Ask Me About Saturdays
by Dulcie Stone
        "Are you awake?"

        "Sh! Your Father's asleep."

        "Happy Mother's Day, Mum." Rina tiptoes around the bed to kiss
me. "I wrapped your present myself."

        "Sh! I'll get up to open it."

        "You can't." She pushes, gentle. "Wayne's making you breakfast
in bed."

        "What time is it?" They musn't wake Bill!

        "Eight o'clock." She's heard the panic. "He can go back to
sleep later."

        Beside me he grunts, but does not move.

        The parcel is small, blue tissue-paper wrapped.

        "I saved for ages."

        "Thank you, love."

        She watches, eyes glued.

        "Oh! Rina!"

        "You like it, Mum? You really like it?"

        "It's beautiful." The dark blue vase is smooth and silky. "I
love it."

        "The card." She's having trouble whispering. "Look at the card.
It cost a whole dollar."

        "Waste of money." Awake, he snorts from under the blankets.

        "It's Mother's Day." Rina kisses him, whiskers and all. "But
you get a kiss too."

        "Can I come in?" Jamie, from the passage.

        "Bloody circus!" Bill buttons his pyjama top.

        "It's Jamie - come in, love."

        " `Morning, Mum." Jamie's brought a red rose-bud, artificial.
"It's not a real one. I bought it all by myself."

        The bud looks lonely in the long vase. "Thank you, Jamie."

        "Couldn't you wait?" Bill starts out of bed.

        "Don't spoil it, Dad."

        "What time is it? God! It's Sunday morning!"

        "You can come back to bed after breakfast."

        "You're joking. Jamie - pass my dressing-gown."

        "She's awake! She's awake!" Rina, off down the passage. "Wayne!
She's awake!"

        "I'm supposed to sleep through that!" Bill ties the old blue
towelling around his belly. "Where's Gary?"

        "Asleep." Jamie's not too happy about it. "He's got a present
too, when he wakes."

        "Only one with any sense." Bill steps into his slippers, not
bothering to bend. No wonder the heels buckle.

        "Happy Mother's day, Mum." Wayne edges the breakfast tray past
his father. "Good morning, Dad."

        "Look!" Rina's dancing. "Eggs and bacon and toast. Wayne's made
enough for everyone."

        "Like hell!" Bill stacks my pillows. "Who's footing

the bill?"

        He's not joking.

        "Me." Wayne's nearly as tall as him. "My idea. My money."

        "Out of what?"

        "I worked extra. After school at the gym."

        His dad's got no answer.

        "Thanks, love." The tea is hot and sweet, just right. "A real
thoughtful present."

        "My present was thoughtful, too." Rina's jealous.

        "Mine too." Jamie's in on the act.

        "Come on." Wayne takes them out. "You'll spoil it for Mum."

        "Smart bastard." Bill waits till he's gone. "Even cooks like a

        "It's nice, Bill. Why don't you go and have yours?"

        "I'll call Gary."

        "Let him sleep."

        "Lazy sod."

        "He's tired. He had a hard match yesterday. He's been working
extra time at the gym, too."

        "What's so different from Wayne? At least he's not lazy. I'll
give him that much. Chalk and cheese them two."

        "Let him sleep, Bill."

        "You'd think they was brought up in different houses."

        "In a way, they was."

        He don't like it, but it's true.

        Wayne, the first; easy-going. No family barneys while I was
carrying him. Me and Bill playing house. Wayne never knew
fighting, not till he was two, when Gary was on the way. You'd
have thought he'd be jealous of his new baby brother. Not Wayne,
not a mean bone in his body.

        Turned out the reverse. It was Gary couldn't tolerate Wayne,
wouldn't have a bar of him. Plus I guess that was about the time
Bill and me started to crack up.

        Regular boxing ring. But he only hit me the once, because his
mother give him the rounds of the kitchen when she saw my black
eye. She'd copped it from his dad. She wasn't about to let
history repeat itself.

        One thing, he never did it again. They say men have a hard time
of it, getting used to not being number one no more after the
kids start coming. Never hear so much about wives getting used
to it, or getting used to their men getting used to it.

        Vicious circle, and it don't end easy.

