Author’s note: For several years I worked as the weekend cook at a hostel for independent adults with disabilities in Perth. I used to wonder about the stories of the people who lived there. Not many were able to share them – some couldn’t remember, some couldn’t tell and some couldn’t speak. One woman in particular fascinated me as she seemed to have two very different stories – one she expressed in stock phrases and the other she expressed with her hands. I wrote ‘Linda’ in an attempt to weave all the broken bits I knew of her into a story that showed her integrity and her courage. This short fiction story was awarded second prize in the Down South Writers Competition 2009 and published in the ‘Flying South’ anthology.
Linda is a big woman.
She dreams of Love.
She sails down the street in a slow, stately way like a yacht on a calm afternoon, enormously respectable for Going Out in gloves, low heels and a small hat. “Of course my family are lovely people you know,” she says to the lady in the Post Office. “I come from A Very Good Family.”
(As she says this, Linda’s hands neatly crimp the edge of the counter, then leap off suddenly into the air, becoming storks that trail long legs heavily upwards.)
Linda wants to Marry and Settle Down.
She is ripe and ready.
Underneath her swinging skirt her thighs are lusty and exhausted, her hips fiercely female. She has capable arms. Her breasts hum pleasantly in their stiff casing. Her humming breasts are ghosts though – Linda has had a double mastectomy. She doesn’t always wear her prostheses. On the days she does she sails with a spinnaker.
“Navy is such a Useful Colour”, she tells the man at the newsagent’s. “You know I would like a Nice Relationship but it’s difficult to find one of course I have had a few,” she says.
(Linda’s hands fussily pluck itty bits of invisible lint from her cuffs, then chase each other round her head nipping at her hair.)
“Hello – o! Hello – o!” Linda cries out to all the children. Linda loves children and would like to kiss and stroke them but they run away when they see her coming. She coos over babies in prams while the mothers hover, indulgent but vigilant.
“Oh they’re lovely at this age aren’t they, “ Linda sings. “Oh what a pretty baby of course I love babies children are a Woman’s Great Achievement.”
(Her hands pat air into round shapes and dart like pecking birds towards the children, then back shyly into the folds of her skirt.)
The boys follow Linda down the street, striding along with their chests pushed out, waving their hands around, pulling loony faces, bowing graciously to imaginary passers-by. They duck out of sight, falling over one another, snorting laughter, every time she turns around. Linda is always polite. “Hello – o! Hello – o!” she calls when she can’t see anyone. “Can I help you?” The boys crack up. “Can I help you?” they croon to each other, choking with glee.
She often becomes agitated when they tease like this and cries, standing right there in the street. Her face goes all runny and she bellows like a cow. For the boys this is the point of the game.
(While she cries, Linda’s hands are knives, cutting around her with short, quick strokes).
Today Linda sails along the street fully rigged and with a tail wind.
(Her untamed hands fly back and forth across her chest like china ducks in a bathroom and when they change into crabs and scuttle sideways up to cling onto her breasts she looks away.)
Linda has a Date.
She is meeting a man from the motor trade. Well, almost – Sandy, who sometimes drives the Hostel bus, has asked if Linda would like to come to afternoon tea at his Mum’s place, because it is his Mum’s birthday. Linda thinks that Sandy may be The Man She Has Been Waiting For. She has added a brooch and a necklace of blue plastic beads to her Going Out outfit.
The boys follow her, holding up imaginary breasts, pulling at imaginary gloves, smirking, making loony faces.
But Linda is sailing on an ocean of True Love Romance and her breasts are humming loudly. She hears no boy scuffle, doesn’t turn around, doesn’t call out.
There is no fun in their game for the boys today.
A meanness comes into their play.
It is the breasts. The boys have overheard things; know their mothers’ comfortable shapes; have noted the comings and goings on Linda’s chest.
They come closer up behind her, act loopier, exaggerate the size of their imaginary bosoms. They surround her; pretend to whack her thighs with their pretend breasts. Then they whack with their hands; they hit with purpose; punch. The taller boys grab her hands, which are playing leapfrog from boy’s head to boy’s head, round and round. They pinion her arms and the others swarm up and over her, falling with her when she is borne down onto the pavement. The blue beads spring off their nylon and roll crazily in all directions. The boys pull and tear at the flowered overblouse then shove at it roughly. Up, up it goes, up, up …
A frenzy of small grubby hands grabs, tears, rips, yanks.
(Two larger white hands glide above like swans.)
“Hey! …HEY! What’s going on here? What are you boys doing?”
Feet thunder on and around Linda; are gone.
Linda rolls heavily on to her side in the sudden silence. Her eyes open very close to a pair of brown corduroy knees; travel upwards to grey jumper, to green collar, to blue eyes.
“It is Him,” she thinks. “I would know Him anywhere.”
She lays a gracious hand, still-gloved, on his offered one and leans into him as he helps her to her feet.
“Of course I am quite all right thankyou really,” she says. “Oh nothing to worry about nothing at all a lovely day isn’t it and the children I have had a small fall but there is No Cause for Concern and you how are you?”
(Linda’s hands flutter indecisively around the edges of her ruined bust line, and finding nowhere to land, stiffen into pairs of snappy flying scissors and off they go – snip snap snipping so fast they are a blur. Shapechanging abruptly into handmaidens they smooth and rearrange her daintily and discreetly, pretending not to notice Him.)
Then, casting off with a tender backward glance, Linda sets sail on the Sea of Love.
(Her busy hands are lovers now, spooned together on her crumpled chest).
Her rescuer picks up the twin soft-pink breasts that are lying nipple-up on the footpath among blue beads, scuff marks and a small, broken hat. Holding them flat against his chest with his arms crossed over them as if to shield their nakedness from rude stares, he follows her. Linda, on another tack now, heads back down the street, The Man of Her Dreams following along behind in her generous wake like a dinghy.