Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Saturday, February 22, 2014
"We do all the top artists’ hits as well as the golden oldies,” Tony began as he, Mavis and the band grouped together behind the band tent, unplugged guitars in hand, the drummer with his sticks. The sounds and life at the showground were a blurred backdrop to them.
The drummer and bass player, after a sharp reactionary side look at one another, hijacked the discussion. They listed the musicians whose material they preferred to play: “Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Men at Work, Beastie Boys, Silverchair, U2 …”
“Stop, fellas! They’re all great, but … I can’t do their songs with only a rushed run-through. A lot of them I couldn’t pull off at all! I’m sorry, Tony, you’ll have to cancel.”
Denying defeat, Tony said. “But we’ve stacks of material. Let’s work this from your end. What would you do for the gig if circumstances were different?”
“Well … your audience is a mixed bag so I’d have a cross section of entertainment and dance music. ‘Love is in the Air’ is still huge given the success of Strictly Ballroom. A lot of the Keimera Show Society are ballroom dancers so that’d work. Don’t cringe like that, guys. Maybe ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC or Garbage’s ‘Only When It Rains’ as we up the beat. Some country rock like Shania’s ‘I’m Outta Here’ What I’d pick is no good though. You’re used to workin’ with a guy.”
“No, we know those songs. Sylvie Martin was with us until she broke up with our drummer. That’s when Matt joined us. How about Mellencamp?”
“Do you know ‘Wild Night’, Tony?” Mavis asked.
“Yeah, we’re tight on that, and our bass player loves it!”
“Cool. So, which ones will we do?” Mavis asked.
In unison, the guys said, “Not ‘Love is in the Air’!”
“One thing, Mavis,” Tony said, “you’ll have to wing it. We haven’t got sheet music here for that material.”
“I suspected that. Anyway, I can sing those songs backwards. Let’s run through them and see what’s what. Oh, and while we’re doin’ that, Gary, I want you to talk to the sound guy. The band’s volume has to be based on my volume. I want it balanced and at a reasonable level so lyrics are heard. Tell him the baseline is: if you need to raise your voice a bit to have a conversation then the band is at the right volume; if you need to yell in his ear, the band is too loud. No arguments about volume, guys, or I’m out.”
“We’re ahead of you there,” Tony said. “That’s been another pain in the arse with Matt.”
The drummer and bass player wore an air of sullenness, their brows lowered. Later, when Mavis was out of sight and earshot, they exchanged heated words with Tony over his capitulation. The exchange built into an expletive-laden argument before an uneasy truce was reached.
Nervous but maintaining the appearance of calm, Mavis settled on a stool in front of a microphone, the borrowed guitar resting on her lap. She strummed the introduction to her solo, one of her own creations, and relaxed into the music. The grassed area before her was sparsely populated. She focused on her friends, her son, and on the song penned before she had given birth to Dan.
Mavis’ voice, pure and strong, attracted attention immediately.
Those people already seated or standing in the grassed area stopped what they were doing, absorbed in the soaring notes of her music and the beauty of the lyrics. As distinctive as a fingerprint, her voice had a textural quality, more than vocal colour or skilled intonation, which signalled its uniqueness. She sang with passion, with the joy of someone who had reconnected with her life’s love. Her performance drew people from other parts of the showground to her.
As the last bars of her solo faded, the drum, wah-wah guitar, and keyboard picked up the interlude to ‘Waterfalls’. As this was happening, Mavis put aside her guitar, stood, and stepped backward to the standing mike to join the band. Entering the rhythm of the song, her hands moved in synch with the drummer’s. Cued by the drummer, she began the verse. There was a sultriness to her voice in this song, a siren’s call. She carried the melody in counterpoint to the rhythm.
The crowd grew.
Delighted by the bass solo, Mavis focused the audience’s attention on the bass player by turning toward him. He stepped forward, pleased. At the refrain, Tony joined her in harmony. Clearly, they were having a good time in the joining.
The audience before them moved in time to the music. Music spoke to them, connected them through emotion in a way other language did not. At the front of the crowd, Mavis saw Kate dancing with Dan while Gary danced with his blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend, Sarah, whose chic dress and silver sash made her a standout in this crowd.
“Well,” Kate said to Gary, who stood with Dan beside him and his girlfriend on his other side, “we all know now where Mavis truly belongs.”
“And we all know what her parents think,” Sarah said, her right arm linked through Gary’s. “Dan’s the picture; Mavis is the frame.”
