Most school days, I’d arrive home on the hot afternoons with perspiration trickling down my legs and back. I’d run the cold tap for several seconds to drain away the hot water from the pipes and pour  a big glass of tepid, refreshing water.

Whirring, banging and squealing machine sounds were a constant backdrop in our north-side Brisbane suburb during the day. The sounds came from factories around our home – panel beaters, commercial painters, small manufacturers and printing works. Angle grinders screeched relentlessly and the heady smell of paint solvents, turps, thinners and formaldehyde lingered in the streets.

Our home was in an industrial area

My skin prickled with noise and heat. My nose twitched. Blowflies buzzed on their chaotic missions, attracted by the intoxicating scent of rotting mango particles and sap that steamed through the air and into our cramped house.

It was like living in a fan-forced oven with no cool change.

I was conditioned to feeling ever-present anxiety and embarrassment, from the constant tension in our house. It felt like an air-tight, bubbling cauldron with steam hitting the doors and windows trying to be let out.

Pedder Street, Albion was like everyone’s worst mood.

At the beginning of the school holidays, I sat with my cousin, Colette, at the green Formica dining table. Behind her was our large fridge and matching freezer. I was near the wide-open casement windows, hopelessly trying to capture any breeze that might grace us.

Colette was tall, slim, blonde and pretty. She was a surfie-looking girl and I was thrilled when she spent the day at our place.

Beyond the windows, the old corrugated roof of the bathroom was laden with fallen lush fruit and flowers from the mango tree.

Colette graciously overlooked the dowdiness and muck of our house. She was family. I loved her company. She was SO cool. We were 14 years old and totally absorbed in our own teenage world.

We sat together at the kitchen table eating banana and honey sandwiches, talking about the beach and school and what we were doing on our upcoming holidays.

My step-mother, Hazel, stealthily walked near the kitchen. She appeared near the end of the table where Colette and I were eating. The tiny hairs on my arms prickled.

‘When you’ve finished here, you can clean the maggots out of the frying pan,’ Hazel said flatly.

I looked at Colette, Colette looked at me and looked away.

Flummoxed, speechless, I sheepishly retreated to the stove to look for the maggots.

There, on the stovetop sat a stainless-steel frypan containing greasy grey, brown mince and a mass of drowned maggots.

Squirming maggots were stretching hopelessly upwards towards the rim, desperate to escape. Savoury mince had been cooked in the frypan days earlier, a little water poured in for soaking, then left.

I dry-wretched as I carried the pan to the sink, my nose curling.

The easy solution would have been to throw the lot out, frypan and all.

I can’t remember what Colette did. I don’t remember her leaving.

I do remember that when I finished cleaning the frypan, Colette was gone.

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  • Narelle J Smith

    Narelle J Smith (Nellie) is writing a memoir: Driving the Flower, about growing up in 60s and 70s Brisbane. Nellie now lives in Mittagong, NSW.

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