Lithgow, New South Wales
WILD Competition entry
Callie’s real name was Carol, but when she uttered her first words at the age of two in the nineteen fifties, she pronounced it as Callie, and that remained her name. When this baby-boomer child was eleven years old, a series of events occurred that led her to make an adventurous decision.
It happened that her father had to move to a new district with his job so he, Callie’s mother, and Callie also, to a certain extent, began clearing out, throwing away and packing.
It then happened that her mother’s mother, Callie’s grandmother, fell and broke her hip, so Callie’s mother had to go to Newcastle to take care of her.
Following that, Calllie’s father decided that, what with the packing, moving and the house being in a turmoil, Callie would be better off spending a couple of weeks of the school holidays with her two aunts in Sydney. This is how she became a wild child and in doing so became one of the happiest girls in Australia.
The aunties lived in a tall narrow house in a street of similar houses. These aunties were tall and narrow women with lofty and narrow ideas. The other houses were occupied by families with children and it seemed to Callie that these children were squeezed out through the front doors every day. Out they popped, like corks out of bottles, onto the street, which became a concrete playground. No backyard can compare with a street for freedom and adventure.
The aunties’ tall thin house was swept and dusted every day; every piece of furniture and every figurine always stood in its appointed place, not daring to move an inch. Even their yellow cat was slim and prim; its name was Chang because it was Siamese and it walked around with a gracefully arched back and a disdainful expression.
On her first day in the house, Callie looked out the front window and said to her Aunty Mabel, ‘So that’s where they play. Those kids are out in the street.’
‘Well, Carol, you needn’t think you are going to play with street kids,’ the aunt said, displaying a gift for reading Callie’s thoughts. ‘You’ve got books and your paints and those jigsaw puzzles you brought. I’ll give you jobs. You won’t be bored.’
‘But it’s safe, Aunty. There’s no traffic; it’s a dead end,’ Callie protested.
‘Cul de sac,’ her aunt corrected, ‘and respectable children do not play in the street.’
The children of various sizes and abilities and in ever changing numbers played games of cricket and rounders in the street. Sometimes a cluster of children perched on a fence, swinging their legs and chattering, like swallows on a wire.
Callie’s greatest desire was to join in the cricket games. She could see that they were seriously short of good fielders and knew herself capable of carrying out that task. No ball would ever get past her.
She did play in the street once, but once only. Not really taking her aunt’s restriction seriously, she slipped out through the front door to join in a rousing game of ‘Tig Ya Last’. ‘Tig Ya Last’ was a chasing game. Whoever was ‘in’ ran around touching (or tigging) people on the shoulder. If the ‘in’ person tigged you then ran, it meant that you had been tigged last so you had to chase the ‘in’ person. With eight or more kids playing and cheering on the chaser or the chased, it became rowdy and exhilarating fun.
Breathless after that game, they sat on the kerb telling riddles. Callie wondered if they might become best friends, but it was not to be. Aunty Mabel ran out her front door, her duster still in her hand, and ordered Callie inside, loudly berating, ‘… with those common hooligans … running wild in the street … no self-respect.’
When she dropped the final clanger, Callie felt a rush of wild indignation and temper. ‘…and you a minister’s daughter. A fine example you are!’
What? Not have fun; not have friends, not have exercise; not be like other children?
Her father, the minister, would not have said that to her, and she longed for him to come and take her home. She wanted to see his jovial face and the smile that made fans at the corners of his eyes. She began to suffer that ailment for which there is only one cure and that is not always attainable. It is called homesickness.
To Callie’s delight her Aunty Claire decided to take her on an outing. Callie thought they might go to the movies and see a musical with singing and dancing but Aunty Claire had made the decision to go to the museum. The visit proved to be rather interesting but as Callie walked around looking at the dead, stuffed animals and birds, it occurred to her that it would have been more exciting to go on a safari and see real animals in the wild. She thought of forests and jungles and deserts, all occupied by living creatures.
Every morning one of her aunts, either Aunty Mabel, or Aunty Claire, arranged Callie’s hair into two tight plaits then inspected her for neatness. The mornings were spent helping the aunts tidy up, and sweep and dust.
One afternoon Callie decided to do some painting with her set of water colours.
Aunt Mabel spread newspapers all over the dining table so that not one splash of water colour would land on the polished table top. Callie filled a tall glass with water and began creating a work of art. Aunty Claire happened to walk past as she vacuumed the floor. She glanced at Callie’s work and commented, ‘That looks like a mess. Is it supposed to be something?’
