Avoidance in Five Parts.

by Kate Harland.

Sitting on a Bench in the Afternoon

They sat side by side on a park bench. In front of them a playground, behind them a white building with columns and cornices. Behind it were hills so far in the distance they appeared only as varying shades of purple. High pitched laughter of children imitated machinery sounds of a construction site nearby.

‘Do you think they’ll offer cups of tea?’
‘They’ve no reason not to.’
‘It’s good for the nerves. Something to hold onto.’
‘Only when china of course.’
‘Because it’s thin.’
‘Of course.’

She nibbled at the skin on her lips. He shifted in the seat. Not closer towards her and not further away – a realignment. She picked at the corner of a fingernail. A red paint chip fell to her lap and she brushed it aside before he could see.

‘I thought there’d be more people around.’ He answered her with a gesture towards the playground. ‘Adults I mean, parents. They’re not around.’
‘They’ll be inside.’
‘Oh. Okay.’

She turned to look at the building. Marble steps lead to varnished doors. Windows stretched out in either direction and up several floors.

‘Do you think it’s a real old building, or perhaps just a fake one made to look like it?’
‘Fake, I’d hazard.’
‘Hmm… I don’t know about that. I mean sure the paint job is new, but a fresh coat can hide anything. I think it’s old and just its’ covers are fake. You?’
He glanced behind himself over her shoulder, ‘fake.’
‘Shame. Would’ve been nice if it was real.’ She turned back around in her seat.

They sat there awhile. He pulled a quarterly from his breast pocket and read. She watched the children playing across the park. Sometimes she smiled at them, sometimes she didn’t. One time her eyes welled but she blinked them dry and smoothed out the pleats in her skirt.
‘There was a lady I saw once, down St. Kilda way, she sat on a curb applying lipstick over and over and when a car came past she stood straight up so fast she toppled a bit, and pulled up her skirts so high her hemline covered her face. And she swayed about waving her privates at drivers. And they just kept on, not even slowing.’
‘Just as well.’
‘It’s just, I wondered, what was the point of all that lipstick?’
‘Something to do.’
‘Something to do?’
‘While waiting.’
‘Oh. Yes. I suppose. Except, it’s just that I…’ He cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders, pulling taught the paper in his hands. She sat back in her chair and picked at the nail with a chip in the polish.

‘What do you think they’re building?’
He looked up from his page and glanced towards the construction site, ‘a nursery.’
‘For who?’
‘Which children? Those?’ She nodded towards the playground.
‘No. Those.’ He tilted his head behind them to the white building.
‘Oh. You suppose there’s enough mothers in there what have children with them?’
She tucked her skirt beneath her and smoothed out her pleats, ‘I think I would like to have children.’
He looks at her. Looks her up and down. ‘It’s decided.’
‘Oh, I, not now, no. We’ve decided.’
‘Then why mention it?’
‘I felt him yesterday.’
He tucks his quarterly into his pocket and stands up. He places a hand on her shoulder and she slides down a little from the weight. ‘I’ll go see what’s keeping them. See if I can’t find you that cup of tea.’
‘Thanks. In china of course. So you can feel the insides.’
‘Of course.’

He walks away towards the building. She lays down on the park bench, skirt folding up beneath her. An ant walks past her head.
‘What are you looking for little one? Out here all on your own. An intrepid explorer I bet. Seeking a new home, food for your family.’ She puts out her finger and the ant walks up onto it, ‘I have a new home now. Or I will soon.’ The ant reaches the tip of her finger and she pops it in her mouth.
She sits up and straightens out her skirt. From out of her purse she takes a bright red lipstick, worn close to the end, and applies it over and over, gazing at the children in the playground.


One goes over, One goes under

One goes over, one goes under, one goes through and through.
A little girl swings through the air,
And little boys tickle the dew.

At first she gasps with a too-whit-too-woo,
tan bark in her hair.
One goes over, one goes under, one goes through and through.

They flop her over, pigtails strew,
a friend slides down her side,
And little boys tickle the dew.

They laugh and dance and chortle and spew
remark how warm it feels inside, and
One goes over, one goes under, one goes through and through.

But something changes for the girl, the tan bark starts to sting
she lets out a whimper,
and little boys tickle the dew.

The little girl struggles now, the boys they have no clue
For them this playtime has a fun new ride.
One goes over, one goes under, one goes through and through.
And little boys tickle the dew.


