Sample Chapter

PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Khaki Mafia         (co-authored with Robin Moore)

DEDICATION

To my mother, who by example taught me everything about courage, strength, loyalty, integrity and unconditional love.

She omitted sex. Nobody did it in those days. We got our babies from under cabbages,

When I decided to write this book I thought certain revelations would embarrass her, so one day I said “Listen to this chapter about you Mum. If it upsets you, I won’t include it.” After I read the chapter to her, there was a long silence. Finally, she replied, “It’s the truth, June. Go ahead and leave it in.”

I never loved her more than at that moment.

TRIBUTE

There were many commercial entertainers inVietnam from the USA, Australia, Korea, the Philippines and Thailand. Most were young and either adventurous or naïve or both. Some were still teenagers who were exuberantly received by the troops of whom too many were teenagers themselves. I believe all entertainers experienced danger if they stayed for any length of time. A few were wounded and I know of four who were killed. They all displayed courage when they made that initial choice to face the unknown and travel to a war zone. Some left after a few weeks but most stayed. I pay tribute to each one of them.

Most important, I pay tribute to Vietnam Vets everywhere.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Robin Moore (The French Connection, The Green Berets) and I wrote a fictionalized version of the events of the U.S. Army’s Clubs and Messes scandal inVietnam and my involvement. The Khaki Mafia was an in-depth look at the corruption. As fiction, (Robin liked to call it faction) not all events were entirely true and some characters were composites, however the overall story was fact. The Khaki Mafia kept the story in the public eye long after the headlines had faded.

I have always wanted to write the exact version of my three and a half year involvement in the war and focus on the emotional element. What leads anyone to jeopardize their life and become a whistle blower? There are seldom any rewards and often serious consequences. I respect all whistleblowers.

I wish to thank R.A.D.F (Regional Arts Development Fund) of Beaudesert Shire, Queensland who gave me a writing grant which encouraged me to get started when self-doubt caused delays.

My dear daughter Anna was of great help whenever I had computer problems. David Moss of The Gold Coast was also kind enough to read and correct my earliest draft. Clancy Covington of Mount Tamborine offered advice and much needed encouragement. At one point Clancy, a Queensland University Lecturer said “I’m not sure about THAT part. It makes you sound like a loose woman.”

“It stays” I said, “I was a bit of a loose woman and I take neither pride nor shame in that. I sought life and freedom within the bounds of my own principles, rejecting the need to fit societies mould. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Finally, I thank David Scott, a playwright and fellow member of the Tamborine Mountain Writers Group, Harry Youngblood and Richard Meyer, both authors from South East Queensland. Their insight and suggestions were of great help.

 

PROLOG                              Vietnam, July 1969

My legs are wrapped around his taut behind, my eyes closed as I move in harmony with his thrusts. TheVietnamair is humid as always and his sweat drips onto my breasts. It is late at night and the silence of the empty NCO club is occasionally broken by his grunts as he pushes into me.

Playing my part, I emit a soft, pretense moan.  I have to stop myself from turning my head away when he places his open mouth over mine. But this is necessary I think. To reach my objective I have to gain his trust.

He keeps pumping into me and I am grateful he is not one of the corpulent ones. I could not bear their soft flab draped over my small body but his body is lean and hard. Despite myself, I am surprised when I begin to respond. Closing my eyes, I feel his tongue probing my mouth and my own tongue touches his tentatively. This is not part of the plan – I feel betrayed by my own body’s stirrings.

My surroundings begin diffusing and disappearing into a hazy cloud.  I can’t believe I am moving with him, arching my body higher to meet him. The ecstatic moans are no longer forced. How can I be enjoying this act that I dreaded doing? I try to remember why I am here but all thought disintegrates. Our pace quickens. My buttocks clench together like welded steel and I stiffen into rigid, mind-numbing ecstasy.

Moments later tremors convulse my body. I stifle a scream but a moan escapes and I taste the mingling of blood and salty sweat on my cut lips as our juices flow together.

We stay motionless until he rolls off me to lie on his back, staring up at the ceiling. The happy glow of the aftermath is short lived for a sense of self loathing begins to creep in. How could I have lost control of this situation?

We are lying on a rug on the floor of his office at the rear of the club.  My body is slick from perspiration, my hair plastered across my forehead and I vaguely notice a couple of curly, dark hairs from his chest, stuck between my breasts. He stirs and begins to move away.

