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Authors: Paddy O'Reilly

The Fine Color of Rust

BOOK: The Fine Color of Rust
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Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Acknowledgments

Readers Club Guide

The Japanese have a word,
sabi
, which connotes the simple beauty of worn and imperfect and impermanent things: a weathered fence; an old cracking bough in a tree; a silver bowl mottled with tarnish; the fine color of rust.

1

NORM STEVENS SENIOR
tells me I'll never get that truck off my land. He says it's too old, been there too long, the hoist will try to lift the thing and it will break apart into red stones of rust.

“Leave it,” he says. “Let it rust away. One day you'll look and it won't be there anymore.” He gives me a sideways glance. “Like husbands. You look away and when you look back they're gone, right?”

“Right.”

“So have you heard from the bastard?”

“Nope.”

“And you're getting by all right? For money?”

“I've got more money now than when he was here.”

We both laugh.

“Now, Loretta, you know I can take the kids for a night if you need some time off.”

“I might take you up on that. I've got a prospect. A biker, but a nice one, not a loser. On a Harley, no less.”

“A Harley?” He raises his eyebrows. Whenever he does that, a pink scaly half-moon of skin above his left eyebrow wrinkles. He reaches up to touch it.

“You should have that looked at, Norm.”

“Yeah, yeah, and I should give up the spare parts work and get out of the sun too.”

He gestures around his junkyard. There are tractor parts, rolls of wire, tires, mowers, corrugated iron sheets all rusted and folded, bits of cars and engines, pots and pans, gas bottles, tools, toys, bed frames, oil drums, the chipped blades of threshers and harvesters. Some of the machinery is so bent and broken you can't even tell what it was meant for. In the center of the yard is a lemon tree, the only greenery in sight. It always has lemons. I'm sure I know what Norm does to help it along, but I don't ask. He's got four guard dogs too, tied up around the yard, vicious snarling things. As if anyone would want to steal any of this crap.

“Well, I'd better pick up the kids,” I say. I don't want to pick up the kids. I want to send them to an orphanage and buy myself a nice dress and learn to live the way I used to, before I turned into the old scrag I am now.

“Don't you worry about that truck.” Norm stretches out his long, skinny arm and pats me on the back. “It'll go back into the land.”

I get into the car, pump the accelerator like I'm at the gym, and turn the key three times before the engine fires. I should have that looked at, I think. There's half a kilo of sausages on the seat beside me, and I realize they've been sitting in the sun for half an hour. When I unwrap the paper and have a sniff I get a funny sulfur smell. They'll cook up all right, I tell myself, and I gun the Holden and screech in a U-turn onto the road. I can't get used to this huge engine—every time I take off I sound like a pack of hoons at Bathurst.

It's three thirty already and Jake and Melissa will be waiting at the school gate, ready to jump in and whine about how
everyone else's mum always gets there before I do. Maybe I will drop them off at the orphanage.

•  •  •

WHEN I GET
to the school gate the kids are both standing with their hands on their hips. I wonder if they got that from me; old scrag standing with her hands on her hips, pursing her thin lips, squinting into the sun. You could make a statue of that. It would look like half the women in this town. Dust and a few plastic bags swirling around its feet, the taillights of the husband's car receding into the distance. They should cast it in bronze and put it in the foyer of Social Security.

“Mum, we have to have four sheets of colored cardboard for the project tomorrow.”

“All right.”

“And me too, Mum, I have to have a lead pencil and I don't want bananas in my lunch anymore because they stink.”

“All right.”

As I steer the great car down the highway toward home I have a little dream. I'll swing into the driveway and sitting next to the veranda will be a shiny maroon Harley-Davidson. I won't dare to look, but out of the corner of my eye I'll see a boot resting on the step, maybe with spurs on it. Then I'll slowly lift my head and he'll be staring at me the way George Clooney stared into J.Lo's eyes in
Out of Sight
and I'll take a deep breath and say to him, “Can you hang on five minutes while I drop the kids at the orphanage?”

What I actually find when we get home is a bag of lemons sitting on the veranda. Norm must have left them while we were at the newsagent.

“Who are these from?” Jake asks.

“Norm.”

“How do you know?”

“Oil on the bag.”

I bought Norm a cake of Solvol soap once. Delivered it to the junkyard wrapped in pretty pink paper with a bow. He rang to thank me. “I think you're insulting me.”

“It's for your own good, Norm.”

“You're a minx. If I was thirty years younger . . .”

“Fifty, more like,” I told him, “before you'd get those paws on me.”

That night, when the kids are finally settled in their rooms doing their homework, I get on the phone for the usual round of begging.

“Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow?”

“Oh, Loretta, I'm sorry, I completely forgot. I've made other plans.”

I can imagine Helen's plans. They'll involve a cask of white and six changes of clothes before she collapses on the bed in tears and starts ringing her friends—me—asking why she can't find a man. Is she too old, has she lost her looks? It helps to leave the house occasionally, I have to remind her. She certainly hasn't lost her looks. Auburn hair without a single gray strand. Straight white teeth. A country tan. Unlike mousey-haired skinny scragwoman me, she even has a cleavage.

“The grade-three teacher's coming,” I tell her, certain this will change her mind. “And Brianna's offered to mind all the kids at her place. She must have hired a bouncer.”

“He's told you he's coming?”

“Yeah, he left a message on my machine,” I lie.

So Helen's in. After I herd up seven others with more lies and false promises, I put the sausages on. Sure enough, the sulfur smell fades once they start to burn. I used to enjoy cooking quiche and fancy fried rice and mud cake. Gourmet,
like on the telly, the boyfriend would boast to his mates. Then we get married and it's, “Listen, darl, I wouldn't mind a chop for a change.” Now the kids think gourmet is pickles on your sandwich. They won't even look at a sun-dried tomato. Last time I tried that, Jake picked them out of the spaghetti sauce and left them lined up like red bits of chewed meat on the side of the plate. “Gross,” he said, and I had to agree, seeing them like that.

•  •  •

THE MEETING'S IN
the small room at the Neighbourhood House because the Church of Goodwill had already booked the large room by the time I got around to organizing tonight's meeting. We're sitting pretty much on top of each other, trying to balance cups of tea and Scotch Finger biscuits on our knees. Maxine is supposed to be taking the minutes.

I thought I'd made it up, but the grade-three teacher has come, and Helen's paralyzed with excitement and terror. She's wearing enough perfume to spontaneously combust, and the smell's so overwhelming that Maxine has to swing the door open. Two minutes later the noise from the meeting next door starts up.

“Yes!” they all shout. “Yes! I do, I do!”

“Well, I don't.” Maxine swings the door half-shut so that we're dizzy with perfume but still having to shout over the frantic clapping of people being saved next door.

I give the list of apologies and welcome everyone who's come, introducing the grade-three teacher in case the others don't know him. Helen's gone as pink and glistening as a baby fresh out of the bath. She'll have a seizure if she's not careful. I can't see the attraction. The teacher's five foot four, stocky, and always says “At the end of the day.”

“At the end of the day,” he says when I introduce him, “I am totally committed to this cause. Our jobs are at risk too.”

Just in case, I look down at his feet, but no spurs. I read out the list of agenda items. Brenda sighs loudly.

“Do we have to do all this agenda crap? And the motions? I motion, you motion. My Mark's doing motions you wouldn't believe and I have to be home by nine in case I need to take him to Emergency.”

“Yes, we do. Because we're trying to be bloody official. And as you well know, an emergency department that closes at ten in a town half an hour away is one of the reasons we're here. Soon this town will have no services for a hundred kilometers.”

“Oh, yes, ma'am.”

I roll my eyes. Maxine rolls her eyes. For a moment I think of us all rolling our eyes like a bunch of lunatics in the asylum and I almost cheer up.

“Item one. I've written a letter to the member for our local constituency about the closure of the school.” I pause for the inevitable joke about members, which, to my amazement, doesn't come. “We need everyone who has kids in the school to sign.”

“It'll never work.” Brenda is the optimist of the committee.

“Does anyone know how to drain the oil from a sump?” Kyleen pipes up.

Only another half an hour, I think, and I can pick up the kids from Brianna's, drop them at the orphanage, and drive straight down to Melbourne. With the experience I've got, I'll land a good job in a center for adults with attention deficit disorder.

•  •  •

WHEN I PULL
up at Brianna's, the kids run to the front door, looking pleased to see me. They're way too quiet in the backseat. They must have done something horrible.

“So did you have a good time?” I ask. I speed up to catch the amber light and the Holden roars with the might of a drunken trucker. I can't make out exactly what Melissa says, but I might have heard the word
fight.
I think back. Were they limping when they got into the car? Was there blood? I can't remember anything like that so I turn on the radio and keep driving along the dark highway, listening to the soothing sound of a voice calling race seven of the trots, something I've learned to love since the radio got stuck on this station.

“Mum?” Melissa says as we pull into the unsurprisingly Harley-free driveway.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“I don't ever want to leave this house.”

BOOK: The Fine Color of Rust
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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