Ask Me About Saturdays
by Dulcie Stone
Rain on the roof, Bill close under the blankets, dark room
light at the window. From the street outside the squelching of
car tyres on soggy bitumen.

        What time is it?

        Another day and not enough sleep.

        It's comfy in my cocoon, lying awake, feeling Bill's chest move
as he breathes, warm and steady, safe.


        "Here." He moves closer, grunts, asleep again.

        He's tired too.

        If only -

        Who's kidding who? It's not going to change. We thought it
wouldn't matter, no money. Who's kidding who? Wouldn't it be
nice, palm trees and sun and a long holiday without the kids or
jobs or worry about jobs giving out or leaky roof or where's the
next cent coming from? Going to?

        Sleep. Make me sleep.

        He snores like thunder.

        Rain on the roof, thunder in the bed. You're getting stupid
again. Except it is funny. You're actually laughing. Laughing? A
joke to share, for once.

        Go to sleep.

        His body is warm to touch.


        "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

        "Your hands. They're rough."

        Surprise. "I'm sorry."

        "Buy yourself some hand cream."

        "It costs."

        "Treat yourself."

        "I'll wait till Christmas. Maybe the kids - "

        "Go to sleep."

        "I can't." Moving to him.

        "Peg - for God's sake. I'm buggered." Snoring again. Still.

        Rain on the roof, thunder in the bed. Leaks through the house.
No sleep.

        Half an hour, an hour - dozing off - what's that?

        Feet cold on bare lino, not stopping for slippers. From behind
Jamie's door, muffled blankets not hiding it, whimpering; a lost

        "Jamie?" The room is darker than before. "Jamie?"

        The sound stops.

        "Love - it's Mum."

        "Mummy." Whispered, ashamed, a little boy still.

        He sleeps, clinging, for ages. Feet ice-blocks, arms lead, head
nodding against the bed-head but awake and worried. It's taking
more toll than it's worth, working mum.

        What else to do?

        "Mummy." Making sure, clinging.

        "Here, love - sleep - "

        No choice. No extra money coming in then the boys would have to
leave school early, no apprenticeship for Wayne, no good
education with some chance of a good job for Gary, or Rina or
Jamie for that matter. Back into the same rut as their father
and me, lucky to be in it even. More than likely on the dole.
Which their father will be soon, more than likely. Sandwich
maker - money -  Except there's no screams left -

        Sleep. You've got to sleep.

        What about Jamie's footy boots? Rina's parties? The payments on
this dump? The -

        We never had anything.

        No choice.

        Poor kid, snuffling and whimpering and holding on every time I
try to pull free. There's no pulling free -

        Half an hour more, slipping in and out of sleep, Jamie slowly
sinking deep, letting go little by little.

        Stiff, like a frozen mackerel back to bed.

        "Shit!" Bill wakes. "You're freezing. What's going on?"

        "Jamie's worrying about school."

        "What about school?"

        "I'll tell you tomorrow." Sleepy at last.

        Now it's him not too tired no more. "Love - "

     So okay -

*                           *                        *

        The alarm wakes him.

        "Honey." He's warm and gentle. "Did you sleep?"

        "A bit." Some lies you have to tell.

        "You don't look like it. Stay home today."

        "I can't." It'd be too easy. Once start, it's soon a habit.

        "Take a sicky."

        "I can't." Throw back the blankets quick, before it's too easy
not to.

        "Peg." His hand on my backside, urging.

        "I have to work."

        "Keep it warm."

        What's new?

        He pulls back the shower curtain. "On the cupboard, Peg."

        "What? I can't hear - "

        "On the cupboard. Look on the cupboard."


        "Keep it warm, love."

        Dripping water, heart stopped, too shamed to look.

        It's there, on the cupboard - a ten dollar note -


        In my chest, big and cold and still the heart is lead.

        Sweet Jesus.

        It's not there. Take it away.

        Back under the shower running hot water till it burns; scrub,
feel nothing, numb. Scalding, burning -

        I'm with him because I want him. God help us, I love him -

        The door, opening.


        He doesn't mean it, buying me like a tramp, no better.

