He was just a boy (short story draft)
Photo taken at Narrabeen Lakes, Sydney
It was a Typical Sydney Sunday in 1960, the middle of a heatwave across Australia and all home owners had their garden sprinklers on . A few member’s of the family sat outside in the shade swatting the relentless March flies away. One man hovered over the barbecue and the smell of cooking sausages and onions wafted through the air making tummies grumble and mouths water. This day a little boy with rosy, chubby cheeks, piercing blue turquoise eyes and white blonde hair came tumbling in from the garden with a wilted bunch of daisies in search of his mother. His mother was in the kitchen making a salad to go with the barbecue. A stunning lively woman with auburn curls, sultry jade green eyes and always a smile on her full lips. She always made people turn their heads in admiration and desire. Her name was Juliette.
Juliette pushed her auburn curls behind one ear and bent down to the child’s level and asked “ What is it Martin? The little boys face lit up with an ear to ear widened grin whenever he got her attention. “Here Mummy I got these from the Garden squeaked Martin” in his unusually croaky voice for his age, he was only 6 years old. Juliette took them and sniffed their scent, “they are lovely darling” and reached up to get a vase from the top shelf in the kitchen and filled it with water for the flowers. After she was finished she said “Okay give mummy a kiss and run along, that’s a very thoughtful little boy you are”. She smiled as she felt a wet sloppy kiss on her cheek and his chubby little hands grabbed her tight. Then he was off running back to the garden, his mob of white hair flopping in the wind .
Days like this were common for little Martin. He loved to be with his parents, especially on Sundays when his father was home all day or they would go out on picnics or fishing. His father was a stern man of few words but seemed happiest when he took Martin fishing at the nearby lake or beach. They would catch live bait of squid or buy some frozen prawns from the local bait shop. He always said the best bait was the beach worms but only the very old fisherman we’re able to catch them. These worms were sometimes over a foot long. You had to be at the beach late in the afternoon as the tide drew out. There was one old fisherman at the beach at the same time every day. He was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles creasing his forehead and corners of his eyes. He had brown blotches of skin damage that the sun brings from its reflection on the sea and his hands had deep etched scars from handling heavy fish lines, but his aged blue eyes always had a hint of smile and sparkled like the sea. His name was Vic and he would drag a smelly fish over the sand and miraculously the head of these giant worms would be exposed, then as quick as lightning he would use his fingers to yank the worm right out of the sand. When Martin’s father tried, he had to use special pliers to grab them out, Vic said he was good as most people can’t catch them. These worms were ideal to catch Jewfish straight off the beach, some were up to 13kgs in weight and if you put the fish in a bath tub, the tail tipped right over the edge of the bath. These were the best days just hanging out with his father and old Vic.
For a couple of years Martin had a happy life with his parents but one day when he was 8 he noticed some upsetting things about his parents. His mummy Juliette was always cleaning, sometimes she would be vacuuming the house at 6am, or washing the clothes before the sun rose. She would get angry with his father and say he stunk of fish, they would argue behind their bedroom door. These arguments seemed to take place almost daily and Martin would try to distract his parent by mock falling off a tree in the garden and screaming like he was injured or smashing a plate in the kitchen. It worked sometimes but then one day after a rather long argument, his father just left the house and didn’t return.
His mother Juliette changed too, she seemed to become someone else. Some days Juliett was happy, some days sad, sometimes sick, in fact, her moods changed constantly and everything Martin did seemed to make her angry. He tried so hard to please her, but she was always busy, so busy, no time it seemed for cuddles or story time. Juliette was off almost every day, leaving Martin to be collected from school by the neighbour’s daughter Lena, a sweet tall skinny girl with long brown hair which she wore in one thick long plait down her back to her hips. Lena was great at drawing squiggles and making them into monster faces or Dinosaurs. Martin loved Dinosaurs and would often play with his model Dinosaurs and create imaginary battles making all the noises he thought they did. Oh, his mother hated when he did that. She would clamp her hands over her ears and walk out of the room to the kitchen, turn her radio up loud and often get a glass of yellow liquid from a bottle in the fridge. This seemed to calm her down but after quite a few she would be asleep on the couch, even before he was. One time he took a sniff and a sip, it tasted really bad, not sweet like his apple juice Martin thought. He wondered why his mummy loved it so much. Sometimes he would have to tug at mummy to wake her up as he was hungry and tired. His mother would stumble into the kitchen in a funny walk and give him some cold sausages and bread which was often the same as the night before.
