As Mary stepped into the river, she prayed it would be over soon.
Unlike her five siblings she had always shied from the swimming days here. She’d never learned to swim.
She would rather sit on the bank and read a book, or watch as her sisters did slow crawls in their swimming costumes, and her brothers jumped off the trees into the water.
Today, Mary had loaded large rocks into her thigh level dress pockets. She felt the water lapping over them now as her feet felt their way over the murky riverbed, into the deep.
It was just three hours since her gossip neighbour, Myrtle Fyfe, had come to her house, without her usual smirk, and without her vicious group of friends.
“I’ve seen your Barry,” she said in her thick Scottish accent. “Half an hour ago, at the Thornbury Theatre. He was with ….with her. I thought you should know.”
Message conveyed, Mrs Fyfe donned a fake expression of concern; her eyebrows furrowed like a cartoon character’s. But she said nothing else.
Didn’t offer a hand. She turned and left. No doubt to let everyone in the neighbourhood know about poor Mary Jeffery and her faithless husband.
Mary didn’t waste time. She went into the house and roused her three boys, all aged under four. She dressed them and brought them into her parents’ house at the end of the street.
The house was unusually empty, but she could hear a party in the yard of the neighbours. She rushed into the house, gave the older boys a sleeping draught and laid them on a bed in the sleepout at the rear. She shushed the baby and rocked him till he closed his eyes, and she put him down in a drawer.
She kissed all the boys, and cried softly. She would never see them again.
She closed the door to the house softly, and walked down the road to the train station. She got off three stations down, at Westgarth, then caught a tram up High Street to Thornbury Theatre.
She ordered a spider and sat in the cinema café, with a good view to the exiting moviegoers.
After half an hour, the patrons from A Star is Born came out. It was the hit movie of 1937.
And there he was – her husband, Barry, on the arm of a woman who must be Ivy Marshall.
Ivy’s hair was garishly peroxide blonde and she wore too much makeup. She wore a sheer, knee-length navy blue dress that plunged at the bust.
Barry, in a suit and hat, was laughing at a joke she made. He glanced over. And saw Mary. He stared for a few beats, then made out that he had not seen her.
They exited the theatre and walked up the street. So she – the mother of his children – wasn’t even worth his time. Worth a ‘’sorry’’. She didn’t exist, in his mind.
Mary did not bother to chase after them, make a scene. Many times, at home, she’d accused Barry of seeing someone, but he’d always violently denied it.
Now here was proof. Mary was finished with fighting. Ivy could have him.
She left her hat, bag and coat on the café chair. She caught a train to Victoria Park.
It was starting to rain and the wind whipped her hair as it unravelled out of its bun. She started to run, down to the river. She couldn’t swim. It was the easiest way. She was crying. She shed her shoes as she ran through the streets, like a mad woman. She felt mad.
The swimming spot on the river was deserted when she arrived, and no wonder, the weather was terrible.
The sorrow lay on Mary’s shoulders like a heavy blanket. No one in her family had ever divorced – it was a shame she couldn’t bear.
She had asked her mother, Jinny, what to do. Jinny had counselled Mary to stick by Barry. She was a wife, now, and her duty was to Barry and their little boys. Life as a single mother didn’t bear thinking about.
Mary knew her parents would take good care of the boys, as would her two older sisters. Rose was married with two children and Nell was also married and childless, but a doting auntie.
The boys were in safe hands, and were young enough not to remember Mary.
As the cold water came up to her shoulders, Mary felt a stab of shame at committing the sin of suicide.
Her father Sam, a preacher, would be mortified. Would he give her a Christian funeral?
But she had already let him down, let them all down, by somehow sending her husband into another woman’s arms.
She couldn’t deny the pleasure she felt, on some level, at hurting Barry, for all he’d done to her.
Luring her with promises of eternal love. Showing her glimpses of a happy family. Then slapping her in the face by flaunting his mistress in public, where friends and family would all know how little he valued her.
Seeking solace, Mary thought back to when she was 10 years old, lined up in the pew at church, and the hymns of hundreds of Sunday services came back and rushed into her ears. She started to sing, before she stepped into the final deep, the water moving much faster now.
She said the Lord’s Prayer, prayed to God that He would take her swiftly. And her high voice wavered as she sang her favourite hymn. How Great Thou Art. No one watched as her head went under the water. And there Mary Jeffery drowned, one cold, windy April day.
As Mary stepped into the river, she prayed it would be over soon.
Ness wandered through her apartment trying to find the source of the infernal electronic jingle. She was sure it was the rice cooker letting her know it was done, but she just couldn’t find the kitchen. This was odd because she lived in what had been generously termed as a compact one bedroom apartment that only had two other rooms – the bathroom and the combined living/dining/kitchen. No matter how many doors she opened, Ness just kept on entering either the bedroom or the bathroom. Slowly it dawned on her that she was maybe dreaming, dreaming a reoccurring dream at that, and that she knew what to do.
Quiet morning, thought Magnolia, the magpie, overseeing her territory from the balcony of No 22. Her mate Magnus and their son Junior waited for her call, perched on the boundary trees on opposite sides of their territory. Big Human Bird should be over with walnuts. Soon. Sooner would be better. Already Magnolia felt the air seething with tiny breezes made by waking birds. Sunny windless mornings are the idiot-bird weather and she didn’t have time for any of that nonsense.
