WRITE STORY HERE
I see Janey Phillips at the deli counter and duck behind the stand of Pink Lady apples. I start throwing them into the plastic bag quickly but know that Janey will be on my shopping path, so will inevitably run into me in this small supermarket. There will be no escape. She appears, eventually, in the bread aisle.
‘Katherine! What are you doing here? Your parents didn’t tell me you were visiting!’
Her shriek makes a toddler in a trolley seat jump, and he and I exchange a look of open mouthed horror, him at the noise that adults could generate, me at being caught in a cheap perfumed squeeze against Janey’s ample bosom. I stand stiffly until I can move away politely.
‘Janey, good to see you.’
I start shuffling to the side to make way in the busy aisle, hoping to cut the reunion short, or at least put Janey off scent; but of course, she is a small coastal town bloodhound, and senses a story she needs to be told.
‘Just here on holidays? Where are the kids?’
She looks around me, like somehow I have secreted two primary school aged kids in the trolley behind me.
‘Not... not here.’
I take a deep breath and move my trolley out of the way of the English muffin selection for an elderly gentleman.
‘I’m just visiting for a while,’ I wave my hand around vaguely and nod as if to end the conversation but Janey looks at the bulk fruit and vegetables in the trolley and I can see her mind ticking over how long that ‘while’ may be.
‘Well, I’ll bring Peter and Hamish over to play one afternoon, they’d love to see the kids again!’
She smiles a hundred watt smile and I feel at once churlish for being unfriendly and at the same time, like I could smack the cheery expression off her face. It’s almost like she knows and wants to draw the truth out of me as painfully and publically as possible.
‘I don’t have the kids with me,’ I confess and hoist my bag higher on my shoulder, taking the trolley by the reigns.
‘Are you still working in Melbourne? Your mum says you’re a senior detective now!’
‘Yep, yep. Hey, gotta go. I’ll see you around, no doubt.’
I push past her with a quick wave and roll through to the other end of the supermarket. I finish the shop quickly and peer out into the open aisle to make sure the queue is Janey-free before joining it. The checkout girl is my cousin’s daughter. I realise that this move home will give me none of the quiet anonymity I need.
The drive from the supermarket is seven minutes. It takes exactly seven minutes to get anywhere in this town. I stack my groceries on a cleared shelf in the pantry and roll all the fruit and vegetables into the small crisper of the fridge. It immediately looks more colourful than the previously bleak shelves which contained little more than mustard jars, tomato sauce and margarine. Irene and Warren like their vegetables packeted, snap frozen and pre-mixed. Irene likes to throw the pack into the electric wok and proudly declare that she and Warren have now covered four different vegetables on top of their usual banana on porridge for breakfast. Always five pieces of fruit and veg, they take great pride in their healthiness. I lean against the fridge door and pop a grape into my mouth. I push down on the flesh and relish the cold sweetness. Milly loves grapes. I hope Rick remembers that and buys them for her. I immediately worry that the girls are not getting any fruit and it adds to the niggling anxiety already in the pit of my stomach.
‘Why’d you waste that money? We won’t eat all that food!’
Irene pads out into the kitchen in her tatty, cat shaped slippers and flicks the lever on the kettle. I don’t turn around, but stay leaning against the fridge.
Irene’s voice softens and she pads over, puts her arms around my waist and muzzles her face in my hair.
‘You alright Kitty Kat?’ Her voice is softer still and we stand there silent for a moment.
‘Saw Janey Phillips at IGA. She asked where the kids were...’
Irene straightens up briskly and swats me out of the way of the fridge, reaching in to get the milk.
‘Busybody. Her mother’s the same.’
Warren walks into the kitchen, patting dust off his faded Broncos jersey.
‘I’ve moved the side table from the garage to the room Kitty Kat but I’m afraid the paint has flaked off a bit – but your cork board was still there and I’ve put it up on the back of the door!’
‘What will she want a cork board for Warren?’
‘I don’t know, do I? Thought you could use it...’
He stands waiting for me to thank him but I feel irritated, grumpy, suffocated in the tiny kitchen. I feel miserable at the thought of sleeping in my old single bed, staring at a peeling faded poster of The Cure. I’m old, I’m back at my parents’ house, I’m in their care, I’m avoiding loser stay-at-home mother Janey Phillips like I’m the loser. I don’t have my kids with me. Rick is probably feeding them fish fingers and oven bake chips every night. He’s clueless. I unclench my fists and take a deep breath like I was told by the psychologist.
‘Well, you might want to cut things from the newspaper, follow the trial...’ Warren’s voice trails off and he busies himself getting out cups. Irene sighs in exasperation and flounces over to the tea canister.
‘People don’t cut out things anymore Warren, it’s all on the World Wide Web!’
My blood pressure goes up a notch, and I walk out to the lounge room to turn off the blaring television. The cricket was on before I left for the supermarket, and two hours later it remains on even though no one has been watching. For two years now, it’s just been myself and the girls at home in Melbourne and we have enjoyed a blessedly sports-free house. The droning, banal commentary used to set my teeth on edge and here in this house, Warren keeps it on all day at two hundred decibels. I start throwing around cushions, trying to find the remote, and try to breathe deeply through the argument which is taking off in the kitchen.
‘I’m not an idiot, I know it’s on the net but they’re still reporting bits in the Herald. I’m just trying to help!’
‘Well don’t help!’
The raised voices start to zone in and out and my heart thumps faster, my breathing starts to labour. I put my hands over my eyes and try to block out the noise of shouting, the television blaring. I hear a baby crying in the distance but tell myself there is no baby in the house. My chest rises and falls and I press my fingers harder against my eyes, counting slowly to ten.
A house, a hovel, filthy bathroom, woman screaming behind me, heart racing, sweat running into my eyes, sour breath, fluorescent light flickering.
‘She needs to forget, Warren!’
‘Irene, she won’t get better running away...’
Body shape pressed against filthy shower curtain, animal-like noises, whimpering. Fluorescent light flickering, woman screaming, baby crying, ‘he has a knife, he has a knife’, blood splattered on shower curtain, hands shaking.
‘She was almost killed Warren, she needs time!’
‘This is part of the job Irene, she has to work through it!’
Blade flashing, television blaring, baby crying, shower curtain tearing, long greasy blonde hair, black tracksuit, blade flashing, screaming. Pistol firing, hand gripping shoulder, ears ringing, television blaring.
‘The doctor said she needs to talk about it if she’s to get better!’
‘Where’s the remote? Where’s the remote? Where’s the fucking remote?’ Hands shaking, I’m screaming.
‘Turn off the tv, for God’s sake, turn off the tv!’ I’m on the carpeted floor, panting, pressing knuckles into my eyes. A rush of Estee Lauder perfume, arms grip me from behind.
‘Shush, Kitty Kat, shush. We’re here. We’re here’.
Heart slows down, television goes silent, sound of crying baby fades.
I feel warm breath on my face, smell of menthol. Fingers gently pull my hands away from my face, warm palms grasp my own. Warren’s face is inches from my own; I can hear whistling from his nose, see every red capillary in his cheeks.
‘A cup of tea Kitty Kat. That will make you feel better, a cup of tea.’ He picks up the cup and saucer from the coffee table and passes it to my shaking hands.
I start crying uncontrollably. It’s been years since someone has made me a cup of tea, after years of me making everyone else one. A wave of gratitude so strong almost makes my heart stop.
‘We’re here Kitty Kat, you’re home. Drink your tea’.