Then Juliette got a job as a buyer for a wholesale fashion company, she went away longer, sometimes days, weeks even, when it was more than a day Martin had to stay with his mother’s best friend Linda. Linda was a large jolly woman with blonde curls and always smelled of vanilla and musk. She laughed a lot and smelt like lollies, he loved Linda. Linda also had two sons of her own. James was the same age as Martin but taller with brown shaggy long hair and freckles. The other brother Matthew was stocky with blonde curls like his mother and a baby face though he was 12 years older. They both became like his brothers and Martin felt so happy when he got to stay with them.
Linda’s husband was a bookmaker at the horse races. A very exciting man. He was short and stocky, a freckly face with spiky short hair he covered with a cap. His name was Donald McKay and was well-known at the races. He would take the boys including Martin off to the races and they would hold the bags of money for him and sit and watch him sell bets to the punters. He would get so wound up, you could watch the veins bulging in his forehead as he shouted out. Race days were always an adventure filled with many colourful odd characters and Martin was fascinated watching uncle Don talk to all these people. Then on the weekends they would all go for a picnic at the nearby Lake just like a real family. The boys would play cricket or rugby and Uncle Don would cook a delicious barbecue lunch. He loved staying with Auntie Linda and Uncle Don .
Then Martin would be back home with his mother again a few days. At first, his mother would babble on excitedly about her trip and tell him in detail about all the people she met, especially when she went to Japan. She would always bring him souvenirs of her trip. One time she gave him a karate outfit and a plastic sword. He would dress up for her and she would take photographs with her Kodak camera which printed out the photo instantly. His mummy would say how handsome he looked and he would show her how good he was at Karate kicks and chops he had seen on TV.
He used to feel so sad every time he saw his mother go out, he would grab her by the legs and beg “Mummy please don’t go”. Juliette would always brush him aside and say ‘Now, now be a good little boy for mummy. Mummy must work to pay for us so we can have food on the table and nice things’. So in knowing this, he started to resent going home from his Auntie Linda’s, even though he missed his beautiful mother so much.
Juliette had become a fashion wholesaler buying Manager. In the 1960’s Australia was in the midst of a women’s liberation movement and women could now work without feeling guilty they were neglecting the household or only good for being a home-maker. Juliette was selling wholesale fashion items to shops all around Australia. She even had to travel overseas to China and Japan to find unusual items that the young hipsters would want to buy so that Shops would do big orders for. Juliette loved this job it allowed her to escape the boring demanding existence of being a sole parent. It paid well and allowed her to pay a babysitter, she also got to go to parties all the time. She liked being busy as it took her mind off being left by her husband and little Martin’s needy pleading face. There were many dark secrets inside Juliette’s mind that she had buried so deep that even she didn’t realize why she felt so angry sometimes or so lifeless and unable to smile, she only felt down when she was at home so work was her escape, she felt free.
One day Juliette’s boss asked her to fly to China to check out fashion items over there and from now on her job would involve quite a bit of travel, she refused to knock back this opportunity to get away and live the glamorous life so it was decided that her best friend Linda would take Martin in to live with her most of the time. Linda always had been a natural with children and people, unlike herself who always found it draining.
Martin didn’t really understand that he had gone to live with Auntie Linda and Uncle Don, he was only 8 and a half when this happened. Sometimes his mummy was around and he would go back home again but it was only for a day or two . So his Auntie Linda took over and he also went to school with his cousins James and Matthew. Over the next 2 years, Martin withdrew somewhat into himself and would spend many hours just reading his books. He loved his books, he could escape into any world he chose just by reading, he could forget how his mother rejected him and how much he missed seeing his father. For some reason when around his mother he felt useless like he wasn’t good enough for her to love him. He still couldn’t understand how his beautiful mother had changed from being his loving mummy to such a cold aloof stranger that had mood swings that changed every few hours. She became more like a distant relative. He would try everything he knew like cleaning up the kitchen, picking up his shoes putting them away as he knew his mother hated mess. But even doing this seem to agitate her and she would say things like “Martin you need to eat more you look so thin, pull your pants up, that shirt is filthy!” and look away disgusted.
