. So he would come home tired and dirty. However when Lizzie was little he always came straight home and would pick her up and swing her around in his arms and hug her. And he would hug his wife, Patsy, and dance around the room with her.

The first miscarriage came when Lizzie was about six and she could only kind of remember it. She knew that the baby had been born way too soon, it was about 4 months old, and her Dad had said it was as tiny as a little finger. This first time her Dad had tried really hard to get her Mum to come out and still do things. He had helped heaps, and their family life had still been good. He had said that they just needed to keep trying and he was sure they would have another baby soon.

Sure enough, soon, maybe a few months later, another baby came, but this one was also lost around 4 or 5 months. Her Mum had sparked up while the baby was coming but all too soon it was over and she was back to being miserable again.

Her Dad still kept trying to help, and Lizzie tried really hard to help too, and their Mum seemed to appreciate that they were both trying. She also stayed upbeat about her chance to have another baby, and said that this time it would come out alright.

After another year and a half, when Lizzie was eight, her Mum got pregnant again. She had become her old self again, talking, laughing and playing with Lizzie, going out with her friends, going to the shops to buy baby clothes for the boy she was sure it was. And her Dad had seemed so excited and happy too. For all of her pregnancy it had all seemed to go just fine, and gradually her Mum’s tummy got bigger and bigger.

But then, when it came time for the baby to be born, it all went horribly wrong. The baby was turned the wrong way, and the cord got twisted around its neck. Her Mum was rushed up to the hospital where they did an operation. They cut her tummy open and took the baby out. But the baby was dead; this little blue thing, which should have been her new brother Ronnie.

For a while her Mum had tried to be brave. She kept saying that soon another baby would come. But it seemed like the operation had messed up something in her insides, she would often hold her stomach in pain. Gradually she started not getting up in the morning and doing less and less. Now Lizzie found herself doing more and more around the house to help her Mum.

It would not have been too bad if her Mum had been pleased with Lizzie’s help; but instead she found fault with whatever was done, the meals were not nice, the clothes were not washed properly, the floors were dirty; that’s what she said while she just lay around, doing nothing.

She acted the same way towards her Dad too. He could not do anything right. On the one hand she said he did not work hard enough and earn enough money, on the other hand it was his fault that he worked such long hours and came home late. Lizzie knew it was unfair to both her Dad and her; they were both trying their best. But she could not make her Mum understand. Gradually they both stopped trying to please her and started to ignore her and just leave her to herself.

Her Dad started stopping at the pub on the way home and often spent most of his wages there. Lizzie would take any chance to go to a friend’s place and not come home till late and when she did now she would often just sit in her room and read books, just to escape this poor and dreary life. She kept trying her best to look after her Dad, but it was hard now when he was often drunk. It also seemed every time her Mum and Dad were together they either fought or had nothing to do with each other and it made her Dad miserable and grumpy.

Lizzie had really wanted to have her old happy life back, just her and her Mum and Dad, all being happy together. She could not really see why having another baby was so important to them. Sure it would be nice for her to have a brother, but they were still a family and could enjoy things.

Then, just when it had seemed hopeless, her Mum had come out of the bedroom one day with her hair washed and wearing clean clothes. She told them she was expecting another baby. After this it was like she had become a new person, she cleaned the house until it was spotless, she made them keep everything really clean; she said she was not going to let anything happen this time which might put at risk this precious child. Everything was about the baby that was coming, nothing about anyone else. It felt as if her Mum had forgotten about her Dad and her, even though they were still living here too.

Soon her Dad was going back to the pub again, coming home late, drunk, having spent far too much money. Her Mum could not stand this either. Before long she would not let him stop in the same room as her, she said he was too dirty. Her Dad would still hug her, his Lizzie, when he saw her. Even though he had often not shaved and smelt a bit bad, she still loved him lots. She just wished she could make it all better.

Then one day he did not come home. He was not there that night and not the next night either. Lizzie was beside herself with worry; her Mum barely seemed to notice. Her tummy was getting really big now, and all she seemed to be able to talk about was what would be good for the baby. It was as if her husband’s absence had barely registered in her consciousness.

So Lizzie went to the place where her Dad worked, early the next morning, and asked if he was there. The people said that no-one had seen him since the night before last when he finished work. Then he had told them he was finished for the day, obviously heading for the pub.

So she had gone to the pub, just herself, a nine year old girl in a school dress, even though she should have gone to school. She asked if anyone had seen her Dad or knew where he was. Finally someone told her he had been there the night before last and had left about ten o’clock, so drunk he could barely walk, saying there was no point going home as his wife did not talk to him anymore, as he wobbled out the door.

That was the last anyone had seen him. The publican said that, if he had gone missing, Lizzie should go and see the police. So she had walked all the way up to the police station, up in the middle of town, and talked to a kindly police sergeant. She had asked him to help her look for her Dad and had also told him about her Mum and how her Mum did not even seem to realise her that Dad was missing.

So the policeman organised a search with a few men from the pub and the nearby streets. They found him soon enough, lying at the bottom of some rickety stairs which went down from behind the pub; going down the side of the cliffs to the docks below. Underneath the stairs grew some scrubby bushes.

There was the body of her Dad, lying hidden under these bushes. They said he must have tripped and fallen over the rails, coming from high up on the stairs, falling headfirst onto the rocky ground below. Now he lay there with his head smashed and his neck at a funny angle. It was awful.

They tried to keep her away; they said he smelt bad and she should not see him until the undertaker had fixed him up. But she had ducked under peoples arms and ran to where he was; just wanting to go and hug him one more time. A policeman caught her and held her back, but not before she saw him with his broken neck and smashed head.

Now she could not quite forgive her Mum for letting this happen, through sending her father away. She knew it was not just her Mum’s fault; but if her Mum had been nicer her Dad would not have got so drunk and it would not have happened.

Anyway five more years had gone by, her Mum had baby David soon after this. While Lizzie quite liked her brother, she could not get her Dad or her old life back. So while her Mum now tried to talk to Lizzie again and pretended it had not happened, Lizzie was still angry deep inside. So they still lived together, and she played a bit with her brother, but mostly she just kept to herself.

And now they were so, so poor. Her mother got some sort of pension, but it did not go far towards feeding them all and buying them clothes. The house needed a new coat of paint, the kitchen cupboards were falling apart and there were holes in the bottom of her shoes that she tried to stuff with newspaper.

She looked for any odd jobs she could find; baby-sitting, mending clothes, washing and ironing; but it was always hard to find enough money, and when she did get some she mostly gave it to her Mum without keeping any for herself, because she still knew that her family was more important, and her Dad would have wanted her to do this.

She knew her Mum was trying to make it up to her for that awful time she had caused, but yet in Lizzie’s heart a hard lump towards her Mum remained.

But now things were looking up, Julie had become her good friend and Julie was rich and had other rich friends. Julie talked to Lizzie like she was not some little poor girl, and sometimes she gave her spare clothes, bits of jewellery and other nice things. Plus she really liked talking to Julie, both telling stories and imagining what they would do with their lives once grown up. Soon she would leave school; it would happen at the end of this year as she had been promised work in a factory in Pyrmont. So she would forget about any silly dreams like the one last night.

 

 

 

Chapter 2 – Lizzie Turns 15

 

The year was 1963 and soon it would be in 1964. It was the last week of school at Balmain High School and Lizzie and Julie had both sat their final exam for their Intermediate Certificate. Lizzie generally got good marks, people said she was bright and should stay on at school. Julie was going to Croydon Presbyterian Ladies College next year as a boarder, Lizzie’s Mum said it was a sort of finishing school for rich girls, before they went and found husbands and got married.

Julie however had other ideas and talked about going to University and doing some course, perhaps Arts or becoming a lawyer. She was bright and got good marks too, but usually Lizzie beat her in this, as least in Maths and Science. Julie really encouraged Lizzie to not leave school; she said she was way too clever just to end up working in a factory, packing boxes or something similar.

But there was not enough money in their family for that, her Mum was just managing to make ends meet, but Lizzie knew it was time for her to get a job and contribute to the family income, a job was on offer in Pyrmont and she would take it the week after next.

For now she had two more days at school and then, on the Saturday, it was her birthday party; she would turn fifteen. She knew her Mum had been scrimping and saving every little bit she could in order to have enough money to give her a nice party where she could invite a few school friends. She even suspected that her Mum was trying to buy her a present from David Jones on lay by, she saw what looked like a lay by docket in her Mum’s purse the other day.

She and her Mum were getting on better now; she was starting to appreciate just how hard it was for her Mum to bring up two children on her own. Her Mum had no other family that lived in Sydney, her own mother and father were both dead and her one brother lived in Melbourne. While he wrote occasional letters he did not have a good enough job to help with money. And since her husband, Ron’s, death, her Mum had heard nothing from his family. It was as if they blamed Patsy for Ron’s death. While Lizzie knew this was sort of true, she was managing to forgive and forget, and she thought they should too.

Lizzie had also read about a thing called post-natal depression that doctors were talking about, she read lots of science books and had started to understand that it was a sort of mental illness. She thought that this was what her mother had before and that it was not really fair to blame people in this situation. So, even though she still missed her Dad terribly, that hard lump in her heart towards her Mum was going away.

Lizzie knew she was not exactly beautiful, but people said she had a bright and interesting face, and in the last year her body had really filled out, even though she did not have the radiant beauty of Julie. But people seemed to enjoy talking to her and seemed to think she had interesting things to say. She had lots of ideas in school discussions and her teachers were all encouraging her to try and continue her studies.

The day of Lizzie’s birthday came around; it was a Saturday, and her Mum had organised an afternoon party, starting at 3 pm, in their back yard. This was shaded by a big gum tree, and her mother had set up a table for food, surrounded by all the chairs she owned, along with all she could borrow from her neighbours. They were arranged in little clusters in the leafy garden. David had been given the job of decorating it all using ribbons, balloons and streamers. He had taken to this with gusto; now it had a really festive air.

Six of Lizzie’s classmates were coming, including Julie, along with two other friends around her own age who lived in her street. The neighbours from both sides, who had helped with the cooking and preparing food, were also coming.

Julie had also asked if she could bring a friend of her own, someone Lizzie did not know. The way she said it, it sounded sort of significant and it made her wonder if Julie had started seeing someone.

Just before three o’clock the neighbours came round; they offered to help with any last minute arrangements. The Locke family were a young couple, with a boy around David’s age, who lived to their right. The two boys immediately disappeared into David’s attic bedroom, not expected to come out again until the food was served.

Mr and Mrs Collins, who lived on the other side, were an elderly couple whose children had grown up and moved away. They were kind, if a little nosey. However their help was welcome, even if they were a bit too churchy for Lizzie’s taste. However Lizzie greeted them politely and chatted with them for a minute to be courteous while her mother worked away. Then Mr Collins took up the role of serving drinks to other guests and Mrs Collins took up the job of keeping an eye of the pies and cakes which were finishing in the oven while her own Mum attended to other arrangements.

Lizzie felt inordinately proud of her Mum. Sure their house looked old and shabby. But her Mum had done everything humanly possible to make it look its best, it was spotless and bunches of flowers graced all possible locations. And she was amazed with the food her Mum had put together, little pies and pastries, sweet cakes, some bread, cold meat, cheese and fruit and lots of lollies and chocolates. It looked wonderful.

The door bell rang. It was five of her classmates, come together, each with their own present, bright wrapping and brighter smiles. It was sort of lovely, so exciting, that these people had brought these things for her.

Then a big car drove past and parked just in front of the next house. Lizzie barely looked at it, none of her friends owned cars. Suddenly she realised that Julie was sitting in the passenger seat, wearing a lilac summer dress and looking gorgeous. And there was a tall, good looking man sitting in the driver’s seat. He got out and came around to Julie’s side. He courteously opened the door. Julie got out, trying to look grown up and graceful, but obviously a bit self-conscious. The man took her hand and they walked together up to the front door, where Julie introduced Lizzie, sounding formal. “Lizzie, this is my friend Carl who I wanted you to meet.” “Carl, this is my best friend from school, Lizzie.”

Julie handed her a beautifully wrapped present, along with a card. Lizzie brought all her guests into the house and introduced them all around. The party began, everyone chatting politely and sipping the punch; then presents were given which Lizzie dutifully opened. Julie had given her a lovely embroidered top and a swim suit with the fashion house label still attached. Her other friends had given her a range of other considerate gifts, for all of which she dutifully showed enthusiasm.

Last was a present from her Mum, the soft shape showed it was clothing. She opened it; it was a truly lovely summer dress, beautiful floral patterns and lovely soft silky fabric. She knew this would have cost her Mum big time, scrimping and saving for months and then some. She could feel tears prick her eyes, and her Mum seemed to be crying too.

Her Mum said. “Lizzie, I only wish your Dad could have been here to see you in it, I know he would have approved and been so proud.”

Lizzie went over and hugged her Mum. It was like all the hate and badness of the years was finally washed away.

 

 

 

Chapter 3 – The Party

 

The next week Julie called round to Lizzie’s place on the Monday about lunch time. Lizzie was just hanging about at a bit of a loose end. So it was a relief to have a chance to chat to Julie. With the other people their chance to talk at the party had been limited. So they walked around the corner to the park where they sat under a shady tree to talk in private without disturbance.

Lizzie was bursting to know more about Carl, she wanted to know how and when Julie had met him, how serious it was, what they had done together and so many more things. She had never had a boyfriend herself. There was so little time and so much work to be done and she was not striking to look at, the way Julie was. Not to mention that her clothes were often threadbare, her Mum cut her hair in a simple plain manner, and she had not practised all the ways of making herself attractive to men that some of her other friends had.

She knew a couple other boys around her age in her street but the relationship was more like brothers and sisters, they had never taken any particular notice of her and she had never taken any particular notice of them.

But she sensed that there were other boys out there who were different creatures, charming and sophisticated, like those she had read about in the great novels of English which she studied at school and read in her bedroom at home.

Carl seemed like one of these sophisticated boys, resembling a figure from a novel, who dressed in striking clothes, drove a luxurious car and who knew how to laugh and make jokes in ways which charmed girls. So she had a hunger to know about him, and other men like him, who mixed with the likes of Julie.

Julie herself seemed to bask in Lizzie’s enthusiastic excitement; yes, he was handsome; yes, he had quite a lot of other friends who were like him. She told Lizzie she had met him at a party that she had gone to with her parents, at a family friend’s house in Woollahra, a couple weeks before their exams. He was nineteen and working in an office in the city, which was part of a business owned by his father. He had invited her to come to the movies with him the day after they met. Her parents had given a guarded OK; yes, but she needed to be home an hour after the movie finished.

Carl had complied with this direction like the perfect gentleman. He had taken her hand during the movie and had given her a kiss on the cheek when he said goodnight. And riding with him in the car was great fun. After that they arranged to meet the following weekend when he had invited her to come to the beach with him for the afternoon, saying that he was going with his parents and some other friends. Of his parents there was no sign but she had met some other boys and a couple other girls who seemed to hang out with them. They had all gone swimming together in the sea at Manly and at one stage he had picked her up and kissed her on the lips, and she kind of liked it, it gave her a funny feeling in that place.

He had not tried to do any more but she could tell he was attracted to her and she knew that more would come soon if they kept going out, he had hinted at that. While she knew she had to be careful she was kind of interested herself to try some more kissing and whatever followed, not going all the way of course, but plenty was exciting to try before then.

She and Lizzie talked wonderingly about what it would be like to go all the way. But for both it had little more meaning than some imaginary pleasure, talked about in books and glimpsed in movies. Neither of their parents had ever talked about this with them, but they had got the general idea from biology and other books, if not the exact details.

Julie told her she had started to tell fibs to her parents about going out with Carl, she had not let on that Carl’s parents were not there that day on the beach. And now they had arranged to meet at the beach again tomorrow. Julie had told her Mum and Dad that she was going shopping in the city with a couple of other girls, when actually she was going to catch the ferry over to Manly to meet Carl and his friends there for another day at the beach.

Julie said, “I am kind of hoping you could come with me, wear your new bathing suit, the boys are sure to think you look good in that. But you must not tell anyone else about it or, you know how gossip gets around, next thing the story will get back to my parents. Then I will be grounded.”

Lizzie felt a tingle of excitement at the thought of this adventure. Of course she would come, she would catch the bus into the city, saying she was meeting Julie there, to give Julie her opinion of some clothes and other things that Julie wanted to buy, and that they would not be back until late, as they would go to a movie while they were there.

Next day they met in the mid-morning at Circular Quay. Julie bought them both an ice-cream and handed Lizzie a ferry ticket which she had bought for her. Lizzie felt embarrassed at taking things from Julie, but Julie said not to be silly, her parents were rich and they gave her plenty of money, more than enough for them both to share. So Lizzie accepted.

It was really exciting on the ferry, Lizzie could only remember going once before, with her Mum and Dad when she was little. Now she felt so grown up as the two of them stood by the rail with the breeze blowing in their hair and chatted. She also noticed that several young men were paying attention to them as if they were suddenly beautiful, but then she thought, Well, of course, it’s Julie, men and boys always notice her.

At Manly they walked along the Corso until they came to the beach, where Julie pointed out her friends lying together in a group on the sand. Some of the boys looked very grown up and muscular, the other girls also looked grown up, wearing swimmers that really showed off their bodies.

Lizzie realised that she was lucky to have a new swim suit as the old one was much too small and raggy; it did not really fit her body properly anymore, looked sort of babyish, and the material was faded and fraying. But she felt self-conscious showing so much of herself to these almost total strangers in her new bathing suit. Carl was the only one she had met before and she had barely said hello to him. So, for a while, she left her top on as well, to keep hiding her body which was very obvious in the swimmers. But then, feeling like a party pooper, she removed her top and lay out on the sand, sunning herself in her swimmers, just like the others were doing.

All the friends seemed nice. There were six men aged from eighteen to twenty and two other girls as well as her and Julie. One said she was sixteen though, when Lizzie looked closely at her, she seemed no older than Lizzie was, and the other was seventeen. Julie went and sat with Carl and the two of them were holding hands. The other girls each seemed to each be with one of the boys. So that left three of the boys who seemed to all want to talk to Lizzie and entertain her. This made Lizzie feel very flattered, particularly when they all told her things like how good she looked in her swimsuit and what beautiful hair she had.

Their leader was a big strong looking boy named Martin. He said he had come down from Newcastle last year, along with his other two friends, Dan and Will. Dan and Will seemed like his followers, rather than other men out for their own good time, laughing at Martin’s jokes and nodding when he talked.

Martin’s Dad had a shipping business in Newcastle with an office in Sydney. Now Martin had come to Sydney to learn the way things worked here. He said he was just starting to get to know people and things in Sydney, but he went back to Newcastle to visit because his family and his regular girlfriend still lived there. He said it was good to meet some other pretty girls in Sydney, perhaps he would find a new girlfriend here. Lizzie felt he was hinting it might be her. She felt flattered, even though she did not know if she liked him enough for this.

Lizzie found Martin interesting and easy to talk to, he was so confident. But there was something a little bit pushy about him, and his friends seemed too much in awe of him. However he was well mannered and charming so she found herself enjoying his company.

Soon they were all in the water swimming. The rest were all really good swimmers including Julie. Lizzie was glad her Dad had taught her to swim when he was alive; she had been a good swimmer when she was little. But she had not had much chance to practice since then. So, while she could swim well enough, she did not have the smooth and polished stroke to cut through the water that the others did.

However it did not stop her having fun, she joined in all the games. She went with the fun of it when the boys tossed her in the air and caught her, even if it seemed that they tried to touch her in private places when they caught her. But she was starting to realise that this was how grown up boys and girls played and, if Julie did not object, why should she.

In the mid-afternoon two of the boys went off and came back with a huge bag of fish and chips, along with big bottles of soft drink that they all shared. Then they turned to talking about their next outing together. The next Saturday night there was a party in Vaucluse that most of them were going to. It was at another friend’s house. “His Dad was seriously rich,” they said, “and he threw the best parties.” Before she knew what was happening Lizzie was being pressed into coming along.

She said, “I don’t think Mum will let me and I don’t have the nice clothes that the rest of you do.”

Carl said, “Surely Julie can lend you a dress, you are both about the same size, and you can say you’re going to stay at her place and she can say she is stopping over with you, that way neither lot of parents needs to know. Then, the next day you can both go home to your own places and no-one will be any the wiser.”

Lizzie felt a bit doubtful but now Julie joined in enthusiastically, “Yes let’s, why not, no one needs to know and what harm can it do. It sounds like such fun.”

So Lizzie found herself agreeing and feeling secretly excited at the prospect, as well as at the clever trickery it involved.

They arranged to meet at the City Town Hall steps next Saturday, at seven in the evening. It was agreed that Lizzie would first go over to Julie’s in the mid-afternoon, for a planned sleep-over. They would both get ready there. They would say to Julie’s parents that they were going to the pictures in the State Theatre in Market St and would catch the bus home to Lizzie’s place where they would stay for the night.

Instead Martin and Carl would pick them up in a car at Town Hall and they would go out to Vaucluse from there. Carl had a cousin in a house in Paddington, with spare beds. So they would come back there, after the party, to sleep before they went home the next morning.

Soon it was Saturday, and Lizzie was packing to go to Julie’s place. She felt a pang of guilt, she tried not to lie to her Mum, and this sneakiness did not feel right. There were often things she did not tell her, but she tried not to tell outright lies. And yet now she was doing just that. But she pushed it away, she was just going out for a good time, she was doing no harm. It was what everyone did at her age, easier than trying to explain to parents their need to go out and have fun with others

 

 

 

Chapter 4 – Not Supposed to Happen This Way

 

It was great fun getting ready; Julie lent her a really smart, low cut frock, with a jacket to cover it up, while they were leaving. They locked themselves in Julie’s room and did each other’s hair, or at least Julie did Lizzie’s and she tried to help a bit as Julie did her own. Then Julie got out her make-up and helped them both make up their faces, she was obviously practised at all this. Lizzie did not have much idea or skill, sometimes she used her mother’s lipstick but that was about the limit.

However Julie had it all, eye shadow, mascara, skin tints and so many colours of lipsticks. They experimented for half an hour and Lizzie found herself thoroughly enjoying this creative fun with her friend. They dawdled away an hour or two until at last it was almost six in the evening and time to go. There was a ten past six ferry from Birchgrove which would take them to Circular Quay and from there they would catch a bus up George Street.

So they called out their goodbyes and slipped out of the house. Lizzie was pleased that she did not have to walk past Lizzie’s parents. They were sitting out the back. She did not lie as easily as Julie did, and she found it much harder to lie when actually looking at people.

It was just coming to seven on the Town Hall clock when they alighted from the bus. There was one of Martin’s friends, Will it was, waiting for them. He led them around the corner into Clarence Street where the car was parked and the others were waiting. There were six of them, Carl and Julie in the front with Martin and she was in the back with Will and Dan. The seats seemed huge and incredibly plush and she sank in between the two boys. The engine started and they were away, driving down the city then out along Oxford Street. Soon they were stopping at a big hotel. They all went inside to a quiet corner with lounge seats. Now the boys were drinking beer and she and Julie each had a sherry. Lizzie had barely tried more than a sip of any drink before and she found the sherry strong but sweet and easy to swallow. On her second drink she could feel herself becoming a light headed. After an hour they went on again. It was dark now. The lights and the world seemed to float by as they wound their way along a series of roads.

Then they were stopping at a really big house with lots of lights on. Martin took her arm and walked her inside where he introduced her to the host. Carl and Julie followed just behind. Dan and Will were a bit further back, staying together. Martin was good company, he knew lots of people and Lizzie found herself talking to other interesting people, she could feel her tongue loosening as the evening flowed along. There was lots of delicious food, like at her Mum’s party food, but so many more types, carried around by waiters on little silver trays. Now she found herself drinking glasses of champagne, a really good one that Martin had insisted she try. Every time she drank a bit someone filled her glass again. After a while she had no idea how much she had drunk.

But it was fun. Then there was music, Will had her up dancing, even though her feet got a bit tangled, then Martin had a turn, then someone else, then Dan, She could feel herself getting breathless and giddy with all the swinging around. Then Martin got her up for a slow dance and she could feel his strong hard body pushing up against her as they danced really close together. Then it was another wild rock and roll sort of dance. It seemed to go on forever.

Everyone was hot and breathless when it finished. She gulped down her champagne, finishing the glass. Instantly it was refilled and she drank this too because she was thirsty.

Martin led her outside, it was much cooler there. She leant into his arm as she walked along; she found it hard to walk straight by herself. For a minute they stood on the steps, looking out across the street to the harbour beyond, Martin with his arm around her shoulder and Dan and Will a couple steps behind. The world seemed to sway in front of her.

Julie and Carl had drifted off to some other part of the party, she half thought she should go and find Julie and talk to her, but Martin had his arm firmly around her. It seemed too much effort to separate from him.

She felt quite fuddled from all the drinking, but it had been a fun night. She really felt like sitting down and resting, just for a minute. At the back of her mind she had a sense of deja vue, like she had been in this place before but she could not remember quite when. Then it came to her, Sophie, in the dream, had been standing down the path just in front of her. But she was not there now.

Next thing she knew Martin was saying to her, the car is just across the road, let’s go and sit into it for a minute. Holding her firmly around the shoulders he led her down the path and across the road. She had another fleeting memory of the place in the path where Sophie tried to stop her, but she turned her head the other way as she went past to block it out.

When they got to the car Martin opened the back door and eased her in. Then he came in next to her, his arm now around her waist and his chin nuzzling into her neck. It was dark but the street light lit them. She realised he was trying to kiss her; she turned her face to look at him. He had a strange panting and desperate look on his face, like he was looking at her but seeing an object, part her, but not really her. He was also looking intently at the front of her low cut dress; she realised he was trying to look inside her top, and stare at her body. Even in her fuddled state it made her uncomfortable.

Next thing she knew Dan had got into the driver’s seat and Will was in the front passenger’s seat. She did not understand why they were there, but she was not thinking very clearly. Martin was trying to put his hand inside her top. She pulled it out. Then the car engine had started and it was being driven down the road.

She said to Martin, through her fuzzy brain, feeling uneasy. “Where are we going?”

He said, “I thought we would go for a drive to the beach around the corner. It is really quiet there at this time of night, and the view of the harbour is great from there.”

As they drove her unease faded, what was the harm of going to the beach and looking out across the water. Martin was leaving her alone now. He was looking around the street as they drove, as if to see if there was anyone else out there.

Soon they came to a place with a big sign which read “Nielsen Park”. It was an area of parkland and at one end the road curved around to the beach. There was no one else in sight and they had seen no one on the drive. Martin pulled her arm to bring her out of the car. He escorted her to the sandy beach where he sat down. He pulled her down beside him.

Then he pushed her onto her back and was pushing his body on top of her. She tried to wriggle free, but he was way too strong. Now he had put his hand under the bottom of her dress and was trying to pull her panties down. She realised now this was not where she wanted to be and that this was trouble.

She grabbed his hand and pulled it away. She tried to push him away, pushing as hard as she could. His arms were like a vice, and his body was really heavy in top of her, she could barely move.

She said to him, “If you don’t stop now I will scream.”

He just laughed and said. “Boys, she is threatening to scream; maybe we will have to gag her before we finish this.”

Then he grabbed her mouth really hard, crushing her lips together in his hand. He said, “Time to stop fighting or we really will hurt you, much better if you just lie back, open your legs and let it happen. You didn’t think we brought a pretty little poor girl to a party just to admire her did you. Now it is time to reward us back for being nice to you”

She shook her head, she could not just let this happen, she struggled even harder and started to call out for help.

Suddenly all three were holding her. One put tape around her mouth; the other held her from behind; the third picked up her kicking legs and pulled her panties down, part tearing them. He held them in the air. “Look what I have got boys; we might keep this as a souvenir, to remember tonight with Lizzie.”

Martin took his pants off. Will and Dan held her down on her back, with her legs kicking frantically in the air, her dress pulled high above her waist and her body naked below. One pushed his finger into the place where her legs met. She tried to bite a restraining hand; the hand grabbed her hair and wrenched it violently. She felt she would pass out from the pain of this and the shame as they wrenched her legs apart and leered at her nakedness, and touched her there some more.

“What do you know lads, still a virgin, must be our lucky day!”

Now Martin was on top, pushing into her. It really hurt, then she felt something give, like a rip inside. Now he was moving and groaning, as if in huge pleasure. She felt sick. It hurt her inside; it was supposed to be nice, not like this.

After a while Martin stopped moving and pulled off, she could not bear to look at him, she had trusted him. Then Dan took his place and for five minutes he did something like Martin did, finishing with a cry of pleasure. Martin whacked him, “Keep quiet you goose”. Now Will took a turn, by now she was trying to close off her mind and go somewhere else, where she could not feel it and did not let herself believe it.

When Will had finished they all sat there, next to her, congratulating themselves on what a good thing she was, how well they had done to find her and bring her here. She curled on her side, facing away from them, trying to cover herself. She hoped it was over.

But it was just a brief respite. Soon they all decided they wanted second turns. Lizzie was trying not to cry. With her mouth taped closed she could barely make a noise, but little whimpering sobs were coming out of her.

This was so awful, why had she let herself come, why did she think Julie was her friend, why had she not listened to Sophie? She wanted it to end and to get away from here.

Finally it was over; they took the tape off her mouth. They said that it would be stupid to scream now, that no one would believe her if she said what had happened. They would say she was drunk and had agreed and enjoyed it; now she was just trying to change her mind.

She knew it was hopeless and she did not want anyone to know. She dressed and when they were only half watching, in their smug self-satisfaction, she ran off into the dark night.

There was a half shout and someone chased her for a few paces. Then he tripped and fell, grunting and cursing, into the bushes. After that there was just silence as she slowly edged away from where they were. A few minutes later she heard the car start and saw headlights sweep the sky as they drove away.

She walked through the night for hours, only half knowing where she was. Before long she came to a road which she followed, and then another road, walking with no purpose and turning at random.

Dawn saw her at the edge of Centennial Park; from here she knew her way home. She found a tap and washed and cleaned herself as best she could, her dress and outer clothes seemed fine, just a few marks which she rubbed away. Her panties were torn and covered with blood, so she threw these in the bin.

It hurt down there when she walked, but if she went slowly it was not too bad. It seemed to take hours but eventually she found herself at the front of their house in Smith St, Balmain. She knew her Mum and David would be at church, she had heard the church bell ring from the bottom of the street. So she slipped around the back, let herself in, bathed herself and put on clean clothes. Then she lay on her bed and cried herself to sleep, overwhelmed with shame and a hurting body.

She heard her Mum and David come home but begged to be left alone, saying she had a headache. Two hours later came a knock on the front door, it was Julie. She asked if Lizzie was home. Her mother brought Julie to the bedroom and asked her to be quiet because Lizzie had a headache.

Julie closed the door and came and sat next to her on the bed. “Where did you go? Martin and the other boys said you felt sick and decided to catch the bus home. I did not know whether to believe them; there was something funny, a sort of smirk about the way they said it. I was too drunk and fuzzy to really question them. But here you are, safe and sound, so they must have been right. Are you OK now?”

Lizzie turned her face away and buried it in the pillow, what was the use of saying anything? Like they said, no one would believe her. She felt so ashamed, she wanted to pretend that it had never happened; she wanted everyone to go away and leave her alone.

Julie kept trying to talk to her and she kept turning her face away, struggling to hold back the tears. Finally Julie said. “There is something wrong, isn’t there? Why won’t you tell me? I am your friend. I thought you were my friend too; friends tell each other these things.”

Lizzie replied. “I don’t want friends like you, rich spoilt kids, who have never had to work for anything, who think they can do whatever they like and get away with it. I hate you and I hate all your friends. I just want you to go away and never come back. Go now, please, and don’t come back here anymore.”

Julie had a shocked and stricken look on her face. Lizzie realised what she had said had really hurt her; it was not her fault what had happened, she just did not understand what it was like to be poor and have to fight the world and all the rotten people who lived in it. Julie trusted people and did not realise how some people were all bad inside.

But now Lizzie was determined to be left alone. Friends like Julie would only cause trouble, and still more trouble. Julie looked like she wanted to plead or ask more. So Lizzie hissed. “Just go, like I said, I don’t want to talk to you again, ever.”

The door closed. Lizzie was alone.

The next day a note came from Julie, saying she was sorry for whatever she had done and still really wanted to be friends. Lizzie burnt the note, but put her own note inside the envelope. “Leave me alone” She marked it “Return to Sender”.

After that she did not hear from Julie any more. She also stopped talking to her other friends from school. She did not want to go out; she did not want to see other people.

The next week she started her job in the factory in Pyrmont.

 

 

 

Chapter 5 – Lizzie Runs Away

 

Lizzie found the work at Pyrmont was an escape from sitting in her room at home, talking to no one. She was glad that it started on the Monday, after the weekend when it happened.

The work was boring but not hard and the people were friendly even though there was little time to talk, only a ten minute morning tea and a half hour lunch. Lizzie had the job of packing boxes of appliances; putting each appliance in its own box, making sure there was an electrical cord, then sticking the right label on the box. She sat alongside three other middle aged women who did the same thing. Another lady stacked all the boxes into a much larger box. When each large box was full it was put onto a conveyor belt which carried it to a storage room below. Here they stacked the large boxes for delivery to shops.

Lizzie was happy to have this job, the work occupied her mind and body without needing to think or talk. They all needed to watch what they were doing and go as fast as they could. They had a quota to meet and got a small bonus for extra production, which was important to the other ladies. So it took all Lizzie’s concentration to keep up and do her share. As she got faster the ladies became friendly; they could see she was trying as hard as they were and earning her keep.

They started to tell her little things about themselves and their families and asked her about her own family. She said that she had a mother and small brother but her father was dead. Now she needed to earn money to pay her share. They all understood this, for all of them life was hard too. Each Friday one of the ladies brought little cakes in for morning tea. When her turn came around Lizzie did this too, using her Mums chocolate cup cake recipe. After this they treated her like one of them and Lizzie gained a sense of camaraderie if not friendship.

A few boys at the factory tried to talk to her. She knew at least one wanted to ask her out. But she repulsed them all, turning away from them with dismissive indifference.

At home Lizzie made a special effort to talk to her Mum about ordinary things and play with David. But she had stopped going out, even at weekends when not working. She stayed in her room and declined all invitations to do other things. She had become silent and solitary, sometimes walking out by herself, but avoided all other contact. She would no longer go to church with her mother and brother. When they suggested this she had a manner which was cold and hard, leaving no room for argument. Her mother knew something was wrong but was unable to penetrate Lizzie’s fiercely guarded privacy, so she left her alone.

A month went by and then another, and then it was three months. The angry hardness remained unchanged, but now people had stopped trying to engage her and just left her alone. The only people she talked to were the four other people at her work and her mother and brother and, even then, the conversation was limited to a few polite phrases.

After about three months Lizzie started to wonder why she was not getting her periods any more. She did not know much about babies, but had a vague awareness that what had happened to her could make a baby. She tried not to think about it, determined not to remember that night, let alone think about any consequences.

By four months she could not longer hide from herself what was happening to her body, her tummy was starting to push out and she could no longer pull it in, even though other people could not see this yet. Her breasts were also tingling and had changed shape and colour. But as no one else could see it, she tried not to think about it or what the future would hold. By five months it was becoming hard to hide, particularly from her mother and her friends. She knew now, for definite, that a baby was growing inside her, she had not been to the doctor or talked to anyone about it, but when she looked in the mirror there was no hiding it.

She wore loose fitting clothes that made it hard for others to see the changes. She kept even more to herself, staying in her room at home. She now started to feel little movements inside her and realised these were baby movements, this was a living person not some horrible object.

At first she had felt hatred for this thing, which symbolised her spoilage. Now she found her attitude was changing, she could no longer sustain this hatred as she felt this moving life grow. It was not the fault of this poor little hidden creature. Gradually it became her new friend, she started to tell it stories and sing it songs. In a strange way this gave her solace and made what happened easier to bear.

Now she knew this could not go on for much longer, once the people at the factory found out she would be asked to leave. She also knew if her Mum and other people she knew in Balmain found out she would be made to go to a place for unmarried mothers and give the baby up for adoption. She could not bear the thought of this. People had betrayed her trust. But it only made her more determined; she would not desert and betray this child, she would find a way to keep it for herself.

So she began to form a plan, she knew that in another month or two the secret would come out and she must be ready to go away before then. She did not think she could stay in Sydney. It was a big city, but sooner or later she was bound to run into someone who knew her and have to explain what she was doing. Then the baby would be found out. They would, almost certainly, take it away from her, saying she was too young and could not support her own child.

She knew she needed money to go away. Since she had been working her mother had insisted that she keep half her wages. Now she had over forty pounds in the bank. If she kept working for another two months she would have almost seventy pounds, it did not seem like a vast sum, but it would have to do.

She turned her attention to where to go. If not Sydney could she go to a country town or another city?

She rejected Newcastle out of hand, Martin came from there and she could not bear the thought of seeing him again, or him seeing her, particularly now with her bloated belly. She doubted it would occur to him that it was his; no doubt he and his friends had done the same to other girls before and since. She knew she was not their first conquest; they were far too smug and sure for that. But it would justify his opinion that she was a woman of low morals who would do it with anyone. Plus she had a burning hatred for him; she thought she might try to stick him with a knife if the chance came. Better not to go there.

Other country towns were not a real option; everyone knew everyone’s business and gossiped about it in those places. So that left big cities like Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne. Overall she preferred the idea of Melbourne; it was easier to get to with the train and it was bigger than the others.

And, though it was a small thing, her mother’s brother lived there. She had liked him the couple times she had met him as a little girl, she had his address. Even though she did not intend to see him or let him know, it was comforting to have a family member in the same city if things ever got really desperate. She was sure, deep down, that if she really needed his help, he would not turn her away.

So that was it; when the time came and she must leave she would already have her bag packed with things to live on, a few clothes and some packets of cheap biscuits for the trip, so that she could conserve her precious money.

She found a battered old bag in the cupboard, something she thought her mother would not miss, and put in it as many of her spare clothes as she could manage to do without. Alongside these she placed the new dress her mother had bought her, the one really nice dress she owned, even though it did not fit her now that her stomach had got big. But hopefully she could wear it again one day and send a photo of her and her baby to her Mum to let them know she was OK when the time came. She took her few other precious things, the old purse from when she was eight, a couple trinkets of jewellery, a faded photo of her with her Mum and Dad when she was little and a couple of her favourite books. That was enough; she had to be able to carry it easily.

Next morning when she went to work she placed this bag in her locker. That way, when they gave her notice and sent her away, she could leave without going home; better that way.

The work continued and somehow she managed to keep the baby hidden from her mother and David. Her other friends had given up on her so there were no problems there.

By about six months she had a sense that the ladies working with her probably knew but, whether out of kindness or something else, they said nothing. Now she avoided going to places where other people met, she would stay and have her morning tea and lunch in the work area and try to do a bit of extra work done to boost the bonus, every little bit helped.

By seven months she realised she was living on borrowed time; it was getting really hard to hide. Only by coming directly to the factory room where they worked and wearing a big overcoat, could it remain unknown. She was sure the other ladies knew but they chose not to ask her.

One day a factory meeting was called for everyone to attend. Lizzie did not want to go, but was told she must. She put on her coat. It was a warm in the factory, even though it was cold outside and she could feel herself uncomfortable in the heat. She stood as far to the back as she could, in a corner behind some boxes, to keep out of sight. Union officials were talking about safety at work and the danger of unprotected machines. It went on and on.

Lizzie started to feel dizzy, she had been in a rush this morning and her breakfast had been missed. Now that the baby was getting big she found she needed to eat more and more often. She could feel herself begin to sway. She grabbed some boxes for support.

In her panic she dislodged a large box. It fell to the floor with a loud noise. Everyone stopped talking and turned to look where she was. Now she was really dizzy and was swaying for all to see. The people gathered round and a big man took her arm to support her. Someone else insisted on taking off her coat, protests were useless. She was led to a chair. As she was sat into it her swollen belly was there for all to see.

There was whispering, the secret was out. Eventually the meeting continued. At the end the floor manager asked her to come to his office. He indicated to a chair. Lizzie sat down. He said to her, “You know it is a condition of employment that pregnant women cannot work here. You clearly should have told me months ago. So you have to finish up now.”

He handed her a pay packet saying. “Even though I don’t have to, I have paid your wages for the rest of the week, and the women from your group have come to me and asked that their bonus for this week is all paid to you, so I hope that helps a little. It is lunch in half an hour so you can stay until the end of lunch to say goodbye to your friends, but you must leave then.

Lizzie felt tears pricking her eyes, partly in gratitude for the unexpected kindness from this man and her fellow workers, partly because of a sense of loss and loneliness, knowing that her future support was torn away and from here she had to do this all on her own. Another part of her felt relief, knowing the need to live a lie was over.

So she goodbye and hugged her friends, who could now openly pat her belly and give her best wishes for herself and her child. The she took her bag and trudged down Harris Street to Central Railway, from where the train departed to Melbourne.

At the ticket office she found that a ticket to Melbourne was twelve pounds and that the next train left after seven o’clock in the evening, so she had more than six hours to wait. She sat on a bench in the huge hall of the station.

She felt so on her own, daunted by the challenge of going to a strange city where she knew almost no one, finding a place to live and a way to support herself until her baby was born and then raising a child by herself while supporting herself. Part of her just wanted to catch the bus back to Balmain and tell her Mum and let her look after her, it would be such a relief not to have to keep this a secret from her anymore.

But she knew that this would result in her baby being taken away and she could not bear for this to happen. This person was now her friend and nothing would come between them.

She wiped her eyes with her hanky and steeled herself to be brave. It came to her what she should do this afternoon. Since telling Julie to go away she had a bad feeling about it. Now she could not bear to have this between them, still ruining their friendship. She had been scared before that Julie would try to stop her having or keeping her baby.

But now that was past, she was leaving and it was past time for any interference or pity. She wanted to see her friend again, tell her she did not hate her, smile and laugh with her one more time and say goodbye; their lives were on different paths now that were unlikely to cross again.

Julie was staying at the Presbyterian Ladies College at Croydon. There was a train to Croydon; it took less than an hour from Central, it was a station before Strathfield. Once she got there someone could tell her where the school was. If she arrived just before when classes finished for the day and asked politely she was sure that someone would call her friend and let Lizzie talk to her.

So she went to the suburban train platform and waited for the next train which stopped at Croydon Station. Once there she got directions to the school. It was a long walk, particularly carrying her bag. But she had plenty of time. So she went slowly, resting on seats a couple times.

It was three o’clock when she came to the school office. Someone said that classes finished in less than half an hour and sent a message to Julie’s class for her to come to reception when it finished. Lizzie sat and waited, lost in a dream of might have beens, as she watched these bright and pretty girls coming and going.

There was a familiar voice and a scream of delight. She looked around; her back was turned as she sat facing the other way. She got to her feet, her movements cumbersome. She turned to her friend, whose face was covered in an infectious smile of delight.

As she took it all in Julie’s face crumpled, “Oh Lizzie, Lizzie, what has happened? Is this why you would not talk to me?

Lizzie suddenly wished she had not come; why did she think her friend should know this. She felt so shamed. She wanted to run and hide. She wanted Julie to stop seeing her this way and only to remember her the way she had been before.

But Julie did not stop; she kept coming and wrapped her arms around her friend. She hugged Lizzie to her, cradling her head as if she was the most precious thing in the world. Lizzie hugged her back.

Julie’s face was stricken; it was as if her mind had taken her half formed suspicions of something bad happening on that night, and turned them into a sudden and coherent understanding. She kept her arms wrapped around Lizzie and now she was crying.

“Oh Lizzie, I am so sorry, I should have known, it is my fault. You never would have come that night, you never would have even met them if I did not make you.”

They walked outside, together, and found a seat in the shady garden. Now Julie was determined to know the truth, she made Lizzie tell it to her every part she remembered. She could feel a rage building in her friend and it scared her. Now she really wished she had not come and the story had stayed untold, but yet it felt so good to have her friend back.

Julie said, “I don’t know how I am going to do it, but I am going to pay those bastards back for what they have done to you, some way, some day; that I promise you.”

Then she said. “You are probably pleased to know I am not seeing Carl anymore. I really liked him before, but not after that night. I think he knew what had happened, or at least some part of it, but would not tell me. After I saw you the next day I tried to find out what happened from him but he would not give straight answers to my questions, and he still stayed friends with them.

“So, after that, when he asked me out I said no, and when he tried to get me to do things with him I kept saying no. He still keeps pestering me sometimes, but it does no good. Now I am really glad it is over.

“But that is no help now; I just wish I could do something now to help you.” She opened her purse. It had fifty pounds of pocket money her parents had given her last weekend for the month. She put this money in Lizzie’s hand. Lizzie tried to it push back, saying she had her own money from working, but Julie would not take it back.

Then Julie made her tell her about her plans, the train to Melbourne, how she was determined not to let anyone come and take the baby away. Julie wrote her address and telephone number at school and home on a piece of paper and told Lizzie she must ring or write as soon as she had a place to stay. In the holidays she would come and visit and, in the meantime, she would send more money if needed.

Lizzie nodded though she knew she would not do this. She had to make her own way from here.

Finally the time was up; they had sat and talked for an hour and a half. Julie must get ready for dinner and Lizzie must leave to catch her train. Julie asked the school to ring for a taxi to drive Lizzie to Strathfield where she could wait. She said she would pay.

So now it was down to a few last minutes before a taxi came. Lizzie wanted to do something to set her friend’s mind at rest, to move her beyond the guilt. She took Julie’s hand and placed it on her belly. For a few seconds they stood that way. Then a huge wave of movement flowed under both their hands. Julie smiled in delight and Lizzie smiled too.

Lizzie said, “I needed you to feel that to understand. You see, it is not all bad, in fact it is not bad at all. Even though what they did was awful and I hate them for it, I cannot hate what was created. I have a new life living inside me. I love this person who I will soon meet. I will not let anybody or anything take this away.

“So hate if you must and pay them back if you can. But mostly remember we remain friends and this life in here is good. It must be loved and cherished, that is what matters.”

With a final hug she was in the taxi. For the first time in many months Lizzie felt good and happy with her life. She only wished she could say goodbye to her Mum and little David before she left.

 

 

 

Chapter 6 – Melbourne Bound

 

Lizzie thought she was rich when she left Sydney, she had her friend back and she had over one hundred pounds in her purse. She knew she would not write to Julie for a long time, not because she did not want to stay in touch, but because she did not want her friend trying to pay for her new life. They both had to get on with their own lives in their own ways.

Her buoyant mood remained throughout the long night as the train slowly rattled its way south, with occasional station and farm house lights flashing by. But, as the light grew from the late dawn, normally a time when one’s spirits lifted, and they approached Melbourne, reality started to take hold again. Where was she to go, how to find a place to stay and how to support herself, and soon to support a new baby?

She was dog tired and hungry, she had eaten oatmeal biscuits to limit her hunger, but she really wanted a hot meal, some of her mother’s cooking. However she knew she would rapidly exhaust her limited money if she started using it for bought meals. In Melbourne she must find a place where she could cook for herself to conserve her limited budget. In the meantime she had to be strong and resist that comfort desire.

Her back was also aching, the baby was starting to really press down, and a night spent mostly sitting up had been uncomfortable. A few times she had managed to stretch out. But then other passengers would come onto the train and she would have to sit up again. Her body craved a hot bath, a hot meal and a warm bed.

At the main Melbourne station she spent a couple shillings on a map, so as to get her bearings. Then she asked people there if they could recommend any good and cheap places to stay. Someone suggested that she catch a tram to St Kilda, with lots of boarding houses she could try her luck there.

On walking outside she found it was a cold and dreary Melbourne winter day. A cold wind was blowing light misty rain. She wrapped her coat around her and shivered as she got directions for the tram to take her to St Kilda. An hour later she was trudging, bag in hand, down its main street, next to the beach. The view was dismal; grey ocean with broken white tops, barely a person in sight.

She tried a few places, boarding houses and the like, but the prices were higher than she realised. Most were upwards of twenty pounds a month, and in many she had nowhere to cook. She knew she must take somewhere soon, even if it only gave her a place for a couple of days. She could feel exhaustion starting to set in, her feet felt like lead and her bag like it was full of house bricks.

Finally she found something within her means, even though it was awful after her comfortable room at home. She was directed here by a lady at another house who seemed to have a little more sympathy for her than others had. It was sixteen pounds a month. It was a dirty little room outside the back of a shabby house, with a tiny gas burner in an alcove. The windows were broken, patched with sheets of board, and wind still came through gaps. However she was getting desperate. It was at least shelter and she thought she could fix it up enough to make it bearable.

The man who showed it to her was unshaven and smelt, wearing dirty clothes. However he seemed willing to take her money, and had either not noticed or chosen not to comment on her pregnant state which was less obvious in the heavy coat.

However, as she pulled out her money to pay, she heard the front door open. Someone called out; his wife came in, returned from shopping. She was a thin, mean looking woman, probably in her late forties, with a scowl on her face. She turned to her husband, who shrunk back under her glance. “Who is she and what are you doing, Joe?”

“I was going to rent that room out the back to her, you know the one you said you wanted a tenant for.”

The woman looked at Lizzie suspiciously; perhaps she distrusted her husband with young women, though it was something more than that. Then she said, “Open up your coat, girl. Let me have a proper look at you.” As Lizzie did her swollen belly pushed against the thin dress, it could no longer be hidden.

Then the woman turned to her husband and, with contempt, said to him. “What in God’s name were you thinking? Can’t you see she is up the duff with no husband in sight. And the baby can’t be far away from being born. What did you think you were doing, offering her a home for bastard children? You must be joking if you think she can stay here. What about having a screaming and bawling kid in our house, what if something happens when the baby comes, did you not think of any of these things?”

Joe muttered something and shrugged his shoulders. The woman turned to Lizzie with a vicious look on her face. “I know the likes of you, spreading it around with anyone who wants it. Get your sluttish face out of here; if I see you again I will call the police.”

Lizzie felt devastated and shamed. She did not much like this shambling man, but at least it was something. But the meanness of this woman made her quail, she knew how some people thought of unmarried mothers, but never had it been flung in her face with this nastiness.

As fast as she could she picked up her bag. She squared her shoulders, trying to hold a shred of dignity, and walked out. The lady slammed the door, with a vicious curse, behind her.

Lizzie could feel her self-control and sense of purpose collapsing. She stumbled as she walked down the steps to the street. She had to clutch at the rail to stop herself falling. Her belly gave a violent wrench and spasm as she hauled herself back. She groaned aloud, that really hurt, her hands involuntarily clutched her belly. She hoped it had not hurt her baby.

Then, adding insult to injury, her bag fell from her hand. It bashed into the concrete and popped the flimsy lock; her clothes and personal things spilled onto the dirty wet pavement. Two young loutish men walking down the other side of the street turned to watch. They whistled and clapped as she clumsily shoved her possessions back inside. Now, as she walked she had to hold her bag in her arms to stop the lock, which was broken, from springing open again.

She could feel tears trickling down her face; she took a deep breath to get a bit of self-control. Fifty yards down the street she saw a bus shelter. It seemed to be a bit protected from the wind and rain. She would walk there and sit down for a minute while she rested and tried to think clearly.

It took a lot of effort to walk the fifty yards, holding her bag this way, but she made it and fell back against the seat. Her whole body was trembling with a mixture of shame, hurt and exhaustion. She thought she would give anything, at that moment, just to be back in her own house; to feel her Mum and her little brother’s arms around her; to be tucked into bed, like when she was a little girl, and to have that human comfort.

She tried to push it back but could no longer control her emotions. Soon she was crying. She turned her face away from the street, and buried it into her coat, sobbing in great gulping sobs, as her misery flowed out. As her crying eased, and she sat up, she realised that a middle aged woman, with a kind, plump face, had come into the bus shelter. She had a handbag and looked like she was waiting for the bus.

As Lizzie straightened this lady turned to her and said, “Can I help you dear? Seems like you are in a spot of trouble?”

In a gulping voice, trying to compose herself and not cry, Lizzie explained her situation. She tried to talk calmly but it all came out in a rush; that she had just come to Melbourne, that she needed a place to stay, that she had some money, but not very much, and that she thought she had found a room but when the lady saw she was expecting a baby she sent her away.

Now she needed to find somewhere before it got dark, but she had tried so many places and was getting it was getting late and she was just too tired to keep looking. By the end she thought she would start crying again. But with a big effort she pushed a hanky into her mouth and made herself sit up straight.

The lady looked at her with real kindness. “I wish I could help, God knows you need it. But I have full house at the moment. Still, if it comes to that, we will make up a bed for you on the verandah. That will see you right for a night or two.”

Then she thought hard. “I think I know someone down the street another hundred yards who could help; Evie, at Number 120. I would come with you now, but I must catch this bus which will be here in a couple minutes. Anyway why don’t you try there, I hear that she has a room that has just come vacant.

“Tell Evie, Evie Mackenzie that is, that Sylvia suggested you come there. If she cannot help you, come back to Number 76, that’s our place, just over there, I will be home in about an hour” she said, pointing. “At least we can fix you up for the night and give you a hot meal.”

So Lizzie walked on down to Number 120. It no longer seemed so hard, now that she now that she had some self-respect again. Number 120 was a large ramshackle house, a street back from the bay. The lady who opened the door was old and frail looking but seemed friendly. When Lizzie mentioned Sylvie’s name she positively beamed.

She said, “Well hello dearie, it looks like you need to sit down for a bit. You look done in, trying to walk around with a bag, in your condition, in this awful weather. She brought Lizzie to the kitchen and gave her a cup of tea and slice of fruit cake before asking what she wanted.

Lizzie explained that she had just arrived in Melbourne and needed a place to stay for at least three months and could not afford anything too expensive. The lady said she only had one room available at the moment. It was in the basement and not very fancy. There was a share kitchen at the back and a share bathroom on each level. Her normal rate for short term was a pound a night or six pounds a week. For a long term stay she was prepared to come down to eighteen pounds a month, provided it was for a full three months and was paid in advance, with an extra month for a security deposit.

Lizzie did her sums in her head, assuming that the baby would come in two months and she needed a month after before she could get some work, then the seventy two pounds asked would leave very little to buy food with.

Yet she must have a place to stay, she could not sleep out in this weather, and the day was two thirds gone, plus she was so tired that she did not think she could walk any further. Also she liked this lady, she seemed genuinely kind.

She was about to agree, too tired to bargain. She started to pull out her purse, to double check then count out her money. She could see the lady looking at her and considering.

The lady said to her, “I can see you are a polite and well brought up young woman. I don’t want to know how you came to be in this condition, but you clearly can’t stay out walking the streets into the night. I presume you need a place to stay, at least until your baby is born, and you can find some regular work.

“I will tell you what, I could come down to fifteen pounds a month if you could do a few odd jobs for me each day, mainly to make sure the kitchen is left tidy, with all the dishes washed and the floor swept or mopped at the end of each day. Can you manage that?”

Lizzie nodded her head; those extra pounds would make a huge difference to her feeding herself until the baby was born.

The lady brought her down to the room and, on the way, showed her the kitchen and bathroom. None of it was fancy but it was clean. The bedroom had high side window and otherwise just stone walls. It was cold, but there was a made up bed with two blankets and a cover, plus a cupboard, a small desk and a chair.

Lizzie said that she would take it and thanked the lady for her kindness.

“Evelyn is my name she said, Evelyn Mackenzie, but you can call me Evie, that’s what most people call me.”

Lizzie introduced herself. Then she said, “If it is alright I will have a lie down for a while, I am really tired.”

Evie replied, “Well of course, what I suggest is an hour or two of sleep then a hot bath. Then, if you come upstairs, I have a pot of hearty soup cooking away. It is for dinner for those guests who need a meal. I don’t normally provide dinner to my long term guests, but tonight a bowl of hot soup and a couple slices of bread is exactly what you need to nourish you and your baby. So tonight I would like you to be my guest and join me for a meal. After that I will let you look after yourself.”

Lizzie felt like crying again with relief at this further kindness. The lady left and Lizzie started to unpack her few things, determined to create a sense of an order in her new home before she allowed herself to sleep.

A minute later there was a knock on the door. Evie was holding out an object wrapped in an old towel. I know it is a bit cold down here so I have brought you a hot water bottle, it will warm up the bed and help you to get a good sleep. She also held a book, with ruled lines. This is my guest book. I just need your name, date of birth and a contact address for a relative should I need to contact anyone, just in case anything happens to you. “You can fix me up in the morning with the money.”

Lizzie wrote down her details, then insisted on paying, taking out the sixty pounds and passing it over. Evie looked at her details, “I will give you a receipt tomorrow. What a brave young thing you are, off on your own to have a baby and only 15 years old.”

 

 

 

Chapter 7 – On the Street

 

Lizzie slept most of the next morning. Evie came down at eight in the morning with a cup of tea and a big bowl of oatmeal porridge saying, “I thought this would help you get off to a good start, just bring the bowl back to the kitchen and give it a rinse when you are finished.

“I will be out for a few hours but if you are looking for the shops to buy food the best place is about half a mile down along the bay street then turn back inland where the tram turns down. It’s only fifty yards down that road, you can’t miss it. Tell them Evie sent you and they will give you a good price. If you have a bit to carry, you will find a trolley upstairs, just inside the front door. You can use it to wheel things along, I find it makes the trip much easier.”

Lizzie had intended to go shopping as soon as she had finished breakfast, but feeling warm and contented from breakfast she decided to lie back into bed for a minute. She snuggled under the covers. Next thing she knew it was nearly lunchtime. Even then it took a real effort to get herself out of bed. She knew a good impression with Evie was important; she would do her bit to create it.

So she got up and tidied the kitchen until it shone like a new pin, then found the trolley and headed for the shops. She bought big bags of flour and rice, some sugar, a tin of milk powder, a block of cheese, a bag of potatoes, carrots, onions and a cabbage, all of which were at a good price.

Then, conscious of her need for fruit and meat for a healthy diet, she bought a bag of apples and another of oranges. She was not sure what meat to buy, it all seemed expensive and without a refrigerator it would not last too long.

She asked the butcher what he would recommend, saying that she needed to mind her money. He suggested some lamb neck chops, saying they would make a good stew, and this would keep for a few days in the cool weather. It was clear he gave her a lot more chops than she paid for and she said so.

He just grinned at her and said, “Well we need to feed both you and that baby; you are looking thin and need to be eating for two.

By the time she was home Evie had returned. She told Lizzie, beaming with pleasure, what a good job she had done in cleaning the kitchen. Next thing she knew they were sharing another cup of tea and cake.