The onyx darkness of the night sky heightened the brilliance of the stars and moon that hot summer’s night, while in the darkness, ocean waves whooshed against the nearby harbour retaining wall. Passing under the arched canopy of trees that marked the wooden gates to her parents’ town house in Keimera, Mavis, her son, and her two friends returned to her home. The Mills’ cream, cement-rendered, circa 1857 colonial cottage stood at the forefront of the 1500 square metre housing block that overlooked Keimera harbour, while Mavis’ smaller sandstone cottage stood at the rear. Instead of rebuilding on their fire devastated dairy farm as previously planned, the Mills had invested in renovating this house back to its former glory.
“Can I see Gran, Mum? I want to tell her …”
“Tomorrow, Dan. Time for a bath and then bed for you. It’s been a big day.” Turning her attention to her handbag, she said, “I’m goin’ to have to do something about my house keys. I always lose them no matter what size my handbag. I was sure I dropped them in …”
“Know exactly what you mean,” Kate said. “That’s why I have my keys clipped onto a ring and chain and then hooked onto the corner of my handbag. Finding keys is simply a matter of following the trail.”
“Gran has a spare set. I can get them, Mum.” Dan was already on his way to his grandparents’ back door.
“No!” three voices spoke in unison followed by laughter.
Dan stopped in his tracks and looked back at them, puzzled.
“No need. I’ve got them, Dan!”
Passing through the front door, they entered the main living area, a simply furnished room. The house throbbed with the day’s heat.
“Throw the lounge room windows open will you, Kate, while I work out what we’ll have for supper. Dan, I’ve had second thoughts about you goin’ to bed. You can play out back for a while.”
Dan disappeared into the dark of the house.
“Dan, did you hear me?”
“I heard you, Mum!” was the boy’s muffled reply.
“Gary, can you keep an eye on him? I don’t want him …”
“Visitin’ your mum?” Gary held her gaze for a moment.
“You’ve got it in one.”
Reappearing with a zippered black bag that held balls, a jack, and measuring line, Dan asked, “Gary, will you give me a game of bowls?”
“I think you’re gettin’ too good for me these days, matey, but I’ll give it a shot. Your grandpa’s a champion, and I reckon you’re goin’ to be one as well. So how’s about givin’ me a handicap lead of …”
“Not a lead, but we can bowl from the same line.”
They passed through the faded stained, double French doors into the backyard.
Kate sat on one of four white stools positioned under the breakfast bar. “So, how are you going to tell your mum about performing with the band for the Show Society’s dinner dance?”
Mavis looked back at Kate from her small recessed pantry. “Don’t know, but whatever happens, I’m not letting this opportunity pass. I had thought of not tellin’ her.”
“There are some secrets that can’t be kept in a small town like this.”
“It’s at times like these I wish I lived in the city.”
“You sure you won’t reconsider and let Gary and me shout dinner?
It’ll save on the mess and heat of preparation and eliminate the need for washing up.”
“Friendship involves give and take, Kate. Besides, it’s my turn to spring for a meal. I thought for supper we’d have an antipasto plate, and Dan can have a snag sandwich.”
“Perfect. I’m not that hungry, and I doubt Gary is either given what he has stowed away today.”
“His body will become an Esky for his six-pack if he’s not careful.”
Kate laughed. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Would you mind gettin’ the cold meat out of the fridge and addin’ it to these ingredients while I open up the rest of the house? The onshore breeze should cool my room and Dan’s pretty quick if I open that part of the house up now. It’s one of many Reasons I like livin’ here. When I was a kid, the farm homestead seemed to get hotter and hotter each summer’s night. Bein’ in a valley, we didn’t get the benefit of sea breezes. I am so glad Mum and Dad decided against rebuildin’ after the bushfire.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean about hot summer nights in the country. When we lived in the Northern Territory, during the wet season, I learnt what awful summer heat really was. Mum longed to come back home and to the coast.”
“I’ll be back,” Mavis said, terminating the conversation. Exiting, she paused and looked back, “I just felt like …”
“Yes, that catchphrase always brings Arnie and that movie to mind for me too.”
Mavis disappeared into the house.
After foraging through the fridge and coming up with only sliced ham and a lone sausage, Kate returned to Mavis’ small pantry in search of more ingredients. Disappointed, she returned to the fridge, having decided to add raw vegetables to the mix. She had rejected her fleeting idea of popping down the road to the nearby shops to buy more ingredients. Chiding herself for forgetting how financially tight things were for Mavis, she regretted her thoughtless extravagance earlier that day with the hat purchase.
The envisioned lavish antipasto plate reduced in reality to marinated olives, shaved ham, a few aging mushrooms, carrot sticks, and thinly sliced tomato. Kraft cheese – a cheese product publicised across the nation for its nourishing goodness and an Australian staple – had been cut into triangular slices and positioned with slices of crusty bread to bulk out the platter. Kate put the sausage under the grill, taking care to add water to the grill pan to reduce shrinkage.