Then just after he turned 9 years old, Juliette had announced to them all at Aunt Linda’s that she had gotten married again. She had a new husband, his name was Stefan Bonnici ,he was Italian . He had a son named Alberto that was 15 years old. Alberto’s mother had died from asthma, said Juliette. The decision was made to send Martin back to live with his mother. Martin was a little distraught about leaving his cousins James and Matthew. He had loved living with them.
The next day Linda dropped Martin off to his mother’s house. As he walked through the entrance door he spotted a man holding out a present for him. He was the tallest man Martin had ever seen. His height of 6 foot 5 inches was almost equal to his width which was almost splitting the seams of his pin-striped black suit. His face was also not forgetful in that it stood out due to his large long hooked freckled nose. His mouth was like a jagged gaping tear in his face, encasing his yellowing tar stained teeth, with one silver filling catching the light. But even though he was smiling, his eyes were a deep glossy hard beetle black framed by black bushy eyebrows that seemed to join together in one long menacing line. His head was an odd shape, bald on top with just a glistening oily slick and black greased hair shining above his ears. He was very scary looking! There also stood a boy who looked a mini version of the man. He was chubby faced with thick wiry brown hair that looked more like a wig as it was so thick. His beady eyes were also framed with the family bushy eyebrows that joined together in a line.
Martin introduced himself and took the present offered.
“Martin now thank your new Daddy Stefan for the present”commanded Juliette. Martin squeaked a thankyou and felt his face go red. He ripped the wrapping off and inside was a model Aeroplane with Qantas Kangaroo on it. Then Stefan shook his hand and introduced his son Alberto. Alberto didn’t speak or smile back, only nodded his head with a smirk on his lips.
Martin was given the small room at the back of the house as his own. It had blue painted walls, a single striped covered mattress resting on a silver metal framed bed, barren except for his old Teddy bear that had one eye. There was also a tall framed timber window which overlooked the back garden. Outside there was a wide trunked tree with several thick sparse branches. One limb grazed the window ledge which allowed Martin easy access to come and go as he pleased. Alberto was given the other back room which was across the hallway adjacent to his room.
Juliette and Stefan were often in the front room of the house drinking and listening to loud music. All was good for a while, then things began to change. Juliette had to start going away again on trips for work. Martin and Alberto were left with Stefan. Night after night Stefan would be lying on the couch in a state of utter bovine placidity, shirt hanging out, stomach bulging over his shorts, gulping down glasses of Gin and ranting to himself. If he caught Martin’s eye he would yell ” Hey boy get me another bottle of Gin from up the corner bottle shop.” He would throw some notes and Martin would scamper off in a hurry otherwise, Stefan would be yelling blue murder if he took to long. Luckily Aunt Linda had taught Martin how to cook beans on toast and make sandwiches as many a night like this, he would have to get his own dinner. Stefan’s son Alberto was rarely home as he preferred to hangout with his new friends at the local Snooker hall.
Martin learned to avoid being home until late. He joined all the after school sports he could so that he would be busy training every afternoon. Then he would creep in the back window to his room and watch TV or read. Often Stefan would have fallen asleep drunk on his couch, reeking of Gin. Martin would tip toe around and collect all the empty bottles and dispose of them before he woke in the morning . Alberto would also creep in the back room window in the early hours of the morning stinking of alcohol and stale cigarettes.
Stefan became meaner and angrier each day. Martin often would hear Stefan arguing on the phone. He was sure it was with his mother. Stefan would slam the phone down after and yell ” You Bitch!” then he would hear stomping feet, the banging of cupboards and a glass tinkling with Stefan’s favourite drink Gin, then the usual night would begin. This went on for a year. Martin managed to stay out of his way. He was missing his cousins so much but he didn’t feel right to tell them about his mother’s husband. He felt it would be a betrayal and he didn’t want to do anything to make his mother dislike him more.
