We are delighted to announce that the Australian Writers’ Centre have chosen Eve-lyn Kennedy’s Scared Weak Old People as the overall Short Sentence winner! Eve-lyn’s piece will be published in a Short Sentence ebook alongside the other winners and featured authors.
Scared Weak Old People
By Eve-lyn Kennedy
Mrs Frearson’s husband died in 1949. Freddy Frearson had succumbed after fighting a disease he picked up in Borneo. He had been near deaf and blind before he died. He would cough up blood and phlegm (that Mary hated and would nearly make her dry retch). Mary sat with him wiping his brow through fevers and cold sweats. Feeding him because he would miss the plate, helping him find his cup, and pouring a beer because a man might as well be dead if he couldn’t have a cold one. Late at night, when he couldn’t sleep, he would ask her to sit next to him on the edge of the bed. Freddy needed her there, the dark scared her brave warrior now, she’d sit holding his hand, or make a cup of tea, and ward off thoughts of the dead in the jungle, death in the camps and of dying.
One night Fred leant his head, as he always did, on her strong, small shoulder. His hand in hers and slipped away.
She never remarried. His photo sat on the mantelpiece, by the old fireplace, in the only home they’d known. Where their children had been born, raised and left. Where grandchildren and great grandchildren had visited. Now his photo was surrounded by others, his little babies, first day at schools, weddings, parties, family gatherings, four generations. They all beamed from their frames with the family smile you couldn’t mistake. They circled the crystal clock Freddie had given Mary. Love sat on the mantelpiece, a lifetime of love.
The dark didn’t worry Heath. He liked it. The shadows created places to stop and watch people. Lonely people. Old people. Old people with silver cutlery sets lovingly kept in their original wooden boxes. Lonely people with old jewellery passed down through the generations. Real gold jewellery with diamonds and pearls and rubies. Easy to steal because old lonely people are slow and weak and scare easy.
Heath watched Mrs Frearson’s street. He watched Mary’s house. He crept into her yard and sat on a branch. Cloaked by leaves, in darkness, he smiled. Through a window, his dull grey eyes with their yellow orbs, followed her. He watched as she put away her purse, as she popped her bag in the living room, he watched as she cooked her tea, he smiled as she opened up her fruit for one and ate alone in front of her TV. He left when she went to bed at ten.
Heath liked to walk in houses as the people walked or sat or slept in them. It was a rush. Adrenalin started as he would enter and they didn’t know. His heart would race as they made their tea and he went through another room. He loved being close to people; behind a door, on the other side of a wall, walking near them without them knowing. It was a game. It was exciting almost as good as drugs. Almost better than sex.
Tonight he would play with the old lady. He was going to collect the rings, she had a silver cutlery set that would soon be his. He even knew where she kept her extra money on the mantelpiece. He was already excited.
He walked through the dark streets, under the trees, by the big fences, always in the dark. He jumped onto Mary’s side fence and slid silently down. She was washing the dishes. He slipped through the tree into the shadows of the verandah. He slid his legs, then his skinny body and finally his arms and head through a window left slightly open for the cat. He leant against the spare room’s wall. Mary put the tea towel on the stove handle and walked into the lounge room. Heath walked silently, in bare feet, across the kitchen. The kettle was still warm. The TV muttered. He picked up the cutlery set and passed through the kitchen back to the spare room like a soft breeze. He placed the silver cutlery set in a bag in the room Mary never went in. He watched Mary as she sipped her tea and smiled at the young cook on TV. Heath thought how easy killing her would be. He imagined standing behind her, smelling her hair, pulling a wire around her throat.
She moved, he moved back, she passed him. She in the hallway, he in the room. God he was excited.
“Steady, steady slow breathing”, he repeated in his mind. Mary went back to the TV. He slipped out of the spare room and into hers. If she’d looked up the hallway she would have seen him. In the dark room he could see her in the mirror. He drew the drawer back and dropped the rings into a velvet pouch. In another he placed a pearl necklace and in the back pockets of his black jeans he put two beautiful broaches with fine safety chains to stop the wearer loosing them. He wandered over and smelt the old ladies perfume, her pillow, her bed. He ran his finger inside her old bra. Back to the spare room he went. He sat there waiting. He waited, imagining the other places in the streets near by, tracing his steps in each one. Where he’d been. Where he’d be.
Ten o’clock came. Mary went to bed. 10.15 he slipped out of the room and into the lounge room. He walked, without making a noise, up to the mantle piece. He reached behind the clock and touched the money. A dull brown blur moved across the mantlepiece mirror. Heath grabbed the ledge as his knees gave way. As he fell the mantelpiece fell, the old lady with the small axe fell, and the crystal clock fell. Freddie’s clock fell on heaths head splitting it open knocking him out.
The press declared old Mrs Frearson (who still cut her own firewood) a heroine.