‘Women are strange,' Jill said. 'Strong and brave when you least expect it. But weak and selfish too,’
Rose nodded. A story was on the way.
‘Like this one woman. Four kids. The oldest at school – about seven – and the littlest one in nappies. The other two wandering round asking questions and being precocious. Smart little tykes. There’s been a stoush and the woman’s comin’ with us to the safe house. We’re at her place packing some things. Fella’s nowhere to be seen. Could’ve been watching us from up the street for all we knew. The cops were there, but fat lot of help they’re being. Just hanging around out front, telling us to hurry up.
‘And you could kinda tell that there was something wrong in this house. Messy, but a lotta houses are messy. That don’t mean anything. But this house is strange messy. Things not where they should be. Like a mattress on the living room floor. Looks like it’s been there a while. Dirty sheet. Pillows with no pillowcases, all stained like they been leaked on. Looks like they might all sleep there instead of the bedrooms. There’s dirty dishes in the kitchen piled to the roof. So, chaos, but intense chaos. Druggy chaos. You learn to pick ‘em. Different feel to the house. Different priorities.
‘So, I go into the kids’ bedrooms to pack some stuff. The little ones are all being mighty helpful: “Pack this teddy”, “Don’t forget favourite book” and so on. And I open the cupboards to get some clothes and there they are – all clean and folded. And I wonder, who did this? Who washed these clothes and packed them away so neatly and lovingly?’
‘Fat chance. You know what she was doing while me and Denyse were getting the kids’ stuff together?’
Rose shook her head.
‘Smashing everything of value. All of it. Took a brick to the TV, the VCR, the microwave. Bang! Bang! Me and Denyse’d run out thinking we were about to witness a showdown – that hubby had returned with a baseball bat - and there she was, brick in hand, hammering away. The kids, though, they don’t even flinch. Nothing new to them.’
‘Why would she do that?’
‘Because she couldn’t take it with her. She asked us and we’d said no. We said that the safe house already had everything she’d need. And time was of the essence, you know, what with the fella being unaccounted for.’
‘But why smash everything?’
‘So the fella couldn’t sell it. That’s what she knew he’d do. He’d sell everything they had, so she was making sure he’d come home and there’d be nothing left. Once she’d broken the electronics she went into their bedroom and started grabbing all her jewellery and putting it into her bag. No essentials. No underpants or toothbrush. Just the shiny stuff. It was all she cared about.’
‘I’d have done the same.’
‘If he was going to sell it all for drugs, yeah.’
‘Wouldn’t you be thinking about your kids? Taking some time to talk to them and reassure them? Making sure they’d packed all their important stuff? If it hadn’t been for Denyse and me they would have turned up at the safe house without a spare sock between them. Nothing to wear. Just a suitcase full of razzle dazzle that’s no good to anyone. That’s what I mean: different priorities. Distorted priorities. Mum’s not thinking about what she needs to live, or what the kids need to live, she’s thinking about what she needs to get the next fix. She’s thinking about how she can do the most damage to the old man. And it’s not leave him. It’s not take the kids and never come back. No, the worst thing she can do is make sure he can’t get his next hit. So she grabs everything of value and smashes the rest.’
‘That’s fucked up.’
‘It’s selfish is what it is. But drugs’ll do that.’
‘What happened to them?’
‘Dunno. We had to evict her after a couple of weeks. Drug addiction and rules don’t go together, and the safe house had rules. Like no drugs. And no men. We tried, you know. Gave her lots of chances. But then we found out she’d been getting the old man to come around with drugs and that was the last straw. It was a safe house. People weren’t supposed to know where it was. We had the other women to think about.’
‘And the kids?’
Jill shrugged. ‘They went with her. Child Protection might have got them eventually, but we never found out. I always wonder, though, about those kids’ clothes. Little towers of folded shirts and pants, laid out like a clean, bright future.’ Jill took a swig of her drink. ‘Someone was looking out for those kids. But I’ll be damned if I know who.’