My response to one of my own writing prompts, ‘So, do you want to do something for the weekend?’, is this extract from Keepers where Maggie treats Raine to a visit to Luna Park. It’s her birthday present, but they went on the weekend. Honest!
‘I’m paying for Raine.’ Maggie squeezed ahead of Faye and pushed a pile of coins across the ticket counter. ‘Two please.’
Raine shrugged at Faye. ‘You can buy me fairy floss.’
A beaming Maggie presented Raine with her ticket. ‘Happy birthday!’ She took hold of Raine’s arm and steered her through the entrance.
‘Perfect day, huh?’ Maggie glanced up to where white clouds meandered, aerial sheep in a pale blue field of winter sky. ‘Ordered it ’specially.’
‘Thank you!’ Raine laughed.
The chivvying breeze held an edge of warmth which appeared to stoke the cheeriness of the lively crowd around them. Raine let the warmth brush her face, wondering if she should have worn her lighter jacket. The other members of the group straggled in – Doris and her pea-in-a-pod younger sister Dotty gazing around with the eagerness of puppies in a room full of bones; Teddy leaning by a signpost which pointed the way to the toilets, his hands in his pockets, hair slicked back, pretending nonchalance; Arthur beside him, eyes on Maggie, waiting for her command to let the fun begin; and Alf, saying something to Teddy, who glanced at Raine.
Raine blushed and looked away, towards a billboard proclaiming fortune telling by ‘authentic Romany gypsy, Madame Zola’. She studied the black and gold-bordered sign showing a crystal ball reflecting the long, luminous eyes of a mysterious turbaned woman. Know your fortune! the board assured potential customers. Past (past?), Present and Future!
Maggie nudged Raine’s shoulder. ‘Shall we go and find out what handsome, rich lover boy we’re going to marry?’
Raine shook her head, laughing again. ‘Don’t know I want to marry any handsome, rich lover boy, at least not yet.’
Maggie sniggered. ‘It’s all rubbish, anyhow. Fun though. We should do it. Know what’s in store for us.’
Raine’s thoughts went to Pop and her laughter turned to a sigh. She didn’t want to know what was in store for her. ‘Not today, not on my birthday. Next time, huh?’
Maggie squinted, nodded, and clapped her hands to bring the party to attention. ‘Everyone here? Let’s go have fun!’
Alf appeared at Raine’s side, offering her his arm. ‘May I accompany you on the ferris wheel, Birthday Girl?’
‘Thanks, Alf.’ Raine was happy to ride the giant wheel with Alf. He was safe, steady, someone who could be trusted not to swing the boat, not to terrify her.
Alf handed Raine into the seat and squeezed in beside her. Raine wriggled at the closeness, smiled as Alf’s ears turned pink and held tight to the safety bar when the ferris wheel slowly curled upwards. Their boat was never quite in the right position to stop at the top of the wheel. Two below, three below. Once, disappointingly, only one below. Top or not, the view was astounding. Out across the sparkling gulf, the ballooning white sails of dinghies suggested a more forceful breeze than the one ruffling the hats of the men and women strolling the sands immediately below. Barefoot children shrieked at the breaking waves chilling their sandy toes, while seagulls screeched above, beside and below Raine’s boat, diving for food morsels squandered by the sauntering crowd.
Faye and Charlie were ahead, teetering at the pinnacle.
‘Heights not bother you?’ Alf said.
‘No. I don’t need to hang on to you like that.’ Raine pointed up at Faye, leaning into Charlie, her head in his shoulder. Raine giggled. ‘Not unless you want me to, of course.’ She batted her eyelids in mock flirtation and puzzled at the way Alf’s pink ears deepened to red.
Afterwards there was the carousel where Raine regally waved to Teddy and his mate Arthur who watched with mocking eyes, cigarettes dangling from their lips; there was sticky pink fairy floss with a sweetness to make Raine’s teeth ache; the shooting gallery, where Alf and Teddy won soft toys birthday-gifted to a giggling Raine; and chips in newspaper and tea in paper cups which had to be held by serviettes to avoid burnt fingers.
The bright afternoon dimmed. Raine wandered with Doris, Alf, Charlie and Faye to the end of the long jetty, Raine glad of her heavy jacket which had been a too-hot burden until now. Ahead, the sun dipped to the gulf’s rose and steel grey waters. When the group sauntered back, Raine looked towards the esplanade where yellow lamps and multi-coloured lights on tents and stalls poorly aped the sun’s daytime glow. She hoped her new friends would be fooled into believing the day wasn’t yet over and her contented fun could go on … and on.
She fell behind, leaning on the wooden railing to watch a fisherman reel in a wriggling streak of silver.
‘Having a good birthday?’ Alf was beside her.
‘Thank you, yes.’ Raine’s happiness was a bubbling, spurting fountain. She caught Alf’s arm and hugged it against her. ‘Perfect!’
Alf stiffened. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his captured arm. ‘May you have many more,’ he stuttered.
