Author: Highway Unicorn PM
An Australian woman must face the backlashes of society, nature, men, and her role as a woman. Traveling through historical events, she learns what it means to be a woman in a world controlled by men. Only part one of this novel is posted. Adult subjects such as racism, women suppression, and cruelty to fellow humans. Part one is set in Australia, 1901 through 1908.Rated: Fiction M - English - Western - Chapters: 11 - Words: 31,520 - Reviews: 124 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 16 - Updated: 01-24-13 - Published: 08-25-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3053380
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
By C. N. Gordon
Part 1.2/ Australia 1902
Chapter V/ A War's Toll
The drought entered the South, the war ended, and Pa was declared dead in 1901.
I remember waiting day after day in the hot breezes for him to show up. Imagined him to have a scruffy beard, long hair, and tired eyes. But his smile, it would be there 'cause we would be reunited. Took me 'bout a year to realize that I would never see that smile.
That day, the day I figured he was as good as gone, was as ordinary as it gets for most others, but for me it felt as if somebody was trying to cut my kidney out with a dull butter knife. Always slicing, never thinking 'bout what it would do to me.
It began with me heading off to Mary-Ellen's in the early rays of light, 'fore Uncle and Aunt got up. They thought I was up to no good by visiting her, always saying that it be best that I stay home and learn stuff 'bout cleaning and cooking. Mary said differently.
Already had my day planned out, same plan like all the other days: learn stuff about being a real lady from Mary, go to the mail carrier's shop to see if any news 'bout Pa showed up, then go home. It was simple and easy. Hopeful.
Since it got hotter 'cause of the drought, I started wearing shoes. Couldn't run around with bare feet when the ground's cooked. Mary also said that it wasn't smart to walk bare foot no more.
Most of the town was waking up by the time I reached Mary's house, men stretching out long limbs as they passed by me towards the fields. Busted through her doors, that I did, and was welcomed with her sitting in her favorite chair. Was this worn thing, this chair, but she said it was mighty comfy- well, didn't say mighty, cause that wasn't formal. She always corrected the way I said things, and I guess it started to rub off on me after a while, at least whenever I talked to somebody else I made sure to talk better. A lot of people noticed, saying I was smarter than I looked.
It felt nice to be considered smart, but Mary-Ellen said I had a ways to go before I was real smart. Didn't mind though; was willing to wait if it meant I could be free.
She glanced up at me from her spot in the chair, smiled and said, "Good morning, Alice. Please start reading this book aloud." Her head nodded towards her little wooden table that had an old looking book, black cover and thick as a small branch.
"What is it?" I asked, closing the door behind me and walking up to the table. My fingers touched the backbone of the leather book, nails making low scratching sounds against its binding.
"A book, like I've already said. Open and begin reading it to me." Her order was swifter than usual, almost cold.
I opened the book up and whiffed in the dry smell of old papers. First time ever reading a book on my own.
Had a picture of a rabbit in it, very first page and there was a picture. Remembered her saying that not all books had pictures, only the lucky ones did. Glanced up at her, mighty hesitant I was, not knowing when to start.
"Go on," she said after watching me stare at her like a bullfrog with wide eyes. "Read."
I felt saliva slide down my dry throat, tongue clicking as my mouth opened up and the words slowly slithered out. "Alice was b-be-genany—"
"Beginning, Alice, be-gin-ning."
"B-beginning to get very tired of, of sitting by her sister." Took a deep breath after that portion and frowned as I glanced at the rest of the sentence. It was awfully long.
"Continue," Mary-Ellen ordered me, and I shot her a stare. I didn't like it, her new method. She usually sat by me, reading the words to me first before making me repeat. I was on the spot, reading to her without help. I didn't like it.
"On the b-aynke—"
"Bank. And of hav-having nothing to do." This continued 'til I finished up to the third chapter, down to the last word of the twenty-first page. Took me long enough too; almost two hours 'fore midday.
"You did alright, Alice, not good, but alright," Mary said as she took the book from my damp hands. "Did you enjoy it?"
"No." I spat the word out.
"And why is that?" She questioned me with interested eyes, sitting back down and folding her hands together.
