As good as it gets.

Up till now my blog posts have been about travel, wellbeing or relationships. I have included lots and lots of photos.

This post is an experiment.

It’s a short story. It has very strong Australian cultural themes so it may not translate well to an international market…. BUT…. I wanted to give it a go.

So no photos and way more than the usual 1000 words or less and it’s total fiction.

Let me know what you think! Please! Depending on how it goes I might do it once every few months. I want to stick to my themes for the most part.

 

As good as it gets.

Thank goodness, the next stop was hers. The guy in the business suit had been letting off silent-but-deadlies since Redfern. The steady rocking of the carriage had sent her to sleep but she was shocked back into the world by the dead aromas wafting from his arse. His face stuck in the Sydney Morning Herald, pretending it wasn’t him.

‘RUDD’S APOLOGY – TEN YEARS ON’  the banner screamed.

‘How about apologising for those farts!’ she thought.

Things were changing slowly though. She and the kids had done the Reconciliation Walk across the Bridge with the thousands and thousands of others. It had made them all feel good. Sydney had a big heart that day. What was it? Jeez… 10 years?… No! 12 years ago!

The CityRail voice announced her stop.  ‘This station is Wentworthville. Please alight for Wentworthville’

‘Hah! Those bloody Millennials wouldn’t even know what “alight” meant’ she thought as she shoved her feet back into the stilettos and got out of her seat.

She squeezed past the throng of people standing in the aisle. The doors opened, to let the wind and rain batter those closest to the door. She dug around in her bag for the umbrella but abandoned the idea. No point. The $3 job would end up inside out in this wind.

As she filed up the stairs like an automaton with the rest of them, she decided there must be more to life than this. There really must. The blow-dried black hair stuck to her face.

‘Pffttt… that’s 30 bucks down the drain!’

Another summer storm. It would keep things cool for a nanosecond out here in Sydney’s west, only to be quickly replaced by steamy humidity as the roads shimmered and the water began to evaporate. Oh joy! Another sleepless night, tossing and turning in wet sheets.  The greeny-grey sky spelt out HAIL STORM. She’d better hurry and get her car under cover.

Pointing the remote at her Audi and listening to the beep-beep she thought she should have been happier. She had made it, hadn’t she? She had ‘the’ job, with ‘the’ firm. The hard slog at Uni had paid off. She had the 2.3 children who were all doing-well-thank-you-very-much and she had the model do-it-yourself-business-man for a husband. Why was the lingering feeling of disappointment and despair always hanging over her like the storm clouds above her now? Maybe it didn’t get better? You heard what Jack Nicholson had to say in that movie “This is as good as it gets!”

‘C’mon Anca Albescu! Snap out of it!’

Anca’s back story was a simple one but not without its twists. Her dad Alin, had come to Australia in the 1950’s as an engineer for the Snowy-Hydro Scheme. He was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering in Romania but could only get work here as a Clerk of Works. But never mind. It was better than what was happening back there. Alin was sure he could make a successful life in rural Australia, far away from everywhere. Grow his own little family. He met Kaylah at the Alpine Pub in Cooma. She had a nice healthy glow about her that screamed out ‘outdoors-sort-of-girl’. He liked that. Active girls were fun. He figured he was about 15 years older than her, maybe more. She said she had just come back from Byron.

‘Byron?’

‘Yeah you know, Byron Bay, on the beach, I’ve been sunbaking for days!’

‘Oh! Yes, of course!’ he said quickly trying to cover for his ignorance of towns in Australia.

They got to chatting and before you know it Kaylah was pregnant and they were married. Just like that! Kaylah had been working in the office at the Hydro Scheme but when her bump started to show she had to leave. That’s the way it was back then in the 60’s. Alin was doing ok. They had enough money and could buy a little place on Victoria Street.

As she was growing up, Anca was always fascinated by the family tree that Alin had in the front of the family bible. There were his parents and then their parents and their parents, all in spidery writing that had already begun to fade. Alin told her stories about his brothers and his little sister and how one day he was sure she would meet them and all her cousins.

‘Mum, where is your family tree?’