        "Peg? Are you okay?"

        Stand quiet. Curtain a shield. Hide scalded breast.

        "Turn the tap off! The room's full of steam."

        "What's wrong?" He doesn't mean it that way, not buying me.

        He does it!

        "Are you all right, Peg? Stay home today."

        "I've got a headache. It'll go."

        "You should stay home today." A cracked record.

        "It'll go. Don't worry."

        "Spend the money. Get some rest."

        Be rested. For him. Bought and paid for.


        "Sure." No more. Too much talk. Just go - go - leave - leave -

*                            *                          *

        Who's surprised, the kitchen's bedlam. Him gone, the kids
arguing, dishes in the sink, Gary yelling at Jamie, Wayne
hitting the roof because Rina's not yet dressed.

        "Sit down, Mum." Wayne's watchful.

        "Mum - you look awful." Gary even leaves Jamie.

        "Dad says you've got one of your heads."

        "It's that nightmare again." Rina - know-all.

        "Shouldn't you go to the doctor?"

        "I will."


        Not worth answering.


        "I will. Don't worry about it."

        "We can't help worrying, Mum. Please go to the doctor."

        "Not today." Trust Jamie. "She's getting my shoes today."

        "Bring me a cup of tea." Croaking, sore. "Some asprin too. I'll
be right."

        It side-tracks them while they take time to fight about who
gets it.

        The asprin works, sort of. It's just a dull pain that won't
shift, all over. You get used to it, except it takes the edge
off everything, as though there's this kind of grey-pink fuzz -
like the sun-down light in the winter-dark kitchen, gloomy.
Depressing. Too much. Bad enough looking at winter, living
through winter, let alone feeling it wet and miserable and dark
through my insides.

        To work -

        The Boss isn't happy. "You're on a go-slow strike, Peg."

        It's not a question.

        "I'm sorry." There it is again. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry!

        What's to say? The headache and the asprin and the no sleep
have slowed the works? She knows about the legs, you can see the
damned wallopping veins knotting like great blue ropes through
the stockings.

        All morning fighting it, everything stays dull and sad and
slow. If it was allowed, I'd cry.

        What's going on?

        This isn't me.

        "Peg." She's still in there, critical. "Hurry it up."

        It's near the panic hour.

        "I've never known you go so slow. What's wrong?"

        "Just putting off going to the loo." Giggling makes it sound
fair dinkum. Cross the legs - joke - "Must have drunk too much."

        "Don't be silly, woman. Go now. Get it over."

        Go now. Easy said.

        "Go! Shoo!" She grabs the knife from my hand, holds it. "You're
sweating! Are you sick?"

        "It's hot in here."

        "Nonsense." She should know, too lousy to switch on the heater.

        "I'll be right." Quick, to the lavatory.

        It's stuffy, stinking. The breakfast heaves into my mouth.

        Don't be sick!

        I sit on the seat, head between knees. "Jesus - I can't be

        Red haze spinning




        "Peg! Peg!" Yelling, from outside.

        Stink - lavatory stink -

        Looking up - at the pan. Shitted. Spotted. Filthy.

        I'm on the floor! Jammed against the door.

        "Peg!" She's pushing at the jammed door.

        Squashed between shitted pan and shoving door. Giddy as hell.

        "Peg!" Screeching panic. "Peg! Open the door!"

        "All right!" The shout's a whisper.

        Pull myself up, again the red spinning. Don't faint. Breath
deep - don't faint -



        Now -

        "I'm okay." I open the door.

        "My God!" She back-steps, eyes wide.

        "What?" A mirror, where's a mirror?

        "You're ill. I'll call a doctor."

        "I'm all right."

        She can't afford to argue. The twelve o'clock siren goes as she
skedaddles back to the jobs that aren't done.

        Cold water on my face in the mirror white with black eyes and
red-spot cheeks. Quick comb the wet hair, line lipstick on the
grey mouth, slap powder on the clown cheeks. God! She's right.
Mirror's don't tell no lies.

        We get through, panic and rush and cheshire cat `Nice to see
you today - ' smile.