Having thrown a white patterned tablecloth over the wooden outdoor table and set out plates and drinks, Kate sat down. “Fellas, five minutes till supper.” She found the chilled white wine, a budget brand, surprisingly refreshing.
“Time enough to finish this game,” Gary said. “Looks like I’m trounced again.”
The screen doors swung open, and Mavis emerged with Dan’s sausage sandwich in hand. “Sorry, it took longer than expected. I just had to change. Fellas ….”
“I’ve already given them the five-minute call,” Kate said.
“You know our routine so well.”
“I do that.”
“Geez, Kate, supper looks better than I thought it would.”
“So, how are you going to tell your mum?”
“I’m dreadin’ it and haven’t a clue as to how.”
“Nor do I,” Kate said. “You won’t let her talk you out of this, will you, Mavis?”
“No way! I really want this, Kate. Nothing is goin’ to stop me.”
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Teams of boys and men weighed down and backwards in a tug-of war, straining not only to hold their ground but also to budge the other side forward. In that moment as Mavis Mills watched the battle, the struggle seemed frozen, a sculpture of intense exertion.
Around them, the many varied events of the annual Agricultural, Horticultural, and Industrial Show formed a colourful backdrop to the tug-of-war scene. To the east of the showground, the Pacific Ocean glittered, rippling sheets of silver. Closer to shore, white capped waves crashed and foamed on the rocky coastline, sounding like distant applause. To the west of the showground, the heat haze of summer shimmered over the hilly rural landscape.
In her late twenties, Mavis knew all about struggle, about feeling stationary while life, with all of its promise and possibility, happened to the people around her. Something, she didn’t know what, was needed to tip the balance in her favour just as it was needed for her son’s team in the tug-of-war.
“Exciting, isn’t it?” Kate Denford said, appearing at Mavis’ shoulder, having returned to the scene with two bottles of water, one of which she passed to Mavis. Kate’s broad-brimmed, straw hat obscured her eyes and shadowed her face. Her brunette hair was pulled back into a long thick plait. That day, she wore red Capri pants and a white cropped top. She was a striking figure, athletically slender, angular, and exuding confidence.
More frustrating, Mavis thought. She had a strong face with brown eyes behind which lurked a smile. Her body was shapely though not overweight. Although Mavis found fault with her figure, men saw her as sexy. She wore a Gypsy top, a flowing floral, partially transparent skirt, and Roman styled sandals. Striding everywhere, her walk marked her as farm bred. She was fond of saying that her walk was the result of constantly stepping over cowpats throughout her teenage years.
“Here, I bought you a hat, Mavis. Sunscreen isn’t enough on days like this. I’m wishing now I’d worn a T-shirt.”
“Oh … That’s considerate of you, Kate, but you shouldn’t have bothered.” Mentally, Mavis did a reckoning of what was left of the money she’d budgeted for the day. She had a small weekly income and had not had the luxury of impulse spending since she had become a single parent six years earlier. “How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty dollars, but I can shout you if …”
“No, it’s fine.” Wishing it really was fine, she shelved her money worries and the problem of how she would end the inertia in her life for another day. Somehow, she would find a way out of her current circumstance. Mavis refocused on the tug-of-war. “Oh, oh … they’re givin’ ground to our side. Pull!” She donned the white hat over her luxuriously black, shoulder length hair but flipped the front brim up.
“Lean into it, fellas,” yelled the anchorman for her son’s team, Gary, with emphasis on into. An avid surfer and lifesaver, Gary was lean and muscular. His chequered cotton shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a naturally fit, bronzed body rather than the exaggerated physique that many men achieved through gym workouts. He wore an earring in his left-ear, although that fashion trend had passed.
Feet planted wide for support in the sandy loam of the showground, muscles straining, the men in Gary Putnam’s team tilted further back almost into a reclined position.
Momentary confusion flickered across the younger boys’ faces; they adjusted their positions forward and, in doing so, lost balance, allowing the opposing team to take some ground.
The opponent’s supporters cheered.
Laughing, Mavis and others around her yelled, “No, boys, lean backwards not forwards. Pull! Pull!” Her six-year-old son, Dan, was one in a line of confused children. Behind them, men of one shape and size or another lined up; those men with a weight advantage were scattered along the line.
In the background, the noise of the sideshow alley, common at all agricultural shows, clamoured and tinkled above the hubbub of the crowd. Occasionally, a distorted microphoned voice announced the next competitive event in the show ring.
