The announcement that their mother had departed, unannounced and without warning devastated young Carl who retreated into his own private world. His sister, was less surprised. She'd witnessed the discord to which her younger sibling had been oblivious. Many arguments had taken place at night, beginning with pillow talk, then the muffled voices elevating to muffled anger in the room above her bedroom. She'd cover her head with her pillow to drown out the sounds of conversations she shouldn't hear, but couldn't help wanting to hear.
"Who is he?" her father would interrogate, as her mother's footsteps paced up and down the floorboards above her. "What's his name? What's he got that I haven't?"
The discussions were not so loud as to disturb the children but firm and frightening never the less.
"Wolf. Don't do this!" Her mother would retort and plead, "Just don't. You know why. We were never 'in love' in the first place. I was young, you were stupid...we both were stupid. It was convenient, we only married to get me into the country, then...I didn't mean to get pregnant. I didn't mean to have anything more than a convenient relationship. I never meant for any of this!"
"What about the kids?"
She could hear the dejection in his voice. He was a good man, a solid man, a hard working man. Leisl's ears pricked as she removed the pillow and edged closer to the bedroom door, the sounds above oozing through the cracks like crude and drowning her in suffocating sludge.
"We only married because of Leisl. It was a stop-gap at best. I tried, I really tried but I just can't do it any more." The sound of her mother's sobs punctuated by a slap and a short audible wince.
She, she? Was she the cause of all this? Leisl sank to her knees and began to sob. Her mother didn't love her. Love was all she held for this woman who had been there for her every triumph, her every failure. The woman who enveloped her, doted on her. The woman who's European beauty she wanted to emulate. The woman she wanted to be in just a few years time. Elegant, stylish . . .a woman who drew stares and attention. The woman who styled her hair, complemented her looks, taught her how to dress, apply make-up. Being attractive was important to her mother, herself a beauty, trapped in the role of wife, strangled by the role of mother. They were more like sisters. Or so Leisl had come to believe. Was it all a sham? All a faux display of affection?
The departure of her mother was the beginning of a slide into drunkenness for Wolf, a signal for change in Carl, and a spiralling into insecurity for Leisl. The beginning of a journey to find herself through spurious means. The beginning of obsession, neediness and an overwhelming desire to be loved. As her mother blamed Leisl for the devastation of her marriage, Leisl blamed her mother for a series of failed relationships and awkward fumbles. Leisl blamed her mother for her promiscuousness, her loneliness. Leisl blamed her father for allowing her mother to leave, for his weakness and lack of intestinal fortitude, for not loving her enough. It became her mission to find love in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons.
After the announcement, she dealt with the news by seeking affection elsewhere. The first of her 16 year-old crushes, was Mal Steadman. She had no trouble gaining his interest. A glance in class, a bend over a dropped book, a sideways smile, the bite of a bottom lip. He noticed her but said nothing.
A shallow but handsome youth, two years her senior, Steadman played Aussie Rules and trained each Tuesday and Thursday after school. With her mother no longer at home, a father working until late, all she had to do was turn up at footy training with her entourage of hangers-on. She'd put Carl on the bus as usual but didn't accompany him on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
"You'll be fine!" she reassured him as she pushed him up the steps. "Just go home, I'll be home in a bit."
The crestfallen look on his face didn't faze her. She needed something, love, affection, attention. She couldn't put her finger on it but the need burned like a lit cigarette against her sternum, distracting her from any sense of guilt in ushering her younger brother onto the bus. His protestations and tears at first, soon gave way to reluctant resignation and he complied.
She'd sit on the steel bench, facing the oval while Steadman and his team practised drop kicks and scissor steps. She'd place herself strategically on the sun-warmed aluminium bench, legs spread just a little so that when he bent exhausted, hands on his knees, he had a good view if he glanced sideways. For a while, he never did. But after seeing her there for a third training session, he tilted his head towards her. Her intentions were clear, or so he thought.
Post session, he walked over.
"Hey, you're Leisl Stensl right?" His skin was tanned and glistening. Sweat discolouration on the chest of his grey T-shirt testimony to the evening heat and the intensity of the training session.
"I am," she replied, crossing shapely tanned legs and leaning forward, elbow on her knee, hand on her chin to reveal a tantalising lace trim enveloping shapely breasts for a girl her age. "And you?"
"Mal...Mal Steadman. We're in the same PE class. What you doin' here?"
"Missed my bus again, just biding time waiting for the next."
Her head tilts provocatively. She's not sure where she learned these wiles but they came with ease. Too much television perhaps, too many romantic novels, instinct, need. However, she learned, she was good at engaging the attention of boys, and deliciously tempting.
"It's getting dark. The buses only run every hour after six. I have a car, I can drop you?"
Bingo! The invitation was worth watching three nights of training. This would be it, this would be the one who would take her, love her, be with her. She could hardly contain her excitement.
The 20 minute trip seemed to last for hours. He flirted, chatted, talked AFL and of being 'someone' in the game once he was scouted. She feigned interest and waxed lyrical about passes and athleticism. He complemented her looks, her legs, her pretty face. She put her hand beneath his thigh as they pulled up outside her house.
"Can I see you again?" The question now moot, Steadman was confident of a positive response.
She planted a firm kiss on the third eye spot on his forehead, "Of course, Friday night? "
He took his face in her hands and kissed her gently on the mouth. The blood rushed to places she'd only felt herself, before she pulled away, slid seductively from the car and peered from a closing door, "See you Friday, 7pm."
Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5
Continued in: Alone Never Felt So Crowded