“Don’t leave.” I say.

“Just give me a few moments. Let’s have a drink.”  He stands and disappears into the darkened club but soon returns, holding a bottle of French champagne aloft.

“I keep this to celebrate victories” he says “battle ones I mean, but I like this one better. Sorry there are no champagne glasses.”

He hands me a plastic tumbler then takes a swig from the open bottle.

“I’d let you drink from my shoe” I say “but they’re only old army boots.”

“You know you really turn me on!” he looks me up and down. “Your body would arouse any man.” This was not news to me. As a dancer, my body was a big part of the act.

“You’re in pretty good shape yourself. Why don’t you come closer?” I smile. When he moves beside me I take a mouthful of champagne. Turning, I put my lips to his and slowly let the champagne trickle down his throat.

“That’s the best way to drink Dom Perignon. It’s too good to drink from the bottle.”

He sits up and says “Lie down.” Soon the cold champagne is spilling over me and he is licking it off as he kneels across me. My mind and body are in such conflict.  I don’t know whether to be happy that my plan is working so well or upset that I have enjoyed my part in what was meant to be a charade.

In my wildest dreams I never thought I would enjoy fucking the enemy. Not literally anyway. Justifying the situation I tell myself that if I am prepared to put my business on the line and maybe my life, then why not my body?   This crooked gang was already suspicious of me since I had made no secret of the fact I hated paying the kickbacks.

Sex was not a foregone winner to get the results I needed but I could see no other way to infiltrate this mob. There was an over abundance of sex inVietnam with thousands of Vietnamese bar girls offering their bodies for a few paltry piasters. However, I had the advantage of being a ‘round-eye’- a real prize in this country.

If I was convincing – and he was making it easy for me – who knew what I would eventually learn from pillow talk?

I focus back on the moment. Hours have passed and again he is filling me – slow and rhythmic this time. The first desperate hunger has gone.  Whereas it seemed we had been dancing a fiery tango – we were now down to a slow and delightful waltz.

And so the night of our first coupling went, on and on until dawn – probing, discovering, pleasing one another in every way.  When at last we were sated I lay listening to him breathing softly. Finally he was asleep. I rose to dress and slip away before the army camp came to life.

As I closed the door, an unexpected sadness came over me. I was going to betray this man. Eventually I would destroy him along with all the other club sergeants. That is what they deserved. I hated the lot of them and what they represented – the worst of society’s greed which always surfaces during wartime. For some, war meant dying; for others it meant grabbing all the money possible as long as the war raged.

The intimacy with Delaney had confused the issue for I no longer hated him yet he was as guilty as the others.  I had to remind myself that I was sacrificing my body for a higher cause. The fact it didn’t end up seeming like much of a sacrifice left me feeling just a little bit tawdry.

Did Mata Hari feel like this, I wondered?

 

CHAPTER 1                  WASHINGTON D.C.

October 1969

It was winter when I arrived at Dulles International airport. I had not experienced winter in any country for many years. Living inVietnamhad been hot in every sense.

Although the air terminal was uncomfortably over-heated, I knew I would freeze once I stepped outside. My light summer dress and open toed sandals, contrasted sharply with the parka-clad, scarf-wrapped travelers around me.

At least I should be safe here, I thought, no more hiding or worrying about when a bullet or claymore mine is going to get me. Yet, such reassuring  thoughts did little to comfort me. I was aware of my conspicuous appearance. Young, curvaceous and improperly dressed, I would certainly stand out if the bad guys were looking for me here.

People bustled around me, heading stern faced for the exits or talking and laughing loudly over the sound of the PA system.  I dragged my suitcase along and peered into the waiting crowd, looking for the two senate investigators who were supposed to meet me. I hoped they wouldn’t be late. This was my first trip to the U.S.A.and under most unexpected circumstances.

Unsure of which direction to head, I stopped and absently tugged on a long strand of blonde hair.

“Where are those men?”  Setting my suitcase down, I leaned anxiously against a wide column.  This wasn’t quite the exuberant welcome I had imagined. After a long ten minutes, I spotted Fred and Duffy hurrying towards me. They were as conspicuous as I, in their immaculate dark suits and sunglasses, looking like the forerunners to “The Blues Brothers”. Duffy was the larger of the two and he wore his hair in a short crew cut. His moon face was grim and unusually pallid, the result of rare exposure to the outdoors.