“It’s a pity our side doesn’t have fatter blokes, Mavis.”
“I’ve been thinkin’ the same thing, Kate, but look at the other side’s faces. The heat and strain are takin’ their toll. I think brawn is goin’ to win out.”
Both women yelled, “Pull!”
The noise level around them rose to an unintelligible roar. With one voice, the crowd bellowed, “Pull!”
Strain showed on all of the competitors. Gradually, Gary’s team won centimetres of ground in a slow slide. With an unexpected collapse, the battle ended. Gary and the few men ahead of him thumped backwards onto the ground. The rest of the team stayed afoot somehow.
Spectators and competitors merged.
After a makeshift award ceremony and the etiquette-dictated interaction of victors and good-natured losers, the crowd dispersed.
In an effortless move, Gary lifted Dan, small for his age, up onto his shoulders. “Time for a well-earned lunch, a drink for me, and an ice block for Dan afterwards! C’mon, my lovelies!” Gary left without waiting for agreement. They threaded their way through the crowd, passed the livestock sheds and horticultural exhibits, passed the industrial stands, took a shortcut through the arts and craft pavilion, and came out onto a grassed area ringed by a caravan of food and drink peddlers.
On the western side of that area, the first band for the afternoon was finishing their set. The Keimera Show Ball Committee, after a disastrous choice in entertainers for their Show Ball the month before, were auditioning bands for the 1996 Zone 2 Show Society dinner dance which they were hosting. Auditioning bands at the show was an unusual step but local reputation was at stake. Everyone agreed it was crucial to avoid a repeat of the deafening, muddy, instrumental jangle and the related drowned vocals from their own ball.
Twenty-eight societies would be represented at the dinner dance to be held the following Saturday night. It was a very big deal. Two Show Girls from the twenty-eight finalists at the Zone judging would be chosen to go on to the Royal Easter Show Girl state competition, where a trip to the United Kingdom was up for grabs as the main prize. Another musical blunder by the Show Society would be unforgiveable. Heads would roll!
The queues at the food vans moved quickly.
“You sure you’re not hungry, Mavis?” Kate looked at her askance, now very aware of how little money Mavis had after witnessing her coin counting to pay for her son’s meal. Mavis had rejected Gary’s offer to shout them lunch.
“I’m sweet, Kate.”
“What do you want, lady?” the caravan vendor asked Kate.
Passersby stopped to talk to Mavis and Gary while Kate was served. Dan held his hotdog in one hand and his mother’s skirt hem in the other.
With food and drinks in Mavis’ son and friends’ hands, the group headed to the grassed area under the shelter of shade-cloth sails. Leading the way, Gary looked for a spot on the crowded lawn. He wanted one with a good view of both alternate stage areas. Given the personal relationship musicians have with their instruments and their unwillingness to play on hired gear, the Show Society had organized two performance spaces. As one band performed, the next band set up.
After weaving their way through the picnicking crowd, Gary claimed a space for his group. His disregard for the personal space of other picnickers was a reflection of small-town familiarity.
“Nothing danceable about this band,” said Kate, a ballroom dancer since her teens.
“Don’t loll over me, Dan. Mummy’s hot. Sit down next to Gary while you’re eating that hot dog, and chew slowly.”
Kate winced as she listened to the band. “Pity the girl can’t sing. What she lacks in voice, she’s making up in attitude though.”
“Don’t you miss it?” Gary asked Mavis who once had dreams of making it big in the music industry before life had happened to her. A single parent now, her dreams of a very different lifestyle had disappeared when she had fallen pregnant.
“A bit, but y’ know, I still make music at home. That has to be enough. I’ve got Dan now, and he has to come first.”
“So your mother says,” Kate added. “Personally, I think women nowadays can have it all if they work it right.”
“Spoken like a single woman. Between Dan, work, keepin’ things straight in the house, and stayin’ on top of bills, I’m worn out most nights. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Gary, and my parents as backup.”
Nearby, inside the bands’ tent where waiting musicians congregated, tempers seemed to be flaring.
“Take it outside,” someone called.
“Up yours!” another voice shouted.
Gary gestured to the tent. “Maybe we should move over the other side before anything more ‘colourful’ develops here.”
Before Mavis could reply, two young men – one longhaired and in leather and the other in denim – emerged from the tent.
“Mate,” said the longhaired lead singer from the fourth band on that afternoon’s bill, “the amps have got to be cranked up enough to get the balls goin’. I can’t put on a good show if I’m not happy with my sound. No way do I want to sound piss-weak like them.” He gestured to the band currently on stage.
