This is an extract from The Uncanny Love of Jimmy Panagakos by Beth Hill.
Anthea braced herself against the bright heat of the sun as she pushed hard into her front door. It was stuck again, swollen against the frame in the humidity. Sweat rolled down Anthea’s legs, pooling in her heavy factory work shoes.
The door gave way beneath her weight and swung into the cool darkness of the hallway. A child stood in front of her, something in her hands. Startled at Anthea’s sudden entrance, the child’s hands came apart. The something – Anthea’s vase, she recognised it now – smashed on the floor. Anthea felt time pass through her, breaking her as surely as the vase that now lay in ugly terracotta pieces at her feet.
A moment earlier her past had been graspable. Made from the clay of her ancestor’s riverbeds, chipped on the corner from the time Yiayia knocked it on the kitchen doorframe of their old house in Kypseli. The vase was one of the few things they had decided to bring with them when they left Greece. Now all that was gone. Perhaps it had been gone for a long time. She could never have that time back. She would never again lean against the soft worn wood of that kitchen doorframe while Mama cooked dinner.
The girl’s hands were frozen around the shape where the vase had been. The howl from Anthea’s lungs seemed to come from the walls themselves.
From the kitchen where he was looking for some foil to make a crown for their game, Jimmy knew he would be in trouble.
He tiptoed up the hallway, clutching Broomie to his chest. He did not want the sound of his feet to add to the turmoil; he did not want Mama to see him. He knew who would be blamed for this and his bum was still raw from his last hiding for keeping the little broom under his pillow. But now Broomie would come in handy. Together they could sweep away the mess that was making Mama so sad. He brushed his hands through the black bristles for reassurance.
Mama’s body, bent over the broken vase, was backlit by the hot summer day blaring through the open door. Her face was in shadow and he could not make out her expression. He held the broom out. A peace offering.
‘It wasn’t Fi’s fault, Mama.’
‘Of course it was her fault.’
‘I can help clean it up, Mama, make it good as new. No more mess.’
Anthea picked up a larger piece of the vase. Then she threw it to the ground. Its gratifying crash was not unlike the smash of plates at her wedding.
‘Where is your mother?’ Anthea asked the little girl.
Jimmy stepped closer again and began sweeping up the mess. Anthea dropped another piece of the vase; Jimmy stopped sweeping.
‘Where is your mother?’ She shouted it now. Her mouth, clumsy with humiliation, strained to form the words in English. ‘Where is her mother, Dimitri?’
Jimmy winced. She only used his Greek name when he was in a lot of trouble.
Anthea smashed another piece of the vase. It felt good to take control. It felt good to break something. Squatting, Anthea pressed her hands against the shards, crumbling them into smaller pieces. So small that anything that looked like her vase would be gone. Anything that reminded her of another time would be reduced to dust. She sliced the side of her palm on one of the sharper pieces. Her blood fell in droplets, staining the dust of her own treasured past.
‘They’re in the garden, aren’t they?’ Anthea strode down the hallway to the back door. It was not really a question.
Jimmy watched, not knowing how to stop her or how he might clean it all up. Broomie was useless for liquids. Jimmy stroked the broom along his arm. The tickle of bristles against his skin was soothing; he loved the way the plastic blue handle fit in his palm just right.
Paralysed by indecision, he turned and brushed the broom over Fi’s head, signalling it was safe to emerge.
‘Sorry about my mum. She really liked that vase, I guess.’
Fi’s cheeks were still wet from crying. ‘I just thought it would be a good addition to our set of crown jewels.’
‘It was a pretty dumb idea anyway.’
They both stared at the ground. Jimmy continued to run the brush up and down his arm.
‘Stop doing that, Jimmy. It’s weird.’
‘I just brought it to help clean up!’
‘Yeah, but it’s weird.’
Before he could defend himself Fi’s mum appeared, her hands still covered in dirt from the garden and holding a plastic bag swollen with fresh potatoes. Without a word, she grabbed Fi and bustled her out the still-open front door.
Fi shouted as they rounded the front gate, ‘Bye, Jimmy! Sorry about the vase. I hope you don’t get in any trouble.’
Jimmy used a sponge from the kitchen to wipe up the mess. There were a few pieces of the vase still intact, one with the spindly orange leg of a dancer painted on it. He tucked the piece into his pocket. There must be something special about this vase the way the broom was special, otherwise Mama would not have gotten so upset about it.
So he wasn’t the only one who had special things.
This text is a short extract from The Uncanny Love of Jimmy Panagakos, a brand new novella by Beth Hill, out October 15 through Busybird publishing. Uncanny Love is a story of unrequited love, longing, and finding our place in the world, which explores dark desires and those hidden places of the human heart. It's a story told across generations and cultures, and is inspired by the most treasured Australian institution, the mysterious, reclusive milkbar owner. If you like what you read, click here to buy a copy.
The Uncanny Love of Jimmy Panagakos is out October 15 through Busybird publishing, and is being launched at GleeBooks in Sydney. Click here to RSVP.
Growing up in the inner west of Sydney, a short bike ride from Parramatta Road, Beth has witnessed first-hand the mythic and mysterious places of her childhood slowly disappear. Her writing is not an act of resistance, but of remembering.
Beth studied creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney, completing her degree in Communications in 2009. Her writing has previously been published in the prestigious UTS Writers Anthology and the literary magazine Seizure. The Uncanny Love of Jimmy Panagakos is her first book.
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