It was dusk, she was watering the garden in the cool of evening. The girls were rolling down the grass bank when the youngest called out, ‘Look, Mom, look. There’s a tramp-man at the gate. ‘Silly,’ said the eldest, ‘it’s Uncle Graham’, and righting herself she ran to meet their uncle coming up the long drive.
‘Graham,’ Sheena heard herself saying, as she turned off the hose and walked toward him, ‘It is you. What’s the matter?’
Her brother stood, head down, hands in the pockets of his pale jeans, hair falling across his dulled green eyes. ‘Shee, he said, ‘I need your help. I must get to Mom. The Volvo, remember? It’s been confiscated, with all the furniture – everything that wasn’t in Vera’s name – until we can settle our debt. I must get down to Maritzburg tonight.’
Suddenly she was back at the bottom of the steps, heart racing, cheeks flushed, her stomach cramping. Her brother was revving Dad’s Volvo down the drive. But her friends were waiting for her to collect them, at half-past six, at Mel’s in Greenside. She’d got her licence three days ago, just after their final matric exam. When they’d talked about celebrating in Hillbrow, she’d said, ‘Don’t worry, Dad will lend me the Volvo, I know he will. It’ll be a tight squeeze in the back, though.’
And now, what would they do? How would she tell them? Dad had just taken the car- keys out of his pocket to hand to her, and said how pretty she looked in her wide skirt and the blouse with the white collar, when Graham, her kid brother, crossed from the hall, where he’d been shouting down the phone to Hadley, his Std 9 friend. ‘Hey, Dad,‘ he said, ‘it’s my turn for the car.’ And turning to her, ‘You know you can’t have the limmo tonight, Sis. Had & me, we’ve got a date, trying the chicks out for the social next month.
‘Dad’s already given me the Volvo, Graham’, she said, drawing herself up. ‘Ask him.’
‘Well,’ he said, grabbing the keys from her and pushing her off balance, ‘Mom said it was fine for me tonight, didn’t you Mom? And he turned to Mom who had emerged from the kitchen, kissed her on the cheek, slicked back his bryl-creamed hair, and sauntered across the verandah and down the steps, his tight jeans wrinkling like a second skin. Mom had recoiled slightly – the hair oil was overwhelming – but she narrowed her green eyes, not unlike Graham’s, looked at Dad, then at her, and said, in her ‘I’ll-brook-no-opposition’ voice: ‘It’s Gray’s turn tonight, Douglas.’
‘Gwen,’ Father began, ‘the boy’s not yet seventeen. It’s an offence’. But Mom had moved kitchen-wards, closing the door behind her.
So she stood at the bottom of the steps, her stomach knotted, while Graham, jangling the keys, climbed into the car, revved the engine like an old truck and backed down the drive, barely missing the left gatepost. The air rushed out of her lungs as if she had plummeted down, way below her oxygen supply, and was drowning. Dad stood there, shaking his head weakly.
‘Maritzburg, tonight?’ she queried, putting her hand on her brother’s shoulder and leading him up the steps and into the house.
‘To Mom, my old standby, you know. For a loan, to tide us over. Vera’s gone with the children to her sister. Says she’s not coming back until I can show her I can hold down a real job.’
‘Ray’s not here,’ she said, ‘but you can take the Renault, it’s almost full. A couple of these chicken pies, some fruit and biscuits and a flask of coffee should get you through. Here’, while she talked she’d put the thermos out, filled it and screwed in the lid, ‘just take the cooler-bag off the top of the cupboard and put these in.’ Already he was eating one of the crunchies they had baked earlier. He looked starved, tired, too.
‘You’re a brick, Sis,’ he said, hugging her and kissing her on the cheek, ‘thanks. I’ll get your wheels back.’
Minutes later, as she handed him the keys and watched him reverse her car down their drive, she felt afresh the anger, the defeat of that eighteen-year old self who’d moved back into the house, following her father. But then her eldest crept up behind her, snuggled close, her hand in hers.
‘Mom, you’re so kind,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want any one else for my Mom.’
‘Hush’, she said, but she hugged her daughter, and together they stepped into the warm house, where the other three were shouting, ‘Supper, we want supper, WE WANT SUPER SUPPER.’ And she felt as if she were floating free, in a warm pool under a bright, full moon.