Fred, the junior investigator, increased his pace and strode ahead.

“I apologize for being late,” he said, grasping my hand in a vigorous shake.

“Traffic was worse than usual, thanks to the fog.”

“No apology necessary” I answered, as Duffy caught up and nodded a stiff welcome.

“Grab the luggage Fred,” he ordered, indicating my one small suitcase.

What an odd couple they made. Other than their dress, they seemed to have nothing in common. Fred was slender, around six feet tall and much less imposing than his partner. His hair was cut conservatively short in front. When he turned, his rebellion to required conformity was declared in the shape of a pencil-thin strand of braided hair. The last vestiges of a summer tan enhanced his handsome face and a bright red tie only slightly minimized the “spook” persona. I guessed his age at about thirty.

I had first met the investigators several weeks earlier inSaigon. The Senate Sub Committee into Un-American Activities had sent them toVietnamto investigate the US army camps’ Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) and Enlisted Men’s (EM) Clubs System. The acting chairman of that committee, Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D. Connecticut), was determined to find out if there was any truth to the disturbing reports of corruption which had reachedWashington.

In SaigonI had welcomed them joyfully, realizing they may represent my escape from the danger I was in. Although I was in hiding, the investigators were brought to me by a Special Forces major and Agent Winthrop, of the CID (Criminal Investigation Division).  Winthrop was one of two agents, to whom I had first given my damning deposition about the corruption I had encountered whilst booking my Filipino entertainment shows into the American army clubs.

When the club managers somehow learned I had squealed, Winthrop felt some responsibility for my safety. Jumping into his jeep, he raced to my apartment and warned me to ‘lie low’. Immediately I called a trusted friend, Major Chuck Darnell of The Special Forces (commonly referred to as The Green Berets). I’m sure he broke regulations initially but he quickly installed me in a well guarded Special Forces compound unavailable to regular army, the source of my danger.

Major Darnell arranged for the investigators to safely meet with me on three occasions. I told them of my first-hand experiences with the corrupt sergeants who were running the U.S. Army’s Clubs and Messes system. These sergeants were controlling hundreds of millions of dollars with no supervision from their superior officers, whose minds were pre-occupied with casualties and body counts. I learned an exorbitant price was placed on my head and overnight I became poison ivy, even among the other entertainment booking agents. Nobody likes a squealer. Nobody wanted to rock the boat. Everyone was making too much money. The unwritten rule had been to close your eyes and keep your mouth shut; even if you did not like what was happening.

Of course my business, supplying Philippine entertainment groups to theUSarmy camps was destroyed. I had difficulty even returning my entertainers’ passports and tickets so they could leave the country.

Tan Son Nhut airport was being watched, Agent Winthrop warned, and I had no idea how I was going to leave. That was the situation when I met the two American Government investigators.

“Why did you put yourself in danger by reporting these things to the CID?” Duffy asked suspiciously on our first meeting.  Fred was sitting in the corner, fiddling with the controls of a tape recorder.

“Why wouldn’t I? The situation sickened me and of course, I thought no one would discover that I had squealed. I expected the dishonest club custodians to be arrested and replaced by honest men. I thought I would be able to get on with my business and no longer be required to pay kick-backs.”

Duffy frowned thoughtfully as he listened.

“I couldn’t possibly have known there would be a leak from the Provost Marshall’s office. I was unaware the CID worked in conjunction with the Provost Marshall’s office, although that knowledge would have made no difference. I was naïve enough to think that all military cops were the good guys. Thank God agent Winthrop and his partner are honest. If it wasn’t for their warning, I don’t expect I’d still be here.”  I paused and reached for a glass of water.

“I’m sure Winthropsuspects the leak could only have come from the Provost Marshall’s office. The Provost Marshall himself, General Carl Turner, ordered Winthrop to sanitize my testimony after he read it.”

“We’ve met the general,” Fred interjected.

“Can you imagine that, a two star general?” Time had not decreased my incredulity.

“Change is on the way.” Duffy spoke grimly.

“One more thing,” Fred cut in, “Agent Winthrop said you had a tape recording of some of the illegal transactions. Do you still have it?”

“I certainly do.”

“Then could you bring it to our next meeting?”

