BUW: Ten Years Old

Saturday, 8 December 2007

“No bones thanks,” I wave the chicken wing away. I’ve also gone off the meat. I push the chicken breast around my plate as though it might sprout feathers and squawk at me.
“Come, darling Ellen. Eat, eat,” my Auntie Rosa says. “Why she doesn’t eat?” she asks my uncle.
“She’s fashion conscious?” my cousin Lara raises a thick eyebrow.
“You got that thing - that anorexy nervy somethin? Ah? Ah?” my Uncle Marco speaks through the chicken mashed in his mouth. “You gotta be careful that. Wastes yer muscles. Then it gets to yer heart muscle and whammo! Like Karen Carpenter.”
“She hasn’t got Karen Carpenter anorexy anything, Marco! She a woman! Woman don eat - always the good reason.” And she prods Marco sharply with a frown.
“Fashion?” Lara asks again and her younger sister Pina giggles when Rosa slaps the back of Lara’s head.
“Don you be smart!”
“I’m not bein smart!” Lara gets another slap for answering back. “Fuck a duck,” she mutters under her breath and I grin, though I’m laughing at her misfortune, not her bravado. Pina giggles and swings her long legs under the table. She’s eight and looks eleven. Any moment now she’ll sprout body hair. I look at Lara who’s been getting waxed for a full year, following fast in the footsteps of her Sicilian mother, Rosa. They go to the beautician together, mother and daughter, screaming like live pigs on hot coals. Sometimes they even do it at home in the bath tub and their hairs matt together in the plughole to make black string. Sometimes it’s so thick, the water in the bath won’t empty - it just sits there and waits to go down like muck. I tried to pull the hairs out once, but it made me want to chuck.
Rosa is bustling in her curly apron and she shoves vegies spiralling with buttered steam under my nose, hoping I’ll eat. Uncle Marco (who was once called Mark until he went to Sicily for a two week holiday and stayed for three and a half years, married Rosa and came back with his first born daughter Lara) sits shovelling her vegies into his cakehole. He’s well-worn to Rosa’s constant natter. When she runs out of words, she hums a tune, and if Pina knows it, she’ll usually sing along.
“Wassa matter you? Hey! Gotta no respect?” she’ll sing at the top of her very loud voice, “Ah - shuddupa ya mouth!” getting all the words wrong and smiling her lovely fat smile.
Marco will laugh and throw his hands about and appear very Italian because it comes so naturally to him. The only thing that hasn’t come naturally to him is the language. When he’s introduced as Mark, he always says “But just call me Marco, eh? You marry one, you become one.” Then Rosa quips back “Become one? Become what? Sound like the genetic disease!” And everybody laughs because she’s so boisterous and so funny and people like her develop a reputation as being a good laugh. Marco tries to be funny when he’s with other adults but he doesn’t make us kids laugh. He doesn’t talk much to us kids at all. He’s always too busy, or too tired, or got too much going on in his brain, which ticks and tocks so loud even we can hear it.
I’m not Italian. I’m not anything really. Don’t come from anywhere exotic like Sicily. Just Sydney, Australia. My Dad’s father was from Ireland but all I’ve got that’s sort of Irish is green eyes and a few freckles on my nose in summer. I’ve never been to Ireland. My mother was Australian-born with aqua gems for eyes and yellow sun for hair. Those sparkling gems were closed when she died, and the hair at her temple had a faint smattering of grey. I imagine her hair would have one day gone white like the man who tends her grave. Such a young fresh mother, in a young fresh grave. Too young to be down under that dirt where it’s cold and wet with no air. Soon to be all bones.
Lara chomps on a chicken bone.
They’ll find a way. Soon the people at the cemetery will realise they made a big mistake and let my Mum come up again.
When I look at Marco, I see my mother. It’s the aqua eyes. They sparkle, hard and sharp, in his dull, cigarette-stained head. They’re like sapphires set in well-cooked pastry and people have to look at them twice because sometimes they look like contact lenses, but they’re not. He’s a thick-set man, my uncle. He just seems to stop at the waist. Fosters Lager and Rosa’s cooking has made for a warm, rounded belly that bulbs over his middle and tucks in under his belt. He pats it lovingly after a good feed and lights up a cigarette; he always has a cigarette; it sort of just blends in; sometimes you think he is smoking his fingers.
Lara kicks me under the table. It hurts and I bruise easily so I scowl. Rosa says I bruise so much because I won’t eat sausages and lamb and chops. I’d rather eat guts from a can. Lara kicks me again. She always does this when she wants to tell me something - usually something nasty. She arches those eyebrows, those thick caterpillar eyebrows that need waxing on the bushy bit in-between, and beckons me to come closer. She tries to say things that are extremely wondrous and I try to look completely amazed, though I never am. Pina always sulks. Then she comes up with some attention-grabber, just when the time is ripe for picking.
“What you want for dessert tonight, kitten?” Rosa says to her.
“Pooh jelly-teddies with piss sauce,” Pina says. I know she’s talking about her favourites lollies, Gummy Bears. Marco goes into hysterics. If he was a real Italian father, he wouldn’t be laughing. He’d be unthreading his belt from the loops. Rosa sends a flying slap to the back of Marco’s head.