‘It’s the sunset,’ Callie told her. ‘The sky is pink and the sun is sending coloured light up into the clouds.’
At that moment the yellow cat leapt gracefully onto the table. It arched its back and strode across the newspaper, bumping against the glass of water, spilling it and sending water all over Callie’s painting.
‘Scat, cat!’ shouted Callie.
Aunty Claire put her hand on Callie’s shoulder and said, ‘Shouting is not ladylike. We can clean up this mess.’ More worried about the so-called mess than Callie’s ruined painting, the aunt collected all the newspaper and the painting, scrunched them together and said, ‘Here you are, Carol. You can take all this out to the garbage tin.’
Every day Callie heard the children in the street, and thought that if she could have played with children she might not have been so homesick and she tried to devise schemes for going home.
She could write to her father and beg him to come and get her, but Aunt Mabel would have wanted to see everything she was writing and Callie had no money for a stamp. It happened that one day, as she sat at the front window watching the children in the street she decided that, as her aunts disapproved of wild children – that was exactly what she would become. Then they would be glad to get rid of her and send her home.
She put her plan into action at once. By mid-day, her tight plaits lost their ribbons and her hair got bedraggled. Her hairbrush mysteriously disappeared. At meal times when she had her cup of tea, she drank it with a slurp – and Callie was a champion slurper.
Subsequently, whenever she dried the dishes she moved slowly trying to be as irritating as she could. She wasn’t quite daring enough to drop a dish or cup and break it. Her intention was to be wild, not deliberately destructive.
Her clothes lay in a tumbled heap on the end of her bed. Whenever she was inside the house, she kicked her shoes off into a corner and went about barefoot. She also talked and laughed loudly and raucously.
The aunts, who were actually rather nice people, began to gently scold her and Aunty Claire suggested that Callie might need to have some outings. She would take Callie to suitable venues such as the library and the art gallery. She looked at Callie and said, ‘But you will have to look tidy. It’s a pity you have such bad manners and can’t stay tidy for more than five minutes.’
So Callie, untidy and wild as she was, went to such places, making sure to talk loudly and generally misbehave.
There came a day when Aunty Claire took Callie on an exciting outing to a classical music concert at the local Town Hall, declaring that the concert would be good for Callie. To Aunty Claire it might have been exciting but Callie managed to fall asleep, her head heavy on her aunt’s shoulder.
On the way home on the bus Aunty Claire explained the music to Callie, who rudely yawned and looked out the window. After the short walk from the bus stop, they turned into the street of tall narrow houses and Callie noticed that there was a cricket game going on. Garbage bins had been placed at each end of a makeshift pitch. Callie noticed that again they were short of fielders then turned her head away, quelling her need to join in.
She couldn’t help it; she had to watch so she looked again. There at the bowling end was a familiar figure – her father.
Callie’s father had arrived and was playing cricket with the street kids, no doubt offering some friendly coaching.
‘Hey, Callie,’ he shouted. ‘Hurry up. We need you in the slips.’
Hair flying, shoes off, Callie ran to take up her position. What joy, what freedom, what exhilaration, to be allowed to play like a wild child with the hooligans in the street.
There was not really a winning team in that game. Every player wanted to be an umpire and the ensuing arguments got them nowhere. Everyone agreed that it had been a satisfying game and they all ran off to their own homes.
Later Callie and her father sat on the lounge while Aunty Mabel was in the kitchen making a cup of tea. ‘Did they write to you and tell you to come and get me because I was awful and horrible?’ Callie whispered.
‘No,’ her father told her. ‘I missed you so I decided to come and get you. That is, if you really want to come home. You don’t have to …’
‘Please take me home,’ Callie interrupted. ‘I’ve tried so hard to be the kind of wild child they would not like. I’ve been out of control and rude and everything else so they would send me home.’
Her father stood up and strode around laughing uproariously. Both aunties then entered with tea, milk, sugar and biscuits on a tray.
‘What are you laughing at, Charlie?’ demanded Aunty Claire.
‘I’m laughing with pride at my wild child,’ was his reply between guffaws. ‘I’ve got to take her home. I can’t be without my wild child any longer.’
Callie ran upstairs to pack her bag.
Bio: Winsome Smith has had work published in narratorINTERNATIONAL and many anthologies. She has won competitions and been highly commended. Her book of stories is available from Amazon and Balboa Press as well as, A Reader’s Heaven bookshop on Mort Street, Lithgow, New South Wales.