I nodded as Duffy stood and buttoned his jacket, indicating our meeting was drawing to a close.

“Tomorrow will be our last meeting. Tonight, try to remember if there’s anything you’ve forgotten.”

I wondered if Duffy ever smiled or showed emotion.

The following day, Duffy told me they had finished their investigation and were returning to Washingtonto begin arranging Senate Hearings into the corruption.

“You are going to be our star witness. Just continue to lie low until we send for you,” Fred added.

I frowned. “I don’t know how I will get safely through the airport; $5000 is a hell of a high price to have on my head. A PFC’s (private first class) pay is only $400 a month and there are dozens of desperate deserters out there who would kill their own mother for five thousand.”

“We’ve already spoken to the head of the Special Forces Intel Group and they swear their men can get you safely through the airport and onto a plane.”  I wasn’t convinced.

A blast from the P.A. system almost made me throw myself to the floor. Feeling stupid, I stopped mid-lurch and hoped the investigators had not noticed.

“Let’s get out of here.” Fred said. “You must be tired and ready to take a shower and rest up.”

“Cut the small talk until we’re away from here.” Duffy interrupted curtly. “You never know who is watching.” He grabbed my arm firmly and hustled me towards the exits.

“Does it matter who’s watching?” I asked breathlessly.

“Not really, but those guys at The Pentagon have got wind that you’re coming. They’re not happy, knowing whatever you say is going to make them look bad.”

“Serves them right,” I mumbled. “I warned them in ‘Namabout what was going on. I went to the top brass and they did nothing. All they cared about was body count.”

“Yeah, you already told us all that. Come on. Hurry it up.” Duffy pulled me unceremoniously through the automatic doors and out onto the sidewalk. A strong gust of freezing wind blasted in from thePotomac Riverand my hair whipped across my face.

“Hell. Is it always this cold?”  I asked through chattering teeth.

Fred took one look at my thin dress flapping about my knees and the goose bumps rising on my arms. Setting my suitcase down, he removed his coat then draped it over my shoulders. I smiled gratefully. Duffy beckoned to the driver of a large black government sedan.

I tried not to gawk as we sped away and I had my first glimpse of the United States of America.

“Thank God this car is heated. I desperately need winter clothes.”

“It’s not as bad when the wind isn’t blowing.” Fred assured me.

“Now June,” Duffy turned back towards me, his usual pragmatic self, “You’re going to have to delay any sightseeing or shopping trips until after the hearings. We’ve got you booked into a Georgetown hotel and we don’t want the army boys to find you.”

“Why not? No one’s going to harm me after I’ve already spilled the beans…. Are they?”

“We can’t let our guard down. They might send some one over to see you – probably someone you knew inVietnam. They will want to know exactly what you are going to say so they can prepare a rebuttal.”

I glared at him. “Don’t insult me. And there is no possible rebuttal.”

“Well, you won’t have any free time.” Fred replied, “We have worked hard preparing the statement you will be reading to the Committee. We need to go over it with you.”

“Yes,” Duffy agreed, “You must be well prepared. The senators will want to question you after you deliver your statement. Tomorrow morning we’ll send a driver to bring you to our office for rehearsal.”

“What about my warm clothes?” I wailed.

“Don’t worry,” Fred replied, “I’ll take you shopping on the lunch break.” He deferred to Duffy, “Is that alright?”

Duffy’s impatient nod annoyed me. Sure, they helped get me out of Vietnam and were enabling me to tell my story, but I was their star witness and I thought he could be a little more courteous. And why did I need a ‘prepared’ statement?  This was a story I knew better than my own name. A story I had risked my life, my body, my business to get!

My anger over what I considered the needless death of so many young GI’s had changed me. So many of the young troops shared my disillusionment and drug use was high. Even the patriotic ones who hadn’t waited to be called up seemed to regret their decision soon after arrival. Only the regular army guys avowed we had a legitimate reason to be there, and maybe some of them were stifling their true feelings.  Battle brought more chance of promotion!

I didn’t need a rehearsal to tell my story to the world! I knew I could tell this story from my heart with much greater impact than any prepared statement would have. But, I also knew better than to tell the investigators what I planned to do.