"It was hard reading it, stupid really." My face grew hot when she quietly laughed at me, patting her lap and sighing afterwards. Got me real upset the way she laughed at me, like I was this stupid donkey put up for display at the carnival. My hands balled up quickly.
"Oh dear," she said with a smile, "I understand that you must be frustrated, but trust me, with a little extra practice you'll plow through those words in no time."
"Don't wanna read it again, ever," I said in response, crossing my arms and digging my nails into my sides.
"Now listen here young lady, you won't get very far with that attitude. Do you honestly think that throwing a fit will do anything when things don't go your way, hmm?"
I opened my mouth to answer, but my voice was silent. She saw this and smiled once again.
"Besides having trouble reading it, did you enjoy the plot of it so far?"
I blinked, twice - no, three times. My mind came to a blank trying to figure out that word, plot. Plot, I remembered hearing it 'fore, but I just couldn't figure what it meant.
"You seem a bit confused, Alice," Mary-Ellen said slowly, arching her brows. "Do you not understand my question? Foolish, you should; I've already taught you what words like plot mean. Now, answer my question and be quick about it."
Took a long breath, clamped my eyes shut, and forced my mind to swim around 'til it found its answer. It's 'bout a girl, I thought, a girl named Alice who left her home to go to this strange place. But did I like that?
Did I like the fact that this girl, same name as I, got to leave - well, it wasn't really leaving on purpose, more accident, but it's still the same concept. She didn't like it at her home, got awfully bored she did. So she followed some rabbit and found a new place, a strange place.
"I," I said slowly, eyes going wide as I stared at the old woman, "liked it, yes."
Cocking her head, Mary replied with, "And what about the plot do you like?"
"Liked how she got to leave to a better place -" I began to explain, but Mary was quick to cut me off.
"But is it truly a better place, Alice?" she asked. "This child, almost the same age as you, left her home simply because she wanted to chase a rabbit. And by that action, she found herself in Wonderland, this strange and new world where there aren't any rules or labels for women."
"I…" Couldn't really comment on what she just said, 'cause I didn't even see that when reading it. Why was she getting so worked up over this story? Why did it even matter to me if some girl left?
"Alice, listen to me," Mary said in a whisper. "You can leave, just like this Alice did. You don't have to stay here and suffer." Took a step back from her, heart a pounding. Didn't like what she was saying.
"You mean leave Adam?" I asked, hoping that was just it. All I wanted was to be away from him, but there was still a part of me that wanted to stay with Grandpa, Aunt Victoria, and the boys, as well as wait for Pa.
"I mean leave Australia," she said slowly, lips pursing up after the last syllable. Began to shake my head at her as she continued on. "Alice, understand that leaving this town will mean a real life for you, where you can become a real woman -"
"No," I said. "I have to stay and wait for Pa. I, I can't just leave, leave my family. I have to wait for Pa." My voice grew weaker as the words continued to pour from my mouth, little whines that meant nothing to her, but everything to me. I found my back to her door, hand clutching the door knob.
"Alice, wait -"
"No!" I screamed. It was the first time I ever rose my voice to her. Ran out after that, leaving her door wide open as I darted down the dusty street. Didn't look where I was going; just stared at the ground and forced my legs to move.
Don't know how long I ran, enough so that my lungs hurt and my brow was covered in sweat. If I could of, I would of ran until my feet bled and Death whisked me up in his cold arms. Neither happened.
Ran into Cullah Michelson though, right into his long legs. He was a nice boy, never doing anything wrong and always there to give a hand. Use to play with me and Umoreo, but we grew apart after Umoreo left.
"Why you running, Alice?" he asked with a smile as he placed his hands on my shoulders to straighten me up. Bit down on my lip, I did, and he just gazed down at me. He knelt after a long moment, green eyes staring into mine. "What's the matter?"
"It's not fair," I muttered under my breath, but he heard me. His lips grew firm, smile fading quickly.
"What happened, Alice. You can tell me." He was cooing me on, trying to make me talk. He was one of the only men I could trust anymore; him and Grandpa. Felt right to tell him what Uncle told me to keep quiet.
