TOUGH LIKE DONNA
G. D. Buckley
The eleventh of November was Remembrance Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the armistice was signed that ended the Great War. At school we had to stand up and think about the soldiers for one minute.
I knew Mum wasn’t thinking about the soldiers though, when I came home and found her just staring at the radiogram like that. Something terrible must have happened, and not just something a long time ago.
“What’s wrong, Mum?” I asked.
“Oh, Rose, he’s been dismissed.” Mum’s voice was so low I could hardly hear her.
“No, Whitlam. Gough Whitlam has been sacked.”
“Oh!” Mum liked Whitlam but Dad didn’t. I didn’t know much about politics, but I guessed there would be a fight when Dad got home. Mum and Dad had been fighting a lot lately. Sometimes it was about politics and sometimes it was about Mum going to art school.
It wasn’t fair. Mum’s art school had already finished for the year but I still had to go to school for weeks more. Mum wished her school was still going and I wished the holidays would finally arrive.
“Did you hear about the dismissal?” Mum asked Dad when he got home.
“He had to go, Adrienne,” Dad said. “The man’s a lunatic. He was destroying this country.”
Mum gave him her scary look. “Do you mean he was finally dragging it into the twentieth century?”
“Well, let’s not fight about it, agree to disagree. I’ve got some good news.”
“I’ve been promoted.” Dad stuck his chest out like a proud rooster. “We’re going to Sydney.”
“Just like that?” Mum said.
“No, not just like that. I’ve been working on this for months. It’s a great opportunity.”
“And you didn’t think to tell us? Don’t you think we have a right to know what you’re up to?” Somehow Mum had put me on her side. I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to be on a side, any side. I tried to sneak off to my room but Mum grabbed me. She held me out in front of Dad like I was some kind of weapon she could hurt him with.
“Look at your daughter,” Mum screamed. “Do you expect her to just pack up and leave all her friends?”
Leaving all my friends wouldn’t be too bad. I didn’t have any real friends, not real close friends. My friends were just school friends. I talked to them at school and that was it.
“Can we leave Rose out of this?” Dad asked.
This time I was on Dad’s side. I wanted to be left out of it. Not that it mattered what I thought. No-one ever asked what I wanted.
“No, we can’t leave her out of it,” Mum said. “She’s in it, whether you like it or not.”
She let go of my arms and I ran off to my room. I jumped onto my bed and buried my head in the pillow. I lay there the whole time they kept arguing, and stayed there after they stopped. I must have gone to sleep because Mum woke me up when dinner was ready.
“Now, dear,” she said. “Your father and I have decided to separate.”
“Good!” I’d heard enough fights to last a long time.
“Oh, don’t say that, dear.”
“Well, it’s better than fighting all the time.” I got up and went out to the dining room.
“Did you tell her?” Dad asked.
“Rose,” Mum said, “you have to decide if you want to go to Sydney with your father or stay here with me.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was too soon.
They both looked at me like a couple of lovable puppies. I could make one very happy but I had to kick the other one. I thought it was cruel to make me decide. It was like a movie I saw once where the Nazi guy told this lady that he was going to shoot one of her sons but she had to decide which one.
“You don’t have to make up your mind yet,” Dad said. “We won’t be going until after Christmas.”
“We!” Mum shot him a look that would burn steel.
“Now, Adrianne…” Dad began.
“Okay, let’s just eat our dinner. Shall we?”
We ate without speaking. I don’t remember what we had. I don’t remember if I put salt or sauce on it. I do remember that I didn’t ask for salt or sauce. If I couldn’t reach it I went without. I left the table as soon as I could and slunk back to my room.
As I lay there trying to sleep they started fighting again. Now, they were fighting over me, but not because either of them really wanted me. Mum was too busy with her art studies. Dad would be too busy with his new job. I was just a prize. I was a point they could score.
As I drifted off to sleep I suddenly thought of boarding school. I didn’t know anything about boarding school. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, but it was a way that I didn’t have to decide which one to live with. Nobody wins so nobody loses.
Next morning at breakfast I said I wanted to go to boarding school.
“Boarding school?” They both looked stunned.
“I want to go to boarding school in Brisbane. That’s half way. I can have holidays with both of you in turns. That’s fair.”
They both looked at me like they’d never seen me before. Dad’s mouth kept moving but no words came out. It was like he wanted to say something, but stopped himself every time.
Finally Mum found a weak little voice. “If that’s what you really want, dear.”
“I’ll do some phoning around,” Dad said. “See what’s available.”
I hadn’t expected them to agree straight up like that. I suppose they both just wanted to not let the other one have me. This was a way of winning without having the hassles of putting up with me all the time.
It turned out that there weren’t many boarding schools, and all the good ones were booked out years in advance. Mum and Dad spent weeks trying to find one that would have me. I knew long before they made their decision that I would end up in the rattiest old dump there ever was.