Friday, March 19, 2010

Pantry - Gwen at the door - work still in progress

‘Come on Liam, just put something down.’ Daniel had his legs kicked out in front of him, his cards laid down by his side. Liam’s face was screwed up, his hand hovering first over one card, then another.

‘Give him a chance,’ said Zac, ‘He’s littler than us. Hey, Li, take your time.’ Hannah felt a little flash of love for Zac, her Zac, the Zac that reappeared two days after he was let out of his bedroom. The Zac that didn’t exactly enjoy his brother, but at least tolerated him, and looked out for him.

‘Zac, I’ve got lunch for Gwen, do you want to take it round?’

Liam played a card triumphantly. From the look on Daniel’s face, it was a good move.

‘It’s my turn, and this is the last hand.’

Hannah felt like she should insist, but she was already holding the plate, and the boys had been very helpful. It wouldn’t hurt to be flexible and take it herself. As she walked up the hallway, she thought: this is my indulgence, a gift to them they won’t know about.

Diffused sunlight hit the glass insert in the front door. The golden glow made her feel happy in the dark hallway. The shadow of the security gate made a pattern on the glass. She balanced the plate on her left hand, so she could grab the door knob with her right. She kept her eyes on the plate, trying not to let it tip too much.

As she turned the knob and pushed the door slightly, the light opened around the edges of the door. It dazzled her for a moment as she reached to grab the handle of the gate. She was just smiling to herself, thinking how nice it was to really pay attention to the small things when the gate jerked forwards, pulling her with it. She overbalanced, her hand pivoted to keep the plate flat, and she landed heavily on her right foot, just on the edge of the step. By instinct she grasped harder on the handle. She could feel it pulling against her. Her eyes started to adjust to the light, and she could see the silhouette of a person. A high pitched voice was chattering in distress or anger. For a moment her mind couldn’t integrate these inputs to make anything sensible. The unformed sensations seemed to move around before snapping, without actually changing, into Gwen. On her doorstep. Tugging at the gate. Screaming at her.

A jolt ran through her. She grabbed the handle tighter and started wrestling the gate back to the door. She still had trouble making sense of what was before her. Gwen looked just like Gwen. Hannah noticed her practical clothes were clean and well presented. She saw that her hair was neat, in its usual grey bob. She saw Gwen’s navy canvas lace up shoes, which had to be nearly new, the white rubber soles that came up a few centimetres were still pristine. But she looked at Gwen’s face, and she didn’t see despair, she saw rage. Inexplicable rage.

Hannah used the weight of her body to pull back on the gate. Gwen was much smaller than her and tugged at the gate in anger. At the end of each tug, the steady pressure of Hannah’s weight got the gate closer. And still Gwen kept up the stream of abuse, accusations. Hannah couldn’t make most of it out, tried to ignore it, tried not to think that this was Gwen, her pleasant neighbour. Gwen, someone she knew to say hi to, someone whose garbage bin she’d put away as a neighbourly gesture. Someone she didn’t know. That wasn’t Gwen on the other side of the gate.

She got the gate to meet the frame, but Gwen kept yanking, and the gate was banging, hitting the frame and jumping away again. The noise must be filling the house. She wondered why no one had come, thought about shouting out for help, but her voice would be barely audible above the racket they were already making. Sean was out the back, so if anyone came it would be one of the kids, and she didn’t want them to see this, to be part of this.

She still had the plate of salad in one hand. She knew she needed to lock the gate, but the keys were in the door, and the door had swung all the way open. She was ludicrously concerned with the salad. To reach the keys she needed a free hand, but her hand was holding the plate and the plate held the food. If she dropped the plate the food would go to waste. One whole meal gone.

The gate yanked on her hand again, and Hannah was cross, cross at being disturbed while she was trying to work this out. In anger, she gave the handle an almighty shake. The energy transferred through the handle and sent Gwen flying back. Abstractly, Hannah felt a shock that someone would treat an old woman that way. Now she was angry herself for it, angry at Gwen for her behaviour, angry at the situation, at the virus for bringing her and Gwen to this.

Gwen had spun around as she fell and grabbed at the verandah wall, saving herself from falling completely. She was on one knee, bloodied from hitting the bricks.

Hannah looked again at the plate she was holding. She thought for a split second of letting go of the gate to grab the keys. She swung her body around in hope of finding help, a solution, some form of twister that would let her hold the handle, the plate and keys in the few moments she had while Gwen was down. Zac was standing half way down the hall, quiet and still.

‘Take the plate,’ she screamed at him. He darted forward, eyes down, and took it with both hands. She twisted herself back, threw herself at the keys in the door, still holding the gate handle fast. She turned the key with a click just as Gwen got her feet.

Hannah pushed down on the handle, hard, and when the lock held, she forced herself to let go. She took a step back, regaining a metre’s distance between herself and the gate. Her hand was cramped, her knees were weak. She put her hand to her face, but she couldn’t stop it from shaking, her face felt cold and clammy. She turned her back on Gwen. Zac was still behind her, still quiet, still looking down, still holding the salad. ‘Take it back to the kitchen.’ He took a step backwards. ‘It’s ok.’ She had to force herself to speak slowly and calmly. ‘Thanks, you were a great help. It’s ok.’ Zac took off. She turned slowly to face Gwen again.

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