Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New book--- The River Always Flows---Neil Coleman

The River Always Flows.

1

      When I think about how it could have been, I often cringe. It was so easy way back when there were endless holidays, long weekends and the odd day off school. The sun always seemed to be shining as I sat by the river, watching it flowing past the tree where I sat on an old chair that Mum had thrown out years ago. God forbid that I sit in it now; I doubt that it would hold me, even if it was still there, holding sway over the river bend.
      I used to imagine what lay just around the corner; pretending that a whole new world would open up to me, if only I could muster the courage to venture that far. It was forbidden territory; one that taunted me in my childhood. It was after all the river that had taken my dad away. No, he didn’t drown; although at times I wouldn’t have cared if he had. He simply packed his old suitcase with a few clothes and rowed away in the tiny rowing boat. My brothers and I were never allowed to use it. Dad always said that we were too young and that the river was treacherous. He used it to row across the river to visit our uncle on the farm opposite us.
      I was confused that he didn’t go in the other direction. That was where the nearest town lay; about two miles upriver, past the derelict factory that once served the district. There was a pathway along the river that meandered as far as the factory and we often played ‘war games’ there, shooting one another with arrows either shot from home-made bows or blown through pipes which we fashioned into crude blow-pipes. Neither weapon was particularly effective which was just well, because Mum’s wrath when we injured one another was not worth the fun of the game.
      When Dad left, my older brother tried to fill his place. He changed, from a fun guy, to a mean, foul-mouthed bully. He started to hit us, while Mum stood by, powerless to stop him. It wasn’t as if we had done anything to deserve the beatings. I will never forget the strange look in his eyes, as he raised a stick that he had cut from the bamboo grove near the river, before it came swishing down on whatever part of us he could hit. We tried yelling, crying, but he didn’t stop until it suited him. Mum’s only action was to keep us home from school for a few days.
      The beatings came to an end when one day, he too left us after he and Mum had a disagreement about money. She claimed that he had taken the ‘food money’ she kept in a tin above the fire place. We all knew it was there and even counted it for Mum from time to time. We also knew that our brother had changed in other ways.
      He had left the high school in the town when he was fifteen, a few months before Dad rowed away. Our neighbour took him on to help milk the cows for the ‘town supply,’ telling him that if he ‘did good,’ then a more substantial job was on offer. It was a sort of trial. It didn’t work out. The farmer came over one night, angry that my brother had ruined a whole day’s milk production by contaminating it with cow crap. He had been using the high pressure hose to clean up, without covering the holding tanks and the obvious happened; the shit hit the can as it were.
       A shouting match ensued, involving my mum, dad, brother and the farmer. The end result? ----my brother grabbed his worn-out old bag, filled it with his clothes and headed out the back door. The last I saw of him was his back, striding down the path towards town. It was soon after that Dad left too, leaving Mum, my little sister and me. What the hell were we going to do? Mum wasn’t a saver. We had always lived very much from payment to payment--- the ones that came every month from the milk company. I remember Mum saying that we could never save for a rainy day.
      With Dad and my brother gone, everything went pear-shaped. Dad had never managed to hold down a job in town for more than a few months. It would start off fine, then within weeks; he would start going in late or not at all. He and Mum used to argue, with their words getting harsher as they insulted one another. She would call him ‘a useless sack of shit,’ something that always made me wonder when I tried to visualize the possibility. Sometimes he hit her.
      That made me mad. Even as a twelve year old kid, I would fly at him; beating my little boy hands against his back. He would throw me off, like a piece of flotsam that had attached itself to his legs--- I couldn’t reach much higher.
      ‘I hate you, I hate you--- leave Mum alone!’ I screamed. It didn’t make any difference. He just ignored me and smacked Mum again, this time across the head. She fell, sobbing and curled up on the floor. Then he strode out the door, looking back at his handiwork and on to the pub. Just as well we couldn’t afford a car----he would have driven into the river. Mind you, that could have saved us from more of his nasty moods. I knew then, that I hated my Dad.
       After he left, Mum found a job at the supermarket in town. Her hours were strange; one day she would start at five in the morning, restocking the shelves, then the next, not until the afternoon and then she was on checkout duty. She liked that.  My job was to make sure that my little sister was fed and didn’t stay up too long.
      For a few short weeks, we began to believe that our lives were going to change; that we could ‘make plans’ as Mum like to say. Fat chance--- she blew it! After all of her bad words about Dad, she went and stuffed up. Mum had never been a ‘drinking person.’ I don’t remember ever seeing her drunk; not like Dad. Sure she had a few Shandys at Christmas and maybe on her birthday, but that was it. Now, she had some money and no Dad around to scrounge it from her, she had some sort of independence for the first time in years. 
      She met this bloke. He was a customer and he must have taken a shine to Mum. When Dad was in a good mood, sober and not pissing us off, I often heard him say that Mum was ‘a damned good looker.’ Well this bloke finally talked Mum into going to the pub with her for ’a’ drink. For someone like Mum, who had had a rotten time overall form Dad, this was new territory. She gave in and two hours later she was a pissed as a fart. She didn’t come home at all that night and even worse for her, she didn’t turn up for work the next day.
      If she had been at the job longer, maybe they would have been more understanding, but unfortunately Mum didn’t take into account that small towns have eyes and ears. What you do is soon known by everyone. She was heard slagging off the boss in her pissed state--- you can guess the outcome. Mum was out on her arse; the trial over and done with. She applied for the dole, but that didn’t go far. At the same time, the rent went up and we were soon on the bones of our arses again. Mum got depressed and we came home from school one day and an ambulance was in the driveway.
      The guy she had been shagging had come around for a freebie, but with Mum in her ‘state,’ she started to talk crazy and before long had a kitchen knife in her hand. The guy was useless. He stood by and watched as Mum slashed her wrists. At least he had the balls to call the ambulance, but he didn’t intend hanging around for the aftermath. CYFS (Children Young Persons and Family Service) were called and we were bundled into a car and taken to this ‘nice’ family for a few days. We hardly had time to gather a few bits and pieces. Mum killed herself a few days later.

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