        Young Gary's earned his chip on his shoulder the hard way. Come
to think of it, it cuts both ways. For sure it was Gary at the
bottom of our break, crying night and day the way he did. Bill
didn't stand a chance.

        The breakfast's not perfect, but there's no way Bill's going to
get the satisfaction. He can pick fault with Wayne, he will. He
don't need no encouragement from me.

        The bacon's half raw, but it washes down okay with the hot tea
which is spot on. Wayne should know; one thing he's done since
he could practically walk, make my cup of tea.

        Though these days he's got to watch out for Jamie. There's nine
years between them and Jamie challenges him, which means
anything Wayne does Jamie reckons he's got to do too. All the
same, it's Wayne he follows, not Gary. Thank God. I couldn't go
through those years again, especially now, with my job and

        Except - Rina's starting to give me the run around. Typical ten
year old miss.

        All told, they're good kids; the way things are.        Even
lazy-bones Gary. Some people take him and Wayne for twins,
before they know them. Both got blonde hair and blue eyes and
skin brown from so much sport. Good looks, like their father
before he got sloppy with the drink.

        When I first set eyes on him, Bill was something else. Big and
beautiful like a football star, strong as an ox from all the
ditch digging. Not from sport like the boys, except a bit of
boxing he managed of a night-time. He was good too, you listen
to his mother. Could have been right, firm and quick as he was.
Seems he wanted to go on with it, a career, but pulled his horns
in and buckled down to labouring. No time for much else in his
life, what with a widowed mother and his brothers away up
country sheep shearing to make their own packet, forgetting
their mum and their kid sister she had to rear with only Bill to
help. A bit like Wayne, when you think about it. Too good for
his own good.

        Think about it this way, no wonder we split. Anyone with an
ounce of sense could have seen it coming, except his poor stupid
wife. What with his mother crying poor and loud and helpless
every time he visited, and me too taken with the babies to
notice. Has to be some consolation he didn't head off for
another woman; you don't count his mother. Plus he did come back
when she died.

        Rina's back. "Finished, Mum?"

        "It was lovely. Tell Wayne thank you."

        "He says not to get up. We'll do the dishes."

        "I'll be five minutes." Pushing back the covers.

        "You don't have to."

        "Says you. Who's going to do the house? You?"

        "I promised Kelly I'd help her with her homework."

        "I'm pulling your leg." Sometimes she's short on humour. "Tell
Wayne to leave the dishes."

        Rina - ten, pretty as a picture, reddish hair, freckled nose,
hazel eyes, long legs. Could have been me, once. She's off down
the passage, shouting. She's not careful, she'll wake Gary.

        Better get out of here, thinking's no good. All the same, we
did some things right, spacing the last two better, cutting out
the conflict - most of it. Nearly four years from Rina till
Jamie came. Three years and eight months, makes Jamie six plus.

        Jamie - if they was all like him. Easy-going as Wayne, but with
some of Gary's character, some back-bone. Spine, Bill calls it.
Jamie's not going to be nobody's fool. Even now he gives Wayne
the stick, puts it over him like a monkey training his keeper.

        Oh Lord! I don't hurry I'll miss him, he'll be off out-doors in
his school shoes; there's no way they'll last the week without
nursing them through.

        The floor is cold on my bare feet and the veins are  killers.
Sometimes the pain's gross, as though it waits till the legs are
resting and should be easy, so then  gets even by setting in


        Work-dress, slippers, comb my hair which is knotting from too
much bed. What with knots in my hair and knots in my legs I'm
NOT up to much this morning. Funny -


        Stop thinking.

        "For Christ's sake! It's bloody dawn!" A yell from the

        It's Gary, in his usual early-morning mood.

        "Gary!" Bill don't like the boys swearing in the house,
specially around Rina.

        "Shit!" Gary sleep-walks back to his room and slams the door

        "Punk." Bill's after him. "Get out here! Apologise to your

        Gary's head comes out. "Sorry."

        "Your Mother, too." Bill sees I'm up and about.

        "Sorry, Mum."

        "Dress yourself." Bill's going on like Sunday is a work day,
just because he got turned out early.

