All this week, Kill Your Darlings is showcasing extracts from this year’s KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award shortlist. Designed to support the development of an early-career author, the Award offer $5000 prize money and mentorship with industry professionals. The following extract comes from Jacqueliene Bailey’s shortlisted manuscript, ‘The Eulogy’.
Set across regional Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, ‘The Eulogy’ follows 33-year old Kathy Bradley, who is on a quest to uncover three generations of family secrets in the wake of her sister’s death.
1983 starts like any other year: hot and wet.
Our street is flooded as it always is in January, the height of the cyclone season. I stand on the upstairs balcony and watch two entire gum trees float past the house, rushing towards the creek. Our family cascades like the water flowing through the street below. Trish, twenty-two, the medical student; Barb, nineteen, the prettiest one; Val, eighteen, who is wild; and Bev, fifteen and so far so good. Then comes Brian, twelve, the only boy; and then you, seven, and me, four: the accidents.
I can hear Barb screaming downstairs as if she is the one being hurt. I sidle into the living room. My feet are damp from the verandah and make no sound on the carpet but leave marks which I will pay for later. I stay near the wall, trying to remain invisible. Barb must be thinking the same thing because she is pushing herself into the green and white curtains. She should know by now that she can’t hide.
‘Why are you so mean to meeeeee-eee-eee-eee-eee,’ Barb croons, over and over and over. It is kind of annoying; but then again, Barb is kind of annoying.
My feet are damp from the verandah and make no sound on the carpet but leave marks which I will pay for later. I stay near the wall, trying to remain invisible.
Val, on the other hand, has tears running down her face but refuses to say a single word. She stands as still as a statue.
This makes Mum go completely mental. Thunder judders the house down to its concrete slab; a tree crashes to the ground, its fall vibrating in my jaw. I want to go back on to the verandah to see if the lightning has started a fire: last year we got a bushfire and a storm at the same time. But I have a job to do. I screw up my forehead, staring at Val as if I could bore holes through her stone-still skin.
Just say sorry, I think at Val with all my might.
As if she can hear my thoughts, Barb, not Val, starts bawling, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorr-eee-eee-eee. I’ll kill myself, is that what you want? Is that what you want?’
And so on. I shake my head at Val but she is not looking at me. She has her eyes carefully fixed on a point above Mum’s head and refuses to flinch, even when Mum stands centimetres from her, then whack! The slap sounds like Barb’s Holden Gemini backfiring.
With Barb it is, ‘Do you want me to kill myself? I will! I’ll do it!’ Bev goes for straight-up begging: ‘Leave me alone! Please leave me alone!’ Trish tries to stay calm but sometimes she does yell: ‘What do you want? What do you want?’ And Val? Val is the one who brings the government down on our heads.
The man and woman who come to our house have special badges but no uniforms. They sit at our kitchen table and don’t drink the tea Mum makes for them. While they talk to our parents we wait with the big kids in their bedroom downstairs.
The man and woman who come to our house have special badges but no uniforms. They sit at our kitchen table and don’t drink the tea Mum makes for them.
‘Did Dad really do anything to you?’ Trish asks Val. I am curled up under Val’s blankets and you are planted on the floor, hugging your knees, watching the big kids talk.
‘I couldn’t exactly say it was Mum, could I?’ Val replies. ‘Maybe one day I’ll write it all down. That’ll show her.’
‘That might be cathartic.’
‘Or I might just forget all about it. That might be better.’
‘You’ll never forget,’ Trish answers. Val laughs.
The government people finally leave after Val swears black and blue that she made it all up. I wait for the screams to begin, the sound of my sisters’ faces being pushed into walls. But there is nothing: only a silence that could be either the end or the beginning of something. I can’t tell which.
This is probably not the right story for a eulogy.
I wait for the screams to begin, the sound of my sisters’ faces being pushed into walls. But there is nothing: only a silence that could be either the end or the beginning of something. I can’t tell which.
I try to focus my mind on the task at hand. I turn to the blinking cursor on the computer screen. I type these words: When I was five, Annie kicked me in the stomach. I asked her why. She said, ‘Sorry. I was aiming for your nose.’
Again, not a story for a room full of people who have gathered together in a collective attempt to believe in something. I sigh, hit the backspace button. You were always a beacon for those too lazy to light their own.
Here is another memory. I am about four years old, and you are not sick yet, or at least we don’t know that you are sick yet. I am sitting at the top of the staircase at 19 Railway Road, waiting for something although I have forgotten what. Then the front door swings open and Dad walks in, bringing with him the smell of Old Spice and hot chips. I grab hold of his leg and he swings me along as if I am a koala and he a eucalypt, as if I weigh nothing at all. He puts the grease-paper bag on the kitchen table and I run down the hallway to wake you because you and I are still the same person. We sit around the kitchen table, Dad in his nurse’s uniform, you and I in our cotton hand-me-down nighties. There are plenty of chips because the big kids are all asleep. Mum is there too, making Dad a cup of coffee and hovering around the kitchen, hair in rollers, and I never want this night to end.
But it did.
The winner of the 2018 KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award will be announced on 6 July.