Praise Be.
Article Type: Short story
Subject: Rural life (Portrayals)
Domesticity (Portrayals)
Women's rights (Portrayals)
Female identity (Portrayals)
Satisfaction (Psychology) (Portrayals)
Husband-wife relations (Portrayals)
Marital separation (Portrayals)
Author: Woodhouse, Jena
Pub Date: 05/01/2011
Publication: Name: Hecate Publisher: Hecate Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Hecate Press ISSN: 0311-4198
Issue: Date: May, 2011 Source Volume: 37 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Praise Be (Short story)
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia
Accession Number: 268220729
Full Text: --Are you ever coming back?

--Back where?

--To the farm ...

--No. (And God forbid!)

He hung his head, the hat in his hand half covering his chest like a mourner at a graveside. She continued peeling potatoes and paring the rind off pumpkin, rearranging the chopping-board and knife with inordinate care. The man stood behind her like a chastised boy.

--What about Dad?

--What about him?

A potato made a crisp sound like a ricochet as she split it in two with the knife. Starch was whitening the surface of the board.

--We can't leave him there by himself.

--Why not?

He did not reply. The reasons were self-evident.

--He won't be lonely, she added in a toneless voice, with you for company.

He swallowed. Swallowing his pride.

She turned and glanced at him as if he'd just arrived. He looked like a boy who'd lost his mother. One half of her heart melted while the other half turned to stone. Yet there was no mistaking the hurt in his face, the bewilderment.

The farm had sapped her vitality, along with her father-in-law and husband, not to mention the tribe of children the latter had bestowed on her. Now, not for the first time, she realised he was the neediest of all.

But surely she'd done enough? For the first time since her marriage, she had a little money of her own. Hard-earned money, wages from cleaning other people's houses. Just enough to make her mistress of this rented cottage. Her own space.

--Sit down, she said. You're making the place look untidy.

Obediently, he sat. She handed him a cup of tea. Why were men so helpless, she wondered. Would there ever be an end to this?

--I suppose I'd better be going, he said, finishing the tea.

--Suit yourself.

--Can I give you a hand with anything?

--Not really.

--I'd better get back to Dad, then.

She handed him a bundle wrapped in a clean tea-towel. It smelt savoury: mixed herbs and meat.

--Rissoles and jacket-baked potatoes, she said in her most apathetic tone.

His eyes filled with gratitude. Like a dog's, she thought, embarrassed for him.

An hour and a half later, she heard the farm utility pull up outside. Without taking her eyes from the television screen, she heard him come in. He placed a basket beside her chair. In it were some freshly-picked beans, new-laid eggs, passionfruit, and, unexpectedly, a large, red, voluptuous hibiscus.

He shuffled his feet like a schoolboy waiting outside the principal's office.

--Dad said thank you for the dinner.

A minute or so elapsed.

--Car's been playing up. There's something wrong with the carburettor. Not sure whether it'll get me home ...

--Have you eaten? She spoke as if she hadn't heard a word he'd said.

--I left the food for Dad.

--Sit down then.

She placed a serving of potato and pumpkin and chops in front of him. He ate in silence, then rose to go.

--Thank you. That hit the spot. Well, I guess I'd better be making tracks.

--What about the carburettor?

He looked sheepish.

--I don't suppose you'd let me stay till it gets light, he said.

The hint of a smile twitched at the comers of her lips, but in his anxiety he didn't notice it.

--I might. Just this once. The bed's made up in the spare room.

His heart sang like a choirboy. Praise be.
*
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