Almost without intending to she found herself telling Evie about her life, not exactly about how the baby happened but enough so that Evie understood that there was no man to help her, and that she was determined not to give the baby up for adoption.

So a friendship was born and as the weeks passed Lizzie gained a sense of security and comfort. More and more she ate meals and did other things with Evie.

Evie had never had children of her own, she had been engaged at the start of the First World War but the man had never come back, fate unknown. She had tried to find out what happened but all they could ever tell her was that he was sent to the Somme and, along with thousands of others, was presumed dead, though really he just vanished, probably one of innumerable bodies in the mud.

Evie said that ever since he went she had always regretted not giving spending those last few nights with him before he went away. She had always wondered, if she had, whether a child may have come, some part of him to remember and cherish later. But one could not remake ones choices. So, after the war, Evie’s life had drifted by without marriage or children ever coming. She inherited her parents’ house when they died, and her only brother had died ten years ago.

So, with a large house and no family of her own, she had starting taking in boarders, mainly to pay for the upkeep of the house, but also to give her money for holidays and doing other little things she liked. She said that, while she was not wealthy, she had more than enough to meet all her needs.

Now she treated Lizzie like the daughter that she might have wished for. To Lizzie this lady seemed like the kind grandmother she had never known.

Evie’s only relative was a nephew, her brother’s son, Jack and, even though he lived nearby, she did not see him often or even like him. She told Lizzie that some came out as bad pennies and that, ever since he was little, he had a mean streak.

Evie arranged for a midwife to examine Lizzie, someone she could trust not to bring in the authorities. It appeared that her pregnancy was normal and the baby was well grown.

Lizzie’s pains came three weeks before the due time and the midwife was called, all was progressing fine, though the baby was a bit small. It hurt, but was less long and less bad than Lizzie expected. A couple hours later she was holding a small baby to her breast, the midwife pronounced the child perfectly healthy, if just a wee mite, who needed to be fed up.

Lizzie called her Catherine Julia Renford, taking her best friend’s and her mother’s middle names. The midwife wrote the names on the official forms, mother Elizabeth Anne Renford, aged fifteen years and eight months; father unknown.

Evie was so proud of mother and child; she could not resist telling all her friends, who came in an endless stream to visit, what a great mother Lizzie was and what a beautiful baby Catherine was. Lizzie declared to all that Evie was her new grandmother.

Soon after the birth Lizzie found a pen and paper to write a letter to her own mother to tell her the news. It was not an easy letter, but at least she now had some good news to tell.

When she had left Julie she had asked her, as a special favour, to go and see her Mum and, while not telling her the whole story, at least to tell her that she had gone to Melbourne because she was having a baby, and did not want people to try and take it away, and also that she would write to her once she was able to tell her something.

When the letter was done she put it in an envelope and was about to post it. Then she had a thought, Perhaps she would she send her Mum a photo of her and the baby, with her wearing the dress her mother had bought for her birthday? She also wanted a photo of her and Evie, with Evie holding the baby, like a grandmother. It would help reassure her Mum that all was well.

She asked Evie about this, and where they could get these photos done. She could tell Evie was thrilled with the idea. Later Evie told Lizzie she had arranged it for two days’ time, at a photography studio in the Esplanade which fronted the beach. The three of them walked there so proudly, she wearing the lovely dress from her mother under her coat. She pushed her baby in a pram that one of Evie’s friends had offered. The man set them up in his studio, in front of a large camera and with lights and flashbulbs popping.

At first Lizzie was worried about the cost, but Evie was determined to pay. She said, “It’s not every day that I am blessed with both a new daughter and a granddaughter that feels like my own. I can’t wait for your own mother to see these photos and know you are well and safe. Plus, it’s not like I have so many other things I need to spend my money on.”

They returned to inspect the photos two days later and decide which ones would be printed. They carefully examined all the contact prints with a magnifying glass and selected the six best ones. Evie ordered three copies of each, saying that she wanted them all in eight by ten inch size to go in a photo frame. They would be ready to collect in two days.

Evie would have ordered copies of everything, but Lizzie insisted this was wasteful; they still had the negatives and could print more, later, if needed. Even these photographs seemed a huge expense to Lizzie, almost twenty pounds, but Evie would agree to no less.

Before they left she paid for them all with a fifty pound note and gave Lizzie the change, saying Lizzie should use this to buy some clothes tomorrow, as a present from Evie to little Catherine. Lizzie felt as if her cup was overflowing with the stream of kindness from this dear old lady.

Next morning, with a list of baby shops to visit, and leaving her baby in the crib under the watchful eye of Evie, she headed out. It was nine in the morning, and the baby, having just fed and settled to sleep, could be expected to sleep until lunchtime.

This was Lizzie’s first outing on her own and she revelled in the freedom. Her body shape was almost returned, after the week since the birth. She felt well and incredibly pleased about the way her life had turned out. She selected two outfits for a tiny baby and two outfits that the lady promised her would fit a baby of six months. Then, as she still had enough money left, she chose one outfit to suit a child of twelve months. It seemed hugely extravagant but Evie said she was to spend every penny and not bring any change home.

She still had almost ten shillings remaining so she brought a delicious caramel tart for them both to share over lunch; Evie had a sweet tooth and this was one of her favourites. Feeling well pleased, she headed home.

The house was quiet when she arrived which was unusual. As normal the other guests were all out during the day, gone to their various workplaces. But she was surprised as Evie often had the radio playing and could usually be heard banging around the kitchen and humming or singing to herself as she prepared lunch.

But today there was no noise at all. She called out to Evie as she opened the door, but there was no reply and no other noise came back. Lizzie was gripped by a strong sense of uneasiness, this did not seem right. She went through to where her baby was; Catherine was still sleeping soundly, breathing regular and cheeks a bright pink. Her anxiety eased slightly.

Perhaps Evie had popped out for a second and would be back before she knew it. But that did not seem right, she would not leave the baby and go off, it was just not something that she could ever imagine Evie doing.

However, after calling again, she made herself sit for five minutes to wait and see if Evie came back in. The hands of the old grandfather clock opposite the kitchen table moved with excruciating slowness as Lizzie sat there.

With this time passed she decided she must investigate. She walked around the house, calling, going to every level; the silence was absolute. Finally she went to the door of Lizzie’s own room and knocked; no reply.

The door swung open against her hand, so she looked inside. She spied a skirt and leg protruding from the other side of the bed. She hurried over. It was Evie, lying and not moving, though her eyes were part open. She might be trying to look at her but she neither spoke nor moved. The she saw a breath.

Lizzie felt panic in her chest, something was badly wrong. Evie was alive, but seemed unconscious. She knew that she needed an ambulance. She went to the phone and found the number for the police, written next to it. She rang and explained, the person said they would send someone round and would also ring for an ambulance straight away.

Ten minutes later she heard the siren coming down the street and suddenly the place was swarming, two ambulance officers placed Evie on a stretcher and took her out, a policeman examined the place where she had been lying to see if there was any evidence of something suspicious. Inquisitive neighbours gathered around outside the front of the house.

Lizzie asked the policeman whether she could go to the hospital with Evie. He said he would take her once he had finished his investigation but she had to remain here for now. So she went and picked up Catherine, who was due to wake, and placed her on her breast.

As her baby sucked away she tried to think what else she needed to do. If she went to the hospital she needed to let the other tenants know what had happened. So she wrote a note and pinned it just inside the front door, where all could see, telling them that Evie had been taken to hospital and they would all have to attend to their own dinners.

The policeman took a statement from her. She told him what she knew, that she had left Evie in the morning to go out shopping and had returned to find her like this. The policeman, having conferred with the ambulance officers, said he thought that the old lady had a stroke. He offered to drop Lizzie, with her baby, at the hospital on the way back to the station.

At the hospital Evie was propped in a bed, with lines and tubes running from her, however she showed no response as Lizzie came into the room. Lizzie found a nurse and the nurse called a doctor. The doctor explained that it appeared that Evie had a massive stroke; she was alive but with no signs of consciousness. It was unclear whether she would live or die, but even if she survived it was unlikely that she would ever leave bed again. He also asked Lizzie if she was the next of kin.

Lizzie said she was not, but told them that Evie had said she had only one relation, a nephew who lived somewhere nearby. This man’s first name was Jack, but she did not his address and had never met him. The hospital advised they would ask the police to locate and contact him, but beyond this there was nothing anyone could do except wait and hope for a miracle.

Lizzie sat there for the afternoon, with Cathy beside her, holding Evie’s hand and talking to her. There was no response, either from her eyes or her muscles, but Lizzie persisted, wanting to tell this woman of the love she felt for her.

As the afternoon drifted away Lizzie slowly realised that this woman was in another place, beyond hearing or knowing of this world.

Finally, in the late afternoon, Lizzie gathered her things and, carrying her baby in her arms, walked slowly and sadly back to the house. There was a sombre mood in the house and with all the tenants. She told them what little she knew of Evie’s condition.

Next day she wheeled her baby, in the pram, to the hospital. The situation was unchanged, Evie hovered in a twilight world, but Lizzie and the hospital staff sensed she was slipping away. After staying with her through the morning and into the mid afternoon, Lizzie walked home with a heavy heart.

As she approached the house she suddenly remembered the photographs. They were due for collection today. So she diverted to the shop. The man had them ready in a rectangular cardboard package. She did not open them but carried them home thinking, Tomorrow if she still lives, I will bring them and hold them up in front of her in the hope she can see something.

She was woken early the next morning, not long after daylight, by a policeman knocking at the front door. It was the man she had met two days ago. He told her, in a sympathetic manner, that Evie had died in the night. She asked what they had done with her body. The man said it had been taken to the morgue, until they were able to get in touch with her nephew, to determine the funeral arrangements. They had not managed to locate him yet.

All that day Lizzie sat around the house feeling lost, she could not think of anything to do. She did not have information about funeral arrangements that she could communicate to Evie’s friends and she did not feel free to do anything further with Evie’s things.

She had tidied up her bedroom and other parts of the house, but she felt it was not her place to do anything beyond this. It was not her right to look through Evie’s papers or pack up her things, even though she knew that Evie would have been happy if she did.

She was down to less than twenty pounds of her own money, so there was little she could afford to do in terms of making arrangements herself and, with Evie gone, she knew that she must search for work.

Evie had said that she would pay her to do house-keeping work here, when the baby permitted it, but this was no longer likely to happen. She knew she must get out and take some action now, herself, but she was gripped by a sense of melancholy, almost despair, at the loss of this dear friend, despite knowing her for less than two months.

Late in the afternoon, as the last light was fading, there was a knock on the door. A big burly man, with a hard looking face, stood at the door. She asked if she could help him. He announced he was Evie’s nephew, Jack, and the will had passed this property to him.

So now he was here to find out who was staying and what money was due to him.

He asked Lizzie who she was. It was said in a cold and dismissive manner; perhaps he assumed she was a servant. She told him she lived in the basement, with her child, and was the person who had found Lizzie and called the ambulance.

He snorted with contempt, “Better to have let the old bag die and saved the expense,” he said.

Lizzie could feel a flush of anger rising in her cheeks, “How dare he talk about his aunt like that,” she thought.

He continued, “I am going to her room to see if I can find the rent books and see who owes me money. When is your rent due?

She told him she paid for three months at the start and still had over five weeks to go before her next payment was due.

He replied sarcastically. “That sounds like a likely story. Unless you can show me a rent receipt, I will give you until this Saturday, you can be out then, or you can pay me six pounds a week from here on, I am given to understand that was her standard rate.”

Lizzie felt her heart sink. Somehow, after she had paid Evie the money when she moved in, a receipt had never got done. It was promised for the next day, but then as their friendship grew it was just forgotten. Perhaps Evie had written it out and left it in her room, but she could not go there now to look. Within a few days of her coming here there had been an unspoken agreement that, while Evie lived, Lizzie would help with the house duties and in return she would have a place to stay for as long as needed at no further cost.

She had imagined she would stay here for at least a couple years, until her baby was of an age where she could safely return to her mother in Sydney. Who knew, she might even try and get her mother and David to come and live here; the house had plenty of room for them all; Evie had hinted at this.

Lizzie had stopped listening to the man in front of her as this conversation played out inside her head. She realised now that he was talking to her again.

He said, “Did you say you had a child, where is your husband?’

Lizzie did not reply.

He looked at her with a knowing look, “Oh, so you are one of those, are you; mother to a fatherless bastard, and making your living by working on your back. Well you can pay me in kind for services rendered, twice a week, along with doing the house work; that should do it. We can begin that arrangement now, I am well ready”

Lizzie flushed bright red. She shook her head.

“What, cat got your tongue, too good for the likes of me, are we. We will see about that. Well, you can think on it overnight. I will take a down payment of the first instalment in the morning, when I come back. Otherwise I will see you out of here with no further delay.”

With that he strode up to Evie’s room. She heard the door slam behind him. Later, after she heard him leave, she decided she would look for the rent receipt, at least then she could ask for her deposit back as well as have some time to find another place. But the door was now firmly locked.

Lizzie did not know what to do, all night she tossed and turned with worry. Could she find a job that would allow her to keep her baby? She could not bear the thought of lying with this awful man and letting him do to her what those other men had done before. But she had a child to feed and nowhere to go. Was there any other choice?

Finally, with the dawn light, her mind was made up; she would rather go and live on the street than subject herself to this man. Even if she was reduced to doing what he asked of her, going with men for money, in order to feed her child, it would not be with him. Not after the way he had talked about his aunt. Lizzie knew she may not be that good but she was better than that; she felt resolute and her mind was clear.

So she packed her bag, tied it shut, picked up her child and went and gathered her other meagre food and possessions from the kitchen. She put them all in the pram, along with her baby, and walked down onto the street. Even though the pram was not really hers she knew that Evie’s friend, who had offered it, would not mind her taking this one thing.

Just as she started to walk away from the house a man, in a large car, pulled up and walked towards the door. She realised, with a sinking heart, that it was the nephew, Jack.

At first he barely glanced at her and she hoped she might continue on her way, unimpeded. Then he looked again, closely, and she realised that he had recognised her.

“Where are you going?” he said. “I came early, looking forward to an hour with you before you rose from your bed. If you come back there now, I will treat you right.”

Lizzie shook her head; she could not bear to talk to him.

He came and stood right next to her, looking into her face. He cupped her chin with his hand and turned it towards him. “You are a pretty little thing, and with such a young baby, how old did you say you are? “I am not sure you are of an age where they would let you keep a baby. I suggest you come back with me. Otherwise I will need to call the adoption people to see what right you have to this child.”

Lizzie felt panic rise in her; she did not know where she could go or what she could do. She could not even bring herself to think about whether someone would try to take her child. But her biggest terror was to return inside and give herself to this man.

While she was on the street she did not think he would try and take her by force. But once she was inside she knew she would have no choice left but to do as he wanted.

Summoning all her courage she pulled her face away from his hand and slipped out of his grasp. Then, gathering all the dignity she could find, she walked away down the street.

He laughed after her with an evil laugh. “Wait until I tell the nuns about you. They won’t wait to come and take your baby and give it to more deserving parents. They will want to make sure it does not grow up like you. Then you will wish you had done as I asked in the first place. With your baby gone it will seem that it was a small price to pay to give me some simple pleasure. And I promise you will not have to sell yourself to other men, not while you are with me.

Lizzie tried to block the voice from her mind. At last she reached the corner and turned away, out of sight. She felt sick with dread at what might be, but going back was worse.

 

 

 

Chapter 8 – A Baby and a Pimp

 

Lizzie pushed the pram holding her child and all her worldly possessions down to the Esplanade. It was another cold winter’s morning, but at least today it was not raining. The sun was trying to shine weakly and the wind was light.

She and Catherine were both wrapped up warmly against the cold. She had twenty one pounds in her purse and, now that she knew her way around maybe she could find a job in one of the beachside cafes that sold drinks and hot food. Hopefully that would give her enough money to rent a room at night and buy food.

She did not know how she would manage with the baby, but perhaps, while Catherine was little and mostly slept, she could leave the pram out the back, safe, but out of the way, to attend to and feed occasionally while doing her other work. She would offer to do extra hours in return for any time off and inconvenience.

She tried one place, no vacancies there and no interest in having a woman with a small baby, a second place was similar. A third place actually had a sign looking for casual workers, but when they saw the baby the man behind the counter shook his head.

She could see another place at the far end of the beach, a bit away from the town but where a building next to the beach looked like a club. She trudged there, not feeling very hopeful. The lady who ran it seemed sympathetic. She needed an extra pair of hands each afternoon, particularly from 3 to 7 pm, after schools came out and for the dinner shift.

She looked dubiously at the baby, so Lizzie said, “Could I just have a try for one night and then you can decide? I could come back at three and I will do the first day for nothing if you will only give me a go.”

So it was agreed, the regular pay was to be a pound a day, and if she sold more than an agreed amount, she would get ten percent of her extra takings.

So she went and found a bed in a boarding house for the night, using up one more of her precious pounds in the process. She woke up Catherine just before she left for work, and made sure she had a good feed, and then settled her to sleep in the pram. Then she walked back, in time for her shift.

It was a busy, a clear cold afternoon and night, with people out along the foreshore. There was a brisk sale of hot fish and chips, meat pies and hamburgers. The time flew by.

It was past seven before the Catherine stirred; Lizzie gave her a quick feed then helped finish cleaning before she packed to leave. The lady, Ruth, said “Well your baby is very good and there is no doubt you work hard so I am prepared to give it a go it for a month. She handed Lizzie two ten shilling notes, “That is your pay for the night, you have earned it. Help yourself to some left over hot food.” Lizzie took a hot pie and some remaining chips.

So, for the next month, she worked there most nights. On average she made twenty five to thirty shillings a night. She also got some work stacking shelves in a shop, most days they would offer her two or three hours in the morning. Between the two jobs she was making just enough money for a room and food. A month on, towards the end of winter, she came down with a bad flu and could not work for a week.

Now her savings were reduced to ten pounds. She was starting to feel that her situation was precarious, not so much for herself but for her ability to support her child.

Catherine was also becoming harder to manage, as she grew she stayed awake for longer, her cry was getting louder and she was starting to grizzle if she was awake and unattended. She tried to keep her awake in the night, once home, to help her sleep in the day, but it was hard. Lizzie was often tired and fell asleep herself after dinner.

She had started to make friends around the area, mostly young girls of a similar age to herself. She had particularly become friends with two girls who worked in a massage parlour that she walked past every day. Often they would sit out in the early afternoon as she walked to the beach café. One had a child a few months older than hers. First they said greetings, then they started to talk about their children and then they started to talk about their lives.

This girl, Rebecca, was surprising open and upbeat about her life. She was eighteen and had been doing this work for over two years. She had got pregnant after about a year but the parlour had been good and helped her. First they had suggested that, if she wanted an abortion, they would arrange it. When she said she wanted to have the baby and keep it, once she could no longer work they gave her a room out the back, for no rent, provided she helped with domestic work and came back to regular work as soon as she was able.

Rebecca told her about her work. Sure, she had to do the sex thing with a lot of men, but it was not so bad really, she treated it like an acting performance, as if someone else was doing it, not really her. Some of the men were quite nice and kind and gave her good tips. There was also good security, with two men who were always around, to make sure that no-one hurt the girls; she had to give one a bit on the side but he was nice and fun to do it with.

It was also good money and fitted around minding the baby. Most nights, when she worked her baby slept through, and then, in the daytime, they could do things and nap together. She said that, in the six months since she had come back to work, she had managed to save over a thousand pounds.

She was obviously angling to get Lizzie to give it a try. At first Lizzie politely declined, but as her money situation grew precarious she started to think about it seriously. Rebecca even offered to share her room with Lizzie; “Then we could share the child minding, and the room is large enough for two” she said. This room was out the back of the parlour, separate from where they saw the gentlemen.

Finally, one day about a week after she got over being sick, when she had a really difficult day with Catherine, she saw Rebecca sitting outside one evening, playing with her baby. Except when she was sick, Lizzie had not had taken a day off since she began work. She sat down in the empty chair beside Rebecca, just to say hello and catch her breath, before the rest of the walk home; that is what she was intending.

She was finding herself getting very tired by the end of the day since she was sick. She told Rebecca this. Rebecca said it was because she was getting run down with working so hard, not getting enough rest and not having enough money to buy good food.

Rebecca told her she was having a night off tonight; each week she had at least one night for herself and her baby, when she booked no clients. All her regulars were booked for other nights and there were enough other girls to cover any newbies. So tonight was her night off and she was enjoying the early spring evening, in the sea air, with her baby.

It seemed so much better than the life Lizzie was leading, she had no real money, no days off and most importantly it was such a struggle, day after day, to care properly for her baby, buy the extra clothes Catherine needed, a better pram, all the other little things. She had a big list of all these things that were required, but could not see how to get them; her wages only allowed living hand to mouth, as she did, they would not stretch to getting these things.

Rebecca must have sensed the turmoil going on inside Lizzie. She put her arm around Lizzie’s shoulder and hugged her. “You poor thing, you are just a wee mite and working so hard,” she said. “Why don’t you give it a try; it is really not so bad.

“When I was little, I was only fifteen; then two boys forced me to do it with them. I hated it. But right then I thought; why not do it on my own terms, and get paid for it. It is much better to get paid and protected rather than have horrible men or boys trying to take it by force, and give you nothing, except perhaps, one of these,” Rebecca said pointing to their babies. “And these just use our money, not help pay the bills.”

Lizzie laughed with Rebecca at this flash of humour.

Rebecca went on, “Our pimp is actually a nice man. His name is Robert though we all call him Robbie. You will have to do it with him first, so he can make sure you are OK for the customers, but you will find him kind and gentle; you may even get to enjoy it with him.”

The Rebecca took her hand and said, “He is in his room now, listening to music; relaxing before the night’s work starts, why don’t you come with me and I will introduce you. Then, if you like him enough to want to try, I will mind your baby while you go with him.

“After that, if you want to keep going, tomorrow you can bring your things round here and move in with me.”

Lizzie felt panicked, she wanted to pull back and run away. All she could think of was how those men had held her down and laughed at her nakedness, before they hurt her. She did not want to be hurt again. Thinking of someone, a man, looking at her body without clothes, made her cringe inside.

But Rebecca just held her hand. She did not push her any further, she let her relax again. She said, “I know you are scared. I was really terrified first time. But then, when it happened, I relaxed and thought, it is really not that bad after all, is that all there is to it. Now I find it is mostly good. I could not enjoy my life without that part, and the money it brings.

Lizzie took a deep breath; what was there to lose, her life could not continue like it was, and if she had to do this, it was better that it be on her own terms.

So she nodded, “Yes, you can bring me up to meet him, and if he likes me enough, and if I don’t think he is too awful, I will try.”

Rebecca handed her baby to Lizzie and said, “Just hold Andy for a second, I will run up and check to see if now is suitable.”

As Rebecca disappeared Lizzie had another bout of panic. If it was not for her friend’s baby, that she was holding, she would have got up and run off. But she could not leave this child alone, so she sat still and trembled inside.

Suddenly Rebecca was back, “Yes he wants to meet you; he just needs five minutes. Come to my room. We will freshen you up and tie up your hair.”

That was it, the die was cast. Lizzie could feel her knees knocking as they walked to the back of the house and went into Rebecca’s room. It was a big room with a large wardrobe full of lots of beautiful dresses and with a basin, tap and large mirror in a corner.

Rebecca got a washer and lathered it with soap. She handed it to Lizzie, “Clothes off and sponge off your body with this,” she said.

Lizzie felt her courage start to fail again, but Rebecca stepped up and, in a matter of fact way, undid her clothes so they fell to the floor. She critically appraised Lizzie’s body. “Not too bad, tummy still a bit saggy, but otherwise a good figure,” she said. “The men will love your soft milky skin and slender girl body.” Then she passed the washer and Lizzie dutifully cleaned herself all over, standing there in her panties.

“Everything off,” said Rebecca, “clean all the places, particularly there,” and she pointed. Lizzie blushed but complied. Now Rebecca handed her another clean rinsed washer. “Use this to finish off,” she said.

Then Rebecca went to the cupboard and pulled out a soft flowing purple dress. From her drawer, she took out some lacy underwear. She handed these clothes to Lizzie who put them on under Rebecca’s keen gaze. Now Rebecca brushed Lizzie’s hair until it glowed and tied a matching ribbon loosely around it. With a final flourish she found a pair of matching shoes.

She stood Lizzie in front of the mirror to let her admire herself. “Anyone who does not think you look gorgeous does not know what a beautiful women looks like.”

Lizzie could not help but agree; the transformation seemed miraculous; she could barely believe she was staring back at the same person.

Lizzie looked at this transformed woman, herself, but so different. She felt her confidence grow. It was not quite excitement, but an edge of anticipation for what was to happen.

“Now for a few finishing touches,” said Rebecca. She applied lipstick, eyeliner and skin blush, followed by a light spray of perfume.

She surveyed her finished work and smiled with smug satisfaction. “Robbie is bound to find you exciting now, he said he would so it as a favour to me, expecting some plain Jane, but when he sees the gift I have brought him he will hardly be able to restrain himself, he loves beautiful women.

“My only advice to you is to try and make it all slow down, turn it into an act and imagine you are enjoying the act. Then it will be better for you both, perhaps real enjoyment will come.”

Rebecca placed Catherine on the floor and Andy in his cot. “Be good, I will be back in just a jiffy,” she said to them both. She took Lizzie’s hand and led her up the stairs. She knocked on a door at the back of the second level.

A surprisingly young man opened the door; he looked to be in his mid-twenties. He had broad powerful shoulders but was otherwise slim. He had a nice face, close to handsome but a little weather beaten. Most of all he had a warm smile, which Lizzie really liked.

Lizzie smiled back, it was involuntary. Then she blushed. What was she doing here?

Rebecca said, “Look what a lovely present Santa has brought you. Robert, this is Lizzie, I will leave you to get acquainted.” With that she skipped away down the stairs.

He gave a polite bow, “Actually I prefer if my good friends call me Robbie”, he said. He invited Lizzie inside. He indicated a sofa where there was space for two. She sat down, perched on the edge.

He looked at her, keenly but kindly. “First, we need you to relax. Rebecca has told me you have a baby but this is your first time with someone else. So we need to take it slow for a while, we will have a drink and you can tell me a little about yourself. Then, when you feel less awkward, we will see what happens from there.

He poured a small glass of mineral water and handed it to her. She sipped slowly.

“Tell me about yourself, how you came to Melbourne?” Lizzie briefly outlined a story about wanting to keep the baby, which her mother and the church ladies wanted adopted, and, as a result, leaving Sydney. Now she needed to find a way to support herself.

He nodded understandingly. “Are you still breastfeeding your baby?”

She nodded.

“That is important and you must keep it going for now, because one of the most important things is to make sure you don’t have another baby, anytime soon. If you come and work with us we will also arrange other protection.”

Then he untied the ribbon from her hair and said, “Give it a shake, I love a woman with hair around her face. Now he came over and took her hands. He lifted her to standing, right next to him. He cupped her face and gave her a slow and lingering kiss on the lips.

At first she felt shy and awkward, but then she remembered Rebecca’s advice about role playing. She responded, exploring his mouth back and enjoying the experience. It did something to her; it awakened a womanly part in her, giving her a warm feeling.

Then he walked her to the bed. He indicated for her to stand just next to it. He reached down and lifted her dress over her head. Now she wore only lacy underwear. Again she felt self-conscious, starting to bring her hands to her front, as a cover.

He took her hands and lifted them above her head, indicating he wanted her to stand that way for a minute. He unclipped her bra and looked at each breast, handling them gently and feeling their firmness.

It seemed strangely like a doctor’s examination. She supposed in a way it was, a check for soundness and defects. Then he pulled her panties to the floor and indicated for her to lie on the bed, on her back, with her legs apart. He looked at this part of her carefully; more gentle touching and probing.

Then, apparently satisfied, he said “All appears healthy, I am sorry to act like a doctor but I needed to check. We have to be careful to protect our customers.”

It was so clinical that she felt relieved; however she knew there was more to come.

He sat on the bed, and stroked her hair as she lay beside him. He said, “You are a lovely, sweet, innocent girl. While you obviously went with a man to get pregnant, I can see this in not something you have done before, and it seems scary and foreign to you. However you are beautiful, with a lovely body and very sexy. Now you need to learn to use these things.

“I need to see you try to use this appeal on me, to get me really excited. Imagine I am the first and most handsome man you have ever seen and that you desperately want me to feel the same about you. With that in your mind, I want you to take off my clothes and to do it in a way that makes me mad with desire for you.”

He stood in front of her and she sat up. His groin was almost in her face and she could see a bulge. She undid his belt and his buttons, his pants slid to the floor. Now she eased down the next layer.

She found herself curious to see what this part of a man looked like, the last time it had been dark and she had been trying to look away. She had never looked at a naked man this way before, and now it was only six inches from her face.

This purple-red thing came clear and poked upright. Almost without thinking she kissed its tip and took this in her mouth. It seemed to be the right and natural thing to do.

He groaned and put his hands in her hair. Then he pulled her head back up. “I think you are getting it pretty well” he said. He pulled off his shirt. She looked at his rippling muscles and maleness.

She felt an ache in that woman’s place of hers. It was as if her body knew how it was all meant to work. Her nervousness was gone now; she wanted this to keep going. Now he was kissing her and sucking her breasts. She arched her hips towards him, wanting more.

She saw him put a condom on. Then he was lying alongside her. She thought he would just climb onto her and do the sex act. But instead he caressed her body, rubbing her breasts and touching between her thighs. It was so pleasurable, and in return she stroked and touched his body and back, and then his maleness.

He rolled her on to her stomach and lifted up her hips. Now he was kissing that place, pushing his tongue into it. She started to pant and moan; there was no acting now.

He turned her back so she was facing him. “That’s how it should feel. But if it doesn’t that is how you need to act. There is nothing like a woman on fire to drive a man crazy.”

Now he lay her on her back and placed a pillow under her buttocks. “That is to put you in the best position to enjoy what is to come,” he said. He moved his body above her; she moved her thighs apart, pushed as wide as they would go. She arched her pelvis as she felt him begin to push inside her. It felt huge, like it was stretching her all the way as it went in.

Once he was fully inside he told her to lie there and get used to the feeling of him, and then to start to move herself against it, pushing up hard, and squeezing herself as tightly as she could. This would increase both their pleasure.

She moved her hips, tentatively at first, but it did really feel so good. So now she pushed herself hard and squeezed against him. He began to move too, coming up and down in time with her. She could feel tingles of pleasure spreading though her body. Now she felt her whole body was riding a rising wave of pleasure; he was the like the sea, pushing against her and pulling her along with him, as they both rose to the crest.

Just when she thought she could bear no more, she felt his fingers come into her, alongside his male part, focusing on a small point, just inside her entrance. The pleasure was exquisite, she could hold back no longer, her whole body was convulsing.

Now he drove into her with incredible ferocity. There was a moment, suspended in time, when his body arched and shook, just like hers was doing. They cried out in pleasure together as they wrapped arms around each other’s rigid bodies. Slowly it subsided.

They lay together, she stroking his head, like she would a baby. It was far better than she had thought or imagined; a great and unexpected pleasure.

After a few minutes he sat up and got dressed. He asked her if she had enjoyed it. She smiled back, a dreamy smile, and nodded. “More than I could ever have imagined.”

“Me too,” he said. “I have lots of girls, but with you it was something very special. When I saw how shy and nervous you were, at the start, I wanted to be the one to give the first real pleasure to your woman’s body, to show you how to enjoy it,” he said.

“Soon you will be doing this for a living, like I do. It won’t always be good like this. But I want you to know and remember this; this is the way it should be, a thing to be enjoyed between a man and a woman, done with affection and tenderness and without shame.

“For this work you have passed with flying colours. A job is yours, from tomorrow, if you want. Sometimes we will do this again, together, just you and I alone; perhaps sometimes for a whole night, so we both remember what it feels like when it is really good.

“Now you need to get dressed and take your child home. I must get to work. My job is to protect all the girls here. They are entrusted to my care. I let the clients know that, while I will not interfere with their ordinary pleasures, I can be there in an instant if needed.”

As she walked back down the stairs to Rebecca, Lizzie considered her sudden initiation to this world. She had taken the first step to becoming a prostitute. Tomorrow she would take the next steps, repeating it with many other men.

Tonight was better, far better, than she imagined possible. She felt strange in her new found woman’s body. Towards this man she felt a deep love for teaching her to enjoy this joining and for bringing this part of her alive that she had not known was there.

In this, her new chosen life, it must be something to enjoy, not fear. It would not always be this easy or this nice. But doing this act was something that she knew she could manage; she could polish her performance and become a true professional as time went by.

One thing bothered her; it was the transactional nature. She would like to keep doing it with this one person she really liked, not sell her body and this pleasure to whoever paid.

But there was no turning back now; she had run out of other real choices. In her heart she knew that this was what the new Lizzie had become and she could never unmake it.

 

 

 

Chapter 9 – A Kept Woman

 

Lizzie settled in to her new life so easily. It was like, even though her body was used in a way she would not otherwise choose, her mind remained hers, alone and untouched. No longer was there unceasing anxiety of how to pay for the tiniest things, a bed or a meal.

There was a communal kitchen used by the girls, and the two men who worked on the premises. Madam, a well-kept lady of about fifty, was also a frequent visitor. She was almost motherly in the way she approached the running of her establishment, or perhaps like a boarding school mistress. She knew all the girls by name; she would stand for no nonsense. There were no drugs on her premises and while they all shared a drink or two, before or after work, to help get in the mood, there was no all-night bingeing or slovenly behaviour.

She said, “Other places may tolerate this, but I will not.” For those who did not like her way there were plenty of other establishments they could go to.

She told them to act with pride, it was the oldest profession and one to be proud of; it met the needs of men. Her clients were valued customers who must be provided with a good, honest service.

There were strict rules around the money. While the girls were free to take tips and these were theirs to keep, the fee for service was paid to the Madam or her duty manager in advance. She took her share, the house took a share, the pimps, who she called the house men, were paid theirs and the balance was for the girls to each use how they liked. The house fee covered the food, the drinks and the rooms where they gave the service.

She insisted that there be no favourites, all the girls could have their regular customers, but they must also take an equal share of the new ones and, while they could go with the house men when they chose, this was not to be exclusive or take away from their availability to their clients.

Most of the girls were young, not much older than Rebecca, a few were older. Some had their own rooms here, others lived away, but all would often gather for a meal and a chat.

They were all required to take off at least one night each week, and they could choose which other nights they worked, as agreed out with the Madam, and written in a book.

They were all required to use contraception, previously it had been limited to condoms and diaphragms, but now this new pill was available. They were encouraged, but not forced, to use this. Madam called it personal responsibility. Lizzie chose the pill, but insisted that her customers also wore a condom.

They all had a health check each week, done by another experienced person here, and they needed to tell Madam at once if they thought they had caught anything. She also made them all pay a regular visit to the doctor, whose visits she arranged each month. It seemed remarkably orderly and far from Lizzie’s image of a seedy brothel. She knew she was lucky; there were many places that were not so good.

Rebecca, who she now called Becky, and she were like sisters, she was another Julie, someone who could be a friend for life. Rebecca had told her some stories of her early life, her father had also died young, but her mother had taken up with another man who she did not like and who had tried to molest her when her mother was not looking.

They both really liked Robbie and spent regular time with him, but it was not a jealous relationship, even though secretly Lizzie could feel herself a smitten by him, but they all knew the rules; kindness, affection but not exclusive love in this house. Those wanting that must move on.

One Monday night, a quiet night which both Lizzie and Robbie had off, she had spent a full night with him. It was really lovely, they had mostly just talked, slept and cuddled together, with little Catherine lying in the corner in her pram.

She gathered her courage and told him about the night when she was raped, a thing no-one else except Julie had been told by her, not even Becky. She could feel anger in him about it. When she finished the telling he held her very close, stroked her hair and said that bad things happen in life and afterwards people have to move on with their lives like she was doing. She felt better and less bitter for his knowing; his strength was hers now.

He had told about his life before here, he had been a soldier in Korea, and watched two mates get blown apart. At first he had a death wish and wanted to kill all of them. Then he came to understand that he must not feed this hatred. It was a cancer; killing begetting more killing. Then he knew that he did not want to kill people anymore. So when the chance came he had demobbed.

He had come back to his home in Melbourne, but after life in the army he found it hard to settle into civilian life and do a regular job in some city firm, he needed life on the edge. He had stumbled into this work. He had always liked and enjoyed women, both their company and their pleasures. He loved all the girls and tried to give to them equally but, he had to admit, he had some special favourites, like her and Becky, even if he tried not to let it show.

In the small hours, when the only sound they could hear was each other’s breathing, they made love with great tenderness; it was as if they were lost together in a place beyond all known worlds.

As they lay together, after, she asked Robbie if he had ever been in love with just one woman, so that all he wanted to do was to be with that person.

Robbie told her that before he went to fight there had been a girl like that; he would not say her name. For all those months away fighting he had stayed true and imagined she was too. He had stayed in the barracks and remembered her and desired only her when his friends asked him to come with them when they went with other women. But when he came back from his first tour of duty he found she was with another man. Then he realised he was not special to her the way he had thought. So from then on he had taken his pleasures where they came, and enjoyed many women. But part of him was held back, lest he give himself too fully and not have it returned.

Then he said something which made Lizzie feel very special, “When I am with you, there is nobody else. That part of me, the part that stayed back before, it is not there anymore, and all of me is lost in the moment with you.

Lizzie said in return, I have not been with anyone else that I cared for so I cannot judge, but when I am here with you everything else stops being real, there is only here and now, and I never want it to end. I cannot imagine feeling way that with someone else.

At the end of their night Lizzie told him that if she ever had another baby she would like the father to be a person just like him, she was so glad he had been her first man after that awful night.

He replied, “If I become a father, I want someone just like you to be the mother.”

Secretly she just wanted to go away with him, for them to have a life where it was just the two of them, and from these words she knew a part of him would have liked that too. But it was not to be, at least not in this time and place.

One day she visited Sylvia, Evie’s old friend, to ask where Evie was buried. Sylvia walked with her to show her the grave. Sylvia said it was a disgrace; this man who had got all Evie’s money had not even paid for a decent funeral or a proper headstone. A tiny plaque lay on the ground, with a few dead flowers that Sylvia and other friends had brought.

Lizzie found the undertaker and gave him one hundred pounds of her money to make a proper headstone from white marble. She would have done more but that was the limit of her spare money just then; perhaps she could do more when she had more.

A month went by; Lizzie felt that, once again, this had found a new home. It was like she had felt with dear Evie. She had taken the name Luscious Lizzie, as her working name and now she had a regular following of repeat customers who booked her at least once a week.

She did not think much about what she did, her work; it was just an act that her body went through. When it was done, at the end of each night she showered and washed herself, this was now also part of her act, symbolically washing these memories away.

Catherine was now smiling at her when she woke up. Each night, once she was finished, she would wake her baby up to enjoy a bright smile and give her lots of kisses. Sometimes Catherine would chortle with delight.

She now had three hundred pounds saved away and felt rich; others spent their money on clothes and finery, she spent only what she needed and saved the rest; the memory of her poverty was still too close to be wasteful and rely on good fortune.

 

 

 

Chapter 10 – Life Spins Out of Control

 

It was now mid spring, the days were longer and the sun was warmer. Most days, for an hour in the afternoon, Lizzie and Becky would sit on chairs in the sun at the edge of the footpath, while their children looked around and played. They both loved these times.

One day, as Lizzie was staring at Catherine, making little baby noises and trying to make her smile, she became aware someone had stopped in front of her, blocking the sunlight. She looked up. It was Evie’s Jack; he was smiling at her, as if a friend, but the smile was not real. He started to say something. She nodded, picked up her baby and went inside.

Becky followed, a few seconds later. “What was that all about?” she asked. “When you left he tried to ask me questions about you, but I did not answer and left too. But he knows we both work here, he said so. As I was walking way he told me we could expect a visit from him; he looked forward to becoming a customer and meeting us both in private.”

Lizzie cringed inside. She had never turned a customer away, but she could not bear the thought of being with this man. She told Becky what happened when Evie had died and how frightened she had been.

Becky took a deep breath. She said, “We almost never turn anyone away, but I think, if we tell Robbie and Madam about him, they will understand and not let him visit you, perhaps not even me.”

So they went and told the story, Robbie nodded, he seen this man around the town before, and knew he was trouble. He agreed he was a bully who could be violent, and may try to hurt or humiliate Lizzie. He said he would go and talk to Madam and seek her agreement not to let him see either of the two girls.

He returned after a few minutes and said. “It is agreed, if he comes and asks for either of you he will be told that neither of you is available. If he wants to book and come back later we will not agree to that either. We will tell him there are other girls available who he can go with if he wishes. If he does not like that he can go elsewhere”

Sure enough, that night, about nine in the evening, Jack arrived. He had already been drinking. Now he was full of cheer and bad manners. He put fifty pounds down and said that he wanted a turn with Luscious Lizzie.

That was politely declined; he was told she was unavailable. He then said he would take a turn with her friend, the other one with the baby. That was also declined though he was offered a choice of other ladies.

He said he wanted to make an appointment with Lizzie for the next night; that also was not possible, how about an appointment with her friend. “Sorry sir, neither of these ladies is available for you.”

He started to get mad, to bellow and shout. Lizzie faintly heard him downstairs. Then the two house men each took an elbow and moved him outside. He stood there for five minutes, shouting abuse, until a helpful local policeman suggested that he needed to calm down.

Lizzie was told this when she took a break, an hour later, by Madam and Robbie. Madam said, with a half-smile, that she was glad to see the back of him; she could do without such rude gentlemen in her establishment.

They all hoped this was the end of it, but Lizzie had a dread feeling inside, she sensed that this man was bad to the core, just like Evie had said and would not be stopped easily.

Two days passed and her anxiety faded. On the third day, a Thursday, as she and Becky were eating a late breakfast in the kitchen, Robbie came to see them, with an anxious look.

The first thing he asked Lizzie was how old she was. It was a question no one had asked since she had been here, with her thinned down body and face, from when she was sick, and her baby, people assumed she was seventeen or eighteen.

Lizzie had a sinking feeling; her birthday was the end of November, in six weeks, when she would be sixteen, she said.

Robbie groaned and slapped his hand on his forehead. “Why did I not ask you this when I first met you, we could have found a place for you, doing house work. Then, when you were sixteen, in six more weeks, you could have started this work if you wanted,” he said.

He said a social worker and a policeman had just come to the front of the house, talking to Madam. They told her they had reliable information that one of their girls, named Lizzie, was underage, and also had a baby.

Now they were asking to interview her. If it was found to be true she would be taken away and placed in a home for girls. Her baby would be placed into foster care while waiting for adoption. Madam’s establishment would also be prosecuted for an underage person.

Robbie was almost sure that the source of the information was Jack Mackenzie. Lizzie nodded her head; she said her date of birth was written in the guest book at that house.

Lizzie shook her head in a daze, it was all true but why was life so unfair, she was only trying to make a life for herself and her daughter; she was not harming anyone.

She could feel tears pricking her eyes; she did not want to go away, not yet, not again, just when she felt safe and had found new friends, especially Robbie and Becky. Her friends both came and put their arms around her, feeding her support. After a minute she wiped her eyes and stood straight. “What do you think I should do?” she asked Robbie.

Robbie said he thought the best thing was for her to leave the premises and find another place to stay, in a different suburb not too close to here, where they would not know to look for her. Perhaps, in a couple months’ time, when it all settled down, she could come back as everyone here liked her and Madam did not want to lose her. But she could not stay here now; it would only cause trouble for everyone.

He said that for now Madam had sent the social worker and policeman away. She told them that she did not believe their accusations, but they could come back later to ask Lizzie directly. She said Lizzie had gone shopping, but she expected she would be back later that afternoon.

If Lizzie was not there when they came back, then Rebecca could just say her friend had been called away to see her mother in Sydney and she was not sure when she would return. Without Lizzie here anymore no one would have any case, there was nothing to prove it was true, it was just idle gossip. Then Madam could find a way to settle it down, she knew a person or two in higher places. But that would not work if the real Lizzie and baby were here and her age was confirmed.

Robbie handed her a hundred pounds, this was from him and Madam to help for now and if she wrote with an address they would help with some more if needed. She took the money and thanked him, tears in her eyes.

He held out his arms and hugged her so tight. “I will miss you so much, I hate to say goodbye; you will always be most special to me. Please write to me when you have another home and tell me where you are. Wherever it is, I will come and see you there.”

Lizzie stared dumbly at him; she could not promise what she could not undertake to give. But he stood there, lifted her face, and made her look at him. Finally she gave her promise, and she knew she must find a way to keep it.

Of all the people here, the one she most would miss was this man, she wanted so much for him to say that he would come with her, that he would take care of her. In her misery she realised that what she felt for this man, was much more than friendship, and she wanted to be able to say this to him, and find a way to stay with him. But this time and those choices were gone. So, having given her promise, she turned and walked away without looking back.

Now it was only her and Becky. She packed what she could carry in a light bag, and Becky gave Lizzie her own pram, it was much better than Lizzie’s old and battered one, and had a place behind and underneath to carry her things.

They held each other tight for a minute more and both cried a bit. Then Becky led her out to the back gate. It led to a lane which came out into the street behind. They walked together to this street then they hugged again.

Lizzie looked out both ways, no one was in sight. Rebecca still held her hand. Lizzie looked at her friend, and with all the strength she could muster, she said.

“I must go away again, I am not sure where, but it will be far away. I will write and tell you where once I am able. Promise me that one day, perhaps when you meet someone that you really like, you will come away from here too. I know this place is good for now, but one day you must make your own life, with your child, somewhere else.”

Becky nodded, “I know that too and I promise it. A time will come, soon, when this is not the right place for a small child. I had hoped that you and I could do this together, like sisters. But we will both have to do it on our own now. I just wish I was as strong as you are.”

Lizzie gave her hand a final squeeze and walked away, not looking back.

 

 

 

Chapter 11 – Escape West

 

Lizzie had no clear plan in mind, but she had already made up her mind that she must leave Melbourne. She did not want to take the risk that these people would find her and Catherine somewhere else; next time she may not be so lucky and get advanced warning.

So she found her way to the tram stop and headed for the city, thinking as she went. It was past time for aimless flight, she had enough money, more than four hundred pounds. It would last her for a good while and she must use it well, to get to a place of security for both her and Catherine, where she could stay and watch her child grow. Both she and her child needed a place to call their own, somewhere they came home to each night, with friends around, and which no one would try to take away from them.

While she could not be certain, and would return to it if needed, she also thought her time as a prostitute was over. She did not want to undo this time, she had learned so much about herself and about many other parts of life in the doing. But now she had a choice again and her mind was clear; yes, she would choose another life.

She had a half formed idea to head west, at least to Adelaide and maybe further. She thought there was a Trans Australian Railway which ran all the way to Perth. So maybe she would head for there. Now that the tram was taking her to the city she decided that her first destination was Spencer Street Railway Station. That was where her Sydney train had come to and she thought that other trains out of Melbourne would leave from there.

Once she was there she would find out how to catch a train west. Now the plan was clear; she would go first to Adelaide, maybe stop there for a night and then head on until at least she came to Perth, maybe even further. She pictured a map of Australia in her head, and imagined the furthest away part of West Australia, names like the Kimberley and Broome sprang to mind, that was it, Broome sounded right, a B name like Balmain, but so far away that the chance of anyone finding her there was vanishingly small.

Once at the station the ticket man told her that she should take a train to Adelaide and then catch a further train on from there. The next train departed this evening about 8 pm, and arrived there tomorrow mid-morning. So she bought a ticket to Adelaide, it was about the same cost as Sydney. She could have bought a ticket for the whole journey to Perth, but she preferred the idea of stopping for a day or two in Adelaide, she had never been there and had only read small amounts about it in books. So she liked the idea of having a day there to rest and look around.

It would not eat much into her savings and she thought it would be also good for Catherine to break the trip. She could also buy things there for the longer trip, the man said it was another three or four days from there to Perth and, even though she could buy some food on the train and at the various stops, she sensed she needed to be better prepared for such a long trip. She was confident that no one in Adelaide would be suspicious of her, so once she was gone from Melbourne she could take her time.

She now had about eight hours to pass until her train left so she decided that she would go and walk around Melbourne, she had not been back to the city since her arrival over three months before. She found it hard to believe it was so little time since she had arrived; the girl expecting the baby who came that day seemed another person, from another life.

This was one part of her life that she was glad she would never have to relive; yes there had been some good times, but overall it had been just so hard, particularly in the time after Evie and before moving in with Rebecca; cold, no money, no food and no path to a future.

She would never regret her life at the brothel because of the freedom it had bought her.

After an hour of walking around and window shopping she saw a sign for a public library. She was ready to sit down and feed her baby. She thought this might be a good place. It was also out of the weather, and even though it was getting well into spring, the day was cool with a gusty wind.

So she went inside and, after finding a quiet corner to feed Catherine, she started to browse the bookshelves. She had barely read since her arrival in Melbourne and now that she was back in such a place she realised how much she had missed this part of her life, the gaining of knowledge and the filling of her imagination that went along with it.

She decided she would use this as a time to find out about the places she was going to. With the help of a librarian she located a book of Australian maps along with books about Adelaide, Perth and the Kimberley area of Western Australia, there was even one dedicated to the town of Broome. She spent two hours ravenously devouring this information; it was such a joy to use her brain for discovery again.

Then, realising she had barely eaten today, just a few mouthfuls of breakfast, she decided that she would go and find a cafe for a hot lunch. As she left she saw a pile of books to one side. She asked the librarian about these, what were they?

“Oh, we are selling off surplus books that no one has read recently, just a shilling each.” the librarian said. She selected and bought five, thinking one for each day of her trip. Even though they added to her luggage she was pleased. It seemed such an unexpected delight that for her trip, in all those many hours to come when her baby slept, that she might have time to just sit and read. Right now if she thought there was a place called heaven this was near enough to it in her mind.

The afternoon meandered away, with Lizzie returning to the library to keep reading. By the time it was closing she felt she had absorbed most of what she could know from books about the places she was going. She knew about pearl diving, crocodiles, cyclones, sunbaked heat and desert, she also knew that she would have to go by road or boat from Perth to get to Broome. Which she would choose she did not know; but it was a very long way, almost as far as getting to Perth from Melbourne, and the books said the roads were bad, so she thought a boat may be worth trying for.

About six o’clock, as dusk was falling, she returned to the station and ate another meal in its dining room before boarding. Now, suddenly, she felt anxious, it felt as if a sixth sense was telling her to be careful, that someone might come here looking for her. She knew the Sydney train was leaving soon and then the Adelaide train an hour later. Imagine if the police and a social worker came here to try and intercept her before departure. She moved with her plate of food to the further corner of the dining room, next to the toilets and an outside exit. She would finish her meal here and not go outside until the train was due to board. She saw no one and decided that it was just her overactive imagination.

But still the anxiety sat inside her. She had gone through so much to get to this place, she would not be careless now. She decided that she would find a hidden place and wait until the very last minute to board, just to make sure they were not checking the train. It was not past Jack to put others up to someone like that.

Then, if she saw anyone who looked like an official waiting around, checking the passengers, or checking the carriages, she would find another way to travel or wait for another day, the ticket seller had told her another train left in the early morning. It was now just over half hour to departure and they were about to open this train platform for boarding. She found a well hidden corner, next to a passage to the outside, but with a view of the platform entrance for her train. People were just starting to gather there to queue and board, and a man was starting to open the gate, and check tickets.

Lizzie sat there with a clear view, but almost hidden. She was holding a large paper up to cover her face, and her pram was hidden further out of sight behind her chair.

The hairs on her neck stood up, there was a policeman and Jack was standing there, talking to him. They were both scrutinising the passengers that had gathered. Retreat was the order of the day; she would try again in the morning. The ticket office was around the corner out of sight of the platform entrance. She asked them to change her booking to the first train next morning, taking care not to let them sight her baby, perhaps her description with the child had been used as a way of trying to locate her.

The lady who served her was helpful and unsuspicious. “Sure love, I can do that, just a ten shilling fee for the rebooking. She took her new ticket and left the station, finding a nearby hotel for the night.

She returned for next morning’s seven o’clock train, anxiety running through her. This time there was only a sleepy ticket seller and a handful of sleepy passengers. Still she waited until departure was in less than five minute before she plucked up her courage and quickly boarded. As the train slowly rolled away she felt herself shaking with relief.

It was six days before she alighted in Perth, it had been a long and slow trip but now she was really starting to feel safe. From Adelaide she had treated herself to a sleeper, shared with an older lady. The two made occasional friendly conversation but mostly she read, slept and entertained her baby. Despite the long trip she felt well rested.

She found a boat, a coastal steamer. It was leaving in a week for a trip along the west coast to Darwin and return, stopping at all the main towns. She booked a passage to Broome. She stayed in a boarding house in Freemantle, near the docks, until it left. Time passed quickly; she found the people were friendly. Her baby led to many conversations and smiles.

While there she wrote a letter to Julie, telling her of her need to flee again, and also about her life in Melbourne. She decided to hide nothing, telling her about Evie and that life, telling her about working in the café and meeting Becky, and then when the other money ran out taking a job in the brothel, selling sex for money.

She said it was a hard choice but she was not ashamed, she now had four hundred pounds and a chance for a new life which would not have come without this. But now she hoped to leave this street girl life behind.

She even told her about meeting this man, Robbie and the wonderful times they had together, and that she had told Robbie about the rape and how that had helped her. She even said that she thought she was in love with him, but now she must put him behind and get on with a life on her own, though she missed him so much. When she finished she felt it was good to have said all this, even if only to her friend.

She thought of writing a letter to Robbie, to try and say what she felt about him, and hoped he felt too, an attempt to keep part of her promise and at least tell him where she was going. Several times she wrote words and scratched them out, crumpling each sheet.

Finally she put her pen aside, tears misting her eyes. It was just too hard. He could have come with her, right then when she left, if he had really wanted. She was now determined to block him out of her mind, not to remember those nights when they had joined their bodies together and she had loved him with all her being. That had to be left behind, as a part of her childhood, her first discovery of love. Now she must move on.

So instead of Robbie she made herself think of her mother and her brother. Now she found the photos from Evie, the only pictures of her friend. She put two copies of the photos of her, Catherine and Evie into the envelope for Julie. She asked Julie to give one set to her mother, and to tell her about this lady who had helped her when the baby was born. Then the letter was posted.

After the week in Freemantle Lizzie was pleased when it was time to sail. This time she shared a small cabin with another lady. This trip was not as easy; often a strong wind was blowing, giving a heavy swell. She discovered sea-sickness, and at each town she thought of leaving the boat to avoid further travel. But something drove her on, the trip progressed. A week later she was standing on dry land again, in hot sunshine, on a wharf in Broome.

She still had three hundred and ten pounds. She was pleased, she had crossed to the furthest side of this country, she still had money to spare which should allow her establish a life here and she had encountered no more difficulty than a little rough sea weather.

 

 

 

Chapter 12 – A New Start

 

Lizzie’ decided that she had to start her new life in the west with an appearance of confidence and prosperity.

She had bought a neat second hand bag in Perth for her clothes, and a couple of light but smart outfits, which better suited this weather. She asked to be taken by the local taxi to a good quality hotel in the town. She would settle in today, walk the streets of the town in the evening cool to familiarise herself and tomorrow she would start to enquire about the town and what it offered, both for employment in better quality establishments and also about the potential to start a business of her own. Before she could form a firm plan she needed an understanding of what enterprises were already in the town, and what opportunities existed. She would also look for opportunities such as children’s tuition using her own schooling.

From her experiences in Melbourne she had formed a view that, in most places, there was an opportunity for competent hard working people who lived frugally. She also knew that her education gave her opportunities for advancement. She thought, if she managed her money carefully, that it would allow at least six months before she had fully used it up. In that time she felt certain she could gain a new income. She had confidence in her ability to charm people with a smile and a polite turn of phrase. She had discovered an ability to read peoples desires and understand and meet their needs. She knew money flowed from this. She was particularly interested in a business that she could do from a house that she lived in. This would assist with caring for her child and reduce her overall expenses.

The next three days were spent visiting many businesses in the town, mostly just talking to people but also giving small fragments of information about herself, that she was a Sydney girl, that her husband had died soon after her baby was born, that she had inherited a small parcel of money, not much but enough to live frugally, that she had felt his loss so much that she had decided to come to the other side of Australia and make a new life there.

She wove facts and inventions together with skill, already she had job offers to work in three shops. She told these people that she would think carefully and seriously about the offers, but she first needed a few days to settle in, get her bearings and find a place to live.

She sensed that she was a minor sensation in this hot, sleepy little town. No one questioned her motivation, those who were born here seemed to be content in this place and consider it natural that others should want to live her too. Those who had come here, from afar like she, understood this was a land of opportunity where each had to make their own way. Some had stories of a past from another life that they chose to keep hidden, for others it was a step towards advancement and a future return to softer climes in the big cities of the south.

What set her apart was that, as a mother of a small child, she had made this move by herself. She sensed a level of admiration for this. By the second day of her inquiries she realised most people knew who she was and were exchanging their own stories about her, but this seemed to mostly lead to polite curiosity not distrust.

She learned that the pearlers made good money, and there were also a range of government employed workers who were relatively well off. In addition there was a large aboriginal population, station people who visited and a range of other transient people who passed through the town.

All the eating establishments seemed to have a good custom, and the fare was limited. In part this seemed due to limited fresh fruit and vegetables, but even more it seemed to be due to a lack of imagination by both the business owners and their patrons. With its ocean fronting position the town had access to high quality sea food, along with a ready supply of meat from surrounding stations. There also seemed to be some Chinese market gardeners who grew a range of fresh fruit and vegetables which seemed to be of high quality.

She had in mind both a business that served meals in the town and prepared good food that could be sold to the pearling luggers for their trips out, along with sale to stations and travellers who sought variety from otherwise monotonous diets.

Her mother’s culinary skill came to her mind, making much from poor and limited ingredients; tasty stews, fresh salads and a range of dishes which utilised the wealth of the sea, along with a range of deserts which kept well in a hot climate. She also had in mind food which could be frozen and reheated, suitable for stations, pearling luggers and people travelling out to work in remote places where good keeping and flavour after storage were important.

In Melbourne and Sydney she had enjoyed Italian and Greek culinary delights; pasta, spicy meat dishes, olives and dips. Most town people had refrigeration, as did the boats and station owners. So she had in mind a business where they got to enjoy good food and all its flavours, served in her own restaurant, but could also buy similar food to take away and eat later at their convenience.

