Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 1
Girls have to Suffer
Girls have to Suffer
Ho hum, thought Joy Cunningham as she looked out the classroom window at the tall, bare planes that stood bleakly in the gray of the early winter afternoon. Music period was all right, she supposed; well, it was better than some periods; but what was the use concentrating on her schoolwork when she might not be coming to school much longer? It would be dippy, to say the least, even if it were possible.
She rested her elbows on the desk, raised her eyebrows and pretended to listen to what Bandy Loftus was saying ... "The overture is either an orchestral piece which opens up a play which may or may not have a direct reference to what follows in the vocal work, or an orchestral composition in pre-movement which is to be performed as an independent piece on the concert platform..."
Soon, frightfully soon, she would be a working-girl, no longer wearing the Gladston High School Uniform. Occasionally she had told her friends she was utterly sick of school and wanted to be out working, and the others agreed that they felt the same, but now she really was leaving she knew she'd miss the place, and already she envied the kids sitting in class, playing basketball, having fun in the way that was only possible when you went to school, while she toiled in an office. She wanted to leave and she didn't, but mostly didn't. Mum was always saying you had a big responsibility as the eldest in the family but she was wrong if she thought you were stopping home to do housework. And she would simply have to cut out the nagging.
"A sonata is a string of pieces, three or four in number, called movements but differing from the suite as the dance style is abandoned. The sonata is a composition for one instrument, sometimes two. The four movements of the sonata are usually...."
She looked disdainfully at the boys sitting on the left of the room; they gave her the pip lately, she couldn't get worked up over them like Cynthia Green for instance. Even Joe Rickard, who often smiled at her, didn't mean anything, and she guessed the explanation was probably the great emotional experience she'd recently gone through. She felt certain her father's death was a crisis in her life, though it was too much to expect that she could understand its full signficance yet awhile. But it should mean something that you were ashamed now of your selfish thoughts after Dad's death, ashamed for thinking how you would go to school and the kids would gather sympathetically about you, and you would sit in class as usual and the teacher would go crook at you for not reading properly and you would stand and say in an anguished voice, "I can't help it if I make mistakes today. My father has died and I loved him and I'm not feeling happy, and you can't expect me to be perfect in my work at a time like this. Don't you read the papers?" and you would burst into tears and rush from the room and run home. It didn't happen like that, of course. When the teacher was calling the roll he commented that it was all right about your being absent from school, and that was that.
"Fair Hebe I left with a cautious design
To escape from her charms and to drown love in wine
I tried it but found when I came to depart
The wine in my head but still love in my heart ..."
She joined in the singing, trying to put expression into the words as, according to Bandy, all great singers did. She could tell by the way the boys nudged one another that they enjoyed this song, but how about some modern songs instead of these ancient things that school kids back through the years had learned. Well, she couldn't complain, she'd not have to put up with them much longer.
Drowning love in wine. That was to come—love. Love in your heart. Adults were always talking about puppy love, but your love, when it did come, would be love, really love.
The bell rang for the end of the period. The kids shuffled their notebooks, scuffled from the room. Walking across the playground to the main building, she told herself she didn't want to go home, there was nothing there. She'd have to help get the tea ready and her mother would be tired and quarrelsome. Gosh, she wished something would happen in her life, something good and beautiful.
"Penny for your thoughts."page 8
Joe Rickard stood beside her.
"Worth more than that," she said.
He smiled and when he smiled his blue eyes twinkled. "Threepence then."
"I was thinking about the sort of job I'll get when I leave school," she said.
"That's a long time off, isn't it?"
"End of this term. I'm sick of school. I feel I should start work now After all, I'm fifteen."
"You want a job where you sit on the boss's knee."
"Yes, I'll try for one like that."
"When you coming to the flicks with us again?" he asked.
"I'll think it over," she said.
"How about meeting me down the corner tomorrow after school, eh ? I got footie practice tonight."
"Please yourself, Joe."
"I'll wait for you."
"I'll try. Hooray, Joe."
"Be seeing you."
She collected her case and walked along the corridor. The late afternoon gloom pervaded the building. Soon she would no longer walk in this corridor, would no longer feel pride in being a pupil of the school. She suddenly felt much older than the other kids shouting happily to one another as they trooped from the classrooms. And she felt much older than Joe Rickard and told herself that she wouldn't bother meeting him tomorrow because he was —well, he was a boy and would probably talk about her to other boys, and she was not going to be talked about. She was too old to be bothered with puppy love. Why, she was darned near an adult already, you might say.
She stared at her reflection. She fancied she could detect lines on her forehead and was disappointed to discover, when she rubbed the dust off the mirror, that it was merely imagination at work again. Pulling the counterpane from the double bed where her mother and grandmother and little sister slept, she lay down and gazed reflectively at the ceiling.
