Authors: Catherine Bateson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/Family Stepfamilies
grew up in a secondhand bookshop, surrounded by writers and readers. She started her writing life as a poet and has written two collections of poetry and two verse novels for young adults. Her first prose novel for young adults,
Painted Love Letters
was CBCA Book of the Year, Honour Book: Older Readers.
Rain May and Captain Daniel,
a novel for younger readers was CBCA Children's Book of the Year and the winner of the Queensland Premier's Awards: Best Children's Book. Her speculative fiction novel for young adults,
The Airdancer of Glass,
also met with critical acclaim.
Catherine lives in the Dandenongs, near Melbourne with her partner and their combined family of four children, two dogs, two guinea pigs and numerous tropical fish.
It started as a joke. Mum and Sheri were sitting around in the kitchen, our sitting-around room. The lounge room was the TV zone. Only Mitchell's dad sat in thereâto discuss
with Sheri while Mum and I went for a long walk with Pavlov so we weren't in the way or, worse still,
influencing the decision making.
The kitchen was where all other decisions were made.
âI've finished my single-mother phase,' Sheri said. âI have to find a man, Kate. This single life sucks. I don't know how you've coped for so long.'
âThere's no one in this town,' Mum said calmly. She was cutting the sweet potato up faster than I could peel it. We were cooking dahlâthat's an
Indian curry dish with lentils. Sheri's been a vegetarian since mad cow disease broke out in England. That was Patrick's fault. Patrick's my dad. Mum calls him the diva. He lives in England where mad cow disease was really bad.
âThere are lots of people in this town,' I said, peeling my next sweet potato around and around, which is harder than just plain up and down.
âNot interesting, dynamic, sexy, arty men,' Mum said. âAnd pick that up, will you, before Pavlov tries to eat it.'
âThere must be,' Sheri said. âThe town's going ahead. Everyone says so. I think we should get out more, Kate. Go to things, meet people, schmooze around and get seen.'
âI'm not baby-sitting,' I told Sheri. âNot more than one night a week and my rates have just gone up to eight dollars an hour.'
That was unfair, really, because Mitchell is quite good fun and as we all live together anyway, was it really babysitting? This is what Patrick would call an ethical question.
Sheri grinned. âYou're on, kid. And the first night is tomorrow, opening of the Not the Winter Blues Festival, cocktails first in the Town Hall. Katie, what are we going to wear?'
Sheri was one of those friends that teachers stop you sitting next to as soon as they work her
out. She wasn't a good influence on anybody. The trouble with Sheri was that once she entered a phase she dragged everyone along with her. Her real name wasn't Sheri, it was Susan. But Sheri reckoned Susan didn't suit her in any phase, so she changed it. She did it legally, so even her mother had to remember to call her Sheri. She kept her own surname though. Mitchell's dad changed his when they had their commitment ceremony. Everyone thought that was pretty cool of Mitchell's dad. I thought it was wimpy.
So I should have known that Sheri would be like those sheriff heroes in the old movies, she'd get her man.
Out they sashayed the next night. It's a good word, isn't itâsashayed? We had to bring one new word to school every week and Ms McCarthy wrote them all on the board and then we'd write a poem or a small story using as many of them as we could manage. I took âsashay' to school after Mum said, âLook at us, Millie, sashaying off. Do we look fine or what?'
They always looked good, Sheri and Mum, in different ways. Sheri sewed stuff. She was a professional. She made wedding gowns, bridesmaids' dresses, mother-of-the-bride frocks and these cool cushions, bean bags and kid's clothes out of crazy fur fabric and old bedspreads. She sold them
through local groovy shops in our area. She had a room at the back of the house which was entirely for her sewing things. She had baskets of materialâshe called it fabricâtins of buttons, buckles, embroidery threads, sari ribbons, beaded trims and all sorts of gorgeous things. She hardly ever bought clothes, even at the op shop. Sheri was curvy with big you-know-whats, curly hair, and brown eyes just like Pavlov, all warm and affectionate.