She knew any business had to be well located to capture the passing trade, but it also had to look inviting, both inside and out, particularly to town people, as repeat custom was the lifeblood of a business. She learnt from her last profession that those who left well satisfied mostly returned and that they also recommended the services to others.

So she now started to look for an attractive cottage, with the makings of a good garden, something that could be brought to life with a little care, and which gave space to grow some fresh salads and vegetables for use. In addition a couple trees to provide shade from the hot sun and a verandah for casual dining seemed important. She thought, if she could rent something like that for a few months, then she could make it work.

Her ideal house had a functional kitchen, a room for her own living, a room for dining tables, and a display room for purchases, supplemented by a verandah that could serve for daytime use, serving tea and cakes along with cold drinks and ices, and which adjoined a shady part of garden.

This was her image, now she must find and rent it. Then she must fit it out to serve its purpose. She hoped that, once the place was found, she would also have enough money to pay for some limited help, someone to serve as she cooked and who could also learn these same cooking skills.

To help her money stretch she decided to take a part time job, working each afternoon in a shop which sold pearls and other curios to the town and the passing trade. It was run by the wife of a pearl lugger captain. He was often away at sea and she had two small children, one of three years, and one of one year. She managed her domestic life and the shop with another part time girl.

What Lizzie liked most was that she had a sense of kindred with this lady, Elena, only a few years older than her. She was also raising a family of small children largely on her own while her husband was at sea. She sensed they both had a hunger for advancement, and a level of intelligence and interest in the wider world that set them apart from many.

She hoped they might become friends and each help the other as the years went by, she also knew that making contact through her with other pearlers was a good business move. Her only reservation was that she was yet to meet her husband, Alec, away at sea for over another week. However she could always leave this work if he proved difficult.

So she came there to work, beginning at lunch time each day. She minded the shop for the first hour while Elena finished preparing lunch and dinner for the day and fed her children. She watched the speed and efficiency with which Elena worked with awe.

Within an hour Elena, could prepare a lunch, feed two small children and have a dinner prepared to cook slowly over the afternoon. With Greek hospitality she would always offer Lizzie a plate of food on arrival, which Lizzie would place below the counter and eat quickly at times when the shop was empty.

Broome town activity revolved around two main things heat and tides. The tides were massive, beyond anything that Lizzie had seem. At low tide vast mudflats filled the bay, at high tide the water rose thirty feet and came right up to the town, lapping at its edges.

There was a steady stream of arrivals and Broome seemed like an oasis to many of them. The heat in the inland drove people to this place, a few miles inland from the coast it was often well above one hundred degrees, with a hundred and ten not uncommon. Here it was generally in the nineties in the afternoon, hot, but bearable out of the sun. So people, come from driving in the inland, heat blasted, and felt a huge relief to arrive in this town

Broome sat on a peninsula which jutted out into the ocean. This gave it a cooling afternoon sea breeze, absent from inland. But now, as spring moved to summer the streets were baking to stand in once the sun was well up; someone joked you could fry an egg on the road. People looked for shelter from the afternoon heat. Elena used this to draw custom.

A movement was beginning of long distance travellers, older people who wanted to see the whole of the country of their birth. They would pack up cars, utes, vans, sometimes Land Rovers, with camping gear and would come from Perth or the eastern states.

They would slowly work their way around, stopping at the small towns along the way; a day or two each. Many saw Broome on the map, fourteen hundred miles above Perth, over half way to Darwin, as an obvious place to aim for. Broome was considered the start of the Kimberley, place of strange fascination.

Few understood how far and how hard a trip it was on these bad roads to come here. So the people kept drifting through, many hoping to make it through to Darwin before the wet season cut the road.

The road south was said to be terrible. It was 400 miles to the next significant town of Port Hedland, in a region called the Pilbara. There was a small roadhouse half way to Hedland called Sandfire Flat. Otherwise there was no human habitation in these four hundred miles. This road was reputed as one of the worst in Australia, corrugations big enough to eat a regular car, which continued for hundreds of miles, patches of sand, and bulldust holes to bog and break the springs of the unwary vehicle. Many less well built cars limped into town with extensive damage, shredded tyres, broken axles, springs or engines which had broken their mounting brackets. Some abandoned cars and trips and caught the boat home, some paid for expensive repairs before heading on, a few just stayed on.

Still they came. After surviving this ordeal many looked towards a day or two of well-earned rest in this place. With them came money and opportunity.

Lizzie had heard people talk about the immense summer storms, lightning and torrential downpours, along with the regular cyclones that bore down on this coast. Most years they came from December to March and locals would talk about how peace returned to the town once the rains came. They also talked with awe and fear about the cyclones which ripped through this town.

Roeburn Bay, next to Broome, was protected from the worst by the headland jutting into the Indian Ocean on which Broome sat. It was the place where the original huge pearl shells were discovered. These formed the foundation of the town and it was now a site for a new cultured pearl industry. It was also where the boats could run to for shelter from these massive cyclones, storms with winds that ripped the land apart. Any houses not well built would be lucky to be still standing at the end of the wet.

Broom still had a dusty small town feel, but it was the largest town between Carnarvon and Darwin, over 3000 miles of coast. Other towns like Hedland with their iron ore deposits were fast catching up.

But Broome had its pearls and shell. For eighty years people had harvested these jewels from the sea. It began with the aborigines in the shallow water, then the Japanese divers in pearling luggers. A row of almost one thousand graves bore silent testimony to their contribution to this place; many were young men, dead from the bends.

The shop was often busy around lunch time as visitors came and strolled around the centre of town. People coming would visit the old town buildings, look at the boats, sometimes floating, sometimes lying on mudflats in port, and buy food.

An afternoon quiet time came for a couple hours, when the heat drove people into shade, and a sort of siesta took over. Many businesses closed for these hours and Elena tried to use this time to do bookwork and orders. However she avoided closing her doors at this time. With the heat came a steady trickle of people, mainly visitors, looking for things to do. Often she made her best daily sales at this time.

She had a ceiling fan in each room and this gave comfort while the rest of the town sweltered. She placed comfortable chairs on the verandah, to encourage people to rest in the shade. She used the windows facing the verandah as display cases. It gave the shop a welcoming feel and escaping from the heat of the bare streets brought them in. She offered all her visitors a glass of cold water, with a squeeze of lime if they desired. Often she would have tiny Greek delicacies sitting in a corner with an invitation to try. It was subtle but persuasive marketing which gave Lizzie her own ideas.

In the first week that Lizzie worked here she had used her mornings to look for her own business premises, but nothing had come up that reasonably matched what she needed. She had remained in the hotel, her wages just covered this, and she did not want to commit to a lease of a place until she found something to suit her business ideas.

After a week of work Lizzie sought Elena’s advice on establishing her own business. She outlined her ideas, and Elena was instantly enthusiastic;

“But off course, it is a great idea, I will help you look for a good place, our businesses can each help promote the other. Once you have a menu and a business sign I will place a copy here and encourage people to go and try it, you can have a display case in your sale area with information on my shop and where it is. Perhaps I can teach you to cook my husband’s and boat crew’s favourite Greek dishes. When they are in town I often find I have to cook meals for these men, give them the food like their Mamas made. So, when I don’t wish to cook, I can send them to your place for some real Greek food.”

Two days later they found a place that they both agreed was right. It was in the next street back from Elena’s shop, but near the corner where the road turned as it came into the town and a sign out the front could be seen from there. It had a kitchen and three other good sized rooms, one could be Lizzie’s bedroom, one a place for inside tables, one could be set up as a little shop for selling food and other items, and also serve as an office.

The room she selected for the bedroom also had a door which opened to the back of the house, allowing her to come and go without walking through the business. The best feature was a large verandah which ran the length of the front of the house and two large trees in this front garden which provided extensive shade to the front of the house. The garden below them could also be used for outside chairs if she wished. The outhouse, which served as bathroom and laundry, was at the side of the house and separated the front and back areas. There was also a useful back yard area which received good sunshine. It could serve as a kitchen garden.

The house was an old timber house and very shabby, the garden was overgrown, the paint was peeling, and some floor boards needed fixing. But it was dry, the roof was sound, there was no evidence of termite damage. With a month of work, a coat of paint and some minor repairs, it could be transformed into something of beauty.

Elena was already planning for a day of work when the crew returned to port. In return she would give a feast just like their Mamas would cook, and to make it doubly attractive she would invite the single girls from around the town, the nurses and teachers who visited her shop looking for little gifts. This work would get the garden tidied and the house repainted at a minimal cost.

The former elderly owner had died a couple months previously. While initially the son in Perth was inclined to sell, he had found the offers, thus far, disappointing. Now he had decided to rent it for a period of time before deciding what to do. The rent was twenty five pounds a month, with a three month down payment and paid monthly in advance from there. A six month lease was required.

Elena even offered to lend Lizzie the money if she was short. Lizzie thanked her but said she had sufficient of her own to cover the first six months. But she particularly thanked Elena for her offer of soliciting crew help for the initial tidy up and repainting. She knew this would help her conserve her limited funds and speed up the business establishment.

So the next day she signed the lease papers, and took the keys. There was something both exciting and reassuring in having a place to call her own. She could picture it so clearly with its beauty restored, she and Elena, sitting on the verandah, each sipping an icy cold drink as their children played.

She spent an hour doing some quick tidying. Then she went looking for some basic furniture, something to allow her to move in and get started on the fix up, the choices were limited and the cost was more than she wanted, she decided she would ask around before she spent this money, so instead she went off early to work with Elena. She was brimming to tell her about her plans and thought she might have better ideas about the furnishing.

As it was a quiet day Elena took out a pen, ruler and paper. Together they drew up a plan for a fit-out. Elena said Alec was very clever about these things; she would talk to him when his boat returned the next day. She also said she would not open the next day as she always closed on the days he returned to port to give him time and attention. Lizzie decided to use this day to get seriously to work on her new house, particularly to clean up the rubbish and get it ready for painting.

She passed the next morning working there steadily, cleaning out the old kitchen, cleaning the stove, emptying rubbish from mouldering cupboards, picking up dead branches and making piles in the garden; it was physically hard.

It was starting to occur to her there was a lot more work to fixing this house than she had imagined and she was not hardened to working with her hands. By lunch she had several blisters and the heat was sapping her energy. She decided to rest in the shade for a while and to give Catherine some needed attention. She sat there, dispirited by the amount of work still before her, lost in dreamy remembrance of a soft life in Melbourne, sitting with Becky and babies in spring sunshine. She must write Becky a letter now she had a known address.

A toot of a horn roused her from her daydream. It was a ute with a powerfully built man driving. The passenger on the other side was part hidden by his bulk, then she recognised Elena’s wave. She had brought her husband, Alec, to meet her new friend; he had come in on the early morning tide.

She instantly liked Alec. He was not much taller than Elena but built like a bull, broad shoulders and thick neck. She showed them around and watched as he assessed what was required with a quick eye. Elena made a comment here and there.

When this was finished he said, “Now you come to eat with us, we have a special lunch to celebrate my return and Elena’s new friend. She tells me I must help you with the fix up before I go away again.”

With this he slapped his hand on his forehead. “You know, I go away from Darwin with Elena because my mother is always saying what to do. Now I come to Broome and Elena is always saying what to do. So I go to sea and all the crew try and tell me what to do. It is my life, yes; other people who want to tell me what to do.”

With this his face burst into a broad grin. “But for you, Elena tells me you are a good friend who helps her. So I am happy to help you. Tomorrow I will bring the crew for the day and maybe the next day as well. When this is done your house will be beautiful again.”

She started to say. “I am not sure if I have enough money to pay for all these people.”

But he waved her aside. “For Elena’s friend, no payment. But once you have fixed it up, and learned how to cook Greek food, you can invite us all for a big Greek dinner.”

Lizzie laughed and clapped her hands, this man’s good humour was infectious, “But of course; what else does one do with ones friends, many dinners I think.”

 

 

 

Chapter 13 – A Business Success

 

By the end of the second day the house was done. The floors were fixed, walls painted with fresh paint, another stove and new cupboards were in the kitchen, the weeds were removed from the yard and all the trees and bushes trimmed to give a semblance of neatness.

There were four tables and chairs with red checked tablecloths that someone had found, along with a bed, dresser and wardrobe in her room, all were donations said to have come from people who knew people who knew people. There was also an assemblage of kitchen pots and implements that she could use to get her cooking started. The only thing lacking was a refrigerator and she had money to buy this herself, though she would not be surprised if one miraculously appeared, in the way that so many other things had.

She felt a huge sense a gratitude to this town and its kind people who had accepted her and taken her into their hearts, and she felt she belonged here. Not that she could tell these people who she really was, but here everyone had a story.

As the work was finishing up she noticed one of the men from the boat crew working away with a tin of paint, doing some paintwork on an old school blackboard resting on an easel. This man was just completing his task, the words now appearing; “Lizzie’s Luscious Little Luxuries”, in cursive script with a pretty floral border. She looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

He laughed, “You can always change the name later, but our work is not complete without it having a name, so I did this.”

The sign had creative flair, beautifully done; she rolled the words around her tongue. It was not what she would have thought of herself and “Luscious” evoked strong memory connections. But, what the hell, it was a part of the life that had brought her to this place. The words seemed to work together, they flowed into a mental image which she liked, maker of things which gave others pleasure. So she would let it stay that way and see if it fitted when the restaurant opened. It could be distinctive enough to work, even if using her own name seemed a little vain.

Tonight was her last night in the hotel, and there was a party atmosphere. She went to the publican and said she wanted to pay for dinner for all her friends.

He laughed and said. “You must be joking. Tonight is our welcome to you, not often we get someone so new and fresh faced in this town, and someone with so much get up and go. So we have all decided that tonight is for you, to say you are part of our town now and we are glad you have come. This meal is on me.”

Then, seeing her anxious look, she sensing it was too much, he roared laughing. “It won’t cost me, I will stand the dinner, but I will get my money back double over the bar, the crew are flush with wages from their trip away. They would already have spent them but for the fact that Alec told them they could not have a big blowout until your house was fixed. So that has redoubled their efforts to get it done today. Tonight they will make up for lost time.”

It took another week until she was ready to open, and her first patrons were those who had helped to do the work. She tried to insist that they each did not pay. It was useless; getting them to take change from the five and ten pound notes they proffered was hard enough. However other guests were flowing in as well. Within another week, she had a girl helping. Within a month her staff had grown to three plus herself, albeit that two were part timers.

Her first worker, Ruby, was a part aboriginal girl with lovely honey coloured skin and a warm smile, Alice, a motherly figure, was her second employee and she soon had given her a full time job. Alice had raised her own children in Perth; then when they left home she had left her husband and worked as a cook in various places along the coast. She had just come to town herself, arriving in the same week that the restaurant opened. She was convinced this place would be a success; she said she knew if from her first glance, and wanted to be part of it. So she invited herself to help and said she was prepared to work for no wages until the money came in. The extra takings after her first week more than covered her wages. The third employee was a young Chinese man, Tom. His father was a market gardener on the edge of town. Soon he was bringing Asian greens to add to the menu.

It all happened so fast that Lizzie had a pang of concern that she had lost control of her own business before it had properly started. But it worked and they all worked well together. Mostly it was Alice in the kitchen, Tom and Ruby waiting on tables and Lizzie ensuring that the guests were happy and preparing a range of specialty dishes and sweet deserts; some of Greek origin that Elena taught, some taught by her mother in an earlier life.

Five years flew by. Now Lizzie had several thousand dollars in the bank, and after a year she had enough money to buy the house that was the business premises, and the next year she bought the next house in the street. So she and Catherine now had a private place of their own. It also made space for more tables. Since then she had also bought a warehouse near the docks to store the various items she shipped in.

The business now had eight employees in Broome, and last year she had opened a second business with five employees in Derby, and its own managers, Tom and Ruby, who now had a child of their own. She knew she could trust them and one day they might buy her out. For now they shared the profits, each benefitting from the other.

The most profitable part of the business was the food supply business. It supplied food to a wide range of other places around the district, stations, boats, travellers and the new surge of miners. She also ran a catering service for private functions; weddings, parties, business events, they were all good clients.

Lizzie tried to spend most time in the restaurant premises. She knew that her regular clients wanted to be able to say hello, and for new custom it was the first impression that most counted. Those who enjoyed a lovely meal with good service and her friendly banter were far more likely to return, even those who came only for a cup of tea or an iced drink on the verandah or in the shady garden, surprised her with their repeat business and the way they passed her name on to others.

She now had the grounds and garden looking lovely, beds of colourful plants and tropical flowers. She repainted the outside every year and kept the whole place spotlessly clean and tidy to create a good impression.

She remembered Madam’s words, “Our job is to provide good service to our customers, those who don’t want to do so can move on.” She wrote these words on a sheet of cardboard which sat in a prominent place in the kitchen.

The only workers she sacked were those who were lazy or slovenly, and for first warning she would take them to these words again and ask them to read them back to her. Most took heed. On a second occurrence their wages would be made up and pinned to the sign, and they would be gone. If they challenged her she would say that they had their chance, now if they wanted to work that way they had they should go and find another place that liked their way better than she did.

She also told a couple who she thought had promise that once they grew up and learned the value of hard work they were welcome to apply for another job when one came up, after at least six months. In two cases she re-employed people. They now were great employees and thanked her for teaching them a good life lesson.

Her reputation grew as the business prospered, the diminutive lady with the lovely smile and the sharpest business brain in town. Some people at first thought she was a soft touch; few left a meeting with her still thinking that. She had a mixture of kindness and competence, she would readily donate to any charitable cause, but she always made sure her prices, while fair, left a margin to pay her staff well, and make a profit for the business.

Again she remembered Madam’s maxim, fair share for the owner, fair share for the business and fair share for the workers.

So while she would give discounts for volume, it was always based on the real cost. People said she had a brain like an adding machine in working out all her costs. She flatly refused to discount to undercut other town businesses. If others did so and customers asked her to match, she would smile sweetly and say to them, “Well if they are offering it at that price and that is all you can pay you should give them your custom.” Few did, and never her loyal customers.

She had a brochure that Elena had made up to help her promote the business. It had her photo on the front, along with a list of services offered and some indicative prices. Elena would hand it to all prospective clients that she encountered, and in the port there were many, boat owners, miners, goods importers, other business owners. Elena even posted it out to prospective clients in other states.

At first she would be surprised when people that she did not know would contact her, often just arriving at her restaurant and talking to her as if they knew her well. But she realised that Elena had hit on a wonderful marketing tool which worked, and as time went by she grew more comfortable with being a well known identity.

The town was growing strongly and there was plenty of business for all to share. Plus she was good to her employees. While she expected hard work she paid them well and favoured local employment, giving preference to those with a connection to the town, jobs which gave opportunities for town’s sons and daughters, across the full range of different communities.

She realised that she was a subject of gossip and some minor envy, but she was determined to give back to this town which had given her a new and stable home.

Catherine was now at school, and her best friends were Elena’s children, though she was forever bringing in new friends, gathered from all quarters. They all loved to come to this place; mostly it was for the sweets and ices that she served after school for those who visited. Often she would have five or six children lined up at the counter, each with an icy cold drink on the way home from school.

She gave each child their first one of the week free, and then after that she would offer them to school children for half price. Often Catherine would pay for her friends with the pocket money she earned from doing jobs around the restaurant. She told Catherine, once at school, that she must pay too; determined that she should know the value of money.

Her favourite nights were when all the boat crew was back in town. Then a special Greek feast was deemed to be the priority, and she and Elena would work together for an afternoon, helped by Alice and her staff and a tribe of kids, all wanting to sample the delicacies, particularly the sweet pastries.

Then nights would turn into occasions of wine and song, everyone laughing and dancing the traditional Greek dances as the record player kept the music going. They were all such good friends to her.

The only thing that perplexed others and she could not quite explain to herself was the way she avoided all deep contacts with men, particularly unattached men. A succession tried to woo her; some in subtle and romantic ways, some more directly. She was never rude but found a way to put a distance, an ice shell that was impermeable. Sometimes Elena tried to probe, but this was the one place in her life that she would not share with this best friend. A distant smile, a flick of her head, a dismissive wave of her hand; now people seemed to accept her this way, most just let it be.

Sometimes in nights alone, particularly now Catherine rarely came to her bed, she would dream man dreams. But there was only one face that came to them, and when she woke it had retreated out of reach, leaving a feeling of faint regret and that most ethereal sense of Robbie’s essence, now having become so distant that it only remained clear in dreams.

But in the daylight hours her life was busy, so she pushed thoughts of her other lives away. She had more than enough, her daughter was safe and happy with a tribe of friends and while she did not have a father she knew that her mother and a tribe of aunts loved her.

 

 

 

Chapter 14 – The Past Comes to Haunt

 

A couple weeks after Catherine turned six a man walked into Lizzie’s café in Broome. It was early in the morning, just after eight am. Catherine started school at eight, and she had just returned from the ten minute round walk to take her there. Lizzie left her at the last corner, a hundred yards from the school gate. Catherine wanted to walk the last bit with her friends, without grown-ups.

After coming back Lizzie made herself a cup of tea and a slice of toast. She set to finishing last night’s tidying, resetting the tables for breakfasts and morning teas. Alice was tidying in the kitchen and a new girl called Lucy was due in at nine. She had this part of the restaurant to herself though the kitchen door was open. There was a knock on the door and then, without waiting for an answer, a tall man walked in. At first it was hard to make him out with the light behind him.

He clearly knew Lizzie. He said to her, “Well hello Lizzie, I wonder if you still remember me?” It is many years since I last saw you in Sydney.

She knew him at once, despite the years. She could never forget him.

He went on to introduce himself, even though they both knew it was unnecessary. As if from a great distance, Lizzie watched as he went through an initial ritual of politeness. He said his name was Dan Ashcroft. He now was a manager for a Mr Martin Wallis, who she also knew. Mr Wallis had a firm, Newcastle Transport, which he had started as a spinoff from his father’s shipping business. It provided transport and machinery supplies across Australia, beginning in New South Wales but in the last two years it had opened new offices across the rest of Australia, first in Melbourne and Brisbane, now here in the west, based in Perth.

He was now in Broome because their firm supplied heavy machinery to the mining companies of the Kimberley. The firm was now establishing a Broome office which he would run. He smiled a broad smile, like he felt that he was a long lost friend who she should welcome.

He said that, before he had come to Broome, he had seen her face in a brochure that had been sent to him, when based in Sydney, as part of a package of information about other services in this town. The Department of Regional Development sent to this information to all prospective businesses who wanted to open an office here.

He had recognised her instantly. He had also shown it to his other good friends Martin and Will to trigger their pleasant memories of having known her very closely in the distant past.

Lizzie tried to keep her face bland and show nothing, though her insides were churning. Alice, who sensed Lizzie was busy, stayed in the kitchen and now closed the door. Seeing this some of her visitor’s politeness slid away, though a veneer of snake like charm stayed.

He continued, “It is nice to be able to talk in private. In fact Martin and your other good friend Will are both to be in town next week and they also are looking forward so much to renewing this very close acquaintance with you. It is such a long time since that night at Nielsen Park when we all enjoyed your company so much, it is much too long ago.

“But,” and he paused significantly, “the thing we really thought you should know, the real icing on the cake is that we have a new business partner, one Jack Mackenzie, who now operates the Melbourne office of our business. He was visiting our Sydney office at the time when I showed Martin the brochure with your picture.

When Jack saw this picture you should have seen his face. I swear he got quite excited. He looked at your brochure and said, “Well I be; Little Lizzie has shown her face once more. What a delightful thing she is. I had the pleasure of knowing her in Melbourne when she was a prostitute in St Kilda; she had a little baby then, so I was obviously not the first to taste her charms, Luscious Lizzie they called her.

“But then, one day, she just vanished. No one knew where she had gone. Pity because Social Security had issued an order for her baby’s adoption, and I thought that this might give the brat half a chance of a decent life. But she was gone and no one could find her, despite best endeavours. I even wrote to Lizzie’s mother, whose address I had, outlining my concerns for her daughter and granddaughter’s welfare in a house of ill repute, but she never replied.

“So now she has turned up on the other side of the country, just where we want to start our new office. How about I come along, with you all, to your Broome office’s opening next month? We will all enjoy reacquainting ourselves with Luscious Lizzie. I for one can’t wait.”

Dan continued. “So, as a result of Jack knowing you too, we changed our plans. Initially it was just to be me and Martin hosting next week’s opening. Instead, now, all of us will come to town, particularly to meet our long lost friend. We will all come here to meet you next Tuesday, the night after we arrive and the day before our grand office opening party.

“I promise you, we will make it a night to remember for us all, you especially. Not only will we get the chance to sample Lizzies Luscious Luxuries but we are all looking forward, even more, to sampling Luscious Lizzie herself. I promise you an even better night than the one you enjoyed with us in the park all those years ago. This time we are happy it be shared between you and four or us not three.

“Today’s visit is just a courtesy call. I just wanted to ensure you are expecting us and are available. If you like I will make a reservation for our future pleasure. I am happy to book a table for the evening or, if you prefer, we can make a booking for your exclusive services for the whole night, if you prefer a formal arrangement. In fact, now we are all well-off business men we are happy to you pay well for these services, knowing that this is the way you now do business; money paid for services rendered. Or we can just turn up if you prefer?”

Then, with a parting wave, he walked out the door. Half way out he paused. “Don’t think about running away again, or trying some other excuse. Before I came here I called to your daughter’s school, classes were about to start. Very trusting they are here.

“I told the teachers that I knew you from Sydney, I had just arrived and had yet to get a chance to meet you, but was seeking directions. They introduced me to your lovely daughter, such a sweet little girl, called Catherine. She told me exactly where to come. I would hate for her and all her friends to find out about your life in Melbourne or even worse for something to happen to your delightful child. Small towns can be dangerous places.” He was gone.

Lizzie had not opened her mouth, but she knew her carefully built life had just come apart. At first, when she recognised him, she had felt terror for her own life, along with rising shame and humiliation for what they had done to her.

But, when he threatened her daughter, a burning rage grew alongside this. For herself she could bear this shame, but the threat to her daughter’s life was different.

She knew that Elena’s Alec kept a gun and she knew where it was. She had never shot a gun, but had seen others do so and it looked easy. In her mind, in a place of flaming rage, she conceived a plan to get that gun and shoot him from behind as he walked down the street, waiting until night fell and no one could see her.

But then, as her rational brain regained control, she knew it was futile. On next week’s boat came these other three men. Killing one was not enough. The others would know it was her, they knew exactly what Dan’s intentions were, not that they would admit their role or motives. So, even if she escaped their attentions or vengeance, she would end up spending her life in gaol and losing her little girl, regardless. Then her daughter, as well, would be at the mercy of these people.

She tried to think of other choices. Could she tell Elena or other friends? They might believe her, but for the story to make sense she would have to tell all. The telling would spread this same humiliation to Catherine; living in this small town with her mother a harlot and she a bastard.

They all believed she had a dead husband and a legitimate child. She had thought of inviting her mother to visit, but she knew, if she did this, the lie could not be sustained. So, over the years, while she had sent her mother money and occasional letters she had refrained from giving her the actual details of where she lived and what she did. She had done this to avoid her mother making direct contact, lest in doing so Lizzie’s secret would out.

Now she knew, despite her attempts to keep it secret, that the story of her real life in Melbourne had been passed to her mother. No wonder those occasional letters from her mother had been guarded and less than warm; she had thought the reserve came from her running away rather than trusting in her mother to help. Perhaps it was also her mother trying to protect her.

But until now this town had believed her to be a respectable woman, someone who could hold her head high. And now this man was promising to tell all about this other life, shout it from the rooftops, or worse still, to hurt her girl if she did not give him what he wanted. She knew she could not live with herself is she gave in to them and gave them her body, but she could not fight them either, not in this small town. All these thoughts passed through her head in a minute while she stood there, silent.

She looked around her; the world of this quiet town was unchanged. Alice continued to bustle in the kitchen. But her own world had just crumbled, she had nowhere to go and no other choices but to run again, to get into her car and drive away, taking her small and perplexed daughter with her, ripped from security and friendship yet again.

She could feel hopeless frustration welling up. Why did it always have to end this way? Why was she destined to have every precious friendship and place of security torn away, what had she done to deserve this? She had fled from Sydney; she had fled from Melbourne; now she must run away yet again, this time from here to who knows where.

She could feel her body and mind trembling inside, shaking with a fatigue from this endless fighting, raging against man, god, evil or whatever it was. It was all too hard. For just a second she sat down. She laid her head against the checked tablecloth. She could feel tears in her eyes and starting to flow down her cheeks. She could not do it anymore.

Should she just swallow her pride, accept her status as a fallen woman and let these men have their way and win? Her life would be easier. But that was no choice, not only would it destroy her inside, but where would it leave Catherine, living with the lie, her mother demeaned.

So she must keep running, her only choice was to go somewhere even further away, where no one would seek her. She remembered, from a childhood story, that Jesus had gone to the desert, his last escape before they killed him. She sensed this was to become her last escape too.

So now, without delay, before this man returned or his friends came too, she must leave this town and drive away, a running coward, going to the desert because there was nowhere else she could think of where she and her daughter might be safe.

 

 

 

Chapter 15 – Running Away Yet Again

 

Lizzie’s mind felt very muddled. This was not something she had planned for. She had a utility that she had learned to drive. But it was really just a delivery vehicle, to take her goods from place to place. It had a jerry can of fuel and another of water which Alec had insisted she carry for her occasional trips to Derby or nearby stations, lest she break down on the road. But her driving experience was limited; she doubted she had driven five hundred miles outside of Broome town.

She had held off getting a driving license until the end of last year, because she did not want people to know her age and for a license she had to produce something to establish her age. First she had asked Alec for advice on a good reliable car she could use and he had suggested and sourced this one for her. Then he had given her several lessons until she had mastered the basic controls, clutch, changing gears and steering.

Then, when she turned twenty one at the end of last year, she had decided to act on it. A driver’s license was something she needed for business and the identity papers which went with it were needed for a range of reasons, such as enrolling Catherine for school at the start of this year.

She had run her own business since barely sixteen. In this town, where everyone knew everyone; they had all assumed she was an adult, in her twenties, when she first came here. She had grown up very fast when she left home, and by the time she came here she had a demeanour and confidence in dealing with others that belied her years.

So, in the end, she had obtained a birth certificate directly herself; filling out forms and sending letters away to the registry of births deaths and marriages in New South Wales. Then, when the certificate had come in the mail, a month after she sent the papers away, she had picked a week when the regular policeman was away and a young replacement from Derby was doing his job. Not knowing her, he had barely glanced at her license form, just ticking a few details in the boxes that confirmed he had sighted a birth certificate and inserting these details onto her license. Then she had driven him once around the block, to confirm that she had the basic skills required.

So now she had her own car and a license to drive it and she could take it where she wanted, though some of her gear changes and take offs were still jumpy. In reality she rarely left Broome, others who worked for her did the longer trips to outlying places. They seemed to like driving whereas, for her, it was an occasional necessity.

She knew there was a main road that continued on past the turnoff to Derby. It went through Fitzroy Crossing to Halls Creek, and continued to Katherine and Darwin. She also knew another road turned off it, somewhere near Halls Creek. It ran down into the desert, to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs was in the desert and the desert was to be her new refuge. So she now had a destination to aim for. She knew almost nothing about this town except that a man named Neville Shute had written about it in a book called, “A Town like Alice” which she had seen in the local library though she had not read it. But it was somewhere in the middle of Australia and there were deserts all around it. A desert would be her last frontier; past there she could run no further.

Lizzie went to her bedroom and packed a few clothes for her and Catherine. Then she collected a couple blankets and put them in the car too. Her mind was jumping all over the place, her thoughts a jumble. She knew she should plan better, make proper arrangements, but it was hard to think clearly in the panic that kept bubbling into her mind.

So in the end she just went to the kitchen and told her longstanding friend, Alice, that she must go away for a few days. Lizzie asked her to keep running the restaurant, banking the money and paying the wages. Alice knew how to do all this as well as she did. Lizzie knew she could trust her.

Then she scribbled a short note for Elena and asked Alice to pass this on when she saw her.

She remembered that she needed some money. She kept one thousand dollars of spare money in a small safe in the office, so she went and took that out. That would give her some money for petrol, food and other expenses until she got to Alice Springs. After that she could go to a bank to get more when she needed it.

Her final destination was the school. Here she met the principal, told him she had to take her daughter out of school for a few days because she needed to go away on a trip. She imagined that all these people thought she was attending to some urgent family business, catching the aeroplane to Perth, it flew out mid-morning.

Catherine was delighted to see her and unperturbed to come away, babbling happily about her friends. She thought a trip was something exciting that you did in adventures.

Without further thought or delay she drove out of town. When she came to the main road she turned towards Derby and Fitzroy Crossing. It was just after nine in the morning when she left. The sign read Fitzroy Crossing, 250 miles, She had never driven remotely this far but she felt she could do it, it was just a matter of keeping going at a steady pace.

In the end she made Fitzroy Crossing by three in the afternoon. By the time she bought petrol and some food for her and Catherine the day was getting well on. She considered stopping here for the night. But she had a half formed terror of being pursued. It drove her on. Catherine had got bored, hungry and grizzled in the later stages of the last leg, but after the food she was yawning. Now she might sleep.

So Lizzie pushed on. It was less than 200 miles now to Halls Creek, the next significant town, and she thought they might get there tonight. She decided that, if she got too tired, she and her daughter could cuddle together under the blankets and sleep on the seat in the front of the car.

In the end she just kept driving. Finally she saw the lights of the town at about eight in the evening. She realised that she had driven well over four hundred miles in this one day, probably as far as all her out of town driving before. It had not been too bad. Her arms ached from the heavy steering and the shaking of the car on the corrugated bits had seemed to go for ever. But Alec made sure the car was serviced and had a good engine, so it kept going, without any hesitation. She had gained a growing sense of confidence in her ability to drive anywhere.

She got a room in the hotel and the owner cooked them a hot dinner. She had met him a couple times in Broome. Now he seemed like a friend in this company of strangers. He asked her what had brought her to this out of way place. Not wanting to reveal her destination in the desert she said that she was going on to Kununurra and Katherine, that she was to meet other family there, they were visiting the Northern Territory. It sounded reasonable and was suitably vague. People in these places accepted the need to make long trips driving on bad roads, so no more questions were asked.

That night she and her daughter both slept soundly. Next morning, after they had both eaten a good breakfast she went to the garage. She asked the man to fill the fuel tank and also to check the petrol jerry can and top it up if needed. She saw that the man also checked her engine oil and radiator, and felt pleased that this was taken care of. For some reason she did not check the water, she just assumed this jerry can was full as she had never used any, and had once seen Alec top it up.

She did not want to ask at the garage for directions as that would give her destination away. So far the signs had been good and obvious, so she thought she could just follow the signs to Alice Springs. Last night in the hotel she had talked to a man who had driven through from Alice Springs. He had told her about a fuel stop half way. So she was confident that she had enough petrol, and that there was also a place where she could get something to eat and drink which was within a day’s drive. As an afterthought she bought two packets of dry biscuits, one of crackers and one of wheatmeal, a packet of lollies and a block of cheese, along with a half gallon plastic bottle of water which she put in the cabin. This would give Catherine something if she was hungry and stop her grizzling too much as they drove.

She headed out, feeling better about herself than yesterday. She knew Alice Springs was between six and seven hundred miles away, not too much further than she had come from Broome. Lizzie was confident that two more days of steady driving would see her there.

 

 

 

Chapter 16 – Only the Desert Remains

 

Lizzie drove out of Halls Creek following signs for Kununurra and Katherine. After a few miles a sign came up for a turn to the right for Alice Springs. The sign said it was six hundred and fifty miles, much as expected. There was also a new looking sign, hand painted, saying “Fuel and Accommodation at Rabbit Flat, and a number which looked like 198 miles, though it was hard to read as someone had shot holes in it. That must be the place she was told of last night.

So Lizzie turned down this road. At first it was a good road. A couple times station roads turned off it, with signs pointing to them, one was named Gordon Downs. Lizzie drove on steadily. The road was getting much less travelled. She passed one car going the opposite way after she had come about twenty miles.

When her speedometer said she had come sixty miles from Halls Creek she came to a place where there were two roads and no signs. There was a big wide graded road running dead straight and heading off at an angle to the right and a smaller road which went straight ahead, but was not much more than a set of wheel tracks.

Lizzie was unsure but she thought that the main road must be the bigger one; the smaller road must just be a station road that had lost its sign. Both roads were obviously used but neither had signs of much recent use. So, after stopping at the junction for a minute, Lizzie turned onto the bigger road and drove along it looking for any signs or landmarks.

At first it ran over dry stony plains with short grass and a few cattle seen in the distance. Then it started to come into sand hills. Lizzie had driven another thirty miles by now. The road was definitely getting worse, now mainly sand. It seemed to be solid, but once or twice she felt the car sliding and the wheels spun a bit. She concentrated on driving carefully. Another twenty miles passed.

Now it was just endless low scrubby desert sand hills that the road crossed. It was really just a graded path between them which occasionally crossed a small ridge sometimes of gravel, sometimes of sand, once or twice there was something resembling a creek but there was no sign of water anywhere and very few animals seemed to live in this desolate place.

She was watching her speedometer, so as to keep track of the distance. She realised she had followed this track for over fifty miles since the last major turnoff. A bigger rocky ridge was coming up in front of her, and she welcomed the relief that it gave to this dreary and monotonous landscape, even though the ridge was not really high. She changed down a gear as the car climbed this hill, hoping to see something significant from its crest. She decided that she would have a break at the top of this hill, and turned to the side of the road as they crested the rise.

Without thinking she turned off the car engine when she stopped. She got Catherine out to stretch their legs. They walked around for five minutes. The view was just endless sandy ridges, seeming to get bigger as they stretched towards a horizon in the south. She wondered if she was foolish heading into such a barren place, perhaps she should go back towards Halls Creek and then head for Darwin rather than take her chances in this endless desolation.

She was starting to regret her decision to come this way, there seemed to be a lot more cars on the main road to Kununurra and Katherine, and despite the corrugations that road was better. She had a growing anxiety that she had come a hundred miles south of Halls Creek into the heart of the desert and no one knew she was here. On reflection it seemed a foolish thing to do, and particularly to bring her six year old daughter.

That was it; she made up her mind to return. She would return the way she had come and once she had refuelled at Halls Creek she would go instead to Katherine and work out her way from there.

She turned the key in the ignition. Noting happened. Not a spinning of the motor, not a sound. She turned the key backwards and forwards a few times but still nothing. She got out and walked around for a minute, hoping whatever gremlin was stopping the car would go away. Then she tried again. Still nothing, the dashboard lights came on but no noise of an engine turning.

She knew that a car had a battery and the battery was needed to start the engine. Alec, as part of the limited introduction he had given her to cars, had shown her where the battery was and how to check and make sure it had water. So she opened the bonnet and checked the battery. It looked like it should work, the leads were attached and the fluid level seemed right. That was the limit of her knowledge. She checked the headlights; they were still bright so she suspected that it was not the battery. There was nothing else she could see that would give her any clues about what the problem was, but her ignorance was vast.

But what should she do. There were a few trees on the ridge, so she could put a blanket under them, in the shade, where she and Catherine could sit. While their food was not abundant they had two packets of biscuits, and a block of cheese unopened. They still had some lollies though she and her daughter had been eating them this morning so they may be mostly gone. There was a jerry can of water in the back, though more than half of the plastic bottle of water they had bought this morning had been drunk to wash down to lollies.

She had heard of people pushing cars to start them. As they were at the top of a hill she wondered if this was possible. She did not really know how to do it but had an idea, from watching a couple times, that one person sat in the car, put it in gear and let the clutch out, once it was rolling, and the others pushed to make it go fast enough. If she could get the car from the flat place on top to where the road ran down hill then this could be tried. She asked Catherine to help her. Together they tried to roll the car towards where the ground began to fall. With them both pushing they managed to move the car about an inch. After that it would not budge; so much for that idea.

Lizzie realised she needed to get serious about this situation. It was early September and the days were getting warm though nights were cool. She did not know where this road led, but she had increasing doubt about it being the road through to Alice Springs, considering she had not sighted anyone since she had turned onto it this morning and that was almost three hours ago. She knew it did not have heavy traffic but she expected to see a couple other cars in half a day. This lack of traffic was what had motivated her decision to go back. But without a car they could not go back, perhaps they could walk ten or twenty miles over a day or two with the water they could carry. But they could not walk more than 100 miles back to Halls Creek or even a bit more than fifty miles back to the last major turnoff.

She knew that people who broke down in the outback should stay with vehicles. With a jerry can of water they should be OK for a week or so. She decided she must check this jerry can, this water was critical. She untied the rope that held both jerry cans in place and wriggled the petrol one out of the way.

She had an awful feeling, this one moved around easily and the petrol one was heavy. She lifted it, it was really light. She turned it on its side and back, there was no sloshing. With an awful sinking feeling she opened it up and looked inside. It was bone dry. She held it upside down and not a drop came out. She looked inside, holding the bottom up towards the sun. She could seek a faint line where sunlight was coming through at the bottom. Looking carefully she could see a hairline crack running along the seam around the edge at the bottom.

She cursed herself for her stupidity. Such a simple thing to check, even this morning, why did I not bother?

Now here she was a hundred miles into the desert with her six year old daughter. They had less than two pints of water between them; what had she done, if only she had not panicked, if only she had not run, if only she had planned properly.

She gazed across the vast expanse of sand dunes with a sinking heart. She could feel fear and desperation really rising now. The chance of finding any water in this landscape was remote, she had barely seen anything resembling a creek in this last hour, and any water which flowed would just vanish into the sand.

Now she looked at the small rocky range on which they sat, perhaps it was twenty or thirty feet above the surrounding desert. When it rained the water would run off these rocks, there was some chance that there would be a pool or two around its edges somewhere. It was less than a kilometre long, the part that poked above the sand. This afternoon, when it was cooling and the sun was lower, they would follow their way around the edges and see if any water was to be found. It would only take an hour or two to walk around and look.

In the meantime they must sit in the shade and conserve what little water they had. She had this awful thought of them both slowly perishing in this wasteland, she could not bear the thought of her daughter left alone here to die on her own. Yet she could not bear the thought of watching her daughter die while she lived on. Well, they must carefully share what they had and hope someone came along this road soon.

She knew she must talk to Catherine, to explain and help her be strong and understand. So she sat down beside her and told her the story in simple terms, the whole story about how those men who had hurt her and made the baby Catherine grow inside her, how she had run away to make sure nobody took her girl away from her, how she had lived in Melbourne and done things that other people would say were bad, so that they would have money for food, then how she had to run away again and come to their house in Broome. Then, how yesterday, one of these bad men had come back and threatened to hurt them both, and that was why she had left where they lived. And now how she had made a terrible mistake in coming to this place, bringing Catherine with her, where they had broken down and had almost nothing left to drink.

Catherine looked at her with big wide eyes and when she had finished she said. “It’s alright Mummy, we are together and will both be brave, whatever happens. Then she wrapped her small arms around Lizzie’s body, cuddled in tight against her and fell asleep.

Lizzie sat in the solitude, hugging and loving her daughter in return. She had come to know one thing with certainty from being here. Now she made a promise to herself, to her sleeping daughter and to anyone else who could see or hear. It was that, if they survived, she would never again run from men like these again. She knew it was her duty, not just for herself, but for all the others who they had terrorised, to fight back against them.

When Catherine awoke they walked together around the sides of the hills. They searched for water, but they found only dry rocky hillsides. By the time they came back to the car it was getting too dark to see. Nothing resembling a pool or a soak in the sand had been found. They each drank a small mouthful of water and sucked a lolly while they watched the stars come out in the desert sky.

It was so huge, a beauty of desolation. Beyond them only the desert remained.

 

 

 

Chapter 17 – Sophie Returns

 

Next morning they woke in the cool. Their mouths were dry. Lizzie rationed another sip of water, in her case she pretended to drink, taking only enough to wet her lips. Catherine was unable to help herself. She drank almost half of the water left in one swallow. But Lizzie was glad it went to her daughter, not her. She knew they could only sit and wait and hope that someone came. They were too far into the desert to walk.

The morning passed slowly. By lunch the thirst was much worse. She knew it was getting really hard for Catherine, brave as she was. When it seemed that the sun was about in the middle of the sky she gave her another little drink, again only wetting her own lips. Now only a dribble of water remained in the bottle, just one more small sip for Catherine.

Her mind was starting to wander and, in the way, it was a relief. At first she tried to sing songs and tell stories to Catherine. But it became too hard as their mouths got sticky with the dry saliva.

So now it was as if she had moved inside her head, back into the place of her own childhood, that time so long ago when all her life had seemed good and she was happy. Sophie’s face drifted into her mind, but she could not see it clearly anymore.

Since that time of the dream, when she had pushed her away it was like she could not talk directly to Sophie anymore, maybe it was just a growing up thing, but her mind image of Sophie was blurred, like something seen through dirty glass.

But she remembered Sophie’s mother Maria really clearly and that last day when she had seen her. Now it was like a physical jolt. Maria had given her something on that day, a little package, and told her she must never lose it and one day, when she really needed it, to open the package.

She remembered carefully sewing this small brown paper package inside the lining of her childhood purse. It had stayed there ever since. She kept this and other fragments of her childhood in a small tin box. She realised that she had brought this small box with her here.

It was the only repository of a childhood lost too early, it contained all her childhood curios, pictures of her father, mother and David, a note from her father when she was nine – just about the shopping but it had his writing on it. There were a few other things as well, she could not think of them all now. But she was sure the purse was still there, and yesterday, when she packed up to leave she had put the box of things in the bag she brought. She did not know why she had still done this, despite her panic. But it was as if, no matter what happened, she needed to hold and keep some threads which joined her to this part of her life.

She stood up, she felt dizzy. Catherine had been lying with her head on her lap. Now she opened her eyes as she stood up and looked up at her, with a curious wonder. Lizzie found the bag and rummaged in it. There was the box; hands shaking she fumbled it open.

The purse was still there, looking old and faded, the outer leather scuffed. She opened it and saw her childish sewing. She could feel something still inside the lining. She pulled the lining out and tore at a corner until it came away. There it was, it was a packet of worn and faded brown paper with some small lumpy object inside.

She came and sat back down beside Catherine, whatever it was they would share it together; hope must not be extinguished to keep them both brave.

So she unwrapped the package, having no idea what it was. She felt disappointment when she saw only a small silver locket. It was oval, about an inch long and a bit less wide. It hung on a fine silver chain, and on the back was written, Sophie, 1906. She realised that it had a clasp at one edge which opened. Inside was a photo of a small dark haired girl.

With a gasp she realised that this was Sophie, the Sophie of her childhood and dreams, only even smaller in this picture, she looked almost the same age as Catherine was now, though their hair and faces were different. This brought the image of the real Sophie sharp again in her mind, but with this image came a strange sort of bitterness.

When Sophie had asked for her help she had given it, without hesitation. But Sophie had never been able to help her in return. Sure, she had tried to warn her before that awful night, but it had not stopped what happened. So what use was Sophie’s face and image when what they needed was water to drink. She closed the locket.

She could feel tears trying to form in her eyes, even though they were too dry. She brushed these away and sat up straight, looking at Catherine, determined to not let her daughter see her despair. She looked at Catherine sitting next to her in the red dirt, such a brave little girl in her suffering, but how could this help?

Catherine was looking back at her with very solemn eyes. She put out her hand and spoke in a dry croaky voice, “Mummy what is that you are holding; can I have a look?”

She passed her the locket and Catherine opened it with great seriousness. Then a beatific smile lit her face. “It is my friend Sophie; sometimes she visits me in my dreams, and the night before we went away she told me not to worry if we had to go away, she would show me a safe way to go. She is trying to tell me what to do now.” Now she closed the locket and lifted it over her own head, hanging it around her neck by its flimsy silver chain.

Catherine stood up, and took Lizzie’s hand,” This way Mummy, Sophie wants us to come this way.” So Lizzie followed, holding her six year old’s tiny hand in her own. They walked along the road for ten minutes. They came to a shallow depression in the road, like a gully between sandy ridges.

Now Catherine turned right and followed this depression, picking her way around clumps of spinifex. After a couple hundred yards it became a discernible dry creek bed and after a further couple hundred yards there was a low rocky ridge rising in front of them. The creek emerged from this rocky ridge and they could see more low rocky hills rising behind it, another fragment of an ancient mountain range poking its head just above the desert sand.

They followed the creek line through a gap in the first low hill. Behind it lay a depression a few yards across before the next hill rose behind it. In this depression lay a pool of water, a few feet across. Tracks at its edges showed it was the drinking place of many small animals.

So they drank and were refreshed. They filled up the water bottle they carried and took this water back to the car with them.

Each day they came back for more water. Between times they sat in the little shady place they had made, under trees next to their car. They told stories, sung songs and waited. Three days passed. They rationed the biscuits and cheese, now less than half a packet of biscuits remained.

Although hungry neither felt anxious, they knew that there was more to come. On the third day they heard a faint distant sound and looking north saw a plume of dust coming along the road. They heard a clattering and banging sound coming towards them along with the noise of a vehicle engine.

 

 

 

Chapter 18 – Rescue

 

Now they could see a car carrying aboriginal people coming towards them. They waved and the car pulled to a stop The people got out and came over to them, showing little surprise to see them in this empty place. Their words of English were few but their smiles and chatter were happy.

They made space in their car. Lizzie and Catherine squeezed into spaces alongside these black bodies. An hour and a further fifty miles of driving saw them at a small aboriginal settlement, an outstation it was called, on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert. These people fed them, they shared their houses. They hugged and played with Catherine and she played and ran with her brown skinned friends.

Days passed, they could all talk some common words now and she came to understand that they were living in a community of people who moved around the edges of these western deserts. She understood that these people had previously lived on cattle stations around here. They had then been forced out when they started to ask for land of their own.

Now some had come out here to a soak in the desert and had made their own camp, a home in a place which no one else wanted. The old people had known of this soak from centuries of living in the desert, and they had shown it to their children. Now those old people were gone but the children, grown old, still remembered this place and its stories. So they had brought their own children here to teach them about this land and its stories. Some of their families still lived around Halls Creek and on other cattle stations.

These people called their tribe the Djaru; someone had written it on a piece of paper and she now rolled the words around her tongue. They lived a simple life; they had built bush shelters and a couple more substantial timber buildings. There were occasional white visitors and once every couple weeks someone would drive to Halls Creek to buy food and other community necessities.

Both for the most part they lived here in their own place, far from anywhere. They offered to drive Lizzie back to Halls Creek but she declined. On the next trip someone brought her car back. A lead had come off the starter motor, soon repaired by a bush mechanic. She knew she could leave now but she chose to stay. She gave them her car to use when they needed it. She also gave them the money she had brought with her, more than nine hundred dollars, telling them to buy food in town for her and anyone else who needed it.

She knew in time she would have to re-establish contact with the outside world, but she was happy in this simple place for now. Her daughter seemed completely happy with her new group of friends and this was good.

As time went by she started to realise she was needed here. It was not about what she could do to succeed in her own right, to acquire things to make her safe, happy, or even rich. It was that here were things she could do to contribute to the life of this band of people. They in return did things which she needed.

It was different kind of sharing than what she had known in the past, except towards her special friends, though she had experienced glimpses of it, such as when all the town kids had come home with Catherine and she had fed them all sweet pastries, but more important she had shared with them parts of her life’s joy and experience, the first lick of an ice cream, the season’s first mango.

But there most giving was in an expectation of return, that if you helped someone that they in return would do something back for you, it was exchange. She remembered how she had made Catherine and her friends pay for things at her cafe, she had considered it teaching them the value of money. But here such a concept was foreign, if anyone needed food and another had it, it was given without reward or question.

Here sharing was what life was all about, integral to all parts of each day of living. You did the things for which you had skill or capability and others shared what you had or did as a matter of right; they in return did what they did and you shared it back. There was no counting in this giving.

Here she could see there was no teacher to teach the children how to read and write. There were eleven children between about five and fifteen who lived in this place. So Lizzie started to teach them, at first with no paper and no books. She used a stick and the things around her to teach; she pointed to a tree and drew a symbol of a tree in the dirt. They taught her their word and she tried to write the sound. Then alongside it she wrote her own word for the same thing and made everyone say it.

Each day she made them all learn ten new words and before long they all had a long list of words that they practised. Often the older people in the community came and joined in, and while this added to the fun and laughter she insisted that this was serious and they must do it properly. Then she started on counting, doing it the same way, but also using fingers, with ten people she could get to a hundred.

A month after their rescue, Catherine came to her one day and said. “Mummy, Sophie has been talking to me again. She has been telling me about the people you know and how they need you. Your own Mummy needs you, she has been sad for a long time since you went away, and she wants to see and know me too, and I want to see and know your brother David too. They still live in the house where you lived and where Sophie lived. You need to go back there and see them and bring me with you.

“The second person who needs you is Julie, she has been angry for a long time since that bad thing happened to you. You need to visit her too and show me to her. Then she will really understand how, from that bad thing they did to you, a good thing has come, and she will not be so angry inside. Her being angry is making it hard to be nice to other people, especially to men, as she hates them all for what happened to you.

“The third person who needs you is someone you have never told me about, a man called Robbie who you knew when you lived in Melbourne. When you left you promised him you would write to him, and instead you have done everything you can to put him out of your mind and not think about him. He had been sad for a long time since you went away. He needs you to help him come back to a good place and be happy again.”

Lizzie marvelled at the wisdom of her child, she sensed that her rescue, which brought her to this place was not just a rescue from the desert, it was also the rescue of and from herself, finding what was good in herself and using it. It was also helping her friends and family, who she had neglected for far too long, to find the good in themselves.

She knew her daughter was right, the time for running away was past. Now she must come back to her friends and give them her help and support, and let them help her too, not run away again when trouble came.

She remembered also her promise in the desert, and how she must also do something to stop those bad men who had hurt her, not so much for herself, but she must use her own rescue and new strength to give this same gift of freedom to their other victims.

 

 

 

Chapter 19 – The Lost Years

 

Robbie lay in hospital, his lower body swathed in bandages. The last month was little more than a blur, he had no memory of being brought to Port Augusta Hospital, and then of his transfer, by airlift, to Royal Adelaide Hospital. He had vague memories of whole body hurting, of people in white uniforms doing things to him, of him being wheeled on a trolley from place to place and of a period when his whole right leg felt like it was on fire.

And there was another image that kept flashing into his mind. It was of Lizzie, wheeling her baby away from the house in St Kilda and he realising, too late, that he needed to go with her; him running desperately after her, glimpsing her turning the corner of the street, rushing that corner only to see her retreating figure turning the next corner, always chasing but never catching. He knew it was a dream. It was so many years since he had seen the real person, but that ache of loss remained as a part of the jumble in his mind.

Then slowly the blurs had coalesced into clear images, particularly an image of his mother sitting by his beside, holding his hand and saying, “You have been babbling about Lizzie when you were unconscious but there is no Lizzie here and I do not know her. Can you tell me how to find her so I can ask her to come here. You would not talk about her so much if she was not important.”

Then his Mum continued with tears in her eyes. “Oh Robbie, I am so glad to see you awake, looking at me like you know me and that parts of your body are starting to heal. But you need to be strong and brave, there is much yet to be mended.

“They told me your pelvis was broken, you had a ruptured spleen and liver. They thought they would lose you in the ambulance. And your leg is such a mess, broken in so many places. They have tried to put the bits back together, but they said it was like joining bits of confetti. They asked me for permission to amputate it but I said no, not unless you woke up and agreed, or it was putting your life at risk. So they have left it and tried to fix it, but almost no one thinks it will heal properly or that you will ever walk again.

Robbie took a deep breath and smiled. His mind was finally clear, he could feel the weeks of repressed anxiety flowing out of his mother. He knew, through vague memory fragments, that she had sat by his bed, day after day; coaxing him to eat, talking to him, encouraging him to heal his body and his mind.

Now he had his mind back, and he surveyed his body and surroundings. He was no longer hooked up to lots of tubes the way he thought he had been, and most bandages were gone. His left leg was covered in a plaster cast that extended from his foot to his hip, with just toe tips visible. It hurt a small bit but really was not too bad when he lay still. His left arm was also in a bandage, and there were still some dressings on parts of his lower body. But it seemed that all the main parts of him were still there and that slowly he was getting better.

He looked at his mother and took her hand. He felt great gratitude for her presence and her support. “You can stop worrying now Mum, I am on the mend and I will get better from here. Most of the thanks for that lies with you. I don’t remember much but I do remember you being here and helping me, day after day.”

Then his Mum said to him, “I am so glad to have you back, the Robbie of so long ago. The last five years have been lost years for us both. You from whatever happened with that girl, Lizzie, the one you seem to be unable to forget, and doing more and more crazy things. Me, watching my only son fall apart, the drink, the anger, the reckless disregard for your own safety, and me by being powerless to do anything to help or protect you, but always waiting for that phone call to come where they would say they had found your dead body.

“Then the phone call did come. They said your motorbike had come around a corner on a dirt road in the Flinders Ranges. It was on the wrong side of the road, and you had gone under the back wheels of a truck. They said it would be probably too late, they doubted you would survive the first night in Port Augusta, while they tried to stabilise you, but if I came I should fly to Adelaide, where they would bring you if they could get your blood pressure high enough for you to survive the flight.

“So I came. Then they thought you would die on the evacuation plane to Adelaide, but they knew it was your only chance, getting you to big hospital where they could try and stop all the bleeding from your smashed liver and broken pelvis. Then, for a week, your life hung in the balance but gradually you started to mend.

“Then them telling me about the mess that used to be your leg, how it had gone under the truck wheels and now had gravel embedded, lots of skin missing and the two main bones smashed in so many places they could not see how to put it back together. The only good news was the blood was still circulating, and that your foot was still pink and not really damaged.

“So I was determined not to let them cut it off. They took you to surgery again and again, three more times, and fixed it as best they could. Now they tell me it is full of wires and screws and if it heals at all it will be at a funny angle and an inch too short. But I am rambling. The doctor can tell you all this in his own good time”

She now sat straight and looked at him directly. “Robbie, I almost lost you and I will not let that happen again. You must tell me about Lizzie, the whole truth. While you were unconscious you must have said her name more than a hundred times. You need to find her, or at least to try, if you are to lay her ghost to rest. Perhaps I can help you. So now you must tell me what you know about her. I know you have mentioned her name once or twice before, a lady with a small baby in Melbourne, when you worked in St Kilda, but that is all.”

So he told her the story he knew of Lizzie, the brave young girl who had come to Melbourne in order to have and keep her child, and how she had come to work with him, how he had held her body and loved her mind. Then that awful final day when they came to try and take her baby away, and that look of desperation and terror on her face as she had fled. How he had made her to promise to write but she never had, even now after more than five years.