“Listen Dumbo, we want this gig and the work that can come from it; that means volume is out! The other guys get it, why don’t you? They’re behind me on this!”
“Yeah? Where are they then?”
The sound engineer looked over his shoulder and was momentarily taken aback. Set up again, he thought. He gave it his best shot anyway having told them he would. He, at least, was a man of his word. “They asked me to speak for them. There aren’t any screamin’ fans here drownin’ you out to justify the amps you’re askin’ for. I know you don’t get the volume thing, but most people want to hear the music, not be deafened by it. I’ve told you before, when it’s cranked up, and you hit those high notes, it’s like an ice pick to the brain.”
“It’s my job to get people stoked. Maybe that’s goin’ to take more volume than some can handle. They can leave. We’re here to rock!”
“Nah, we’re here to get the gig, and cater for the people, not you!”
“Blokes like you are a dime a dozen. You’re not part of the band. Do as you’re told, or this’ll be the last gig you do sound for us. While I’m the front guy, I call the shots. I’ve heard you out, now do as you’re told. Get back in your box.” The singer walked toward one of the stage areas where a band was bumping in their gear and preparing for performance.
“No amount of loud can cover up a lack of talent,” the sound engineer muttered as he walked away. “We lose this gig, I’m done! Doin’ live sound sucks!”
“The sound guy’s right,” Mavis said, “a band should never be in charge of its own sound. They get it when they’re in a studio but not when it’s live. I reckon that it’s a male thing. Y’ know, ‘How big is your gear?’ In a studio, the equipment outguns a band’s. The other problem is that the sound on stage seems quiet whereas to people like us out here it’s loud.”
“Well,” Gary said, “this band have the volume right yet that walkin’ ego didn’t see it that way.”
Mavis laughed. “So you disagree with the Grimm Brothers?”
Kate grinned at her.
Gary ignored this side conversation and continued, “Or maybe they are used to playin’ in their garage with no audience and don’t realise the point is to entertain the audience.”
“And maybe you and Gary are both right, Kate.”
The audience applauded half-heartedly. The opening chords of the third band’s set claimed the scene.
“Thank God, that band is done!” Kate considered the remaining food before her, a sealed plastic tub of untouched chicken and salad. “I wish I could say the same about this meal. My eyes were way bigger than my stomach. That first tub finished me off. I don’t suppose, Mavis, you’d consider helping me out by finishing it off. If you don’t, it’ll be going into the bin.”
“Well, rather than waste it, yeah, I’ll have it.”
“Look at that wolf!” Kate referred to the lead singer they’d just been talking about.
Surrounded by a group of young women, he played the role of rock star while his band set up their gear on stage as the previous band bumped out.
Taking in the wider scene, Gary said, “So far, the music’s not drawin’ a crowd. As soon as people finish picnickin’, they’re movin’ off. I feel like another hot dog. What about you, Dan?”
“Y’ know I don’t like him having nitrates, Gary. I gave in today because—”
“What about that ice block I promised you, matey?” Sitting on the ground, Gary was eye-to-eye with the boy. “Your mum’s a wise one. Best we listen to her, eh?”
Looking at them, Kate was struck by Gary’s sensual appeal: his wind-tussled blonde hair and open face, the taut trimness of his tanned torso, and his undeniable strength. She shook herself. It’s Gary! she told herself. He was a mate as well as her chief supporter at the local surf club which she had captained six years or so since Gary had unexpectedly nominated her for the position. I must have a touch of the sun, she thought. She made momentary eye-contact with Gary, and quickly switched her focus. She missed his thoughtful expression as did Mavis who ate Kate’s leftovers with relish.
Dan at six years old was a handsome boy. Although not Gary’s son, he could have been mistaken for him. Both shared a brilliant smile, dark eyes, and the same mannerisms. The mannerisms weren’t surprising given Gary had functioned as a proxy father to Dan since his birth.
Gary, with Dan beside him, left.
“He loves your kid, Mavis. If you ever marry …”
“Not much likelihood of that. Guys run the other way when they hear I’ve got a kid. Besides, Gary is his godfather, and in our life for keeps, as you are, unless either of you decide to move on.” After a moment of reflection, she added, “His girlfriend doesn’t like sharing him, y’ know.”
“You’re not wrong there.”
“I only ever saw the positives in lettin’ Gary be part of Dan’s and my life. Lately …” Mavis paused.
“I’ve begun to think that might have been a big mistake. Dan is so vulnerable.”
“Gary is as true as a summer’s day is long. Seriously, you’re not worrying about him being a stayer!”