After the investigators left me ensconced in my hotel room I placed a call to my mother in Australia. She must have been worried; I hadn’t contacted home in months. Slumped on the bed I waited for the operator to call back. The committee had not sprung for five stars, I noted, but it was okay. AfterVietnam, anything looked good. On the bedside table sat a vase of pink carnations with a welcoming note from Fred and Duffy.

In Vietnam, I had really missed the smell of flowers and the delightful sounds of birdsong. I saw almost no birds inVietnam and I assumed they had wisely fled the sound of war.

Now here I was in a hotel room in a strange city, no family or friends nearby. No lover to hold me. Never had I felt more alone. Shouldn’t I be elated? Miraculously I had beaten those sergeants. Where was my triumphant joy?

When the phone rang I grabbed it fast, my heart skipping a beat at the sound of my mother’s familiar voice.

“I’m in Washington DC, Mum. I’m sorry I couldn’t call before. I’ve really missed you. How is the family?” It felt so good to speak to someone who cared.

“What are you doing there June? I can’t keep up with you. When did you leave Vietnam?  I’ve been so worried. Are you alright?”

“It’s a long story Mum. I’ll write you a letter. How is everyone?”

“Well, don’t forget… You never write anymore. And the family’s fine,” she paused, “But you won’t be happy to learn that Lorraine has moved out of the house you bought for her. I’m afraid it’s looking a bit shabby and the agent hasn’t rented it.”

Lorraine was my young sister by mother’s second marriage. When she married as a teenager, she and her husband had little money. Feeling sorry for them, and earning great money in Vietnam, I bought a house in the rural town of Tamworth and let them live there rent free for the first year. Now it was time for them to start paying rent and my brother-in-law’s work had suddenly transferred him out of town.

It felt strange to hear of this other ‘forgotten world’. I did not need the additional stress of taking care of a mortgage.

“That’s fucking great timing.”  I exploded, too late to bite my tongue.

There was silence. I hadn’t meant to curse. No one spoke like that in my family.  Before going overseas, I hadn’t even said “shut up”! Now, I cursed as foul as any GI who had been ‘in country’ too long. Too much shit can do that to you.

“Mum, are you still there?”

“June, your language is disgusting! I never thought I’d hear a daughter of mine use filth like that. I’m ashamed of you.”

Her words cut deep.

“I’m sorry, Mum. One day you might understand. Now I must hang up. I’m very tired. I just wanted you to know I’m OK.” I hesitated. “And I love you.”

“I love you too, June.” Her voice had softened. “You write… and take care.”

I hung up and sat motionless on the bed.  How would I fit back into civilian life?  I felt like a Martian, belonging nowhere. I was so uncomfortable around ‘normal’ people. Their conversations, their whole lives bored me, especially pampered women with their mundane interests of diet, exercise, fashion and gossip. I was only at home now with my Vietnam War military cohorts. We had a different outlook on life which did not include society’s shallow judgments. But, I was NOT inVietnam now, or evenAsia and I must try to ‘fit in’ again. It might be a good start if I cut back on my drinking. But could I harness my anger?

I longed for the adventurous, fun-loving girl I had been in that BV life (beforeVietnam). Becoming a whistle blower would have been unimaginable to her. Her motto had been ‘live and let live.’

Now I was  about to testify against all those middle-aged, beer-bellied, diamond ring and gold, Rolex watch wearing club sergeants with their Swiss bank accounts. They never cared how many young GI’s died as long as they were lining their pockets.

Emotionally and physically drained, I pulled my thin dress off and slipped between the crisp, white sheets. For awhile I lay awake, marveling that my tortuous travels had brought me to this. But that’s a long story.

 

CHAPTER 2                  SYDNEY AUSTRALIA

1940s

I was sitting around the oak table in the dining room of our home in Kingsgrove, an outer Sydney suburb, playing the board game Snakes and Ladders. Sitting opposite me was my younger sister Clarice. Russell, my youngest sibling, was playing with his Meccano set on the floor. Blonde and tousle haired, at five years of age, he was already showing signs of extraordinary intelligence. Al Jolson was singing “Mamie”, his voice transmitted through our large floor wireless. My mother hummed along as she peeled potatoes at the sink in the small, adjoining kitchen. I could see her through the archway and hear the sizzle from the baking dish in the oven. My mouth salivated at the smell of roast lamb permeating the house. I was eleven.

“My turn” I said, picking up the dice and grabbing the dice cup. Then the door opened and my father noisily entered, followed by three of his mates.