How he had known within minutes that, in letting her go by herself, he had made a terrible mistake. How he had realised that all he wanted to do was to go with her and support her. He had asked Rebecca, her room-mate where she had gone, only to be told she left five minutes earlier, leaving by the back gate and pushing her baby in the pram.

How he searched the surrounding suburbs looking for her that afternoon and had gone to the train station that night, lest she try and catch a train to another city, Adelaide or Sydney, how he had seen the officials also checking the trains looking for her, and him knowing he needed to warn her lest she came, but then finding no sign, his only pleasure was that they could not find her either.

Then the first year when he had tried all the ideas he could think of to find her, asking anyone who she might know, going to Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney, looking but finding no sign. Then slowly losing hope, the endless waiting, hoping for a letter which never came, his anger at himself for not taking the chance when he had it, he knew her feelings for him, she had told him she wanted his baby.

But in a strange way through the accident and his dreams of her he had found a kind of peace. He now had this sense that a time would come when she had need of him and then he would go to her. So now he would repair his body and wait until that time came.

So his mother said she would do the little she could do, make inquiries with authorities to see if anyone had any contact details, perhaps someone had an address for a mother.

A month later, when she returned to Melbourne, she began her inquiries. She finally found someone who found the file which dealt with this girl. It recorded a complaint by a member of the public, one Jack Mackenzie, that an under aged girl was working in a St Kilda brother in October 1964. It recorded an order issued and the attempt to apprehend the girl and her baby, it had a copy of the letter that the authorities had written to her mother in Balmain Sydney seeking to find her and the short reply that came back.

“I do not know where Lizzie is and if I did know I would not tell you.”

So now she had a Sydney address. She thought of writing to Lizzie’s mother, a polite “mother to mother” kind of letter, saying her son had known Lizzie in Melbourne some years ago and was keen locate her again. She contemplated for a while about saying more, she knew the mother may be suspicious, after her past dealings with the authorities and the role another man in Melbourne had played in these.

In the end she decided she must meet the mother face to face. She would talk her as one woman to another, she trying to rescue her son. Perhaps Lizzie had met and married another man and contact with Robbie would be unwelcome, but far better to know. So she caught the train to Sydney and then a bus to Balmain. Now she was standing in front of a weatherboard house. She knocked and a woman of middle age, standing tall and straight, opened the door and said hello.

She asked if she could come inside, she said she was not from the authorities but wanted to talk about her daughter, Lizzie. So the lady, Patsy, invited her in and invited her to sit down. She told the story as best she knew it, of Robbie meeting Lizzie with her little baby, how they had become close friends, both women understood what that meant. Then she told of her understanding that the authorities had sought to apprehend her and take her child, and how Lizzie had fled. She told of how her son had been searching for Lizzie for years, without success. Now her son, Robert, needed to know what had happened to Lizzie in order to move on following his accident.

By the end she knew that Patsy trusted her and would help if she could; she just nodded and she smiled encouragingly sometimes. Then Patsy went to a drawer and brought out a letter and a picture, a photo of Lizzie standing in front of a building which looked like a restaurant holding a small girl in her arms, perhaps two years old. “That is my last photo of Lizzie, taken almost three years ago holding her daughter Catherine, she shares my middle name, my granddaughter. It was taken in a town called Broome, somewhere in the north of Western Australia.

“Lizzie writes to me once or twice a year, she says that she works there in a restaurant and is slowly making some money and hopes to visit me soon, and bring Catherine. I am sad to say that Lizzie and I are not very close, as shown by the fact that she went to Melbourne to have her baby. She blamed me, probably rightly, for the death of her father when she was nine.

“But I want her to be happy and if your son can help with that I would be so glad. My only address for her is Broome Post Office. I think she does not want me to know about when she worked as a prostitute in Melbourne, but of course the Victorian authorities could not wait to tell me that when they were looking for her. I, of course, did not help them.

“I am proud of my daughter for keeping her child and not ashamed for the choices she made. I just wish I could have been there to help her some more. I also want to see my grand-daughter. But Lizzie has always been fiercely independent, since a little girl, and I do not have the money to go looking for her myself. Perhaps I have also been too proud to just ask her to come home.

“So Lizzie and I also need to make our reconciliation and if Robbie can help bring my girl back I would be so happy. I do not know for sure that there is no other man in her life but think she would have told me if there was. However I think the best thing your son could do once able is go to Broome and seek her out. If he does I only ask that he tells her that her mother wants her and her daughter to come home to see me and David, my son.”

As she was leaving the woman gave her the photo. This is precious to me, but more important for you son to have, perhaps it may help him find her and bring her home.

 

 

 

Chapter 20 – Life’s New Purpose

 

For Lizzie, in the desert, life rolled along in a way that had no boundaries. The sun came up and the sun went down, food was found and they all gathered round. They talked, learned, sang and laughed. Sometimes the old men and women talked and the children gathered. Sometimes they danced in the dark, feet swirling in the dust. Sometimes on hot lazy afternoons they made things using the materials in the bush around them, a man carved a spear head from a hard stick, a woman made a basket from woven grass, another painted on a flattened sheet a picture of bark dots and patterns of the movements of the desert.

Twice big storms came and they sheltered and sung rain songs, once the rain came and the big drops splashed through their shelters. The other time it was dust and wind that tore through their flimsy shelters leaving them broken with pieces scattered; soon after they rebuilt them.

It was nearly two months until Lizzie saw another white person. It was a man who had come to see this newly established community and find out what services they needed. He offered to build houses and a store, bring a drilling rig and drill a bore. The people nodded and seemed to agree, but no one really seemed to care. The man went away feeling as if he had done a good thing. He would return in a month and he promised to bring Lizzie a pen and paper so she could write some letters. He said he would also look for a few children’s books with simple words and pictures.

A month later, paper delivered, Lizzie wrote four letters and a month later again the man returned and collected them. It was summer and hot and the rain had come. So most roads were cut, no houses were built or bores drilled.

A further month later he brought three letters back, but one was missing. Lizzie quickly scratched out another letter and gave it to the man to take before he departed. A month later she had three more letters written to reply last month’s letter from Elena, Julie and her Mum. This time one more letter came back to her.

The single letter read.

 

Dear Lizzie,

 

Of course I remember you and I am so glad you have made a new life for yourself.

Regarding Rebecca, she left here a year after you did. She met a lovely man who adored both her and her baby boy. He lived in a nice house in Hawthorn and she married him a year later and now has three more children.

I do not hear from her directly but meet occasional people who know her. I think she prefers to forget that she lived here, and I understand. Whether she wants to hear from you I do not know, but her address is 223 Burswood St, Hawthorn.

Of Robert I have heard nothing for several years. He only worked for us for a month after you left. I don’t think he ever quite forgave himself for what happened to you. Perhaps he was much more attached to you than he admitted, but after you went away it was like a light in his life went out. He got morose and drank too much, and while he was still kind to the girls I knew he needed to go somewhere else to find himself again or whatever he had lost.

We remained friends and occasionally he would call and ring in the first year of two after he went. He always asked if I had heard from you.

However it is a long time since I have heard from him and I think this means he now lives in another place, far away, and sadly I do not know where.

However I have his mother’s address if this is of any assistance, not a street number but it is a small town and someone should be able to find her if you sent it to the post office with a cover note She is Mrs Edwina Davies of Hill St, Warburton.

Please give my best regards to your lovely daughter, Catherine. I am sure she has grown to be a delightful young lady.

If you ever find your way to Melbourne again it would be lovely if you could visit.

 

Kindest regards.

Lavinia Lawson

 

So Lizzie wrote a further letter straight away that the man took with him. It was short and to the point. She did not know how to do it any other way. It read.

 

Dear Mrs Davies,

 

I doubt that Robert has ever mentioned my name, however I knew him for a time in Melbourne in 1964 when we became good friends. When I had to leave unexpectedly he made me promise to write to him, and I regret to say I have neglected to do so until this time.

I have kindly been given your address by Mrs Lavinia Lawson of St Kilda, for whom we both worked in that year. She has suggested that you may be able to assist me in contacting him. I would love to hear from him again, and if you could provide me with his address or pass this letter on I would be very appreciative.

 

Yours sincerely

Lizzie Renford

 

This was placed inside a second envelope addressed to Warburton Post Office requesting their assistance in passing this letter on to Edwina Davies who lived in Hill St.

A month later she got a brief note from Mrs Davies.

Dear Lizzie,

 

Robbie has mentioned your name to me several times and despite the years that have passed I know he will be delighted hear from you. I have forwarded your letter and I am sure he will be in touch with you shortly.

I will leave him to tell you his news, you will find him changed but I hope this will not affect your friendship. He remembers you very fondly.

 

Edwina

 

A month went by and then another, while she continued to exchange letters with her mother, Elena and Julie. She heard nothing from Robbie. She thought of writing a longer letter to him and asking his mother to pass it on. But she knew that anything further was in his hands. Perhaps he had found someone else.

One day, in that mid afternoon time when people still are sitting around and telling stories, before starting activities in the evening cool, a distant noise was heard approaching, something like a car but with a different and higher note.

One of the older men nodded. “Mightabe a motabike.” No one knew anyone with a motorbike so they continued to talk and listen as the sound increased. Now a cloud of dust was visible approaching from the north, and then it was there, a motorbike stopped bare yards away.

A man, wearing a helmet, with his body swaddled in leathers, climbed off. He walked towards them all. He had a visible limp; his right leg was twisted and moved in a funny way.

Lizzie realised this man was coming towards her, she just knew, and she knew him too. His helmet came off. Her legs took their own control, she found herself running towards him and flinging herself into his arms. “Whoa” he said, “balance not too good.” He shuffled to support them both with his good leg.

Lizzie did not care, she could feel tears streaming down her face and she did not care about that either. It was Robbie; he had come for her, travelled here to be with her. She buried her face in his chest, she managed to say, more in sobs, “I am so glad you came, I have wanted and needed you for so long and I am just so, so glad you are here.”

He gave her his old smile, “And I am more than glad to see you too, though you picked the furthest, most desolate and most Godforsaken place to bring me to.”

As the weeks and months went by Lizzie could not believe how rapturously happy she was, they both were. They owned almost nothing. They lived here on the edge of the desert and they were a family and beyond this they needed nothing. Catherine loved her new Dad, he called her Cathy and she called him Dad, which she knew he loved. She told him with pride how she had told her Mummy to find him, she had said that he needed her Mummy but really she knew that, even more, her Mummy needed him.

Robbie laughed and said “I think we both needed each other just as much, but thank you for your help.”

Robbie was very handy; he had built them a house of bush timber and now was building a shelter for a school. He had also put up a tank so that they could pump water from the soak, and he had put in a wood fired water heater so they could all have a hot shower at least once a week. He also installed a Flying Doctor radio though as yet there was no airstrip nearby. Beyond that little had changed in this place or their lives.

Robbie had also fixed up her car which he seemed to have taken as his by right. After a month they drove into Halls Creek and went shopping, just simple stuff, new clothes for her and Cathy and some food and presents for other clan members.

They also used the telephone and she rang her Mum, Elena and Julie. After she had talked to each she felt so emotional that she wanted to stop, but Robbie insisted that she did not stop until she had talked to them all, and Cathy had to say hello to each as well.

Then Robbie rang his own Mum and talked to her, saying Mum, “I am so happy and glad I came. Now I want you to say hello to Lizzie, the lady I have loved from the day I met her and am going to marry.”

With that introduction Lizzie was lost for words, but then this kind voice came down the line saying, “I have known since he first told me about you that you were the one. Then, when I got your letter, I knew it would be you for sure. Now I am so glad he really has found you, having lost you for so long. I know you will both be happy together.”

There wasn’t really much for Lizzie to say after that except that she was the lucky one. So she put Cathy on to say hello to her new Grandma, not that the marriage was formal yet but it felt just the same, they were even making plans for another baby of their own, and Lizzie suspected that one may come along very soon, there was no lack of trying.

Over these past months she had written and told her dear friends Elena and Julie, along with her mother, the full story about her life, and now Robbie had come he also became part of the story. She was determined to hide nothing important. Each time she wrote a letter Cathy had also taken to writing her own news or doing a drawing to go in her letters, things like: “Daddy building a windmill, Mummy eating a snake, yuk!”

She was surprised that they all were even better friends and closer now than when the year had started, but then acceptance was part of the power of honesty.

She also got a letter back from Rebecca. It was a kind and polite letter, saying she was glad to hear from her, that Lizzie was braver than Rebecca felt she could be in telling others about her past life. She would really prefer that part of her own life was forgotten. She did invite Lizzie to visit if she came to Melbourne. She said she would like to see how Catherine had grown up and like her to see Andrew. But Lizzie knew that any visit presupposed that the part of both their lives, when they became friends, was a closed subject. Perhaps she would visit, Becky was still her friend despite all, but it would not have the bond of the others.

Julie increasingly wrote her letters about the investigations she was pursuing, particularly into Newcastle Transport, Mr Martin Wallis and his friends Daniel Ashcroft and Mr William Brown. She had graduated with journalism and law degrees and was now working for the Sydney Morning Herald.

She said she was gathering evidence to use against them, both in the newspapers and hopefully in a criminal prosecution. She asked Lizzie to write all her memories and experiences of these people down and post them to her, sparing nothing. She then asked Lizzie for permission to turn this information into affidavits which in due course Lizzie would swear were true.

While Lizzie had moved beyond vengeance she knew this was a necessary part of keeping her own promise and for the giving of justice. Robbie gave her total support, he said nothing she had done was any cause of shame, and he was happy to stand up and tell the world both that she was the best person he knew and that he loved her all the more for her courage.

One day a message came asking her to be in Halls Creek the next day. She and Cathy sat alongside Robbie as he drove the ute and several of her aboriginal clan sat on the back. The message was vague about why they were needed.

In the town the publican explained that an aeroplane was expected in the next hour and it was bringing a crew including a journalist and photographer from the Sydney Morning Herald and two lawyers from the NSW Public Prosecutors Office. He knew because they had booked rooms at his hotel for the tonight. They were to fly on to Broome tomorrow.

He did not know what it was about. But they had specifically asked to see Lizzie Renford so he had sent the message out to her over the Flying Doctor radio.

Robbie booked a room for them in the hotel as well, and a separate room next door for Cathy, which she loved.

Then he borrowed the publican’s vehicle which had extra seats. They both drove to airport to collect any passengers that came. As they arrived a plane, a fast twin engine, was on final approach. A tall elegant lady with blond bleached hair stepped out first. Suddenly Lizzie realised this was Julie; she looked so grown up and sensationally elegant. Lizzie felt dowdy in her bush clothes. Then Julie spotted her and let out a scream of delight, and then they were dancing around like two school girls, giggling with excitement. Robbie and Julie also seemed to hit it off.

Julie joked, “He is way too good looking for you. I want to keep him myself.”

Robbie replied, “Ah but you haven’t seen her the way I have; this girl really knows how to keep a man happy. I travelled half way across the world to find her and now nothing will ever take me away.” Lizzie blushed, glad it was no worse.

Then Julie pulled out a sheet of paper. In front of all, standing in front of the plane, she said. It gives me great pleasure to present this certificate to Elizabeth Renford, Dux of Balmain High in the Intermediate Examination of 1963; sorry it has taken so long to get delivered.

 

 

 

Chapter 21 – Julie’s Investigation

 

When Lizzie met Julie at school in the middle of 1964 and then disappeared to have her baby Julie was left with an enduring sense of shame, with a hard edge of anger.

Her friend was one of those sparkling people who she found great company. Lizzie always thought of herself as Julie’s poor cousin, and looked up to her glamorous friend, but for Julie the reality was more the opposite.

She knew Lizzie was cleverer than she could be, and was much more hard working. But she was not worldly wise the way that Julie was, she did not mix with boys nor did she have money for clothes or fashion. But she had such vitality, passion and commitment was at her core, she set herself to do things and did them. And even though she was not classically beautiful she had something, a look. The pointy chin, slightly uneven teeth, dark hair framing dark challenging eyes that looked into your soul and gave you total attention. And when she smiled it lit up her face so totally that you basked in its sun-like intensity.

But then, at the same time, there was an innocence and old fashioned naivety to her. Julie really loved her friend, loved doing things with her and, as she thought of it, expanding her friend’s horizons. But Julie also sensed she had a special responsibility to be careful with Lizzie and her vulnerabilities, that deep hole from the early death of her father; her fraught and difficult relationship with her mother.

So she had been determined to show her a good time and help her have fun. But she realised, now looking back, that in doing so, a lot of it had been about advancing herself too, showing off this charming and witty friend, who had an ability to captivate others.

In encouraging her friend to come out with her she had been reckless about protecting her and safeguarding her. She had pushed her to come to the beach that day as much to show what interesting circles she moved in to Carl and his male friends, to advance her own status, as to provide an opportunity for Lizzie to experience something new and exciting.

And her almost forcing Lizzie to come to the party had been more of the same, plus a desire to try some sexual intimacy with Carl, in a place free of parental restraint, due to the cover that her friend provided. In the end, despite Carl trying it on she had said no, she decided she did not much like him anyway, rich but hollow was the way she now thought about him.

She had never trusted Martin, Will or Dan, but had just played along with their sexual innuendos and nasty jokes, as Carl’s friends. She had never given serious consideration to the danger they might pose to her friend, and her friend’s naivety to both alcohol and to what such boys might seek to do to her in this condition.

But then, having brought her friend to the party, and having watched her become intoxicated, she should have gone and brought her into her circle, found her some water for her to drink. She should have given her cover from those creeps. Instead she had chosen to ignore what she saw while she played her own games. Then when Lizzie had vanished, and these men returned with their self satisfied smirks she had not really challenged their version of events, she had not gone looking.

At a minimum she should have caught a taxi and gone looking for Lizzie, checked she was safe home. Then, when she found a devastated Lizzie the next day looking, for all the world, like the many other rape victims she had seen since, she had blocked out this awful possibility, instead choosing to feel hurt at her friend’s rejection of her.

It was only months later, when she saw her friend’s thin gaunt face, her swollen belly, her quiet desperation, that she had come to her senses. Then she had been filled with a combination of burning rage and deep shame.

She made a promise to herself, on that day, that she would both do all she could in the future to help her friend, on whatever terms that help was needed, and at the same time she would get even with those bastards.

That night she had written her own memory of everything that Lizzie had told her and signed and dated it, then asked another friend, who she trusted, to countersign and date. She did not ask her to read this record, but just to witness this writing had been done at this time and place. Her very limited knowledge of the law suggested that a contemporaneous record may have value.

Previously her idea of a career had been to finish school, and perhaps get a job in fashion or something else glamorous, a lawyer or doctor was also a possibility but it always had her at its centre with an elegant image.

Now she knew that her career would go down one of two paths, either as an investigative journalist who uncovered and brought to light stories such as what happened to Lizzie, or a prosecuting lawyer who sought to convict and jail these sorts of people.

She became focused on her studies to get top marks. Then she went to University doing a combined Arts-Law Degree, with a journalism major. At University she became an advocate for women’s rights, protection against violence, protection of girls on campus, protection of street girls, rape support and counselling services. By the time she left University she had talked to innumerable rape and domestic violence victims. She was already starting to make her name with hard hitting articles in the University Magazine “Honi Soit” about women’s rights.

One downside of her experience and passion was that she found herself very distrustful of men. Every story she heard amplified her belief that men were inherently bastards. Since that early relationship with Carl, which had not gone beyond some heavy petting, she had become totally distrustful of men and their motives. Many at University tried it on but she had such devastating repartee and withering scorn that most retreated from first encounters. For those who did not get the hint she turned nasty with complaints about harassment and more. She knew there were jokes about her sexuality, like “the butch bitch”, but she did not care.

On graduation, at the age of 22, she found herself with a job as an investigative reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald focusing on women’s issues. Women were a large and growing part of the readership, bringing this desire for equality and liberation. She interviewed many leading edge feminists in Australia and internationally.

She crusaded against the idea that pregnant women should be obliged to leave work. Lizzie on that day standing before her seven months pregnant and having just had her employment terminated was her vision for this. She campaigned against forced adoption and lack of support for teenage pregnancy, the same Lizzie fleeing first to Melbourne and then from there was her vision to motivate this. She campaigned for protection for street girls against violence and intimidation, Lizzie the call girl was her motivation for this.

She had not been surprised to receive Lizzie’s letter as she sat waiting to catch the boat from Perth to Broome with her small baby. She understood her need to become a prostitute and marvelled at her courage in this awful time, it only fuelled her own rage further. And her admiration for her friend grew as time went by, the higher the adversity the higher she climbed. She knew she would succeed in whatever she did, that was the nature of Lizzie’s courage.

It came as no surprise when Lizzie wrote to her in early 1970, soon after as she begun as a journalist, telling her that she had fled yet again from these awful men, and had taken refuge in the desert, their arrogance and misogyny knew no bounds. Now when Lizzie told her of her intention to stop running and confront this evil, she knew her own time for action had come too.

Now she had a specific purpose and four names to follow. She set to work. She was sure there were other victims and now she must locate them, hear their stories, record their details then encourage them to testify.

Within a month she had a name, a Newcastle girl whose mother had worked in the head office of the Wallis shipping business, in Newcastle. It had happened five years ago and on hearing, through the women’s rights grapevine, of Julie’s investigation the mother had come to Julie with her own suspicions.

She was a mother of two children, a then seventeen year old boy and a then fourteen year old girl. She told an overly familiar story.

Her fourteen year old daughter, Miranda, had started to come to the office to help her on Saturdays sometimes. She was a beautiful girl whose body had just matured; she was sweet and innocent about men.

Martin, who mostly worked Saturdays, had asked her to start doing jobs for him, just odd little things, but he had paid her and she had been flattered by the attention of this good looking man in his twenties. He was now married to a local girl with a young child and a veneer of respectability. Dan and Will still worked in the firm and were often with Martin though their jobs were unclear.

Then the mother had to go to Sydney for a few days, leaving her daughter and son at home together. Since she had returned the daughter had never been the same, she flatly refused to go near the office, she stayed in her room and cried a lot, she was moody and bad tempered and had dropped out of school.

Now she was in Kings Cross, a 19 year old prostitute and addicted to heroin.

The mother had tried to find out the reason; she had asked her daughter, but just tears, door slamming and stony silences. She had asked the son, but all he knew was something happened on that Saturday, the day that she normally went to work at the office. She had gone in that morning as usual, and he was out at the beach for the day with his mates. When he came home that night she was locked in her room and had barely spoken to him since.

So the mother suspected something awful had happened to her daughter that Saturday, she had tried to make discrete inquiries, but could get nothing useful. But the word of her interest must have got around, because within a month the company had dismissed her, despite having told her just before what a valuable employee she was and, despite her fears, she had worked even harder since then then.

It felt bad and it smelt bad. The mother knew something had happened which had destroyed her daughter’s life. But the cause was only speculation.

So Julie had her lead, she found the girl in the Cross, now calling herself Mimi, looking half stoned and sitting in a gutter. She was resentful and distrustful of talking to Julie. The first time Julie tried to talk to her she told her to get lost. Then she just ignored her. But Julie kept coming back, day after day, week after week, trying to make friends.

One day Mimi did not tell her to go away or look the other way. Today she did not seem stoned and looked at her with something like friendly curiosity. “You are very persistent,” Mimi said, “Why don’t you tell me what you want?

So they went and sat together over an ice-cream in a café. After five minutes Julie said to Mimi, “Can I tell you a story?” Mimi shrugged, feigning disinterest.

So she told her about her friend Lizzie and how Lizzie trusted her, then the party, then the rape, then the baby, and now how Lizzie had got her life together but then the men had pursued her again. So now Julie was determined to pursue these men. “I want them to feel the fear they have dished out. One day I will go and say hello to them through the bars of Long Bay Jail, and know they can’t hurt others” she said.

As she talked she watched the face opposite, at first it was mildly bored, but when she said the name Martin she had total attention. Then, when she described the beach rape, the tears trickled down Mimi’s cheeks, and they kept coming with the baby and what continued. When she talked about the men coming after Lizzie again she knew she had her; she was Witness Two.

Now the girl was nodding and talking, her tongue and mind freed from years of paralysis, “Yes, that’s what they do, rotten scum, they still come to see me every time they come to Sydney, often they don’t even pay, and I still have to give them what they forced on me as a little girl. It was bad enough, what happened when I was fourteen, but to keep having to relive it again and again, even now, it is like a horror story that never goes away.

So now she had sworn testimony from Mimi. She had managed to get her onto methadone and found her a part time job out of the game. It was very fragile but Mimi was holding it together, just.

The third was remarkably similar but had happened only a few months earlier, this time in the Sydney office of Newcastle Transport. This girl, Alicia, who was also then fourteen was an office casual who did cleaning and tidying jobs, after school, at weekends and in school holidays. Her Mum was on a disability pension and she needed the money to help support her family.

And this time there was a fourth player, a man named Jack Mackenzie, who had been there on a visit from Melbourne. The girl thought he knew what happened, and maybe had done it too, but at the time she had been blindfolded and had not seen his face, though she knew the other men were there, both from before it started and from their voices.

On a Saturday afternoon, when no one else was around, she had been called into Martin’s office to tidy up. Will and Dan had been there. As she bent over to pick up the bin, one had put his hand up her skirt from behind. She had tried to push him away but then the other two had come and started to fondle and feel her too. At first she had tried to fight back but then they had put a cloth bag over her head, making it hard to breath and threatening to tie it up tight if she started to scream. Then she had felt them pull her dress up and take her panties off before they did it to her, the others laughing as each took a turn.

For her one of the worst things was, when they finished, that they had given her an envelope with five hundred dollars. They said it was to pay for services rendered, just so there were no hard feelings. She had kept the money, her Mum needed things so badly because they were so poor, but now she felt both bought and abused. She knew it would be so much harder to try to say no next time when there was another envelope of desperately needed money on offer, and could see that soon they would take it when they wanted without even bothering to pay as she would have no-where else to go.

Despite the anger and hurt she had kept going there to work, she did not have any other job to go to and her family could not get by without the money. A month later, this man Jack, who she thought was there that first time, came back on another visit.

That day he was laughing and joking with the others, and sometimes pointing to her, like he had seen what happened to her before and had enjoyed it. He had a folder sitting on his desk, and he left it there when he went out to lunch with the others. So she had opened the folder to see what was there. Everyone else was in the lunch room.

She saw a pile of photos, they were naked photos of herself from when it happened, some were close ups where the men had put things inside her, her head was covered but it was still clearly her, even down to a scar on her leg from when she cut it as a kid.

The photos also clearly showed the other three men, Martin, Dan and Will doing things to her and laughing as they did. There were none of Jack, but then he had the photos, he was probably the photographer. At the time the rape happened she did not know what to do, it had been her word against all these men, and she did not want to give back the money.

But now, maybe, there was some real evidence to nail them. She was terrified but really angry, and most of all she wanted to get them and get even. She knew they were planning to do it again. There was talk of Jack coming again to visit next month, she had heard that they would have a party on the Saturday night at the office where they invited some good friends.

They had asked her to come in to the office on that Saturday afternoon, when no one else was there, to make sure the office was really tidy for that evening, when caterers would be coming to serve their guests. She knew they would be waiting for her then, perhaps with another envelope.

Alicia said she was happy to let nothing happen until that weekend so long as she did not have to go in alone, she did not want the money enough for that. She thought that they would probably have the photos there then to gloat over, so maybe someone could do a search and catch Jack with the photos or something similar.

Julie knew this was as near to a smoking gun as she would ever get, she had Witness Three and she had photo evidence to prove what the three men had done to this fourteen year old girl.

Her lawyer brain had charges of rape, carnal knowledge and indecent assault mapped out. Her journalist brain had a scoop planned for the day after a trial verdict giving the full story of these sexual predators and the way they abused peoples trust to get access to these under aged and vulnerable girls, then terrorised them into silence.

But she knew she still had much work to do to put it together into a brief of evidence, something that would convince prosecutors to go forward, and in the end ensure all these men received their rightful date with justice.

 

 

 

Chapter 22 – Back to the Old Balmain House

 

Just before Christmas of 1971 a TAA Boeing 737 landed in Sydney. From the door stepped three people, a tall sun darkened man who walked with a limp, a woman wearing a soft floral dress, with short dark hair cut in a bob, who appeared to be about six months pregnant and a dark haired girl who looked about seven or eight.

Behind them came three aboriginal people, well dressed but with an awkward sense of self-consciousness in these foreign clothes. Inside waiting for them was a veritable crowd.

As Lizzie, Robbie and Catherine walked into the terminal, flashbulbs were popping. Julie and her photographer friend were there. Then there was Lizzie’s mum, older looking but still herself, and a teenage gangly kid, David, with quite a few of his father’s mannerisms.

Others in the crowd included some of the gang from Broome, Alec and Elena with a tribe of children, Alice, Ruby, and Tim from the restaurant, and a few from pearl boat crew.

Then there was Robbie’s Mum, Madam Lavinia, even Becky and family had made an appearance. There was also a whole hotchpotch of people she knew from Balmain, neighbours, school friends, teachers, and some of her friends from the factory in Pyrmont.

They formed an honour guard of welcome. Julie had assiduously tracked them all down and arranged for this day, determined that Lizzie’s return after eight years away would be a whole of community and friends welcome home for this amazing lady, who she felt proud to call her friend

Julie was also doing a feature story on Lizzie which was called “Sophie’s Story”. Lizzie did not want her name or Catherine’s name appearing directly, so they had decided that the by-line would give Sophie the credit. Lizzie was just referred to as “my friend”.

The story started with “This is story of my dearest friend, and of her own childhood friend, Sophie. Yesterday her family and friends gathered at Sydney airport to welcome my friend home after eight years of living in the furthest desert of Western Australia. Tomorrow she marries her true love Robbie. She first met him in Melbourne, but then he lost her when she ran away to protect her child from being taken. Lizzie was then only fifteen. It took more than five years of searching before Robbie found her at the furthest side of the country and it was only happened with the help of her childhood friend Sophie, so this is Sophie’s Story too. It is also the story of my friends six year old daughter who led them to safety..

It was mostly about her rescue in the desert and a love story about her finding her true love, Robbie, who she had returned to marry. Lizzie was concerned it was a bit soppy, but Julie insisted that her readers would love it. And it would introduce her friend for what she hoped would be a much more significant feature article, after the rape case came to trial and some real details could be released. It was Julie’ hope that the way her friend had triumphed through adversity would give courage to other victims to also come forward.

It did not go into the all the details of her earlier life, apart from the baby, but said she had gone to live in Broome after having her baby in Melbourne, to ensure that she was not forced to give her child up for adoption. There she had been driving in the desert and had got lost. She would have died of thirst, if not for a childhood friend, Sophie who had lived in the same room in her Balmain House half a century earlier. When they were desperately thirsty in the desert Sophie had come to her daughter in a dream and guided them to water. Then three days later people from the local aboriginal tribe had found her and her daughter and adopted her into the tribe. Then to make the whole story complete, the man who had met her and fallen in love with her in Melbourne, just after her baby was born had tracked her down and crossed the country on his motorbike to find her, smashed leg notwithstanding. So now they had returned to the family home to get married. They would have both a Christian ceremony in the church and an aboriginal ceremony, standing next to the harbour where desert sand on ocean water would mingle. Tonight her friend would stay in Sophie’s room once again.

The following day the story ran as planned. Reader interest was huge, but who was this amazing mystery woman?

After a first night welcome home dinner with all their extended families and friends, tonight Lizzie, Robbie and Cathy were staying with her mother and brother in the old Balmain House. Lizzie and Robbie were sharing her childhood room, along with their soon to be born child. Cathy had a bunk in the attic, at the other end from David. She wasn’t sure about sleeping in the same room as a boy but it was only for a night.

She and Robbie lay together, arms around each other and talked late into the night. They wondered if Sophie could hear them. They both felt so lucky and grateful to this child of 50 years past for their lives together. Tomorrow they would be married.

It felt like a dream. In a way it was a dream, like that first dream. It was something they had both dreamed of in years of nights alone, but it was real.

 

 

 

Chapter 23 – The Court Case

 

Almost two further years passed, Lizzie and Robbie returned to their life in the west. Now they shared their time between Broome and the desert. The business in Broome was booming, but the desert was their true love and they spend at least half of each year there.

Now there were two more children, a rising two year old boy with tousled blond hair, and another dark haired girl, little more than a baby, colours like Cathy and Lizzie but with a face full of Robbie, his mischievous grin. Now Cathy spent the school terms in town, she was good with her lessons, smart just like her Mum, Robbie said. But she came back to the desert on her holidays and loved it still, speaking a fluent mixture of two languages and with favourite pastimes of digging yams and hunting goannas.

The one day the call came. The court case was set down for next Monday, a week away. There had been so many delays and adjournments over the last two years that it was impossible to believe it would ever come to trial. But now it had. It involved a prosecution for rape for three men, each on three separate rape charges. And a fourth man who had aided and abetted in the concealment of evidence after the fact was charged as an accessory to one count of rape, along with upcoming charges for other sexual crimes in Melbourne.

Lizzie marvelled at the courage of the other two women, having both agreed to come and give their evidence as well. It had been hard enough for her, but she known Julie all her life and trusted her and now, with Robbie in her corner, she knew she could do whatever it took. But these girls’ lives were still a mess, neither had really got over this experience and dragging it all up through court would be really hard for them, she knew how dirty the barristers doing the cross examination would play, and wished she could do more to help them.

But the die was cast and on Monday it would begin.

In Sydney Julie sat thinking about the momentous last three years of her life, both that bright day of Lizzie’s wedding and the tremendous public sympathy it had generated. But also all those hard years before and after, with some times when it felt the threads holding all the cases together could unravel..

It had not worked out quite as planned but in the end they had Alicia’s testimony along with Lizzie’s and Mimi’s, plus they had a copy of the photos as evidence for what had happened, found in Jack’s possession, following a search warrant looking for child pornography, at his house in Melbourne. The Director of Public Prosecutions said it was more than enough to convict them and send them all to prison for a good long time.

While the case against Jack for rape was not strong and they had decided not to proceed with this charge, they had an excellent case against him for being an accessory after the fact, and the Melbourne police had also found other pornographic images to investigate, which they had now linked indecent assault of other girls in that city.

It sounded simple now but it had taken almost three years to put it all together. In the process they had gone to Broome and collected evidence from the school and other people in the community about the actions of them all there, testimony from the school principal about Dan’s visit to Cathy, testimony from Alice about his visit to the restaurant, the meeting of all the men in Broome a week later. Then there was testimony of the mother and brother of Mimi in Newcastle and testimony of the Alicia in Sydney along with testimony of some others in the office who had provided pieces of corroborating evidence.

Once the investigation had become known there had been endless obstruction and obfuscation, particularly after they seized the photos. She sensed that these men were now running scared and were prepared to use every tactic, legal and illegal, to seek to escape the net. But now it had finally become a solid wall of evidence.

Nobody could foresee any problems and now the hearing was set to start on Monday for the first case, three charges of rape along with additional charges of carnal knowledge with persons under 16, against a Mr Martin Wallis.

Monday dawned bright and clear. There was a veritable army of lawyers and reporters waiting outside the court before the doors opened. It was only to be a preliminary stage this morning, presentation of initial arguments before a judge, then empanelling a jury.

Their barrister stood before the judge. He stated his case and laid out the charges.

Julie was curious how the other side would respond, the evidence seemed so clear to her. What she heard took her by surprise.

The defence barrister stood up and said. “Your honour, I move to have these charges dismissed. This is on the basis that this is a case of attempted entrapment by a person, Miss Julie McCredie, who has taken a personal dislike against the defendant and his friends.

Because of this she has gone about soliciting the assistance of others to fabricate evidence against Mr Wallis and his friends. None of these cases would have come to trial if it was not for her actions in soliciting many persons of dubious character to come forward and fabricate evidence.

I wish to show to your honour a series of letters and documents including a letter from Miss McCredie asking her friend Lizzie Renford to make a statement against my client. I also tender two advertisements in the Sydney and Newcastle papers encouraging people who have been subject to sexual attacks or violence to come forward and provide Miss McCredie with information on their experiences. While there is not mention of money Miss McCredie has also provided financial assistance to these witnesses as an incentive for them to make up these stories.

So your honour, I consider that the only way you can rule is that this is a case of purposeful entrapment where all the key witnesses for the prosecution have had their evidence solicited and even paid for by this vindictive woman.

It is well known that she is a crusader for women’ rights and goes about seeking that charges be laid against those who she claims have had sex with consenting women despite all the evidence indicating that these women give themselves willingly. For this particular case this is shown clearly by these girls’ sexual proclivities, including two having worked as prostitutes and the third having taken a large payment in return for sex.

On this basis I call for you to dismiss this case and also make a recommendation that the Director of Public Prosecution to also not proceed with charges against the other named parties.

Julie felt as if she had been struck by a rock in the head, nobody on her side had even considered this as an issue; surely it was not a basis on which the judge would have to do more than make a cursory rejection as yet another piece of avoidance.

She had heard a rumour that the judge had a family association with the Wallis family and in the past had been heard to comment that Martin was a fine young man. But surely this could not influence his decision as he sat on the bench and upheld the law of the land.

But now he was reading the submission handed to him closely and he looked like he was giving it serious thought. He announced that he needed to call an adjournment for an hour while he considered this request and looked up some matters of the law in this regard. They all filed out of court. She could see a gloating look on the face of Martin, as well similar looks on the faces of Dan, Will and Jack who walked alongside him.

Outside there was a buzz of excitement at this unexpected development. She knew that everyone was looking at her, it was all about her and whether she had let her desire for vengeance lead her to gather evidence act in some way that was not proper. Even though, in her mind she knew what she did was honourable, she had a sinking feeling.

An hour later all reconvened. Julie could feel her knees shaking.

Without any preliminaries the judge started speaking. It took a second for Julies mind to catch up with the words.

“I have considered the request of the defence and I rule in its favour. This case is dismissed. I also make a recommendation that the similar charges against the co-named defendants are also withdrawn.”

He then went on to make some other remarks about the prosecution’s conduct of the case and Julie’s role in soliciting evidence, but Julie was past hearing. All she could see was the gloating smirks of these four men as they walked from court, and much worse, in her mind were the hurt and desperate faces of these girls who had trusted her. She also felt she had failed all the thousands of other girls who had looked to them for courage.

 

 

 

Chapter 24 – Vindication

 

Yesterday had been a bitter disappointment to Julie, though Lizzie seemed to accept this as just a part of life’s ups and downs. Julie’s only consolation was a flood of support that had come from close friends and colleagues. There was also a well spring of public opinion in the editorials and letters against this decision.

The dismissal of the court case was something that really rankled with Julie, she had assembled evidence through years of patient investigation, she had found a lawyer who believed in her and the justice of the cause, she had managed to get the public prosecutor to put together a brief of evidence against these three evil men, she had surmounted endless obstacles, threats and inertia to get the cases listed for trial, and to see these three men, along with their evil friend, standing in court. She knew they all needed to have their separate trials, the one who was charged with leading the offences and his two accomplices who faced similar charges, but were really just his patsies.

Then, to watch it all come unstuck in the first hour of the trial, really it was just opening submissions, when the other side had used a technicality, which the judge had allowed, to rip their case apart.

The surprise from all in the court, particularly families and reporters, when this flimsy technicality was used to dismiss the case before any further consideration, ruling the whole basis of the charges as unsound, and determining that the defendant should be discharged, forthwith, no conviction recorded. Then, to add insult to injury, the judge publicly censuring the prosecution and her for bringing what he considered was an ill founded and ill prepared case.

It was front page headlines today, “Martin Wallis acquitted, judge dismisses case before any evidence is heard and censures prosecution for ill-founded, vindictive case.” This lead article chose to cast no judgement on whether this decision was good or bad.

The paper also announced that the Director of Public Prosecutions had accepted the judge’s recommendations and had withdrawn charges against the other named men in the related cases. So effectively all cases had been dismissed.

The rage was burning inside Julie now; she could taste that sour taste of failure, bitter in the back of her throat. It made her feel like gagging when she thought of these three horrible men, walking from the court with their glowing smirks, giving her an obscene sign, as they savoured their victory.

She had thought of staying in bed this morning, this loss had made her work seem so pointless, the bad guys always won. But, driven by her nascent rage, she had gone into the office, trying to maintain a brave defiance to this shambolic situation.

As she walked to her desk she could almost sense the gloating of the women haters, those backward men in the office, the ones who had made so many “behind the back” sneers, as the years had passed, whenever she had sought to pursue these issues. However she knew there was also strong support from others who worked away quietly at their own desks, both men and women; those young women who themselves who had been threatened or worse by men like these, the fathers and mothers of daughters like Lizzie, Miranda and Alicia. She sensed a vast well of support against this judicial outrage and it roused her courage.

On her desk was a folded note. She picked it up absently, barely paying attention. It was from her editor, Michael Daly, who she knew was her staunch ally. “Please come to my office ASAP. Have been discussing with the MD and lawyers some options for not letting the bad guys win.” Julie took a deep breath, she dared not hope, but could there be a way forward?

Michael was deep in conversation with two lawyers when she went in, Melissa their in-house counsel, and an older man she did not know personally, but recognised as a well respected Queens Counsel from her days in the courts. She stood and listened quietly.

Michael was speaking. “Well, if I understand you correctly it is not defamatory to print something that will be hugely offensive to the men concerned, provided it satisfies a public interest test and it is also demonstrably true. And you are satisfied that the public interest test is easily met, now that the judge had dismissed the case and it is no longer before the court, and it is also demonstrably true as evidenced by the sworn affidavits of these three girls, particularly the testimony of Lizzie, including her age when her child was born.”

The barrister was nodding his head. “Yes that is my advice.” With that he packed up his papers and walked out the door, followed by the house counsel.

Michael waved Julie to a chair, then walked over, closed the door, and sat down alongside her. “I don’t know how much you got of that, but this matter is far from finished, we might have lost in a court of law but now we can go to the court of public opinion and tell the full story that we could not tell before, when they were facing charges” he said.

Now you need to write and we will print the story that lives in all those files. I was thinking of two articles, one which is a summary of the evidence against these three men which the jury never got to hear, because of the actions of the judge. The second, if your friend will agree to it, is the remarkable tale of that young woman, Lizzie, whose name I have read for months but who I only have had the pleasure to meet in the last few days.

I know you have already made a start on this, the rebuilding of the reputation of your friend. Who could ever forget that wonderful piece you wrote about her almost two years ago when you first made a part of her story known to the public. The response to that was huge. Now you must tell the full story, of all the parts you left out and of her continuing courage.

I never told you before, but many years ago I knew her father slightly, his father and mine were close friends. I would not live well with these two men’s memories if I did not tell the daughters tale. She is a woman of rare bravery. Her story, more than anything, will bring justice, through the opinions and actions of that broad jury we call the peoples of this city, state and country.

They will now get to pass their own judgement and when it is done I think these men will wish that they had instead stood before the judgement of the court. I have discussed this with the Managing Director of the paper. Despite being a naturally cautious man he has said he is with me all the way on this one. Plus he knows it will make great copy.

Julie returned to her desk and sat down to write the story.

 

 

 

Chapter 25- Lizzies Tale

 

Two days later, a large Sydney Morning Herald headline screamed out from the newsstands: “Child Rapist – Prominent business man dodges justice”

“Incontrovertible evidence of their role in the rape of two fourteen year old and one fifteen year old girls in Sydney over the last ten years ago never made it to court three days ago. Mr Martin Wallis and two other prominent Sydney businessmen used a legal technicality to avoid facing charges of rape in the Sydney Supreme Court on Monday this week.

As reported in this paper the judge used a legal technicality to dismiss charges against three men, Mr Martin Wallis, Mr Daniel Ashcroft and Mr William Brown, determining that almost all the evidence was inadmissible and therefore the case would not proceed to trial.

Thus, this decision has defeated the hope of justice for these three girls, despite each being brutally raped, in a pre-planned and calculated matter by these three men. This denial of justice has occurred despite sworn statements clearly identifying these men and telling of their actions, both by these girls and by a range of other witnesses who have corroborated these events. There is also clear photographic evidence of these men’s crimes.

Previously the Herald has not been able to publish these details due to the cases being before Court. However now that these cases have all been dismissed the Herald is free to publish the results of its own investigations into the actions of these three vile and cowardly men. It encourages these men to sue it for defamation if they consider they have grounds, and would look forward to this evidence being tested in court should this situation arise.

In the meantime this is the only way that the Herald sees for a measure of justice to be given to these three brave girls, who despite many threats and intimidation have come forward to tell their stories.

For those of you, our readers, who feel the same level of outrage as we do, please make these sentiments known to your elected representatives, demand they fix this legal nonsense.

Based on this travesty of justice the Herald calls on the Attorney General to investigate laying new charges against these men. It also calls on the publicly listed company Newcastle Transport, for which Mr Martin Wallis is Executive Director, to take prompt action to terminate his appointment from this role, as someone unfit for such a position.

For full story see Page 3. For the story of one of these incredibly courageous girls, and how she had rebuilt her life after this awful event see Lizzie’s Tale on Page 5. This gives the true and full story of the school friend of our investigative reporter, Julie McCredie, which was featured two years ago as “Sophie’s Story” to huge public interest. You may feel you already know the tale of this remarkable woman, now read how it really happened.

Some readers turned to page three and read the lurid details. Most turned to page five and read Lizzie’s Tale. Many could be seen sitting on park benches, with the newspapers open on their laps, some with tears running down their cheeks.

 

Lizzies Tale – Story by Julie McCredie

I tell this story of my friend, Lizzie and how I betrayed her, to my ongoing shame.

Lizzie was the brightest girl in my class and my best friend at Balmain High School in 1963. We did our intermediate certificate together and she was dux of the year. She had her life before her and her future was bright even though her family was poor, just a mother and a small brother. Her father died in an accident six years earlier. Now to help her mother pay the bills she worked all her free time, ironing, baby-sitting, laundry; anything that paid money. She had little time to study but she still got top marks

On the Saturday after the school year finished I went to her fifteenth birthday party. She was so proud and happy, her mother had scrimped and saved everything she owned to buy Lizzie a beautiful dress; a dress her Dad would have been proud to see Lizzie wearing.

At this party I introduced her to my friend Carl Richards. Through him she was introduced Martin Wallis and his two friends, Dan and Will. I did not really like or trust them but I never tried to warn or protect Lizzie from them, she was just a naïve and trusting teenager. She had barely met any boys before as she had been so busy working.

They invited her to come to a party the next weekend. As I wanted to go with Carl and needed Lizzie to help me trick my parents into letting me go, I encouraged her to come too. On the way to the party, Martin took us to a hotel in Darlinghurst. There he plied Lizzie with glasses of sherry. Lizzie had never tried sherry before. I could see she was getting drunk.

Then at the party I went off with Carl and left Lizzie with these three men. They continued to give her champagne to drink. I could see she was getting really tipsy and unsteady on her feet, but I did not try to look after her. Later I looked for her but she had disappeared, along with Martin and his friends.

An hour later Martin was back but there was no Lizzie, he said Lizzie had gone home sick, catching the bus. He had a funny grin on his face, as did his friends, like they were really pleased with something they had done.

Next day I went to Lizzie’s house to see how she was. She did not want to see me but when her mother let me in she was lying on her bed, crying and crying. She told me to go away, she would not tell me what had happened and I did not really try to find out.

Lizzie dropped out of school, stopped seeing her friends, got a job at a factory. No one could understand what had happened to this beautiful and happy girl, we forgot about her.

The next time I saw Lizzie was seven months later. One winter’s day Lizzie came to see me at boarding school. She said she wanted to say goodbye and was sorry for being awful to me, she was going to Melbourne to live, just by herself. She had saved seventy pounds at the factory. Lizzie was now seven months pregnant. She asked me to tell her mother. She was determined to have the baby. She knew if she stayed in Sydney she would be forced to give up her baby for adoption.

Now I made Lizzie tell me what had happened on that night and she did.

When Lizzie was getting really drunk and needed to sit down, Martin had walked her out to his car and got her to sit in the back seat. He sat next to her, putting his arm around her so she could not get out. Then despite her protests Will and Dan got into the car as well. They took her to the beach at Nielsen Park.

They said, “You didn’t think we brought a pretty little poor girl out to a party just to admire her did you. Now it is time to pay us back for being nice to you”

Then two of them held her down while the third on raped her, and then they each had a turn. When they were finished they said she would be stupid to tell anyone, because no one would believe her.

In shame and terror Lizzie ran off and finally found her way back to her home next day while her mother was at church. She would tell no one. We, her friends, made little effort to find out and help. Two months later Lizzie discovered she was going to have a baby from that awful night, her only time with a man, she had never even held hands with a boy before.

She did not know what to do and at first tried to pretend it was not true. Then she felt the baby move and knew she wanted to have it, she decided that she would love this child despite its awful conception. She knew that if the secret came out it would be taken from her and was determined not to let this happen. So she hid her pregnancy and saved her money.

At the same time she had made a plan, that when her secret was discovered she would catch a train to Melbourne and have her baby there and find a way to keep it. Just this day, when I saw her, the factory, where she worked, had discovered her pregnancy and sacked her.

Now this fifteen year old girl with only seventy pounds was going to a city where she knew no one, so as to keep a baby, the result of that rape by these brutal men.

When I found out I was so ashamed at my part. But Lizzie said to me, “Don’t feel bad, you could not have known what would happen. And despite the awful way in which it happened, this baby is something to be loved and cherished.“

Next time I heard from Lizzie was a few months later. She was waiting for the boat to take her from Perth to Broome. She had her baby, Catherine, now just ten weeks old with her. At first Lizzie had tried to support herself by working in a café, but when she was down to her last ten pounds she had taken a job as a prostitute.

She said it was simple choice to do this or not to be able to keep and feed her baby. There was no self-pity; in fact she was proud and in control of her life. She had now saved three hundred pounds. Then someone had found out about her age, still not sixteen, and the baby. They told the authorities and they were searching for her. She knew she must leave Melbourne that afternoon or Social Security and the Police would come and take her baby away and place her in a remand home. So she caught a train to Adelaide and then Perth. She was still running.

So she went to the farthest side of the country, just her and her tiny baby to start a new life again. The letter said not to worry about her, her life had been hard when first she came to Melbourne, but now she was rich and going to a new place, where no one would find here. Here she knew she could make a new life for herself with the money she had saved.

The next time I heard from Lizzie was over two years later. She was now eighteen. She owned her own café in Broom, and had two thousand pounds in the bank. She sent me a photo of her and a photo of Catherine, playing with other children in the street. They both looked beautiful and so happy.

For Lizzie all those bad things were a distant memory and she looked forward to seeing me again one day, she said in another year or two if her business kept growing she would fly to Sydney with her baby to see her Mum and she would visit me too.

She said she had left her life as a street girl in Melbourne behind, as she did not want her child to grow up with that, even though she had no personal shame. It was a necessity that life had forced on her, but she would prefer that her daughter and mother did not know.

The years went by and for a while I heard no more from Lizzie. Finally I heard from Lizzie again three years ago, another letter which told me the last part of this tale. One of the men who had raped her had discovered she was living in Broome. Now he came to see her.

He told her that the three men who had raped her before, along with another man who had tried to abuse her in Melbourne, were all coming to Broome in a week’s time. They all knew she was there and they expected to spend a night with her, “to repeat their former pleasures”, he said. If she did not give them what they wanted they would tell the whole town of her life as a prostitute. They also threatened harm to her daughter.

Lizzie was terrified; she did not know what to do, in fear for her daughter, in fear for herself. Perhaps she should have fought back, asked friends for help, gone to the police. But these were powerful and wealthy men; it was her word against four of them.

She took the only choice she could see, she ran again. This time she took her car, and her six year old daughter and, almost totally unprepared, tried to drive across the desert to Alice Springs. Somehow, in her panicked brain, she felt that safety lay with distance and she must keep running, putting distance between herself and these evil men.

A hundred miles into the desert Lizzie’s car broke down, leaving her and her daughter with almost no water or food, in a barren and pitiless landscape. Almost certainly she would have died, had it not been for a couple strange, almost miraculous coincidences.

One was a friend of her childhood, Sophie, from their house in Balmain. She came to her daughter, Catherine, appearing in her mind. She told her the way to a small pool of water, hidden a mile out in the desert. This water kept them alive when they otherwise would have died of thirst.

Three days later they were rescued by a group of aborigines who took then to their own place in the desert. These people fed them, they shared their houses. They hugged and played with Catherine and they made Lizzie one of their family.

So Lizzie now lives in the desert with a small aboriginal tribe. Since going there she has married her true love and they now have two further children. She and her husband Robbie are the happiest people I know.

They share all they have with these aboriginal people and these people share all they have in return. Lizzie teaches all the children to read and write, Robbie helps with building and fixing things, the people share their knowledge of the desert and share their desert food, they teach her children the aboriginal ways and stories.

When I asked Lizzie to help me pursue and bring to justice these evil men, those who raped her when just fifteen and fathered her first child, she said she would do so. But it was not in retribution for herself; she needs nothing from them and nothing they or anyone else can say can touch her happiness anymore.

But she said she needed to do it to stop them from hurting others, Mimi and Alicia and the many others whose names we do not know but who are out there too. Lizzie was not the first person they raped, and there have been many others since. We only know of three so far, but we know there will be others who hide the same secret.

So Lizzie says to them all, to Mimi and Alicia who she has met and hugged and cried with, and to the others to whom she would give her love if she knew your names.

“Have courage, speak out, tell your story! Do not let them make you run and hide like I did.”

And to us all she says; “Do not allow this outrage to go on. Do not allow these men to hide from their crimes through a legal fiction. Demand justice for them all. Speak!

 

 

 

Chapter 26 – Return to the Desert

 

The day the paper published the story all the phones rang of their hooks, both at this newspaper and also at the offices of every politician. It was 90% women though an occasional man rang through to lend support, and a few brave or stupid men tried to defend the indefensible.

But how could anyone say that it was anything but criminal for these three men to have deliberately plotted to rape fourteen and fifteen year old girls, and to have continued this behaviour over ten years.

Lizzie’s was the first testimony but it was clear that she was by no means the first victim; all were agreed that her testimony showed prior events and a practised method. Then the second case three years later and the last case, they knew of, barely two years ago, in this case with the involvement of a fourth man.

It enraged the public beyond belief that they had been denied the opportunity to see the men face trial by a legal technicality. By the end of the day a trading halt had been called on the shares on Newcastle Transport, with fall of over 50% percent in the listed share price. With the expansion that the firm had done over the last two years, the share holding of Mr Martin Wallis was now reduced to less than 35% and, with the desertion of all the other board members, his position was totally untenable along with that of his 3 friends. By the end of the day they all had lost their jobs.

The general business opinion was that nothing could save the company now, it was over geared and its business revenues would collapse due to the level of outrage across wide sections of the community, leading to demands that no future contracts with this firm be entered into. There was a wide view that all shares in the company would be worthless by the end of the month and as soon as trading was resumed a fire-sale was expected.

Then there were strong suggestions of a new trial being launched. The DPP had given an undertaking to review all evidence again to see if new grounds or offences could be found for a further trial. In addition several further girls and women had come forward claiming a similar experience and there was widespread opinion that this would give the basis for further charges. Commentators speculated on civil damages claims being launches by the injured parties as well.

All this largely passed Robbie and Lizzie by. They politely declined requests for interviews. Their representatives merely re-iterated that they stood by their stories and they would leave it for others to discuss what may follow.

Lizzie spent time with her mother, brother and close friends when not with Robbie or her children. Robbie swam in the harbour and walked along the Balmain streets relying on his largely unknown status to keep freedom.

But the journalists were now beginning to hound the family, to stop outside the Balmain house in the hope for doorstop interviews, to try and snap photos of the children at play, or Lizzie through the window. Lizzie was pleased that justice had been served in the strange public way, but she had no desire to continue her own celebrity status.

After four days, Robbie came home from a walk and said that now some people had connected him with the case and had taken to following him with cameras and trying to ask questions. He was polite and thanked them for their well-meaning concern. But it was all becoming a complete pain in the behind.

So they made a mutual decision that enough was enough, they would take the flight tomorrow which returned to Darwin and the connecting flight to Broome the following morning.

It left early in the morning. Before the journalists woke up they were gone in a taxi to the airport. The next day they came back to Broome, on a steamy hot day, feeling pleasure in freedom.

But even here some assiduous journalists followed. So they packed up their bus, a four wheel drive camper model, and drove to the desert, down past Halls Creek.

It was late in the evening when they came to this place, the place which Cathy called Sophie’s Place, on the rock ridge gazing out across endless desert dunes. The stars were out. A low half-moon hung in the mid-sky. The five of them stood together gazing in awe at the bright desert sky. This was their place; the desert had brought them home and now welcomed them into its endless embrace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devil’s Choice

Book 3 Old Balmain House Series

 

Novel by

Graham Wilson

 

 

 

Copyright

Devil’s Choice

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2014

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

Thanks to the many people of Balmain who continue to tell me their stories and share their memories which give a foundation for this book. Also thanks to those who have commented on earlier books in the series and encouraged me to keep writing.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

The room has windows with iron bars, a metal door and four empty chairs facing a metal table.

The door opens. A man walks in, hands shackled together, dressed in prison uniform. He looks middle aged, dark hair with flecks of grey, powerful shoulders and hard features. The softening of age is starting to round his body. A warder follows close behind, baton at the ready. The warder points to the seat. The man sits down, wordless.

The door opens again. A second warder enters, baton also in hand. He moves to stand beside his colleague at the end of the table. A few steps behind comes a slip of a girl. She walks inside and looks around nervously, her face taking in the seated man with a searching look. She is small and slender. She first looks like a teenager, but she is older, perhaps mid twenties.

The man looks for an instant as if he recognises her, but this passes. Then leers at her; it is a long time since he has seen a pretty girl even if her face is drawn and white. The man speaks, unbidden. “Well, look what the fairy godmother had brought me; a luscious crumpet for my pleasure.”

The girl recoils as if struck. She steadies herself then takes a chair opposite and sits down. She stares at the man intently, loathing and desperation in her eyes. She wrings her hand together, as if to gather courage. Finally she speaks.

“Please, I need to know if you are my father?”

The man leers again. “Who knows or cares about that. I am happy to father to any brats you want me to sire. Is that what you are looking for, a new stud?”

She is silent so he continues. “I have had many sluts in my time; perhaps your mother was one of them. Most could not wait to spread their legs for me. A few needed serious persuasion.”

