I was eight.
It was the Christmas holidays which meant Nana and Pop’s house. Nana was blind and Pop – well when they retired him from working at the mine he went home to bed. Literally. Stayed there for years. Nana and Pop had two daughters. Rita was the oldest, and Edna, the baby of the family.
Since I could remember I had lived with Auntie Rita. We were just the two of us – her husband had been killed and she had no children. Dad came down once every few weeks for a visit to Bellambi, he stayed for the weekend then went back to his life.
Christmas holidays (in Australia they are for 6 weeks from December until February) were spent in the Campsie (a suburb in Sydney) house of my Dad’s parents. I loved those holidays, for my Auntie Ed fascinated me. She had never married, but stayed on looking after her aged, and infirm, parents. But Auntie Ed was a firecracker.
Not much taller than me as an eight-year-old, that woman was full to the brim of EVERYTHING.
As usual I was wiping the dishes after dinner when there was a knock at the door and Auntie Ed got me to go to answer it. I am not sure if it was intentional on their part. Maybe they didn’t know she was coming that night. That seems more likely to me – neither of my aunts were ever intentionally cruel to anyone, especially me. And looking back – letting me answer that door, ignorant, would have been cruel if it was done intentionally.
A woman was standing in the porch. But it wasn’t her that drew my attention. In front of her was the biggest doll I had ever laid eyes on. It was almost as tall as I was. It took all of two seconds to want that doll with every fibre in me.
I never took my eyes off it as the lady asked to speak to one of my aunts. And it was painful to walk away from the door to get one of them.
What if she left and took that doll with her?
In truth I was never a covetous child. I didn’t have a lot in the way of toys and games, but that never bothered me. The only thing I can ever remember asking for until then was a sewing box. Things were just not that important – not then – not now.
But it was as if I was joined to that doll by some thread of possessiveness. Oh how I envied whoever that doll actually belonged to.
“Auntie Ed, ” I said.
“Yes,” she was still washing up, so in hindsight I guess she was oblivious to who was standing at the front door.
“There’s a lady at the door to see you. She has a really big doll with her.”
I wasn’t intuitive at eight, so if there were undercurrents going round I usually missed them, but only a dead person could have missed the undercurrents in that house after I made that statement.
I was ushered into the bedroom that I shared with Auntie Rita when we stayed, and given a book to read. My aunts weren’t silly, put my nose in a book and I was a goner for hours. Auntie Rita was hauled out of the room. Auntie Ed might be small but she was strong.
I don’t remember how long I stayed there, once I was in a book, time became irrelevant.
“Joanne,” Auntie Ed was at the door. “Come with me will you?”
In the dining room the lady was seated, still holding the doll. She smiled as I walked in. Auntie Rita stood near her, as if she was making sure she didn’t make off with the family silver. Auntie Ed’s hand was gripping my shoulder, squeezing the blood out of it it felt like.
I looked from one to the other.
“Joanne,” Auntie Ed was the only one doing any talking. “This is your mother.”
Well that sure got my eyes off the doll…