"Adam trying to make me his wife and Mary-Ellen is telling me to give up on my Pa," I said with tears forming. Crying in front of Cullah wasn't too bad, 'cause he was a real man - well, not a man 'cause Grandpa said no sixteen-year-old could be a man yet, but he was still pretty manly in my eyes. He wiped away my tears and cupped my cheek.
"Alice," he said slowly, "what you talking 'bout?" Told him what I overheard, and how Uncle started making me follow around Aunt Victoria. Told him everything, and he would nod, frown and widen his eyes.
"And I don't wanna be his wife, Cullah, I just don't wanna," was the last I had to say about the matter. He blinked, pressed his dry lips to my forehead, and mumbled something.
"Not going to let him," he said against my skin. "You don't need a hateful man like him in your life." The only response I had for that was to hug him around his neck, pressing my chin into his shoulder. He hugged back.
We crouched down there for a while, not caring what happened 'round us. He was the closest thing I had to Pa, what with the same brown locks and hard shoulders. But Cullah smiled more, a lot more.
Heard loud footsteps and cries from down the street. I pushed myself away from Cullah to get a better look, crooking my neck back. Saw men and women running into town and into buildings as fast as a coyote would chase its prey.
A large wave of dust was coming our way, engulfing the long and dried up plains with reddish-brown dirt. Felt Cullah's arms wrap around my waist as he hoisted me up, running in the opposite direction and into the nearest pub.
The doors slammed shut and everybody inside watched through the windows as the dust poured into town. It shook a little, the building, probably from the force of the storm. It was the third one that month.
"Not another God dammed dust storm!" Adam's voice growled from the back of the pub. Watched as he stormed up to the window, tapping his pale fingers against the glass. "Haven't done a good day's work with the cattle 'cause of all this dirt!"
"Sit down boy!" a voice hollered from the back, rough and raspy from years of smoking. Adam threw a glance back, taking a deep breath as he glared. Sat down after that, over in the corner with a few other cowboys playing cards.
Adam's Pa was the only man that he would take orders from. Wasn't hard to figure out why; the man was mighty scary, on the inside that is. On the outside, with his pale skin and dark blonde whisks of hair, he claimed to be a good Christian man, knowing what's right and what's wrong.
His soul was dark though. Pa even said it was full of hate and rage, knowing only how to do evil. I believed him 'cause any man who was the Pa of Adam must have been mighty bad.
He looked my way, Adam's Pa, and cocked his head. I stared back, eyes big and round. Tried to look away, but I couldn't; he held my stare like his lips held his cigarette. Cullah broke the stare, pulling me away and sitting me down.
He said, "Stay here, I'm going go talk to him and clear this all up, you hear?" Arched my brows at this, curious as to how he was going to do all this. Nobody clears anything up with Adam, nobody 'cept his Pa.
Watched as my friend turned around and headed off towards the corner, but not towards Adam. Scooting over to the edge of my seat, I watched as Cullah approached the older blonde who only glanced up and smirked.
"What you want boy?" said Adam's Pa.
"To talk 'bout Alice," Cullah said in a clear voice, that caused most of the pub to quiet down, especially where Adam was sitting.
Plucking his cigarette from between his teeth, Adam's Pa said, "It's Mr. Jones." Cullah only stayed quiet after that, probably confused 'bout what he was getting at. "Either refer to me as 'sir' or 'Mr. Jones,' you understand me boy?"
"Yes," Cullah said sharply, "sir."
"Well," Mr. Jones said with a huge smile, "what about Alice do you wanna talk about?" From the corner of my eye, I saw Adam rise from his seat.
"I want to talk 'bout what your boy is doing to her, sir," Cullah said, shifting his weight over to his right leg. Mr. Jones eyed him for a while after that, one brow raised high and fingers rolling his tobacco.
"And what exactly is my boy doing to Alice?" Mr. Jones said slowly. Adam started heading towards the scene. Turned to glare at him, who only smiled back at me. Put his hand on the top of my head, patting me like I was his dog.
"Your friend there going get in some trouble if he don't shut his trap," Adam whispered it harshly in my ear. He straightened himself up after that, but kept by my side, hand still clinging into my hair.
Cullah continued on explaining what I told him, 'bout how Adam told my Uncle how he was going marry me and all that stuff. Mr. Jones would nod his head occasionally, and even rub his nose.