        Feeling like hell, sweating like a pig, shivering in the wind
every time the door opens which is too damned often.

        "You'll catch a chill." The last one's gone back to work and
she's got time to notice.

        "I'll change in my break."

        Rain-filled gutters, empty shops from after-lunch siestas,
slithery footpaths with a handful of shoppers and a couple of
mangy dogs with no home to go to. Depressing.

        Waiting for the bus beside an old girl with the sniffles and a
thin coat. Guess poor is poorer when you're old.

        It wouldn't be so bad if I was born one of these rich bitches
who could help an old biddy.

        It's best to turn away so it's not so hard to take because one
day my turn will come.

        The money! The ten dollars in the purse and the sore breast
rubbing against its sweaty bra.

        Give it to her. Get rid of it.

        Poor is poorer when you're old.

        The notes crumpled and dirty from his overalls. What would she
do with it, the old girl? Probably drink it - nasty, Peg.

        Don't be lousy, give it to her. Buy her!

        A great mood - pride! Too expensive.

        Quick, before she sees it, the note's whipped back into the
bag. Keep it for Rina's party.

        Rina earns it too, crawling.

        Nasty -

        Whatever's wrong it sure is making its mark, depression is not
my thing.

        On the bus the old lady shows her pension card and shuffles off
to a back seat. We're alone, no one else.

        There's still time. Give it to her.

        Forget it. He doesn't mean it that way. You're too tired, sick.

        It's a new experience, going home this hour. The road's
slippery and wet and the driver sloppy, all over the place like
he's lunched on grog. Not too good for the nerves.

        Digger's barking fit to bust. Someone home in the middle of the
day is new for him too.

        "Be quiet!"

        He wags his tail and licks me all over.

        Poor mut, lonely all day. It's a bonus.

        "Okay. All right." There's no time, but the few seconds with
him helps us both. Come to think of it, the old girl is probably
going home to a pet, too. If she's lucky.

        Inside, the house is peculiar, like here's a stranger it's
trying to shut out, almost it makes me feel like apologising for
the disturbance.

        It's eerie quiet and musty from damp, and smell of breakfast
closed in and not allowed out any open windows. There's not time
to open them, just grab the spare uniform that thank God is
ready and close the secret house back inside itself, and off
again with Digger crying `come back' from eyes that make me feel

        It's peculiar here too, walking through women talking at front
gates and young kids wheeling new babies. At least, they look
like they're young kids; seems they're getting younger every

        The clouds have lifted higher, not gone, but somehow
everything's clean and washed and snappy. It's great. Maybe a
trip home and a play with Digger is a good idea. It's always
been too much trouble, but there's nothing wrong with feeling
like this, even sometimes. It makes a change, seeing new things
at a new time.

        Even the bus trip is different, with cheeky toddlers and gummy
babies making enough noise to wake the dead. A few of these in
the morning would soon put paid to our sleeping zombies.

        The youngsters are happy, the mums spruced and pretty - all on
their way into town for an hour in the shops. Guess they won't
be so spry coming home. I remember -


        You're wearing your rose-coloured glasses again. It's not so
rosy, it's screaming kids and crowded shops and snotty
sales-girls and panic to be home to cook tea and not enough
money and hail, rain, wind, and cold and heat waiting for buses
and fighting for seats.

        No way.

        So - enjoy looking and forget the romance. There isn't any.

        Back, and she's started on the dishes, dermatitis and all.
"You're late."

        "Sorry. I went home." Putting on the fresh uniform, letting her
see all's A Okay again, letting her get her hands out of the
water. "You shouldn't do that without your gloves."

        "Now you're here I won't have to."

        Back, to the grind.

        An occasional customer, but mostly washing dishes and cleaning
chairs and tables and readying for tomorrow.

        No romance this, only aching legs, pounding head, chattering
teeth, shaking hands - whatever it is I don't want to know.

        "Peg - would you finish the onions before you go."

        She's getting her own back for the lateness.

        "No problem." Rule one, keep the boss happy.

        But Jamie's going to be home first.

        Quick, hurry - don't miss the bus.


