Abby was twelve when she found me, blood trickling down from beneath a green, patterned dress. She said something had started and she didn’t know how to stop it.
I took her into the kitchen, grabbed a sponge from under the sink, and wiped her leg as far up as was decent. I told her to sit on the couch. I guessed she wouldn’t bleed as much, although I had no clue as to whether if it would actually make a difference.
We sat for a while. She cried and I tried not to, because you don’t cry unless you’re a girl or a poof, and I didn’t want to be either. She didn’t say much, so I told her some stories about Paul and me: how we used to play kick-to-kick down at Hamer Park. Then I felt sad; Paul had moved to Sydney late last year. When he left, I popped my football with a carving knife, then kicked it hard against the fence, over and over until all the air had gone out.
I turned back to my sister but she said to look away. She had the sponge under her skirt and was mopping at the remaining blood.
"You want me to wash it?"
She shook her head.
"Well what are we going to do with it?"
Abby stayed quiet, so I told her this idea I’d had, where I would go to people’s houses and ask if they needed their dogs walked. If they did then I’d walk their dogs for five dollars a walk. The owners would get a break and the dogs could smile for a bit instead of sitting outside wondering why they had four square-metres and their owners had an entire house.
By the time I had told her about the turntable I’d buy, she’d started crying, so I gave her a hug. She hugged me back and cried some more. She said her dress was wet from the sponge, and that all that blood was disgusting. I told her it wasn’t disgusting, just something that happened, like bee stings and sprained ankles. After a while, she squeezed her legs together, squelched them back and forth, and I asked her to please give me the sponge. “I’ll put it in the bin,” I said, “under some newspaper and Mum won’t even know”. “What about Dad?” said Abby and I said Mum has enough trouble getting him to take out a full bag of rubbish, so why’s he going to go through a half-empty one?
She laughed at that, so I tickled her and she laughed some more. She took out the sponge and gave it to me. I held it by the corner, trying not to look too freaked out. I went to get up and throw it in the bin. Abby made a face. She said, ‘The blood, it’s coming again’, so I passed her the sponge and sat back down on the couch.
Abby was in her room when Mum came back and Mum didn’t knock, or do anything much. She grabbed the potatoes from under the sink and asked me to go to the shops for her cigarettes. When I made a face, she told me to stop and that she knew I hated doing it, but she just wanted her cigarettes, all right?
I said all right, as long as you stop yelling.
The road to the shops was wet and shiny; it had rained earlier that afternoon. I sidestepped the puddles on the footpath and when I got to the deli, there was a line at the counter.
The three people in front ordered fish and chips. If they had asked me, I would’ve told them not to bother unless they loved soggy chips covered in too much salt. When it was my turn, I asked for the cigarettes for Mum and the lady said “Say hello to Mary, ay?” and I nodded, because it was a boring conversation and I had nothing to say.
When I handed over the money, she took the note, then stared at my hand.
“What’s with the blood? You cut yourself?”
I shook my head.
“Well, what happened?”
And as I stood there, my sister’s period all over my fingers, I wanted to tell her. I wanted to gross her out, and then I could tell her it was all right, because it was just something that happened, like rainclouds and car accidents.
But I didn’t tell her. I just stood there, trying not to look her in the eye.
“Fair enough, mystery man. Your secret’s safe with me.”
She handed me the cigarettes and I went straight home because it felt like everyone was staring at me.
I got home and the spuds were peeled and washed in a colander in the sink. Mum was sitting on the back steps listening to Billy Thorpe. I took the cigarettes out of my pocket, switching them to my left hand so she wouldn’t see the blood, and then I handed them to Mum .She opened the pack straight away. She lit a cigarette, inhaled, and then blew softly, watching the smoke dissipate as it drifted in the air.
I asked if Dad was home and she said no, because someone thought red was green and now everything was red, on the seats and the wheel and the windows. Then she took another drag and I went back inside.
I walked to the bathroom sink and smelled my hand. It smelled sweet, but a bit sick too. It wasn’t like metallic blood, my finger cut and gushing; Dad yelling, because he left the Stanley knife in the shed and I’m not supposed to go into the shed, he’s told me hundreds of times.
When I turned on the tap I could see the trickle of blood, so red on Abby’s white skin, and so turned the tap to full and sprayed until red was pink and pink faded away.
I walked past Mum and Dad’s room. Mum was sitting on the bed, like she was waiting for someone. She was holding a bracelet that dad bought for their anniversary. I remembered that anniversary; mum had her hair back. She always looks really pretty when her hair’s tied back.
Abby was in her room, the door wide open, holding her knees to her chest. I asked if she was OK and she nodded in that way people do when they’re not OK. I noticed how tired she looked, as if the life had drained out of her.
I was fifteen. It was 1976.