The girl’s face struggles for control, expressions of outrage, loathing and fear swirling around. She closes her eyes and puts her hands to her face. It seems she is willing her hands to mould control back into her features. At last her face becomes is blank.

She regathers her words. “You are one of three men who raped my mother more than twenty years ago. I am the result of that rape. Now I have my own daughter. I need to find my own father, my daughter’s grandfather. He is the only person who has a chance to save her life. I hoped you would help me.”

The man looks at her, face inscrutable, appearing to think. At last recognition comes into his eyes. “Yes I see it, the face of little Lizzie, Luscious Lizzie. It is true; she spread her legs for me. She was a good if unwilling piece of crumpet, less of a slut than many.”

He pauses. The silence continues. The girl keeps her face blank.

At last he speaks, “I will consider your request. But I have a condition of my own to any help. You must visit, with your own mother, Lizzie, and your daughter, only you three. Then I will decide.”

Now anguish comes over her face. “My daughter is in hospital, fighting for her life. She cannot be moved. But I will ask my mother to come and bring my daughter’s photo. Do you agree?”

A longer silence ensues, then, “I agree.”

The girl stands up. “I will ring my mother now and ask her to come at once. Time is short.”

She walks from the room. The door slams closed.

 

 

 

William

Chapter 1 – Ten Years Alone

 

William sat alone in his cell. It was what he did most hours of every day. Twice each day he would do push-ups on the floor and chin-ups on the cell bars, though of late he could feel his motivation flagging. Once each day he had an hour to exercise and walk around a small yard on his own. He was deemed too dangerous to be left alone with other inmates so mostly he was left alone by himself. That suited him just fine. Since he had got rid of Martin and turned Dan into a blathering idiot he preferred his own company. Not that he had ever really liked either of them, truth be told. But he had gone along with them over the years and enjoyed the fruits of their success.

But one day he had woken up, knowing he had lived enough of the slime and lies. So he had decided to give evidence against them. The lawyers had promised a light sentence if he named them, particularly Martin, as the instigators of several rapes. They had suggested he could just say he had gone along for the ride, which was part true.

But that was not the reason he had turned against them. It was that the bullshit and deception had finally got to him. They thought they were having a great time screwing underage school girls, taking advantage of those who were weak and could not complain. And he had gone along with it for a while and enjoyed the element of danger.

But it was really a game for rich toy boys, those with too much money, those who could buy their way out of trouble. Not much courage there. He had found himself sickened when they had tried to wriggle off the hook on those first three trials and had got away with it for a while. It had cost them all, cost them plenty. The company Martin had set up had folded and they were all out of work. But for Martin it was only a paper loss. Martin and his family had plenty of money salted away, money that the shareholders could not get to.

So other people had taken a haircut for Martin’s deeds. Most of them were scum, like Martin, so he did not feel real sorry for them. But there were some decent people too, people like his mother, amongst them. She had worked hard all her life and, thinking this business that her son was part of was a good investment, she had bought shares, more than ten thousand dollars’ worth, bought into bits over a decade from all her spare cash, marvelling at her son’s success.

So, when the company had gone belly up, she had taken more than a haircut, she had lost all her nest egg, money which she had saved for the time coming when she would be on a pension. It was not much money to a rich person like Martin, but to her it mattered. It would have given her a decent life in retirement; now she could barely afford to eat baked beans.

He had said it to Martin, hoping Martin might help his mother out. Martin laughed and said times were tough for lots of people, so who really cared. Then Martin had said that William could make it up to her from all the money the business had given him over the good years, if it bothered him enough.

William had blown his money on good living as it came in. So he did not have much of his own to help his mother with, whereas he knew that Martin had millions he could afford to give away.

But what really pissed him off was that Martin did not give a toss about people like his mother, there were plenty of other battlers like her who had done all their cash and Martin treated it like a school boy joke. He had even heard Martin joking about it with Dan later that day and Dan had thought it was a great joke too. Which just proved what a scummy slime ball Dan was too.

In that moment it was as if his eyes were opened. He felt disgust towards these people he had thought were his mates; it was disgust at them and all they represented, and it was disgust at himself for his part. He had always felt a bit cowardly at the way they had preyed upon school girls, not that he minded using force to get what he wanted and they had been sweet young things to fuck. But for him it was about him being a man who took what he wanted, not bravery. Whereas Martin and Dan gloated as if these actions were somehow courageous.

But until the thing with his mother and the money he had never thought enough about it to act. In a flash, on that day, he realised their whole life together was one sick joke. It shamed him they had come to a place where they could steal from poor people without caring.

So he had named them and they had both got twenty years. Despite lawyer promises to go easy he had still got fifteen years, for which he was a bit pissed off. But what had pissed him off totally was when Martin decided they would get their own back in prison, to nail him for being a snitch, to turn him into a bum boy.

William had never asked for protection because he knew the two of them were really cowards underneath and would not dare touch him on their own. He was not as big and strong as Martin though he was a match for Dan. He had let it be known that if they came after him he would play dirty, real dirty and, if they hurt him, they would get hurt real bad in return. Martin took the typical coward’s way, getting others to help with the dirty work, no doubt it was for money or other favours.

So one day, Martin, Dan and three other big guys who were in on it, grabbed him. Four had held him. The others, Martin first, had fucked him up the arse like a chook, each taking a turn. They were rough and had hurt. When they finished they promised more was to come, day after day. He guessed they meant to frighten him talking tough. But, instead, that place inside him which hated them from before, when he snitched, got a whole lot bigger.

Afterwards he was madder than he had ever been; he could feel the rage burning a hole inside his guts, he would get even, no matter what happened to him. But he had not let on.

He found an old piece of steel rod, the stuff used for concrete reinforcing. It was almost a foot long and as thick as his index finger, with rough ridges along its length. He had spent two days carefully sharpening one end to a point, grinding it against the concrete floor of his cell.

A week later Martin was lording it over him in the shower; having self importantly told him, William, to wash his back. So he had come up behind him, the steel rod out of sight. He had grabbed Martin around the waist with one arm to stop him running away. With the other hand he had arse fucked him with the steel rod, jammed it in with all his strength. He had felt the tearing and ripping as it went in, loving the feel as it tore its way through Martin’s soft flesh.

Martin was bigger and stronger than him. But William held him in a vice grip from behind and, even though Martin squirmed like a stuck pig, he could not get away. So, while one arm kept his grip tightly around Martin’s waist, his other hand had shoved the metal rod backwards, forwards and around, several times, feeling it tear its way through lots of places.

Martin was screaming by then. Within a minute the others had pulled William away, leaving Martin lying on the floor, half whimpering, half howling. Then the guards had come and dragged him away and locked him into a cell by himself. He could still hear Martin’s screams coming down the corridor as they pulled him along. It had sounded so good and still made him smile inside.

Two days later Martin was dead, peritonitis they called it. They tried to sew the mess he had made inside Martin back together, but it was futile. Martin died hard and bad. William was glad.

So he had been tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

After that, whenever he saw Dan, he would call out to him. “Your turn next.”

Dan was already coming apart at the seams in prison; he was everyone’s regular bum boy. Twice, since his murder rap, William had managed to get close enough to Dan to stick him. He used a sharp skewer which he kept hidden away for his own protection, once into his bum and once into his leg.

William had made the weapon out of a fragment of a broken hacksaw blade when he worked in the workshop. Now it lived out of sight, pushed into a hole in his boot sole. It was three inches long and a quarter inch wide. It had razor sharp edges which would cut through if you gave it a twist. One quick stab would barely leave a skin mark but inside would be a mess of damage. By the time people realised what was done it would be hidden again. He had it still. One day he would put it into one of those guys eye’s just to see what happened. His mouth watered at the thought.

After that he had only to look at Dan and tell him his eye was next and Dan would become a mass of terrified blubbering jelly. Finally, nearly five years ago, Dan was taken to the looney bin. Last he heard Dan was kept tied to his bed all day in a padded room, crazy, crazy.

With a bit of luck Dan would find a way to top himself one day and that would be that. He must think how he could help him do it, the sooner dead the better.

He never felt a moment of regret over what he had done to those two miserable bastards. But he still felt he had let his mother down even though she disowned him once the rape then murder charges came in, unable to bear the shame of what her son had done.

So he had never seen her or any of his family since he had gone to jail, but he understood that. He knew he could never mend the pain he had caused her, but that only made him madder and madder. Still, in his heart, he was glad he had taken one small step towards setting things to rights, even though it was no help to his mother and never would be.

 

 

 

Chapter 2 – Boredom

 

At first, after the murder rap, William had lived his life fuelled by rage. It had driven him to keep fit; it had been kept alive by the desire to fix up Dan and the other three blokes who had joined in when they took turns screwing him.

So after Martin was gone he spent many hours, days and weeks making plans to get at them. His first desire was to injure, incapacitate or kill them, whatever caused pain. But now that they were warned that was easier said than done. Until this chance came he made plans to terrorise them instead, thinking of any way he could to instil fear and the more unpredictable the better.

Dan had never dobbed on him for what he had done, the fear was too powerful. Instead he walked half crippled for months after each time. If William could have got closer maybe he could have put the skewer into Dan or another one’s guts or face, but the bum and leg stabs had worked well enough and had been easier to get a shot at.

Since then Dan and the other three blokes had hung together whenever William was around. They all kept themselves at least two body lengths away from him. So he dreamed and schemed endlessly about how to catch them out and get close. If he could get within range he really would take out someone’s eye or rip a hole in their guts.

But then he had watched as Dan had gone to bits and been taken away to the prison hospital. William knew, deep down, that the others had only been Martin’s patsies as well; they did not have it inside them to do real stuff on their own. So his anger slowly slid away, replaced by something much flatter, apathy.

He knew he was in this prison for life and would not be broken, would not kowtow. He would keep reminding people how dangerous he was every chance he got, that was his main source of pride. But he was starting to find it hard to care.

The days had begun to drift by in a meaningless maze. Then one day he realised that ten years had gone by since he had come inside. That day it was like a red light went off in his brain. I need to do something more than this before a second ten years goes by.

Ten years for anger and hatred was fine but he needed the next ten years to be different or he would go crazy too. Perhaps he could try to go back to school and learn something new.

The next week he got permission to visit the jail library and look up courses of study, like TAFE Courses. Some places had lessons they would send to people in jail. He would have liked to do a University Course but he had left school at fifteen and needed his HSC to enrol in one. The TAFE Courses only half interested him, they taught manual skills, things like woodwork and metal work. He needed to learn something that would force him to use his brain.

When he was a little kid he did good at school and people had always told him he was smart. But when he had dropped out of school the lessons got left aside. So while he could read and write he had fallen out of reading much except girlie magazines, and they were all crap really.

Finally he settled on the idea of doing his Higher School Certificate. This would allow him to enrol for university courses. It was supposed to take two years, but time was one thing he had plenty of and he could not see anything that said he could not try and fit it into one year. He reckoned he could fit the subjects into one year and he sure as hell intended to give it his best shot.

So he enrolled and began his year of study. Now he could read the lessons and text books in his cell and twice a week he was allowed to the library for an hour to look up things. He had even almost stopped trying to frighten all the other prisoners. Not that he liked them any better but he figured his study would be a bit easier if he did not spend almost all his life locked away.

He was not sure what he would study at University but courses like law and medicine appealed to him. He found he had a thirst for knowledge and a sense that he had wasted the first half of his life. He realised study would only be mental exercise; parole was at best a remote distant possibility in a decade or more. He could not find a place inside himself where there was regret or remorse for what he had done, and he was too proud to pretend something he did not feel. So he would not become a good behaviour boy, no medals for prisoner of the year.

But still, if he could gain a University Degree doing something of interest, that would be an improvement on the last decade of his life, and it would make the passage of time more enjoyable. His only concern was that he did not want the guards or other prisoners to think he had gone soft.

So he needed to maintain an edge of crazed terror to keep others in the jail in line, just enough fear to keep respect alive. There was still a hard angry part buried deep inside which could easily break out in a murderous rage if he was pushed. That part had become so essential to his sense of self that he could not bear to lose it.

For now he decided he would only exercise it now and then with random acts of rage, violence and verbal abuse, but he would not really hurt anyone, at least not enough to kill or cripple anyone. That would keep everyone fully on guard and nervous of him. He grinned at the thought.

So he had a goal, a boredom cure. Within ten years he was determined to be a doctor or lawyer or something such, at least on paper, and doing it would keep the boredom at bay. So now it was time for books and learning.

 

 

 

Chapter 3 – Beginning to Learn

 

William had nothing else to do except study, he was solitary by nature and even though he had not injured or threatened someone in months, and had started to moderate his behaviour, he had not been deemed anything but a slightly less extreme version of his previous self, and he knew that deep down the violent and uncompromising part of his nature was still there.

The one person who had started to talk to him in a more civil way was the librarian, an elderly man who had retired from regular warder duties but was deemed to be of use in this place. The library he minded was not a large building, but it had a mix of donated books and occasional purchases, including a fairly complete set of school books for those prisoners who had decided they wanted to get a qualification starting with their HSC.

William knew of three other prisoners who were doing the same as him, but only by name and distant sight, he had never spend hours in the library with them, as he was only let in himself for an hour twice a week when no one else but the librarian warden was there. He was also allowed to borrow up to five books at a time, and mostly chose books for his school lessons, but each time would pick out one book about something else.

He had discovered in himself an almost morbid fascination about medical things and had started to wonder if he might one day do a degree in something related to medicine, perhaps even nursing or psychology, as he had become interested in both the processes of mental illness and how to treat people with it. He also found medical and biology subjects, like the study of cells, how the immune system worked, and how diseases acted, to be of great fascination. So almost always he took out one extra book on a medical subject and each evening after he had finished his dinner he would use the time to study the contents of this book, sometimes looking at the detailed pictures but most often just reading and trying to understand the words of description and explanation. Gradually he found it beginning to make sense to him and this only increased his desire for more knowledge.

During the day he studied for his Higher School Certificate and he had picked science focused subjects, chemistry, physics and biology, along with the required English and Mathematics. His final elective was Geography to allow him to learn about the places and peoples of the world. He had a particular fascination with the Pacific and with the Melanesian and Polynesian people who lived there. He loved the stories from their history about the way the sailed their canoes across huge expanses and navigated, he read about their customs and the varied speculation about their origins.

He had a vague recollection of his mother telling him one that his great grandfather’s, a man who had died long before he was born was a “kanaka”, a Pacific Islander from somewhere out there. He had always felt something of affection for the Pacific islanders he had known, partly for their strength, but also because they lived hard and played hard. He had played a bit of football with some of them as a boy, up until his early teenage years. But that got forgotten once he had got tied up with Martin and Dan. Since then he had always enjoyed watching footy matches with islander players who had come to the Sydney Rugby League competition and made good.

He did not much like blackfellas; there were lots of them from around Newcastle when he was growing up. They often went around in gangs like he had. Sometimes they got into fights with him and his mates, often when they had the numbers; he had got a couple good hidings and given a couple in return. But he looked at the islanders differently and reckoned they were kind of OK.

Now, as well as reading lots of things about diseases and medicine, he also actively searched out any books he could find about the Pacific, the early voyages of discovery, the people of New Guinea, the different islands and groups of people spread out across the Pacific. He had no idea if the great grandfather kanaka was a real story or just something he thought he had remembered, but it gave him an interest and a vague desire, if he ever got out of jail, to go off and work or travel somewhere out there. He always looked east when he had that thought, knowing his cell was less than a mile from where the Pacific Ocean began. Occasionally he thought about breaking out, getting a little boat from somewhere and heading out that way. But first he wanted to finish his learning, get his HSC and then, hopefully, get a degree in something which seemed useful to him.

He decided that he would park all his thoughts of a break out until at least after that. He was just pushing forty now so, with a bit of luck and if he pulled back on the aggression, he would be out of here by the time he was about fifty and still have plenty of time to go off and see these places.

So now he applied himself fully to his learning. Within six months, as the hot weather at the end of the year came round, he had pretty much mastered his HSC subjects. He found the learning was easy, the hardest thing was making himself stop to eat and exercise, when his mind was in the zone he loved living through it in other places and letting his imagination run, though always coming back to absorbing and understanding one more detail, then yet another detail again.

He thought of his mind now as having been like an empty warehouse when he began this learning. At first it only had a few remnants of rubbish scattered around on the floor of an empty building shell. Now he had built shelves and the shelves had spaces for storing boxes of objects from across the world and folders of information about these things. The building still had lots of empty spaces but more and of the storage space was being organised and filled. That mass of new organised information gave him a deep satisfaction.

Then it was time for the exams, sitting in the library under the watchful eye of the librarian with a couple of the other students. He left all his exams feeling good about how it had gone, particularly the Science and Geography ones.

He decided that next year, if he got OK Marks, he would enrol in a University Degree. In the meantime he would spend his free time reading about his two new interests, the Pacific Islands and the study of medicine. That way if he got into a course about one of these things he would already have a head start.

One day as he was sitting in his cell he got a call from a warder to go to the library. It was just before Christmas, not that he celebrated Christmas, but he had found in the last week, when a few people had put up some decorations around the prison that it had got him to thinking about his mother and his sister and her children. It made him wonder how they were all getting on, wanting to see the little faces, perhaps no longer little. It was such a clear memory of another life, these children holding his hand and sitting on his lap and calling him Uncle Will. He followed the warder down the corridors to the library, feeling a pang for a life lost.

The librarian greeted him with a huge smile, holding a sheet of paper in his hands. He handed this to Will. It was the results from the exams, a list of subject titles and with the results running down the other side of the page. He could see that they were all good.

“Well that’s one for the record books,” the librarian said. “You have got the best marks of anyone who has ever studied here. They are saying next year you should easily get into University and have a choice of courses. Even the prison governor sends his congratulations.”

“You are certainly a dark horse, William; some of the other screws are starting to say the study has made you soft in the head, turning you into one of those soft handed faggots.

“But me I just say, ‘Well done!’ I know you have put in the hours to learn what you have. Now you don’t want to waste the chance to make a better life for yourself one day. They reckon your science marks were right up there near the top for all of NSW, even above all those students whose rich parents pay them to go to fancy schools.

“Considering you had only yourself and a few books to teach you, that is pretty amazing. Pity you did not do your learning right the first time when you were at school. Maybe, by now, you’d be a University Professor if you had.”

William found himself grinning back at this man like he was a kid at school. He could not remember feeling really pleased about something and as good with himself for a very long time. He nodded his head and gave the man a gruff, “Thanks.”

Still he thought, I had better watch my step, can’t have them saying I am soft or something like that, time to nip that idea in the bud.

He decided that it was time to scare the blokes who had been with Dan and Martin that night years ago, lest the word get around that he had got soft with his study. There were still two of them in jail. The third had got out on good behaviour last year. He needed to think of how to do something suitable to hurt them a good bit and scare them even more. He might be enjoying learning new things but he was not yet ready to let sleeping dogs lie.

He chewed the ideas over in his mind for a couple days. Then it came to him. With his new found knowledge he knew something that would give them both the most excruciating gut pains and convulsions, but it was treatable and they would not die. He would slip a dose into their food, he knew he would get a chance to do that as there was plenty of coming and going and pushing and shoving in the dining room and their guard was down now that he had left them alone for a bit.

He just needed to work out the dose carefully to make sure he did not kill them, that way no one would look too hard after the event. Then a few days later he would let them and their friends know who they had to thank. From there the word would soon get around the rest of the place.

That would kill off any idea he was soft and keep everyone on their toes. Much better that way as people would be too busy watching him to cause trouble for him.

He acted three days later, getting into the meal line a few places behind them and bumping into each as they came back past, plates full, to sit down. That allowed him to drop a squirt of his medicine, mixed with some sugar to hide the taste, onto each plate.

Sure enough later that night they were both screaming in their cells and emptying their guts all over the place. Both spent three days in hospital with a diagnosis of food poisoning. On their return he said to one of their other faggot mates, “You should ask your mates if they enjoyed the medicine I gave them the other night that knotted up their guts. I enjoyed their screams until they carted them off. Plenty more for them or anyone else who gets smart with me. Perhaps one day I will give them a real big dose and they will leave in a box. It would be good riddance to your bum boy scum mates.”

 

 

 

Catherine

Chapter 4 – Six Years Earlier – Sydney School

 

Catherine was sixteen and a half when she first came to Sydney to live. She had lived all the life she could remember between Broome and the desert south of Halls Creek. School was in Broome, but her real life was with her aboriginal friends out in the desert. It was where her Mum and Dad mostly lived.

That small place, not really a town, was a gathering of simple houses and one open sided bigger building, with a tin roof like a shed, but with side screens to keep away the insects. It served as occasional school, occasional store or medical clinic, and regular meeting place.

Apart from that there were about ten house of various sizes and levels of refinement, some with grass and leaf rooves, some with tin roofs and walls. People lived lives spent mostly outside.

Their house was a little better than some, it had cement floors, it had windows and doors and a proper bathroom and toilet. It had a solar panel on the roof that charged a battery and gave power for a couple lights. They also had a gas stove and fridge for cooking and keeping food. It had two bedrooms, one with bunk beds for children and the other with a double bed for her parents. The other space was a living area with a kitchen in the corner and a table and chairs in the middle and three more comfy chairs at the other end for sitting and reading. There was one bookshelf where her mother kept her treasured books but that was about it. The walls were decorated with a mix of aboriginal art and some family and community photos.

Her family also spent a lot of time in Broome and Derby where they had a restaurant and food supply business. But, like her, their first love was the desert, the place where their own love for each other had finally come together. Her mother had started the business in Broome when Catherine was a little girl. Now it was well run by those who worked for them and her parents did not need to be around it so much. So for at least two weeks of every month they would leave Broome behind and head south to the end of the road, where it became lost in the sand hills at the northern end of the Great Sandy Desert.

There were between fifty and a hundred other people living there, some who stayed there all the time and others who came and went. All except her family had black skins to her white. But they were her brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins just as much as her own family were. Even though Catherine was a scrawny kid who was just developing a proper woman’s body she could chase and spear a goanna or a kangaroo, or bring down a bird with a throwing stick just as well as any of the others.

But, half way through last year, the year when most kids in Broome left school, what her Mum called her Intermediate Certificate Year, her Mum and Dad had sat her down one day in their house in Broome. It had an ominous feel, her Mum and Dad with serious faces sitting opposite.

They pulled out a booklet for a school in Sydney, actually two booklets, to give her a choice.

She had hoped the choice would be whether to go or not but the choice was only between two schools, which one she would choose.

The first was Presbyterian Ladies College in Croydon where her Mum’s best friend in Sydney, Julie, had finished her school. Her Mum had told her before that day that it was a finishing school to help the rich spoilt girls of Sydney learn manners and find husbands. Now she had changed her tune and said it was a really good school. Julie had vouched for it too. She was happy to pull a few strings to get Catherine a place as a boarder. So if she went there she would have lots of other girls her own age for company. Julie had written a letter to her, Catherine, which her mother handed her. It was encouraging, telling of all the fun she had there.

The second choice was Balmain High School, where her Mum had gone until her Intermediate Certificate. Her Mum had left then to get a job because the family needed the money. Also her Mum was pregnant very soon after she left school, but that was another story. Her Dad and Julie boasted that her Mum had got the top marks that year, was school dux in her Intermediate Exam. But then, as everyone said, her Mum was super brainy; she could do amazing sums in her head and knew words that no one else had ever heard of, so that was no surprise.

So that day, as she sat there, her parents told her that, while school in Broome was fine up to the end of this year, Cathy was too smart to finish there. Instead her final two years would be in a school with lots of other smart kids who would go on to University, so as to stretch her mind and build up her own ability.

That sounded like classic parent gobblygook. But she realised that this argument was futile. So she had to decide on the choice she did have, which school to go to. In the end she had decided on Balmain High. It would let her stay with her Grandma, Patsy.

She loved her Grandma; she had this really cute house in Balmain, the place where her and her Mum’s own childhood friend, Sophie, had lived, even though Sophie had been dead for yonks before either of them lived there. A part of her felt it was weird-crazy to have a long dead friend. But deep down she knew it was true, Sophie had saved her own and her mother’s life that time when they got lost in the desert. The memory was bit faded around the edges now, but at its centre it was just as true and real as ever. So she liked the idea of staying in Sophie and her Mum’s old bedroom and hoped that sometimes Sophie would still visit her.

So the choice was made, Balmain High it was. Her Mum wrote a letter to her Grandma, asking if Cathy could stay with her. When the end of January came round the next year she was booked on the plane which took her to Sydney with an overnight stopover in Darwin. She felt very grown up walking around the streets of Darwin on her own. It was now being rebuilt after a cyclone a few years before, much like the ones they got most wet seasons in Broome. Her Grandma met her off the plane in Sydney, an Ansett flight. They went back to her house in a taxi. Now that her Mum’s younger brother David was grown up and gone off working in the mines her Grandma was living alone. So Cathy knew she was pleased to have her come and stay.

Cathy found she liked living with her Grandma, she was sort of cool about lots of grown up things and she was a great cook. She found she could have a lot of deep and meaningful conversation with her Grandma she could never have with her Mum and Dad. There was something very open and understanding about Grandma, hers had been a hard life but she had lived through it and come out the other side. She was incredibly proud of her daughter who had made good on her own, and she loved Cathy’s Dad, Robbie, like a son, even though he was not Cathy’s real father. Cathy felt just the same about Robbie too, even though she could remember a time before he was there. From the moment he had arrived he had become the Dad she had never known. Now he was like a grown up best friend, but who loved her just as much as any other Dad.

When she thought about him, her Mum and her brother and sister still at home, at times she got really homesick. But, after a month in Sydney, she had new friends at the High School and she decided she really liked this school and living in Balmain even though she could barely wait for the end of term holidays when she and her Grandma would fly home for two weeks together with her Mum, Dad, brother and sister, a week in Broome, then a week in the desert with her other family.

The year flew by and then it was time to go home for Christmas holidays. This time it was just her on the plane. Her Gran would come across in a fortnight, just in time for Christmas. She knew this might be her last proper holiday at home and was determined to enjoy it. Everyone was telling her how hard she would have to study next year for her Higher School Certificate, so she could get into University and have her choice of courses. She supposed they were right and she had got good marks in her end of year exams, considering that Broome High School was much easier. But, for now, she would enjoy it; holidays and freedom.

The six weeks of holidays was over too soon and she was on a plane back to Sydney. The worst thing about the holidays was she could see her friends from before were starting to go their own way, boys meeting girls and getting together, others with jobs so they no longer got holidays when she was there. And many of the things she had done in Sydney did not seem to interest her Broome friends much. So they had less to talk about than before. Still they were her best friends and she would never forget them and did not want to say goodbye.

But another part of her was also looking forward to seeing her Sydney friends again, hearing what they had done over their holidays, what had they got for Christmas, who had been dating boys and who had been on trips overseas and things like that. So she was half sad and half happy as she caught the plane back to Sydney.

In the end her final year at school was not such a hard year as everyone told her. She found, as she started lessons, that she had caught up with the others in her first year in Sydney. So in this second year she only had to keep up with the others, not learn twice as much. Julie was great too; she would come around at least once a fortnight and quiz her on what she had learned. She was super smart, just like her Mum, and now a corporate lawyer in a big firm that paid her lots, though she still worked on women’s rights issues in her free time as was always revving Cathy up to get involved.

Julie had never married. But she now shared a nice house with another woman and even though it was not talked about much, Cathy had seen them holding hands and understood they were like a married couple, doing lots of things together, and when she had free time she would sometimes go and stay for a couple nights with them. There was a good feeling in how they were together, like they really loved each other, just the same way her Mum and Dad did.

She was glad Julie had found someone too. She knew how bad Julie had felt about what had happened to her mother, Lizzie, when the men raped her. It had happened when Lizzie was younger than Cathy was now, and she had got pregnant. That had made Julie hate all men for a long time. Even now it was clear there were very few men that Julie trusted.

Lizzie was long over it. As she said, without it happening there would have never been her, Cathy, and her Mum would have never met Robbie. So Lizzie would say, “Even though it was bad when it happened and for a while after, I would not change places with anyone, not for all the tea in China,” whatever that meant.

Cathy had yet to find a man who really interested her, most of the ones at school seemed like boys who had yet to grow up. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to do it with a man and sometimes she wondered what it would be like with a girl that way instead of a boy, like Julie did. But she was not very curious about it at all and, as her Grandma said, there was plenty of time to find out about that yet and first she had to finish school.

So she studied away, but not too hard. One day she woke up in the morning and realised that today was the day of her final exam. It seemed pretty easy and she finished half an hour early. She waited around outside for her friends to come out, not quite knowing what to do with herself.

Finally they were all gathered, sitting on the brick wall that ran along the street at the edge of the school grounds. No one seemed to have any good idea what to do with the rest of the day, but they needed to do something to celebrate the end of school. Eventually two of the boys turned up with a whole lot of bottles of beer and everyone went and sat in the local park just down the road and took turns having mouthfuls of beer.

She was used to having tastes of her Dad’s beer and did not mind the taste. So she found, each time a bottle came her way, she would have a good mouthful. Eventually all the beer was gone.

It was mid-afternoon and they were all hungry. So they wandered up to the main street of the town where they bought hamburgers, taking ages for everyone to be served. By this time about half the kids had gone home, but Cathy was in a happy mood and not ready to go home so soon. So about twenty of them found themselves in a bar in the main street of the town, most with sipping beers though a couple of the girls had gin and tonics and a couple had glasses of wine.

It was all good fun, laughing and telling jokes about all the crazy things they had done at school and wondering what the next year would hold. A few already had jobs to go to, but most were hoping their marks would let them go to University next year, a mix of courses and places.

Cathy herself had no idea what she wanted to do, she was only half interested in University, but she had no other good ideas either, so she had filled out the enrolment forms for a range of places to make sure that she got offered something.

As afternoon drifted into evening she found herself talking to the man behind the bar, Mathew. He reminded her of her Dad though he was probably only about thirty to her Dad’s forty five. But he had a slightly weather beaten face and the air of someone who had lived a hard life. He walked with a half shuffle in one leg which again reminded her of her Dad and she found it kind of endearing. He also seemed to like talking to her.

At first she thought he just worked there, but after a while it came out that he was actually the owner. She was surprised that the hotel would be owned by someone so young. She found herself asking him if there were any jobs for barmaids at the hotel.

To her surprise he said “Yes, I am looking for a couple extra people coming up to Christmas. It gets really busy in the next six weeks, lots of parties and other Christmas celebrations. I was thinking of putting a notice in the window to try and find a couple more people who live nearby to help, not fulltime work, but three or four hours a night on busy nights.”

Next thing she knew she was lined up for a trial the next afternoon, to see if she could manage to pour a beer and a glass of wine without slopping it everywhere. He joked that he could give her the trial tonight but she was sure to fail as she was a bit wobbly on her feet.

Finally it was closing time and everyone started to drift off. As she walked out the door Mathew was there waiting for her and the other five friends that still remained. His car was parked right outside and he suggested that he drive them all home. None were too sober. He said he did not want any of them getting mugged or hit by a car in their current drunken state.

They all agreed happily. So Mathew got a list of addresses to do the circuit. Cathy said she lived in Smith Street and he said he lived in Rosser Street himself, the next street from her. So it was agreed, he would drop her last as, by then, he would be almost home.

In the end, it was only him and her when they pulled up outside her Grandma’s house. When he realised where he was he said, “Well isn’t that funny. David and my younger brother were good friends at school and, as they lived in the next street to each other, they were in and out of each other’s houses as kids. So a few times I had to come here to collect my brother and got to know David pretty well. I have not seen him since he went off to work but his Mum, Patsy, is a great cook and a couple times she invited me in to dinner as a kid. She was always very good to me. So if it is OK I will just come to the door and say hello, trust that is OK, I would not want to embarrass you.”

Next thing he was invited in for tea and cake, there was even left over dinner in the oven. So before they knew it they were all sitting around the table and drinking cups of tea and sharing a meal and stories. Then the story of the job trial came out.

By now Cathy was starting to feel more sober and self conscious that she had been too forward and made a pest of herself. Neither Patsy nor Mathew seemed to notice. Both thought it was funny and nice that she may get a job in a pub owned by a friend of David.

Patsy said that David would be home for a week over Christmas and she would make sure he visited the hotel and gave her a report on whether her granddaughter was any good at her job, that way she could let her own daughter Lizzie know. Cathy found herself begin to wish that she had looked for a job with someone unknown to her family, but there was no undoing it now.

As Cathy lay into bed she realised she was feeling quite woozy. She could not remember feeling this way before and realised that, while she had a few tastes of her father’s beer and snuck off with her friends to have a few sips of a shared bottle of beer or wine in the park, she had never sat and drunk the way she had today, for hour after hour.

At the time it had felt great but now she was not so sure. The bed had a floating sensation and her head felt like it was full of cotton wool. However she sensed today had been one of those significant days in her life, like a birthday but more special. Today she had crossed from one life into another.

As she thought this Mathew’s face came into her mind, as if he was somehow important in what came next. But then of course he had offered her a job if she could pour a beer without spilling it. The last thing Cathy remembered that night before drifting off to sleep in Sophie’s room, that’s how she named it, was two sets of brown eyes looking at her seriously and talking to her. She could not hear the voices but she realised that one set of eyes belonged to her mother and one to Sophie and they were discussing her and this man Mathew. She had no idea what they were talking about.

 

 

 

Chapter 5 – The New Barmaid

 

Cathy woke up in the morning with a headache, feeling woozy and really thirsty. She went out to the kitchen for a glass of water and her Grandma was washing up the dishes from last night. She took one look at Cathy, came and put her hand on her forehead, and suggested she go and lie back into bed and she would bring her a cup of tea.

As Patsy put her hand to her forehead, Cathy said, “Grandma, the world is all spinning.”

“Don’t worry, it will pass in a couple hours,” her Gran said, laughing. “Not something you want to do every day. But it is a special occasion after all and the good news about a hangover is it always gets better as the day goes by. I can remember a few nights and next days like that when I first went out with your Grandad. I always tried to hide it from my own Mum and Dad. They did not much approve of your Grandfather and would have been even worse if they knew what we had been up to. But it is part of being young and growing up, even though I realise now one should not do it too often.”

Cathy went over and hugged her Grandma. “Part of what I like about you so much is you have been there before and understand,” she said.

Patsy replied, “We all make mistakes in our lives, and I have made more than most. But life is for living and enjoying not hiding in a corner. Now is your time. Go back to bed now for a couple hours and then you will feel much better.”

Suddenly Cathy remembered she had promised to go in for a trial for her job today, the thought of beer now made her want to puke. Now she also remembered her forward way with this man, Mathew, and wanted to cringe, nice girls did not behave that way.

She said, “Oh Grandma, was I really that drunk last night? Now I feel I was really silly, asking that man for a job and him offering me a trial today. The thought of beer makes me want to be sick. Do you think I could just not go, ring up, say I am sick and ask to put it off until another day?”

Her Grandma shook her head. “You could do that but it would be silly. He will know the truth; he has seen plenty of people get drunk and knows you do not make a habit of it. He will have a fair idea you have a hangover today. And a promise is a promise; you said you would go, so you must.

“Anyway it is not until two this afternoon, now is only eight in the morning, by lunch time you will be feeling much better. So that is why it is back to bed.

“I will call you at lunch time, then you can have a shower and put on some fresh clothes, that lovely floral dress you got for your eighteenth birthday would be just right. I will cook you a nice lunch and after that I promise you will feel much better. If you still have a headache at lunch time you can take an aspirin but by then I think it will be gone.”

So Cathy finished her glass of water and went back into bed, thinking she would read for a bit until she felt better. Next thing she knew her Grandma was shaking her, “Time to get up.”

She sat up. There was the most delicious smell of cooking and her headache was gone. She was starving. She put on a dressing gown and went off to the kitchen.

“Grandma, that smells so, so good. Can I have some now?”

“But of course, pet. Just give me five minutes.” So they sat and ate lunch together, savoury mince on toast. Cathy had second helpings.

“I did not realise that any food could taste so good,” she said.

Her Grandma smiled and patted her hand. Then she made a pot of tea and served them each a slice of fruit cake. It too tasted suddenly and amazingly wonderful. “Feeling better now?”

Cathy smiled back, “I feel wonderful, the headache is gone, the food tastes so delicious and I feel like I could walk on air. Is it always like this after one recovers?”

Patsy replied, “One needs to feel bad to notice how wonderful it is to feel well. Life is like that, if everything was always the same one would never notice the difference. But because you felt so sick this morning this afternoon the sun will shine brighter, the flowers will be prettier and life will be better because you can appreciate it all with fresh eyes.”

“Grandma, you are so wise. I wonder if I will ever get to be as smart as you,” Cathy replied.

“You already are, but no time for talking now, your dress is hanging on a coat hanger in the bathroom. Off to shower and freshen up now.”

As she walked out of the house and up the street on a perfect summer afternoon, warm but not hot, with a light breeze ruffling her skirt, Cathy felt like skipping. It was as Grandma had said; sky bluer, light brighter; the day was just perfect.

Then she remembered where she was going, to a job trial with a man who had seen her drunk and wobbling as she walked last night, talking rubbish. She felt like turning straight round, coming home and hiding in the bedroom, it was so embarrassing. However she steadied herself, as her Grandma had said, a promise was a promise. But she no longer felt like dancing, all she felt was terror at seeing this man again after having made a fool of herself last night.

Now she walked slowly, having to force her feet to take each step forward. At last she was there, outside the front door of the hotel. The clock tower, just across the street, showed five to two; at least she was not late. She stood there, heart pounding, gathering courage to knock.

The door flew open and there he was, Mathew, standing before her. His face took a spit second to register her. Then, as their eyes locked, she felt something pass between them; terror but also more coming from her and there was also something appreciative coming from him.

He looked at her, then looked away and then looked again. She felt the blood rise to her face, flushed with embarrassment. She started to stutter out. “I am so sorry about how I was last night.”

He cut her off with a wave of his hand, “Don’t worry about that, we all do it. I am just trying to get over the transformation, last night a school girl in her uniform, today a gorgeous young lady stands before me. I can’t quite believe the change. I had better watch out to make sure all the men who work here don’t get too many ideas when they see you.”

Cathy flushed an even brighter red, not knowing what to say.

Now this man regathered himself, as if realising his own manners needed improvement. “I am sorry, I am Mathew Jamison and you are Catherine Renshaw, here for a job trial. I have to go out for half an hour but I have arranged for my senior bar girl, Ella, to show you what the job is and see whether you can master it. Come in and I will introduce you.”

Catherine felt a flood of relief that this man would not be watching over her. She doubted her ability to hold a steady hand with his eyes looking on. She would be fine with someone else.

Ella was buxom girl in her twenties, dark hair with pink highlights, a bright smile and a friendly manner. Within a few seconds Mathew was gone and it was just the two of them.

Ella said, “I gather I am to show you the ropes then see how you go. Next hour should be quiet but after three o’clock the early finishing drinkers arrive. Then it gets busy for about four or five hours before slowing down for the last couple hours before we close. How long can you stay for?”

Cathy shrugged, “I can stay as long as you like. It is really up to you and Mathew to say whether I am good enough for the job and when I should go home. But I have nothing else I need to do today so I will stay here until I am either not needed or someone tells me to finish.”

Ella grinned and punched her lightly on the shoulder, “That’s the way, sounds like the job is yours if you want it, at least for a couple days. You can train a monkey to pour a beer, it is really about whether you can give service with a smile, be polite to drunks who want to paw you but not let them get too forward and keep up with all the orders when it gets really busy. And you still need to find time to tidy up and clear away as you go.

“It will take a day or two until we know that so I reckon you might as well consider yourself signed on for the night and, if after a couple nights, it does not work out Mathew will give you your pay check and that will tell you he does not need you anymore. Otherwise your pay will be made up and waiting for you after lunch on Friday. But if he gives you your pay at the end of a night you know he is not expecting to see you back again.”

The next few hours flew by, there was lots to remember, names and costs of drinks, where all the different things were kept, how to keep track of three orders at once while the head on the beers were settling.

But Cathy found herself loving it, the banter of the old men, young blokes giving her the eye and a wink, orders coming from all directions and her keeping track of who was next, getting out around the tables to collect glasses and wipe up the spills. She and Ella worked well together and a couple time Ella said to her she was so glad Catherine was here today as it would be frantic without her.

Mathew popped in and out a few times, though usually he was only there for a few minutes at a time. He would say a quick hello to his regulars and check how Cathy and Ella were both getting on before he went off again.

At last it began to slow down. Catherine looked up at the clock on the wall and realised it was coming up to nine of clock at night. She wondered where the last seven hours had gone. Now she became conscious that her feet were tired and her shoulders ached from all the hours of standing and using her arms, it was unaccustomed exercise for someone who mostly sat at a desk.

Ella finished serving a customer and turned to her saying. “Well, I think you have done enough for your first night, hard to believe how busy it got and really lucky for me you were here. I am sure Mathew will keep you on, he has been too busy tonight with paperwork and orders to come and talk, but I will talk to him before I close up. So if you write your phone number down I will ring you tomorrow and work out some shifts.

“I am thinking that, as tomorrow is Wednesday and it is usually quiet, you should have it off. But come Thursday, Friday and Saturday if you are free. Those are usually busy nights when we need all the help we can get.

“We have an extra bloke who comes in for the next four nights but, even with him and me, it gets really busy those nights. Monday is usually quiet and tonight, Tuesday, is also usually pretty quiet, though you would not know from tonight. I have Sundays and Mondays off. Mathew tries to do Mondays by himself and then have Tuesdays as his bookwork night, with me doing most of the work and him helping if needed. For the rest of the week we have one or two extras. However, now it is nearly Christmas, I know he is looking for extra help most nights from now until after the New Year when it gets quiet again.

“So why don’t you head home now. I will ring you tomorrow to work out the details from here.”

Catherine had a real skip in her step as she walked home. She was tired but felt incredibly well. She loved this job. She realised she was starving again too. She hoped her Gran had kept her some dinner. Sure enough a plate of roast lamb and vegetables was waiting for her. Ass she ate it she chatted with her Gran, bubbling with excitement, telling her all the stories of the night.

After that she settled into a regular routine of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and a couple times she came in for Wednesdays when Christmas parties were booked. Mathew never booked her for Monday night, his own main night. There was awkwardness between them since that first day meeting at the bar doors, both self-conscious in the other’s presence.

A week before Christmas David came home from his job working on an iron ore mine out of Port Hedland, on the opposite side of the country and not too far from her home in Broome. Catherine really enjoyed his company. On her nights off he would take her out to the many other places he knew around the town.

On the Sunday before Christmas Patsy invited Mathew around for lunch of roast chicken. David was the centre of attention and regaled them all with tales about himself working in the west, mining. He had learned to set explosives to blast away the sides of the mountains, other times he worked with the machinery, dump trucks with tyres three times his height, the huge trains that were miles long and hauled the ore down to the port and all the ships that queued up to load.

David had gone up to see Catherine’s Mum, Lizzie, and the family for a week about three months ago. Where he worked at Mount Newman Mine was only four hundred miles away in Broome, though the road was bad, “corrugations that could swallow a truck,” he said. So he was also full of news of them all including the antics of Cathy’s brother and sister. Tomorrow her whole family was due in Sydney. This year they were coming for a Sydney family holiday and Cathy had been looking forward to it for the whole year.

Mathew joined in the conversation about David a bit, but said nothing of himself or his family. After half an hour of conversation about David and his deeds Cathy decided to interrupt, wanting to know something about Mathew, his brother and his own family.

She wondered, as no one else had asked about them, whether it was a subject she should raise. But finally her curiosity got the better of her. When a brief lull came in the conversation she turned to Mathew and said. “You must be sick of hearing about our family. What about yourself, your brother who was David’s friend and your own Mum and Dad?”

There was a slightly awkward pause, as if others knew the answer.

But Mathew turned to her with a smile and said, “Fair question, it must seem odd that I don’t talk about them. There is not much to say, really. Three years ago my brother Pete was travelling around America, he had just finished school the year before. One day he got in a fight with a couple crazy guys. They beat him up real bad. He died in hospital a week later, he never woke up. Eventually they turned off the machine that was keeping him alive.

“My Dad died when I was young; he was around the same age as your Grandpa when he died. So then it was just my Mum at home, alone. At that time I was working for an oil company in Kuwait in the Middle East making good money. So it was time for me to come home.

“But my Mum never really got over the shock and she died a year later as well. They said she had a heart attack, but I think it was as much from a broken heart. Of course she loved me too but Pete was the apple of her eye, much the same way that David is for your Mum.

“So now it is just me in Balmain, though I have an uncle, aunt and two cousins who live in Brisbane. After I came home I decided I liked living here in Balmain again, I still have lots of friends here. As I had made good money working in Kuwait I used it to buy the hotel, and am now gradually turning it into a business which pays its way.

“It was quite run down when I bought it. The person who owned it before me had drunk most of the profits away. But it is busy and I have paid down a big part of the debts the last owner ran up, enough for it to start giving me back some money to live on. It needs a new coat of paint and things fixed up. But it is paying its way. I hope, in a year or two, it should be making real money, after each week’s expenses have been covered, again.

Cathy felt awkward; the others obviously knew this story. She said, “I am sorry, I did not know. It must be hard for you after that.”

Mathew gave her a warm, direct smile. “No, I am glad you asked. Bad things happen which cannot be undone. We have to get through them as best we can. It is better to talk about it than not.”

Then it was desert and a cup of tea. The conversation moved on to the arrival of Cathy’s family tomorrow which they were excited about. Not long after this Mathew made his excuses, saying it was a pity but he had yet more paperwork to do on this lovely sunny Sunday and must away.

Christmas and New Year passed in an excited blur. Catherine was really busy with both work and doing family things, nights serving at a packed pub, days at the beach playing with her brother and sister like a teenager again, fantastic presents from her Mum and Dad. Early in the New Year the whole family went away for a summer beachside holiday on the far south coast of NSW. Robbie’s Mum came up from her home near Melbourne and they had two lovely weekends and the week in between, days at the beach, nights having barbeques and playing cards, walks in the mountains and fishing in the inlet.

At the end of the holiday they drove on to Melbourne and spent two days at her second Gran’s place in Warburton. Cathy thought this was the most beautiful place she had ever been, a country town in a green valley ringed by towering mountains. Her Gran said that sometimes in winter all the high hills around would be white with snow, now they were covered in thick green forest, with clouds around their edges and mist drifting down into the valley in the early mornings.

Finally the holiday was over. In Melbourne Cathy said goodbye to the others and she and her Gran, Patsy, caught the flight back to Sydney.

The house in Balmain felt strangely silent and empty as they came home. They were both a bit sad, missing the noise and laughter of everyone else in the house. She walked over to her Gran and hugged her. “I miss them all,” she said, “but still I am glad to be back here with you. Somehow Balmain feels like home now.” She looked at her Gran’s thin face, tears in both their eyes.

Her Gran said, “I am glad you are happy here. It was very lonely for me when your Mum went away and now that David is gone too I feel so lucky to have you here. I am glad you like it too. Our old Balmain house does have a good feeling doesn’t it? I have always liked living here.

“You know what, there is nothing in the house for dinner, and I think I would rather eat out. I hear tell that the pub you work in has a new cook and he does excellent crumbed lamb cutlets for dinner. That is the sort of dinner I feel like, why don’t we eat up there?

“It would also be nice to see Mathew again after the time away, since you started working there it is like being back to all those years ago when David and Peter were forever together and Mathew would call round in the evening to collect his younger brother who never wanted to go home. Then it felt like they were part of my family. Now that I have caught up with him again it feels the same. I feel like I should have invited him around for Christmas but it got forgotten with everything else happening. So tonight we can give him our best of Christmas and New Year wishes.”

So they walked the ten minutes up to the main street, and were welcomed like royalty. It was a quiet night so Mathew came and ate with them. They all swapped stories. He had flown to Brisbane for two days to have Christmas with his cousins, so he would not have been around for an invitation from them in any event. But now he was back and his Sunday calendar was almost permanently free. So he was booked again for a Sunday lunch the following Sunday.

It was a lovely meal and the three of them sat and talked after for a couple hours. Finally, in the mid-afternoon, he made his excuses and left. This was the first time Catherine had really felt relaxed in his company and, when he left, she felt she had made a friend. She felt tempted to offer to walk with him as he left but felt it might be too forward.

In January work continued as usual, though she did shorter shifts from three to seven each night as there was not enough business to stay on until ten when the pub closed.

 

 

 

Chapter 6 – An Uncertain Future

 

January passed by and then it was February. Catherine had got her exam results just before Christmas and they were good. This meant she should have the choice of various subjects and Universities if she wanted. She was inclined towards Sydney University, only because it was close by, and she should have the marks for any of the course she had nominated. The trouble was she was unsure if this was what she wanted.

At the end of January she was notified of her acceptance to University and could enrol in her course of choice or a range of other options. So now she had to decide but she really did not know what she wanted to do. She had a couple more weeks until the acceptances had to be confirmed. She found herself procrastinating.

Julie encourage her to enrol for Law, her mother encouraged Science, she herself had a slight preference towards the Arts with a humanities focus and subjects like Anthropology and History, but she knew well that there were very few jobs for people working in that field except to be a school teacher. She really did not want to become a teacher.

She had always thought economics and commerce were beyond boring. But now she was working in the hotel she started to conceive an interest in commerce. After all it was about how to make money. She saw that this business she worked for was a money making machine.

She and Ella had become close friends. A couple times, when business was slack, they found themselves engaged in deep conversations about what they would do if they had unlimited money; would they open a business to make yet more money, would they give it to charity, would they go off and travel the world and see and experience everything that was out there, would they buy a hotel as Mathew had?

They could see the way the money flowed through the bar and the tills and this seemed to be the most profitable bit. Even though the food seemed to make money there were a lot more expenses with it, the ingredients, the chef, serving and cleaning all the dishes, whereas for the pub most of the costs came from the supply of beer and staff wages. They both formed the view that a pub was a good business to make money from, provided you got regular patrons.

But none of that helped her decide what to do with her life and what course to choose. She found herself wishing she could talk to Mathew about her options but, despite her working for him, she saw surprisingly little of him. On the nights she worked it was usually only her and Ella. Mathew at most made an occasional appearance. He had also skipped the last two Sunday dinners. She wished she could have an hour or two to talk to him, one on one, she was sure he would have a much clearer idea than her about what were good future choices.

She half wondered about going and knocking on his door, she knew the street number and had walked past a couple times, but each time her courage had failed her. He also seemed gaunt looking of late, as if he had worries of his own. She did not want to burden him with her minor life decisions. So she procrastinated and the days drifted by.

A couple times she asked her Gran what she thought, but her Gran’s advice, though sensible, did not take her very far.

“Do whatever you want to dear, and don’t worry if you get it wrong. You can always start one thing and then change to something else a bit later if you realise that you have made a mistake or really want to do something different.

“But you should get a qualification; it is something that gives a girl a choice, apart from getting married and having babies. You are much too smart to just stay at home like that.”

So while that was alright it did not really take her anywhere. She supposed, when the final day came, she would elect to study Arts-Law at Sydney University which was what Julie recommended. Even though the Law did not inspire her the Arts part would be interesting and, at the end, she would have a qualification to earn money doing something other than teaching.

She also tried to talk to her friends from school but none of them had much more idea than her about what they really wanted to do. As none of the others had a job they were all a bit bored from sitting around at home and they thought of University as the next adventure of life. All their parents seemed well enough off so they did not need to work to get money. They had been mostly spending their summer at the beach and now were ready to extend their social lives to University. Most of her girl friends were more into boys at this stage, experimenting in going out and dating different boys, some of them going on the pill and trying the sex thing. So that is where the conversations went, rather than the best courses for their future lives.

Catherine had gone to church, at least since she had been staying with her Gran. Though she was not sure if she quite believed it all, and her Grandmother was no prude, she decided she did not want to try the sex thing right now. What the church said about getting married and loving someone first made a kind of sense to her.

She had seen how happy her Mum was with her Dad; that was what love should be like. Even though her Mum had a baby at fifteen and worked as a prostitute for a bit, that was hardly of her choosing, it was what she did to survive.

Catherine did not need to do anything like that to survive so she would not rush off to bed with someone just because they wanted her to.

So she continued to work at the pub and delay the decision about her future. Finally, with two days to go, she made up her mind, based on impulse. Her Mum had showed how successful one could be when they put their mind to a business. Her Mum had plenty of brains but her education had stopped when she was fourteen. But, even so, she had used her own business to make her own way in life, not dependent on others. By the age of twenty one, only two and a half years older than Catherine was now, she had made more money than most people twice her age. So if it was good enough for her mother to go into business it would be good enough for her.

She filled out the forms nominating business studies as her first choice, a degree in Commerce but with an Arts component so she could study History and other Arts subjects. She felt relieved once she had made the choice. Now she could get on with the rest of her life. One of the men at work was keen on her; perhaps she would go out with him.

His name was Richard; he was in his mid twenties and was good looking, though a bit too cute and full of himself for her liking. But he told funny stories at the pub which entertained her and the others, even if they were not really very nice, often the humour seemed a bit cruel to her.

He had already invited Catherine out to dinner a couple times and at first she had not answered. But her Gran encouraged her to accept, saying “If you like him just go, at least once. It doesn’t have to be any more than that unless you want it to be.”

On the first night Richard had walked her home politely and gave her a peck on the cheek at the front door. Catherine liked him well enough and enjoyed his company for the evening but did not want it to go any further. She was relieved he had not tried anything more. The next time he asked she felt good enough about him to go out again.

The second time, after dinner and a couple glasses of wine for each of them, he persuaded her to come with him to another hotel, down near the Victoria Road end of Rozelle where a live band was playing. Richard was drinking much more than her; he had gone onto beers when they came here and downed three in rapid succession, whereas Catherine sipped a tonic water.

Then he wanted to dance with her. Somewhat reluctantly Cathy got up with him. She had never learned to dance in Broome and did not have much idea about the moves. So she moved her body round in time with the music, enjoying the beat which pulsed through her body and mind. The next dance was slow. Now Richard put his hand round her body and pulled her in close. She could feel his hands on her bottom massaging it. It made her feel uncomfortable, then she realised he was trying to kiss her.

She broke away and went to sit down. He came back, looking cross.

She said. “I would like to go home now. I am happy to walk by myself if you want to stay.”

He decided he would walk along with her and the fresh air seemed to clear his head as they walked along Darling Street. Then he suggested that they cut through the back streets as it was shorter than walking all the way up to Montague Street, the main street which took her home and the way she would normally follow at this time of night. She had thought she might even call in for a soft drink at the hotel where she worked as it was near the Montague Street corner and it would be good to chat to Ella who would still be at work.

However Richard was determined to take the shortcut. So she went with him, reluctantly. Half way along they came to a little park. He said he wanted to sit down and rest for a little while.

She realised he was quite drunk, he was swaying as he walked, so she stopped to wait for him. He sat into the middle of a park seat, half slumped. He asked her to come and sit next to him while he rested.

Catherine sat down near the end, trying to keep her distance.

Next thing he leaned towards her. He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him. Now he was trying to kiss her again. At the same time he put his hand up under her skirt.

She decided she did not like where this was leading. She pulled away suddenly, standing up and stepping back, sliding under his grip. In a second she was three steps away. He was still groping around as if he did not know where she had gone as she looked back at him.

She realised he was too drunk to follow quickly. So she called out thanks for the meal and skipped away, leaving him sitting there looking half dazed but annoyed. Before he moved she turned the corner and was out of sight. In five minutes she was home, glad she got away so easily.

She knew she would not be accepting any more dinner invitations from Richard; he was not really her type. Her Dad always said that people showed what they were really like when they got drunk. She decided then she did not like Richard very much, drunk or sober.

 

 

 

Chapter 7 – Tremors

 

One Tuesday night in February Ella rang her and said she was feeling sick and asked her if she could manage the shift alone, with Mathew working on the books in the back room available for backup. Tuesday nights of late had been very quiet and it barely needed them both there. So she said, “Yes, no worries I am sure I can manage.”

Mathew was at the bar when she came in and smiled in pleasure at seeing her, saying he was so glad she could cover on her own, it was a big help to him not to have to get someone else in.

She smiled back brightly, feeling pleased to see him alone for a minute. Perhaps, at the end of the night, she would get a chance to seek his advice about what he was best for her to study. She made up her mind on the day and lodged the form but still felt uncertain about her choice.

She also wanted to ask him what he thought about her continuing to work, perhaps two nights a week once university started. Her Mum and Dad had offered to support her by paying the expenses while she went through University and she knew they were giving her Gran money to cover her living expenses, as well as a generous allowance to her to cover her clothes, going out and other things she did. However she had more than covered all her expenses from her wages since she had started work and could well afford to skip their allowance.

She could even afford to pay her Gran directly for food and other living expenses though she knew it would be hard to get her to take the money. The few times she had tried her Gran had just given it back saying she should keep her money, she was young and should enjoy life and if she did not need it all right now she should just save it as one day she surely would need it. So her pay went into her bank account, steadily building up so now there was a good balance.

Catherine liked the idea of being self supporting, after all her mother had managed totally on her own since just after she turned fifteen, three years younger than Catherine was now. So she wanted to ask Mathew whether he thought it was feasible for her to keep doing at least two shifts a week once she went back to Uni, knowing she might have to swap them around once she got her timetable. That way she could largely pay for her own living expenses and get her parents to stop their allowance to her.

So she was pleased that tonight she might get the chance to talk to Mathew, one on one, about these things. But tonight Mathew looked really tired and gaunt, like he had a month with almost no sleep, so perhaps it was not be the right night to bother him with her minor worries. Well she would just have to see.

She settled into work and Mathew went off to his office out the back. She worked away steadily and the night passed. About half past nine the last drinkers left and then it was just her tidying up. She was a bit surprised she had not seen Mathew in over three hours; he had called in briefly to check she was OK just after six pm and he looked pretty terrible. He did not look like he had been drinking but it seemed like there was something wrong. She felt worried for him. She wondered if it would be rude or nosy to ask him what was wrong, there must be some problem.

When all the tidying was done it was about five to ten. He still had not appeared which was unlike him. When Ella was here he usually came down for the last ten or fifteen minutes and gave a hand with the final tidying and counting the money, getting ready to lock up. Now she still had the money in the till. She decided to lock the front doors five minutes early and go and check what Mathew was doing. She could not leave the money unattended and go out the back and she felt worried that he had not come in. Plus no one was likely to come for a last drink five minutes before closing.

She walked out to his office. The door was closed so she knocked. There was no answer. He must still be in there because he could not leave without coming through the bar and she would have seen him.