        "What's wrong?" She races across.

        "My finger - it's cut."

        Blood all over. A gash a mile wide.

     The room spinning.........

        Stand up!

        She grabs a towel, sponges, shoves my hand over the sink where
the blood drips safe from her precious onions, phones a taxi.

        "I'm okay!"

        She don't listen. "Who's your doctor?"

        "The hospital. Out-patients."

        "Go to your doctor. You're ill."

        Boss's orders.

        The taxi driver isn't rapt. Me swooning, blood and all, on his
back seat, and no one to walk me in to the surgery except him.

        It's a blur, nurses, and Doctor Nathan who don't remember me
it's so long since I've been; stitches, bandage, needles, the
sting of the surgery smells bring me round.

        Hours, it seems. Wouldn't you know it. Just when there was
going to be time to talk to Jamie. He's going to be home and
wondering what's up. Not true. He'll have been to the biscuit
tin already and by now be glued to his tely.

        The doctor cottons on to the temperature and the sickness.

        "Just a bit tired." It's worth a try.

        He's not buying it. We go through the lot, blood pressure,
pulse, temperature, heart, chest -

        "What's this?"

        It's shiny pink, but only in a couple of spots.

        "The shower. I burned it in the shower. I didn't move quick

        He has to swallow it because there's nothing more he's hearing.

        "I'll prescribe a cream." He sort of waits.

        "Thanks." That's it, doc.

        Gentle now, as though he knows things aren't too good, he
listens in. "There's some congestion."

        Plus some high blood pressure, and another look at the legs
with still no operation he ordered - now he remembers.

        "In any case," round specs like a blind owl hiding his eyes,
"you're in no fit state for surgery at present."

        Isn't he the clever one!

        "I am going to prescribe antibiotics, and a spot of sick leave."

        "I can't."

        "I'm afraid you must, Mrs Murphy. Your blood pressure is of
some concern."

        "Can't you give me something for it?"

        "At this stage, I think not. Let's clear up this infection.
With bed rest and quiet - "

        "My father was on pills."

        "Perhaps," owl eyes saying nothing. "I daresay medicine has
changed since your father's time. You see, taking into
consideration your life-style - "

        Life? Style? Hell!

        Long words, jargon, on and on, a jumble that don't mean too

        There's Jamie waiting at home, Rina's party, Jamie's shoes, the
boys' schooling, Bill's dicey job, the Boss's hints - no way -
no sick leave.

        There's the prescriptions and the sick-leave form

and out; thanking him, vowing never to see him again. Hand
bandaged to the wrist, throbbing like hell.

        To the chemist, walking because it finally computes the boss
must have paid for the taxi; damned sure I didn't, the driver
never even asked.

        It's late, evening sky closing in and the street greasy and wet
and miserable. Been raining again. Rina's most likely home by
now, watching tely too. No call to worry - yet.

        Wait - while chemist coat looks at the clock, looks at the
customers' queue - we're not going to go away, love. Bet she's
got a family as well.

        At last, pills and cream and scurrying through town to the bus
stop. Late bus every quarter hour, but crowded!

        Standing room only and dizzy from the bronchitis and the pain
plus giddy from the bus braking and twisting in the five-thirty
traffic. Hot again, sweating a river. A few days off - joke.

        To make sure, the certificate's hidden in the torn lining of my

        I'd run, except even walking is almost more than
possible.       Digger barking again, hammering the sore head.

        "Shut up!"

        Tail between legs, he sulks to his kennel.

        "Sorry, Digger." He's old and lonely. If only there was time to
pat him.

        Inside it's dark, and secret, like at lunch time.


        Standing in the back door, feeling the emptiness like you could
touch it. Knowing -

        The house talks. No kids. Jamie's school bag on the floor by
the tely. Rina's case and muddy school shoes on her bed, gym
shoes gone. Crumbs beside the biscuit tin they haven't even
bothered to close.

        Yet knowing there's more. There's trouble. My stomach heavy,

        Digger barking again. I manage to move, open the door. It's
Wayne and Gary, home from footy practise.

        "What's wrong?" They're quick.

