There he was, walking in as if he had never been away. Giving orders to everyone and demanding to know why the cows were still in the field instead of roundup in their pen. Why was supper not ready yet? Who left the tractor in the driveway? And finally, as an afterthought, how is your mother doing? Even this was a demand. But that was our father. Always making demands with never any gratitude. He makes me so angry. I’m the only one to stand up to him. Call it being the youngest of seven. Call it being the only girl. It doesn’t matter. What matters is mum and keeping her going. She needs to live. I couldn’t stand being alone without her.
The train finally arrives at Hockridge Station. Empty, bar one or two locals. Its sardine-can features seem to swallow the waiting passengers, not giving them a chance to sit on its dilapidated chairs before screeching off to the next platform; the next meal. By the time the train arrives at its final pit stop, Valeria Central, two hours later, the passengers are bursting from the seams. The atmosphere changes, almost as if in fast forward and the train empties and spills onto the platform. The doors are wide open, like a bird waiting to devour its next meal.
For Abby Brennan, her two hour train ride was heaven. It was the calm before the storm. The place she felt the happiest. No one needed her. No one teased her. No one forgot about her. She could play her music as loud as she wanted and read her trashy magazines in peace. She could escape the real world and get lost in the fantasy world of her latest book. She could be a normal teenager for two whole hours. She could be free.
Then reality hits as the train rattles to a stop at Valeria Central. She becomes nobody again. Invisible. Seen only by the school bullies, especially Tyson Malvick, the only person in the whole school who can make Abby snap. And there he was, hanging with his loser friends. Anticipating a striking blow like a cat about to pounce at an unsuspecting bird, Abby tentatively strolls past. Whilst she can never be fully prepared for the brutal onslaught, vocal not physical, Abby prided herself on embarrassing him in front of his friends. Although, this didn’t exactly stop him. Each morning Tyson would wait at Valeria Station and each morning Abby would come up with a new retort. They would banter, almost like a game, until one of them walked away. This morning was no different.
“How are those abs, Abs? Been working out lately?”
Abby ignored the remark by digging in her pocket for her train ticket. This display only spurred him on.
“Wow. Maybe you need bigger jeans so you wouldn’t have to carry the extra, er, baggage.” Tyson laughed along with his friends.
Again, Abby ignored him. She knew her body was slightly out of proportion, with no chest and large thighs. Tyson’s remarks didn’t bother her. She had heard them before.
“Can you even afford new jeans or does your mum make your clothes?” Tyson turned to his mates. “That’s if she ever gets out of the bedroom. Eight kids! Insane, huh?”
This was low. Even for Tyson. His mates made some sniffling noises but none of them laughed. Abby couldn’t help herself. She needed to teach him a lesson.
“Funny you should mention my mum actually. She told me your parents were coming out of the cop shop the other day. Wonder what’s going on there.” She looked over Tysons’ shoulder to his mates. “You do know about his brother, don’t you?”
Tyson was steaming. Only Abby and he knew that Wendell was involved with some dangerous people. Last time he was taken to the police station, Wendell had stolen a car that just so happened to have a boot full of white, powder filled bags. Abby only knew this because her mum was close friends with Tysons’ parents.
“You’re such a cow.” Tyson said, taking a step forward.
“And you, Tyson Malvick, are full of bull. I guess that makes us both bovines, don’t you think?” Abby retorted, also stepping forward.
They eyed each other for a full minute before Tyson motioned to his mates to follow him out. Abby smiled to herself. That was round one in her favour. Now to face a full day of school. That caused the smile to disappear quickly. Abby moaned to herself. She just remembered her English oral presentation was due today. Luckily she had completed the write-up last week, now it was just the panic of public speaking to get through.
She rushed from Valeria Central Station to her English class, already knowing she was late thanks to the Tyson encounter. Miss Louiston was not at all happy when Abby arrived in the middle of a classmates speech.
“Miss Brennan. So nice of you to join us. I trust, given this lateness, that your English presentation is ready?”
Abby thought to herself, my English oral is ready but I’m not. Of course she didn’t say this out loud, not wanting to draw more attention to herself. She stuck with the menial response.
“Yes, Miss Louiston.” Abby quickly found a seat.
“Excellent! You’re next.” Miss Louiston was always excited when assignments were due. A weird teacher thing.
“Yes, Miss Louiston.” Abby couldn’t hide the emotion in this response, she was petrified.
Her classmate was almost finished and before long it was Abby’s turn. She let the teacher say her name before slowly making her way to the front of the class. She could feel the eyes of her fellow students searing through her. Waiting for her to fail. She swallowed a few times but her mouth was so dry that the first word was a croak.
“Come on, Ab’s! Show us what you’ve got. Cant wait to hear your speech. Oh wait, do you need some help with the big words?” Tyson Malvick, of course.
The funny thing was, Tysons outburst actually helped Abby. The nerves were only a second thought being overpowered by her desire, her need, to prove him wrong. Before long, her speech was completed and the teacher was calling the next student up. Abby counted this as another win to her, when she saw Tyson scowl at his own speech. The remainder of her school day was uneventful, with lunch time spent in the library alone and classes spent as invisible as possible. Then came the long awaited home bell.
As she entered the train for her two hour homeward journey, Abby was mentally preparing herself for what awaited her in the Brennan house. It was almost as if she had a split personality. At school, she would attract the bullies. At home, she would attract the neediness of her parents and family. She was two different people sharing the same body. The train ride allowed the ‘home Abby’ to surface and the ‘school Abby’ retreat. She craved those two precious hours.