Mum, on the other hand, is less curvy, taller, grey-eyed, and her dark hair is frizzy. She dresses in browns rather than blacksâchestnut, chocolate and a deep eggplant purply-brown. That's her âpalette', she says. It makes it easy for her to go shopping. Then she has her painting clothes â old jeans or cords and Patrick's shirts. (He only wears white shirts and when they are a little worn at the cuffs he parcels them up and sends them to Mum to wear as painting smocks.)
Mum was wearing a new frockâeggplant brown with little rosebuds scattered all over it. It flowed around her. She wore new high-heel shoes, too. Mum's shoe collection is wild. Sheri sometimes said that that was where you could find Mum's soulâin the bottom of her wardrobe.
She passed on her shoe genes to me, but in a strange mutation they took over my whole dress
sense. There is nothing of Mum's palette and Patrick's white shirts in me! I take after Sheri in that respect. Can you take after friend-relations? Sheri's been around since before I was born. She's practically related by blood.
Off they went, calling out instructions behind them. The usual stuff.
âIf Simon rings, don't tell him where we are, just take a message.' (Simon is Mitchell's dad.)
âIf Patrick rings, tell him I'm out man-hunting, and ask him about that project, too.'
âDo I have to say man-hunting? It's so gross.'
âYes. Keep him in the loop, sweetie. It's good for him.'
Sheri stopped at the front gate and called out, âYou didn't wish us good luck or tell us how fantastic we look.'
âI don't know that I should wish you good luck,' I told her, following them up the path. âNot for man-hunting. Isn't that illegal these days? Didn't they pass legislation in parliament?'
âThat was duck-hunting,' Sheri said, laughing. âMen are wilier and less endangered.'
âYou both look good,' I said sincerely, âand I love those shoes, Mum. Are they new?'
âOn special,' Mum said, twisting her foot this way and that. âI had to get them for the dress, Millie.'
âJust so long as you've paid my netball clinic?'
âBefore I bought the shoes, Millie. Do I look like an irresponsible mother?'
âYou look terrific,' I said. âYou too, Sheri. I like the cocktail leggings. Very sexy.'
âOh Millie, you're a honey. I hope Mitchell takes after you when he's your age.'
âHe won't,' I said. âHe's a boy, Sheri. They smell like dirty socks and old apples and they talk in a weird boy code.'
âThe worst thing is,' Sheri said, âthey never change, baby. That's what they're like from your age onwards.'
âSo why are you all dressed up and going manh unting?'
Mum laughed. âGood question. Sheri, do you want to lash out, buy a bottle of wine, rent a video and stay in?'
âNo, I've made up my mind, Kate. I'm in my femme fatale flirt phase and no one and no rational argument is going to stop me.'
âOkay, let's keep on sashaying then,' Mum said.
I looked âsashay' up later. I thought it might be the sound Mum's dress made as she swept up the path, but it means âglide' or âsway'.
Here are those week's words. I've put them in order of best to worst. I like doing that. Of course, this is just IMO, as Patrick writes in his emails:
The other words were too boring to be recorded. This is my poem from that week.
Sheri liked the poem so much she made me print her out a copy which she put in her journal under the day's date. Mum stuck her copy up on her studio wall.
They got home just as the late, late movie started. It was some kind of horror remake and I wasn't that keen on watching it, but I had a babysitting rule that I could watch television until they got home, so I would have had to watch either it or some doco on SBS about Africa, which looked just as horrifying, but in a more real way.
âHow did it go?'
âPretty good,' Sheri said, waving a business card at me. âNot bad for our first time, eh Kate?'
âThe cocktails were good,' Mum said, hugging me good night, âand Sheri chatted up a bloke.'
The bloke rang a couple of days later. I wrote his name and number down on the phone board. Brendan Trotter, he said his name was, then spelled it out to me as though I couldn't spell, and made me repeat his phone number to make sure I'd got it right. I didn't like him from the beginning.