‘All that got lost in the Great Flood of 1950 love… and grandma passed long ago… I don’t have all that written stuff. It’s just here in my mind.’

‘But I can’t see that Mum’

‘One day you might feel it’

Anca wasn’t feeling it now. Mum seemed have come into the world as a fully grown adult. She had no stories of her childhood. There was only her and Grandma and Grandma had died sometime before the Great Flood of 1950.

The Audi pulled into the driveway and she waited for the garage door to open, edging the car forward impatiently.  She needed to pee and she knew once she stood up the need would double in urgency. FARQ! It was shit to be a post-menopausal 55-year-old mother with a weak pelvic floor! Squeeze, Squeeze, Squeeze!

Sandu was waiting for her there at the garage door but she pushed past him and made the dash to the ensuite. Too late… she had already pee’d her pants. This was humiliating. No-one had told her this would happen. Just as she had got her shit together she would start peeing her pants? Just when the kids were off her hands and she could concentrate on her career – the pee would hit the fan? Thanks God! That’s another reason for not believing in you!

As she cleaned herself off and threw her wet undies on the floor, she heard Sandu knock politely at the door.

‘Anca? Sorry Anca… I have bad news’

She slid open the door a few centimetres and peeked shamefully into the face of the plumber she had married. Kind, gentle, sometimes smelly but always there.

‘What Sandu? What?’ she said with more impatience than he deserved. His face said it all. It shrank back and twisted in sorrow.  ‘Robe’ she said pointing to the robe on the floor.

As he passed the robe, he took hold of her arm making sure her attention was on him.  ‘Your mother… She died this morning.’

‘What?  …Why didn’t they ring me?’

‘They did… but you didn’t answer. Perhaps you had your phone on flight mode for court?’

Ohh yes! She did and it was still on flight mode. She had forgot to switch it back. No wonder she had had such a quiet day!

‘How? When? WHERE?’

He sat on the edge of the bed and patted. She joined him, even though all she wanted to do was have a shower so she wouldn’t stink of piss.

‘You’ll have to ring Alin for the details but he said she had a heart attack last night and passed this morning.’

‘Right. OK.’ she said and that was it. Should she be more emotional? Should she be doubled up on the floor crying and sobbing?

Anca went back out to her car and fished out the phone. She switched it off flight mode and listened as it lit up like a Christmas tree. Seven missed calls and eight texts.

08:50 Dad: Urgent! Call me!

08:59 Dad: Anca! – Now! it’s important!

09:05: Sandu: Call your dad. It’s really important!

09:54 Dad: Too late baby…She is gone.

09:59 Dad: I really need to hear your voice just now. Call me as soon as you get this.

10:37 Dad: Really? No reply? Your mother has died!

10:43 Sandu: Call him Boo-Boo. Please!

10:52 Dad: Goodbye. I am done.

Anca sank onto the step between the garage and the house and scrolled through the messages again.

‘What does he mean. “He is done”? Sandu? What does he mean? Is planning on killing himself too?’

‘I don’t know, Boo-Boo … I haven’t been able to get back on to him since about 11:30.’

It was nearly six-thirty. Anca pressed the button “DAD”. The number rang out.

‘We’ll call the local police. Get them to do a welfare check.’  Anca knew the lingo, after, all it was her job.

‘Sargent Grey? Hello …this is Anca Albescu…yes… good thanks…I am wondering if you can just go check on my dad? He rang this morning very distressed. Said mum had died. I think he may be considering taking his own life… Yes, if you wouldn’t mind…oh you already have his address …oh good…thanks…ring me back…’

Forty minutes later the phone rang, unknown caller showed on the screen.

‘Hello? Oh Sargent Grey… Thanks for calling back….yes…umm ok…yes…ok.. I understand….’

Anca hung up. ‘Yes… they found them both in the house. He’s dead too. He shot himself. They said they will have to wait for mum’s autopsy but it looks like she died of natural causes.’

So matter of fact …so blasé!