        "What's so special?" Gary's forgotten, if he ever wanted to

        "It's Mother's Day, idiot." Rina reminds him. "I gave her a

        "With a rose." Jamie's not going to be beaten. "I got the rose."

        "Hell!" He disappears again.

        Wayne's just about finished washing the dishes, is starting to
dry them. "You should have stayed there, Mum."

        "Give us the towel. I couldn't sleep no more. I might as well
get started." Sitting on the stool to help him should give the
legs a chance to come good.

        "Gary got you a present. He didn't forget."

        "If only he'd behave himself. That's the only present I need."

        "I'll be in the shed, anyone wants me." Bill's off. "Bike's got
a flat tyre."

        "When can I have mine?" Rina's putting on her gym shoes. "When
can we have our bikes? I'm sick of walking."

        "When we've saved enough. You know that."

        "Dad says I'm old enough. I shouldn't have to wait for Jamie."

        "He's a boy."

        "Jamie's only six!"

        "You're only ten."

        "I shouldn't have to wait."

        "I thought you were going to help Kelly with her homework?"

        She goes red, she's hoped I missed the gym shoes on her feet.
"Maybe we'll play basketball at the school-grounds later."

        "So long as that's all you're doing."

        Wayne's looking at her, but says nothing.

        "No, smarty," she answers what he doesn't say. "We're not going
to play with Jenny Thomson."

        "You'd better not." Mother's Day or not, you can't let it go.
"She's boy crazy. Too old for you."

        "Happy mother's day, Mum." We're all glad Gary interrupts.
"Sorry I forgot."

        He puts his parcel on the sink.

        I dry my hands to open it. "It's lovely, Gary. Thank you."

        It's an embroidered tray cloth, with pink carnations and
straight green stems except it's a bit wobbly on the straight

        "I got it from the school fete. Wayne said it was right."

        "You were supposed to have it ready for the breakfast tray."

        "You were supposed to wake me."

        "I tried. Remember."

        "It's all right, Gary. It does look nice. Thank you."

        "When'll she use it?" Rina prods Gary. "You going to wait on
her next Sunday?"

        "I might."

        "Pigs might fly."

        "Your breakfast's in the oven." Wayne's not bad at heading off
trouble neither. "Hurry. I'll wait to go with you."

        Inside half an hour I'm alone. The kids to play and sport's
practise. Bill over to Fred's in the next block, looking for
bike parts, he says. He hardly ever rides the bike, just spends
time fiddling; saves doing the garden or mending fences and the
back verandah where it's rotting. Not that he's much chop with a
hammer anyway. It's me got to do the fixing round the house,
like my Mum before me. Her Mum too, I reckon. Makes you think.
Them old-time farmer's wives started it. Looks like we're stuck
with it. Men out to labour and home to be waited on, women - it
don't never stop.

        Then there's us lot, we've got to earn extra so the kids can
maybe put paid to the grind and do better for themselves. That's
the theory.

        So here we are, same as every week-end, Digger and me. Wayne's
taken him the bacon rinds, a treat he can't believe. He's in his
kennel snoring off the feast, doesn't even open his eyes when I
sweep the verandah.

        We shouldn't keep a dog, everyone away on week days. We bought
him for Wayne's first birthday. He's probably past worrying
about being lonely, probably enjoys the peace and quiet.
Week-ends shouldn't bother him too much neither. Mostly there's
just him, and me, too flat out to give him any trouble.

        It's an old house, ancient. We saved for the deposit so we had
a roof over our heads after we got together again, plus the bit
his mother left, not much but enough to make us think about not
wasting it. The payments are cheaper than rent but they make no
impression on the lump sum we owe. Which means we're saddled
with it. You never know, it could catch fire from the old
wiring. The insurance has got to be worth something. We could
get ourselves one of these modern places, all laminex and chrome.

        It don't help, scrubbing ancient boards and splintered wood
benches, thinking about what could happen. The wireless is great
to sing-a-long with, gets your mind on other things.

        The house is pretty much tidied, scrubbed, and polished.
Walking through, it's nice to feel it clean and quiet and
spruce. It's not a bad dump, I've seen worse, when it's tidy at
least. If you forget the mortgage, it's ours. Which is something
this day and age. Some kids don't have it so good. What's worse
than a working Mum? Easy - a not-working Dad. And there's more
than a few of them around.

