extract from YA novel
© Dianne Bates
am drawing in my mind’s eye a scene of my childhood. Perspective
doesn’t matter; everything is distorted and oblique as it is
when one is very young and Arlene and Dutch’s faces loom large
and clearly-defined; next, they are diminished and pale, like ghosts
wafting into sight. Sometimes they float close by and reach out and
touch me. Mostly this is when I am tucked between crisp white sheets
that smell faintly of lavender, and Arlene is leaning over me, her
ginger-ale coloured hair lapping against my cheek. Her face is a mask,
eyes hooded, skin mottled in shadow. She whispers to me in her sing-song
voice, a children’s rhyme from The Netherlands. And Dutch is
here, too, huge and gentle like the Big Friendly Giant in the wondrous
book that he used to read to me before bedtime. And then, just as suddenly
as they came to me, they are gone, and I am alone, stretching out my
hand and crying, begging them to come back, to take me with them.
suitcase, my laptop computer and a backpack: this is what I bring with
me. I’ve waited
for this day for what seems like forever, counting down the hours, keeping
my cool as much as I can. The house is a small bungalow no different
from other red-brick houses in the suburb, a short walking distance to
the railway station and the shops.
rings the front doorbell then steps back, surveying the un-cut front garden
and tongue-clicking at the avalanche of garbage from a split plastic bag on
door is opened by a tall skinny girl with a faceful of metal and a towel wrapped
around her, her molasses-coloured hair stringy and damp from the shower.
understood you were expecting us. Marie pulls out a business card. Her manner,
as usual, is prickly.
rolls her eyes, her nostrils flare. “We knew you were coming. Didn’t
think you’d want a frigging red carpet.” My heart thumps with applause.
Anyone who can tick Marie off as obviously as she’s ticked at the moment
is an instant buddy.
there’s a guy behind the girl. He’s dressed. And cute, grinning
with the whitest set of teeth you’d see on any TV commercial. “Come
on in,” he says.
touches mine as he takes my bags. “Here, let me,” he says. Our
eyes meet. His are green, flecked with little dots of translucent colours,
gemstones of amber and opal. Very nice.
In the living-room
Marie’s sniff of disapproval is almost palpable as she stares openly
and rudely around her, noting, I’m sure, the furniture covered in junk,
the odour of cat poo, even the carpet fluff and wine stains.
shoves a jumble of clothes onto the floor to clear a chair. Then he pushes
aside magazines from the sofa. “Sorry about that.” Again with
the toothpaste-white smile.
Sophie,” I say. “I love your place.”
reaches out and shakes my hand, looks directly into my eyes again. He’s
I hope you like it here with Amy and me.”
and Regulations takes over then. I’ve heard it all before and can’t
wait for her to buzz off. Thank goodness she doesn’t stick around for
she’s gone, Amy appears. “What a bitch! Is she your case worker?”
I nod, and
suddenly it’s as though someone has doused the three of us in laughing
powder because we all crack up. Oh, I’m so happy! This is what I’ve
wanted for so long; my first taste of Freedom.
from YA novel
THE LAST REFUGE
© Dianne Bates
From a crack in the plaster where
the bottle has smashed, tomato sauce dribbles down the wall. A splattered
egg drips from the table onto the floor. There's a steak lying on the
lounge, its juice staining the Hessian cover. All the rest of his dinner-the
peas, carrots and chips are scattered over the living room floor with
fragments of glass and crockery.
bend to pick up the larger pieces of plate, my head throbbing and my insides
churning. I feel like throwing up, but force myself not to. It's bad enough
that I have to clean up this mess: I'm not going to add to it. More than
anything I want this day to be over, I want to go to my bed and pull the
blankets over my head and shut out everyone and everything.
go to the pub whenever I want, it's my money!' His words echo through
the flat, then fade so I can't hear what follows, except for a slurred
curse now and then. It's suddenly punctuated by: `Don't look at me like
that,' and the blood-stopping sound of flesh being slapped. Almost at
the same time Mum shrieks, `Stop it! Stop it!'