Anca was an only child. Apart from her own two kids and Sandu she had no-one. Sandu’s family was huge. Big! LOUD and often argumentative with at least one pair of siblings not talking to each other at some time or another. Anca’s and Sandu’s marriage was not arranged per se. Alin and Sandu’s dad, Dumitru had worked together at the Hydro. The wives were pregnant at the same time and when they had the pigeon pair they would joke about them getting married.  And somehow it happened. 1984 – The Big Fat Romanian Wedding.  None of Alin’s family made the journey out to Australia, so their side of the church was filled with friends not relatives. Still, they did the whole shebang – Gypsy musicians; the Nasi, the huge feast and the dancing. So much dancing!

She thought about that now as they headed off to Cooma. Sandu driving while she had the seat laid right back, staring out at the tree tops and the dawn sky. Every now and then, a semi would thunder by and she counted the wheels as they rolled past. Her mind dull and wandering; flicking between the now and the then as she replayed her life-movie; pausing on the good bits and fast forwarding other times she’d rather not remember. Were there any clues? She smiled at the memories of the bride-napping she and her friends had staged for a ransom. To get her back, Sandu had to agree to run through the town in nothing but his underwear. Not to be outdone, he ended up stripping off those too and ran down the Monaro Highway completely naked. Kaylah was not impressed.

She couldn’t understand why Alin would have killed himself. Was he that worried about being alone and without his wife? It just didn’t make sense.

Sandu pulled up at the house and got out to open the low gate. The grass on the front lawn shaved short, the roses in neat military rows. Summer, not quite over, was still frying the ground like a chip. The double fronted fibro cottage hadn’t gotten the makeover like its neighbours. It was still white with the chalky paint, the seams between the fibro sheets visible. Alin had resisted the aluminium siding salesmen in the 70’s. They could probably list it as a “Retro Vintage Bargain in Original Condition” when it came time to sell.  That time, wasn’t now though. Now it was time to sort through the stuff and get the funerals organised. She didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a mess?

‘Ready?’ Sandu said as he opened the car door. She realised he had been standing there waiting for her to get out.

‘Give me a sec’ pretending to search for the house keys when really, she was trying to buy more time.

The police tape was still across the door.  Sergeant Grey had said it was OK for them to go in. The forensics people had already done their thing. Some detectives would be around later that day to ask a few questions. Just routine. Nothing to worry about.

‘Ahh! Here the bloody things are!’ jangling a bunch of keys.

The door opened and the smell hit them. Not what she had expected but the pungent smell of chlorine mixed with eucalyptus oil and the earthy tones of a bush fire. Someone had been cleaning. She knew from her own job there were companies that did this sort of thing. Trauma and crime scene cleaning. She shuddered. What a job! The house was dark in its sadness. Quiet and empty. Sandu’s footsteps making the boards creak and groan. He avoided the particularly clean patch on the carpet in the lounge room.

A knock at the door. Sandu went. She could only hear one side of the conversation as she walked away down the hall.

‘Mrs Chifley! Hello, yes sad, so very sad. ANCA – it’s Mrs Chifley from next door. She just wanted to say if you want a cup of tea or something to come on over.’

‘Ok thank her for me…’ she shouted back. Anca had not wanted to talk to anyone just yet. She was still deciding where to start. The thought of piling up some papers and lighting a match occurred to her as she opened and closed the cupboards that hid fifty-six years of her parents’ life.

The rooms were all tidy, a small basket of dirty clothes in the laundry the only thing out of place and not done. The dishwasher half full of clean dishes, like Dad had thought about making sure he didn’t leave a mess. The walls looked shiny in patches as if they had been recently scrubbed. In a few spots, red-brown clay stuck in the cracks.

‘Epic fail, Dad!’ She thought ‘You left a huge mess! You left your brains on the floor!’ She hated the way her brain worked sometimes. The sophisticated exterior of an urban lawyer only barely hid the crude bogan inside.

