CALL A SPADE A SPADE by Kingsley Allen
A short story touching on the snakes and ladders in this game of life.
Beth looked over her shoulder as she pulled the shirt through the wringer. Through the small rectangle of the laundry window she could see Todd playing happily in the sandpit.
She smiled. The smile faded as she thought of the sandpit. Todd’s grandpa had built it.
Beth had actually started making it. She’d dug the hole, lined it with thick black plastic and then…. and then grandpa had taken over.
“That’s no good girlie,” he’d said. “You might do that in the city. But nothing lasts in the city. Out here in the bush we still do things properly”
So grandpa had taken over. Just as everything else Beth appreciated, loved, dreamt about had been taken over, belittled or devalued by Geoff’s family.
She’d met Geoff when he’d come to the city to study agricultural science and happened to board next door to where Beth lived with her parents, her brothers and sisters. She’d been attracted to his quiet ways. Still waters run deep, she’d been told. It had become her mission to bring the inner man to the surface. When sex came into the equation everything else just didn’t seem to matter. When Geoff had finished his degree and wanted to go back to the farm, Beth had gone along with the idea of marriage.
Her mother had taken her aside and advised her to think very carefully about what she was doing. Her two uncles from Queensland happened to be visiting when the engagement was announced. “He’s not your type Beth,” Uncle Clem had said.
“You’re still a kid,” Uncle Dave had added, “find out about life before you commit.”
But Beth had been stubborn. She was going to be the best wife ever.
So they’d gotten married in the squat stone church on a dusty Saturday afternoon. It was a dry wedding, as dry as the landscape, as dry as the years to come.
Beth had tried to fit in. She’d listened to the family history, tried to empathize with the vagaries of life on the land and, fool that she was, tried to bring a bit of the city to the country.
When she’d worn a snazzy little outfit to the tennis club cabaret there’d been raised eyebrows among the women and nudges and words cupped behind hands from the men. Geoff had warned her and said, “I told you so.”
She had felt so upset that she had almost burst into tears as they headed back to the farm. Even the stars overhead seemed hard and cold.
One night Beth and Geoff invited his parents and his brothers and their spouses over for a meal. Beth had gone all out and prepared a lovely three course Mediterranean style meal, which she had presented beautifully.
It had been a disaster. Although politely received it became obvious that good plain simple fare was the way to go with good honest farming folk. Geoff’s mother had advised, as they did the dishes in the kitchen, that if Beth wanted to be a good wife to Geoff, then she would have to let her city ways go. Beth held back the sobs that threatened to burst into the harsh glare of the kitchen light.
And then along came Todd, the one thing that gave her joy enough to put up with the isolation, the misery and the boredom.
As Todd grew, Geoff’s family immersed him in the lore of the land. He was going to be a local, even if his mother was a misfit. Beth, on the other hand told him stories, sang him songs, held him close, encouraged in him a sense of wonder.
She looked out the window again. There he was happily playing with the green plastic bucket and spade that she’d bought him. Leaning against the fence was the large spade grandpa had used to deepen and widen the hole Beth had begun.
Grandpa, being a jack of all trades, had also soldered together a home made metal bucket and spade. Beth had really put her foot down over that one though. “It’s way too heavy. He’s four years old. The plastic bucket and spade I bought him will do fine. Thank you very much, ” she added.
Beth had been thinking of leaving, taking Todd and going back to the city and starting a new life. But then, wouldn’t you know it, she’d missed her period. She figured she was about six weeks pregnant. And so here she was, in a hot laundry, barefoot in a pair of baggy overalls, using a washing machine that should be in a museum.
She was aware of rivulets of sweat trickling between her breasts. The only sensual thing likely to happen to me today she thought. God I’m getting grim.
Then she felt something flick her foot. It wasn’t unpleasant. It felt like a soft warm tickle. She looked down. She gasped. There coiled near her foot was a brown snake. She watched, unable to move as its tongue flickered out and licked her foot. What could she do? If she moved, the snake would probably bite. She shuddered. What would a born and bred in the bush country girl do?
Of course! The spade. She turned her upper body and called out. “Todd. Todd darling.”
Todd looked up from under a thatch of blonde hair. “What mummy?”
“Todd bring mummy the spade please.”
Beth turned back and looked down. The sight and feel of the snake licking her foot was sickening.
‘’Mummy here it is.” Beth looked up. There was Todd framed by the light pouring through the open doorway. In his hand was the spade, the green plastic spade that mummy had bought him!