Flood

Country Style - - SHORT STORY -

DONNA COUTTS LIVES IN MACLEOD, ON THE NORTH­ERN EDGE OF MEL­BOUNE, BUT THIS STORY IS IN­FORMED BY HER UP­BRING­ING IN RU­RAL VIC­TO­RIA.

Vida wasn’t there. There was a space in the room be­tween Carol and Jean that should have been filled by Vida. Vida not here? No, Jean, Vida’s not here. Carol leaned a lit­tle into the space where Vida should have been and Jean re­ar­ranged skeins of flu­oro wool and poly­styrene balls to take up Vida’s por­tion of the trestle. One o’clock Tues­days at the Me­mo­rial Hall. That was Craft. They weren’t get­ting the num­bers any­more but Carol, Jean, Vida and maybe four oth­ers were there ev­ery week — save for Jean’s an­nual trip up north. Vida wasn’t there be­cause she’d left. Left Craft. Left town. Left Terry. Left the grand­kids with Terry. Left them all in the lurch.

Hot air fell out of the hall into the morn­ing when Terry opened the big doors on Fri­day. The com­mit­tee came for an hour at 10, and hung pas­tel bal­loons, and washed cups and saucers, cluck­ing and flash­ing him tight lit­tle smiles. By mid­day, Terry had put chairs around the walls, filled elec­tric urns, bro­ken up cob­webs in the toi­lets and swept the floor­boards, which could use a bit of love. Back home he ar­ranged An­zacs he’d made on Vida’s Royal Doul­ton. Stood back to as­sess his work. The bikkies looked not un­like Vida’s, though he sus­pected the Doul­ton was only for sand­wiches.

Vida set­tled her­self across two-thirds of the coach seat. Coun­try Mints in the net pocket, That’s Life on her knee, cro­chet bag at her feet. Cousin Glo­ria had worked her­self into a state when Vida rang, think­ing she was land­ing on her any minute. But Ade­laide was 11 hours plus, ac­cord­ing to the driver. Vida hadn’t seen Glo­ria since Leanne’s wed­ding and Glo­ria had looked a lit­tle brassy even then. When they were girls, Glo­ria epit­o­mised glam­our. She epit­o­mised free­dom the day she’d driven off to Ade­laide with that bloke who played guitar in a band that was on the ra­dio. The far­thest Vida got was War­rackn­abeal, for Miss Show­girl 1963. The thought of Leanne’s wed­ding made her sick to her stom­ach. So much money. So much ker­fuf­fle. All over a hand­ful of years, her and Terry left to bring up Leanne’s kids. You were sup­posed to think ill of the man but Vida couldn’t see he’d done wrong but choose an im­pos­si­ble wife. Leanne was a dis­ap­point­ment. You shouldn’t say that about your daugh­ter. But no one was go­ing to know Vida had thought it. First hint of hard times and Leanne had hitch­hiked out, quick as look at you. Leanne, the im­age of Terry, stand­ing on the front lawn that last day spin­ning yarns about spread­ing her wings, branch­ing out, find­ing her­self. Find her­self. Vida would have drawn her a map if she’d thought it would help. She looked at her watch. Five thirty. Tea should be on. Kids in the bath. Sto­ries read. And tonight the Deb Ball. She sent Terry good thoughts. When she dreamed of this day, she pic­tured him home, man­ag­ing. Didn’t want to see him fail, just couldn’t do it her­self one more day. She hadn’t pic­tured him at the Deb with­out her. Maybe Carol would step in. Carol would like that.

Terry was sup­posed to say some­thing to start the Deb Ball. Con­grat­u­late the com­mit­tee. Com­pli­ment the girls. He cleared his throat, strained against his col­lar. He was sinewy any­way, but when ner­vous, the ten­dons stood out around his neck like the roots of an old box tree. He looked down at his slacks, lined up knife-sharp creases with floor­boards. Vida’s creases. Ev­ery day, ex­cept for fu­ner­als and the Deb, Terry wore Wran­gler jeans and Vida ironed a crease in those, too.

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