the witness, the last interview
Later that night, after Toby’s dad had gone to work on his packing shift, his mother sat him down at the kitchen table and made herself a cup of tea.
The boy prepared himself for some real questions.
‘ I think I feel pretty sick mum, ‘ he said, hoping for some early mercy.
‘ I’m sure you do my boy, ‘ she replied in her dangerously low voice.
‘ – and I’ve hurt my knee really badly, look, it’s going to bleed now. ‘ He said this with faint hope, pointing at a five day-old scab almost ready to fall away.
Ellen came over to the table with her tea and sat down next to her son, she gave him a kiss on the top of his head and looked him right into his clear young eyes.
‘ Now tell me Tobias, tell me exactly everything that happened with that girl today. ‘
The boy had no choice, and he told his mum how the young girl had run past the car and seen the window open. She didn’t see Toby at first because he was on the floor playing with Dave, his father’s kelpie. When she opened the door and jumped in and saw them both she started to shake and cry.
‘ She was real pretty mum, ‘ said Toby.
‘ How would you know sport! ‘ His mum replied with a laugh
Toby told his mum what the girl said when she stopped crying, how the man she had taken the money off was her boyfriend, and how he had taken all her money earlier when she was in the shower at home.
‘ What’s a gambler mum? ‘ asked Toby
‘ An idiot, ‘ his mother replied, ‘ go on Tobes, tell me more. ‘
‘ Well, she said that her boyfriend was a gambler and was always pinching her money to bet on the horses, so this time she followed him into town and pinched it all back. ‘
Plus everything he had won, thought Ellen.
‘ She only wanted her own money back, ‘ said Toby, ‘ so she took our grapes instead. ‘
Ellen’s heart fluttered a little here.
‘ Instead of what? ‘ she asked.
‘ Instead of all the other money she had, ‘ said Toby, ‘ can I have a biscuit please mum?
‘ NO! – I’m sorry Tobes – I mean not yet. You say that she only took her own money? ‘
‘ Yes mum, just about a couple of dollars, she said she wasn’t like him. ‘
Now he was wondering why his mum was getting so excited.
Ellen looked around her kitchen as she prepared to ask her last question, the little boy was very tired. She saw the holes in the wainscotting where they had stuffed wire netting to keep out the rats, the immoveable stains on the wall above the sink, the rust around the fridge handle and the broken knobs on the cupboard doors.
Tobys’ battered toys in an old carton shoved under the kitchen table, the ancient and ingrained filth on the oventop; just another couple of old rented rooms that they called home for now, and every pay packet Terry earned was spent the day after he bought it home.
She thought of her husband, packing shelves in Woolworths until 2am, his half-dozen old and yellowed boards stacked under the house. How he was fighting to regain his fitness, and surfing again, at last.
‘ What did she do with the rest of the money Toby? ‘
Ellen asked this very quietly, afraid that he would hear the dreadful hammering of her heart.
The little boy got down from his chair, remembering to limp a little from his hurt knee – he was still not sure how things were going yet – and he walked over to the box of fruit and vegetables that they had bought home this morning, and was still unpacked by the door.
He picked up the paper bag that once had grapes in it and walked back to give it to his mum. ‘ She put it all in here. ‘
‘ Can I have a biscuit now please mum? ‘
previously published in Kurungabaa