She knocked again, still no answer. She tried the door. It opened inwards, silently. Now she could hear a faint noise, it almost sounded like crying though that did not make sense. She looked inside. At first she could see nothing. Then she made out a shadow in the corner, on the floor. She realised there was a body lying on the floor.

Suddenly she realised that the shape was Mathew, his body lying stretched out, face down on the floor, pushed into a corner, his legs pulled up towards his body. She felt panic.

The way he was lying was not natural, he would not sleep in that position, it looked too uncomfortable. Please God let him not be dead.

Then she realised a sound was coming from him, something between groans and sobs.

Without thinking more she went over and put her arms around him, feeling his thin broad shoulders shaking underneath her like a leaf. She hugged her body to him and stroked his hair, seeking to give him comfort and reassurance, as if a mother to a baby. She wrapped her body fully round his and lay there with him stroking and crooning to him. “There, there it will be alright, I am here now. I will look after you.” She did not know why she chose these words but they seemed right.

He continued to shake like a leaf for a few minutes and then it was as if he started drawing comfort for her and slowly his sobbing and groaning subsided and then it was just the shaking of his body against hers. She stayed as she was, trying to feed him comfort. Slowly the shaking subsided too. Suddenly he shook himself as if to clear his head. He pushed himself off the floor, half pushing her backwards as he rose. She struggled to maintain her balance and not fall to the side as her feet were not fully under her.

He turned his face towards her with puzzlement, as is trying to understand what was happening. He saw her wobbling to hold her balance and reached out to steady her, a firm arm grasping her elbow. “My God, Catherine, what are you doing here?” His eyes flashed; something between confusion, embarrassment and anger that someone had seen him in this state.

She looked back steadily, determined not to be cowed. She said, “It is OK Mathew, you were lying half curled up in the corner shaking and moaning, seeming to be unconscious, as if you were having an awful dream. I stayed with you and held you until you came out of it. Please tell me what is wrong? I want to help.”

He looked at her, uncertain, as if trying to decide what to do or say.

Catherine tried for a smile, it worked.

She could see some of the tension leave his face as he relaxed, then he smiled back. There was a lounge to one side of his office, a three seater that someone could stretch out on for a sleep. He walked over to it, his body trembling slightly, and sat down. She could see he was making an effort to keep the trembling in check.

She followed him, unbidden, and sat next to him. There was effort on his face now and the trembling was increasing, as if whatever devil was there was returning. Without asking she put her arms around him again and pulled his face against her breast, stroking his hair. The trembling grew worse and worse until his whole body was shaking.

She just held him and kept whispering words of comfort, waiting for it to pass. It went on and on, but after what seemed like a long time she could feel it ease. She sensed she could let him go now, that he was back under control, but she was determined not to. It was as if a primordial instinct told her that the best way to comfort him was with her own body, with touch; stroking and holding, the way a mother would a child. In a way she could not explain she knew that his needing her and her giving him comfort was the most satisfying and fulfilling thing she had ever done, it felt so right.

Finally, when his body was almost still she heard him whisper, head still against her chest. “Thank you, thank you, I have not been held like that for such a long time. You have no idea just how good it felt, just to be held and safe.”

She whispered back, “It felt good to me too. I think, since the day I met you I have wanted to hold you like this, to feel your breath against my cheek. I am glad I have been able to give you comfort. I would give you more if I knew how. I want to help you, please tell me what I can do to help you?

It seemed to her as if those words broke the spell of togetherness enough for him to sit up. Slowly he straightened his body until he was sitting straight beside her. He took her hand in his and held it to his face. She felt the roughened stubble and felt a huge desire to caress his face. She rested her hand where he held it and then brought her other hand to his face on the opposite side, running it through his hair then caressing his cheek. With his free hand he reached behind her neck and brought her face to his until their noses were almost touching. Then, light as down, he kissed her on her lips. Her lips sought his out and she kissed him back. Now their mouths were joined in an incredibly tender kiss.

Finally he pulled back, looked at her, eyes bright as if with tears. He pulled her face onto his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and she wrapped hers around him and for a long time they sat there in wordless embrace, each drawing comfort from the other touching body.

She did not know how long had passed, minutes, hours, an unknown quantity. Finally she straightened, knowing the next step was hers to take.

She said, “I choose to stay with you tonight, to sleep with your body holding mine. But first I would have you tell me, what is this thing which troubles you so? It is something I need to know this if am to share your life, as if I were your wife.”

He looked at her, incredulous. “What is it you are saying?”

She replied; it was so simple in her mind. “I think we should married; that is if you want me.”

He said, “Of course I want you, I wanted you since the day you came into my bar and asked for a job, the forward, tipsy, but oh so beautiful girl in the school dress. When you came back the next day in that floral dress, I thought you were the loveliest sight I had ever seen.

“But I cannot understand why you would want me. Me, a broken down wreck of a man; a man of tortured dreams and flashbacks which haunt my days and destroy my nights. Why would you, a fresh and lovely rose of eighteen, want me, a worn out man who is almost twice your age?

She put a finger to his lips, then lay her head back against his chest. “I don’t know what it is that makes me want you, to be near you, to touch you like this. But it is what I want, it is right for me and it is right for you. We make each other happy and strong. That is much more than good.”

So Catherine stayed with him that night. They lay together on the couch, just holding each other and talking, sometimes sleeping, then waking and talking some more.

He told her the story of his life, his going to Vietnam and the horrors there, now the flashbacks and the nights when he relived it endlessly. He also told her of how the Americans had sprayed the forest to kill the leaves and how he had got sprayed too several times, his clothing drenched with foul smelling chemical, and how, after a few times, he got really sick, lying in bed and shaking for more than a week before he could walk again. They now said that some batches of the chemical were contaminated with a thing called dioxin which was much worse than the Agent Orange. He did not know if it was the effect of the chemicals or just all the horrors he had seen, little kids blown apart, women with pregnant bellies lying dead in the water, whole families huddled together in their huts killed when the shells struck, and his own best mate suddenly dead when a snipers bullet ripped into him.

Most especially he told her of a small Vietnamese girl, an orphan who had become his friend, an itinerant in their camp, how several times she had saved his life and those of his friends by giving him information that protected them. Then one day they had found her awfully mutilated body tied to the camp perimeter. It was clear they had tortured her in an awful way before she had died, they must have found she was an informer who helped him. Now her face and small mutilated body visited him in sleep and dreams along with the other horrors. Until recently he thought it was going away, now this year it had come back ever more.

He had been only twenty when he went to war and only there for three years before he was discharged as medically unfit, he had taken a piece of shrapnel in the hip, which gave him a limp, but really it was the shakes which finished him. They would come over him at times and no one could tell him the cause.

So he had come back to Sydney after his medical discharge and the army helped him to get an engineering degree and then a job in the Middle East and where he made really good money. He lived in an oil camp where his life was easy, all meals provided, just work he could do and which kept him occupied and that helped.

He had learned how to mostly live with the terrors and the shakes, though sometimes he had to stay in bed for a couple days until they passed. But he had thought he was getting better and, when he had come home to his mother, he had known he did not want to go back to a solitary life in an oil camp. While his mother lived it helped and things were better, though it had been terrible when she died and he was on his own again.

But after she had died he had pulled himself together and bought the hotel. As well as the money from his former work his mother had given him a modest inheritance and a house. So the house was security and the inheritance and other money paid the deposit for the hotel and the bank lent the rest, though he had to agree to take on the debts owed to various businesses around the area. He would not have wanted it any other way as most of them were people he knew who had advanced services and supplies in good faith, but it added to the burden of the loan.

He was gradually paying back the bank and the other businesses though it took half his takings, and the rest went to pay staff and buy the food and beer. But all had been going well except since Christmas when the shakes and terrors had returned in a big way. Now he was barely able to work and keep the books. So it was all going backwards which was another worry; the money was now getting wobbly again. Ella sort of knew and covered for him, not all the details, but a couple times she had found him shaking and had put an arm around his shoulders and made him a cup of tea, and that had helped. But it had never been as bad before as tonight when Catherine found him.

So he was not much of a catch, a broken man with a broken business which would shortly go back to the bank along with his house if he could not keep paying. Not that there was anything wrong with the business, just that the work and debt was slowly eating him up and it was beyond him to work if he could not sleep without dreaming nightmares, and then when he woke his body shook so much he could barely walk.

Catherine told him about her own life, her mother getting pregnant after being raped when fifteen, going first to Melbourne so that baby Catherine would not be taken away, then her mother having to work as a prostitute to feed them both, then having to run away again when the authorities in Melbourne wanted to take away her daughter. She told how her mother ran away again and came to Broome, of her being a little girl in Broome and being really happy with just her Mum and her friends as her mother made a success of her life, then the awful time when her Mum had run away again to the desert, how her car had broken down and they would have died of thirst until her childhood friend Sophie, whose room she stayed in now had come and rescued them. She told of her life with the aborigines, then of her new father Robbie, how he and her Mum had really rescued each other from themselves and the loneliness and of how happy they now were together.

She even told him about going out with Richard the two times last week and of what her Grandmother had said after, “It is good to know what is not right, then you will know when the right one comes along.”

So now she knew that she and Mathew were right together and that was all that mattered. Together they would make the business work. She told him that she had wanted to ask him about what course she should study and whether she could work part time to support herself. Now none of that mattered, maybe she would go to University later; for now she would work with him in the business until they got on top of their debts.

So by the end of the night it was agreed. They would get married as soon as it could be arranged and she would stay on with her Gran until then. After that they would live together in the house or maybe sell the house and fix up a room in the pub for a new home, it would be easier just to live there until it was making plenty of money.

In the early dawn they both fell into a deep sleep, and were only awoken when Ella came in to unlock for the day at ten o’clock. There heard her banging around out in the front, so Mathew went out to talk to her, to say he had fallen asleep on the couch.

As he came out Mathew saw Ella holding Catherine’s handbag and pointing to a till full of money, with her eyes raised in a question. He found himself laughing, he could not keep a secret from her direct stare and he was too happy to lie.

He said, “Catherine is sleeping on the lounge. She found me out the back last night, curled up and shaking. She stayed with me for the night. She is the loveliest girl and we are going to get married.”

Ella said, “Wow, that was fast. I could tell you both liked each other, but I would never have guessed that it would only take one day when it was just the two of you together before it happened. Still I am glad, really glad for you both.

“I have sometimes thought I should go into partnership with you in the pub, I know we could make it work. But my boyfriend would be too jealous and never agree. So I am really pleased she is the one. I think together you can make it work. I hope you will be happy together.

As she said this a bleary eyed Catherine walked out and came and put her arms around Mathew. Ella came over and they had a group hug.

Then Catherine said, “Maybe we should all be partners in making this pub work, I think that once we have cleared the debts there is plenty of money in it for us all to make a good living.”

In a flash Catherine knew clearly what she would do, she could feel her mother’s business brain kicking in along with all the little things her mother had taught her as a child; how to give others a share of the business and motivate them.

Ella looked at her strangely, “What do you mean?”

Catherine said, “Well my mother started her own business in Broome when she was fifteen, all on her own. By the time she was twenty one she owned three businesses and a warehouse with twenty staff. Those who had worked well for a couple years mostly shared the business profits. Her motto was a share for the business and a share for the workers.

“So I was thinking, you have worked hard to help Mathew make a success for a couple years, really it is you as much as him who has made it work so far. So perhaps we should formally give you a share, though of course it is not mine to give away but Mathew’s, but then if we are going to get married I suppose it will be both of ours.”

Mathew hugged her tight. “I can see why I want to marry you, it is that business brain I need.”

So over a cup of coffee in the kitchen it was agreed. If she worked for them and only took the drawings the business could afford until the debts were under control, in return she would take a twenty percent share of the profits, on top of her regular wage from the end of the year. And, who knew, but if the business was doing well next year maybe it could cover her to buy a pub of her own, that was Ella’s real ambition.

Mathew offered to write it out on a piece of paper. The other two shook their heads. “If we don’t trust each other the paper is worthless. If we do we don’t need the paper for now, later the bank and a solicitor can draw up whatever formal contracts we need.”

 

 

 

Chapter 8 – Wedding

 

The wedding of Catherine Renshaw and Mathew Jamison was planned for the first week of April. It was to be held in the church at the top of the hill in Balmain, the church where she and her Granny went and where Lizzie went as a child. For their honeymoon they were booked to go to Broome and out to the desert for a week to meet all Catherine’s aboriginal family and then to fly to Perth for a week where they stayed in a fancy hotel looking out over the Swan River, that was her Mum and Dad’s gift to them, along with ten thousand dollars to help get the business on more solid ground.

Catherine had been inclined to refuse the money but Mathew, after a private chat to Robbie about Catherine’s independence, just like Lizzie’s it was said, formed the view it was a good idea. So Mathew got Catherine’s agreement that it could be treated as a loan if she really wanted, paid back when the business was on more solid ground. It took the pressure off for the next few months and that was important for them both.

It had all happened so fast. That morning they walked back to tell her Gran. She had not been too surprised; it was funny how other people could see things one could not see. She said she had always liked Mathew since he was a boy, and with David gone away now it was like getting another son back into her family along with keeping her much loved Granddaughter nearby, so she was delighted. She said their difference in age was no one’s business but their own. If it did not matter to them why should it matter to anyone else.

Her Mum and Dad were a bit surprised, after all they had never met this man, though his name had come up around the dinner table over their holidays a couple times and they knew how his brother had been David’s best friend at school. So it was not like he was unknown. In fact he was one of the boys around Lizzie’s own age that she had known slightly as a child at school, but that was a life time ago.

When Cathy told her Mum he reminded her of her Dad, and she felt just the same way about him that Lizzie did about Robbie and vice versa, Lizzie knew there was no point arguing. Robbie had a natural affinity for Mathew as someone who had served in combat and been injured.

Two weeks after they made their announcement her Mum and Dad had flown back for an engagement party held in the hotel and Lizzie had stayed for an extra week to help her Grandma plan the wedding though the other children stayed at school in Broome.

Once they met Mathew they both liked him at once and agreed that as they had made up their minds they might as well just go ahead and get married. So, a mere six weeks and four days after that night when they decided, the wedding bells were ringing.

Robbie felt so proud bringing his daughter on his arm to the front of the church; she was sparkling and radiant in her white wedding gown. She had Lizzie’s intense eyes and searching look, but she had something all of her own, a more delicate look and a softness and roundness. Since first he had held her, he had felt enormous affection for this child.

He remembered that night when he had fallen in love with Lizzie, the first full night she had spent with him, only a couple weeks after they met. He remembered how Catherine, a tiny but perfect baby, lay sleeping in a crib in the corner of his room as he and Lizzie had loved each other in the night. He remembered how, in the early morning grey light, Cathy awoke making little baby sounds and Lizzie had stirred in her sleep, face beautiful with dark hair across the pillow. He could not bear to disturb her dream so he slid out of bed and took up this tiny child who had snuggled in to him, nuzzling with small gurgles as she searched for a breast.

So he had carried Catherine to the bed and placed her on her mother’s breast while Lizzie barely stirred. He had watched, absorbed by her simple baby world, as she drunk greedily and then fell asleep. Then he had placed her tiny body between theirs as they lay sleeping in Melbourne all those many years ago.

Then he remembered her when he returned to Lizzie in the desert, this solemn eyed girl of six, his instant ally and friend. She had claimed, not without some truth, that she had arranged for his return. He remembered the delight he felt on that first day when she had called him Dad, he the adopted father of a child who had known no father, and on that day he had promised himself he would do anything he could to be the best father of this child who had taken him into her heart as much as her mother had.

As the years had gone by she had alternated between calling him Robbie and Dad, but even to this day she mostly called him Dad, and every time she did it warmed something at his core.

Now she was all grown up but still so young and vulnerable. Here she was marrying a man that she said reminded her of him and he could understand why. Mathew was a bit broken inside the way Robbie had been until he had returned to Lizzie, not to mention they both walked with a limp, his from a motorbike accident and a leg rebuilt with bits of steel, Mathew from a piece of metal that had smashed part of his hip.

So, while it was not the glittering life for Cathy that he may have imagined, he knew that she had found a good man who shared his love and affection for his daughter, Cathy. When he saw Mathew look at her he remembered the love he had felt for Lizzie on the day they too had walked down the aisle of this same church. It was the love he still felt every time Lizzie smiled at him.

He knew they would try and make a good life together which was all that could be asked. So today he was glad for Catherine, as was Lizzie. Sometimes he felt that Catherine was too young for what she was taking on but, as Lizzie reminded him, she was only fifteen when she had made a life on her own and, compared to her, Catherine was positively grown up.

The ceremony was over all too soon, and then it was a reception in the local hall next to the church. It was filled to overflowing with the good people of Balmain, Lizzie had organised this with her typical efficiency. They had all agreed not to have the typical formal reception, but instead to have something like a drop in centre wedding reception after they had been inundated with requests from the town’s people to come and share a drink with their publican friend. It was hard to believe that so many people knew and liked Mathew. More than they could count offered to contribute towards an event where they could have a drink with him and give their well wishes, the local boy made good.

So, in the end, they decided that after the wedding service finished at about two o’clock, any friends who wanted could drop in for a drink and chat, with the service of copious food and drinks until 6 pm, when the immediate family would go for a small and intimate dinner.

It turned into a rowdy afternoon of good cheer as many came and went. A band played brackets of music from time to time and between people charged glasses, told stories of the Mathew they had known since a child of the streets, some added their own stories of Lizzie and other local identities, not to mention Patsy and other members of both families.

In the corner was a pile of presents, Lizzie had said she wanted no donations to the reception but those who wanted could leave a present for the couple, anything from a note and card to something more. Now a great pile filled the corner, bottles of spirits, household appliances, a wonderful old carved table and chairs, glasses, china, silverware, and so many cards, often with money folded inside. While no one had really been counting it seemed like three of four hundred people had come and gone as the afternoon unfolded and tomorrow they would need a truck to shift all the gifts. It was a wonderful celebration of the love of the town for one of its own; they took this couple to their hearts like a fairy tale story.

After they were married they stayed for three nights in the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney before flying to Broome with a night in Hotel Darwin. That night in Darwin they walked together around the town, down to the wharf with the boat wrecks still remaining from the bombing of the war, then back to the hotel where they shared a drink under the slow flap of the ceiling canvass fans.

Together in bed that night, Catherine traced the scarred outline of that wound on Mathew’s hip and his hand lingered over the naked curves of her own rounded hips and breasts. She felt indescribably happy, as if her whole life had been waiting for this time and this man, he had made her wait until the wedding night for their bodies to join which had driven her mad at the time, but now she was so glad.

Since that night when she first held him the tremors had almost gone away, just odd flashes in his dreams and he told her she had only to touch him and they would go away. Now, with their bodies joined, she was convinced she could draw all the poison from him and take it harmlessly away, put into a place where it could harm neither of them anymore. Already she was wanting for him to make a child inside her, a perfect formed expression of their love in new life.

 

 

 

Chapter 9 – A Business Together

 

Two months later Catherine knew she was pregnant; she thought it must have happened on her honeymoon as she had skipped the period which was due three weeks after they were married and now that over another month had gone by with still nothing, she was sure. She could feel the subtle changes that were happening inside her body, her nipples had enlarged and changed colour, her breasts were filling out and tingling, and sometimes in the morning she felt strangely unable to eat breakfast, though it always passed after an hour or two.

They were staying in Sophie’s room in her Gran’s place at the moment; they had sold the house in Rosser Street for a good price though the cheque was yet to come in. They had put the money from her Mum and Dad into building a two bedroom apartment for themselves in an upstairs corner of the hotel, having taking over three old and run down bedrooms, a lounge room previously used for paying guests and a bathroom. They were turning this space into their own place within the hotel. It had a door to the outside, down a rickety flight of backstairs and inside it would have a small kitchen dining room, a lounge room, a good sized bedroom for them and a second smaller bedroom which currently served as an office but which could become a child’s room in due course. They were also blocking off part of the back yard of the hotel next to the stairs up to their place into a small private courtyard so they could sit outside in privacy if they wanted to.

She and Mathew had drawn up the plans together, using graph paper to get the scale and had given these to a draftsman to turn into proper plans. Now the builders were at work. It would be finished in two more weeks and then they would move into their new home, it was partly convenience and partly economy that he led to the decision to live on the premises, it would save time, allowing them to devote their full energies to building up the business and they both liked the idea of it being their own new home, the place where they had first met, not the continued family home of another generation.

And freeing up the money by selling the house in Rosser Street would allow them to do both some much needed refurbishment of the rest of the hotel and to also pay down their debts with the bank, at least enough to give them a cost buffer so they did not have to worry each month whether they could afford the repayments.

Catherine knew that deep down Mathew was a bit sad on the day his family house had sold. But he told her he had no regrets as they could now build a new life together, which was better than keeping memories. From the old house they had taken as much of the furniture as they could use along with old pictures and other memorabilia. That way the memories from that house and his past life could still live on alongside the new ones they would create together.

Next month they would move into their own new house. Catherine loved her room and living with her Gran, and Mathew loved her Gran too, plus her food was fantastic, much better than Catherine’s limited ability though she was now getting Gran to teach her some favourite dishes.

But she could barely wait until they would really start a new life together, just the two of them living in their own new place. By early next year, please God, they would have a third life in their family to add to their own. There was a simple goodness to their life together which reminded her of living with her aboriginal family and friends out in the desert.

 

 

 

Chapter 10 – A Perfect Child

 

Two weeks after New Year celebrations Catherine gave birth to a little girl in Balmain hospital. Despite the convention this was women’s business she had insisted that Mathew was there to hold her hand during the labour, along with her Mum and Gran to add their own support. Mathew was the first to hold the baby, obviously nervous but very proud. After a few minutes, the baby was passed to Catherine to hold herself. She thought her little girl was just perfect, beautiful in every way, a bit of her, a bit of Mathew and a bit of something else which she could not identify, but the whole package was a new and wonderful person.

They had decided on the name Amelie, a French name which had been the name of an orphan girl in Vietnam who had attached herself to Mathew. At that time Mathew had promised himself if he ever had a girl child he would name it after this orphan waif, a bare eight years old, who had befriended him and then been so cruelly killed. Somehow the name suited their baby perfectly, from the minute she opened her eyes and first looked at them she had something of the waif like free spirit to her nature that he had remembered and described when he told Catherine the story. Catherine had added Elizabeth as her middle name, so as to carry on her own Mum’s name.

Mother and child came home to the hotel apartment after a week and life settled into an easy routine. They placed a cot next to their bed though for the first three months she often cuddled into bed with them; it was easier to feed her that way at night as Cathy only had to roll to the side to give her a breast.

Catherine was surprised how naturally and effortlessly she had settled into motherhood, perhaps it was the sense of practicality she had gained from her own mother, she enjoyed her baby but the child was easy and she did not feel the need to fuss over her, instead she loved her and gave her attention and still found time for her other life in the hotel. It was good to live and work in the one place, because she could work in the bar and, in a minute, if her baby cried, she could be upstairs to attend to her.

So weeks and then months drifted by, soon it was autumn and then winter, and then it was back into spring. By now little Amelie was crawling around, they had blocked off the stairs with a baby proof gate at the top.

Amelie particularly loved her Daddy, she was always crawling up to him and putting up her arms to be picked up, sometimes Catherine complained that he spoiled the child rotten as he would always stop whatever he was doing to bring her up and bounce her on his lap, or carry her tucked into one arm as he worked with the other.

Amelie was very friendly and all the bar staff and the regular patrons clearly had a soft spot for her, though once the bar got busy after the mid-afternoon she was always confined to the upstairs to keep her away from people’s feet. Now she was learning to stand up and pull herself around the furniture. When she wanted something she would crawl to the top of the stairs, pull herself up and shout out to those below, using her baby talk, until someone came to attend to her.

Her first birthday was planned as an occasion of local celebration, following just after the New Year festivities had passed and the town returned to its normal quieter pace. They decided to hold the party in the big courtyard in the back of the hotel. They invited all their staff, selected customers who had become family friends and some of their friends from the other small businesses from around Balmain, those who supplied services like the plumber and electrician and others who found time to pop in for a friendly chat and occasional drink.

Gran Patsy, Lizzie, Robbie and her brother and sister were not there as they had all gone to Melbourne this year to stay at Robbie’s Mum’s place for Christmas and now they were all back in Broome. But in two weeks’ time Catherine and Mathew were flying to Broome for their first well deserved holiday since their marriage.

Catherine particularly wanted to take Amelie into the desert and introduce her to all her black aunts and uncles, let them give her the allotted skin name and incorporate her into her tribal family.

At the party Amelie ran around endlessly, like an unexploded missile, chasing other children and anything that took her fancy, barely stopping to eat, but with a smile which covered her whole face. She was full of chatter though the words were simple, Ma-ma-ma, Da-da-da-da, doggie-doggie, puddytat, me-me-me, Amelie.

 

 

 

Chapter 11 – A Busy Year

 

On returning from their holiday Catherine plunged herself back into work. She loved it but it was frenetic. After deciding for the last two years to defer her studies at University due to the need to get the pub back on its feet and also with a new baby, she found this year she really wanted to get on with this part of her life. She could also see how a business qualification would help, not only with their own business, but also with helping Ella get her own new business up and running.

By the end of the first year before Amelie was born the hotel was making a solid profit after all expenses. That year it had been a pleasure for her and Mathew to give Ella a big Christmas bonus out of the profit pool, and this along with the twenty percent of the profits that Ella was drawing from their business had meant that she was now in a strong position to look for a business of her own.

Ella had spent several months investigating a range of options, being mainly interested in something down the far end of Rozelle close to Victoria Road. The customers up there would be different and so it would take little business away from their hotel, but it was also close enough to share staff if desired, do joint promotions, combine orders, and get other efficiencies of having two businesses working in the same general area.

Finally she found the place that suited. They all visited for an inspection and agreed was just right. It needed a “freshen up” but that could happen in time, and it was in a good location with regular custom from the Iron Cove dockside. So they signed all the papers.

This time Cathy and Robbie’s hotel had a 20% stake in Ella’s business in return for providing a bank guarantee to cover her loan through their own business. After the first year when it was up and running and the guarantee was no longer needed they would then take a 20% share of the profits in the same way that Ella was taking her share from their business. In due course, if they wanted, they could exchange their shares, to give each party full ownership. At this stage they each liked the connection to the other that their share gave and the combined business structure seemed to be an overall benefit to both. Plus they had all become such close friends that it was nice to see each other regularly and do at least a weekly shifts in each other’s pubs.

Now that Catherine had got her teeth into business management she found an insatiable desire to know more and use this knowledge to build up and expand the business. She realized she was her mother’s daughter. All her early life lessons about how to run a business that made a profit, looked after its workers and, with time, gain security, had become her own mantra as much as it had been her mother’s before her.

So now she enrolled in a part time Commerce Degree which began at the start of March. With it she not only had a daughter to look after and a hotel to manage but lessons to go to and study and assignments to do when she came home. She loved it all but there were just not enough hours in the day to get it all done, though she gave it her best shot.

Now they had an elderly lady, a local Grandmother, who came in two afternoons and evenings to mind Amelie from when the hotel became busy and Mathew was needed down stairs. As well as this Gran Patsy came one afternoon and evening to take a turn minding their child. She offered to do more but Cathy resisted, saying they wanted to see her lots but not just to do work for them, but rather to enjoy her company. So alternate weeks she came for Sunday evening dinner and the opposite weeks they went to her place for Sunday lunch. But these days, each Wednesday were her Gran’s own time alone with her own great granddaughter both seemed to love this time and would often go off together, sometimes walking the town or going to a park, other times visiting other people her Gran knew.

Three nights a week she had University and on those nights Mathew would eat a meal cooked in the restaurant and put Amelie to bed. Then when she got home she would peep in and, if Amelie was still awake, she cuddled into bed with her for a few minutes and told her a story.

More often than not she fell asleep alongside her until Mathew woke her when it was time for them both to come to bed. Then mostly she stumbled into their own bed and fell back into her dreams with barely a word exchanged. More often than not Amelie also came into bed with them at some stage so her kicking and moving about would then break up their sleep. So their love life suffered with Amelie sharing the bed and with her own tiredness, but she had promised Mathew that before long they would all go away together for a holiday and then she would make it up to him. They still had luxurious Sunday mornings to sleep in together and on waking refreshed to reconnect their bodies and minds. The rest of the time they just had to manage as best they could.

 

 

 

Chapter 12 – More Tremors

 

Eighteen months had passed since their baby was born and for Catherine it was hard to believe life could get any better. Sure it was busy, with a small child, now a toddler, who was always under her feet. That plus the business meant she was run off her feet most of the day, not to mention her study. But she was happy, unbelievably happy. She felt like her life had discovered a real purpose, their days were full, the business turnover had increased by a third in the past year and they were more than half way through paying their bank loan down to zero.

Ella and she continued as the best of friends. Ella was now talking about getting married to her own man, which was something that Cathy was unsure of, worried that he had a possessive edge that could turn to jealousy and even violence, but that was Ella’s business.

But Ella’s hotel was starting to make serious money and Ella still worked one or two nights a week here to keep in touch, the quiet nights at her own hotel when her regular bar manager could cover it on his own. On one of those nights each week Cathy, Mathew and Ella would share the bar work along with doing their joint books as it gave a good chance for them all to keep across both businesses. Ella was now taking a regular wage out of the other business and combined with the twenty percent of the profits from this place she had a useful pool of her own money to put back into her own pub, which was now being gradually refurbished, one room at a time, so it did not affect turnover.

Cathy had worked out they could even look at getting a third place, a joint venture between their business and Ella’s if they wanted. She was undecided, Ella was keen, but Mathew was more cautious, knowing how close he had come to the wall before Cathy had come into his life.

But she and Ella had done the sums and worked out that with the extra turnover the two places were generating they could let the debt go up by half, using this money to establish the third business. They could still cover repayments comfortably on this increased debt from the takings of the first two hotels while the next one got going. In the end, after Mathew had gone carefully through all the figures which she and Ella had worked up, he gave qualified agreement; “only for the right place at the right price which we all like.” So when that right place was found it would go ahead.

Toddler Amelie was delightful, a chattering ball of activity, trouble with a capital T. She had everyone charmed, the customers, the staff, their friends. Mathew sometimes complained that she had so many aunts and uncles she barely knew he was her father, though she always knew who was her mother. But it was good humoured banter and, when Amelie sat on his lap, pulling his hair and chanting “Da, Da, Da,” Catherine could see he was as happy as she.

One night in July, a cold night, they decided to try Amelia in her own room for the whole night. They wanted the more peaceful sleep that came when she did not spend half the night in their bed kicking them. Their love life had suffered a lot in the last few months from a third person in the bed and Cathy was feeling it was time to try for a second baby, not that she did not have enough else going on in her life, but she loved being a mother as well and she loved the mind image of herself and Mathew with a whole tribe of kids.

Since Amelie had been fully weaned, six months ago, she had expected to fall pregnant, but not so far. They both had to admit that coming to bed late and tired often meant they just fell asleep, so perhaps they had not managed to get the timing to coincide with her fertile period, at least not just yet.

But she felt ready now for another baby, in fact she would not mind twins, now that her life was getting settled into a comfortable though busy routine. So tonight they had both agreed that they would ignore any grizzling and crying from Amelie for at least half an hour before they gave in to her and let her come in with them.

Their lovemaking was wonderful and it felt so good to fall asleep just cuddling each other without a baby pushing in. Catherine fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. She awoke to noise and movement. She realised Mathew was tossing restlessly and talking in his sleep, muttering the words “No, No, No,” and shaking his head. She pushed her body into his and, when he did not settle, she woke him up. He looked at her blearily.

You were dreaming she said, it must have been one of those bad dreams because you kept saying the words, “No, No, No.”

He said, “I don’t remember anything. It is ages since I remember a bad dream, not since I started sharing my nights with you.”

There was a muted light from the street coming in the window from a gap in the curtains. He was between her and the window, in the shadows. The light was shining on her skin, glowing faint, luminous white where the covers had come off leaving her naked body exposed.

She felt his eyes turn to her, looking intently at her body in the soft light. She felt exposed and vulnerable in this light. But she could feel the sight of her body arousing him, and she loved the hard feeling as he pushed his body over and into hers. Now all false modesty vanished in the physical contact of their lovemaking. Later, as he returned to sleep, she lay there stroking his hair in the soft light feeling so replete with their passion. Her body felt very ripe tonight and she wondered if he had just created a new life within her. It was a wonderful thought. She fell asleep again and did not wake until bright winter sunlight was streaming into the room.

A week passed and then another with life continuing on its peaceful path. It was now August and the late winter flowers were starting to show, the cherry tree behind the hotel was a mass of buds, the promise of new life. She was almost certain that there was a new life growing inside her. Not that anything was showing and her periods were barely overdue, but a sixth sense said it was so.

Mathew had a couple more bad dreams in fact, if she thought about it, they were probably happening most nights and each was similar to the first. They had passed in the same way as the first and each dream was followed by more waking lovemaking so it was almost pleasure to wake him in anticipation of what followed. Yet the pattern was strangely disturbing to her, as if a beast inside him refused to stay quiet and was now waking.

Another two weeks passed. Now she was really sure she was pregnant. She told Mathew and Ella. Both professed delight, though Mathew did qualify it with. “You are busy enough with one child, how will you go with two and still have time for me. I fear our lovemaking will again be the casualty.”

She knew it was good humoured banter, but yet there was an edge to it she had not heard before. She hugged herself to him, “Oh Mathew, there will always be time for you. You are the centre of my life, the one who brings me the most joy and makes it all worthwhile.”

He hugged her back. “I know; it is just all too perfect. Sometimes I think we have got too busy to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes I think there must be a shadow in the deep waiting to come and spoil it.”

She refused to countenance anything that could shatter this perfection. Yes, she was often so frenetically busy and would come to bed tired. But her mind was so full of good ideas that she just could not let go and these had to be acted upon before they vanished. It would be fine.

A month later she was tidying away at the bar, mid-afternoon, alone by herself. Amelie was sleeping in the bedroom, Mathew out collecting orders and Ella was inspecting another hotel that may be suitable. Only three customers were in the bar, sitting in a corner table.

She started to feel twinges of discomfort in her lower belly. She wondered if she had eaten something bad for lunch, it was like a low grade tummy upset. But then, as she thought more about it, she realised it had been there for a couple days and she had been ignoring it. She remembered this morning, holding a struggling Amelie as she had kicked hard against her belly and it had hurt, hurt a lot. Perhaps it was that, the kick, but she did not think so. She was almost sure it had been there, just at the edge of her awareness for a couple days now.

In a flash, a violent surge of pain swept over her. Her hands went to her belly; it hurt so much she could barely breathe as if she was buried under a huge pain wave which would drown her. It eased off a bit, and she straightened, supporting herself against the bar.

She realised she must have groaned out loud, the three men in the corner table were gazing at her with concern.

One spoke out, “You OK, love?”

She was about to say, “Yes fine,” when another, even more violent, pain spasm gripped her. She heard herself cry out; she could not stand and she fell to the floor. She heard the sound of running feet but was lost in a world of pain.

One of the men from the corner was standing over her, reaching down for her, looking uncertain. The pain began to recede, she found her voice, “I think it is passing now, but would you ring for a doctor please.”

Two of the men took her arms, one at each side and led her to a lounge chair against the wall. They eased her in, half sitting, half slumped. The pain was coming in waves now, so severe she could barely breathe. Each time she would make little cries that she could not stop. Then it would ease off and she could draw a few breaths before it returned.

She heard one of the men saying that an ambulance was on its way. She asked one man to go up to the bedroom and bring down Amelie; she would have to come with her to hospital as she could not be left alone in her room. Then two ambulance officers were in the room, loading her onto a stretcher.

The man returned with her crying baby, unhappy to be woken from sleep. She told the ambulance officers, when she could speak between bursts of pain, that her baby needed to come with her. She tried to comfort Amelie, but it was beyond her, as each time the pain came she would cry out. In the end she asked the man who seemed to be having the most success calming Amelie to come with her in the ambulance to hospital while the others stayed to let Mathew know.

She felt a prick in her thigh as one of the ambulance officers gave her a needle to ease the pain. Gradually it faded into a more blurry place. She realised they were driving through the town. Then she recognised that they were wheeling her into the Emergency Department of Prince Alfred Hospital. Then doctors and nurses were checking her, poking and prodding and discussing what it could be and the tests the needed to run.

Now it was off to the X-ray Department to try and take a picture of her belly, see whether she had gall stones or some other cause. Somewhere during it all she was joined by Mathew, now holding Amelie, his face white with worry. They had connected her to a drip now with a morphine infusion so it was hard to think straight but the pain was still there. At last, X-rays done, she realised they were talking about her with Mathew and discussing what they should do.

The gist of it was there was something significantly wrong in her lower abdomen, probably not gall stones, but kidney or bladder stones were possible. They also knew she was pregnant and said it could be something to do with this, or maybe acute appendicitis. Because the pain was so severe and they could not get a definite diagnosis from the other tests they were now saying they needed to do an exploratory laparotomy, to cut her belly open, to find and fix the problem.

She did not like the sound of it but realised they had no choice; the pain had to be fixed. She nodded, showing she agreed, and Mathew signed a consent form. They gave her another injection to make her even more sleepy. Soon she was given a mask of a funny smelling gas to make her go to fully to sleep. That was when her memory stopped.

She woke up feeling like her head was full of cotton wool. There was a diffuse pain across the bottom of her belly but the sharp pain was gone. She pushed her eyelids open, she felt incredibly tired.

Mathew was sitting beside her bed, looking at her with a mix of affection and worry. She caught his eyes and managed a smile which he returned.

He took her hand. “It is so good to see you awake and smiling. I have been worried sick about you, though the surgeon and the other doctors kept trying to assure me that you would be alright. Now that your eyes are open and I see your smile I can believe them. How do you feel?”

“Like my head is full of cotton wool and the bottom of my tummy is still hurting, but at least the sharp pain has gone,” she replied. “Can you tell me what happened, was it something about the baby. Did I have a miscarriage?”

Mathew looked at her seriously and nodded. “Yes it was about the baby, something like what you said, not a miscarriage but something similar. I don’t quite understand. They said it was an ectopic pregnancy, the baby was growing in the wrong place, at the very top of what they called your tube and it had died, so they had to operate and take it out, as well at ovary and that part of your tube. But they say you should still be able to have other babies from your other ovary as that side is normal.

“I don’t care about that, I just care that you are OK, they said it had just burst when they took you to theatre and you had a big bleed, and for a while it was touch and go. I could not bear to lose you. You mean the whole world to me.”

As it sunk in Catherine felt an awful empty feeling, she had a new life before which she had loved growing inside her and now it was gone. She knew it was tiny and she had not really known it, yet she felt unbelievably sad that it was gone without her ever knowing this person. She could feel tears running down her cheeks.

She put out her arms like a baby, wanting to be comforted, and Mathew enclosed her in an embrace, stroking her hair and murmuring words to her like she had to him when they first come together. The terrible ache of loss remained but she felt comforted.

She looked up and asked, “Where is Amelie?”

He answered. “I asked your Grandmother to take her home and mind her. They had to take you back to theatre a second time to stop the bleeding. So it is hours since you came here. Amelie and your Gran both stayed with you and me until about an hour ago, but it was getting very late and Amelie was tired and cranky. So, once the surgeon had finished and they brought you into recovery and we all knew you would be OK, I asked Patsy if she would take Amelie home and care for her this evening and I would ring later once you woke up properly.

Catherine nodded, she felt drained now that she knew the story; she felt sad and too tired to think. She kept hold of Mathew’s hand saying, “Thank you for telling me. I am so tired I don’t think I can stay awake much longer. But please stay with me. I don’t want to be by myself tonight.”

He nodded, “Of course, I had never dreamed of leaving until you were better, so tonight I will mind you, just the same as you once minded me.”

She smiled a little smile and fell into a deep sleep. He sat holding her hand as the clock’s hands moved slowly through the night. A couple times she half woke. Each time when she looked up and saw him sitting there she smiled and drifted back to sleep.

Mathew was tired but did not care; he knew he had almost lost her today. He was going nowhere without her and was determined to mind her better from here on.

 

 

 

Chapter 13 – Beginning Again

 

In the morning when Catherine woke up she saw Mathew was sleeping. His body was sitting on the bedside chair bed with his head slumped on the bed and touching her side. She fondly ran her fingers through his hair. She felt weak and tired but mostly glad to see him, to know he was still here and sleeping beside her. She could not wait to see her daughter again as well, her bright smile and her bubbling chatter.

There was a hole inside her from her loss, but she knew it was a small thing besides what she had, her husband and daughter who loved her as much as she loved them, and a solid family as well, all of whom she loved and loved her in equal measure.

In this place she saw clearly now that the life she still had was a gift that must never be wasted. It was no great insight, just an everyday appreciation, but she knew it was something she must never lose sight of.

As she idly stroked Mathew’s hair she saw his eyes begin to flicker and then he was awake, looking at her dreamily. “I just had the most beautiful dream,” he said, “It was about you and how much I loved you and how lucky I am.”

“I was thinking just the same. “Thank you for staying all night with me, in that uncomfortable chair.”

It was four days until she was able to get up and walk around and another day until they let her out of hospital. Her tummy was still tender where they had cut her and stitched her back up but it was healing well, and she was still pasty and weak on her feet from the blood loss. But she was recovering well. For the next week after she was home she was under strict doctors instructions to rest up, no sudden jerks of movements which might tear her stitches. It made her be patient, which was hard once she felt better, but it gave her time to think.

She realised she had started to let the business of her life consume her, trying to do so much to make a success of the business that some of the good things in her life were in danger of slipping away. But it was her warning she would heed it and slow down a bit, make sure there was more time for Mathew and Amelie, not be in such a desperate hurry to both get the business making lots of money while trying to have another baby at the same time, instead she must fully enjoy what she had now.

She remembered the story Lizzie had told her of how her own Mum had been desperate to have another baby and had started to forget about the child and husband she had already and what a high price had been paid for that. Not that this person that Lizzie had told her about seemed at all like her Gran now, she was so wise and patient, but then that character had of course come at a huge cost.

She was determined to try and learn her lesson without causing more harm. So she forced herself to slow down, they organised picnics at the weekend, often just the three of time at the beach or the park, sometimes with her Gran or others they knew, particularly those with their own small children. She finished painting their rooms, she bought furnishings that she and Mathew chose together to make their place nice, she tried to make sure they ate dinner at a regular hour and there was always good food on hand, she pampered her husband in lots of little ways.

But as time went by it was hard to maintain their slow and relaxed life, now Ella’s own hotel was getting busier and busier and there was so much to do at this one. And Mathew had insisted that she not abandon her studies, he said she was way too bright to waste her brain on just being a hotel manager or his wife. So, even though she had dropped the studies for the rest of this year once she had lost her baby, from next year she would continue her part time course at University.

Now Amelie was almost two and Christmas was coming. All her family was flying to Sydney for the Christmas holidays and she was so looking forward to seeing them all, her brother and sister were starting to sound so grown up when they talked on the phone, her brother Michael was now fourteen and her sister Emily was twelve. Soon they would be sent off to school too, though now her parents were talking of moving to a big city to live while the other children finished school, perhaps Perth, or even Sydney or Melbourne. She did not want that as it would break the link with her desert home, but it was not really up to her.

Christmas came round and it was wonderful, the first year Amelie really knew what presents were and everyone had spoilt her rotten. Her father had bought her a red car with pedals, a strange present for a girl, Catherine thought. Mathew said he had always wanted a car just like that when he was really little, because one of his friends had one and he would only let him drive it sometimes. So now the red car had been hidden away in the cupboard until Christmas morning, well almost.

Three nights before Christmas, after Amelie was supposed to be asleep in her bed, with Cathy’s mother, father, brother and sister all sitting round in their apartment. Mathew had brought out the car to show everyone. He could not help it because he loved it so much himself, shiny red with flashing headlights.

As they were all sitting round and admiring it a little voice came from behind. “Car, Red Car.” There was Amelie, standing in the door, eyes wide open and looking rapturously at the car. She toddled over and, without a second glance at anyone, climbed in and started to pedal, whooping with delight. Mathew covered his face with pretend horror that he had not closed her bedroom door properly.

But there was no undoing it, she loved her car.

Once she was back in bed the car went back into the cupboard, hidden out of sight.

Amelie came running out first thing next morning looking, “Car, Car, Red Car, Where Car? Car Gone. Where Car Gone?”

Mathew and Cathy pretended not to notice. After a long while of her walking around and looking everywhere Amelie finally gave a defeated shrug and said. “Car Gone.”

On Christmas morning there was a huge object, wrapped in paper, sitting under the tree. At first Amelie did not want to go near it, as if scared it would bite her. Instead she opened and played with her other presents, “Santy brought me dolly, Santy brought me dress.”

Mathew brought her to the car. He asked “Who is this present for?”

She shook her head, not knowing.

He found the card on it with her name, “It says Amelie, I wonder who Amelie is?

She pointed to herself, still looked uncertain.

“What do you think it is?” he asked.

She shook her head.

He asked, “Do you want to open it.”

She shook her head again.

He lifted her right next to it and put her hand on it.

She looked nervous as if she wanted to pull her hand back. But then something curious must have tripped in her brain. She started to feel it intently. “Car,” she said. Now she was tearing off the paper. Then, “Red Car, Santy bring back Red Car.”

Beaming delight Amelie tore free the wrappings and climbed inside.

Now she would not get out, it was so precious and she was scared it might disappear again. She ate her breakfast sitting in it and when it came time to get dressed and go to church, she had to be pried, crying and holding tightly to the steering wheel, out of it.

When she came home, after church, she was so delighted that the car was still there. After that it became like the new house she lived in, though now she came and went secure in the knowledge it would not vanish again.

As Catherine thought back on it on New Year’s Eve, she knew that this was one of the most wonderful times in her life which she must never forget. She now had a photo of Amelie sitting proudly in her red car. It sat in pride of place on their mantel piece. She made herself a promise that she would try to make the next year the best year of all their lives.

 

 

 

Chapter 14 – The Birthday Girl

 

January 14th was Amelie’s birthday and all the family had stayed on in Sydney for the occasion when their daughter turned two.

It was still hard to separate her from her car, so, as a present, Mathew and Robbie, with help from Michael, built her a house, like an oversize dolls house. It was big enough for her to drive the car into and park inside. It had a front door that looked like a real house door but was six inches taller than she was. So she could walk through it without banging her head, and it was wide enough to drive the car in and out with a few inches to spare. The top level was like a regular dolls house with places for dolls furniture and with doll sized doors and windows which opened and shut and which she could reach from her bed.

The three of them had worked for many hours over the last week to create all the pieces, then assemble them to test that they fitted together. After that they pulled them all apart and painted them in bright colours. During the night, as Amelie lay sleeping, they carefully assembled it in the lounge room and carried it into the bedroom; it had only just fitted through the door.

They had part covered it in wrapping paper, so it was clear it was a present and put the car inside the underneath, but left the door open enough so that when she woke up she could see it was inside. They had all come over for early breakfast, no one wanting to miss the moment of discovery. They sat quietly in the kitchen, drinking cups of tea and waiting for Amelie to wake.

She normally woke about seven in the morning so they were there in good time and just starting on a second cup when the patter of little feet was heard. Silence, then the sound of paper tearing, then “House, Car House, Santy Bring House for Car, Mummy and Daddy, Santy Bring House for Car.”

They all trooped in and watched her drive the car in and out of the house, beaming with delight.

At 3 pm there was a party with four of her friends in the local park down at East Balmain with a view out to the Harbour Bridge. Michael and Emily were the stars of the party, given the job of entertaining two other little girls and two little boys all around Amelie’s age that she knew from playgroup. They set up a splash pool and a bouncing castle full of air for the children to play on. After that there were lots of lollies and drinks and a birthday cake with two big candles which Amelie blew out, one at a time. The adults, including the other parents and a few close friends, stood around sipping champagne and beer and enjoying the view on a perfect summer’s day as boats in the harbour drifted past their view and the ferries came and went.

When they carried Amelie home in the dusk she was so tired she could barely walk but said, “Mummy and Daddy, thank you for best, best bird day party.”

 

 

 

Chapter 15 – Lumps

 

Next day Amelie was really tired and slept in until mid-morning. Cathy was not surprised after the huge day she had had yesterday. Most of the family had arranged a boat and gone fishing in the harbour, it had become something of an annual event as they had done it last year too when they had gone on a holiday to Broome.

Robbie and Mathew had both loved to fish as kids and so today they had taken Emily and Michael out in a fishing boat, trying various spots around the harbour where Mathew had fished with his own father when little. Patsy had gone along too as she loved going out and about and also having time alone with her other grandchildren. So it was just Lizzie and herself at home.

Catherine was secretly pleased. She had been so close to her Mum when she was little, she the only child of a single parent. While it was lovely to have everyone around, sometimes she just wanted time alone with her Mum. So far these holidays there had not been much of that.

They sat around the kitchen table eating slices of toast and honey and drinking endless cups of tea as they chatted and the morning drifted by. By about ten o’clock, with Amelie still sleeping, Catherine decided it was time to wake her, as the two of them wanted to walk down town and do some shopping and then have lunch together in an outdoor café.

She went in to look at her daughter, she was still sleeping soundly. She stroked her tousled hair, strangely reluctant to disturb her beautiful sleep. She saw Amelie had little discoloured blotches on the skin of her cheeks, she looked at them more closely, she supposed they were just from the inevitable summer stings and mossie bites that were inflicted on them all, particularly Amelie where all the bites still came up in lumps. She smoothed her hair back to look better, they were a funny colour for bites, she pushed back her lip and looked at the baby gums; they were a funny colour too and had bruised looking places, like bloodspots, on them here and there. It did not seem right.

She called in her Mum and showed her.

Lizzie looked closely, uncertain too.

Now Amelie was stirring, she sat up and rubbed her eyes sleepily. “Mummy I feel a bit sick,” she said.

Catherine picked her up, she noticed there were little lumps under her arms, she could not remember them being there yesterday, but come to think of it for the last couple days she had barely held her little girl, there were so many helpers.

Perhaps she was coming down with one of those common children’s complaints, like chicken pox or mumps, she recalled that mumps caused lumps under the chin and arms and seemed to recall that other kids sicknesses did the same, it was something about lymph glands there reacting and getting enlarged. Perhaps that was it; she was coming down with something like that.

She did seem a bit flushed this morning, she cuddled Amelie to her, she did not feel like she was running a temperature but it was hard to tell, she was still warm from her bed.

Catherine said to her Mum, Will you have a look at this, she seems to have lumps under her arms, perhaps she is coming down with something, like chicken pox or mumps.

Her Mum took Amelie and felt under her arms then around her neck, nodding, “Yes definitely she seems to have enlarged glands, probably as you say a virus. I think they vaccinate for mumps these days so probably not that, but there are lots of other things they get when they are little.

“Anyway let’s give her breakfast and see how she is, perhaps a quiet day for her is in order. If she does not spark up we should take her to the doctor.”

Amelie did not eat much breakfast then she said she was tired again so Catherine put her back to bed and suggested her Mum go for a walk down the street and bring back something for lunch.

An hour later Lizzie was back, carrying a couple containers of delicious smelling Chinese food for them to share. The aroma wafted through the apartment and woke Amelie who sat up on a stool and joined them in the meal. At first she seemed to eat well but about half way through she said. “Mummy, I feel sick again.”

Lizzie looked up, “Time for a doctor’s visit I think.”

Catherine nodded and went and picked up the phone. She got an appointment in an hour’s time. It was only a hundred yards walk down the street so the two of them went together, Lizzie carrying a shopping basket to buy some food for dinner while Catherine carried Amelie. After a few minutes wait the doctor, a pleasant young man, invited them in.

They gave him a brief history, saying maybe she had a kid’s bug.

He asked a few questions, how long she had been showing signs and any other symptoms? Then he lifted Amelie onto the table to examine her. As he carefully looked over Amelie his demeanour changed from casual to worried looking. He was very thorough and checked everything over and then he went over her a second time, looking particularly carefully in her mouth, as well as palpating the glands all over her body. This time he was writing notes as he went, keeping his face fixed on the page until he was finished before he looked up.

He tried to smile, but there was no hiding the anxiety in his manner.

Catherine could feel her heart pounding, What could it be? Amelie had seemed so well yesterday. But of course the excitement of a birthday for a two year old made that hardly surprising. Come to think of it though, she had not eaten much, though she had put that down to the excitement of the day.

The doctor seemed to be gathering his thoughts and his words. “I am concerned about your daughter; it could be, as you say, a virus like chicken pox or mumps, though she has had her shots. But there are other things, symptoms like the blotches on her gums and she has enlarged white tonsils which do not really fit. So, I would like to take some blood and do some tests before we go any further, if that is OK. I most want to see what her white blood cell count is. That will help me know what to do next.”

Catherine could feel panic rising, she did not like the ominous way he was speaking. It was his manner more than his words that set the alarm bells ringing. She tried to ask what it could be.

But the doctor, while not exactly refusing to answer, said. “I would really like to get the results of the blood test before we discuss what could be the problem.”

So he arranged for a nurse to come in and take a blood sample. The nurse gave Amelie a lolly to suck and asked Catherine hold her tight while she did her job. Lizzie pulled funny faces to make her laugh and that helped. Amelie cried a little from the needle, but then she was very proud when they put a band aid on her arm and told her how brave she was.

The doctor said he would look at a blood smear this afternoon and he should have the rest of the results by tomorrow, saying, “I will telephone you when I have looked this afternoon. It should be about half past five.”

Catherine felt sick with worry and she could tell from the strain on her mother’s face that Lizzie was feeling something similar. They decided they would treat Amelie to an ice-cream, a treat for being so brave. Now she was jumping with delight as if nothing could possibly be the matter. They both agreed that she suddenly did not look sick at all, but somehow neither believed she was magically better. They both tried to block the anxiety from their minds but it was no use.

Catherine finally said, “Oh Mum, there is something about the way that the doctor talked, after he looked at Amelie, that makes me feel sick to the bottom of my stomach, I am just so, so scared.”

Her Mum said nothing but came and hugged her tightly, saying, “We have got through bad things together before. So now, whatever it is, we have to do the same. We must try and help each other be brave.”

Catherine nodded, feeling tears prick her eyes. They walked aimlessly along the street for a while and ended up taking Amelie to the park down near the school where there were some swings and roundabouts and a few other little children, as it gave something to distract Amelie and keep them from their worry.

Now Amelie was yawning and looking tired again so they brought her home and tucked her into bed. There was no protest and that was also unusual, she rarely went to bed willingly.

In Catherine the sinking feeling grew even stronger. She just knew there was something seriously wrong with her little girl though she had no idea what it could be and could not bear to even let herself think about it. So she sat on her bed, in a mind numbed state, until finally a noise from downstairs alerted her that the others were home.

They had a great day out fishing and carried a booty of several fish they all proudly displayed. It was only after five minutes that Mathew said, “Where is my little girl?”

Catherine found herself unable to speak, she looked at Mathew with imploring eyes as if wishing she could stop him from knowing and at the same time hoping she could make it all alright.

Finally Lizzie spoke, rescuing the silence. “She is sick and sleeping. We are both actually quite worried about her. We took her to the doctor after lunch.”

Mathew frowned and looked puzzled, “But she was bright as a button and so full of life yesterday. How can it be something too bad, or if it is she should be in hospital. Tell me what happened.”

Now Catherine found her voice, knowing that it was up to her to explain. “When we took her to the doctor I thought she might be coming down with chicken pox or mumps of something like that. She was very tired this morning and did not want to eat. Then I saw funny blotches on her skin and gums and she had lumps under her arms.

“So we took her to the doctor, thinking he would say she was just coming down with a virus. At first, when he looked at her, it was like he thought that too. But then, as he looked more closely, you could see his manner change. You could tell he was worried too, he took some blood to do some tests, and said he should have some first results about five thirty.

“I have been thinking since that if it is not clear what the problem is maybe we should bring her up to hospital where they can treat her with antibiotics and fluids and things like that.

“After we brought her to the doctor we gave her an ice cream which she ate happily and then we took her to play in the park. But after a little while you could tell she was tired and so I brought her home and put her back to bed and she has stayed there ever since. I was sitting in there with her when you came home and she stayed fast asleep. It is amazing that she has not woken up with all the noise.”

As she finished speaking she heard a little noise. There was Amelie standing at the door with her arms up. “Mummy and Daddy I feel sick.”

Mathew was closest and scooped her up in his arms. The way he hugged her, so tenderly, almost brought tears to Catherine’s eyes.

Please God, she prayed in her mind, let my little girl be OK, not just for her sake but for mine and most of all for Mathew’s. He loves her so much and I cannot bear it for him if anything bad was to happen to her.

It was like she could suddenly see this huge shadow sitting, not just over her but over him as well.

At that moment the phone in the hall rang, starting them all. It was only just coming up to five o’clock and seemed too early.

Mathew handed Amelie to Cathy and went to pick up the phone. She realised it was the doctor as Mathew spoke, “Hello Doctor Roberts, Yes it is Mathew here. My wife, Catherine, brought our little girl, Amelie, to you today to look at. Do you have some results of the tests?”

There was silence, all they could do was watch Mathew’s face, and slowly a glassy and shocked look came over it as he listened. Finally he put down the phone, saying, “Yes we will do that straight away.”

Catherine tried to connect with his eyes but all she could see was shock in them. She asked, “What did he say?”

Mathew shook his head, as if trying to clear his own thoughts enough to speak. “He did not say anything specific really; again it was what he did not say.

“He said he has some initial blood results and they are of very serious concern and he would like us to both bring Amelie down to the hospital where he will meet us. He has arranged for a specialist and him to meet us there at half past five, so the specialist can examine Amelie too and give his own opinion. He also said he thinks it will be best if Amelie comes into hospital tonight as they need to do a lot more tests in the morning. So I said we will be there then to meet them both.”

There was a stunned silence when no-one quite knew what to say.

Finally Lizzie spoke. “Do you want us to come with you or would you prefer to go on your own?”

Catherine breathed deeply to calm her racing heart and finally said. “Perhaps it would be best if just Mathew and I went, too many of us will get in the way. The rest of you are probably best to go home to Gran’s. We will ring you when we have some more news.

Lizzie nodded. “Of course.” She started to pack up and tidy away the things, saying, “Perhaps you should pack some clothes and toys for our little girl, I just wish we could bring her car in with her too as that would make her happiest, perhaps even the dolls’ house as well.”

That made everyone laugh, even Mathew, and broke the tension.

Catherine passed Amelie back to Mathew. “Perhaps you could see if she needs to go to the toilet and wash the ice cream off her face and I will pack some things for her,” she said.

He nodded.