“You set the great examples, Marco O’Connor!” and the name sounds so silly - Rosa O’Connor sounds just as strange. At the shops down the road, people snigger when they see that small Irish name on that big Mediterranean woman. “For your daughters, your babies! What great examples you set!”
Marco rubs his big nose and hides a smile. Pina looks at him with her darkest brown eyes, swinging those skinny legs. She smiles a small, pale-skinned smile. They could no more be related than jelly-teddies to pooh. I look at Rosa and wonder about the Iranian milkman. I also wonder why she never had more children. Her sisters have loads. And she has loads of sisters herself. And brothers. Big families. Always big families. Every family big except ours. Before Mum died, she’d told me Rosa couldn’t have any more children even if she wanted to. I reckon it’s because Pina and Lara have put her off for good.
“You two! Causing all of this attention-making!” she points the finger at Lara and me and mutters to herself over the icecream, dealing hefty scoops into bowls with chocolate topping and whipped cream from the can. We could put nothing past her. Lara chuckles under her breath. She’s just turned eleven - four months older than me, but we look years apart. It’s because I’m much taller than her. Some people think I’m thirteen or even fourteen. But Lara makes me feel much younger. She’s so worldly. She raves about the things she reads in magazines, not caring who is stupid enough to listen. I listen. One day she’ll write Hollywood gossip columns and I’ll be the first to read them.
I actually hate Lara. She is fairer haired than Pina and quite stocky, with those aqua eyes in her olive-smooth face. She’s not very tall; Pina will catch up with her next year. Both of them are funny looking but striking all the same; Pina pale skinned, dark-haired and haunting; Lara olive skinned and strong; both with large noses, big eyes, hair glossy and swinging. Lara has taken to wearing hers in a bun like a ballerina. She always wanted to dance but her squat legs just don’t reach far enough. Pina is the dancer. She can grand jeté a mile. She wore her blue tu-tu at practice last night, tottering on her toes amongst the other girls - a stork in a flock of seagulls. Her legs go for miles in her pale blue tights. I can see her white lace-ups doing a plié on the laundry floor by the washing machine. They’re covered in mud from last night’s downpour; little girls scattering across the grass in their tu-tus like a puerile dream-sequence from Swan Lake.
Pina sneezes.
“I tole you get the cold now, ah?” Rosa snatches her shawl from the back of a chair and wraps it around Pina who scowls and shrugs it off; she’s a spoiled brat. “I don think the icecream is good, ah? Not for Pina tonight? Not for the cole?”
“Mama!” Pina goes all sooky.
Lara rolls her eyes and clanks her spoon in her plate in disgust.
“Ah, my kitten!” Rosa’s face splits into a huge smile and she whips the bowl back in front of Pina who smiles a self-satisfied smile and pushes the button on the whipped cream can until it hisses.
Lara snorts. “That’s enough! Give the can to me.”
“You’ve both got enough! I’ve got hardly any!” I’m thinking how greedy they both are. How greedy guts shitty.
“Ha!” Lara laughs. “Have some then, sook!” She snatches the can from Pina and fires it at my face. Cream spurts on my nose. Then she leans forward and whispers with a viper’s tongue “We never wanted ya in this house. Dad had to take ya in. Jus don think yer wanted, cream-head.”
Heat rises into my chest. I want to flick the cream back into her spiteful face. I want to smack her in the head and tell her I hate her - tell them I hate them all. I want to burst into tears. When my sinuses start stinging, I flick. It lands in Pina’s plate.
“Ewww! Boogie!” she squeals, grabs the can and aims it at my head. For an eight year old skinny person, she suddenly looks very scary. Then Lara loads her spoon with icecream and bends it back with her finger. I can see the dirt under her fingernail as it clings to the edge of the spoon. I detest them both. I want to tell them I hate their guts but they probably wouldn’t even care. We stay this way for a very long time and all the while my very best mind-blowing insults are piling up behind my lips. I can’t say them while Marco and Rosa are in the room. I want to say them. I want to spit them into the pathetic faces of these cousins I don’t even know. No amount of icecream on spoons can inflict as much damage as the words behind my lips. They could kill Pina and Lara. They could tear their guts out and leave their empty skins writhing on the table.
Instead, my breath rises up my chest and sits there, very shallow, gasping, ready for crying, ready for screaming and screaming until I could never scream again.
“Marco!” Rosa hollers after many long, agonising seconds. She’s warning him to step in and put an end to these childish games, but she doesn’t realise how serious these childish games can be; how they can tear at the insides of young people. Marco doesn’t hear anyway, or doesn’t want to hear and I know he hates me. He scoops his finger into Pina’s plate, popping the blob of cream from my nose into his mouth.
“Gross!” Pina says, then Rosa comes into view with a wooden spoon clenched in fist and we resume eating quietly. My throat is so tight, I can barely swallow. I want to cry rivers into my icecream. Tears run into my nose and I wipe them with my sleeve rather than sniff. Pina titters. I hate the way she titters.
I go to bed early and stare at the light under the door of my room where shadows pass under and whisper. Strange smells from the bedclothes make me feel sick, but I’m too afraid to pull them away from my face. I stare at the crack under the door until my eyes can no longer bear the strain.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...