The Lady Across the Lane

I was 10 and a half years old, a new kid in the neighbourhood. Across the lane was a pink house, empty. One day new people moved in and I went across the lane to investigate.

The new people were Charlie and Dawn. He was quiet, a balding 32 year old apprentice butcher who came home from work each day carrying a small packet of meat wrapped in brown
butcher paper. She was big and brassy, hair piled high on her 29 year old head, a stay at home wife who kept her house spotlessly clean, complained to me about her life and told me things that I did not need to know.

My family has never been very clean; for us changing bed linens is a weekly chore at best. Dawn washed the sheets every day in her wringer washer using a big wooden spoon for extra agitation, and one day, when she complained to me about having to do laundry, I asked why she did it every day. Her answer was that she had to do the sheets, and when I asked “Every day?” she said “men” with some contempt.

Charlie and Dawn had no children, but she had had many miscarriages which she told me about. I didn’t know what a miscarriage was and I asked her. One day she dumped the red jello left over from dinner the night before into the toilet. She showed it to me, then said, “That’s what it looks like when you have a miscarriage.”

The universe works as the universe works, not always transparently. Charlie and Dawn, who had tried and failed to have a baby, were on the adoption waitlist. When their names came up there was a thin infant with strawberry blond hair. They brought her home when she was 10 days old and they named her Rosie.

Rosie wasn’t an easy, good-spirited baby, she was cranky and colicky and cried a lot, but I still liked her. Even though I was just 10 and a half years old, I baby sat her; I was pretty responsible and my family lived across the lane, so I was able to take reasonably good care of her.

Dawn was a harsh woman with little of the warm and fuzzy about her, and she and Rosie did not bond. When Rosie was a toddler, getting into the sorts of mischief that a toddler in an austerely decorated house that belongs to a neurotically clean stay at home wife who has anger to burn and plenty of spleen and gall, Dawn’s fury with the child became apparent.

One day Dawn, Rosie and I were downstairs and Dawn was doing the daily load of dirty diapers. She was stirring the diapers with her big wooden spoon when Rosie touched the bottle of bleach. Dawn exploded and started beating Rosie with the spoon, screaming about red hair and the devil. I threw myself around Rosie, and Dawn screamed at me, “If you protect her, I’ll hit her even harder.”

My parents had hit me, but never like Dawn hit Rosie, so my reaction, though not blasé, was not what it would be today. Back then I was a cowardly 10 and a half year old. I was no hero, and I left her to it. I didn’t report her. I didn’t even tell my parents.

Not only did Dawn have a Rosie to abuse, 10 or so months later their names came up on the wait list again and they adopted a male infant. They named him Stevie. He was a sturdy brunette boy with a happy smile. Though she beat both of them with her big wooden spoon, Dawn wasn’t nearly as abusive to Stevie as she was to Rosie.

When Stevie was two, the family moved away to the suburbs. My mother stayed in touch with Dawn and heard that Charlie and Dawn broke up soon after moving out of town; that the kids were grown and Rosie, at nineteen, had a baby of her own; that Stevie had moved out; that Dawn was estranged from her two kids, and the loneliness was killing her.

My mother didn’t hear from Dawn for a long time after that. The next time they spoke, Dawn told her that she had tried to kill herself – she’d gotten a gun and shot two bullets, the first hitting the ceiling, the second lodging itself in her left frontal lobe.

They hadn’t thought she was going to survive, but she did. She lost some memories, and some dexterity, but she became a much happier and kinder person. She had lost the sharp edges of her personality. She was docile and nice. Dawn had given herself a lobotomy by failed suicide.

~ by thiscassandra on Thursday 4 October 2007.

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