Stirring in her sleep, Edna heard the door slam. She rolled over in the bed and felt the empty warmth next to her. Damn him, she thought to herself pulling the blanket up under her chin. The fight they’d had that evening had been the worst yet. The kitchen pantry was empty of food and the three children had eaten bread and dripping for dinner again. Robert had promised to bring his pay home this week but had sauntered in late Friday night reeking of alcohol, his pockets empty.
Edna drifted back to sleep. Hours later she opened her eyes to see the empty wardrobe gaping at her, the door ajar. She sat bolt upright. All his shirts were gone! Jumping out of bed Edna looked around the room. There was nothing left of Roberts, save a pair of slippers tucked under the bed. She rushed to the kitchen, reaching up for the biscuit tin on top of the fridge. She knew already it was empty. He’d taken the rent money. Robert was gone for good this time.
Edna made a cup of tea and sat on the back step in her dressing gown. The house was quiet, the three children sleeping soundly. She put her head in her hands. What now? How could she possibly provide for her children? Life had always been hard with Robert. More often than not his pay was squandered on drink and greyhounds. She suspected there were other women too. She’d scrubbed coloured smears of lipstick from his collar more than once. Even so she lived in hope each week that he’d finally come to his senses and care for his family. Now he was gone and the future looked bleaker than ever.
Edna lit a cigarette and took a sip of her tea. She had to come up with a plan and fast. The rent had to be paid. The thought of joining the long winding queues for food stamps made her terrified. They would end up in a tent along with all the other poor bastards if she didn’t act quickly. Right! She thought. I’ll ask Leslie to help. Her younger brother had really made something of himself, studying hard and qualifying as an architect. He’d gradually distanced himself from his family, determined to leave their mess and hopelessness behind and Edna hadn’t seen him for a couple of years now. She groaned at the thought of fronting up to his grand house in the leafy Northern suburb, his stuck up wife Marjory opening the door. She’d swallow her pride if it meant avoiding homelessness and hunger. She thought back to their childhood when they’d been inseparable. Edna had always looked out for Leslie, protecting him from the wrath of their angry father. She hoped he still had a soft spot for her.
Opening the gate, she looked around at the manicured lawn and the neatly trimmed hedge, the golden elm casting a dappled shade across the path. The three children hung back in an anxious cluster. Her heart ached for them, they looked so solemn. What would their future be? She smiled at them reassuringly then stepped up onto the wide tiled porch and pulled back the brass door knocker.
There was the sound of footsteps and Leslie’s wife Marjory appeared, her face falling as she saw the ragged group on her doorstep.
'Edna! Children! How lovely. It’s been so long! What are you doing here?’
‘Is Leslie home? I need to talk to him.’
Edna peered over Marjory’s shoulder into the house. The hallway floor gleamed and on the hall table stood a large vase of pink roses. There was an aroma of pine, flowers and something delicious wafting from down the hall. What a life they have. She couldn’t help feeling bitter, thinking of her empty biscuit tin and bare cupboards.
‘ Leslie’s rather busy at the moment. He has an important project to finish and he’s under a lot of pressure.’ Marjory blocked the door.
‘I need to see him. It will only take a minute. Can we please come in?’ Edna stared at Marjory determinedly.
Marjory sighed. ‘Wait here.’ She closed the door
Edna set her mouth firmly. She felt her foot nudge something and glancing down saw a large Grecian urn abundant with petunias. Throwing the children a sly smile, she yanked the plants from the earth and tossed them gleefully onto the lawn. Audrey gasped and the boys began to giggle. ‘Shhhh..’ She whispered, pressing her forefinger to her lips.
The door opened and there was Leslie, Marjory scowling over his shoulder. He peered at Edna through his glasses, his face softening into a smile. He hugged her tightly and bent to kiss each of the children.
‘I wouldn’t have come Leslie, but we are desperate. Robert has gone. He took the rent money and we have nothing left to eat.’
‘Oh Edna. I’m sorry. Of course I’ll help you. Come. Come in.’
He ushered the family through the front door. They huddled awkwardly in the entrance under Marjorie’s steely gaze while Leslie disappeared into a room, returning shortly with a cheque in hand. Edna gaped at the amount. This would pay the rent and feed them for the next month if she was careful. She looked at Leslie with tears in her eyes, ‘Leslie, thank you. You are a good man.‘
Over the next week Edna thought long and hard about what she could do next. No matter how much she tried she couldn’t come up with another plan. There really was no alternative. She needed another man; one with a steady job and a house. She couldn’t do it on her own. Herbert Hewitt! She had seen him eyeing her up and down appreciatively when he’d come to visit Robert.
Edna began her preparations for the night ahead with Herbert. When she’d popped over to see him the day before, he had suggested eagerly she come back tonight. She pulled her skirt snuggly over her hips and wriggled into the pink jumper. It really was getting a bit small but made her breasts look full and round. Her hair secured in a French roll, she dug out the last nugget of lipstick from the cylinder and coloured her lips. She looked at herself in the fly spotted mirror hanging in the bathroom. I don’t scrub up too bad at all!
Edna stood at the bedroom door looking at her sleeping children, their bodies wrapped snuggly together. This is for you my darling ones. She picked up her purse from the hall table, and closed the door softly behind her.