Sylvia kicked the bucket sitting on the outdoor lavatory. It was a Monday, just like any other. She’d been born on a Monday, fair of face, just like the saying. It seemed that Sylvia’s life was bookended by two ordinary Mondays.
Before it happened, Sylvia woke with the sun, as she always did. She sat on her front verandah, drank her morning cuppa on the loveseat Frank had made for her in the months before he’d run off with Fern. Selfish bastard. At least he’d sent regular cheques—made out to cash no less—even after the youngest was grown. Guilt money. But she banked the income just the same. No sense turning it away on account of pride.
Besides, it meant she didn’t have to work. Not like her sister Bev, who’d spent her entire adult life working two jobs to make ends meet and sent expensive gifts to her two ungrateful sons every birthday and Christmas. Frank’s money gave Sylvia freedom, time to devote to her painting, and occasionally their three kids.
It drove Bev nuts that Frank paid Sylvia a monthly stipend, especially when he kept paying it long after the kids left the nest. She called Sylvia a kept woman, but Bev had always been a jealous old cow. Married for lust and regretted it when the dodgy prick punched the rose-tinted glasses from her face one time too many.
Yes, Barry was a bully, alright. A bookie and con artist who’d been allergic to hard work and honesty his whole life. Bev left him when he went against her wishes for the umpteenth time – he took their kids to the racetrack for his weekly collection of debts. The punters called him Billion-dollar Baz, even though everyone knew he wasn’t really a billionaire. It thrilled Bev no end to remind her sister that she was the one who did the leaving. Not like Sylvia, who’d been left for a younger model.
Sylvia’s daughter Elsie—one of the boomerang generation—followed in her aunty Bev’s footsteps and shacked up young, regretting the consequences almost immediately. The baby daddy, who Sylvia had met only once, wasn’t in the picture as far as she could tell, much to her relief. Anyone growing hydroponic tomatoes for a living should be viewed with suspicion.
She was even more selfishly overjoyed when Elsie had declared that rising living costs meant she could no longer afford breakfast at the local café, and decided to hightail it back to Sylvia – bringing three-year-old Charli with her. Her two older kids didn’t seem interested in procreation, or normative conventions in general. It was abundantly clear to Sylvia by her eighty-seventh year—the devil’s number—that baby Charli was going to be her one and only grandchild.
It was Elsie who discovered Sylvia. She was playing a game of hide and seek with Charli when she opened the door to the outhouse and saw her mother astride the throne, head and shoulders slumped against the wall. Elsie was reminded of her childhood cat, Pavarotti—named on account of his incessant caterwauling—who, at the ripe old age of twenty-three, had wandered off to die in the bushes. Elsie wondered whether her mother knew she was about to die, and that’s why she’d taken herself to the outhouse. It was unexpected. An unfortunate final, flush of fate. She called for an ambulance but could tell from the bewildered expression on her mother’s face that resuscitation was futile. Sylvia was quite dead.
The seconds elongated like candle wax, dripping into minutes as Elsie stared at her mother. When the grief hit her, it wasn’t the gut-wrenching, operatic moment she’d always expected to feel on those few occasions she’d thought about her mother’s passing. No, Elsie’s grief went deeper than Puccini. The turgid tones of Albinoni’s G minor adagio started up in her head. The tragic melody prompting tears to accumulate deep inside. Yet her eyes remained dry. As a rule, Elsie tried not to think about death and dying, and nothing in her thirty-four years had quite prepared her for this moment. She wasn’t embarrassed for her mother. The indignity of meeting her destiny on the loo just seemed like a Sylvia way to go. But Elsie’s loss was immense. Her thoughts turned to baby Charli, who was everything to Sylvia.
Elsie’s body squirmed atop two cement feet, grounded by indecision. Her thoughts buzzed like the collective roar of a wasp symphony, as she decided what to do next. She hadn’t noticed the oval shaped hive just inside the door, above the lintel. Her senses were dominated by a rather fruity, overripe odour. Curious, hungry insects swarmed Elsie, eager to devour the source. Choking on the pungent aroma, she stepped backwards, banging the door shut.