Raine imagined all those birthdays spread before her. The next one would be the best. Pop would be as hale as ever, once again the comforter and not the comforted. They would all be together, luxuriating in a house with perpendicular walls and horizontal ceilings somewhere in a smart new suburb. The kids would be thrilled with their friendly modern school and Raine would go on finding satisfaction in work. Maybe – probably because she could see Charlie ahead that the notion popped into her head – she might go back to school herself, get her matriculation, maybe more. Become a teacher like Charlie. Or a solicitor, like Mr Simmond. Raine knew of one or two female solicitors in the city. She spluttered a laugh at her flighty nonsense.
Alf laughed too and Raine let his imprisoned arm go, embarrassed at her impetuous gesture.
They caught up with the others just as Maggie was saying, ‘Roller coaster next.’ She pointed to the steel structure rising tall in the middle of the grounds.
‘At last!’ Raine clapped. ‘Thought we’d never get there!’
The screams of the monster’s patrons had been the background tune to the afternoon’s fun and Raine had constantly demanded to ride it. Maggie had mockingly scolded, ‘You have to wait. We do it last because it’s the best, most fantastic thrill and everything else is tame after the coaster.’
Finally, a rollercoaster ride to match Raine’s exuberant mood.
‘I’ll go with Lorraine. If you don’t mind, Lorraine?’ Teddy appeared from somewhere and propped himself in front of Raine. He contemplated her with the big-toothed grin he used when he seemed properly pleased about something.
Ride the roller coaster with Teddy? The idea brought Raine up short. She’d supposed she’d ride with Alf and she could scream and pretend to panic and Alf would understand and pretend to keep her safe.
Teddy? All at once the ride held dangers Raine couldn’t foresee. Where was Alf, to rescue her? He had gone – Teddy had sent him to buy drinks. And Raine couldn’t be a frightened baby now, not after all her nagging.
‘Why not?’ She gave Teddy a big grinning shrug to persuade him – or herself – she didn’t care who she went with. ‘What are we waiting for?’
There was a long queue.
It was Teddy’s turn to ask, ‘Good birthday, Lorraine?’
‘Absolutely! Your sister’s a gem.’
‘Hmm. Can also be a pain.’ His fond eyes softened the criticism. ‘Your sister seems nice. Pretty too.’
Raine humphed and Teddy snickered softly. ‘You’re pretty too, you know. In a different way. Less, what’s the word, less haughty, toffy, than your sister. Cute pretty rather than … elegant pretty.’
‘Thanks,’ Raine mumbled. Her exuberant mood deflated. Irritation prodded at her guts, together with the suspicion she’d had the time the boys walked her home from the bus stop, how Teddy was only tagging along because of Faye. Faye was a little way behind, talking to Charlie who bent his head close to Faye’s to listen above the coaster’s screaming riders. Surely even the arrogant, self-centred Teddy could see where Faye’s heart lay?
‘She and Charlie are a great pair, don’t you think?’ Raine stared up into Teddy’s eyes, all innocence. ‘He’s elegant too. Lovely manners, good education. He’s going to be a teacher, did you know? When he’s finished at the university.’ Raine brought up the big guns. ‘His family’s well-off. Big house in Toorak Gardens. His dad’s a lawyer, a barrister.’
‘Whew! Fancy! Ain’t we lucky to have his company.’
Raine listened for bitterness, jealousy. She found only a touch of sarcasm hedged with humour.
The queue moved forward and Teddy took Raine’s hand to help her into the steel car. ‘Is there a little brother for you, Lorraine?’
Raine bridled, made herself keep the joking tone going. ‘No idea, haven’t asked!’
The attendant checked the safety bar and moved to the next couple. Raine half turned to wave at Faye, a couple of rows behind. Charlie gave Raine a Churchillian victory sign and Raine returned it. The car jolted into motion … Raine’s stomach jolted with it. They picked up speed …
Raine couldn’t hear her own screams but her mouth was wide, lips stretched tight at the corners. The air pressed hard against the back of her throat.
She would die. She would tumble out of the car, skirt flapping around her head, mouth frozen in the silent scream, legs kicking, body bouncing off the steel girders to at last hit the ground which was now dizzyingly far now horrifyingly close. She gripped the safety bar so tight she should have dented the metal.
The car careened up a long slope, headlong to the top of the ride. A dark sky littered with stars rushed towards them. Raine would fly into those stars, revelling in the freedom of birds – before gravity imposed its deathly demands.
They reached the top. The car wavered. In the moment of heart-stopping stillness, Raine shot Teddy a sideways glance.
He didn’t have his mouth open in a silent scream, eyes screwed tight shut. His head was turned to Raine, eyes crinkled, a smile filling his face. The smile broadened at Raine’s glance and Raine knew Teddy was the only person in the world to ride a rollercoaster with. She shouted her exuberance into the starry sky – and they were hurtling to their deaths and Raine had left her stomach somewhere on the narrow track.
Raine clambered out of the car, stumbled off the low platform to the ground and was caught by Teddy. She leaned against him, her legs shaking and her belly full of butterflies. She laughed and laughed.
Afterwards, when she was telling Betty all about it and promising the kids she and Faye would take them some time, Raine remembered her promise to Maggie to visit Madame Zola the next time she went. She would do it.