        "It's the kids."

        "What's happened to your hand, Mum?"

        "The kids aren't home."

        "They're down the street."

        "They're what!" Livid, with good reason.

        Down the road, sitting in the wet gutter under a street lamp,
there they are, the two of them, together. In a circle, Jamie
and Rina and her friends, giggling in a secret huddle.

        "Jamie! Rina!"

        They come running, guilty.

        Even the good hand swiping misses their backsides, except for a
hefty wallop across Jamie's flying legs.

        "Inside! Get in the house at once!" Livid, shaking with relief
and rage and fever all at the same time. "Where have you been?"

        "You weren't home."

        Swipe. Hit. Yell. "Once and for all, don't go away without

        "You didn't come home." Rina's not about to be upset.

        "Where's my shoes?" Jamie, mud and tears running down his face.

        "What?" What's he on about?

        "My shoes! I want my shoes."

        "You promised, Mum." Wayne's on their side this time.

        "What are you talking about?"

        "This morning. You promised to get Jamie's shoes today."

        "Did I? I don't remember."

        "She didn't exactly promise." Surprise, Rina comes to the

        "I'm sorry. Maybe I did promise. "But - "

        They see the bandaged hand. They forget themselves.

        "We'll get the tea."

        "Sorry we frightened you, Mum." A kiss from Rina.

        "Me too." Jamie carries my coat and bag into the bedroom.

        "What vegies, Mum?"

        "I'll do the chops."

        "I can peel the potatoes."

        They're milling around the kitchen like cows in a milking yard,
all over each other and impatient.

        "There's no need. I can manage."

        "For once let them help." Wayne makes me sit in front of the
tely. "You're always taking over, even when they want to help."

        Tely's on. But it means nothing. You're always taking over,
Wayne says. True or false? A bit of both, when you think about
it. But, dammit, it's quicker to do it yourself. Don't he know

        "What's going on?" Bill, home sober and on time for once.

        He listens about the hand and the fever.

        "I told you to stay home."

        "You were right." The sick-leave certificate is in the bag in
the bedroom, which is exactly where it's going to stay. "But
I'll be right now, with the pills."

        "You don't look too good." He feels my hot face. "Why don't you
go to bed. We'll manage."

        "I can't."

        "We're not helpless, Peg."

        He looks hurt. Back to what Wayne thinks. Maybe they're right.

        He enjoys it, pulling down the cover, helping me undress
without mussing the bandage, tucking in the blankets. It's like
it used to be, us two and no kids and helping each other.

        "Thanks, love." Reaching up to kiss him.

        "None of that." It's a joke. "You're sick."

        It's warm and safe and it almost never happens, so it's like
sick leave and a holiday in one night, with the kids taking
turns to bring the tea and, not like Mother's Day, they all buck
in to do the dishes and clean away.

        Bed time they come in to say goodnight, one at a time because
the noise still hurts.

        "You didn't get my shoes." Jamie's not going to forget.

        "You didn't ask could you go out to play."

        "You wasn't home to ask."

        "It doesn't make it right."

        "Rina said it was okay."

        "Rina's not your mother."

        "She said mothers should be home."

        "It's what I say, too. But sometimes things go wrong. People
can't help it."

        "Like at school."

        Back to Miss Leamon and what she didn't tell me. "What about
school, Jamie?"

        "Promise you won't go crook again?"

        "I'll try. It depends on what you did."

        "I didn't do nothin'!"

        "So why all the fuss?"

        "She said I did. But I didn't."

        "Maybe that's why she didn't tell me. Maybe she believes you."

        "No she doesn't. She says I'm a liar."

        "Sometimes you tell lies."

        No argument. Red face looking down at the bed.

        "Let's forget it."

        "She said I pinched Peter's choco bar."

        "That's silly."

        "She said I don't get no lollies in my lunch, so I took it."

        "Do you want lollies in your lunch?"

        "Can I?"

        "They're bad for your teeth."

        "Peter's teeth are okay."

        Ten more minutes of Peter's teeth and Jamie's lunches, no more
about Miss Leamon.


        Time to listen.