A familiar knot of uneasiness was forming in the pit of Lilian’s stomach. A vague churning; like sounding the alarm, her body’s early warning system was begging her to respond. The flush of adrenaline meant her limbic system had activated, triggering a slightly raised heart rate, a tightness in her lungs, and a cold sweat beginning to form all over. She could name it these days – proximity-induced anxiety.
When I started, it was with a hopeful sense of purpose.
His eyes were boring into me. If looks could kill I’d be dead in seconds.
I looked behind me, and back at him. “What?” I said.
But there were just the two of us – me and the elderly man – in the train from the city to Hurstbridge.
It was one of those interminable, off peak train rides where the driver goes at snail’s pace, stops at every signal and has a natter to all the Met staff he sees at stations.
The bloke in my carriage was up the other end, leaning on a pole, but he strode towards me. He came close, and sat down in the window seat opposite me, without asking.
“Excuse me,’’ I said. “You didn’t ask me.”
“Ask what?” he said.
“Whether you can sit there.”
“Doesn’t look like it’s occupied.”
I made an exaggerated glance behind me. “My boyfriend. He’s due to get on at the next station. So, sorry. It’s taken.”
“I won’t be long. You’re that girl, aren’t you?” he said, and there was that hostile glare again. He had strange swampy green eyes. He was pale and wiry with white hair and he had a bristly, semi-Hitler moustache.
“I have never met you in my life,” I said.
He was still glaring at me, as if I’d just smeared dog poo on him.
The train had just halted between stations again, somewhere near Ivanhoe. It was a fine, cool day with sun streaming through the windows.
“Er, listen, mate, I have to get off at this stop, so sorry I have to be going,’’ I said, as I stood up.
“No.’’ He said.
“ExCUSE me?” I said. “Are you the police? No? Then get out of my way,’’ I said, a little freaked out by now.
His spindly leg shot out and blocked me from the aisle. I pushed against it. It was surprisingly strong. I went to step over him but he pushed me back into my seat with a palm to my upper arm.
“That is assault. You are in big trouble,’’ I said, taking out my phone, my hands shaking as I tried to key in my PIN. My fingers wouldn’t work.
“You’re not going anywhere. You’re from Watsy,’’ he said.
“PARDON me?” I asked, although I knew he meant Watsonia. Although as far as I knew, I’d never admitted to anyone being from Watsonia. Let alone being from Watsy.
“I used to run the milk bar on Watsonia Road,’’ he said. “Back in the 1970s.” His voice rose and he looked to be revving up for a big yarn. “You and your sister.”
“Y-e-e-s,’’ I said, thinking that if I could, I’d be backing out of this carriage slowly, my hands up.
“You came in to the shop. The summer of ’77. Am I right? You stole a packet of chips. Samboy salt and vinegar. I’ll never forget it.
“You got your sister to create a diversion, to start crying or something. You pinched the chips. And you ran.’’
“I’ve got it all written down here,’’ he said, bringing out a thick exercise book, and flicking through it.
Its pages were divided into columns, and crammed with scribbled entries in different coloured ink. Under “name” it had “McDonald girl” and “son of butcher”. “Yes, here it is, dark haired Simpson girl. That’s you.”
I looked frantically at the ceiling as the train got going again – did they have security cameras on these trains?
‘’Well missy,’’ he said, and he was shouting now. ‘’You ruined me!’’
‘’Excuse me?’’ I was so gobsmacked I could hardly speak.
“Oh, you deny it do you? You RUINED ME.’’ He was standing on his seat, hands on hips.
There was a very good chance he would topple over if we went round a bend. ‘’My income dived. I had to close the shop. My marriage broke up. I started drinking, went to the pokies….’’
“Look man,’’ I said. “M-m-maybe you should get off at the Heidelberg. At the Austin – you can see a nice doctor there,’’ and I jumped over the seats behind me, ran up the end of the carriage and made a run for a door, or at least the emergency speaker.
“But you don’t deny it, DO YOU?” He shouted. His knees were a little creaky as he stood up, and he was slow to start after me.
The train was going at glacial speed, but finally, it was almost at Eaglemont. Where there would be no one around. I punched in my phone PIN again. ‘’No battery’’ it said and the screen went black.
The man was almost there, and he pulled out a knife. ‘’Well, you’re not getting away with it, Missy,’’ he said as he lunged at me. I blocked it with my phone and the knife ripped my favourite leather phone cover.
Before he had time for another blow, the train stopped at Eaglemont. It seemed an eternity of grappling with and fending off my assailant as the little door button turned green and opened as I punched it.
I ran, up and down those infernal Eaglemont hills, for what seemed like eternity, until my lungs almost burst. After I got my breath back, I ducked into a milk bar.
I’d have killed for some salt and vinegar chips, right then, so I chucked a stone at the window, to create a diversion. I didn’t have money on me, but that had never stopped me in the past.
“What a crazy day,” I thought to myself, and I got my second wind as I sprinted off with the chips, the shop owner shouting and swearing behind me.
Fears for 28 missing in bushfire-ravaged Gippsland
Anastasia had just sat down to her lunch when the world went silent. Not quiet like the night when all the carts and merchants in the street had gone home, but completely silent. There was not a sound to be heard, the ocean of noise that she swam through and navigated everyday was gone, was still, not a ripple.
Or, I Wish There Was A Different Word That Better Expressed Exactly What Hope Is
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.
There has never been a better or worse time for fiction than right now.