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Clement's Corner: Cherry Red

Owen Clement tells a story of a young girl in crisis.

Daryl Green looked down at the young woman squatting on the footpath beside him, begging. He decided that her hair, dyed a brilliant scarlet, needed a good brush. The rings through her lips and eyebrows make her look tawdry rather than trendy. She looked up at him obviously conscious of his scrutiny. When she recognized him, she quickly dropped her eyes. He saw her expression of alarm and taking a closer look, realised, to his horror, that she was Cherry, his sister's daughter.

"Cherry!" he said crouching down and putting his arm around her.

Shrugging off his arm she shouted, "Bugger off.'

Her raised voice made heads turn, as people wondered what a well-dressed middle-aged man was doing hassling a young female vagrant.

Taken aback at her rebuke, he stood up. Looking down at the slightly built filthy girl, he felt tears fill his eyes. She had been such a happy-go-lucky child, full of cheek and vivacity. He knew that her parents' break-up, when she had barely reached her teens, had been devastating to her and her elder brother Greg, but to see her like this, broke his heart.

"Listen Cherry.."he began.

"Bugger off, I said.''

"You know I can't do that. Please talk to me.''

She grabbed the grubby cap with its meagre takings, stood up, then hitching her dilly bag on her shoulder, began to walk off. Daryl followed her.

"I'm not leaving you, so you might as well stop and talk to me."

"Look", she said as she swung around, "I have nothing to say to you.''

"Come on now dear, let's go somewhere and you can tell me what this is all about."

"Look Uncle Daryl, I don't want to talk to you. Can't you get that through your thick head?"

"As I said, I am not leaving you until you do. I don't care how long it takes.'' Her shoulders drooped, "For God's sake, I wish you'd leave me alone.''

He moved beside her, took her hand and speaking gently said, "What sort of a person would I be, not to try and help my darling niece.''

"But I don't want your help.''

Using all his self-control to keep from taking her in his arms he said, "Well for a start you need money, otherwise you wouldn't be doing what you were doing. Right?''

"I can manage thanks."

"Tell me, have I ever been unkind to you? Haven't I always shown that I loved you and wanted what's best for you?"

She turned and began walking away. He stood looking after her not moving. After half a dozen paces she turned, and seeing him looking at her with an expression of great sadness gave a heartbreaking sigh. Daryl immediately moved up took her into his arms and rocked her back and forth.

Once again she pushed him away, and stepping back said, "It's too late to do anything, so please go.''

"I can't. I'd never forgive myself if I did. Talk to me. At least let me get you something to eat. You look half-starved .''

Unable or unwilling to resist any longer, she allowed him to guide her to a nearby cafe. He selected a table in a far corner.

After conferring with her, he ordered a couple of sandwiches and black cappuccinos.

"Have you been in touch with Greg?"

She shook her head.

"We've all been sick with worry, not knowing whether you were alive or dead, especially you mother and father."

"I bet."

"What sort of people do you think they are?"

She looked at him with disdain.

The sandwiches and coffee arrived. He waited until they were alone and then said, "Would you at least talk to your parents. Just to confirm that you are alive. That's all I ask.''

"You tell `em."

"Do you hate them so much that you won't even speak to them?"

"They never thought about me or Greg when they broke-up, did they?"

"You'll have to ask them about that. What if I ring your mother now? I have my mobile?"

She shrugged.

He took out his phone and rang his sister's number. "Ellen, I have some good news, I have Cherry with me. That's right. She's okay. Hang on, I'll try.''

He handed the phone over to Cherry. She shook her head, not meeting his eyes.

"Please Cherry."

She ignored him. He sighed and said to Ellen, "I can't get her to talk to you. I'll do what I can.''

He broke the link.

"Your mother sends you her love and says that she will do whatever you say. All she wants is to see you, even if it's for only for a few moments."

Cherry stood up, grabbed her dilly bag and prepared to leave. Daryl did not try to stop her but said, "You can't run away Cherry. You may not believe this, but I too, as a boy, ran away from my violent father when he came home from the War. In those days they didn't have ways of helping men with war neurosis. The poor man was severely mentally damaged, only I didn't know it at the time. It wasn't until many years later that I found out why he had committed suicide. I felt terribly guilty, but then I realized that no one was to blame. You should at least give your parents a chance to explain, and to show you that they have never stopped loving you and that you have been in their thoughts always. Yes always".

The last two words were in response to her look of disbelief. He took out his wallet and pulled out about $150 and handed it to her. Ignoring it, she stood looking at him and then defeated, sat down again.

After some time she said very quietly, "I couldn't handle seeing them at the moment. I'll have to think about it."

"Fair enough, I'll give you our phone numbers. Call us when you are ready. You will do that won't you?"

She nodded.

He tore off a piece of paper napkin, jotted both her parents' numbers and his own and handed it to her. When she stood to go, he also rose, took her shoulders and, conscious of her acrid smell of poverty. kissed her cheek. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to see you".

Saying nothing, she walked out.

Over a month later Daryl's telephone rang.

"Hello Uncle Daryl."

"Cherry. You've got a nerve leaving it for so long. We've been sick with worry."

"I'm sorry. I couldn't. I.. I've not been well."

He surmised that it was a local call. "You could at least have let us know, dear, we'd've come over straight away.''

A long silence followed.

“I’m sorry if I sounded cranky, but we have all been beside ourselves with worry.”

His voice became gentle when he asked, “Where are you now?"

Another long silence followed.

"Cherry, please tell me."

Silence again. This time Daryl waited. He heard a sniff and realized that she was crying.

"Darling, please tell me where you are and I'll be right over.''

A dial tone indicated that she had hung up.

That's the first step, he thought. He hoped that it would only be a matter of tiem.

© Clement 2007


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