“If he commits to Sarah …”
“Trust me, Mavis, it’s not an issue even if Sarah becomes a permanent fixture!” After a moment’s quiet, Kate added, “It’s a good thing she’s Keimera’s Show Girl. The competition has taken her out of our lives for a while at least. It’s been full on with them, hasn’t it?”
“That’s for sure. What I don’t like is that we’ve had an overdose of her in our lives as well. She can even quote my mother!”
“If we’re really lucky, Mavis, she’ll win Royal Easter Show Girl, and we’ll have an even bigger break from her. If she wins and goes to London, she might not want to come back. Don’t worry about Gary, and don’t cross bridges until you get to them.”
“But you see, I’m beginnin’ to think that as a parent maybe I should consider things more so as to avoid Dan getting hurt.”
“Stop worrying, Mavis. Life is to be lived. Wrapping anyone up in cotton wool is just as bad as not taking due care.”
* * *
Monday, late morning, the first week of February, 1990 (six years earlier), Mavis drove through the bushfire scarred landscape into Keimera from her family’s property in the hinterland where she lived in temporary accommodation, a caravan. Her parents’ home had been destroyed in a recent bushfire, and she’d had a near death experience in it.
The Country Women’s Association’s funds for disaster relief had been used to hire two caravans so that the Mills family had somewhere to live while the government’s special compensation package for people who had lost their homes was being processed. At this stage, Mavis’ parents intended to rebuild on their land and continue their pastoral lifestyle.
It was seasonably hot. By eleven, Mavis’ car thermometer registered thirty-three degrees Celsius. The radio news said the day would be another scorcher.
Despite this, Mavis did not feel the heat as many other pregnant women did. She was fit, a good weight, and, from the rear, did not look pregnant. The fit behind the steering wheel was snug though, something her parents had argued was good cause for them to chauffeur her in and out of town. She had resisted, clinging to the last vestige of her freedom before the arrival of her child.
Cresting the final hill before the descent into Keimera, Mavis took in the panorama. To the north, a rugged, unpopulated headland adjoined a pristine beach, suitable for surfers but not swimmers due to its dangerous rips. Next, Pipers Point where Madison House, a white two-storey colonial mansion, dominated the peninsula. Although not visible from this vantage, Mavis knew the historically significant house, representing the former pastoral glory of the region, as well as she knew her parents’ property. She had boarded at Madison House for almost four years while working in town. In that time she had forged friendships that she hoped would last a lifetime, had fallen in and out of love and, after the breakup, discovered she was pregnant.
Glimpses of the picturesque town and the coastal road that twisted southward through the rural landscape marked the road’s descent. The view rapidly disappeared as the car reached sea level.
Aware of a dull backache but attributing it to the suspension in her car seat and the awkwardness of her driving position, Mavis felt ravenous. She drove underneath the new expressway that bypassed Keimera.
Gone were the traffic jams of past years when the warmer months brought the onslaught of tourists travelling south. Keimera was still busy but with genuine traffic interested in spending time in the area rather than cars edging through it on the way to Bateman’s Bay and beyond.
As she turned right at the main roundabout, Mavis saw Gary waiting for her on the parkland side of the road. A real estate salesman, he was dressed business-casual, a trend set by Bill Gates of Microsoft, in a crisp white shirt, dark trousers, and polished black leather shoes.
Pulling over, engine still running, Mavis considered parking; she needed to go to the toilet. Looking at her wristwatch, she decided she could hold on until she reached the doctor’s surgery. It would be quicker than stopping now. After Gary climbed in, she pulled out into the light traffic.
“Thanks for standin’ in for Cassie today, Gary. It was the only appointment I could get this week.” Cassie Sleight was Mavis’ closest female friend and had been a stalwart support throughout the pregnancy, unwanted at first. They had met and become firm friends after Cassie came to board at Madison House just over two years earlier.
“No sweat; it’s a one off! Geez, mate, have you got bigger, or is it just the way you’re sittin’? You should’ve let me pick you up or your dad drive you in. Thank God for air-conditioning. You feelin’ okay?”
“I feel great now, but I had a terrible night. For some reason, I dreamt about Terry and … that last month with him.” Terry had been Mavis’ boyfriend. They had lived together six months or so after she’d moved out of Madison House. The emotional scars from that relationship were something that she would live with for a long time.
Gary still remembered the shock of seeing the physical abuse Mavis had suffered at Terry’s hands. If it took a lifetime, Gary mentally swore to make up for his failure to protect her from such a man.
The tooting of a car horn brought Gary back to his surroundings. “What the …?”
The driver in the car ahead of them was clearly impatient for another car to complete its angle parking. The medical surgery was a block ahead of them.
Mavis rocked in the driver’s seat.
