22. Fairfield 1935.
‘I’ll have to ask Dad.’
Violet Enid Dupond was behind the wheel of Hovee’s 1926 Rugby that she had steered into the lane, to come to a stop out of sight of passers-by.
She pushed the gear stick forward as he slid across the seat to kiss her again. ‘You’re twenty-one, we can elope?’
She pushed him back. ‘I want a wedding like Madge, white dress, flowers, bridesmaid, wine…’
He moved away as she pushed to lean his arm on the door. ‘I don’t think I could afford any of that and I don’t think George could either.’ He looked over the windowless door to stare across paddocks where shadows lengthened, mist rising from meadow grass through cooling air. She said nothing, watching and waiting for her big man to think it through.
She smiled to herself while he turned to her, his face crumpling as it might have done when he found his Christmas stocking lacked what he had hoped for. She turned away then flopped backward, her head resting on his thighs. His big face was now looking down at her laughing eyes. She smiled, inviting. ‘I can ask Marge to lend me her dress. Mary can be bridesmaid.’
‘Dad won’t allow wine, you know.’ He was smiling too now, love filling his heart, warming his stomach, energising his penis, a pressing, pleasant discomfort. They had played this game before and his body warmed in anticipation.
He moved to ease himself. She laughed as she rolled over to bite him through thick moleskin work trousers, then reached up to slip suspenders from his shoulders and with help, worked the waistband down until he was free and in her mouth. His left hand cradled her head as his right slipped inside her pants to find her clitoris.
Hovee’s cry of release was more than that. Pleasure was moderated by fear. His father’s presence was with them in their cramped space and although he could no longer feel the razor strop, he felt the dread, and there was God.
But even his God was not enough to overcome his love at that moment. He lifted her face to kiss her again, tasting his own saltiness, then pulled up his trousers, walked around the ute to take its crank handle and through exertion, leave less head space for “knowledge of good and evil”, spinning the cranky old engine until it spluttered to life.
Violet had moved behind the wheel to adjust spark timing and mixture, so it soon settled into a clunky idle.
With the engine ticking over, now ready to move off, he felt calmer, as if he had turned a page on something in his life. It was not the first time she had done that. When he first spoke to her, a woman not from the Meeting, he had broken a seal on his church imposed morality and knew he would follow this woman, wherever she might lead.
But as much as he wanted… needed to love her completely, he was afraid she might become pregnant. It was a fear that joined others, pumped into his growing mind over the years by froth-mouthed preachers and his father, who added a physical reality through regular thrashing, lest the rod be spared and the child be spoilt.
He needed her so much. But he also needed to be able to provide. His own father seemed to find enough work to keep the adult sons employed; building cottages for wealthy Exclusive Brethren clients, and there was just enough to feed his wife and six children still at home. But there never seemed to be enough to pay wages. He pressed the button to kill the engine and turned back to her.
‘Do you want to try that again?’
For a moment she was confused, but as he slipped his trousers off and moved over to kiss her again, she pushed her pants to the floor and lifted herself onto him.
This time it was Violet who climaxed first, crying in joy that her man loved her enough to overcome his demons and if only for a short time, defy his family, his church and his god.
She came again with him, this time deeper, profound. She felt they had sealed a compact that would hold for their lifetimes.
And the compact held. On the way it would be bent and battered, but would endure to the end.
‘I’m getting married!’
Her announcement stopped the conversation as surely as if she had said ‘fuck!’
Brother George Osterley, going on seventeen, already in trouble with the police for driving without a licence, but with his father’s permission, broke the silence. ‘What desperate flamin’ idiot’d marry you, dog face?’ He laughed but was slapped by his father who glared at her from across the table.
‘You’re not marrying that wowser from the bloody Brethren? Not that bastard Hovee Ray! ’ He turned to his wife’s shocked face. ‘Martha, tell her she can’t marry that idiot.’
Martha turned away from Gorge and placed her cutlery carefully on the Irish linen tablecloth. Her daughter’s face lost its excitement as she watched and it hurt her more than George could ever do.
But Violet was the only one of the family in regular work as a nurse’s aide and they needed the money. In that few seconds of silence, her thoughts raced over their lives; the struggle to get food onto the table, George’s drinking, his fighting and the fines. Martha was suddenly aware of the stink of tobacco smoke wafting over her and wondered what it would be like to be married to a non-smoking teetotaller, who never swore, who spoke respectfully and addressed her “Mrs Dupond”.
At that moment she despised her husband. She knew she would pay with a beating later, and if he was able, rape. But she reached out to lay her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. ‘That’s nice Dear, when’s the wedding?’
George lifted himself out of his chair and leaned across the table. ‘She’s not marrying that bloody poofter while she lives here!’
Martha sat back but stared him in the eye. ‘She’s twenty-one, George. She can marry who she likes.’
In the space created by George’s surprise, Violet smiled at him. ‘Dad, I want it to be a nice wedding.’
‘Nice wedding be buggered!’ he yelled. ‘If you marry that ponce, you can go find somewhere else to bloody live.’
Violet stood to face her father. He frightened her still, but she was more frightened for her mother.
‘I am twenty-one and can marry without your permission, but I would like you to give me away and all that.’
‘And what is bloody “all that”? I hope you don’t expect me to pay for any flamin’ wedding. Bugger that! Let the wowsers pay for the bloody thing. I’m not!’ He sat and poured another glass of beer while she stared at him. He took a swig then went back to his sausages and mash.
Violet looked to her mother who was quietly weeping into her apron. ‘Don’t worry Dad. I don’t expect you to do anything. I’ll do it myself.’
‘And what about your pay packet, my girl? We need it here. You’re not going anywhere!’ He slammed his glass down, some beer sloshing over the edge. ‘If you go near that bastard again, I’ll smash his face in. Then you’ll see what he’s really like. He just wants your money, the slimy bastard.’
Eleven year old Louis, sitting on the other side of his mother, feared his father’s temper more than most. He had inherited his mother’s more petite features and so was often beaten as his mother’s surrogate. He was whimpering in the presence of his father’s anger. Martha glared at George and stood, lifting Louis to his feet. ‘Come on Darling, let’s wash your face.’
George sneered as he took the now almost empty beer bottle and upended it into his glass. ‘That’s right Martha, spoil the bloody kid.’
Martha left the room with Louis and Violet following her out. George turned to sixteen-year old Margaret. ‘Get me another beer from the ice chest will you Love, there’s a good girl.’