what is he doing? When will it ever finish? A lump as big as a fist forms
in my throat, tears run down my cheeks and dribble onto my neck.
must keep busy; keep my mind on other things. Try to block out what is
happening there in the front room. Where is the damn dustpan? I've never
seen such a mess. I have to clean it up-and fast before someone cuts their
I step carefully into the kitchen to check in a cupboard, I hear sobbing
coming from the laundry. Rowie is there, huddled in a corner beside the
tub. She's rocking backwards and forwards, squeezing her teddy bear to
she doing there? I'd thought she had escaped when all the trouble began,
and here she is, likely to cause more trouble if Dad catches her carrying
on. `Rowie, what the hell are you doing here?' I ask.
gabbling noise she makes is part sob and part sentence.
so loud! He might hear you. Why didn't you go with Marty?'
doesn't answer, but gabbles again, louder. I can't stand it! `If he comes
out and finds you crying, you don't know what he'll do, so shut up!'
gives one last shuddering sob, wipes her face with her jumper sleeve and
then looks at me with such sadness that at once I'm sorry I snapped at
you like to come and help me clean up?' I say my voice gentler now.
scraping away the last of the upset dinner, still mesmerized by Mum and
Dad's fight, when Marty returns. The front door opens without a sound
and his head peers 'cautiously around the corner. His face looks panicky,
his eyes fearful.
he gone yet?' he whispers across the room.
freeze, hoping Dad won't appear. Marty and Rowie look silently at me,
and I manage a half-smile, trying to reassure them that things will be
in the front room Mum screams as something wooden-a chair perhaps-is smashed.
Marty disappears as quickly as he came. The door closes noiselessly behind
MY WACKY GRAN
© Dianne Bates
My gran’s wacky. As wacky as they come.
You’ve never met a wackier gran.
You wouldn’t know it to look at her.
She is wrinkled and gray-haired and cuddly plump. She looks no different
from any old lady you might see at bowls, or bingo, or shopping for sour
cream in the supermarket.
my gran sure is wacky.
you don’t believe me, you can ask her yourself. Gran’s face
is on the front cover of Maniac Madness magazine. Then there’s Wayout
Wackos, Oddballs, Kooks and Crazies and Limelight Loonies – she’s
been in all of them.
Madness interviewed her at the zoo. She lived there for three weeks in
a cage with ten gorillas on a diet of bananas.
Wackos featured her when she parachuted out of a fifty-story building
wearing nothing but a bikini, a feather boa and a smile.
Kooks and Crazies photographed Gran diving into a bathtub of strawberry
jam from the back of an elephant.
Limelight Loonies ran a story about Gran’s trip down the great Williwally
Waterfall in a bathtub.
has the weirdest adventures. She is also a wonderful storyteller. Her
stories fascinate me like no others I’ve heard.
dinner, I crouch at her feet in front of the fire and Gran tells me of
her most recent adventures.
she tells me about the time she climbed the tallest mountain in Alaska.
Mount Spurr is an extinct volcano – or it used to be! After Gran
climbed it, it erupted in a terrific explosion that closed the city airport
for three days.
said no one in their right mind would climb Spurr and get away with it,”
Gran says. “Especially someone wearing shorty pyjamas.”
pyjamas are blue cotton with pictures of bunnies on them. They’re
kind of cute, but not the sort of thing to wear when it’s fifty
degrees below zero.
she reached the top of Mount Spurr, Gran ate twenty-three tubs of Neopolitan
icecream in 10 minutes 33 seconds. It earned her a place in the record
hands are behind her back and I can’t see if her fingers are crossed.
I think she’s telling the truth.
I say, “tell me the truth. Did you really climb Mount Spurr and
eat that much icecream?”
I tell a lie, dear?” she asks.
tells me that as an experiment she sat in a glass tank covered in honey
and let a zillion ants run over her. Then they let in an ant eater. It
licked Gran all over. Her hands and feet were tied so she couldn’t
fight the ant eater off.
licked her face, it licked the back of her neck, it licked the inside
of her ears. It even licked the soles of her feet.
stayed inside that cage for 6 hours 35 minutes and 12 seconds till that
ant eater has swallowed every single ant and licked every last drop of
ask Gran if this is true.