Amelie wriggled free of his arms, “Daddy put down to go to toilet, big girl now.”

Mathew nodded and followed her down the hall.

 

 

 

Chapter 16 – The Dreaded Word

 

When they arrived at the hospital they were shown into a private room where two people sat, conferring in low voices.

Mathew led the way in, Catherine with Amelie in her arms following. There were brief introductions, Mathew to Dr Roberts and them both to Dr McPherson, the specialist.

Mathew turned to Dr Roberts and said. “Please, we need to know why you are so concerned. I am happy to have a second opinion but first we need to know what it is about.”

Catherine could see Dr Roberts did not want to say, but knew he must. He looked away at the specialist, he looked at her and then back at the specialist. Finally he looked at them both, composed himself, took a deep breath and said. “After I finished seeing patients this afternoon I did a blood smear of your daughter’s blood. It fitted with my worst fears. What I saw was huge numbers of white cells in the smear and lots of them are abnormal. I am afraid I think your daughter has leukaemia; that is cancer of the white blood cells.”

Catherine saw Mathew sway as if hit by a passing truck. The doctor grabbed his arm to steady him. Mathew spoke back, “But Doctor, how can that be, we have a beautiful little girl who only yesterday had her second birthday party. She ran around and danced like a crazy thing, there was no stopping her. Today you are telling us she is sick with an awful disease that could kill her. It just does not make sense.”

Now the specialist took over, “Mr and Mrs Jamison. I think it would be best if we all sat down and tried to talk this through. But first I would like to examine your daughter myself and confirm my colleague’s findings.”

They both nodded.

The man had a friendly smile and his manner was somehow reassuring, despite the awful news. He turned to Amelie and said. “I was hoping you would come and sit on my lap for a minute and open your mouth nice and wide so I can have a look inside.”

Amelie nodded, she too seemed to trust this man.

Catherine passed her across to Dr McPherson and he pulled out a little toy, one of those snow displays where you shake it up and all the snow comes drifting down over the people and houses. He shook it and showed it to Amelie and she looked with wide eyes.

He said, “If you are really good and let me have a careful look at you, in your mouth and under your arms, you can keep that for tonight. Would you like that?

Amelie nodded enthusiastically. So she sat still for five minutes and he examined her carefully. Then he lifted her onto her own seat and gave her the promised toy. She sat there shaking it and watching the snow fall, lost in her own child’s world of imagining. It was somehow comforting to Mathew and Catherine to see her so absorbed.

Then the Dr McPherson turned to them and said. “I am sure this is very frightening for you. That is why Doctor Roberts asked me to come in and try and explain it to you, to help you understand what it means. It does not necessarily have to be as bad as the L or C words sound.

These days, with early treatment, most children your daughter’s age do get better. It is hard for us all but I do not want you to lose hope, there is a good chance if we get the treatment underway quickly that Amelie will make a full recovery. I cannot promise you this but the chances are in our favour, seeing you have picked it up so early when she is barely showing signs of being sick.

They forced themselves to listen and try to understand. The two doctors showed then Amelie’s blood smear and then a normal blood smear. They pointed out the normal white blood cells called lymphocytes which were just seen occasionally in the normal blood smear. Then they showed them their daughter’s blood smear. Here were lots and lots more of these lymphocytes, including ones with different centres which they called lymphoblasts. They said these were the cancer cells, which were being produced in large numbers in the bone marrow, and were now spilling out into her blood and also forming lumps in her lymph glands.

Then the doctors explained that tomorrow they would do a full blood count, X-Rays and a range of other tests and, once they knew fully what they were dealing with, they would start treatment. The first treatment would be a medicine in a drip that they would run into her. It was a drug to kill the bad cells in her blood and bone marrow. It may make her hair fall out, and it would make her feel sick for a few days but its purpose was to kill all the cancer cells. It would involve two drugs given over about a week and then Amelie would have to spend a couple weeks in hospital under close observation to ensure that the cancer cells went away and her normal bone marrow cells recovered.

After that they expected Amelie would get much better. Then she a second treatment about a month later followed by regular checks to make sure the bad cells did not come back into her blood or bone marrow again.

Finally the specialist said. “You do not really have to leave her here tonight you know. If she would be happier at home with you, then you can bring her home and just bring her back for the tests in the morning. In fact until she begins treatment she can stay at home, treatment won’t begin for two or three days yet, not until all the other test results are in.

Amelie seemed to understand the words “go home”, she was nodding enthusiastically to that. As they were leaving Catherine said to Dr Roberts, Could you ring my mother, Lizzie, and explain to her what you said to me, she and my father and my Gran will want to know, and you can explain it much better than me. I want to take my little girl home now. She wrote the phone number down.

Mathew nodded, then said, “Please do that and thank you from both of us for telling us the truth.”

The doctor’s both nodded; there was no more to say.

So they brought Amelie home and sat her with them on the lounge, all watching television together. Neither Catherine nor Mathew felt they could eat, but they made up dinner for Amelie and took turns feeding her spoonfuls. She ate a big plate, and soon fell asleep sprawled across both their laps.

They talked quietly together so as not to disturb her. They both wished they could rewind the clock now and put their world of yesterday back together again. Soon the words dried up and for a while they both sat quietly looked at their daughter. She looked so perfect despite this awful thing inside her.

The night drifted on, television barely seen. They sat their side by side, both lost in their thoughts and barely speaking. Finally, roused by the midnight chime, Mathew said, “I keep thinking, I wonder if those chemicals they sprayed me with in Vietnam and which seem to have caused my shakes could have caused this too. I will kill all those American bastards if I find it is true.”

Now Catherine felt really scared, there was a hard madness to his voice that scared her almost more than what was happening to her child. She wrapped her arms around his body which was now trembling and said. “Please Mathew, please; we have to be both strong for Amelie, let us not let ourselves think like that.”

Mathew nodded to her, as if trying to agree, but there was no conviction in his manner.

Packing up to return Amelie at the hospital the next day was the hardest thing Catherine had ever done. They had arranged to come be back at the hospital at ten o’clock.

First they had called around to her Gran’s place where the rest of her family were staying. They had a cup of tea and toast while they had talked about what was to happen. Amelie was only allowed a drink of fruit juice and grizzled about being hungry. The doctor had said only fluids this morning, really just water but apple juice was OK which she liked. It was because she would have to have a sedative for some of the procedures, such as the X-Rays and a thing called a spinal tap, where they would check to see if there were any cancer cells in her brain or nerves. They would also take samples from her bone marrow at the same time to look for the abnormal cells there.

When they left her, their brave little girl looking so trusting, they were told they should come back to the hospital to meet the specialist at four o’clock in the afternoon when the results of most of the tests would be in and they could decide on the treatment. If it all went as planned they could bring Amelie home for one more night and then the treatment would start tomorrow after which she would have to stay in the hospital for about three weeks.

The day went very slowly, they went back to the hotel and made arrangements for Ella to give them extra help there for a few days. Lizzie and Robbie had also undertaken to assist, Robbie had done many barman jobs in his former life and Lizzie was a whiz with keeping track of books and money and also pretty good at the cooking from her own restaurant, so that was a big help.

But it was very hard to distract themselves. Every minute seemed like an hour while they were waiting for their afternoon appointment to come. A bit after three in the afternoon they found themselves heading up to the hospital, it was only ten minutes walk from the hotel and they had nothing to bring but themselves. They decided they might as well be up there early, just in case they could get to see their daughter before the meeting. The nurse was very helpful and brought them into the room where Amelie was sitting playing on the floor with some blocks, next to a little boy who was perhaps four. Both were absorbed so they just sat and watched.

Finally about quarter to four the specialist came in, carrying sheets of papers with all the test results and big plastic films. He brought them into a little room next door where he took them through all the results, her white blood cell count was extraordinarily high, and the X-Rays showed lots of little lumps in her glands and maybe some in her lungs. It was hard to be sure if there were any cancers in her lungs or other places but at least everything was small. The good news was they had found no cancer cells in her spinal fluid.

So, to give her the best chance, the specialist wanted to start the cancer treatment tomorrow. It would be done at the Children’s Hospital, at Camperdown, which was only ten minutes drive away.

So tonight they should take her home and give her a good dinner and put her to bed early. Tomorrow they would need to bring her to the hospital by eight in the morning, and she was to have absolutely nothing to eat or drink after she woke in the morning.

So they brought her home. Lizzie had cooked a meal for them all in the hotel restaurant, timed for six o’clock. Several of the staff and patrons asked if they could join them for a minute to give little gifts to Amelie to brighten her stay in hospital. So Amelie sat in her high chair in the centre of the table, surrounded by small gifts and cards of well wishes and enjoyed being the centre of attention.

Tonight she was bright as a button and full of chatter and laughing. She ate all her food with gusto. It was hard to believe there could be anything wrong with their little girl. At half past seven they made their excuses and brought her up to bed, then read her a story together until she fell asleep. It all seemed too normal to believe.

In the morning they were up early, leaving by seven thirty to take Amelie to Camperdown. On arrival it seemed like the hospital machine had taken them over, before they knew it they had filled in a pile of forms and were being walked through endless corridors until they arrived at a room with four small beds, each for another child of a similar age. They stayed with Amelie while she was settled in and then it was time to leave.

Catherine had thought that saying goodbye yesterday was hard, but today it was excruciating, looking at the small and trusting face of their daughter as they walked away. She found herself sobbing and holding on to Mathew for support as she walked down the corridor.

 

 

 

Chapter 17 – Treatment

 

The next three weeks passed in a blur. During the first week Amelie received the anti- cancer drugs, a course of treatment called induction therapy where they gave doses of the two chemotherapy drugs in combination, which was hoped to kill the cancer cells which had been evident in large numbers in both her blood and bone marrow. The doctors called her cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or ALL for short and told them it occurred most commonly in children aged between two and three.

If this induction therapy went well and her blood count and bone marrow returned to normal over the next month, then they would give her one further dose of the treatment to mop up any surviving cancer cells, and provided the cancer cells did not come back after that the treatment would cease and they would just conduct regular checks to ensure it stayed that way.

Amelie tolerated this first course of chemotherapy surprisingly well though she was restless and grumbled a lot. Her hair did not even start to fall out and she continued to eat well except for a couple days after the treatment ended and she only lost a small amount of weight. The worst thing was she was bored by being confined to bed and wanted to get out and start doing things again so it was hard to keep her entertained and keep her as still as the hospital required.

However they all took turns at entertaining her, Lizzie and Gran Patsy told her stories and read her books. Catherine brought in paper for drawing and did pictures with her and Mathew got her to help him making little wooden toys and building houses out of blocks. As she got better it got even harder to contain her but everyone considered this was a good sign so it was a small price to pay.

After three weeks all the abnormal cells were gone from her blood and bone marrow and there was evidence of new healthy red and white blood cells being produced. The X-Rays were also all clear of any signs of the cancer in her lungs and the lumps were gone from around her neck and under her arms.

The doctors considered the treatment had gone as well as could possibly be expected and expressed their confidence in a favorable outcome from here. Catherine and Mathew, along with Lizzie and Patsy crossed their fingers and toes and hoped it was true.

They expected the repeat treatment to go equally well a month later, now it was only Mathew and Catherine caring for their child, as Lizzie, Robbie and family had returned to Broome so their own children could return to school. Gran helped out when needed but they felt they had their life under control and could mostly manage on their own.

However Amelie got much sicker this time, she had vomiting and diarrhea for several days and lost a lot of weight. Then two weeks later all her hair began to fall out in great lumps, and soon there were only a few straggly bits left.

Surprising, despite Amelie getting much sicker this time, she was a much better patient. She no longer grumbled about being confined to bed and would play happily by herself with just her dolls for hours without appearing to get bored. However after three weeks, except for a little round bald head, with a light fuzz of new hair and a thinner face and body, she appeared to be back to her normal self, eating ravenously, full of chatter and mischief.

Once she was home she spent endless hours driving her red car around the apartment and, on quiet mornings as they tidied the hotel, Mathew would carry the car downstairs so she could drive it over the smooth wooden floors of the hotels bars and corridors. They could follow her progress by the clatter of the wheels over the joints in the floorboards and her babbling happy voice.

After another month it was as if this sickness was just a distant memory; they had their Amelie back, her face was round again with a mischievous grin and she gave out a stream of endless chatter with the bar workers and patrons. She had also become incredibly loving, often cuddled between them in the night and saying her prayers. “God Bless Mummy, I love her the best, God Bless Daddy, I love him the best, God bless Gran Lizzie and Great Gran Patsy, God bless Ella, God bless Robbie who helped Daddy make my dolls house.”

In those nights when they held her close then gently lifted her to her own bed so they could join their own bodies undisturbed, they had started to talk about having another baby, the idea of creating new life alongside that of their little girl seemed fitting now they had her back.

 

 

 

Chapter 18 – A Month Gone – Hope

 

It was now into April, the heat of the summer was easing. Business was booming again, better than ever. It had taken a bit of a hit for the first two months when they were spending half their lives at the Children’s Hospital but in the last month it had caught up and was now looking to be their best ever year.

Balmain had started to be discovered by a richer set, people who loved the old houses so close to the city, buying into the neighborhood, bringing their own young families and good incomes with them, often professional people who were making a business success of their lives, along with a more Bohemian artistic set. There were still lots of regular old timers, who brought their pension payments, but alongside them were the new sets of the upwardly mobile and artistic and they valued the good meals the hotel served along with the Sunday afternoon music.

Amelie now had an inch of hair starting to reshape her head away from an Elfin look to a little girl look again. Ella had managed to tie a red bow into some of the longer strands, telling her it matched her red car and made her look like a racing driver and this became her main outfit. In the morning, before the car was banished to the upstairs it could be heard, wheels rattling, pedals clanking, along with Amelie making engine noises as it flew along the hotel passages, warning pedestrians to step aside.

Each fortnight they would take her in to the hospital for a blood check and each month for a bone marrow check. They hated these reminders but Amelie accepted it all with good grace, at most giving a little whimper when they put the needles in. So far all was clear. Mathew and Catherine found they almost did not want to know the results; they dared to hope yet feared lest something would fracture this joy, it was easier to live each day at a time and not to think of a future, beyond the immediate events.

Easter came in April; it was a time to take joy in life. They went to the Royal Easter Show and spent the day walking amongst the animal stalls. Amelie stroked the rabbits and guinea pigs and watched the cows and horses with a little person’s awe of other creatures so large. They watched the events in the main arena and the wood chopping, all shared ice creams and hot dogs and tried the rides which were suitable for a two year old, the merry go round and dodgem cars. Finally, in the mid afternoon, when the heat of the day was making them all tired, they came home and all fell asleep together on the big bed of their apartment.

The next day was Easter Sunday and together with Gran Patsy they went to the big church on the hilltop, where they were married, giving thanks for their lives together and the returned health of their daughter.

They refused to look over the horizon but were grateful and said prayers of thanks for the precious life they had.

 

 

 

Chapter 19 – Failure

 

The last week in April was the two month checkup, two months since the end of the second chemo treatment. Amelie was still in fine form but in the last week she had lost some of her sparkle. It was not something clear, but as if her buoyant ebullience had faded at little. Perhaps it was that after sickness and sudden wellness, life was back to a steady state again.

Yet, as Mathew and Catherine together brought her to the hospital, they felt an edge of anxiety. Perhaps it was always thus with such times of new knowledge which they had allowed themselves to forget over the last month. Still they found themselves holding each other’s hand tighter and hugging the daughter a little more closely.

The day proceeded with the banal tedium of normality, nothing to report, lots of waiting but still nothing to report as all the samples were collected and tests run. It would be tomorrow before the results were in, and the doctors scheduled an appointment with Mathew and Catherine for two pm. By then everything would be available, blood count and smear, bone marrow results and X-Rays of key body areas. There was no need for Amelie to come back then and Gran Patsy had offered to mind her now that Lizzie had returned to the Broome.

Both Catherine and Mathew slept badly that night, Mathew’s bad dreams returned and Catherine could not shake a prickling anxiety as they waited for this moment of truth. They were in the hospital and waiting twenty minutes before their appointment was due, but there was no sign of either the specialist pediatrician, Dr McPherson, or oncologist Dr Ryan, who together were now managing the case. Finally, five minutes after the due meeting time they saw both doctors hurry by together and go into the meeting room. They glimpsed Dr Roberts waiting inside as well. A further ten minutes went by with still no call for them to come in.

Finally the oncologist opened the door and invited them in. One look at his face and Catherine knew that all was not well.

Suddenly she did not want to know, to end their idyll in the sun. She felt an overpowering urge to take Mathew’s hand and walk out the door untold. It was as if a part of her had this impossible hope that if the story was not told then it could not come true, to pick up her daughter and pack up their car and drive over the horizon, perhaps to return to the desert where an aboriginal medicine man could try and cast out the evil spirit that lurked inside her daughter.

But despite this will to run away her feet were glued to the floor, heavy lead boots restrained her from fleeing, instead she felt her insides turn to jelly as Mathew stood and took her reluctant hand to come inside.

The three doctors were arranged in a semicircle and spread out on the desk in front of them were the sheets of paper and X-Ray films which together constituted her daughter’s future, a life writ on plastic and paper.

Catherine forced her panicked brain to quieten its inner noise. She realized that one of the doctors had begun speaking. She made her mind listen.

She replayed the last two sentences stored in her memory bank.

“I wish we could tell you that all is fine and there are no signs that the cancer has returned. Unfortunately that is not the case.”

Mathew spoke, “What are you saying, Doctor?”

“I am afraid we can see cells that look like cancer cells, abnormal lymphocytes with rapid division, in your daughter’s bone marrow. They should not be there. And there are also some suspicious shadows on the chest X-Rays that look like tumors are beginning to regrow in her lungs.”

Mathew turned to the doctors and said, “I have been reading that Vietnam Veterans’ children have an increased risk of cancer. What do you know about that?”

Mathew continued, “They say it is from dioxin which contaminated the Agent Orange they sprayed us all with and which damages our DNA, increasing the risk of cancers in ourselves but also damage can be passed on to our children and cause cancer in them. Could this be the cause of what has happened to my daughter, that she got the cancer from me?

The oncologist shook his head, “I don’t know and can’t say for sure, but it seems unlikely. However I have not read up in this area, so others would be better qualified to answer than I am. But when these things happen there is no point trying to find something or someone to blame. That helps no one. It is not your daughter’s fault, it is not your wife’s fault, it is not your fault. The best thing you can do is focus on your daughter and staying positive. That is what works best.”

Mathew replied, with something like an angry growl resonating through his voice. “I am not blaming my daughter, I am not blaming my wife, I am not really blaming myself though some of my mates told me is was best not to get married and have children.

“I am blaming the government of Australia who sent us there without protection and most of all I blame those American bastards who dropped spray all over the country to poison the trees. They did not give a damn if they poisoned all the people and animals who lived there as well.”

Catherine felt herself cringe inside at her husband’s anger. Her whole world of false hopes was collapsing around her; she wanted him to help her and Amelie and not fight with and blame the world. Perhaps he was right in some small way but what point was there to it all, as the doctor said their priority needed to be to help Amelie get better.

She took Mathew’s hand, “Please can we just go home now, tomorrow we can talk to the doctors about what to do. I just want to hold my little girl and feel your arms around me too.”

Something in the desperation of her voice must have got through to him; he stood up and brought her home, his arm around her shoulders. That night the three of them slept together, wrapped in a joint embrace. It was as if by holding on to each other they could hold away the next day.

 

 

 

Chapter 20 – Fading Hope

 

In the morning Catherine rang and told her mother of the test results, trying to keep the devastation out of her voice. It was hard to tell her Gran last night, saying it again to her mother was like a double body blow.

She finished by saying, “Mum, I am so scared, and Mathew is taking it really bad as well, he is blaming himself from being sprayed with chemicals in Vietnam, saying he had given this to Amelie. He is so angry.”

Lizzie cut through this at once. “Oh my, Cathy, I am so sorry. I will book the first flight I can to Sydney to come and help you. Robbie can mind the business here and the other children. Together we will all find a way through this.”

That day she and Mathew discussed what to do, both together and with the doctors. Mathew was opposed to further treatment. He kept saying that putting yet another poison into Amelie, trying to kill the cancer cells with yet more poison, when it was first caused by a poison, was crazy. He said he wanted nothing further to do with it, this chemotherapy thing, he knew it would only make Amelie really sick again like last time.

However he had no other solution about what could be done and he agreed that the cancer could not just be allowed to spread through her body unchecked. So together they talked to their doctors and then got second opinions from other specialists.

At last Mathew agreed to a treatment plan which involved using radiation, which had not been used before, along with a moderate dose of chemotherapy that might in combination give a fair chance of controlling the cancer on the second go.

They knew the odds of success were now below 50%. But by the end of all the talk they had agreed that they could not just abandon all hope for their daughter to this disease. However even when the decision was made Mathew said he still hated what they were subjecting Amelie to. Catherine could not disagree with him, but she refused to give up hope that this time it would work fully and cure her.

By the time they had reached agreement Lizzie had arrived. She tried to give them support in their decision saying it was an awful choice but if it had been up to her she would have done the same thing too.

When the day came to take Amelie back to hospital and start the new round of treatment, Mathew asked Lizzie and Cathy to take her, he was morose and clearly did not want to have to face yet another round of medical meetings and waiting. He hugged Amelie tightly and promised to come and see her the next day.

The treatment ran over another two weeks then there was a two week period for Amelie to recover before they retested her to see how it had worked. Amelie was really sick over the second and third weeks, she lost a lot of weight, she was five pounds lighter than when it started, her hair was all gone again and her face and arms were pitifully thin.

In the fourth week she started to eat properly again and put some weight back, but now she had developed a persistent low grade cough, and sure enough when the time came the X-Rays showed that the lumps in her lungs had not fully gone away and she also had a low grade pneumonia that required ongoing treatment with antibiotics before it started to settle down.

But she was a wonderful patient, so sweet and patient, barely grumbling when they gave her needles and always happy to see the nurses and doctors and with happy things to say to the other patients.

Sometimes Catherine just desperately wanted her cross and crotchety daughter back, for there to be more fight in her soul to rage against this disease that was consuming her body. But she and everyone else had also fallen in love with delightful little girl who suffered it all so bravely.

At first Mathew came to the hospital every day to visit her, but after a week as she got sicker he started missing visits, it was obviously tearing him up inside each time he saw that he started to take refuge in not coming and just giving the others presents to bring to her, drawings and little toys he made.

Amelie seemed not to mind, she accepted all his gifts with joy. Each time asked Cathy and Lizzie to give him a hug and kiss specially from her.

Finally at the end of the third week Amelie was well enough to return home and for a short time their life returned to something like normality.

They all knew that Amelie was not better, the cancer cells were still growing away in her bone marrow and the tumors remained in her lungs.

But for almost a month she seemed to have improved. The doctors gave instructions to feed her up, give her lots of attention and try and get her as strong as could be before they considered new treatment options.

 

 

 

Chapter 21 – Madness

 

As if she did not have enough to worry about with Amelie, Catherine had a new worry.

Mathew had begun to have lots of bad dreams almost again. She remembered they had begun around the time she had the miscarriage in the second half of last year; but with so much else since it was hard to remember exactly when.

Her memory was that since then they had ebbed and flowed, at times stopping for a week or two and then returning for two or three nights.

But since Amelie had got sick they had occurred more and more. Now they were happening more nights than not and she found, in her own exhausted state, both emotional and physical, it was harder to give Mathew the level of attention she thought he needed.

Now, more and more, she found herself resenting this additional disruption to her life. On some nights when she woke up to his tossing and turning she had started to go out to the lounge room, closing the door to the bedroom to cut off the noise of his muttering and the disturbance of his restless sleep.

Sometimes she curled up and fell asleep again on the lounge, sometimes she lay on the floor in Amelie’ room. She no longer slept in the bed with Amelie as she did not want to disturb her much needed sleep with her own restlessness.

The few times she had laid in with her, Amelie had woken her saying, “Mummy, are you having bad dreams? You are moving so much.”

She loved her daughter’s sweet face as she said it and her evident concern, but it was unfair to Amelie, she need her sleep to build her own strength much more. But if she felt Amelie stirring she would sit beside her on the bed, cuddle and stroke her to try and give her comfort in whatever way she could.

She knew the outlook for Amelie was becoming more and more desperate. Next week she was booked in for one more round of chemo, and this would be the last one, it was making her so sick it was just no point in keeping going, as the last time the tumours had barely gone away before they started growing again.

There was no sign of them yet outside, under her arms and neck and in her mouth, but there were still ones inside her that had not really shrunk much after the last treatment.

They had agreed they would try one more time, to try and shrink them a bit more and then they would try a thing called immunotherapy to try and boost Amelie’s own immunity to fight off the disease.

Catherine wondered if they should go straight to the immunotherapy thing now, the idea of submitting her poor brave little girl to this awful chemo even one more time seemed both horrible and pointless.

Yet, not to try seemed to be an admission of defeat, and somehow they had to keep their own hope alive, but then they could not let their own desire for hope cause Amelie unnecessary and pointless suffering.

She tried not to let the “dying” word into her mind. But somewhere in a deep recess of her mind it was there anyway and she knew they may all have to face up to it soon, that everything modern medicine had to offer seemed unable to save the life of their little girl. But for now, each time the thought tried to rise in her mind, she pushed it firmly back into its buried cave.

Mathew had become increasingly unreliable in the business. She had stopped rostering him on his own, as on these days that meant it often fell to her, as he just would not come out and serve people until they go really impatient. She did not want to lose custom as she needed to try and keep the business functioning to pay all the bills.

Instead he would sit out the back reading. He seemed to have an endless stream of books and magazines he was reading, often medical ones. She had welcomed it at first, something to occupy his mind and give him purpose, reading all the latest research on cancer treatments, all the pros and cons of the different options.

But as it began to occupy ever more of his time she started to wonder what he was really looking for. She felt she understood all the medical options; the problem was they just were not working.

So she started to pay more attention to what he was reading, wondering why. She noticed an ever increasing focus on the effects of chemicals, sprays like Agent Orange, their effects on exposed people, their long term effects, the potential to cause harm to one’s own children.

He was starting to talk more and more about how he had been poisoned by these bastards and now the poison was spreading to his little girl. He would say, “I am sick and she is even sicker and it’s all their fault.”

At other times he would talk repeatedly about how it was his own fault that Amelie had got sick, he had been warned by other Vets that he should not have children. He had ignored these warnings and now his little girl was paying for it.

Catherine tried to discuss this rationally with him. She did not know if it was true that there were these sorts of effects, the medical opinion seemed divided. But, even if there were, it was pointless to try and blame himself or someone else, they just had to stick together and try and support their little girl and help her get better.

It was no help to blame anyone, they just needed to focus on Amelie and give her all the love they could.

But Mathew seemed to have stopped listening to her, each day it seemed that his mind wandered further and further into this maze of blame and recriminations. Catherine was sure it was also part of the problem with all his bad dreams, that he was dreaming these things and sleeping badly as they endlessly went around in his mind.

Each new day he would wake up, exhausted in mind and body, and then spending further hours feeding his imagination in reading new things of this type before dreaming them all over again in an ever increasing and crazy spiral.

She wished she knew how she could help him. If Amelie was not so sick and managing the hotel without him was not so hard, perhaps she could have found some way to connect with him. But now she was so chronically exhausted herself that her patience with what seemed like his self-indulgent escapism was fading. She was starting to snap at him.

Yesterday she had said. “For God sake put those crazy magazines and books away. Come and help me at the bar.”

He had done it reluctantly for an hour, but then, after the bar closed, he had stayed up until almost three o’clock in the morning reading this crazy stuff and, almost as soon as he had come to bed he had woken her with another of his dreams, mumbling, “I am going to kill them. I will buy a gun and go and kill those murdering and poisoning bastards.”

It was awful and it gave her shivers but at least he was asleep, if he said something like that in real life she did not know what she would do.”

The next morning Amelie’s breathing was quite strained and her gums were pasty. Catherine had a sinking feeling as she arranged to bring her into the doctor for more tests.

It was breaking her heart, her little girl was so brave, and she was smiling brightly and telling her Mum not to worry, but it was so obvious she clearly was not alright.

Catherine had tried to talk to Amelie a few times about what was happening but it was very hard, it was as if she both understood and chose not to know.

It seemed that Amelie now just lived in the moment, most often sitting in her favourite red car with her favourite doll sitting on the seat alongside her. Once there would have been too little space for her and the doll together but now she had grown so thin that the doll fitted easily alongside her.

As she got ready Mathew was still sleeping, after staying awake most of the night. She knew he would not want to come to hospital and face up to the actuality of what was needed. So she decided, when she left to go to the hospital, to leave him sleeping away, he may be more rational with more sleep. She wrote him a short note, telling him where they had gone and left in a taxi.

Once at the hospital she waited for what seemed a long time until the doctor had examined Amelie before deciding what to do next. He decided they should take fresh blood samples to check her white and red cell levels, to see whether she had become anaemic and also whether her white cells had bounced back up and how many were healthy versus abnormal cancerous ones. He also wanted to look at the size of the tumours in her chest. Once they had this information they could decide on what further treatment options they should pursue.

After three hours of queuing and waiting they finally had all the procedures done and the chest X-Rays developed. Amelie was sitting playing with some blocks on the floor of the waiting room when the radiologist and doctor called to her to come in and view the results.

She asked the receptionist if she would keep an eye on her girl while she went into the consulting room, leaving the door open. The radiologist pointed to the current chest X-Ray and the one taken a fortnight before. It was clear from first glance that the black spaces in her lungs were getting smaller and the white lumps were getting bigger.

While Catherine knew deep down that this was happening she felt her heart fall through the floor as this clear sign of the cancer starting to overwhelm her daughter. She could feel the tears forming in her eyes and tried to brush them away with the back of her hand.

The doctor started to discuss the findings, saying, “The blood count is very low, her red cells are barely responding. Even though her white cells have not gone up there are more cancer cells and less normal cells than before.

I think we need to give her a whole blood transfusion, part of her breathlessness is probably from the anaemia as well as the tumours, so she may benefit from some oxygen as well. I think we should hospitalise her for the day while we do that and once we have got her red blood count back to normal we can see how she is.

Perhaps you need to ask her husband to come in so that we can all discuss further treatment options from here.

Catherine found herself unable to listen, she could not help crying and pushed a handkerchief into her mouth to stifle the sobs, it felt hopeless.

The doctor put his hand on her shoulder in a fatherly fashion, saying, “Why don’t you ring your husband and get him to come in? Then we can all sit down and discuss where to go from here.

“In the meantime Amelie can stay in the hospital and we will start her on oxygen and a blood transfusion.”

Catherine nodded and the receptionist gave her the phone to use. She rang her home, there was no answer, she rang instead to the bar and Ella answered, she had just come in and was surprised to find there was no sign of Mathew though she had yet to go upstairs and check on him.

Catherine asked her to call him to come to the phone, in case he was upstairs and had been unable to get to the phone a minute ago.

Ella returned saying, “There is no sign of him but there is something really worrying, there is a gun case for a revolver on the table but without the gun, and there is a note with your name written on it, inside a sealed envelope on the table. I have not opened it but perhaps you should come home and have a look.

Cathy rang Lizzie who was staying with her Gran and asked her to come into the hospital to mind Amelie while she went home. Then she talked to her Gran and asked her to come up to the hotel. Of all the people who knew Mathew she seemed to be the one he listened to best, perhaps because she had known him since he was a boy.

Lizzie said she would be in the hospital as soon as a taxi could get her there so Catherine told Amelie she had to go home and get her Daddy and in the meantime she should go with the nurse who would put her in a bed and give her a funny mask to put on her face, and that her own Grandma Lizzie would be in with her soon.

As always Amelie just took it in her stride, giving a bright smile and a hug and kiss and finishing with, “Love you Mummy.”

Then Catherine walked outside and caught another taxi home. Her Gran was just arriving as she did and they went upstairs together, after talking briefly to Ella who said she had seen no sign still of Mathew, but his car which was normally parked in the back lane was gone.

Upstairs the scene was just as Ella had described it. She could see that Mathew had showered and put on clean clothes, though there was no sign he had eaten any breakfast.

She opened the note. It read.

 

Dear Catherine,

I have decided to go and fix those people who poisoned me and now Amelie. It is all the fault of the chemicals they sprayed me with that made me sick and are now making my little girl sick.

Even now they are still poisoning her with that chemical therapy and radiation they are giving her, and all of it is making her sicker and sicker.

So I have to find some medicine that does not make Amelie sick and will make her better.

I know our defence people who work at Victoria Barracks have good medicines that can be used to treat the poisons; they give them to soldiers who work for them to protect them. They could use these to make Amelie better but they are keeping them hidden away, to make sure the rest of the world does not know.

I am going there to get them to give me the medicines. I may have to shoot one or two of them to get them to listen to me and help me but I am happy to do whatever it takes.

Someone has to stand up to them and make them do the right thing. So I have taken on this job.

 

Your ever loving husband

 

Mathew

 

Catherine felt terror grip her. If he tried to shoot someone they the police or military would shoot him instead. Then he would be dead. That was no way to help her daughter. But most of all he was the one thing apart from Amelie that remained really precious in her life. Sure he had gone a bit crazy with the pain, but she believed she could help fix that when there was time.

Patsy was standing next to her, looking at her with concern, her own face tense.

She passed her the note, watching her face as the comprehension dawned.

“Oh my God,” was all her Granny said.

Then she came and put her arms around Catherine, saying, “You poor darling. He is a good man, but now, with the grief and anger of what has happened, something inside his mind has gone. We must call the police and ask them to look for him before he hurts someone else or gets hurt himself.”

Catherine could not stand it anymore; she sat on a chair, holding the note, her whole body shaking with sobs. It was all too terrible for words; she could not bear to lose Mathew too.

She watched her Gran pick up the phone and dial the police, In five minutes two constables were there with her, reading the note and looking around at the evidence. Her Grandmother briefly explained what had happened to Amelie, her sickness, and then of Mathew’s mental state, imploring them to be careful, both for their own safety and for his too.

Then the police were on the phone calling for backup and giving the base details to get officers to the Victoria Barracks front gate, and also to ring the Barracks to give a warning.

As these arrangements were being made Catherine sat, only half listening and unmoving. As they were leaving, they said to her, she was to wait here for now.

It brought her to life; an image came unbidden to her mind of a crazed Mathew walking towards a police man and a soldier pointing a gun. Then the policeman shooting Mathew dead, claiming it was self-defence.

She knew she must try to stop this, she grabbed at the policeman’s arm, saying, “I have to come, I have to see him and make him stop.”

The policeman went to brush her off and pushed past her to leave, walking towards the front door.

Now her Grandmother, who was standing closest to the door, put her own body in the way, blocking the door, forceful but measured.

“Officer, my granddaughter is right; we have to come there too. Mathew knows us and will trust us whereas he will just see you as a threat. We have to try and stop one tragedy becoming an even bigger tragedy. My granddaughter’s own daughter is gravely ill of cancer. This man, Mathew, is the little girl’s father. He is a good man but driven mad with grief. It will help no one if he gets shot in the process. We have a much better chance of stopping him if we are both there to try and talk and reason with him, to get him to give up his gun and go and have treatment for the illness which has taken over his own mind.

“Many years ago I failed to act when I should have and my own husband died of my stupidity. I will not let it happen a second time with my granddaughter’s husband.

“So officer, I insist that you bring both me and Catherine with you and give us the chance to talk to Mathew first before anyone else does something foolhardy. If you try and stop us coming any consequences will be on your head.”

Reluctantly the officer gave way and motioned for them both to come with him.

In a minute they were racing across the city towards Paddington, sirens blaring. The police car pulled to a stop in Oxford Street in front of Victoria Barracks. There were six other policemen and the same number of soldiers in position, all armed and guarding the gates. There was no sign of Mathew.

They all piled out of the car. The police ran over to join their fellow officers.

Catherine looked around wildly. She glimpsed Mathew, across the road and hiding unobtrusively in a shop entrance, something in his hand tucked out of sight.

She ran across the street, heedless of the screeching and honking traffic, determined to shield Mathew with her body. That way they would shoot her before they shot him. Then she was in front of him.

He had a mad look in his eyes and the gun was in his hand. He looked up at her, saying, “Catherine, what are you doing here, you need to get out of the way and let me do what I need to do, I have to make them give me the medicine.”

She looked over her shoulder, several police men were following close behind with their guns drawn and trained on them both. She pushed her body towards Mathew, determined to keep her body between him and them. He tried to step to one side, she moved with him.

Suddenly a clear voice spoke out from behind her, it was her Gran. “Mathew.”

He looked up, temporarily frozen. Her Gran stepped up around Catherine until she was standing directly in front of Mathew, the pistol pointing at her own belly.

Wordlessly she reached out and took the pistol by the barrel, turned it to the side and removed it from his hands. She passed the gun back to Catherine.

She wrapped her arms around Mathew, saying, “My boy, my poor boy, this won’t help anyone. We must find another way to help Amelie. I need you to help me do that by first putting this silly thing away, then helping me look for something that really will cure her.”

Something in her words and tone got through to him when nothing else had; he nodded and the mad gleam slowly faded from his eyes.

The police came over and put handcuffs around his wrists, then led him to the back of the police van. Catherine was pleased he was being treated gently, almost kindly by the officers who had taken him away.

She realised she had not moved, frozen in place, with the gun still in her own hands. She wanted to move to run after him and hug him, to say it would be alright.

But another part of her was shaking with rage and she found herself unable to move. How could he have been so stupid? Yes he was upset, but this was so stupid. But for the quick thinking of her grandmother he could be lying dead on the pavement now. It made her so mad that he could allow his life to be wasted like that for no point, part of her wanted to hug him but another part of her wanted to hit him for his stupidity.

So instead of going to him she just stood there, rooted to the spot, her own mind frozen.

Mathew climbed inside the back of the police van, trying to look back at her. She could have sworn he was trying to say sorry, but she refused to meet his eyes.

Then he was gone and they locked the door. The senior officer came over to talk to both Catherine and her grandmother, saying “We will hold him in a cell in the local police station and arrange for a psychiatrist to assess him as soon as possible and work out what to do.

“He may have to be hospitalised in Callan Park for the time being to make sure he is not at risk of harming himself or others.”

Catherine nodded. Then, realising she was still holding the gun, she passed it to the police officer.

The following morning a judge gave orders, that following the preliminary examination, Mathew was to be held in Beveridge House in Callan Park, a high security facility for the insane. There he was to undergo further evaluation, for an indefinite period until they determined what treatment was required.

Catherine had stood in the back of the court, unable to speak and still unable to meet Mathew’s eyes, she could find no words to say to either help or harm him, it was like his confinement and madness had frozen over a part of her soul.

It was left to her Grandmother Patsy and her own Mum to try and explain the circumstances and the need for compassion. All that day Catherine sat in a chair barely moving, leaving it to Lizzie to visit and care for Amelie and for her Gran to manage the hotel. She ate the food that was put in front of her mechanically, she did not cry, she just sat and stared and wondered where her life had gone.

Finally in the evening Lizzie came to her and made her stand up, shower and go to bed, saying. “It is time for you to return to see your daughter.”

The following day, when Catherine came to hospital to visit her, Amelie did not ask where he Daddy was. Instead she asked that her red car and also the house for it that her Daddy had made be brought into the hospital and put alongside her bed. It was as if she knew her father could not come and somehow the thing he had made for her birthday would have to take his place.

To Catherine this seemed even more heart wrenching, as if Amelie knew that this hospital room had become a final bedroom and, if she could not have her father, at least she would have something in this room that reminded her of him.

The doll’s house, with the car inside took up a big space in the room. A couple of the nurses and doctors grumbled that it was in the way, but in the end they understood that if it made this little girl happy that was a small price to pay.

 

 

 

Chapter 22 – Last Chance – A Transplant

 

Patsy and Lizzie had discussed between themselves how best to support Catherine and Amelie over this time and had agreed that one of them needed to focus on going to see Mathew every day and also putting time in at the hotel, to at least keep it turning over enough money to pay the family’s bills, and the other needed to focus on supporting Catherine and Amelie.

As Patsy knew the people of Balmain from more than four decades of living there and also had known Mathew since he was a boy she took on this part, she had spent an hour with Ella working out the roster yesterday, she had also taken it upon herself to directly manage the restaurant and catering side, though she would draw on Lizzie’s knowledge here. She would also do back up bar work as required.

In addition she had set aside two hours each day just after lunch to go and spend with Mathew, to get him to tell her about all his ideas, even his most crazy ones, until she understood both his concerns and whether he had ideas that could be useful. She would also pass on the news from Amelie and Catherine to him.

Catherine appeared to be too angry with him to talk directly to him at this stage even though Patsy knew it would pass.

Yesterday Patsy had spent over two hours talking to Mathew, telling him about Catherine and how upset she had been, telling him about Amelie and what the options there were and asking his opinion.

She had also asked him to tell her about all the things he had been reading. She found him surprisingly lucid about these, though wracked by guilt about his own contribution. He told of studies which showed the effects of the chemical agents which had been sprayed in Vietnam and how he had been repeatedly drenched in them, the direct effects of the chemicals and a particular contaminant called dioxin which had definitely contaminated batches of Agent Orange he had been exposed to. He explained how there was now increasing evidence that dioxin could damage a person’s DNA and be passed on to the children that way.

So he was sure that defects in Amelie’s bone marrow had been passed to her from him as a result of these poisonous chemicals and now they had to find a way to repair her DNA. He had read about research being done by the US and Australian Military to investigate treatments for these things and how, even though it was top secret, he knew they had found things which could work and how he needed to find these.

He even told her of a technique he had read about where the cells of a healthy donor, which matched the sick person, could be injected into that person; it was called a bone marrow transplant. They were just starting to try it, mainly overseas, but also in some Australian hospitals. While Patsy did not understand the complex science she could see that this idea had logic to it. She promised she would pass it on to Cathy to tell to the doctors.

That night she reported back on all Mathew had said, saying she wanted Lizzie and Cathy to ask the doctors about whether it was an option to try a bone marrow transplant.

Two days after Catherine watched the judge order her husband into confinement in a mental hospital Catherine found herself at a meeting with the doctors to discuss the remaining treatment options for Amelie. Now that Mathew could no longer participate she asked her mother to come with her, while Patsy stayed at the hotel.

The doctors explained that they had stabilized Amelie’s condition with the blood transfusion which had brought her red cell count back up to the normal range. They were now of the opinion that they should try one more lot of chemotherapy to see if they could get the tumors to shrink again, as they were starting to run out of other choices.

After trying this final round of chemotherapy the only treatment options that remained were things that were only really experimental. These included immunotherapy and some new chemotherapy agents. So they suggested they make a final treatment attempt using a really high dose of chemotherapy, along with immunotherapy as a last ditch attempt to stop the cancer or at least slow it down greatly.

Since Mathew’s outburst Catherine found herself asking more questions in her mind rather than just accepting that the doctors knew best in all things. Not that these people were arrogant or unwilling to listen, it was just that all that they had tried was failing and they seemed to have run out of ideas.

So now it seemed to Catherine that all they had to offer was more of the same chemotherapy at even higher doses, combined with some new immunotherapy agents to help Amelie’s body recover.

As she questioned the oncologist explained that the purpose of the immunotherapy was to boost the production of Amelie’s own immune cells and also help the chemotherapy drugs to kill the damaged cancer cells. That way they hoped she would recover from the chemotherapy faster and the treatment would also aid the process of removing the damaged cancer cells and also getting her own bone marrow back to working properly in producing new red cells to carry oxygen and white cells to fight other diseases.

They explained that part of the problem was that the treatment was continually damaging Amelie’s own immunity to common infections and so they now had to start to be really careful that she did not catch some common disease which, in a healthy person, would be harmless.

Catherine and Lizzie kept burrowing in to what they were saying. Catherine said, “So are you saying that because of the treatment she has already had, along with the extra you want to give her, that something like a common cold could make her really sick and even kill her.”

The oncologist replied, “That is often what happens with long term cancer patients, that it is not the cancer that kills them but an infection like a pneumonia which we could otherwise control. Some people even consider it a blessing when that happens as, by leading to death, it spares the person continued suffering.”

Catherine felt her mind reeling, even though she had always known that death was a possibility, their language had now changed to talking about it as if it was inevitable.

Lizzie burrowed in again, “So are you saying that if we give her more chemotherapy and particularly at an even higher dose we make it more likely that Amelie will die from some other infection.”

The doctor looked a bit startled at this logical leap, “Yes, I suppose you could say that.”

Catherine continued on, “So what is the point of further treatment, more chemotherapy, if it only damages her immunity further, what is the chance that it can still cure her?

The doctor replied, “It is now less than ten percent I would think. There was originally around a three quarters chance that we would get long term remission, but I am afraid that has now become very unlikely.”

Catherine continued, “So, why are you proposing that we give her more of the same treatment? Last time it made her really sick. As well as all her hair falling out she had severe vomiting and diarrhea for days and lost lots of weight, not to mention that she felt really unwell and miserable for almost two weeks.

“Is that all you are offering us? That she gets more of that only this time it will be even worse and yet, despite the amount she suffers from the treatment, she will almost certainly die anyway. If so why are you proposing it?”

The doctor replied, “We are just trying to slow the cancer down and buy her more time, maybe a few more months of life if it works really well. It would be foolish to hope for more.

“You have to start preparing for the fact that your daughter will be unlikely to make another Christmas, no matter what we do. You should prepare yourself, your husband and Amelie for this.”

Catherine felt crushed, she sat in the chair with her face in her hands; she did not want to hear or think about this. She supposed she must.

She started to feel more and more of what Mathew was going through; rage against life’s unfairness, except that in his case he blamed himself too.

As she thought of him she remembered that he had told Patsy, her Grandmother, something that he wanted them to ask the doctors about. She must try and remember what it was that Patsy had said he was talking about, the thing her wanted her to ask the doctor about, something about a transplant.

Lizzie was not willing to leave the conversation at that. “Doctor, you talked about various experimental treatments, new drugs, this thing called immunotherapy, perhaps other things. Could you please tell us all you know about these things?”

Catherine could see the oncologist now felt he was on safer ground. He started to go through and describe the other options in more detail. None of them sounded of much value to her, little more than vain hopes, unlikely to give a cure and just involve more unpleasant treatments.

Her mind was half inside her head and half listening until the words, “Bone Marrow Transplant”, were said. That was what Patsy said Mathew had been talking about.

She turned and looked directly at the doctor, “Please tell me about this bone marrow transplant.”

The doctor replied, “Well it is still a relatively experimental treatment. It is high risk, because it involves using high doses of the chemotherapy agents along with radiation, to kill all the remaining bone marrow and cancer cells in the body. Then, in a few days, when all these cells in the bone marrow have died along with the cancer cells, new healthy cells are given to the person. Provided the body does not reject them and they start growing inside the person’s own bone marrow they can replace the person’s own cells that were there before the treatment killed them.

“So, if we can kill all the bad cancer cells and then get the new cells not to be rejected, the result is that, after that time, the patient has these new stem cells in their bone marrow. They are no longer their own cells but ones that have come from the other person. They grow and reproduce forming a new, healthy population of red and white cells with no cancer.

“However, the downside is that if the cells do not take then we have killed off all the remaining bone marrow cells in the person’s own body. If that happens then, within a few weeks at most, the person will die. That is because they can no longer produce the red cells in their blood which carry the oxygen, or the white cells which give them immunity or the platelets which allow their blood to clot.

“We have already thought about this option, not that we have tried it before in this hospital. But in the last few days we have been researching all other choices. However we have one big problem. In order for the new cells to be compatible and start growing in your daughter’s body they have to match her own cells in some important ways;, this matching is what we call histocompatibility. It means that the surface of these cells have to appear the same as the surface of the cells in Amelie’s own body or else her own body will reject them as foreign and kill them before they can establish.

“So we have done some preliminary screening on what we call the histocompatibility profile of your daughter, a thing called the Major Histocompatibility Complex.

“Your daughter has a very unusual version, something that is rarely seen in Anglo-Saxon Australians, it is more found in Pacific Islanders and New Guineans, but then she also has some European factors that are not normally found in these islander people. So, as a result, we have checked all the registered donors to see if we have a match. So far we have been unable to find anyone who appears suitable. Those few who we have found who could be donors with the typical Pacific Islanders complex, have the wrong factors for the Amelie’s Anglo-Saxon heritage.

“So, while we could try a less than perfect donor, we would have to use very high doses of anti-rejection drugs to have any chance and, even then, it is still likely to fail. If that happened all that would result is to kill your daughter even faster in trying this bone marrow transplant.

“We will of course keep looking and, should we find a suitable donor, we will let you know. We would also encourage you to have yourselves tested along with all your friends and relations in the event that some of them have the right histocompatibility complex factors.

“But at this stage I would not like you raise your hopes about this only to have them dashed yet again. That is why I have not discussed it so far.”

Catherine nodded to the assembled group, “Well, if that is all that is left to us, then that is what we must try. I do not want my daughter to have any more chemotherapy unless there is a real chance of it curing her, it is unfair on her to put her through it unless it has is a long term purpose.

“However as soon as possible I would like you to test me and see if I am a suitable donor. I am sure her father will also want to be tested as soon as possible. I will also ask all my other family and friends to do the same. So we just have to hope that one of us has the correct combination.

“Could you also keep looking in other places for suitable donors, perhaps in places like New Zealand, Fiji or Hawaii, in such people the right combination of factors may be more common.”

 

 

 

Chapter 23 – Donor Required

 

Two weeks went by while Catherine arranged for all her friends to be tested, Lizzie did the same with all her extended family, her mother, the other children, even Robbie though unrelated, and her great uncle and his children who lived in Melbourne. There were good matches to some people except for the one critical genetic component, what the doctors called the Melanesian associated genes.

The doctors checked transplant registers in other Australian cities and New Zealand but no matches were found there either, and it was not considered feasible to look further afield as the ability to get a donor to Sydney, even if one was found, was too hard. The chance of finding a donor with the right genotype outside the western Pacific seemed remote.

At the same time Catherine and Lizzie had taken to investigating everything they could find out about bone marrow transplants and tissue matching. The results were variable but when the match was good then the results were surprisingly good, up to 80% success, whereas disastrous for poor matches. They knew they could not subject Amelie to a transplant unless the match was good.

They had both become walking encyclopedias about the science of histocompatibility. They understood that this thing was referred to in the text books as HLA typing and measured things called antigens on the surface of the white cells, and that these fell in groups based on four closely linked genes on what was called Chromosome 6, a particular one of the 23 human chromosomes which made up a person’s DNA.

They had found plenty of people who could match Amelie for her first three genes, including Catherine’s own adopted father; it was the fourth one that eluded them in the right combination with the others.

The knowledge did not help Amelie but at least it gave her and Lizzie a common purpose and something to do in the many hours they shared, both while sitting and talking with Amelie and amongst themselves. At night they would sit up at home for hours with Patsy and they would tell her news of Amelie and their day and she would tell them about Mathew.

Catherine knew she must go and see her husband but she still could not bring herself to. On the one hand she felt anger towards him for what he had done; the putting of himself in harm’s way for no purpose. But in another way she felt a strange sort of admiration for his courage to risk anything to save his daughter. She also knew there was nothing he could do for his daughter right now. Therefore she procrastinated about going to visit him and trying to arrange for him to be able to visit Amelie.

She knew, from her Grandma, that he was mostly calm. But he also had occasional periods of manic craziness, when he still made threats. These had been reduced by medicine he was on, though he did not like it because he said it made him dopey.

Grandma was also talking to the doctors who examined him and they were become less concerned about his mental state now and discussing the option of allowing him out on day release provided he had taken his medication before he left.

Catherine was not so sure; she could not bear a repeat of what had happened before. She had this uncontrollable terror that his madness would return and it would end up worse.

She felt unable to cope with that along with dealing with the issues about Amelie and, even if it was not really fair to keep him locked up, part of her just felt relief that he was safe and out of harm’s way.

Amelie was not doing well but rarely complained. She was constantly breathless, her lips had a faint blue tinge, her weight kept steadily falling away. She bravely tried to eat the food they offered, because she knew it pleased them, but now even eating seemed to exhaust her.

Her greatest delight seemed to be the car and its house, she would spend hours just looking her red car, and often asked to be lifted down to sit in it as she could no longer climb in and out of bed on her own. But, after a few minutes of sitting up in it, she would ask to be lifted back up to bed, even sitting up seemed to tire her now.

It was funny how Lizzie and Catherine had started not to notice her daily deterioration and her ever decreasing ability to do things. It was as if it was so gradual that it passed them by, though their minds understood and they were gripped by an urgency to find a donor.

Amelie’ inexorable slide was only brought home to them one day when Patsy visited with them. She had not been in for four days with the work at the hotel, visiting Mathew and talking to his doctors.

But that day, when she came in she said, out loud, on seeing Amelie, “My poor pet, you are wasting away before my eyes and your lips are getting bluer and your breath is getting shorter.

Amelie just nodded at her, then said, “Grandma it is true, I am getter sicker each day aren’t I, but I am trying to be brave and Sophie helps me, she talks to me inside my head and says she will help me be brave, so it is not so bad, really.”

But after that Catherine realized it was like an hour glass, where the sand was running out. Soon only a handful of grains would remain and then there would be none. She felt totally panicked, they had tried and tried, searching and searching for a donor and none had been found.

But yet there must be one, she refused to admit it was not so, they only had to find this person. The terror flooded over her and now she knew she had to try harder, there must be a way forward.

That night she dreamed of Sophie again, perhaps it was her own daughter’s talk which had brought the memory back; at the time she had felt relief that Sophie was giving her comfort but no particular surprise. It was as if Sophie had a way of turning up when needed, even if she could not solve all the world’s problems.

But, that night, as she fell asleep, there was the Sophie from her childhood, the girl of about six or eight in a white dress, she knew it was her first communion dress.

Sophie, with her small girl’s solemn eyes, was saying to her. “, Cathy, you need to find your true father, only he can help you.”

 

 

 

Chapter 24 – Search for a Father

 

Next morning Catherine woke up with a clear purpose. She started by asking her mother if she thought that Sophie was still real, even after all these years.

Her Mum looked at her strangely. “Of course she said, but why?”

Catherine replied, “Last night I dreamed about Sophie, she was telling me to find my true father. I don’t know why, maybe it is just my desperate mind searching for any other options. It is so long ago since I remember Sophie, from when I was little, that, when I woke this morning, I started to wonder whether it was just my imagination. So I wanted to know what to think about her, Sophie.”

Lizzie looked at Catherine seriously, “It is funny, but of late I have found myself thinking of her too. “As you say, it may be coming from the same desperation you feel, but I know there was a real girl, Sophie, who lived in my bedroom almost fifty years before I did. I know she died when she was around eight years old. I know that from the time I visited her own Mum, Marie, when I saw her picture. Marie sort of told me that, not quite directly, but it was what she meant, that Sophie had died all those many years before I was born.

“And I have no doubt that Sophie talked to me before I was raped, warning me not to go with those men, even though I would not listen. I still keep Sophie’s locket in my purse, you had it for a while when you were a girl but when you went off to school I found it in your drawer and took it back because I knew you had stopped thinking about it. I think of it like a good luck charm.

“Then of course there was that time Sophie showed you the way to the water when we were in the desert. I have no doubt we would have both died then if not for that.

“So, even though I cannot explain how it can be that a little girl who lived half a century before me can communicate from beyond the grave, I have no doubt it is real, she is real and she can talk to us all at times.

“I also have her own mother’s promise that she would help when I needed it and she did with you that time. Perhaps that promise extends to you and Amelie too.

“Sophie has been coming back into my mind over the last few days too, not talking to me, but in other ways making me remember her. I have told Amelie some of the stories about her from when I was little. It helps to pass the time and, when I talk of Sophie, Amelie’s eyes light up.

Now for Amelie Sophie is real to her too, though whether that is just because she is imagining her from my stories, or experiencing her the way I did, I do not know. But now she is talking about her too and telling me that Sophie has become her friend.

“I find it pleases me that she had found a person to be her friend and comfort her in this terrible time. A couple times I have given Sophie’s locket to Amelie to hold as when she looks at the picture it seems to make her happy. I have offered to let her have it but she told me that it was Sophie’s gift to me, not her, and she does not need it to talk to Sophie.

“But I am sure that is not why you asked, you know much of what I have told you now already. You were there in the desert too and it was you she actually spoke to on that day, not me.

“So why is she coming back to us all now, what is she trying to tell us about you needing to find your true father? Is it that she is saying that man can help us, is that what you think?”

Catherine took a deep breath, her mother had always said the rape was something in her past that she did not need to think about, all that mattered was Catherine had been born and that fact made her glad.

But she knew that, despite this talk, it was still a painful memory for her mother; remembering the three men holding her down and doing this to her, a girl of only fifteen. But yet she had to go there. She had to ask her mother about it.

She said, “Mum, I hate to ask. But, for the first time in my life, I need to know. Do you have any idea which of the three men who raped you that night is my father?”

Her mother paused for a long minute before replying. It was as if her mind had suddenly conceived a new possibility, an awful option that brought hope.

She said, “It is funny, I have never thought about it the way you just put it to me, to me you were all of their child in that act and yet none of their child. There was something incompatible in that act with fatherhood, its brutality and fatherhood could never sit together in my own mind.

“So, all my life, until the trial day when Martin went to jail with the other two, part of me refused to have that thought, that one of them really was your biological father. Robbie was a perfect father; he loved you from when you were a tiny baby just as much as any father could. So for me, in my mind, he became your actual father, no other father was needed to create your existence in my mind.

“But, on that day, the day when Martin was convicted, I went and sat next to Julie in the gallery. I told myself I was only there to support her, but it was more than that, I needed to see justice done with my own eyes.

On that day another person was sitting near me in the gallery too, it was Martin’s wife. As the trial proceeded I kept finding her eyes were on me, casting hateful glances towards me, as if she blamed me for all that had happened. I could feel her malice and I was glad to know it hurt her.

Sitting beside her was a small girl, perhaps two years younger than you. What struck me about her was that she seemed to be the image of you at the same age.

“So, in that day of seeing the girl, I was almost sure that Martin was you father. I did not want to believe it. I would rather it had been one of the others, not that they were really better, but to me they seemed slightly less awful, more followers than the leader.

“Dan of course was Martin’s clone, I remember the day he stood in my restaurant in Broome and gloated, both over what he had done and over what he intended to do again. His evil almost overwhelmed me, but it was just a copy of Martin’s evil, more like a pale shadow.

“William I don’t really know, he was an equal participant but I doubt I ever spoke more than two words to him in any conversation, before or after that night. Still he was a little more aloof and it was him that finally broke ranks and gave the evidence that convicted the others. So I have felt a little more fondness for him than the others since then, not much but a little. If I could choose the father I wished from the three it would be him.