        I'm catching up on the last of the bed-room when they come in
for lunch. "Watch the wet floors!"

        Jamie's feet-marks pad a path from back door to sink, where
he's getting his usual glass of water.


        He chokes because he's caught.

        "Get the mop! Wipe it clean!"

        Rina has the sense to wait until there's newspapers spread on
the still-wet pieces.

        "Mum." She's smirking at Jamie having to work. "Can I have tea
at Kelly's?"

        "Did her mother ask you?"


        "What's that supposed to mean?"

        She don't answer.

        Who's fooling who? "No, you can't. Her mother works too. She's
got more to do than have visitors Sunday nights."

        "Jenny Thomson's mother don't work."

        "That don't make Jenny Thomson a nice girl."

        "Says who?"

        "I say. Besides, she's too old for you. Boy crazy already, at

        "Aw, Mum!"

        "Aw Mum, nothing. Give me a hand. They'll all be in and there's
nothing ready."

        She's not happy, but if she wants to clear out again it pays to
get it over and done with quick.

        The boys, too, wash, eat their sandwiches, gulp their tea,
change from sweaty sports togs which they leave to be washed -
no surprise - and clear out even before Rina.

        "You should make them help, too!"

        "Quicker to do it meself."

        "You make me help."

        "You're a girl. Might as well get used to the facts."

        She's slopping soapy dishes onto the sink fast as I can dry

        "Rinse them, love. I told you. Your Dad don't appreciate eating

        "He didn't come home again."

        "He'll be having lunch at Fred's."

        "What lunch?"

        "None of your cheek, miss. Your father works hard. A few
week-end beers don't do no harm. You should catch yourself a man
as good as your Dad."

        "Kelly's dad helps with the housework. Kelly don't have to do
all the work I do."

        "More fool Kelly's mother. When Kelly marries she won't know as
much as you."

        "Kelly knows lots. Her dad makes the boys help too. He says all
the family should buck in."

        "Yours do. You forgotten Wayne got the breakfast?"

        "He ain't here now."

        "Isn't. Rina, you must learn better."

        "I don't see why."

        "You want to grow up and marry a nice man, you got to talk

        "You just said I couldn't do better than Dad."

        "Sure - but not a labourer. There's better prospects than
labouring for a living. Get yourself a man with a future. You
don't want to be stuck with an old dump like this."

        No argument.

        After she leaves there's the mess to clean. Water all over the
floor and sink. You can't blame her, at ten she does a good job.
Then wash the footy clothes, jumpers, socks, shorts,
jock-straps. Rina's basketball uniform plus Jamie's odds and
ends covered in muck. You could wash every day around here and
still find left-overs. Fact, some weeks it is every day, God
help me.

        Out to the clothes-line, clouds hanging low watching, waiting.

        "You should borrow my dryer, Peg." Old Mrs Fry next door,
grey-frizzed hair hanging over the fence like a puppet with
someone pulling the strings for the busy mouth.

        "Thanks, Mrs Fry. It won't rain for a while."

        "You know you're welcome any time."

        Sounds good, till you've been there, ears fit for an elephant,
listening for every clue about how we manage. No thank you.

        "Thanks." Rude enough, she'll go away.

        "I haven't seen Rina this morning."

        "She's gone."

        "On Mother's Day?"

        "She brought me breakfast in bed." Take that, you old crow.

        "She's a sweet child."

        What I could tell you!

        "When are your holidays this year, Peg? You're looking tired."

        Thanks a lot. "Couple of months."

        "I don't know how you do it."

        That makes two of us. "Thanks for the offer, Mrs Fry."

        Collect the empty basket and clear out quick.

        "Any time, dear." The eyes follow, but the mouth stays shut.

        Switch on the tely; two choices. Shakespeare or football.
Great. We did Shakespeare at school, enough culture to last a
couple of lifetimes. The footy's no better.

        Back to the radio, sing-a-long ironing. Looking at nothing,
except masses of shirts and overalls and school clothes and God
knows what else; it's all over the place like it never did get
all done the other night.