Elsie’s innards heaved as she dry-retched. Gasping, Elsie gulped deep lungfuls of air, opening and closing her mouth like a stunned goldfish. She ran back towards the house.
In the distance, a car backfired, followed by the slamming of a car door. Elsie turned towards the sound, tripped on a loose stone, and landed on her outstretched hands.
Bev arrived at precisely two fifteen to take Sylvia to Bridge Club as she did every Monday. Her old Holden Kingswood spluttered up Sylvia’s lengthy driveway. The overworked exhaust belted out a deafening gunshot-sounding bang before the car stuttered to a standstill. Bev sighed and yanked the handbrake. She hated Sylvia’s driveway: long, narrow, windy, up a steep hill. It was one of the many, quirky inconveniences of Sylvia’s property that she’d never modernised. She slammed the door shut and strode up to her sister’s fuchsia-pink front door. She spied Charli on the verandah, fast asleep in the loveseat Sylvia sat in that morning.
‘Who’s watching you little one?’ Bev picked up the sleeping toddler, face smeared with raspberry jam and smelling sticky sweet. She hugged the child close and carried her inside to settle into bed.
The house was oddly quiet. Bev poked her head into the bedrooms, the living room, and the kitchen.
‘Yoohoo, Sylv,’ she half-called, half-whispered, not wanting to wake the sleeping Charli.
She did another lap of the house, opening doors and peering into rooms, but Sylvia and Elsie weren’t anywhere. Thinking they may be in the backyard, Bev beelined to the laundry and pushed her way through the clothes all over the floor. From the back verandah Bev could see Elsie sprawled on the path that led up the hill to the old outdoor loo. She clucked her tongue on the roof of her mouth and made her way towards her niece, arriving just as Elsie picked herself up.
In the distance, the sound of sirens could be heard, increasing in volume, until Bev could feel the weight of their vibrations screeching up the hill behind her.
‘Mum’s gone,’ Elsie said.
‘What do you mean? Gone? We have bridge,’ Bev pushed past Elsie calling out to her sister.
‘She’s in there,’ said Elsie, pointing to the outdoor loo.
‘What? Silly girl. That thing hasn’t worked in years. She finally following through on her threat to convert that old eyesore into a chicken coop?’
‘What are you on about girl?’ Bev’s short fuse started to get the better of her. Her pulse quickened as two green-clad paramedics rushed past her and into the outhouse.
Back in the kitchen, Bev bustled, collecting the dirty plates and cups from the table, assembling them in the sink. In the next room, Elsie spoke with the paramedics.
Before the curtain came down on Sylvia’s life, she fed a family of local maggies who turned up every morning for their serving of raw mince. Then, for no explicable reason, Sylvia took a stroll around the property.
By the time she approached the back hill, dotted with grazing sheep and the outhouse, Sylvia had easily walked close to a kilometre. Panting heavily, she paused at the outdoor loo, and pushed open the door that groaned and creaked in protest. She peered inside and fatigue overcame her. Sylvia sat on the lid of the toilet seat, to catch her breath.
The structure was humming, like it was alive with electricity. She had a spark of a thought about not getting around to the washing piling up in her laundry – Mount Washmore, Elsie called it. Then the humming sound buzzed louder and louder until the side wall of the outdoor lavatory collided with her head.
Author: Melanie grew up in Kaurna and Larrakia countries, spent several years living in Asia and Europe before settling (for now) in Ngunnawal country with her husband and daughter. She is studying for a Master of Literature and Creative Writing degree at Deakin University and has fiction published with Busybird, ScratchThat Magazine and Verge Literary Journal and non-fiction published in the International In-House Counsel Journal, IPRinfo Magazine and the Intellectual Property Forum Magazine. When not writing, Melanie is a violinist masquerading as an intellectual property and technology lawyer and a passionate ecofeminist.
Artist: Emma Bruce is a multi-disciplinary visual artist from Yugambeh country working out of Meanjin. Her work discusses the relationship modern society has with the environment through an archival style in hopes to preserve the experience of being in the natural world. Her work hopes to invite her audience to partake in activities that nurture native flora and fauna as well as create a sense of pride to be part of it.
Editors: Kelly Rouzbehi and Euri Glenn