She was narked because she'd seen Joe Rickard, looking smug as they came, walking down Massey Avenue with a girl. She didn't know the girl but, judging by the smart outfit she wore, she probably came from the city. But that wasn't the only reason she was narked, she thought. She didn't care about Mr. Joseph Rickard and it was a good job he had caught on that she preferred to be alone. Still, she felt strangely jealous to see him with another girl; must be because her life was becoming so complicated. They had kept harping at her about work, and though they said she could keep on at school until the end of the year she knew they'd prefer her to leave right away; she didn't trust her mother's attitude that now the school fees were paid and she had her books she might as well wait till next year before leaving; but, just to disappoint them, she would keep on.
She rolled across the bed and sprang on to her own bed against the wall. She reached under the pillow for a "Miracle" and turned to a story called "Forgive Them Their Trespasses."
"You young hussy! Lying there like a lady of leisure when you should be out in the kitchen helping to get the tea on!" Her mother glared at her from the doorway. "So help me, Joy, I don't know what's come over you lately. I thought you'd recovered from your tantrums, but you're as bad as ever."
Joy replaced the "Miracle" under the pillow. "Oh, all right."
"Its not all right. Stir yourself up for God's sake."
"What is it now?"
"You'll find plenty to do in the kitchen. And I wish you'd keep off my bed. Look at the mess you've made of it."
Perhaps you should have started work immediately after all. Then you wouldn't be home during the day, you wouldn't get bawled at so unendingly. Not having you around would make them see how much they depended on you.
"You're lucky to be in the upstairs office," she told the girl who had come down with some country orders for Mr. Clarke to attend to.
"You haven't been upstairs," the girl said. She wore a tailored, light-blue costume, her auburn hair was neatly penned, she used nail polish and you could tell she knew she looked good.
"It's better than down here. I bet," Joy said. "The old boy's decent to you, isn't he, darling?"
"He's all right, I suppose. But the only time I feel necessary is when he goes for lunch like now and leaves me in charge."
"Clarkie wouldn't mind if you read a book to pass the time away."
"I suppose I'll get used to it."page 9
"Nothing surer. God, I'm dying for a smoke. Think I'll trot into the lay. Be back in a few minutes."
She nodded understandingly. Heck, would she ever reach the stage where she was so sure of herself? In two or three years perhaps. She hoped the smoke didn't drift into the store. But that girl wasn't likely to be worried.
She thought dreamily of herself in the sort of clothes the other wore. Beautiful Joyce Cunningham, smartest-dressed young woman in Gladston. Smart enough to go to parties and dances given by people whose names appeared in the "Age" social notes. Wealthy, too. Rich and beautiful. Above all, superbly dressed.
Startled by wolfish whistles from the store-room, she looked up. She needn't have worried, though. It was only the other girl returning. She entered the office patting her hair, looking self-satisfied.
"What show's on in town tonight, darling?"
Clark Gable and Myrna Loy were at the Majestic in "Too Hot to Handle", said Joy. They discussed Clark Gable, Joy thrilled to be talking with this woman who was so certain of her place in the world.
"Joy, dear, what's the matter? You should tell me if there's anything bothering you. After all, I am your mother."
She cringed as her mother sat beside her on the bed, tried to show disinterest and scorn.
"Is it your job, love?"
—How could it be my job? Isn't it a lovely job? Isn't it the work I've always wanted to do? A whole pound a week! What a fortune!
A life spent in a stuffy office writing dockets, adding figures, answering the telephone, day after day after day.
She didn't reply, only gave a sneer.
"Answer me, love; is it your job ?"
"Oh, what do you want?"
"Look at me, Joy. Tell me what's wrong?"
—And what do I see when I look ? A fat, worn looking woman with grey strands in her brown hair. I get a whiff of a sour bodysmell that's disgusting.
Bitter thoughts crowded her head. She shut the book and sat rigid while her mother touched her on the hair.
Suddenly the touch of her mother's hands was unbearable. "Don't touch my head!" she said.
"You're mine till you're twenty-one; if I want to touch your head I will."
"Keep your hands off my head; I don't want to talk to you. Go away!"
She felt her mother's fingers clawing at her dress, then there was a sudden numbing of her cheek; she saw the hand coming toward her again but she didn't duck. The pain made her laugh. She laughed loudly and lay on her back while her mother raged above her. "I hate you, I hate you," she laughed at the ugly, red face, from which the eyes glared through flopping hair.
"I hate you, I hate you!"
I won, I won, she thought as her mother stood off, panting and looking horrible as a witch, tears streaming down her face, mumbling, "Let that be a lesson, a lesson to you, show you who's boss, see how, see how you like that you wicked girl, oh, you wicked girl."