‘What are you a man or a mouse?’
‘Not funny. We need more money!’
‘We need to live within our means.’
‘What’s that smart-arse comment supposed to mean?’
‘Well Hon, we do spend a lot of money on things that are not necessary.’
‘So you are blaming me?’
‘No. I am just saying we, as a family, are not good at making priorities.’
‘Well make this a priority. Go to your boss. Tell him the hours you work. Demand more money.’
‘It’s not as easy as you think. You know since the takeover things have been up in the air. Stuart knows what I do and he was hinting there are other possibilities for me to have a higher position with more money.’
‘Hinting? Do you hear yourself? Be a man. Grow a pair and get it in writing.’
‘You don’t understand the office politics.’
‘You don’t understand what I am saying. Get a raise.’
A child’s voice penetrates.
‘Mummy. Look. Moggie is teasing a mouse.’
‘Don’t let it come in here. For God sake Adam, do something!’
A mouse shoots into the room, runs, hugging the wall, trying to absorb some sort of non-existent protection.
Wham! The man slams a broom down between the cat and the mouse. The woman tries to leap aside, stumbles over the broom and crashes to the floor; but not before clipping her head on the edge of the coffee table. Blood drizzles down from the gapping mouth of the eyebrow wound to paint the eyelid and blob like viscous honey to stain the lips of the unconscious woman.
The child screams. The mouse melds into the pile of plastic toys in the corner. The cat paws at the plastic. The screen door bangs open and in a single movement the man collects the cat and swooshes it neatly into the garden. Equally as neatly he scoops the child to his side, grabs a roll of paper towel and pushes its bulk like an absorbent cushion onto the woman’s wound.
‘Hold this on mummy’s face.’
‘Don’t want to.’ The pouting face is a miniature copy of the maternal one only minutes earlier.
‘HOLD THIS NOW!’ He rips a wad of paper away from the roll and yanks the child’s hand onto it.
‘PUSH ON THIS. Help Mummy while I call the ambulance. Play doctor. DO IT!’
The grumpy face allows its lips to relax.
Time slows down.
When the gurney finally slots into place in the back of the ambulance, the female face frowns awake and spits, ‘What did you hit me with?’
‘Didn’t hit you with anything. You fell over the broom.’
‘Bullshit! You better follow this ambulance to the hospital or there will be trouble.’
He turns and mouths silently, ‘Gee that will be different’, and bumps into his mother-in-law who lives three doors away.
‘What have you done you mongrel?’
‘Not now Joyce. I haven’t done anything. She was angry and tripped. Please take Mandy to your house so I can focus on cleaning up.’
‘Yes clean up. That’s all you’re good for. Focus? Without your wife to tell you what to do? That’ll be the day. Don’t go to support my daughter will you Wimpy!’
The ambulance turns as Adam follows Joyce a short way.
‘Joyce I say this in all sincerity. You have bred and supported a lovely line of angry, sulky, self-absorbed females. Congratulations! You should be proud of yourself.’
A tiny smile flirts with his lips as he crosses his own threshold. He feels as though he is outside himself, watching, as he gathers his clean clothes from the line where he hung them after work yesterday. The large blue laundry basket is soon topped with underwear from the drawers. He flops his clothes, still on their hangers, to straddle the basket, but has to drop the heavy weight to answer the demanding mobile phone.
‘Hi Stuart. Patterson branch? Absolutely! Couldn’t be better. Perfect timing actually. No problem. I will drive down overnight, just got to deal with a mouse here, first. Family? No that is not a problem. They will remain here. Just me, mate. Just me.’