"Ah, I see," Mr. Jones said as he arose from his seat. "You're saying that my boy is doing no good by marrying Alice, right?"
"Yes, sir," Cullah answered. "Isn't right what your boy is doing. Needs to keep away from her and stop pestering the Anderson family."
Mr. Jones placed his hand on my friend's shoulder and sighed to himself. "You just a kid," he said quietly. "A kid that don't know shit about the real world. How about you just stop butting in on things that don't concern you, you hear?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I just can't do that," Cullah responded as he shrugged the man's hand off. Felt a relief on my head as Adam let go and began to walk up to the two, slow like how a cat would stalk a mouse.
His eyes were wide.
Adam gripped Cullah's shoulders, forcing his arms to his sides. Mr. Jones smirked and said, "Listen hear, all of ya! My boy is a good man, I'm a good man, all of us Jones's are good men and women. The Andersons, as y'all know, they aren't the ripest apples on the tree! But look, right there sitting in that chair!"
His bony finger pointed straight at me. I felt nauseous as all eyes twisted away from Cullah to me. My fists balled up and my heart began to pound against my rib cage, begging to be let free from all this.
"That girl, little ole Alice, is a victim, she is!" Mr. Jones cried out in a powerful voice. He always had such a strong voice, just like the priest over in the other town. They were good friends, the priest and Mr. Jones.
Continued to say, "She's growing up with tainted blood, blood of a convicted man! And to make matters worse, she a girl! Ain't nobody gonna wanna marry her with that bad blood, you know that!" He slowly flicked his index finger up, towards his boy. "Adam, though, don't think like that. He a good boy, follows God he does!"
"Yes sir!" Adam added with a click of his tongue. Watched as he shook Cullah a little, laughing after my friend stumbled forward. The gleam from a lit candle bounced off his gun and hit my eye. I started to get scared.
"And you," Adam's Pa said slowly as he turned to face Cullah, "you have the nerve to speak ill of my boy. He gone and done nothing to you." I jumped out from my seat as soon as Mr. Jones hand gripped his neck, pulling him in.
My heart was just 'bout ready to pound straight through my bone and flesh.
"What my son does to this girl here don't matter to you, so stay out of it or you'll end up like that black man - in a hole out there where nobody gives a damn." His rattlesnake like voice traveled to my ears, causing my legs to go soft like the honey from 'em bees. I hit the floor, my arms constricting my belly from the nauseous pain that seemed to reach its peak.
Watched from the floor as Adam pulled Cullah back, dragging him by the arm towards the door. My friend struggled, kicked, and he screamed. Hollered the same words that Grandpa said when he was angry.
"You some fucking disgusting man!" Cullah screamed as Adam kicked the door open with his leather boot. Dust blew in, dry and hot from being cooked in the sun. Other cowboys joined in, helping Adam push the boy out.
A loud thump was heard, followed by a fit of coughs. The doors were closed and the room became dimmed once more. Adam's Pa was fast to my side, kneeling down and smirking a yellowed version of his son's white smile.
"What's wrong, girl?" he asked in a sweet voice, liked he actually cared. "Did your friend go and sour up your day?"
Didn't respond to him; just stared right at his stained teeth. My breath was forced from my nostrils, and my stomach continued to clench. The noises from the cowboys and patrons filled my ears as life returned back to normal around us.
"How about you just stop seeing them type of people, Alice," he said quietly as his finger poked my collarbone. "They're no good sinners. Sinners need to receive their punishment, just like your Pa." That caught my attention.
My eyes connected with him and my brows lowered. He said, "Wanna know a secret?" He leaned in real close, lips inches away from my ear. "Your Pa screwed me over once," felt his lips curl up into a smile against my cheek, "now I'm going to screw him over by ruining you."
He stood up from that, leaving me on the floor like some helpless baby bird that just couldn't make it past the nest. Winked at me, he did, and returned back to his table.
All I wanted, at that exact moment, was to be in my father's arms. I wanted him to hold me, cradle me, tell me those lies 'bout how everything was gonna be fine in the morning.
But he wasn't there.
He was gone. He left me alone.
This was my punishment for having been born his daughter.
All work by C. N. Gordon (FictionPress id. 860227) is copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.