Friday, November 26, 2010
Kay and the little grey frog
Our house was the old Queenslander style about 3 metres off the ground, so there was a cool living space underneath. This meant that the floor was built on high posts, always wooden in those days and solid hardwood, with ant caps on the top of each post to stop white-ants penetrating the structure of the building. You could always replace a post that the white-ants had got into from the ground, but it was a lot harder to deal with termites once they got into the house itself.
Anyway, one of the posts just below the bathroom my father added upstairs had a hole bored right through it by someone with a brace and bit and more enthusiasm than sense; a hole horizontal to the ground about a metre and a half up. I have no idea why it was there, but when I was about 9, I thought I could use it to play a trick on my youngest sister, Kay.
I found that the size of the hole through the post was perfect for wedging my water pistol in one end of the hole and have a clear shot through to the other end. Testing it revealed that a nice jet of water would stream through, clearing the sides of the hole and going a full metre or so out the other end.
Having run these satisfactory preliminary tests, I called to Kay, who was about 5 or 6 at the time. ‘Kay – there’s a tiny little grey frog in this hole in the post. Come and look!’
Kay was a lover of creatures great and small. Indeed, she specialised at the time in getting some of the chook feed, mixing it with mud, and baking patty cakes of it in the sun for the hens. She’d then sit in the henhouse and watch the chooks pecking their way into the cakes to get the seeds in them. Occasionally they were so well sunbaked that the chooks would have to wait for rain to dissolve the mud in the cakes, whereupon they would discover a little treat emerging from the wet clay.
Sometimes the chook in the nesting box would lay an egg while she was there. One day, just after an egg was laid and the hen was making the grand announcement to all and sundry that she had achieved this feat, Kay felt the egg under the chook and was surprised to find that it was soft and rubbery, as the shell had not yet hardened.
This has absolutely nothing to do with my main story, but it was the sort of thing Kay did. She understood these things by direct observation. She would also take the stick to the rooster who was always chasing one of the hens with evil intent, having noted the violence of the assault on earlier occasions and wanting to even the score up a bit. I think it’s a girl thing. The boys are cheering the rooster on; the girls are outraged.
To return to my story, Kay immediately rushed over to look in the hole in the post at the little grey frog I had conjured up. She was too short so I got a 4 gallon kerosene tin for her to stand on. (That was part of my cunning plan). While she was getting up on the tin, I stuck my water pistol in the other end of the hole through the post and lined it up.
‘I can’t see anything,’ said Kay.
‘Wait till your eyes get used to the dark. Keep looking.’ I relished the anticipation with wicked glee.
‘I still can’t see it.’
‘You will when I count to three. One, two, three!’
I squeezed the trigger. This was one of my best water pistols, and it worked a treat.
There was a howl of surprise from the kid standing on the kero tin. ‘My eye is all wet!’
‘Maybe it was the frog,’ I said, but my face was a dead giveaway. I was doubled up with mirth and she had seen that look on my face many times before when she had been a party to one of my innocent little games. I don’t know why, but she was very angry. It was a good joke, wasn’t it? No, she wasn’t angry, she was boiling mad. Furious in fact.
‘MUM!!! Denis SHOT me.’
Mum ran out in a flash. ‘He did WHAT?’
Kay had water from the water pistol running down her face on one side, and tears of utter rage running down the other.
‘With his water pistol. Through the hole. He said it was a frog.’
This was a rather confusing charge to have been levelled at me, but with one glance at the post, Mum seemed to have summed up the situation in a flash.
‘Give me the water pistol.’
I handed it over with some reluctance, wishing I had chosen one of my least favourite weapons for the task now that the thrill of the kill was over, and fearing I might never see it again.
She handed it to Kay. ‘Now, squirt him as many times as you like! Don’t you MOVE!’ she commanded me. I thought it wise to keep a straight face at this point, and even try to look a little remorseful, but that was a bit too hard. Given another opportunity with another of my sisters, I'd have done it all again. Kay certainly wouldn't have fallen for the same ruse twice.
She fired that pistol at me to within an inch of its life and I was soaking at the end. Not that I cared on a hot summer day, but some people just have no sense of humour, do they?
Mum told us much later in life how she could hardly restrain herself from laughing when she saw the evil thing I’d done, but kept the pose of righteous indignation as a gesture of support for her aggrieved baby girl. Kay would later tell me of the things she intended to do to me in revenge, a conversation that would always start with, ‘One day, when you’re asleep, I’ll….’ And what followed was too fearsome to relate. Many times she would return to this theme, especially when I had done something terrible to her, only the punishment would get worse each time. It’s a wonder I slept at night really.
Even as an adult and when I would stay with her and John at their beautiful house at Camberwell, she would occasionally return to meditating upon how ‘tonight’ was going to be the night (shades of Dexter!), and the revenge would be even more fearful than the ones she’d dream of when she was 5. And those were pretty bad, I can tell you.