        How to spend Sunday afternoon. Plus waiting in the wings is the
mending, missing buttons, rips in jeans we're trying to string
out, hems half down. Great. If there was any tears left -

        "It's starting to rain." Bill's home early. "Want a hand with
the washing?"

        Big dollops of wet on the wash. We grab it quick with pegs
flying in all directions, next door snooping through her kitchen
window, and hop it back inside before the downpour, arms full
and soaking wet.

        "I'll have to save for a dryer."

        Bill helps spread the wash around the lounge-room. Plus my
jumper too, the dress is wet but it'll dry quick.

        "What's for tea?" He slumps into his armchair.

        "You're wet! You'll stain the chair!"

        "I'm buggered. We've been working on Fred's car."

        "Bill - the chair - "

        "Blast the chair!"

        "I thought you might come home to mend the verandah."

        "I owe Fred."

        "We could get our own car."

        "With what?"

        "There's enough for a deposit."

        "No way." He's not about to forget what we owe on the house

        "It wouldn't be the same as the house."

        "We get a car we run into debt even more. No way."

        "But a second-hand one? It needn't be that much."

        "You know better, Peg. You get what you pay for. Second-hand
cheap is buying some other bloke's troubles."

        There goes the dryer too.

        As for my nice clean house, the incoming mob have put paid to
that. By the time we've cooked tea, done the dishes, and cut the
sandwiches for tomorrow's lunches, it looks even worse than
before they left this morning.

        Wayne helps, but he's tired and it's not fair on him when the
others opt out.

        "Thanks for a nice breakfast, love."

        "Did you like it, Mum?"

        "You must have planned a while. To save up."

        "Gary helped."

        "Sure." Like he's helping right now, in his room while Wayne
works. "I'll finish up here. You're tired."

        "If you sure - ?"

        "Did you get all your homework done?"

        "Some - "

        "I wish we could help more, love. We just ain't got the

        "It's okay, Mum." Off, to his bedroom.

        It's a concern, not being able to keep up, to help. Other kids,
how do they manage? Bill's no help neither. He's got a brain,
forgotten how to use it.

        The beer's got to Bill, snoring in the chair.

        "It's bed time." A prod and a yell get him going.

        He sleep-walks ahead, falls on top of the bed, clothes and all,
before even the light is on.

        "Bill - you'll catch your death."

        He comes to. "What time is it?"

        "Bed time." I give him a hand to undress, pull the blankets
over and he's out again, zonked, like a beached whale. What's

        Back - through the house, checking sleeping kids, finicking
with dollops of mud on the lino, picking up fallen clothes.

        Start the week clean.

        Eleven o'clock. Quiet. The rain stopped and the verandah roof
leaking a steady drip drip drip onto the rotten boards. No other
noise, not even traffic in the Sunday-night street. Outside, the
lights on the wet road. Inside, the kitchen light bright and
sharp in the dark sleeping house.

        Once-over the kitchen, start the week clean.

        There's still tomorrow's clothes to check, no time for missing
buttons and holes in socks in the morning. Into the lounge room,
lay them out in front of the gas heater, along-side today's that
got wet.... into the lounge room.....

        Start the week clean - joke!

        It's a shambles, beer bottles, glasses, ash-tray bursting onto
table and floor, mould-smell of drying clothes.

        Skirting the clothes, carting out the junk, it feels like six
miles to the rubbish tin and back. Look it over, the best it can
get for now, leave the heater low, don't waste gas but got to
dry everything.

        The kitchen fluorescent and the orange gas-light steaming from
the wash mix in a sick yellow mist, like a horror movie that's
real. The panic starts in my gut; it's got to be the tiredness.

        Close the lounge door, shut it off, smell and light and panic.

        There's still the lunch boxes to set out; they can wait. It
feels stupid, kid stuff, but anyway I switch on the passage
light and the lamp in the bedroom before switching off the
kitchen. A dark house right now is not on.

        Undress by the sneaky haze of the bed lamp, dress still not
real dry after bringing in the wash hours ago. A lot of good
that will do! Should shower, make sure not to catch a chill.

        Decisions - get to sleep or shower? Either way the week's
starting crook. Take your pick, over-tired or over-damp.
Probably too late anyway, it's been hours in the wet dress.

        Bill snores through.

        My leg's are killing me if anyone's interested.