She came out to the kitchen and Sandu was sitting on the lounge his hands cradling his face, his tears watering the rose petals on the close to threadbare carpet.  He was sobbing. She hadn’t even thought about how this news might affect him. These were her parents, she was supposed to be the sad one. But of course, he had also known them all his life too. He had formed close bonds with them. Hadn’t he helped Alin replace the gutters, dug the trenches when the sewer came to replace the septic? Hadn’t he helped Kaylah put up the curtain rods in the guest bedroom when she had complained it was too bright when they visited? Oh dear what a selfish bitch she was. She sat next to him and laid her head against his shoulder and patted his thigh.

‘There, There’ she said, like he all needed was a Band-Aid. What else could she do?

‘Andrea and Jacob will be here tomorrow.’ Anca said trying to distract him. They would be upset about losing their grandparents too. She stood up and opened the fridge and held a carton of milk to her nose. Still good.

‘Tea?’ she asked holding the milk and pointing to the jug. ‘I think we need to make a plan.’

‘Let’s just get the funerals over and done with and then we can think about what to do here’ he said. ‘I think that’s enough of a plan for the minute.’

She agreed. Another knock on the door.

‘Oh! Bloody neighbours! This will be a casserole for sure.’

Anca swung open the door. No, not neighbours but detectives holding up ID badges.

‘Hello, Mrs Albescu. We are sorry for your loss. Can we come in and ask a few questions? There’s just a few things we need to get sorted before we release the bodies from the morgue. I am Senior Detective Andrea Kemp and this is Detective Sheridan Chamberlain.’

‘Sheridan…funny name for a bloke.’ Anca thought.

‘Yes of course…come in…my husband, Sandu.’ Gesturing toward him. ‘Would you like a cup of tea, I was just putting the kettle on?’

The younger man held his hand up as a no, but the woman, older and more in tune with the protocol of forming trust and making bonds as a strategy to get down to business quickly said, ‘Yes please, a little milk and one sugar, thanks.’

‘Andrea… my daughter’s name is Andrea.’ It seemed like a trivial bit of information but Anca said it anyway. She figured they probably knew, they would have done their background checks.

‘I will just get down to it Mrs Albescu. Your mum’s death was caused by a massive heart attack. Your dad took his own life it would seem. Were you aware of any concerns?’

‘I don’t think so… He seemed alright last time we spoke. He sent me some texts the morning mum died. I didn’t answer, I had my phone on silent.’ That wasn’t strictly true, she had had it on flight mode but she wasn’t going to explain now.

‘It looks like your mum had been dead a couple of days before he shot himself.’

‘Oh…’ Anca took hold of Sandu’s hand. ‘I wonder why he didn’t let me know earlier?’

‘We checked his phone records, he made a few other calls’ Chamberlain was standing at the window looking out over the quarter acre block.

‘Who did he call?’

‘I don’t know if you are familiar but he called Aunty Lorraine…’

Anca cut in ‘I don’t have an Aunty Lorraine.’

‘No, she wouldn’t be your Aunty. She is one of the local elders.’

‘Elders?’ Sandu asked, surprised.

‘Yes, Aboriginal Elders.’ Andrea and Sheridan looked at each other awkwardly, confused by Anca and Sandu’s response.

‘Your mother was a Ngarigo woman.’ Andrea paused ‘You didn’t know?’

Anca sucked in a huge mouthful of air. Her bottom lip quivered. ‘No. No she never told me about that. She was always a bit vague about her background.’

That seemed like such a lame excuse now speaking to these strangers. But it hadn’t been like that. She had tried to find out. She had asked but had always hit the same brick wall. Everything was destroyed in the Great Flood of 1950 and Grandma had died ages ago. It was always the same answer. Alin’s strong culture had dominated their life. She thought of herself as a Romanian-Australian. The effect amplified by Sandu’s own family background. She had even sent her kids to Saturday Language School to learn Romanian.

Kaylah tanned easily but she didn’t look Aboriginal. Anca was worried that her thoughts were crossing over into culturally insensitive areas. She could scream it out in her own mind but she had better not let it out into the open. She hadn’t thought of herself as racist but she wanted to yell out to Detective bloody Kemp ‘How could Mum be an Aboriginal – she was white!

Her attention came back to the room. ‘Dad must have known then?