Then one morning when his mother was home in her bedroom, Martin could hear her and Stefan arguing behind the closed door.
” Juliette I have been made redundant from work and I would like to go with you on your trips as I don’t trust that slimy boss of yours , in fact, I think you two are having an affair!” Stefan announced angrily.
” Oh my god are you mad, my boss is 60 years old, he’s not interested in me or I him!! you are being ridiculous! you know I can’t take you, who would look after the boys? Juliette yelled. Stefan’s voice grew louder and filled with fury he
Stefan’s voice filled with fury “I’m not staying home like a woman in a skirt wiping their arses while you gallivant around screwing your boss!”
” You’re a bloody fool, I’m not listening to this rubbish!” Juliette yelled back. Martin heard a loud cracking noise, then a thud on the floor. The door swung open and Stefan came storming out his nostrils flaring and grabbed his car keys and took off. Martin then ran into his mother who was sitting silently on the floor where she had fallen. Juliette suddenly rose and wiped her face on a towel. “Sorry Martin that you heard all that, please don’t worry about me. I really must get ready and go to work now, go off to school I will see you later tonight and off she walked to the bathroom”.
“Sorry you had to hear all that ,Martin, please don’t worry about me. I really must get ready and go to work now, go off to school. I will see you later tonight”. Juliette slammed the bathroom door. Martin just stared in disbelief at how emotionless and cold she appeared after what just took place.
In the morning Stefan arrived back at the house reeking of alcohol and stale cigarettes. Juliette glanced at Stefan ” I am going away today on a buying trip to China. I have arranged for my friend Linda to collect Martin, he will stay with her while I’m away.” Stefan said nothing, he just turned his eyes in Martin’s direction and glared with his dull black eyes in a look that only meant trouble.
Sure enough later that day when Martin returned from School he could see Stefan’s car parked out front. So Martin went around the back of the house and stealth like he climbed up the tree outside his bedroom window then lowered himself carefully over the window sill, landing on all fours with a soft thump. As he stood up he was startled to see Stefan sitting in a chair next to the end of his bed holding a large knife that his mother used to carve the Sunday roast. Martin went to climb back out the window again. In a flash Stefan quickly reached over and slammed the window down and locked it. Sitting slowly down he glared at Martin. Out of his pocket came a big knife. Slowly he began sharpening the blade against a steel rod. Martin thought it sounded like nails on a chalk board. He shivered involuntarily not knowing what to expect. He was too scared to move so he just sat like a statue on the end of his bed.
“So boy what do you think you are doing creeping in like a thief in the night? What’s your problem? I will tell you what your problem is!You’re a lazy good for nothing boy and your mother knows it. See how she is sending you away again!” Martin could feel the sweat trickling down the back of his neck and his forehead. His knew by the tone of Stefan’s voice, that this time meant trouble and his could hear his heart pounding so loud he was sure that Stefan could hear it too. He didn’t dare answer as Stefan started again
” You’re a little pussy aren’t you, scared as chicken shit, pansy mummy’s boy, well mummy isn’t here now to protect you, she doesn’t care about you. Off she went hey, what a Whore. You have a Whore as a mother!” Martin clenched his hands in anger. Stefan paused and continued to sharpenthe blade. ”
” Boy, don’t you get it? She can’t stand the sight of your sickening face always huddled over a damn book. She knows you are a useless, dumb sack of shit so why bother reading boy. Do you hear me?! Martin’s chest pounded faster, he clenched his fists until he could feel his fingernails cutting into his palms. Martin wanted to jump up and shout “It’s not true!” but he felt paralysed with fear. His mouth was dry and his bladder felt painfully full and the sweat was trickling into his eyes blurring his vision. Stefan rose and walked over close to Martin still sharpening the blade. The smell of burning metal was now heavy in the air. He bent down to Martin his nose almost touching the side of his cheek. Martin didn’t dare move, he fixed his eyes on the wall straight ahead waiting for the knife. He felt sure Stefan would slice him with it any moment! Then the door bell rang… the last thing Martin saw before he blacked out was the tip of the knife and Stefan’s angry face……………
*The above was just a story idea of mine..what do you think?
(M first crack at writing 🙂 Thanks for reading.