Particularly for my overseas readers, it any terms need explaining for you to understand the meaning, please say so.
Also, if you are enjoying this little sojourn into the past, I would be overjoyed if you say so.
3 Fairfield 1937.
‘Hello Mum! Put the kettle on.’
Martha rushed to the back door to hug her daughter. Flour from her apron rubbed off onto Violet’s navy skirt.
‘Oh Vi, how are you?’ Violet brushed the flour away as she kissed Martha on the cheek. He mother watched her hand brushing, then her eyes rested on her stomach. ‘You’re not pregnant are you?’ She flushed then gabbled on. ‘Not that I don’t want a grandchild, you know I do. How’s Hovee?’
‘If you mean my husband, he’s well and the old man’s good too.’
‘How’s he taking the loss?’
‘That’s the thing with them, Mum. They seem happy that she’s with God and Jesus in Heaven. Of course they miss her, and she was lovely. I seem to be the only one who cries for her.’
‘Strange people aren’t they!’
‘Yes, they are, but they’re mostly happy in a serious sort of way.’
Martha took her arm. ‘Let’s have a cuppa.’
She led violet to the kitchen and pushed her toward the ice chest. ‘We have fresh milk today.’
‘Good. I don’t like condensed in tea. Where’s Dad? Has he got a job?’
Martha was spooning leaves into a teapot. She stopped and fixed Violet with her serious stare. ‘No, he’s in court today.’
Violet sighed then smiled back at her mother. ‘What’s he done this time?’
Martha carried the tea pot to the stove and poured boiling water over the leaves. ‘Driving with someone else’s number plates. He says he found them on the side of the road.’
‘What, both plates?’
‘Yes, both of them, and he put them on his truck.’
Violet laughed, despite her mother’s serious face, as she continued. ‘He was pulled over by the sergeant because those very same number plates had been reported stolen just over a week ago.’
‘No!’ she exclaimed. ‘He pinched someone’s number plates? Oh sweet Jesus! Did he really?’
‘He says not, but you know what he’s like: one law for the proletariat and a different law for him. He might even go to jail this time.’
‘Then what will you do for money?’
‘Young George works part time as a barman at the Cabramatta Hotel now, so that brings in a bit, well, what he doesn’t drink himself. Margaret has a part-time job at the grocer’s and brings home food that can’t be sold, you know, stuff in broken packages, fruit with spots.’
Martha lifted two cups and saucers from a shelf, placing them either side of the table, poured milk into a small jug which she covered with a delicate, crocheted cover, held in place by tiny seashells sewed into the edges. ‘The chooks are laying, so we have eggs. Young Louis looks after them, He’s a good boy.’
The tea pot was now at the centre of the table, a woollen cosy with a red pom-pom adding a jaunty touch to an otherwise drab room.
‘How’s things with you?’ She poured tea for them both, barely taking her eyes off her daughter’s face.
‘I’m a bit worn out, catching the tram to Burwood then the train to the hospital every day. I’m hoping Bill gets a real job soon. We want a baby.’
Martha smiled. ‘If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall every time you do it!’ She laughed, embarrassing herself. ‘I mean there were times when we didn’t.’ Now she was laughing harder, even more embarrassed.
‘Don’t worry about it Mum,’ Violet laughed. ‘There’s no chance of that. We’ve been trying for nearly two years and believe you me, Bill is insatiable.’
Martha sighed and took Violet’s hand. ‘You poor girl. George can’t get it up anymore. Too much beer, I reckon. I’ll be glad when he stops bothering me altogether.’
Violet squeezed her mother’s hand. ‘Poor Mum. It must be hard.’ Her eyes opened in surprise at what she had said. She laughed. ‘Sorry Mum, you know what I mean. No, I love it that Bill is always ready for me. I just adore making love with him.’
Martha was blushing as she poured more tea. ‘I just hope that never stops then.’ She looked up as she replaced the teapot. ‘Does Hovee know you’re here?’
‘No, Mum. I’m forbidden from coming here since Mother Ray died.’
‘Why’s that? She seemed to support you coming to see me.’
Violet sat back, tears filling her eyes. ‘She left a huge hole in the household. And some of them somehow connect me with her death. It’s horrible.’
‘Who? Why would they blame you?’
‘It’s not all of them, not the men except for old Hovee, just the two older women, the more devout ones. They always seem determined to make a connection between anything that happens to a sin someone has committed. Like… it’s the idea of revenge. Someone sins and God’s wrath descends.’
‘That’s horrible. Is it Clarissa?’
‘No, Mum, Clarissa is an angel and Mary is a ball of fun. They are like sisters to me. I love them both and I know they love me.’
‘So it’s coming from the old man then.’
‘Some of it, but he’s not consistent. Sometimes he just doesn’t talk to me but on many occasions he has said I am good for his son. No, it’s the mainly the other two girls I think. Anyway, I can handle it. Don’t worry.’
4Booralla Road, September 1940.
Little Eleanor ran into the kitchen when she heard voices, frilled pillow under her arm, big blue eyes excited.