‘Yes, it would seem so’

‘Why did he call Aunty Lorraine – why the delay in calling me?’

‘Your dad arranged a smoking ceremony for your mum. Some of the other Aunties came to the house and got her ready and painted the walls with ochre. I guess he needed some time to get that wrapped up.’

‘That doesn’t explain why he killed himself though?’  Sandu said

‘No, it doesn’t, Detective Kemp.’

‘Andrea…please…’ Strategy No 2: Use first names.

‘Andrea, did he leave a note?’

‘No note… just this.’ She opened the manilla folder she had been holding and took out a small black and white photo. As she pushed it across the table, she took a sip of her tea, waiting for a reaction.

Anca and Sandu looked at the photo. It was old and wrinkled. It had spent a lot of time folded into quarters. There were faded spots that obscured the background. It was her dad, 20-ish, in a full-on Nazi-style military uniform. He was holding a severed head in one hand and a sword in the other. He looked very pleased with himself.

‘Oh! This must be Photoshopped!’ Anca pushed the photo away and it flipped over showing an inscription in black felt-pen.

Nu uităm. Te găsim și te ucid, indiferent unde ești

‘What does it say Mrs Albescu, can you read it?’

‘We don’t forget. We will find you and kill you, no matter where you are!’ Sandu interjected.

‘That’s not him! He was never in the army!’

‘We haven’t had time to do any fact checking yet, but it may be a motive for his suicide.’

Chamberlain added from the window.  ‘If it is a suicide’

‘I take it you didn’t know about that either?’ Andrea added. ‘It seems like your family kept a lot of secrets.’

‘So it would seem. Detectives, listen, if you have no other questions, I think my wife and I need some time to digest all of this. Are we free to organise the funeral?’

‘Yes, yes of course.  All good on that front, we don’t need them any longer.’  She picked up the photo and put in back in the folder. ‘We’ll keep this, if you don’t mind. And let us know when the funeral is on.’ placing her business card on the table. ‘Given this may be a death threat we want to see if anyone interesting turns up at the funeral.’

Sandu closed the door behind them. ‘Far-Q’ He never swore, not properly, just used these silly little pretending swear words. Same intent but it meant he didn’t actually swear.  Anca was still sitting at the table staring into nowhere.

‘Well?’

‘Well… what?’ She snapped back.

‘That changes the plan a bit’

‘Yes, it does. My mum was an Abo and my dad a Nazi! I am not sure which is the most shocking news.’

‘ANCA! REALLY? You are just so thoughtless sometimes!’

Her bottom lip trembled. Her bravado left her. A spray of saliva shot out her mouth as she screamed and punched the table. ‘Why? Why? Why? Why?’

Sandu took hold of her hands and pulled her off the seat. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. ‘Shhhh… Shhhh… Shhhh. It will be OK. You couldn’t have done anything different. They obviously didn’t want you to know.’

‘But who am I now? Who am I? How do I fit this into my life? Was your dad a Nazi too?’ She pushed him away and tried to see something in his eyes. ‘What other secrets does this family have?’

Anca wasn’t the type to get all philosophical but her life had just become a train wreck. Two totally different perceptions of who she was and what contribution her life was making to the world were vying for her attention. On the one hand, the father she thought to be a gentle, peace loving man was perhaps, a murdering Nazi. Her stoic mother would probably end up being part of the Stolen Generation. Was there even a Great Flood in 1950 or was that just a metaphor? She was going to have to do some fact checking of her own. Jack Nicholson’s voice came into her head.

‘This IS as good as it gets doll face!’

“I bloody hope not!’ she said out loud. ‘I certainly bloody hope not!’

‘What? You bloody hope what’s not?’ She didn’t answer – she just grabbed the keys. ‘Where are you going?’ Sandu asked as she headed for the door.

‘I have to find Aunty Lorraine, she might be able to tell me if Jack is right?’

She was feeling it now.

6 thoughts on “As good as it gets.

    1. LOL!! Thank you for that!! I have to decide what will happen yet!! I started it as a stand alone story but I agree there is more to say in ANca’s journey!.

      Like

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