I tell a lie, dear?” she says. “Of course not.”
gran’s wacky. As wacky as they come. You’d have to be wacky
to sit on a flagpole for five days and five nights without once coming
down – not even to go to the toilet. And that’s what she did,
so she tells me.
storm was raging the whole time. Rain fell in buckets. But that didn’t
Lightning zipped all around. That didn’t bother her either.
keep herself amused, Gran played “Raindrops keep falling on my head”
on her bagpipes with one hand. With the other, she knitted a red, white
and blue scarf to wear to the footie grand final. The scarf was five kilometres
long. It earned Gran her second entry into the record books.
can’t be true,” I say.
I tell a lie?” she replies.
got to believe her. I mean, she’s been in all those magazines. And
grandmothers don’t lie, do they?
you see, my gran is really wacky. So wacky she spent a weekend at the
Nothing But A Smile Nudist Camp.
didn’t really spend a week at a nudist camp, did you?” I ask.
was a great weekend,” says Gran. “The funniest of my life.”
you really take all your clothes off?” I ask.
does some weird things. But surely she wouldn’t appear naked in
front of dozens of strangers. Not at her age. I look at Gran. Her face
is sweet and she smiles like an angel who’s just done her good deed
for the day. She looks like she’s telling the truth.
think how I’d hate to walk around without any clothes and have everyone
stare at me. “Look how skinny he is,” they’d say. “He’s
so skinny you could slide him under a door.”
be so nervous my knees would knock together. My lily-white skin would
turn purple with embarrassment. I wouldn’t be able to do anything
– like eat or play games – because my hands would be cupped
over you-know-where. And I wouldn’t know where to look!
it like being in a nudist camp?” I ask.
are all sorts of bodies,” Gran says. “Tall bodies and short.
Lean bodies and fat. White bodies and tanned. Young bodies…”
Gran’s body, wrinkled and pale like a white prune. I can just imagine
you embarrassed?” I say.
a bit,” says Gran. “All sorts of people were there. Even the
the Tigers! My favourite footie team in the whole wide world!
were they doing at Nothing But a Smile?”
were in training. As a matter of fact, I helped them with their training.”
did indeed,” says Gran. “I helped them build up strength for
next Saturday’s Grand Final.”
had a game of tug-o-war. I challenged them. The whole Tigers team plus
the coach and the manager – against me.
wasn’t an easy contest, I can tell you. They’re pretty strong
can see them now. Slugger, Mugger, Hugger, Tipper, Nipper, Ripper, Cruncher,
Muncher, Puncher, Crusher and Musher, Gottcha and Grabbem, Coach Whacker
Nonslacker and the manager, Mangles McGee. Hefty guys, all of them. Bulgy
muscles in all the right places. And true grit to match.
faced them and they faced me,” Gran says. “And it was on!
Well, I tugged and I puffed, and I puffed and I tugged. They puffed and
they hauled, they panted and they pulled. For over an hour.
were pretty evenly matched, but I kept on tugging and puffing, puffing
kept on huffing and hauling, panting and pulling. Neither of us would
give a centimetre.
looked at the Tigers. Their faces were red and creased. They were huffing
and pulling, panting and pulling. Then they began to turn purple. Right
from the tops of their heads all the way down to their toes. And that’s
when I knew I had them beat.
gave one last almighty tug,” she continued. “The Tigers couldn’t
handle it. They whole team, the coach and manager went flying. They landed
on their bottoms, then their great hairy bare bodies went rolling down
the hillside head over heels. . Slugger, Mugger, Hugger, Tipper, Nipper,
Ripper, Cruncher, Muncher, Puncher, Crusher and Musher, Gottcha and Grabbem,
Coach Whacker Nonslacker and the manager, Mangles McGee.”
I say, “tell me the truth. Did you really pull the whole Tigers
team, their coach and manager over?”
indeed dear,” says Gran. “Just like I’m pulling your
leg with this story.”
only is she wacky, my gran. But she’s the best Tall Tale Teller
this side of Mars. She fools me every time.