Jennifer Marsden | February 26, 2018
Too Close to Home
‘It was a real saga’ mum said. ‘Everyone had an opinion but only the few people
involved really knew what happened that night’.
The rain had settled to a steady drumming on the tin roof but we stayed huddled
together in mum’s bed. Dad was away working once again and when the storm
broke and the wind slammed against the canvas blinds on the veranda we had
retreated into mum’s room.
We were aged from five to sixteen years and when mum was in a story telling mood
she sometimes forgot that her story wasn’t really suitable for young ears. I wish she
had remembered one of her favourite sayings on this occasion. ‘Little pigs have big
ears’ she would say to dad when we would be straining to hear their private
The weekly tennis game was mum’s only escape from the farm, her only social
outlet. Looking back now I understand that for all those years she must have often
been lonely, needing someone to gossip with and we girls filled the role of female
confident. That night, in the dim light of the kerosene lantern, we snuggled down top
to toe and strained to hear above the noise of the rain.
‘Jane was clearly pregnant’, mum said. ‘She was only sixteen and had quite a pretty
face but an odd body. Arse like Jessie the elephant, dad would say, and that was
before she started to spread out. Jane had plenty of boyfriends though and each
weekend at tennis we would gossip about who the latest was.’
‘As she got bigger we wondered how she would squeeze into the tennis dress the
next week without splitting the seams. No one said a word to her and certainly
nothing was said to her family. The Murphy clan were pretty quick to fight and easy
to stir up’.
‘We couldn’t believe that from one week to the next her belly just disappeared, mum
said. She turned up at tennis as bold and brass’ mum said. ‘And played three sets!’
I don’t know what the younger girls made of the disappearing belly but I wanted to
know. ‘What happened to the baby?’ I asked.
‘Well I think we all figured that out between us the next week at tennis’ mum said.
‘We waited till Jane was on the court and exchanged our facts, or I guess they were
‘One of the boys sweet on Jane was Kevin Anderson and his old grandma was a
midwife. Back before the district hospital opened she was often called on to deliver
babies. Well, on the Wednesday night it was raining and when Mary got up to close
the window she saw someone with a lantern hurrying from old grandma’s house,
through the village, towards the Murphy place.’
‘But what happened to the baby?’ my older sister and I asked in unison.
‘Well, we’ll never really know’ mum said quietly. ‘But young Charlie Wilks who did the
mail run was also keen on Jane. That Thursday afternoon he picked up an old
suitcase tied up with rope from Jane’s house and loaded it into the back of the mail
‘Was the baby in the suitcase?’ my voice was quiet as I added, ‘Was the baby dead?
Did they kill the baby?
‘We don’t know’ mum said. ‘No one ever asked Charlie where he delivered the
suitcase and he quit the mail run soon after.’
‘But couldn’t we ask Jane?’ I asked. At fourteen I thought the mystery seemed easily
solved. Jane was now married to a local farmer and her boy Dan was in my class.
Mum seemed to realise the implications of her storytelling. Little pigs do have big
ears and avid curiosity. This events in this saga were too recent for rainy night
telling. Too close to home.
‘Go back to bed now’ mum said, ‘and don’t tell that story to anyone. Promise now!
So this is the first time I have told the story, but it was often on my mind. Sometimes
when I returned home to the farm I would see Jane and her family and wonder what
really did happen on that rainy night.
I would imagine the old midwife hurrying with the lantern through the dark village
street. I imagined the young mailman loading the battered suitcase into the back of
his van. And Jane. Brave Jane. Turning up once again to tennis and staring down
the speculative gossipers. That rainy night story haunts me still.