Gail

Gail

The Summer I met Gail was one of the hottest on record. At night, when Mum watched the Tele, I could hear people arguing about the weather, blaming the heat on global warming. Maybe they were right, I didn’t know. All I knew was it was hot. The kind of hot that stifled breath, the kind that dried sweat before it reached your skin and left you a thirst that couldn’t be slaked. The kind that made me grateful I was on one of the few properties that still had a waterhole.

It wasn’t our property. We were spending the summer with Mum’s sister. Auntie Kathy was what Mum calls ‘up the duff’ and the nearest hospital was eight hours away. The usual procedure would be to rent a room in the city for the last month or so, where she could get help quickly in an emergency. But, what with the drought and all, she and Uncle Mike decided they couldn’t afford it. So Mum, a nurse, told Auntie Kathy we were coming to stay, so she could help deliver the baby when it came due.

I didn’t mind. It got me out of school and away from the fumes of the city, and it gave me a chance visit with Leo and Tony, my cousins. But I simply could not get used to the suffocating heat. On the day in question I decided I just couldn’t stand it any more. I needed to cool down and I knew exactly how to do it. I approached the twins with my idea and they quickly agreed.

Unfortunately, what we wanted to do was strictly against the rules without an adult present, so we began by buttering up our mums. Auntie Kathy was too tired to be suspicious, but Mum knew something was up as soon as we offered to milk the goat and feed the chooks. She couldn’t figure out what it was, though, so she reluctantly let it slide.

After taking care of the animals, we settled in to await Uncle Mike’s departure. His horse was saddled in the yard, so it must be nearly time. Uncle Mike was one of those die hard farmers who still used horses for mustering, because he was afraid to ride a motorbike. It wasn’t long before he emerged from the kitchen, screwing up his face as he skulled a glass of milk. Uncle Mike hated goats’ milk but his cattle were beefers, not dairy, so the goat provided the family’s milk and cheese while performing the additional service of cropping the grass near the house. Before the drought killed it all, that is.

We waited impatiently for Uncle Mike’s departure, then took off faster than bush mutton that’s caught the scent of a pig dog. We were headed for the watering hole, and it wasn’t long before it was in our sights. We raced to the edge and stripped off before belly bombing into the water. We horsed around a bit, splashing each other and shoving each other under. There was an old tree nearby with a branch overhanging the water, and we had some fun swinging out and letting go, landing with a huge splash that soaked our clothes.

As it started getting late, we began to worry about the hiding we were in for when we got back. Tony reckoned we’d be in less trouble if we brought back some dinner. Leo suggested catching some yabbies.

“Dontcha need a pot for that?” Tony asked.

I shrugged. “How about fish?” I asked.

We all agreed that was doable and started searching for the materials to make a rod. Tony found a straightish twig under the tree and stripped off a few dead leaves. I pulled the rope tie from my shorts and tied one end to the twig and the other to the hook Leo had made from an old bit of wire he found.

“What’re we gunna do for bait?” I asked.

We spent some time searching unsuccessfully for worms until Leo gave a shout.

“How about this?” he asked, holding up a huge spider. It was waving its legs and snapping its fangs, trying to take a piece out of Leo’s hand. I backed up dubiously.

“Worth a try, I guess,” said Tony.

Tony and Leo attempted to thread the spider onto the hook without getting bitten. They almost succeeded, too. But at the last minute, the bugger got away, sinking it’s fangs into Tony’s finger before disappearing into the leaf litter.

“Shit!” said Leo, staring at Tony’s bleeding finger. “You reckon it was poisonous?”

“Dunno,” I said. “We’d better get him back so Mum can take a look.”

We held the twig against Tony’s arm and I tied my shirt tightly around it like Mum had shown me. Then we trudged quickly back to the house.

Just as we were approaching home, we heard a blood curdling scream.

“What the bloody hell was that?” whispered Leo.

“It sounded like your Mum,” I whispered back.

He paled. “Maybe she’s in some kind of trouble. You reckon we should call the cops?”

“Service is out, remember?” I said.

“Shit. I forgot. Bloody Telstra. We better sneak around and have a look.”

Leaving Tony in the yard, we snuck around the side of the house and in through the kitchen door. We froze in shock.

Auntie Kathy was squatting starkers on the kitchen floor, supported by Mum, who was craning her neck, trying to see underneath Auntie Kathy without dropping her in a heap. She looked up as we came through the door.

“Where the bloody hell have you been?” she snapped, “Never mind. Henry, you come take over from me. Leo, you take the other side. Now, boys!”

We did as we’d been told, keeping Auntie Kathy on her feet, while she screamed and swore worse than a stockhand. Mum kneeled on the floor and examined Auntie Kathy properly, murmuring encouragement at the same time.

As time passed, Tony got nervous and crept in to see what was happening. At that exact moment, Mum looked up and said “Almost there, Kath. I can see the head. I need a big push, now. That’s it. You’re doing great. Now, one more for the shoulders. C’mon girl, you can do it!” Suddenly Mum’s hands were full of a slippery, wiggly, purple mess. A second later, we heard a tiny cry, like a kitten’s meow.

Auntie Kathy slumped back against the wall, still labouring with the afterbirth, while Mum cleaned up the tiny bundle she held, then weighed it on the kitchen scales. Tony, who’d decided the spider wasn’t poisonous after all, moved over to help his mum. For a moment I was at a loss what to do, but it wasn’t long before Mum returned with orders to hold the baby while she tended my Aunt.

I sat down and Mum handed me the baby, showing me how to support her neck and keep her safe. I held my cousin’s tiny fist in my hand and looked into her ugly, wrinkly little face. I couldn’t look away.

Mum gazed at the awe in my eyes.

“Meet Gail,” she said.

Gail

Treecreeper

Park Avenue, Australia

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Artist's Description

This was written for the Zodiac13 competition in the ‘Short Stories – Spherical Scripting’ group. Every one of the zodiac signs is referenced in this story, though I admit some of the references are a little obscure.

Why not see if you can find them all. Consider it a mini challenge if you like!

Artwork Comments

  • Alison Pearce
  • Treecreeper
  • Damian
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