“But I am fairly sure Martin was your father, based on seeing you in his little girl. But then, if it is Martin, that is of no help to you. He had been dead now for nearly ten years, though he does have children around your age. But then, perhaps, seeing you in his daughter could all be in my mind. It still could really be one of the others.

“I suppose we will have to try and find out.”

Catherine said, “Yes, I do need to know, Amelie is fading so fast and there is so little time left to find a donor. It may be a futile hope but I need to know, at least to ask them to give me samples to test.

“Of course, even if we can work out from the testing who is the father, it may not help, this person may not be a match either, just the same as Mathew and I are not matches. But I still need to know.”

Lizzie said, “Of course you must know, we both must know for Amelie’s sake. My father, when I was a little girl, used to tell me, when I really did not want to do something but the choice was even worse, that I was making a devil’s choice. This is your and my devil’s choice.

“I will ask Julie to get me the details of them and their families, she is good at that sort of thing. Then we can arrange to meet them and make our request. We must do it quickly as there is not much time.”

Catherine looked directly at her mother, locking her eyes into hers. “It would be good if you would get those details from Julie. But then it is only for me to contact them. You have already done your part of the devil’s choice in telling me what you know. It is now up to me to beg the man who is my father to help me, despite the evil he did to you.”

Lizzie nodded her agreement, “Much as I hate to concede anything to these men you are right, it is more likely that they will help someone who may be their daughter than a person who helped to put them in jail.

Martin’s wife will hate me until the day she dies, and the others probably do too.

“But I do not envy you seeing this through, even though it must be done. I still cannot think of these men without the fear and loathing of that day rising up in me.”

 

 

 

Chapter 25 – First Meeting

 

It only took a day for Julie to come back with the details of all three men and their families.

Martin’s wife, Marilyn and two children, a boy aged fifteen, named after his father, and a girl of thirteen named Rebecca, lived in a house in Newcastle near Nobby’s Beach. The other child, Evelyn, aged nineteen, had come to Sydney but as yet they did not have an address for her. It was understood she was studying at New South Wales University and lived somewhere nearby.

Julie had placed a call from her firm to the mother, Marilyn, and found out she was at home over the next two days. So on the second day Catherine took the early morning train to Newcastle and took a taxi to the house, arriving about 9:30 am. She decided to arrive unannounced as she feared this lady would refuse to meet her if she gave her name.

A hard faced lady met her at the door, a lady with blond hair and once pretty features, but who had not aged well, already in her late thirties she was overweight and her skin had sun damage. Catherine gave her a bright smile, only to be met by a suspicious and guarded look.

Even though she doubted that this lady would have any idea of who she was there was already something unfriendly in her stare, perhaps it was the resemblance which Lizzie had said that she had to the daughter. At the front door Catherine said she needed to discuss a private matter and asked if she could come in to do so. Clearly reluctant the lady showed her into the formal drawing room and indicated a seat. No refreshments were offered.

Catherine launched into an explanation of how her daughter was sick and needed a bone marrow transplant to save her life. The woman looked perplexed. Then finally she got to the point that she thought that Martin could have been her father, she said that her mother was unsure but thought it was most likely to be him. As this came out she could see a nasty enjoyment spreading over this other woman’s face.

“What did you say your name was, who is your mother?”

So there was no avoiding this information coming out. When Catherine answered the question there was a long pause, but nothing resembling sympathy showed on Marilyn’s face.

Finally she spoke, “Well you have a nerve. How dare you come here and ask for my help? Your sluttish mother, having seduced my Martin, then tried to cry rape. She was a key person in destroying his business, our family reputation and sending him to jail where he was murdered.

“Despite all that you still come to me and ask for my help. I hope nothing saves your daughter and she dies an awful and painful death like my husband did. Not that Martin is likely to be the father, I am sure Lizzie had already slept with half the boys in Balmain before she flung herself at my Martin, when he was just trying to be kind to her. He never admitted to even sleeping with your slut mother. But yet you have the gall to come and ask for my help.

“What is it you think I and my children ever could or would do to help you? Why did you ever come here anyway?”

Catherine felt shocked by this woman’s viciousness; this was hatred towards her beyond anything she had imagined. Still she kept her resolve, determined not to lose the opportunity, if any existed.

“On the day your husband was sent to jail my mother was sitting in the public gallery near you. Sitting next to you was your oldest daughter. It struck my mother that your oldest daughter, who is two years younger than me, looks remarkably like me.

“After seeing your daughter, on that day, my mother was almost certain that Martin was in fact my father because of the family similarity between your daughter and me.

“So, if that is the case, and my mother has told me she is happy to give evidence to that effect, then we have good grounds to get a court ruling to compel your daughter to provide a sample for testing.

“If we are to go down that pathway of compulsion, rather than seeking cooperation, we would seek that all your children provide a sample, lest it be shown that another of Martin’s children is the most suitable for a donor.

“So, whether you help or not, we would then know who the father was. We would be happy to tell the world of this fact, yet another proof of the violent behavior of your husband, confirming I am his daughter and your children are my half brothers and sisters.

“It seems to me somehow fitting that this awful man, your husband, who harmed my mother and who may even so be my own biological father, should be compelled to provide aid to my daughter if she is his own biological granddaughter, and to do this through his other children, even though he is not alive to enjoy the justice of the moment.

“I have not decided yet whether to do so, but if I do it will come through an order of the court. You may wish to advise your children, who may be my half brother and sisters, of this likelihood.”

As she spoke this she watched Marilyn carefully, wishing to gauge her reaction so as to help her decide.

Marylyn looked at her with a vicious contempt but also, once the testing word was said, with something like fear. “You must be joking; I hope you, your daughter and especially your mother, rot in hell. There is no way I will ever help any of you or allow my children to do so. Now get out of my house before I call the police and ask them to arrest you for trespass.

Catherine stood up and turned to leave. She knew this was hopeless, and felt that the words she had spoken were nothing but a hollow threat.

As she stepped around the chair to leave her eyes fell on three framed pictures on the mantel piece. One was of a young teenage girl and the second of a mid teenage boy, neither looked like her. But the third was of a girl who looked not much younger than her, wearing a lovely dress, perhaps dressed for an end of school formal.

She was so like Catherine that it almost took her breath away, the resemblance was really striking, not in all ways, but there was an indefinable look that was just her, it could have been a photo of her taken “around the time she got married; it was as if this girl was really herself, as if this picture captured the person in her own wedding photos.

Heedless of the mother Catherine walked over and picked the photo up, looking closely and saying. “I can see why Mum thought that Martin was my father; she is so like me, she really could be my sister.”

The woman screamed in rage, “Get out, I told you to get out, how dare you compare yourself to my Martika; she is nothing like you, she is the image of her father.”

Catherine found her fear of this woman had gone and in its place she had a hard rage. “I do not know if Martin was my father and, of all the three awful men who raped my mother, and of whom your vile husband was the instigator, I hope it is not him. But, as I said, I have been told that if needed I can get a court order and force all your three children to give a sample to see who matches my daughter best. When I show the judge a picture of your daughter, alongside a photo of me on the day I was married, I have no doubt he will grant an order compelling what I seek. So, if I need to, that is what I will do and, one way or another, I will find out.”

As she spoke these words she saw the woman flinch. Something like real fear now sat alongside the anger and hatred in this woman’s eyes. She wondered what this woman was afraid of in testing her daughter, was there a secret there she wanted not to share.

 

 

 

Chapter 26 – Second Meeting

 

The following day Catherine was shown into the reception of the Long Bay Prison Hospital. She had already rung through yesterday afternoon, after her meeting with Marilyn, to arrange the visit.

She had been told that Dan Ashcroft was an extremely difficult and dangerous prisoner who often had to be forcibly restrained and she was likely to find this meeting difficult and confronting, she could sense the prison authorities would prefer this visit never occurred.

But for her there was no choice, it may be awful but she must see it through. Perhaps kindness and charm would work were threats failed.

But as she walked through the gates from the outside into the prison complex and surveyed the high walls with their razor wire topping, she felt as if she was descending into a version of hell, none of the nice house as a veneer to hide a monstrous person that she had been struck by yesterday. Here evil was in the air both within and without.

At first it was almost a relief, after entering the forbidden jail grounds, to step through the hospital doors where cleanliness, orderlies in white and brightly lit spaces seemed less bleak. Yet the cheerless sterility of the outside, an absence of any smiling faces or semblance of ordinary life permeated this place as well. But, as well, there was a sense of business like efficiency and people hardened against ordinary emotions which suffused the space. Despite the light filled clean surfaces, it was more hideous than the external barren walls and lifeless squalor.

She tried to block this from her mind as she was taken down the long corridor from the reception to the meeting place. She came into a room where a man, in pale track pants and a white long sleeve polo shirt, sat.

He looked relatively innocuous, like any other patient, and somehow cowed and pathetic. But, as he looked up, pure malice gleamed in eyes that seemed both knowing and mad. There was an evil shining from this person more terrifying than anything which came from Martin’s wife. She gained an instant insight into the way her mother had felt that day when Dan Ashcroft had come to visit her in her restaurant in Broome. Now she understood, in a way she never had before, why her mother had just fled that day, without thought, to escape this awfulness.

All thoughts of pleading with this man for help drained out of the plug holes of her mind. Yet she must, even so.

She dropped her gaze as she took a deep breath and collected her thoughts. He began speaking before she could form her own words. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Then he peered more intently, his face showing recognition. “I know you; you are someone I met before. That’s right, I met you as a small girl, all those years ago, at the school in Broome. You told me the way to your mother’s house, how old were you then, maybe six, cute as a button and so very trusting.

“It was a big help to follow your directions and not to have to ask further. It was such a satisfaction to see the look of unexpected pleasure on your mother’s face when she saw me, after you told me the way.”

Catherine had forgotten her role in trusting this man, as a six year old child, giving the directions to her own house so he could find her mother. This memory was something she must have buried in a locker in her mind. It came flooding back, along with her mother’s panicked flight, bringing Cathy with her, going far out into the desert to escape him.

She felt amazement that he could recognize her as an adult from last seeing her as a small child. But there was something calculated and clever in his madness, an ability to see clearly with different eyes which found only the details they sought out.

She decided to pick up where that conversation had left off all those years ago, hoping his mind still lived in that place as an escape from now.

“Yes I remember you and how I helped you. Now I am asking you to help me in return. My own little girl, who is even younger than I was on that day, needs your help. She needs to find my father and she wants to know if it is you. She needs you to give a sample for testing.

The man made an obscene cackle, like a feigned amusement, “Well, isn’t she a sweet little thing to ask for help through you, she really should have come to ask me herself. I am afraid I must say no as I don’t answer requests unless they come from the person who is making them.

“Though I suppose I could make an exception for you, seeing as you once were a sweet little girl too. But even for you I will not make a full exception, for me to help there is always price, everything comes with a price, even helping cute little girls, in fact especially helping cute little girls.

“So tell your little girl she must come and see me and ask me herself, or I will not agree. Perhaps she could give me a kiss on the cheek when she comes and asks, ever so nicely, If she does that then I will think about it. That is what all nice little girls should do.

“I like little girls; I have held and played with a lot of little girls, even touched them in private places when their Mummies and Daddies weren’t looking. Yes I am happy to hold and cuddle your little girl that way too if she asks nicely enough. Perhaps if she lets me cuddle and touch her I will agree to give a sample, otherwise the answer is no.”

At that moment Catherine could not bear this awful man any more, there was something so uncompromising in his vile madness. She could not bear for him to have been her father, or her daughter’s grandfather. She really could not bear to allow herself to touch any part of him or have him touch any part of her or Amelie.

She knew, no matter how desperate she was, she had made a bad mistake in coming to see him. His pedophile’s leer had polluted her inside and out. She would not let any part of this touch her daughter.

She could always seek a court order to have a sample forcibly taken from him to test whether he was her parent. But she could not bear the thought of finding out if it was indeed so, she understood her mother’s desire that it be anybody but him, he was barely human and that human fragment was so twisted and perverted by evil that it had ceased to have a human soul even if the body still looked like that of a living person.

So she walked away from him with rage and despair in equal parts.

As she came back to the prison reception she was handed a message from an orderly in a white uniform. It said, “Please ring hospital, your daughter’s breathing has got very bad.

She rang and talked to her Mum who told her since she had gone in this morning Amelie had deteriorated sharply, she was starting to have real difficulty with her breathing and they had diagnosed pneumonia. They had started a course of new antibiotics and put her back on oxygen. But they were very worried about how it might turn out.

It was not a good time for her to be away from her daughter’s side. Patsy was also trying to arrange for Mathew to visit, lest Amelie continued to deteriorate.

Catherine left the prison and caught a taxi back to the hospital, feeling escalating fear inside, hoping this was not the end of all hope. She quickly made her way up to the ward.

Three doctors, two nurses and her mother stood in a circle round her daughter’s bed, blocking her view. Then she saw Amelie in side profile; she had not looked her way.

Her daughter at first glance did not look too bad, though she was now being given oxygen; perhaps this had improved her breathing and colour and made her seem less sick.

Catherine looked at the clock, it seemed like a whole day had passed since she got up this morning, leaving early to go to the prison because they said this was the best time to meet Dan. It was only still eleven am.

She wondered why time seemed to have stopped, perceived minutes only taking seconds to pass. It was as if her whole life was running in slow motion, until time became suspended and stopped in one final instant.

Her daughter looked up, “Mummy,” she whispered, a happy but unworldly smile on her face, “what are you doing here, you are supposed to be at the prison, trying to find your father and my grandfather. You must go back and find him now.”

Catherine came to her daughter and put her hand on her small forehead. It felt unnaturally hot, a fever was taking hold. Her daughter took her own hand in hers and pulled it away from her head, looking at her with flushed cheeks and over bright eyes.

“Mummy I know you have been looking and it is hard. But you must not stop now, you must keep looking for your father, Sophie says you must. That is the most important thing.”

Cathy pulled her own Mum aside and asked her what she thought, it felt to her that it was like her daughter was sliding into a place from which there was no way back and she needed to stay by her side.

Yet Amelie was so clear and insistent that she must keep looking. It was like Amelie could see beyond the world in which they lived. As her body slid away it seemed her mind gained clearness far beyond the age and wisdom belonging to the person who lived within this tiny body.

Lizzie said. “The oxygen seems to have helped her breathing. Soon, with luck, the antibiotics will start to control the pneumonia. I think she is right. There is still one more man you must visit and ask; that is William. I am sure if you asked the prison they would arrange for you to see him as soon as you can get back today. You could be there in time for lunch, and be back here not long after if you need to.

Ring now and see if you can arrange it and, if you can, then go straight away. That way you will have at least done what Amelie is asking and she will be pleased by that. It may be that her child wisdom sees something we do not, we must not waste that.

Meantime I will ring the prison if any further problems with Amelie develop and you need to hurry back

 

 

 

Chapter 27 – Moment of Truth

 

Catherine walked out of the room where William sat; having heard and agreed to his demand that she bring her mother in to see this man, her former rapist. It felt so wrong, knowing that she must accede to yet one more despicable request.

She knew she now had only one roll of the dice left, and along with it was the knowledge that it may be too late anyway. She had a sick feeling that everything she did was destined for failure. It felt as if the effort would overwhelm her to keep going. She just wanted to be with Amelie.

She found her way back into the prison office, so as to ring her mother who was sitting in the hospital by Amelie’s bedside, and ask her to leave her daughter and come here instead. She prepared her mind to make the request. It was hard to think coherently, let alone to talk.

This man, William, had also been unbelievably awful, the fact that he could suggest having sex with a person who could be his own daughter had rocked her to her core, the way he had talked about her mother had been hideous, even though he had in the end admitted he had raped her. Then the demand from him to bring her daughter, she knowing that, with her daughter’s immunity shot to bits and with the hospital struggling to control her current bout of pneumonia with high powered antibiotics, there was no way she could be moved from her hospital bed, where the continuous drip fed her life sustaining fluids and nutrition, now that she could no longer eat. So that had been an impossible demand.

It was all too hard; she wanted to walk away from this place full of awful people. But still her mind willed her to keep going. She prayed that the hospital would somehow manage to keep her daughter alive, even for a few more days and buy some chance that a bone marrow donor could be found.

After this man William had talked about her mother in that awful way, nearly as bad as the way Dan had talked even though this man did not strike her as mad, she had felt that she had used all her chances and lost. And yet, just at the end, when he had agreed to her proposal to just bring her mother and a photo of her daughter instead she thought she had detected something more decent buried deep, a place of compassion.

Lizzie had told her several times over the last week that she had to prepare her mind for her daughter to die, to allow her to go with grace and dignity. But she could not. She refused to give up while even one thread of hope remained, however tenuous.

She was so angry at God that he had allowed it to come to this; she knew there was someone out there with power over the Universe and the people in it. Sophie had shown her that, long ago, when she had saved her and her mother’s life. And the dream she had of Sophie, a few days past, when all else seemed lost, had seemed to suggest that there was still some hope if she could only find her true father. But that other despicable man, Dan, had refused to help. Dan was nothing more than an evil and degenerate idiot tied to a bed in the psychiatric ward. But he still had enough knowledge to pervert and refuse her request to allow a sample to be taken to see if his tissues were a suitable match for his daughter.

She knew she could obtain a court order to have it done, that was what the lawyer said, and it was the same with Martin’s children. But she had run out of time for that or, at least, she had to try this other possible father first, in the event that he could help without further delay.

The hourglass holding the few remaining grains of her daughter’s life was so nearly empty, there was no time for any further tries, unless a miracle happened and her daughter stabilized. So she knew realistically this man was her last hope, this despicable man, her mother’s rapist, someone who had leered at her as he recalled the pleasure that this brutal act had given him.

All these thoughts were swirling in her mind as she walked to the phone and picked it up.

Still this one thing remained, to ask her mother to come, to drop everything, leaving little Amelie all alone while she returned to meet this man and subject herself to his awful scrutiny while he leered at her. It really was a devil’s choice.

But while any hope remained of saving her daughter’s life she would do whatever it took, no limits. She so wished Mathew was here to help her, not locked up by himself. She was so tired of trying to fight the whole world on her own.

She steeled herself and took another deep breath, picked up the phone and starting dialing the number to get her mother. The nurse picked up and she asked to speak to her mother, saying who she was. She knew from her mother’s first words, it was there too in her tone of voice, that there was a new and more immediate problem to deal with.

“Oh my God, Cathy I am so glad you rang. Amelie has gone downhill really fast in the last hour and a half since you left.

“I think we are losing her. You need to come back to the hospital as soon you can. She is going blue, despite the oxygen, and every breath is a struggle. The doctors think she has only a few hours to live.”

Cathy stood there holding the phone in shock, it was past time to seek any help; she must go back to her daughter’s side and help her make her peace with God.

She said, “OK Mum, I am coming.”

She turned to go, there was a man walking fast down the hall way towards her. She recognized him as one of the warders from the cell.

The man said to her, “He has asked to see you again; I think he has decided to help.”

She felt torn, she should just leave; her mother had as good as said it was too late. But there was still a tiny thread of hope if this man could help, she refused to surrender it. She nodded and followed the warder back to the room.

This man, William was still sitting there. But something indescribable was different. She looked at him closely. She could have sworn she could see the traces of tears in his otherwise hard eyes.

He said, “Before you go, I have a favour to ask, just a favour, not a condition to helping you. Could you tell me something about this little person, your daughter, that you want me to help, just something about her, anything really.”

Catherine was thrown, she did not know what she was expecting, but it was not this. She thought and the words came. “She loves a red car. She got it for Christmas and barely got out of it until she got sick. Now, even though she is too sick to get out of bed, she can barely breathe, we keep it beside her hospital bed and she still looks at it every day and smiles.

She heard a muffled noise behind her. She looked around, the warder was crying.

She remembered. She had a photo of her daughter, sitting in the red car on Christmas Day, in her purse. She took it out and handed it to the man. “That is for you to keep, something to know her by, perhaps she is your granddaughter. That photo was taken last Christmas, just before she got sick.

The man sat there looking at the picture, slowly something in his face crumpled until tears were streaming down his cheeks. “She looks just like my mother and my sister when they were little; there are photos of them in the house where I used to live. It is a long time since I have seen them but I still remember.”

Catherine fixed her eyes on him and bored them into him, determined to make this moment count. “So, you will try and help me save the life of your granddaughter?”

The man nodded mutely.

Suddenly Catherine remembered what her mother had said, that it was too late, that her daughter was dying, she was unlikely to make it through until tonight.

She shook her head, anger flaring, looking at this man who had made his offer too late. “Well thank you for your offer but I am afraid it is past time to help. When I went out before to ask my mother to come here she told me my daughter was dying, she told me to come back to the hospital to hold her in my arms one last time while she yet lives, as she will probably be dead by tonight. She has pneumonia as well as lungs full of cancer cells. The doctors told me the only hope to save her life was a bone marrow transplant. We have all searched for a month and been unable to find someone.

“So, as a last act of desperation, I came to ask you to be tested to see if you were suitable and, if you were, to be the donor, even though your only role in my birth was to rape my mother.

“So thank you for your kind offer, but it seems I will have to decline it, the time for helping is past.”

She turned to leave. The warder started to unlock the door, his hands shaking as he fumbled with the keys.

A voice behind her called out. “Please wait, just for another minute.”

She turned to face him, anger still flaring along with contempt. “Yes?”

“It may be nothing, but in my free time I have been studying medicine and things like that. I have read of a technique called white blood cell transfusion, which is used on cancer patients when their immunity is gone. They take white cells from a suitable donor and give them to the sick person and sometimes they can help fight off the infection and help also kill the cancer cells. Perhaps, if I could give some blood, they could try that. Then, if that works and controls the pneumonia, they can test me to see if I am suitable for a bone marrow donor.”

It was something that Catherine had heard the doctors talk about, experimental and last ditch. They had dismissed it as pointless without a bone marrow transplant as, at best, it would buy a few days. But perhaps it was something.

She looked steadily at the man, the rage gone. “Thank you for that, I will tell the doctors and see what they say, better still I will ring before I leave and ask them.”

She went back to the phone and got put through to the oncologist and told him what had been said. She could almost imagine the cogs in his brain turning over as the silence continued, then he spoke.

“Well it is something and there is nothing else, it may at least help control the infection in her lungs and buy some time, as the antibiotics seem not to be working.

“Can you arrange for me to talk to the prison superintendent and I will see what I can arrange. We could ask the prison hospital to collect the blood and you could bring it back in an ambulance.”

So it was that, in another half an hour, she was sitting in the front seat of the prison ambulance, siren blaring. It pushed its way through crowded city streets until it came to Camperdown. On her lap sat a plastic bag with a pint of this man’s blood, bright and red.

Catherine found herself praying as they drove, for what she knew not, not for her daughter’s life, that seemed an impossible hope, but at least for something good to come out of this awful place where she had been.

She came to the hospital, handed over the blood and rushed up the corridors to the ward where Amelie lay, propped up in her own mother Lizzie’s arms.

Amelie still was blue but seemed comfortable. She smiled at her mother with a beatific smile and said. “Mummy, Grandma has been telling me more about her friend Sophie, from when she was a little girl, the time she rescued you both in the desert. Now Sophie is talking to me, inside my head, telling me not to be frightened as she will look after me. She is also saying you have found my Grandpa, so thank you for looking.”

Five minutes later a nurse came in with the blood bag saying. “We have checked the blood type and it matches, so the doctor has suggested that, rather than taking the time now to separate the white cells, we give her the whole blood. She is already anaemic and struggling for air so the extra red blood cells may help too.”

So they connected the blood pack to the drip and they sat there with Amelia, telling more stories about their shared friend Sophie while the blood ran in, drip by drip. In three hours Amelie was no worse, maybe a bit pinker, in five hours her breathing seemed a bit better, still the blood kept running, drip by drip, slower now.

Cathy found herself shaking with fatigue, she had not eaten all day, but she realized that tonight there was still one more thing she must do. She must go and see Mathew and try and make him understand that he must stop fighting the whole world and come and add his bit towards helping his daughter.

She walked outside and asked a taxi to take her to the Kirkbride Building in Callan Park, Rozelle.

 

 

 

Chapter 28 – Mathew

 

It was coming up to ten o’clock at night and she knew she was pushing her luck to try and see someone at this late hour, but she knew she could be very persuasive when she needed to be.

She rang the bell, over and over. Finally a grumpy orderly came down to see who it was. Before the man had a chance to slam the door closed she wedged her foot inside.

He said, “What do you want so late at night, surely you realise that visiting hours finished over three hours ago.”

She said, “I am Catherine, Mathew Jamison’s husband. I need to see my husband, I will call the governor if I need to, but my daughter is dying and her father needs to come with me to see her, to hold her one last time and say goodbye.”

There was something in the fierceness of her voice that silenced the man, he looked almost ashamed. “Yes of course you must see him. I will come up and unlock the door to his room. He should be in bed but I doubt he is asleep, he often stays awake half the night making his plans for a miracle to cure her or for revenge. Sometimes, if he gets too crazy, they have to give him a needle.

Catherine hardened her mind; it was just one more awfulness. She would see it through. The man unlocked the lock with his key and then knocked. “Mathew, you have a visitor.”

The door opened from the inside. He was standing there in a dirty dressing gown, face gaunt and unshaved. But his eyes lit up with delight for an instant when he saw her, before reality dawned.

“I suppose you have come to tell me that my daughter is dead, poisoned to finish her off by those evil men, those doctors with their poison drugs are no better than the people who sprayed me with poison, killers the whole lot of them.”

She looked at this man that she loved, even with the madness in his eyes and started to cry, she had not let herself really cry for months, she had forced herself to hold it together and try to be strong for the sake of her daughter.

“Oh Mathew, I need you to help me not to fight with me. I can’t do this on my own anymore. I have tried to be brave and fight the world but now I am too tired, I just can’t do it without you.

“Our daughter is not dead but she probably will be in a day or two and I need you to come and see her again, to hold her in your arms again and give her the comfort that only you can give. I will not let her die without you holding her one last time.”

The sobs overwhelmed her and she stood there with her face in her hands, crying as if her heart would break.

For a minute Mathew stood next to her, looking at her in anguish but uncertainty. Then he shuffled over and wrapped his arms around her and held her, stroking her hair and trying to comfort her like a child.

She sobbed as she clung to him and he held her too, loving having this woman back in his arms, somehow helping her took away his own pain.

Gradually her crying stopped and now she looked up at him steadily. “Will you come?

“Yes, I will come, I know now that I have failed you both and must stop running away by blaming others and hiding behind my anger. So yes, I must come and hold my little girl again and comfort her. At the same time I will try and comfort you as you have for me in the past.”

Catherine turned to him again and said, “There is something I must tell you from today, we must neither of us let ourselves hope, but it is something. I have found a man who may be able to help her, to be the donor she needs to save her life. He is in Long Bay Jail for rape and murder but he says he is my father; he told me our daughter is the image of his mother and his sister. Just when I had seen him, soon after lunch time, my mother rang to say Amelie was dying, she would not see out the day.

“Then this man gave her his blood and by tonight her blueness had gone and she was pink again. She has pneumonia still and is very sick but if she can recover enough from that then perhaps they can give her enough drugs to kill all the cancer cells and then, if this man is a match, he can give her new healthy bone marrow to let her live again.

“It is not certain, but it is something with more hope than anything since she got sick the second time. So we must both hope and pray. And even if it is not enough and she dies, yet still we must both hold and comfort her and each other as well.

“So tomorrow you must come with me and take her and hold her and tell her that you love her. That is all you can do, that is all any of us can do. Then we must trust the rest to God.

Mathew nodded, he was past fighting God and man too, he knew she was right, loving his daughter and his wife was all he could do, he must let go of the other.

Catherine turned around; the orderly was still standing in the hallway looking in. She turned to him and said. “It is OK; I will stay with my husband tonight. You can lock the door if you need to. Tomorrow we will both go to our child.

 

 

 

Chapter 29 – A Chance

 

Catherine awoke in the early morning dawn. For a second she wondered where she was, she felt safe and happy. Then she realised that Mathew’s arms were around her and it felt so good. Last night they had loved each other with their bodies for the first time in months.

That simple act had been like the lancing of a boil, it had let the poison out of both their souls. In its place something good had begun to grow again.

She knew her daughter’s life still hung in the balance, there was every chance that they would be burying her inside a week and while part of her quailed at that thought another part of her knew now she had done everything she could and that this was in God’s hands now.

Yesterday, when Amelie had spoken of her friend Sophie, with a wisdom far beyond her two and a half years, saying her friend would mind her, another wall had broken inside her. She knew Sophie had saved her and her mother all those years ago and, in her mother telling Amelie that story, a simple door to faith and belief had been opened.

That did not mean Amelie would live, but it gave her comfort that she would be cared for and safe, even beyond the grave. That was a gift far beyond the power of most people to give.

And for her, equally precious, she had her husband and the man that she loved back. He had told her, after their love making and before they had slept in the dawn, that this was the first night in longer than he could remember how he was not haunted by demons in his dreams, that feeling her need had restored his own self, because he realised he had something he could give.

But, beyond even that, she had hope for her daughter’s survival. As the colour had flowed back into her veins and her breathing eased yesterday she had felt in the presence of something miraculous, a miracle that at the time had seemed beyond grasping, but as if this other man’s act of giving his blood had carried something more, like it was the first decent thing he had ever done and in that salvation he was also giving new life to another person.

She pulled herself up short. Best not to let flights of fancy run away in her mind. She did not even know for sure that he would be a suitable donor, all she had so far was recognition of a photo and a blood match, a tissue match was vastly more improbable.

But yet, when one is in the presence of a miracle then faith is all that remains; so she must hold onto her faith and believe that what seemed impossible less than a day ago was indeed possible. So she allowed herself to smile, she had faith again and with it came an ability to have joy in life.

She realised Mathew was awake and looking at her intensely. “You are smiling he said. It is so long since I have seen you really smile. I had forgotten how beautiful it was.”

She nodded, “I have my belief back, my belief in God and in the goodness of life. In all their lives most people never witness a miracle, in the last day I have witnessed four. They say that three of anything is more than enough; four is truly a gift from God.

Mathew looked at her inquiringly.

She continued. Yesterday morning I was watching my daughter die, desperate and hopeless. To save her I went and begged the most evil man I knew, my mother’s rapist and a convicted murderer who smiled while he killed another man without remorse and yesterday had smiled when he remembered what he did to my mother. I knew I was in the presence of evil and yet I begged.

Then, when I showed this man the picture of our Amelie, the first miracle happened. He sat there looking at her with tears rolling down his face. In her picture he recognised his own mother and sister and more than that he recognised the evil in what he had done.

In that moment I knew both that I had found my real father and that he would help me. At first it made me hate him more, I would not allow him to have redemption through crying, it was too easy for him, it was too late. My daughter was past help, so the offer was a meaningless gesture. But that remorse opened something good inside him and with that desire to help came the next part of that miracle, the knowledge that his blood could help and the willingness to give it, to do something real not just feel regret.

The second miracle was when I returned to hospital. My daughter was still dying but something had happened inside her which had taken away all her fear and had given her peace and comfort. My mother was telling Amelie the story of Sophie, my friend and how she saved my mother and my life in the desert. As I listened I remembered so clearly how Sophie had told me not to worry when we sat alone and thirsty, waiting to die. She did not promise me that we would live, she simply told me not to worry or be frightened as she would mind both of us.

In that moment, when I saw Amelie’s beatific face, it was as if she was already with the angels and Sophie was caring for her. So I knew that no matter whether Amelie lived or died I did not need to be afraid for her anymore.

The third miracle was when I watched that blood flow into Amelie, drip by drip, hour by hour and suddenly my dying daughter was not dying anymore, something in that blood had given her new life. It may only be a temporary reprieve but the new life is real.

The final and, for me, the most important miracle was, last night, to come here, expecting to find in you only rage and madness, but needing you all the more. Instead I found love returned.

So now I cannot help but smile. Four miracles should be more than enough. But yet I want and believe there can be one more. That our daughter can receive this man’s own bone marrow cells and with them and the other drugs they can kill the cancer and she can survive.

Mathew put his arms around her and held her close. “I too have had my own miracle; that you came back to me in need. In the past you have been so strong that there was nothing I could give you. Last night was the first time you have ever truly and totally needed me, just me. In that place something inside me was healed, the hate and rage was gone. I know my daughter needs me too and that is good and I will give it to her.

But, most important was your own need, it finally brought us to the place where you were not strong enough on your own.

I do not have your faith that our daughter can be cured; I have lived too many to times with failure for belief. Yet it is enough for me to feel your hope and live in your hope.

 

 

 

Chapter 30 – Last Roll of the Dice

 

Catherine and Mathew came into hospital about eight o’clock to find Amelie sitting up in bed and looking better than she had in more than a week. Lizzie was asleep in the chair next to her bed.

When Amelie saw her Dad she let out a whoop of delight. “Daddy, I knew you would come back. Mummy said she was going to get you and Grandma was sure you would come and see me, and Sophie told me you would come too. I am so happy now that everyone is here.”

Mathew picked her up and cradled her in his arms. There was almost nothing of her now, just a little round head with a few sprigs of hair trying to grow and a wasted body. He was shocked at how thin she had grown, and felt remorse at selfishly neglecting her for the last two months to chase shadows in search of revenge.

He stroked her head as he cuddled her, saying. “I love you my pet and am so happy to see you again.

She ran her own little fingers though his hair and said. “I love you too Daddy, but of course you already know that. And I know everything will be all right now you have come back. Sophie promised me that as well.”

He hugged her as if she was a porcelain doll which would break at a puff of wind. She felt so incredibly precious.

Yet, as he felt her feather weight and heard her wheezing and the rattle in her lungs, the terror gripped him too, it seemed impossible that she had lived so long let alone that she could survive any more. Part of him just wanted her suffering to be over and let her die in peace.

But then, as he thought that thought, he looked at her bright face, so full of life, and at his own Catherine’s face, still daring to hope. He knew he must fight on and help keep the hope alive too.

Half an hour later a troupe of doctors came in. Lizzie had told them about the potential donor yesterday afternoon. So they had arranged to have William checked into the prison hospital and two of them had gone over to examine him, to take samples to determine whether his tissue would match Amelie’s and also to check for any signs diseases which threatened her.

Last night the laboratory had worked back late processing all the samples, as they all knew the clock was fast running down.

This far all seemed fine. It was likely William would be a suitable donor; finally after more than 100 people tested it looked like they had found someone suitable.

The tests would be completed late today and tonight William would be transferred to a secure bed in a hospital here.

At first the prison had been reluctant to allow that he be transferred, but Amelie’s doctors had been insistent. They needed him right here on hand to have the minimum delay between extracting his cells and giving them to Amelie.

When all the test results were in this evening, if they confirmed a suitable match, Amelie would be scheduled to go for a first round of radiation treatment tomorrow, to kill as many of the cancer cells as possible, followed by a high dose of chemotherapy in her drip to start killing any surviving cancer cells. Then, the next day she would receive a second dose of radiation as a last ditch attempt to kill any remaining cancer cells.

In the process these treatments would kill all her own bone marrow cells. Then in three days, when the anticancer drug was flushed out of her body by the saline drip, they would start to give William’s cells. To do this they would give William an anaesthetic and harvest these cells from the bone marrow in his hips. Then they would take these cells and run them into Amelie through a central venous catheter, slowly flowing these new and healthy cells into her body through her blood and hoping they would settle and start to multiply in her own bone marrow.

Normally they would have given William a treatment to boost his own bone marrow but that meant delaying the start of the killing her cancer cells. It was a race against time and time was not on her side to delay.

They would have also liked to get her stronger, to feed her up, but one look at the X-Ray of her lungs and it was clear there was no time for that either, already the cancer had more than half filled them. So tonight they must pray that all the tests came up right and tomorrow they would begin a last and desperate roll of the dice. t

When the doctor had finished giving them all a detailed description of the process from here he paused and took a deep breath. He looked at them all seriously and said, “I just need to be sure you all understand the consequence if this fails. There is no way back.

“Once we have started this treatment if the bone marrow does not take Amelie will surely die, she will have no immunity and be unable to make blood cells or other things such as the platelets that stop her bleeding. Within a week, or two at the most, it will be over for her.

“We can give her transfusions to cover her for a few days but after that it is up to her. So you need to know that before you decide. And you must also know this treatment we will give her will also make her really sick as well, it will kill many healthy cells in her body, cells in her hair and skin and lungs. So for a few days she will be even sicker than she is now and she already has so few reserves on which to live.

So the treatment may well kill her, even sooner than the cancer does. Having been so weakened by the cancer makes her a far from an ideal patient on which to use this procedure. Some of my colleagues are saying I should advise you against trying it; the risks are too great in her condition.

The chances of success would have been much higher if we had found a donor a month ago.

You do not have to decide until all the results are in. So far the results are encouraging but we are still waiting on two further tests. Only if they match as well can we be definite that the procedure is indicated.

You need to weigh this all up over the next few hours so that when the results are in you can make this decision. I expect to know by ten pm tonight, what all the results are.”

Mathew and Catherine paused before replying, each waiting for the other to say something when the doctor finished his long speech. They both wanted to say yes, to take the offered hope, but they knew they were deciding on whether their daughter lived or died, acting as if they were God. It seemed such a huge step to take. They took each other’s hands and looked at one another, neither wanting to speak first, together trying to weigh it all.

It was Lizzie who broke the silence. “Doctor, I am convinced Amelie would have died yesterday but for that transfusion, she hovered in that place of crossing over. Everyone said we were losing her. I could bear that when there was no hope.

But we will lose her anyway, today or tomorrow or perhaps in a week or two if we do not try. We have tried everything else and this is the last chance to stop the cancer and save her life. You say she may well die even with the treatment. I can live with that, I can bury her with love if I must. But I could not live with myself if we did not try.

My daughter has been given the Devil’s Choice, to beg the man who raped me all those years ago to save her daughter’s life. This she did yesterday and with that awful choice she bought hope. I will not allow her to make another Devil’s Choice today, to take it on herself to decide whether her daughter lives or dies.

I will decide for her if I must. But I would like her husband, Mathew, to decide. I say he must share the Devil’s Choice.

Lizzie walked over to Mathew and took his hands, pulling him to face her. I think we both know that Catherine has done enough; already she has made one impossible choice. I would like you to make this choice. I will choose if I must, but I think this choice now belongs to you. You must choose which path to take and with it take responsibility for whether your daughter lives or dies, it must rest on your shoulders.”

Mathew looked at her and nodded, then he looked back at Catherine, she nodded too, as if to say it was now for him alone. He looked at his daughter, sitting on her bed in the far corner of the room, playing with a doll, seemingly unaware of what they were doing.

Now he knew with clarity, he must take the hope brought at such a high price, he must accept his own Devil’s Choice, regardless of whether his daughter lived or died from the choice.

He turned to the Doctor and said, “I choose the chance of life, I choose the treatment.”

Lizzie and Cathy both nodded. Suddenly his daughter turned to him and gave him a flashing smile. “Thank you Daddy, Sophie says you made the right choice.”

 

 

 

Chapter 31 – Late in the Night

 

It was after ten in the night when all the results of the matching were in.

It was good but not good enough.

It was the best match they had found so far but still there were problems. The doctors were saying it was an even bet whether they should go ahead. Three of the four HLA genes were a good match, including the Melanesian one, but the other gene was only a partial match. It was not terrible but it was likely that any transplant would also need heavy doses of anti-rejection drugs and they came with significant side effects, they themselves harmed the immune system, which they were trying to rebuild with the transplant.

It was a bitter disappointment when all had seemed so promising. In the end the medical advice was to try and check the match some other ways, try things which would indicate whether this partial match really would be a real problem, and once this was done they could decide.

However the good news was Amelie seemed much better; it was as if the white cells from William had some special property that was making her better even if they were less than perfect as donor cells. William was now being kept in a high security ward on the floor below and could remain there on standby for another day or two if needed.

The time was approaching eleven pm. Amelie was sleeping soundly and they were thinking they too should go home and sleep. The desk phone at the nurse’s station rang. The nurse passed it to Catherine. It was a request that she come to meet with William, he had asked to see her; he wanted to know about the match.

She came into his room with a security escort. He was sitting on his bed, reading the paper and looking a little pale and tired, as if the uncertainty was affecting him too.

William asked her how she and her daughter were going and if she knew the test results yet.

She nodded her head, “Yes the results are in.”

“And?” he asked her, seeking more.

Despite her disappointment with the result she felt she still had hope, Amelie seemed much improved even if it was a temporary respite and he had done what he could.

Catherine smiled at him and he returned her smile, even if a bit unsure. He asked her what all the results were again.

Now she told him truthfully, that it was good but not perfect, the match was three and a half out of four; that they probably would still need to go ahead as it was the best option they had though they would really have liked to get a four out of four match score.

William looked at Catherine intently. “Perhaps there is one other thing you should know, I have spent the day hoping I was the right person but also trying to think of alternatives if I am not. There is still my sister and my mother, and my sister has three children. I am sure that any of them would help if I asked, even though none have spoken to me for more than ten years. They are all good people and would want to help. But there is someone else who I think is the most likely match.

“From what you told me it appears that you have sought help from all three of us who could be your father, not just from me. In doing so I imagine you will have been to visit Marilyn, Martin’s former wife, and I doubt that she would have been helpful.

“When her oldest daughter, Martika, was little I saw her a lot, Martin and Dan were my friends, after a fashion. So I was like an uncle to this girl, she called me Uncle Will.

“You have probably not met her but I have seen her many times and she is the image of you, so alike you that anyone who saw you together would say you are sisters.

“There is a reason for that. In fact you are sisters, half sisters at any event, the reason for that is that I am her real father.

“It happened when Martin was away setting up his new company. He and Dan were away together for a month and I was left in charge of the Newcastle operation. Marilyn and Martin were only recently married when he went away. After a few days Marilyn started dropping in to the office where I was working.

“One day she stayed until late, after that others had left for the day When they were gone she brought a drink in for me and invited me to come to her place for dinner as she was alone by herself. Within five minutes of being back at her place we were in bed together. After that for the next three weeks until the day before Martin came home every night she came to my place and stayed with me.

“I think she knew that Martin could not keep his pants on when he went away and it was her way of getting her own back. Plus I think she was lonely and found Martin poor company, she and I talked for most of each night. I liked her and she seemed to like me. She made me promise never to tell Martin, she was scared of him.

“A couple months later, she announced she was pregnant. Martin was very lovey dovey with her after he returned though Dan told me that they had other women almost every night they were away, he was gloating, as if to make me jealous. I just laughed and said nothing, remembering how I had spent my nights.

“So I wondered then if Martin was really the father or whether the child was mine, it seemed almost too quick from when he returned and I doubt it was from before he went away.

“One day, three months later, I ran into Marilyn alone and asked her. She admitted I was the father, but told me I must never tell Martin or Dan or she would be in terrible trouble.

“So I never did, but every time Marti, named for her father, called me Uncle William I knew I was really her father and Martin was really the Uncle. But I have kept Marti and Marilyn’s secret up until now.

“I have also wondered if Martin was the father of the other two and somehow I doubt it. None of his children look like him. Plus, from the way Marilyn talked about him it sounded like he was a dud in bed with her, she said he needed school girls or ones he paid for to get it up.

“But that is Marilyn’s secret, though I am sure she does not want any of her children tested in case it comes out they are all from different fathers. So I have written her a letter to remind her of what I know.”

William now handed Cathy an envelope saying, “I think you need to keep trying to find a better donor than me. So I suggest you take this letter and arrange it be delivered to Marilyn. It simply gives her a choice, to willingly allow her daughter to be tested, and keep her secret or to have me tell the world and with the end result that her daughter will know the truth and may choose to be tested herself, not to mention what may come out if her other children are tested too.

“When Marti was little she was a sweet and kind natured girl. I have been told she is still a kind natured person. I think she would help if asked. I know it does not guarantee success but, if I was a betting man, I would bet on Marti being the donor you need.”

The next day Julie arranged for a legal courier to deliver this letter to Marilyn. William said he had given her twenty four hours to decide before he acted.

The following day the phone rang for Cathy when she was at the hotel. It was the hospital saying they had a Marti in reception and she had heard a donor was needed for their daughter Amelie. She wanted to be tested to see if she was suitable.

This time the test match was four out of four.

 

 

 

Chapter 32 – A Month Later

 

A month passed, Catherine and Mathew finally had their little girl back from hospital. She was alive but painfully thin, her face and body not much more than angles and bones, hollow cheeks, stick arms and legs, hair a thin fuzz on her head of a faded fawn colour.

Between one and two weeks after the treatment there had been many days when they had thought that she would not see the morrow, the drugs and radiation had made her so sick, giving her violent diarrhoea and vomiting of pitiful drops of bile coloured liquid; all her nutrition had come by drip.

The doctors said it was not only the toxic effect of the drugs but also that her own body cells were struggling to repair and that there were so many dead cancer cells in her body that also had to be broken down. So both these and the effects of the drugs on poisoning her body had to overcome, but at the same time they feared that her body had lost its ability to recover. Fortunately she was small and Marti was big and so they had been able to keep transfusing her regularly with blood and white cells until gradually her body took over, a couple times the doctors had joked almost morbidly, that she was like a vampire being fed with this blood.

But they had refused to give up hope; they had washed Amelie’s tiny body each day to keep it clean. They had stroked and cuddled her and she had rewarded them when sufficiently aware with her delightful smiles, though sometimes it had felt she was closer to being an angel than a living person. Each night, when she had gone to sleep, they wondered whether she would still be breathing in the morning.

But she had kept weeing copious amounts from all the fluids in the drip and she had not got jaundiced. The doctors said these were good signs that her kidneys and liver were still working. Her heartbeat also stayed strong; with so little else of her it reverberated through her body.

In the third week Amelie started to be able to take small drinks and bland food, a little bit of mashed banana was the first thing she had kept down. By the end of that week they stopped fluids and blood transfusions and took the drip line out.

Last week she was much brighter and more wakeful, starting to play with her dolls again, telling them stories about her and Sophie and what they were doing together, sometimes putting the rest of her family into the stories too.

Last week, as well, the first signs of new downy hair started to appear on her head, it was wonderful evidence that her own body was doing its own repair at last.

Each day since she had become brighter and hungrier though there was little evidence of all the food she was eating in her pitifully thin body. At the end of last week she had taken her first steps again on her own legs, after two months in a bed. At first she had wobbled and held her Daddy’s hand, but then she had walked about with confidence.

Now they were sure her body was repairing itself, perhaps it would never be as big and strong as it once would have been; perhaps she would never have children of her own. But every day, after that, she was their own walking and talking miracle.

They had watched anxiously as she started to become better for any signs of the tumours returning. Each week they did a blood smear though, at first, her blood was so full of donor cells that it was impossible to tell. But there were no lumps at all and, on a chest X-Ray last week, all the tumours in her chest were gone and her lungs were clear. Last week too there were new white and red cells in her blood which had definitely come from her, so it seemed that the bone marrow transplant had taken.

Next week would be her two and a half birthday, only a month late. It seemed like an eternity since that happy day by the harbour when she had turned two, a month ago it had seemed impossible that she would be here and smiling on this day. They had received so many cards and gifts from well-wishers that had taken this little girl to her heart that the following Sunday they were having a special birthday party for her in the hotel courtyard. They had invited staff and well-wishers to come along and it was their way of saying thank you for all the support.

Now they could feel a possibility of a third birthday and others beyond, though they were determined to only take one day at a time and live in each day.

Tomorrow Lizzie was flying home for a month, she and Mathew had no words that could ever express their gratitude to her Mum, she and Robbie had put their lives on hold and barely been together since late April when the relapse occurred, he keeping the business running in Broome and caring for her own brother and sister there, her Mum her almost constant companion and support.

Then there was her Gran who had helped equally in her own way, taking over management of the hotel for her when Mathew had been taken away, managing the staff and doing the rosters, pouring beers when required and telling jokes with the customers to maintaining the happy pub atmosphere despite the turmoil swirling around her.

She and Mathew had tried to thank them over the last month as they started to find time, but both had brushed this aside, they were family and that is what families did.

Catherine also realised that accepting this all gratefully was part of life’s learning for her, she had been so independent and determined to do her own thing, and only when her own need had become overwhelming had there really been space for Mathew back in her life, it was like her need for him, more than anything else, had healed his mind.

She had one really important thing that she now needed to do. She needed to find some way to thank this man who was her true biological father for his gift of life. He had been returned to jail the day after they had decided not to use his bone marrow and she had never seen him herself since that night when he told her the secret of Marti.

Funnily enough Marti and Cathy were now the best of friends, befitting the sisters they were, and Marti had become friends with both Lizzie and Amelie too.

She had given Amelie the gift of life from her own bone marrow after all and, despite Marilyn’s desire to keep it a secret from the world, this smart girl had done her own figuring out, her mother had only told her she needed to be tested to see if she matched.

Cathy had confirmed the truth of her own suspicions, she could withhold nothing from her, and Marti was pleased. She loved her Mum, despite her awful behaviour over Martin, but Marti herself had always had a soft spot for her Uncle William, she liked him better than her own named father, truth be told. Now she understood why, she really was his daughter and preferred it this way.

But now Cathy needed to see her own biological father and thank him. She thought perhaps she would take a photo of Amelie at next Sunday’s birthday party and bring it to him in jail, perhaps Amelie could also draw a little picture to go with it.

She had rung the jail at the start of the third week when Amelie seemed to have turned the corner and eaten her first solid food and she had rung again the day before they brought their daughter home and asked the warder to tell him the news with her thanks.

But it was not enough, she needed to go and see him in person and give him her own thanks, just her this next time, even though both Lizzie and Mathew had offered to come. But it was too personal and private to share, she wanted to see this new father again one more time with her own eyes, to try and look deeper and see what made him what he was without others intruding.

She had a sense that this was what she owed him, to try and reach understanding without judging what he had done in his life, not just on the one night when she had been conceived, but to try and get a value of his whole life

Robbie was her real father, the man who had loved her as his own child and raised her. Nothing would ever take that away and she knew he understood that.

But this man was a core part of her being, the other half of her genes, shared with her mother. So her biology required her to know who he was, perhaps to meet his own mother, her other unknown grandmother, or his sister. Even though as yet unknown to her they were an inextricable part of her family now.

So she had decided, as soon as the birthday party was over, and she had a photo developed of her daughter, she would take this and go and visit William, ask him to tell her about himself and his own family. He would never be a saint, perhaps not even a good man, but she, his daughter, needed to know him.

Then, perhaps when that was done, if Lizzie and Mathew and even Robbie and Gran wanted, they could come too and say their own thanks for his gift of life. Even though Marti had ended up donating the bone marrow cells, she did not think her daughter would have survived that first night without his blood and beyond that none of it would have happened without him.

Tomorrow she would ring the prison and make an arrangement for a visit at the end of next week.

That night she and Mathew shared the duties of saying good night and tucking Amelie into bed. As they were both giving last kisses and hugs and preparing to leave Amelie turned to her father with great solemnity and said. “Daddy, I need to talk to Mummy alone, I hope you don’t mind, but I want you to come back in and give me one last kiss after I have finished.”

It sounded so adult that he grinned and left, saying, “Of course my pet,” as he closed the door behind him.

Amelie turned to look at her mother now with those same big solemn eyes. “Mummy, I want to go and visit my other Grandpa in jail, Grandpa William, the one who gave me the blood and found Marti who gave the bone marrow that let me get better.

“Sophie and I have both talked about it and we both agree I am well enough to go now and so I would like you to bring me to see him. Perhaps we could go tomorrow.”

Catherine tried to suggest that they should wait a week, telling of her plans to take a picture at the birthday party and bring it in to him.

Amelie looked at her mother seriously and said, “That is OK, you can visit him then if you want, that is something for you to do. But I don’t want to wait until then, and he does not need a photo if he sees me. Then he will have a picture inside his head of the real me. So please ring up in the morning and see if we can go and visit him tomorrow.”

Catherine nodded, albeit reluctantly. “OK, I will ring tomorrow if that is what you want.”

“Yes, thank you Mummy, now you can tell Daddy to come back in, I will tell him what I am going to do and give him his last goodnight kiss.”

 

 

 

Chapter 33 – Thank you from Amelie and Sophie

 

It took two days until the visit could be arranged at ten o’clock in the morning. Amelie said that was OK, she could wait until then.

That morning she chose her own dress, a pretty pale pink one with matching shoes. To bring with her Amelie carried a piece of paper folded over that she would not let Catherine or Mathew look at.

They caught a taxi to Malabar, slowly making their way through the mid-morning traffic. At the jail they were led down a corridor and then another corridor, it was a different building to where Catherine had been before. She realised it was no longer the high security part and was glad.

At the end of the second corridor they were brought to a door with a glass view pane and no bars in evidence. The warder opened the door and ushered them in, pointing to two seats at a table opposite a sitting man.

It took a second for Catherine to realise this man was William. The manacles were gone, he was neatly shaved and dressed and the deep anger which seemed to have scarred his previous demeanour was gone.

He looked up at them both and Catherine took a seat opposite and turned to lift Amelie up beside her.

But Amelie had instead walked to the other side of the table and was now holding out her arms, saying, “Lift me up Grandpa William.”

He lifted her up to place her on his lap. Instead she hugged herself to his neck, drew back and planted a kiss on his cheek.”

Then, earnestly, she opened the paper she was holding and spread it on the table before him. It was a picture of a big stick figure and two small stick figures, each holding a hand of the big person. There were some wavy lines underneath and some other wavy squiggles behind the people

“This is a picture of Sophie and me; she is the one with the hair,” she said, pointing to some spiky things growing out of one small head. “I am the one with no hair,” she said pointing to the other person. “We are on the beach, walking along with you, one day when you get out of prison. I am looking forward to that day. This picture is to say thank you from Sophie and me for saving my life.”

The big man was silent, he just looked at the little girl with glistening eyes; then he gently stroked her cheek and put a big arm around her small shoulder. She lay her head against his cheek.

At last he spoke, “Thank you granddaughter, Thank you Amelie. Please say thank you to Sophie too.”

 

 

 

Chapter 34 – Ten Years Later

 

It is a perfect summer’s day at Little Bay; the beach under the rocky cliffs is lapped by wavelets. A picnic rug is spread on the sand, spread with picnic food. Five people sit in the sand, looking fondly into the water.

As one looks closer one recognises them; all a few years older. The two men are sharing a joke from a recent fishing trip; they have a similarity in body shape and features, though one looks about ten years older than the other.

The three women sit together, not talking but watching the beach with comfortable familiarity. It is clear they are all family, three generations, grandmother, mother and adult daughter.

In the water an older and powerfully built man plays with three children, one of whom sits on his shoulders. She looks to be about eleven or twelve though her figure is thin and waif like. She has funny spiky hair which pokes up from her head at odd angles, it won’t submit to be flattened by the water. Her face is thin but striking with big wide eyes and an ethereal beauty. In the water tugging at the man’s hands are a boy of about ten and a girl a couple years younger, both bodies a picture of robust and healthy childhood.

The boy calls out, “Grandpa William, it is not fair, Amelie has been sitting on your shoulders for too long and now it’s my turn.”

 

 

 

About the Author

 

Graham Wilson lives in Sydney Australia. He has completed and published eight books, including three in this series and four in his Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Series.

 

His first novel in this series, tells the story of a small girl who went missing 100 years ago with her best friend and was never found, leaving a trail of grief down through generations until the finally her story is discovered. It is based in the real Balmain, an early inner Sydney suburb, with its real locations and historical events providing part of the story background. This second novel in this series, “Lizzie’s Tale” builds on “The Old Balmain House” setting, It is the story of a working class teenage girl who lives in this same house in the 1950s and 1960s, It tells of how she becomes pregnant she is determined not to surrender her baby for adoption, and her struggle to survive. Devil’s Choice follows the next generation of this family and the terrible choice the daughter Catherine must make to save her own daughter’s life.

 

Graham has also written five novels in the Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Series. The first novel “Just Visiting.” tells the story of an English backpacker who visits the Northern Territory and becomes captivated and in great danger from a man who loves crocodiles. The second book in the series, “The Diary follow the consequences of this book based around the discovery of this man’s remains and his diary and the main character being placed on trial for murder. The third book, “The Empty Place” is about the struggle of the main character to retain her sanity in jail while her family and friends desperately try to find out what really happened on that fateful day before it is too late. The fourth book in the series tells of the search for what happened to the missing girls whose faces live on in the passports found in the first book. The final book of the series, Sunlit Shadow Dance concludes the series.

 

Graham has also written a family memoir “Children of Arnhem’s Kaleidoscope.” It tells of his childhood in an aboriginal community in remote Arnhem Land, in Australia’s Northern Territory, one of its last frontiers. It tells of the people, danger and beauty of this place, and of its transformation over the last half century with the coming of aboriginal rights and the discovery or uranium. It also tells of his surviving an attack by a large crocodile.

 

In his non writing life he is a wildlife veterinarian working with zoo animals and on national parks. After living for several years in Balmain in the house which became the subject of his first book, he now lives in an old terrace house in the inner city area of Sydney called “The Rocks” the site of the earliest Australian settlement. Whenever possible he travels to the Australian Outback as its vast open spaces feed his imagination and ongoing story telling.

 

 


Child Unknown

This is a story of a little girl, Sophie, unseen and unknown over three generations. At vital times she appears to help this family when in great need. Who is this Sophie and where has she come from is the story of the first book in this series, The Old Balmain House. Now in these two books the story has moved forward to another family, 50 years on, living in the same house and their own struggles, first the struggle of the mother to make a life for herself, pregnant after a brutal rape, without surrendering this child for adoption, and then in the next generation of her own daughter's fight to save the life of her child through knowing who the real father is. Book 2, 'Lizzie's Tale" tells the story Lizzie, a young unmarried mother in the 1960s, and of the choices she must make to escape from an impossible situation. Book 3, 'Devil's Choice', tells the story of Catherine, Lizzie's daughter, twenty years later, and how she must finally confront the truth behind what happened to her mother if she is to save the life of her own child. Woven through all is the recurring presence of Sophie, a child from a time long past, unseen and yet known, who becomes a friend to each child in turn in their moment of need. This series tells of courageous women who rise above adversity. In doing so they touch and bring meaning to many lives. These two books provide a story which may be read alone, however they also form a sequel to Sophie’s story, told in the first book of this series, ‘The Old Balmain House

  • ISBN: 9781310772641
  • Author: Graham Wilson
  • Published: 2016-06-03 00:50:30
  • Words: 122022
Child Unknown Child Unknown