He sniffed the air and circled my mother’s waist with his strong arms.

“What’s cooking, good looking?”

“I thought you were going to the races?” Mum frowned and put the potato down.

“The boys and I thought we would have a few beers here and listen to them on the wireless instead.”

I groaned inwardly. That meant we children would have to play outside. Dad always turned the volume to full blast and the whooping and hollering of the men egging on their selections almost drowned out the voice of Cyril Angles, the race caller. Soon the room would be filled with a cloud of stinking cigarette smoke and if we children dared come inside and speak, we would be quickly shunted outside. I wondered why my mother, a meticulous housekeeper who never smoked or drank didn’t complain. Dad stepped to the wireless and switched stations.

“Come on kids” I irritably swept up our dice and markers “Let’s go outside and play in our cubby house.”

My father’s gambling addiction had often hurt the family. He once said that if he was starving and had two bob in his pocket, he would put it on a horse before he would buy a pie – meat pies being the popular staple of the Aussie male diet.

My pretty, four foot ten inch tall mother was frequently mistaken as my sister. She usually tied her thick, dark hair back in a velvet bow. I thought my father was good looking too and he was more fun than Mum who filled the role of family disciplinarian. Convinced I was the ugly duckling of the family I compensated by acting the clown to make people laugh. I deplored my skinny legs and knees that stuck out like the gnarls on a tree trunk. Clarice’s lovely thick plaits and straight teeth caused me enormous envy. My straight, brown hair was unmanageable and my front teeth were wide-gapped. Inherited from my father, they were the bane of my life and made me so self-conscious that whenever I laughed I covered my mouth with my hand. Dad said because I could fit a two-shilling coin between the front teeth, it meant good luck. I was doubtful until years later when Laura Hutton became a world famous model with the same teeth. She must have received my luck as well because vanity had impelled me to alter my lucky teeth by then.

Our family was working class. A little on the upside of the scale I suppose, for we owned our own home at a time when most people in Sydney were renting. Dad was a supervisor at a factory that made airplane parts. Our home was a typical three bedroom, one bathroom Aussie house, built of red brick with a red tiled roof. There were no garages as most people traveled by bus.

The houses on our street looked almost identical because our grandfather S.J. Harrison, my grandmother’s second husband, had built them. Most houses in Kingsgrove and the surrounding suburbs were built by him. When Mum and Dad married, our grandfather, whom we called Pop, gave them our house as a wedding present. He did the same for mum’s only sibling, Uncle George, whose house sat just a few doors further up on the same street.

We never owned a car; only the rich could afford one then and there were few rich in Australia immediately after WW11. Pop was an exception.

We should have been quite comfortable with home ownership and Dad’s good job but thanks to his gambling, we were not. We were Aussie clones of the day – typical house, typical fare. Mid-week staples were stews or sausages with mashed potato’s, pumpkin and beans or peas. Weekends meant roast lamb with gravy, mint sauce and vegetables. Sunday’s treat was baked custard with stewed fruit. Like most people, we owned an ice chest, not a refrigerator, so we could never have ice-cream.

Because of Dad’s gambling, it was feast or famine. Whenever he gambled the money away, we ate bread and butter with sugar. Or bread with condensed milk. There was bread boiled in milk and as a last resort, there was always bread fried in dripping. When the bread was gone, Mum walked to the red phone box on the street corner where she used her last two pennies to phone Nan to come to our rescue.

Nan soon arrived in her big, shiny green Buick loaded with enough food to keep us eating well until Dad’s next payday. Her arrival was always an EVENT. The car itself was a great attraction for the neighborhood children and a pretty, fair haired, female driver was a rarity indeed.

Despite the days when Dad left us short of money, I was a happy, chatty, child who loved school. Good grades catapulted me easily into the role of class leader. After school I often organized the local children for backyard concerts, charging the parents one penny admission. We split the money later and raced to the lolly shop on the corner.

Unfortunately those idyllic days were shattered one Saturday just before my twelfth birthday when Dad went to the races and didn’t come home. As the night progressed Mum became increasingly anxious. Whenever she heard a bus approach the corner bus stop, she jumped up and looked out the window to see if Dad was on it. By midnight when the last bus drove by without stopping, Mum closed the window.

I had sat up late, keeping my mother company. Seeing the worry on her face I thought she might cry, but my mother never cried. Not fully understanding the situation, I felt a little flutter of fear.

