It had been five months, two weeks, and three days since her old man had abandoned the rundown townhouse by Maple Road. He’d left her twenty bucks, some old pizzas and a wardrobe infestation of dust and termites. She was fifteen. Father-of-the-year, right?
The day had been like every other. The same clouds pulled with the same great strength across the sky, tinged with the same sunset oranges and purples. She woke to the sound of her own breath, its echo engulfing her room. She dragged herself out of musty sheets and walked out into the silence.
She was used to waking up alone, her father often left for days on end, too blinded to remember the way home. That day, she had walked the streets collecting discarded cans from unattended rubbish bins, trading them in for cash. She splurged on a bushel of apples, a couple loaves of bread and a small jar of vegemite.
On the eighth day of her abandonment—hauling the largest bag of debris yet—she noticed the sweet, old lady from next door, scrambling out her old Chevy, grocery bags in tow. As she bundled up the way to her own home, the old lady spotted her. ‘Mornin’, hon, how you been?’
She gave a polite nod, dumping the debris in the wheelie bin on the curb.
‘Haven’t seen your dad round lately, he takin’ care of you?’ the old lady called out.
She just smiled and rushed up the steps.
On the thirteenth day, she was woken by a juddering doorknock. In the front living room, noise ricocheted off the walls. She glanced at the grandfather clock. It was one of the few things remaining, because it was worthless. It’s wood glazing, like everything else in this house, was mouldy. Her father couldn’t trade that for nothing.
It was well into the afternoon. Her heart pumped as she took sluggish steps toward the front door. Who was visiting? Her father had had no friends, and no one else had cared for her. The only other person who acknowledged her existence was the old lady next door.
It was indeed the old lady from next door.
‘Hi, hon, I’m just checkin’ in on ya. Your dad’s car hasn’t been in your driveway for some time. Is it broke or?’ The old lady trailed off.
She stared at her feet.
‘Oh, hon,’ she sighed. ‘Is he still round?’
She knew she should lie. She knew she shouldn’t be talking to her neighbour.
But she missed smiling. She missed laughing at her older siblings, who loved to walk around with underwear on their head. She missed laughing with her dad while they watched the footy, and his least favourite players got tackled. When her mother had left, she’d stolen her siblings away from her, too rushed to realise she had left her behind.
Her shoulders trembled, disobedient. Her lungs released an undignified sob. Water dripped from her eyes onto the cement porch as she hunched over, clutching her stomach.
‘Oh hon,’ she heard. She felt a pair of tuckshop-lady wrapped arms around her.
On the thirtieth day, the old lady asked her name again. She had the vague memory of being asked that day on the porch, but she had been too distraught to reply.
She cleared her throat before answering, barely having spoken more than ten words all week. ‘Oh, my name’s Shivani, ma’am.’
‘No need for that ma’am crap, makes me feel older than I am.’
‘How old are you?’
‘You don’t ask people that Shivani, it’s considered rude.’
‘Sorry ma- sorry, but what is your name?’
For eighteen days, six o’clock every evening, Shivani had dined at the woman’s house for supper. Not once had Shivani asked for the old lady’s name, although sometimes the words blurred together.
‘My name is Greta, dear.’
Shivani had a faint memory of her father complaining of Greta’s lemon trees in the backyard. They breached the barrier of the fence separating the privileged from the not-so privileged. She’d never understood the complaint. Sometimes lemons fell on their side of the fence. They made fantastic lemonade. They couldn’t afford lemonade, so her mother had taken the opportunity to make a few homemade batches.
For today’s supper, Greta had prepared chicken and mushroom pie. A healthy serving of peas and carrots caressed the salted, savoury broth, with creamy mash complimenting the juices spilling out the sides. This was one of her mother’s favourite dishes. On the first night Shivani dined with Greta, she had asked Shivani to give her a list of her favourite foods. Greta hadn’t made anything that wasn’t on the list.
Shivani was in the middle of eating her potatoes when a rap sounded on the front door.
They both froze, forks topped with food dangling just below their mouths, fingers jittering. A second rap followed, more demanding than the first.
Greta opened her front door, and standing there, in the middle of the old Victorian wood workings, was the man who had abandoned Shivani one hundred and thirty-nine days ago.
His eyes were wide and rimmed red, his tatted skin pallid and covered in sweat. From the dining room table, Shivani could see he held an empty plastic packet.
‘Shivani, I’ve been looking for you everywhere. You weren’t at home, or in your room, or in the yard-’ Her father was flustered in way she’d never seen before. ‘I thought I’d only been gone a couple days, I’m sorry.’
‘Sir, I’m gonna need you to step away from the door.’ Greta was looking between Shivani and her father, her eyebrows nearly hidden in her hairline.
‘That’s my daughter.’
‘You’re clearly in no shape to look after her, never mind talk to her. So kindly get off my property before I call the police.’
The man muttered some unkind words that Greta would’ve scolded Shivani for repeating. Then he stumbled down the porch stairs. Greta slammed the door shut.
At 6pm, five months, two weeks, and three days later, and 24 hours since the unsolicited visit her father had paid, Shivani knocked on the red Victorian wood. It swung open on its hinges, revealing an assortment of green, leafy things scattered over the timber floor. One half of the ginormous white pot, with the intricate floral carvings Shivani loved so much was missing. The remaining half was skyward, resting on the now soiled rug. The smell of charcoal chicken permeated the air.
The smoke alarm beeped in response.
She ran to the kitchen. Eyes focused ahead, she didn’t notice Greta on the floor, pooled in her own blood. Shivani tripped over the corpse, face first into the woodwork.
‘Ow, for fu-’ Greta would have scolded her for that if she wasn’t lying dead on the floor. She took in the splatters of crimson decorating the floor. Greta lay with chunks of hair clustered around her head; innards exposed. Shivani peeled herself from the floor and ran to the sink, spilling up the dinner Greta had made for her the day before.
‘It was an accident.’
Her father emerged from the pantry holding out a dripping red knife.
Shivani took note of her father’s bloodshot eyes. Instinctively, she took a step back. And then another.
He kept coming closer, each step in tandem with hers. ‘She said I should stop coming by and I just-’ He tried to make sense of the things around him, but he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move the way he wanted. Teeth chattering, body twitching, he advanced towards her.
Shivani took another step back as she stared directly into his bloodshot eyes. She flailed her arm behind her, desperately feeling for the landline. She kept walking back and felt a crunch beneath her feet. The phone was in pieces.
‘Fuck,’ Shivani whispered.
Greta couldn’t scold her now.
Author: Jordan is an emerging teacher/moonlighting author. She has yet to pick a genre speciality, and is hoping publishing something will help with her inspiration.
Artist: Zoe Hawker is a multi-disciplinary student artist working with sculpture, installation, and painting. Her self-reflexive practice aims to decode the absurdities of our current culture.
Editors: Bea Warren and Breeh Botsford