Good Reading : October 2007
arrived earlier. Instead, she turned to the rainbow- edged mirror in the hallstand. From her bonnet she loosened a pin which was digging into her scalp, and dabbed the sheen of perspiration from her upper lip.Then heard a tap of shoes on the polished boards of the hall and Ellen’s quick breath. She smoothed a strand of hair behind an ear, then brushed her hands down the pleats of her skirt before turning slowly to Ellen. Rosalind’s shadow shifted across the kitchen-maid, then to the long hall behind as Ellen approached. Ellen squinted in the glare of light from the doorway and held out the picnic hamper. Rosalind stared at her. She stared at the dull brown hair pinned untidily under a cap, at the white apron with yellow ironing stains on it, at the bulge beneath the waistband of the apron. She held out her hand for the hamper, but placed her hand over Ellen’s on the wicker handle instead.They held the hamper together for a frozen moment, staring at each other. ‘It’s Stuart’s, isn’t it?’ Ellen’s mouth opened and her head quivered; she blinked. ‘The baby?’ Rosalind’s voice was a grunt. Again a silent stare.Then a swift nod. Ellen’s eyes wide and glassy as basins of blue water. Rosalind looked down. Her nostrils flared. Her bottom lip pulled down at a corner.Then she released Ellen’s hand, and Ellen dropped the hamper. ‘Oh, Mam, I’m …’ Rosalind bent to the picnic. She flipped open the bamboo-hinged lids blindly, and blindly straightened the packages of beef-and- pickle sandwiches, the jumbled apples and pears, the bruised orange cake. She laid the bottle of claret – which was always included in the hamper, but never drunk – parallel with the bottle of ginger beer, making the bottles support the orange cake. When she spoke she stood erect, her voice controlled. ‘You’ll be looked after, don’t worry. Now … I’d like you to go back to the kitchen.Tell my husband when he comes in that I don’t know what time we will be back.’ Ellen’s face was blank with fear. Her skin was taut beneath winged cheek- bones. Her lids closed and opened again like a lizard’s. ‘Yes, Mam.’ Rosalind went upstairs for the last time. She stood in her children’s bed- room and looked at their silky-oak wardrobe, at the silky-oak bed with its swathe of white net draped from the tester above, at the ornate fanlight, and the French doors leading out to a veranda overlooking the chestnut Fitzroy River.The spring light, caught in the mosquito net, made the room luminous; but all she could smell was old polish and dust. She picked up the leather suitcases and stood them in the hall. She went to the room she had shared with Stuart. She looked for a long time at the bed. Eventually she moved to a bookcase against the south wall. She ran a finger along identical leather- bound copies of the works of Dickens, then paused at Great Expectations. She plucked out the book. Inside, the pages had been carved out, neatly, leaving a hollow within the margin of the first and last words of each line. In the hollow were 100 pound notes. She took out the notes and unfolded them from their rubber band. She had counted them only once before – when she had first discovered them, looking for a new book to read. Now she counted them quickly, with a growing sense of panic. If he had … But he hadn’t. One hundred pound notes were there. They took a coach to the Rockhampton railway station. Mrs Killaire and her sons journeyed by train to Bundaberg.They disembarked there. Mrs Patterson and her sons boarded a different carriage, for the trip from Bundaberg to Brisbane. ‘Great Expectations’ is taken from Crushed Sugar, a collection of short stories and poems by Tracey-Anne Forbes. Born in Brisbane, Forbes has lived in Scotland, England and France as well as many places in Queensland. She holds an arts degree and teaching diploma from the University of Queensland, and currently teaches part- time at a Brisbane TAFE college. Crushed Sugar is published by the independent Canberra publisher Ginninderra Press, rrp $22.95. 52 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2007 BOOKBITE She ran a finger along identical leatherbound copies of the works of Dickens, then paused at Great Expectations. She plucked out the book. Inside, the pages had been carved out, neatly.