Weeks later we discovered Dad had sold our house to cover his gambling debts and Mum confirmed he had left us. After losing our home as well as my Dad, we hastily packed up and moved in with Uncle George in his identical house further up the street.

When it comes to marriage, our family has a dismal history. Uncle George’s wife had left him only weeks earlier.

The one thing I knew for sure; our mother would NEVER leave us.

Life without Dad had lost its zest but Mum said ‘Good riddance’, she was sick of his gambling.

School had finished for the day and I was the last one to leave the classroom. After putting my books and the wooden pencil case into the brown, leather bag, I fastened the buckles and slipped the worn straps over my shoulders. Heading for the back gate of the near empty playground, I shuffled along, head down, lost in thought. Why had Dad left us? Why were my legs so skinny? I rode my bike so hard, trying to develop the muscles. I kicked a stone fiercely and it ran along the dirt in front of me, stopping only when blocked by a man’s shoe. I jerked my head up and my eyes widened.

“Dad, what are you doing here? I was just thinking about you.” Not waiting for an answer I hurled myself into his arms. Oh the thrill of it! I nuzzled into him, smelling that familiar, male smell, not hearing his mumbled reply, just overflowing with joy that he was back.

After a few moments he disengaged himself and held me at arms length. “Let me look at you my beautiful girl.” He always called me beautiful. I smiled from ear to ear, not covering my mouth with my hand. After all, I got my gapped teeth from him, didn’t I?

“The kids will be so pleased you’re back.” I babbled “I hope Mum has made extra food for dinner.”

His smile faded. “Sorry pumpkin, I won’t be coming with you. I only came to say ‘Goodbye’. I feel real bad about how I left. I love you kids.”

“But why, Dad, why?”

“I’ve made a few mistakes, Pet, and I take the blame for that but your mother’s nagging is difficult to live with.”

My joy escaped like the air from a pricked balloon as I digested his words. He then reached into the inside pocket of his sports jacket and pulled out a photograph.

“Look Pet. This is my new girlfriend”.

Blindly, I looked at the face of a blonde woman.

“Isn’t she a better looking sort than your mother?”

Shock and a strong urge to defend my mother sent the blood rushing to my face, but lost for words I blurted “I have to go Dad, goodbye.” And I ran as fast as I could, not stopping until I reached home.

It was many years before I ever saw him again.

Moving up to Uncle George’s house, we still had the same bread delivery man. Each day his arrival was heralded by the clip clop of his small brown mare and his lusty voice as he belted out Irish songs. He was a well liked little Irish Aussie whom we children called ‘Bake’. Whenever we ran to his cart to collect the bread he regaled us with his repertoire of jokes which we seldom understood. However, his uproarious laughter was infectious so we pretended to understand, giggling and slapping each other boisterously.

After Dad left, Bake insisted on carrying the bread to the house and he spent quite a time chatting with our mother. As time passed, Mum started taking us by train on week-ends to visit him at his home.

Bake’s small house in the Sydney suburb of Wiley Park, was dropping flakes of peeling brown paint onto the patch of dying lawn.

Observing my mother’s teachings, I made no judgments on this show of poverty.

Mum told us that Bake’s wife, a good catholic woman, had died shortly after delivering Billy, her sixth child. Four of these children, three of whom were now working teenagers, lived with Bake. Two other girls boarded with a nearby family and came home on week-ends. Billy was a year younger than me.

I enjoyed the visits for they were a cheerful bunch. The older girls painted my nails and curled my hair. Clem’s missing finger which he lost while working in a butcher shop fascinated me. He helped me practice my acrobatic entanglements as I secretly dreamed of running away with the circus and I developed my first schoolgirl crush on him.

With the participation of Clarice, Russell and Billy, I continued producing concerts and either we were hilariously funny or the Wiley Park audience was easily amused for they screamed with laughter – week after week after week.

As time passed I grew uneasy over the regularity of these visits, wondering if there was more than bread rising between Mum and Bake.

Advertisements

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lewrie Close
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 20:38:16

    June, I just read the small amount of the book and i am glad that you pushed on to write. The first pages reinforce in me that you have a story to tell and people will be amazed at all you have experienced in your life. Things that have turned you into one of the most facinating people I know. Lewrie

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: