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U3A Writing: Charmed Lives

...Ben and Harry Buckley though, could fall head first out of a tree and land on their feet like a cat. They never seemed to sustain a mark on their scrawny carcasses - and even if they had, their mother wouldn't go crook like ours.,,

Merle Parkin tells a tale of childhood innocence and wasted lives.

The Buckley kids led charmed lives. As sure as any of us got caught pinching somebody's mulberries, the Buckley boys would have eaten their fill, and left. If we climbed on the roof when Mum was out, we'd fall off, or cut a foot on some broken glass when we parachuted off with Mum's old, busted umbrella. It wasn't a very good parachute.

Ben and Harry Buckley though, could fall head first out of a tree and land on their feet like a cat. They never seemed to sustain a mark on their scrawny carcasses - and even if they had, their mother wouldn't go crook like ours.

"Can't I ever turn my back without you doing something dangerous?" she'd demand of us, "I seem to spend my whole life paying doctors' bills!" or if we didn't need a doctor, she'd say, "You wait till your father gets home!"

The Buckleys' father hardly ever got home before they went to bed, and I doubt if he'd have stayed on his feet long enough to wield a belt like our father.

We were told not to cross old Buckley, because there was something wrong with him from the war. He was so ugly, and looked so ugly-tempered, we'd probably have run when we saw him coming anyway, without Mum's warning.

The Buckley kids would just yell out, "Hullo Dad," and keep playing when he didn't acknowledge the greeting. If he stopped high-stepping, marked time and mumbled something, they'd slink off home. We envied them their luck though, because our old man wouldn't mumble any warning. No moving targets for him!

Mrs Buckley didn't share her offspring's luck. That poor lady must have been accident prone, the number of times she managed to blacken one eye or the other. She always did it running into a cupboard door. Maybe she was just careless about shutting cupboard doors. Then all the Buckley kids were sent for a holiday, to their Aunty's place. We thought they were lucky, because we'd never been for a holiday. It was while they were away, that their father died suddenly. When I asked Mum what he died of, she just said he was sick, and, "Mind your own business!"

Some of the kids at school said he wasn't sick, just mad. They said he topped himself, whatever that meant.

We resolved to try not to make our father mad, in case he topped himself, for it was obviously something you could die of. We didn't want our father to die, because he brought home lollies sometimes, when he was in a good mood. Anyway, we reckoned it would make Mum sad if he topped himself.

It didn't seem to make Mrs. Buckley very sad though, and for a while she seemed to share her children's charmed life. She didn't run into any cupboard doors, and I overheard another lady telling Mum that she'd "Smartened herself up." Other women muttered that she was "Too smart for her own good!"

I thought she looked real nice. She'd always been a drab sort of a person, but she looked brighter, and very different without a black eye. She must have got better at dodging cupboards.

When all the Buckley kids came home, I asked them about their Aunty's place. At first they wouldn't talk about it, though she must have been a good cook - they'd all fattened up. Then Ben told me they hadn't gone to their Aunty's, but to a holiday place for children. It was called a Benevolent Home. I wished our parents were rich enough to send us to a benevolent home for a holiday.

Not long after they came home, some kids were trying to pick a fight with the Buckleys. Ben called one of them a word he'd learnt from the other benevolent kids.

"I'm going to tell Sir on you," said the boy he'd called the bad word. Then Harry came to his brother's defence.

"You tell, and you'll be in trouble, because we're going to get a new father, see!"

I told Mum that night that the Buckley kids were getting a new father, and she didn't even seem surprised.

Afterwards though, when I should have been asleep, she and Dad were talking about it. 'Bigger no-hoper than the first bloke!" was Dad's muttered opinion.

"You'd think a woman would learn," Mum replied. Then she said something that puzzled me greatly: "She'll lose those kids permanently if she doesn't smarten up."

And such a short time before, they'd thought she was "too smart". Grown-ups seemed to change their minds pretty often.

Mrs. Buckley did get a new husband, and Mum said she wasn't Mrs. Buckley any more, but Mrs. Brown. If we spoke to her, we were to call her Mrs. Brown.

"Will Ben and Harry be called Brown too?" I asked.

"No," said Mum, "they're still Buckleys. Now go and do your homework."

After a while Mrs. Brown started running into cupboard doors again. One evening when we were outside, bouncing a ball against the side of the corner shop, two police cars pulled up at Browns' place. Soon after, a lady policeman ushered all the Buckley kids into the back seat of one car, except Ben and Harry, who were allowed to sit in front. Our Mum came out, because she wondered why we'd all gone quiet. Our little sister started to cry. "They're taking Melanie to jail," she wailed.

"No, no," comforted Mum, "Melanie's going to stay at her Aunty's till her mother gets better. Poor soul's sick."

Just then an ambulance came, and sure enough Mrs. Buckley - Brown, I mean - walked out unsteadily, holding a towel to her face. The ambulance men helped her to get in the back, and after the doors closed, they drove away slowly.

Then two policemen brought Mr. Brown out, and he was yelling at them. He didn't even look at all his newly acquired kids in the other police car. They made him get in the empty one.

When they went past our place, we waved to Ben and Harry, but they didn't seem to see us. I suppose they were enjoying the ride. Some kids have all the luck, we thought.


My apologies to Merle for wrongly attributing this excellent story to another author whern it first appeared in Open Writing last week. - Editor


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