Violet lifted her to be kissed on the cheek then sat her on her knee to continue the cuddle. She sniffed the child’s bright ginger hair then squeezed her again. She tried not to show her envy as she noted Marjorie’s awkward gait.
‘When are you due?’
Marjorie looked down at her swollen body and sighed. ‘October, I think and it’s a girl.’
‘How do you know it’s a girl?’
She carefully lowered herself into a pale green spindle backed chair that made up a set of four that Stafford had bought for one pound from Harry’s second hand timber yard in Smithfield Road, along with the matching table.
‘She is higher than Ford, more like Eleanor was but she doesn’t kick as much. Got to be a girl.’
Violet smiled then kissed Eleanor’s hair. ‘I’d settle for either… or both.’
‘I think you’re too stressed to conceive.’ Marjorie suggested. ‘I’ve seen it before; women who are highly strung, then something happens to change things and Presto! They’re pregnant.’
‘Yes, it’s a bit awkward there.’ She broke off a piece of sponge cake Marjorie had retrieved from the Coolgardie safe, and popped it into the child’s mouth then took a bite from the remainder. ‘Bill doesn’t have permanent work and I leave early every day for the hospital, so I’m tired when I get home and he isn’t. Clissy’s wonderful, but I’d really like to get away from the judgement.’
‘What’re they saying?’
‘Nothing to my face, but I’m sure they’ve said something to Bill about Mother Ray’s death and the behaviour of my family being connected.’
Marjorie laughed and stood to make the tea, her back to violet. She was still laughing. ‘I know it’s not funny to you, to read about your dad and that woman at Smithfield. Let’s hope they don’t get the “The Biz” down there!’
‘Oh, I’m sure they know. The Fairfield Brethren read the Fairfield papers no doubt… and theirs is a small world.’
‘I thought it was really funny. I can imagine George rushing to the aid of a damsel in distress, so long as it wasn’t your mother.’
‘Yes, poor Mum. She suffers the embarrassment… and there’s the fines. It’s hard enough for her to put food on the table without the embarrassment of Dad being drunk or having our name in the papers so much.’
‘It’s just your dad though, isn’t it? Is George Junior behaving?’
‘No, he’s been caught driving without a licence, again, and this time he had dodgy number plates as well!’
‘How awful for your mum. How would you like to live here?’
Violet’s attention was suddenly drawn away from Eleanor to stare at Marjorie. She had come to ask that very thing. But now she was afraid she might have pushed her sister-in-law into making the offer.
‘Are you sure? Is… are your bedrooms ready? Where will you put the new bub?’
‘She’ll be in with us for a while, but then she can sleep in with Eleanor. She’d love a baby sister. We’re totally out of the shed now, so if you and Bill wanted to move in, I’d love to have you closer.’
‘It would be a lot easier here than being cramped up in that house, but what do you think Stafford would say to that? I get the impression he’s glad to be away from the Baker Street mob. He doesn’t go there much.’
Marjorie poured water into the tea pot and refilled the kettle.
‘He doesn’t go anywhere much. He works five and a half days at Chartres in Liverpool Street, has to ride his bike to Cabramatta station to get the train, then spends every other waking moment working on this house. He would like to go to the meeting every Sunday, but there just isn’t time.’
‘What does his father have to say about that?’
We don’t have a phone, so they don’t bother us much.’
‘How do you think Staff would react to Bill starting a business here?’
‘What sort of business? Have you and Bill been planning on coming here all along?’
Violet looked away, through the open back door where a big melaleuca dominated the skyline but there was no help there. Marjorie had returned to the table with the tea pot, her eyes on Violet who seemed to be contemplating the demise of the many flies attached to the helix of sticky paper hanging from the ceiling, entrapped by their lack of acuity.
‘No, she replied, eyes back on Marjorie’s, her heart racing. ‘We had hoped to get a place where Bill could establish a poultry farm but it was me, just now, that thought that this might be a good place to start.’
“Hovee might not like the idea of moving here,” she thought, “but it was not Hovee that was the target of innuendo, it was she.” She needed to have a plan to get him away from his father and that house.
‘No, he’s been talking about getting our own place but there’s no money even for a deposit and Staff’s not doing much with the land. What do you think? We could work out a deal that paid you something as well.’
Marjorie poured tea for both of them then sat back to engage her newest sister-in-law. She smiled. ‘Yes, I would like you to be closer. I can’t have close friends that are not in the Meeting. There are no other Brethren around here, so I feel very much alone sometimes.’ She glanced over her shoulder toward the neighbour’s house. ‘Ruth Brazel is nice, but if I invited her for a cuppa and the Brethren found out, I would be ostracised by everyone.’
‘Where will you send Fordie to school?’
‘He’s at school. Kindie.’
‘Oh yes! I had noticed he wasn’t here. Where did you send him?’
Eleanor was bored with talk about her brother and was wriggling to be put down. Violet lowered her to the floor and watched as she ran outside, then looked back at Marjorie.
‘Why not St John’s Park, it’s closer.’
‘Staff didn’t want him mixing with the local kids, the Italians and reffo’s.’
‘No, you wouldn’t want that.’