“I just need to go to the loo. C’mon! How hard can parkin’ a car be?”
“Let’s talk about something else. You know the sayin’…”
“Watched cars take forever to park.”
Gary laughed. “Something like that. Decided yet where we’ll go for lunch?”
“Sails, it has the best seafood in town! I am starvin’! My stomach has had an odd sort of grumblin’ the whole trip. I should’ve had breakfast, but the pain from last night’s nightmare just sat on me, and I couldn’t eat then. Maybe we should phone the order in and get them to hold a table for us.”
“Kate may have the medical practice runnin’ on schedule, but she says there are always hiccups. Let’s not jinx ourselves.”
“That place runs like clockwork because she knows her doctors and plans for problems. Nothing is goin’ to happen so let’s order ahead. Pity Kate couldn’t have lunch with us. I … Gosh, what was that?”
“I heard and felt a ‘pop’. Sort’ve like a balloon breakin’. Oh, no!” Mavis was unexpectedly quiet for a moment. “I think my water has broke.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, not really, not havin’ been through anything like this before.” She didn’t add that her underwear felt wet, really wet.
“If it has, we’re in the right place.” They were outside the medical practice. “At least there are lots of parkin’ spaces here. Any contractions?”
“No, the doctor said it’s usual for first-time mums to overshoot their due date. I should’ve gone to the toilet when I stopped for you. The bowel pressure is really awful.”
“Way too much information, Mav’!”
Getting out of the car, Mavis was appalled at the flow of water as was Gary. He rushed ahead of her. She tried to clench shut, her legs almost crossed, but the water just kept coming and continued to come as she walked awkwardly along the footpath toward the surgery.
Torn between excitement at the possibility of birth and concern that the lunch she’d salivated over would be missed, Mavis reached the surgery’s doorway. It opened on Kate who had a wheelchair, its seat covered in thick towels. Gary hovered behind her.
“Gary, can you call Sails and order lunch for me? I’d like …”
“Hold off Gary until she’s been checked.” Kate whisked a protesting Mavis into the doctor’s room and then returned. “Dr Tim will run a test to see if it is amniotic fluid or not. He’ll also check to see if she is dilating yet. You say she’s not had any labour pain so that’s unlikely. When we know what’s going on, you can let her parents know and phone the school to give Cassie a heads up that we might be expecting a birth in the next twenty-four hours or so.”
“Given Cassie is Mavis’ support person, don’t you think she should come now?” Cassie Sleight was a teacher at the local high school.
“Jumping the gun there, Gary. There’s plenty of time.”
The practice nurse emerged from the doctor’s room. After wheeling Mavis to the curtained casualty room at the back of the surgery, the nurse reappeared and beckoned to Kate, taking her out of Gary’s sight. The doctor followed moments later.
Next thing Gary heard was Kate’s shocked, “Surely not!”
There was a flurry of activity and, for a while, Gary was forgotten. Eventually, Kate returned to him as the local ambulance arrived to take Mavis to hospital.
“Gary, I’ve phoned the school to let Cassie know she needs to get to the hospital now. The receptionist up there needs to be pastured, nice old dear though she may be. She cut me off twice before I was able to leave a message. So frustrating! Mavis wants you to go with her in the ambulance so I’ll phone your office and fill them in.”
“I’ve got an appointment at three, but I’m free till then. Ask for James to take it for me if I’m late. What about Cassie?”
“I’ll go up to the school to tell Cassie. After that, I’ll drive out to Mavis’ parents to let them know. It’s at times like this that you wish the older generation were into mobile phones.”
“Even if they were, it’s a black hole communications-wise out there,” Gary said.
As the male paramedic wheeled Mavis outside, Mavis asked Kate, “You sure Gary can’t order me something from Sails? They do deliveries. Christ!” She doubled over in the wheelchair, her breathing pattern changed, and she grunted with involuntary pushing.
The practice nurse, who stood near Kate, looked at her watch. “Five minutes exactly. She’s in a regular pattern now.”
“Breathe though the contraction, love,” said one paramedic while the other counted the duration of it. “That’s it. You’re doing fine. Try not to push yet. I’ll tell you when you should if it gets to that.”
Now in the ambulance, Mavis said, “It can’t come now; I’m not ready. It’s all happenin’ too fast. I thought I was goin’ to be overdue. I’m not psyched to go now! Do I have to have a drip? This isn’t part of our birth plan.”
“Babies don’t know about plans. Here mate, you want to hold your wife’s hand?”
About to correct the paramedic, Gary read Mavis’ anguished face and remained silent. Although there had been a trend for many women to be unwed mothers, he knew Mavis felt shamed by her situation. Worse, she worried about a fatherless life for her child.