The train slowly lurched to a halt at Hockridge Station and dispersed Abby from its almost empty stomach. She struggled with her heavy school bag, trying to keep the ever-escaping books from falling out. Abby jumped clear of the train doors and began her short walk home, lost in thought as usual.
Abby arrived at her house, noticing that the minivan was parked in the driveway and her father’s BMW was left in the front yard. Great, she thought to herself, everyone is home. No more peace and quiet tonight. After staring at the front door for what seemed like a lifetime, Abby entered into the unknown.
“About time! Where have you been, Miss? Your mother needs some help.” Her father greeted her.
“Why? What’s wrong with mum?” Abby asked, concerned.
“I don’t know. But I can’t deal with her problems today. I had a terrible day at work. When will tea be ready? Your brothers are starving. Feed them.”
Abby knew better than to argue with her father. He was in a grouchy mood and Abby was more concerned about her mother. She didn’t answer her father. She left the living room and went in search of her mother. First stop, the bedroom.
What awaited her brought tears to her eyes. There was her mother, lying in the middle of her queen size bed with the blankets pulled up to her neck and the pillows in a messy pile on the floor. A mug of coffee had been knocked off her bedside table and was dripping all over the fallen pillows.
Emmaline Brennan was distraught. The sweat on her face caused her hair to stick and get in her eyes. The blankets were too tight. She just wasn’t comfortable. She was also very sick. The doctors had told her the cancer had spread. Now she had to undergo more chemotherapy. Emmaline wasn’t sure she could fight any longer. The pressure of exhaustion was strong, but then she saw her precious daughter standing in the doorway. The sight made her need to live so much stronger. Abby was that light in the darkness. Abby was the key to everything.
“Hi, darling. How was your day today?” Her mum greeted her weakly.
Abby shed the unfallen tears and climbed into bed beside her mother.
“Mum, please let me stay home and look after you. I can’t stand to have you left alone all day.” Abby begged.
“I’m fine baby. The boys can take care of me. School is important and you need an education. I’m not going anywhere. Now, how about you go and do your homework and get some dinner together? I’m sure the boys are starving, them and their bottomless bellies!” Emmaline tried comforting Abby with little success.
“The boys are still little kids, mum. They haven’t grown up and since I am the only girl, not to mention the youngest, they expect me to do everything! Why can’t they look after the housework and cook dinner at least once a week? They are all so lazy!” Abby was getting flustered now and could feel her temper rising.
“Abby! Don’t say that about your brothers. They are out working on the farm every day to earn enough to pay for the necessities of life. Without them we could be living on the streets and eating from the garbage. Now no more of this nonsense young lady. Off you go and get that homework done.”
Abby left the room grumpily. The last thing she wanted was to upset her mother but sometimes she couldn’t help it. She cared about her mother more than anything else in the world. Emmaline was her rock and pillar of strength, the only person who treated her like a sixteen year old girl.
Abby heard the bathroom door open and quickly grabbed her pyjamas from her room. In a family of ten, a vacant bathroom was worth pouncing at. She bolted down the hall and into the bathroom, about to slam the door behind her, before she came to an abrupt stop. Dirty jocks hanging on the towel rack; Empty shampoo bottles strewn all over the floor; The medicine cabinet left wide open with an empty soap container on the verge of committing suicide; Brown, muddy foot prints leading a trail towards the shower recess and not a towel in sight.
If Abby was a cartoon character, she would have smoke coming out of her ears and flaming red cheeks. She was beyond angry and completely disgusted with the ‘cavemen’ of the household. She marched into the lounge room and switched off the television, much to the dismay of her dad and brothers.
“Hey! Switch that back on, Scabs!” Protested her oldest brother, Dudleigh.
She ignored him and stared down the boys.
“Dad, Dudleigh, Robert, Hamish, Xavier, Patrick, Brendan and Nicholas.” Abby addressed them in order of their respective ages. “I strongly recommend you enter the bathroom and clean your mess, or I will personally make sure there is no food left in the fridge to feed all eight of you. There will only be enough for mum and me, which will be protected by a padlock on the door of the fridge that only I will have the key for. Do I make myself clear?”
All was quiet for a few seconds before Patrick broke the silence.
“Hey Scabs?” He enquired politely.
Abby nodded at him to continue.
“You’re blocking the view of the TV.”
This caused the boys to erupt into an explosion of laughter, which involved rolling on the ground and slapping each other on the back.
Abby thought for a moment before giving them a mischievous smile. She walked into the kitchen and started unpacking the fridge. It was two weeks since Abby had been shopping so the fridge was almost bare. She grabbed a garbage bag and purposefully placed the items into it. Her dad entered the kitchen when he heard the garbage bag being filled.
“What are you doing?”
“Fulfilling my threat.” Abby replied without stopping.
“Don’t be smart with me girly! I work hard every day to support this family, and your brothers are tired after servicing the farm. The least you can do is clean the house and cook dinner.”
“What?!” Abby almost screamed at him. “Do you even care about anyone other than yourself? What about me? I am your daughter for heaven’s sake, not your slave. What about mum? You remember her right? Your wife, who is sick in bed and only asks for us to be happy. Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I am not happy at all, dad.”
Her dad was silent. Abby had never gone off at him like that before. If she wasn’t so fired up she would have apologised straight away. Finally her father spoke.
“I think it’s time you went to bed.” He said and left the room before she could protest.
Abby closed the refrigerator door and slowly made her way to her bedroom. She cried herself to sleep that night.