“I really need to go to the loo,” Mavis said after another contraction.
“Birth’s imminent, that’s why you feel like that.”
To Gary, the trip to the hospital seemed inordinately long, the experience surreal. He couldn’t believe it was happening. He stroked Mavis’ head, encouraged her to breathe through the pain, and endured having his hand crushed periodically.
At the hospital, things seemed to move in sped-up time. He looked for Cassie, but she wasn’t there yet. He stayed back to leave a word with the desk nurse, but at Mavis’ insistence followed her. They were rushed into a delivery room. Like a drowning woman holds onto a life raft, Mavis clung to Gary. All of his thoughts were centred on her. He found comfort in seeing the midwife, a well-upholstered woman who was clearly in command of the situation and unperturbed that the obstetrician/gynaecologist had not as yet arrived.
During the birthing process, Gary experienced an intense connection to Mavis, a divine communion that he would never forget. As the labour intensified, fear for Mavis and her child gutted him. It was such a small passage. Surely, the child would be crushed. What if it got stuck? In the sweat and strain of birth, as the baby’s head crowned, he marvelled at the miracle of it. It was bloody amazing!
Euphoric, he held the baby boy first at Mavis’ insistence despite the medical staff insisting she should have first contact. She said she needed some respite, some personal space. A time to breathe without pain. To recover from the shivering that had seized her.
An intense wave of emotion swept over Gary as he held the baby. Such a small bundle of perfection! He had never felt as close to anyone as he did to Mavis and her son at that moment.
Reluctantly relinquishing the baby to Mavis, he committed again to making amends for his past failure to her. Unlike his own childhood, this boy would not grow up without a caring man in it. Bending over to kiss Mavis on the forehead, he said, “Y’ did good. I’m real proud of you.”
* * *
1996 Keimera showground. “Wonder where the boys are,” Mavis said to Kate who had returned from depositing their rubbish in the bins.
“I’ve been looking for them too, Mavis.” Kate cringed. “Ice pick to the brain doesn’t do justice to how that guy sounds. Let’s walk toward where the boys should be coming from.”
At the juncture of the food caravans and side-show alleys, the group reconnected. Gary had a thirty-something man in tow, dressed simply in black sneakers, black jeans, a white T-shirt, and a cutaway black vest.
Kate’s, “There they are!” and Gary’s, “Look who I ran into,” overlapped.
“Tony!” Mavis said, “Sorry to hear about your group breakin’ up. What happened?”
“G’ day, Mavis, Kate. Creative differences … You know the rest. I’m feelin’ cursed at the moment.”
Mavis’, “Reformin’ a band can be hard,” overlapped Kate’s, “Why?”
“No, that was easy; I only had to replace the singer. Problem today is he hasn’t turned up for the gig this arvo. When Nick, our drummer, phoned his home, his mother said Matt took it into his head to go to Queensland yesterday. Bloody dope head; this is the final straw! He might be an amazin’ performer when he’s clean, but what good is that if he’s off his head or out of it or just doesn’t show?” He looked at Gary.
“I thought you might help Tony out by fillin’ in as his singer.”
“Gary, I haven’t sung in public for years. Besides, I’ve never jammed with Tony or his guys. If I remember right, Tony, you sing.”
“Yeah, but only backup. We need your help, Mavis. I want to avoid us gettin’ a reputation as a no-show.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Gary cringed as did people everywhere in reaction to a high-pitched note.
Dan’s attempt to be helpful by echoing advice Mavis had given him about helping out friends went unacknowledged.
“C’mon, Dan,” Kate said. “Let’s have a ride on the Ferris wheel while your mum is sorting this out.”
Mavis looked at her gratefully. To Tony, she said, “Are you guys playin’ to music?”
“It can be to sheet music if that’ll get you on board, if you pick songs that we’ve got the music to. We’re good at listenin’ to each other when we play, and we’ll follow your lead. Why not start with a solo, something you’ve written, so you get into your comfort zone. You can borrow my electric acoustic.”
“Geez, I can’t do this cold, and there isn’t time for a run through.”
“Sure there is.”
“I don’t see how …”
“I’ll get the guys.” Tony was gone.
“What have you got me into, Gary?”
Gary gave her his Mickey Mouse grin and pose. “You’ll be great!”
End Extract 2
Buy 'Life Song' and get free shipping world wide from http://www.bookdepository.com/Life-Song-Christine-M-Knight/9780987434852
EXTRACT 3 I apologize for the belated uploading of this third promised extract. We had a death in the family. This final extract has been uploaded as a separate blog.