The Gatekeeper and the Guard

Mary walks down a hall. Along the way she takes a pillow of a shelf, passes it to a nurse who then hands her a blanket, which Mary tucks under her arm leaving a hand free to pick up a cup of water from a trolley. She hands it all to a girl slumped in a seat opposite the front desk, throws a ‘won’t be a moment love’ to a waiting patient and though she says the words there is nothing affectionate in her tone.
Flicking up the pinned fob resting on her breast Mary checks the time, glances at a clipboard strapped to her side and calls for ‘Dartmoor, Alice.’ A young woman holds up a hand and stutters through a ‘yes’. Mary grabs forms and a pencil from one of the many piles of paper behind the counter and ushers Alice forward with a firm waggle of her hand.
‘You’ll need to fill these out as best you can and get them back to me so the doctor can see you.’
‘But I… well I… I was told there wouldn’t be any paperwork.’
Mary sighs. ‘Were you told what you’re doing here?
‘Well… yes.’
‘And were you told what to say you when asked why you’re here?’
‘Umm… yes, yes I was.’
‘And do you still want to have your tonsils out?’
‘My tonsils?’
Mary sighs.
‘Oh right, yes, umm yes, of course.’
‘There’s no of course about it deary, many a girl has had her tonsils removed only to end up back here to have them out again.’
‘That can be though, right?’
Mary sighs, pins the forms to a clipboard and pushes it into Alice’s hands. ‘Bring them back when you’re done.’

Alice takes the forms and sits down in her seat. A woman next to her winks at Mary and calls out ‘I’ll give ‘er a hand Mares, see ‘er papers filled out right. Dun you worry none.’
‘Thanks Fanny,’ Mary calls back as she strides back down the hallway.

Alice smiles feebly at the speaking pile of rags beside her.
‘So, luv, how long you been sick for?’
‘Oh umm?’
‘Wid da tonsillitis.’
‘Oh right, sorry, of course, umm well my cousin was in town a couple of months back so…?’
‘Right then. I’m with yah. You’ll wanna tick this box here marked single.’

A man saunters in past them, dressed in white linen, fedora firmly on his head. He reaches the counter and hammers away at a bell labelled ‘ring for assistance.’ When no one immediately responds he taps his foot and looks down the hallway. Seeing Mary walking off in the opposite direction he calls out after her. ‘Excuse me, miss?’
Fanny answers for her. ‘Mares’ll be back in just a minute, dun you worry.’
He ignores her and begins down the hall. Fanny sticks her fingers in her mouth and gives a sharp whistle.
‘Oi. Fella. She’ll be back in a minute.’
The man whips his head around looking for the voice. Fanny twinkles her fingers at him. The man pulls back in revulsion but resigns to wait, leaning against the desk.
‘Eh fella? Your quarterly’s bucklin’ your jacket.’ The man pulls it out of his pocket and holds it in his hands, twisting it into a roll. Fanny goes back to helping Alice. ‘Nah luv, see here where you writ your address? You’ll wanna change that. Jus make somethun up, somethun not so fancy soundun.’

Mary walks back in, handing Fanny a cup of tea. ‘Ooh thanks Mares. That hot china’s right nice on me fingers.’ Fanny thrusts her chin at the man, ‘this one’s been bashin’ that bell at ya. Mary nods and rounds the counter back to her station.
‘How can I help you sir?’
‘Yeah, yes, my niece is outside waiting. How much longer is the doctor going to be?’
‘As I told you earlier. There’s a long line of patients today.’ Mary gestures in front of her to the full waiting room behind the man.
‘Can we not massage the situation at all?’ The man slips a note out from the pages of his quarterly.
Lowering his voice the man leans in ‘I am a very important figure in this community and I will not be made to wait.’
Mary looks him square in the face, ‘no.’
The man slams his paper down. ‘I’ll be speaking to your supervisor about this. Where is he?’
‘I’m not sure to whom you are referring. The doctors are all in surgery and I am in charge of this ward. As I said before, the young lady is welcome to wait inside, we can make her comfortable whilst she does.’
The man tortiles his paper in his hands, ‘she’ll wait outside.’
‘Very well. Bring her on the hour. Good day.’ Mary sits, directing her attention elsewhere. The man walks out.
‘You tell ’em Mares.’
‘Thank you Fanny.’


The Ladies Handbook recipe for an Abortion Cocktail

CAUTION – Use only as necessary

If in the family way, during the first three lunar cycles following conception there are several things a lady must be aware of so as not to cause undue external harm to the embryo. Actively committing any number of these things can cause the expulsion of the impregnated ovum meaning the termination of pregnancy. Should a lady desire this outcome we have a recommended method, safer than any trip to the local general practitioner.

Step 1: Sneak a bottle of gin.
Step 2: Apply liberal amounts of its contents to a glass, top up with tonic water (the more quinine the better).
Step 3: Once bottle is empty keep it nearby for later use.
Step 4: Locate father of the unwanted child.
Step 5: Seduce. Have the roughest hardest intercourse you can withstand, really get up a sweat.
Step 6: Whilst he’s distracted, bash in the fathers head with the empty gin bottle.
Step 7: Draw yourself a cold bath, fill with ice.
Optional extra:
Whilst waiting for the bath to fill, make a rye bread sandwich (the more ergot the better) and a pot of pennyroyal tea to wash it down.
If condition persists see your local cut wife.


Sitting on a Bench in the Late Afternoon

She puts away her near empty tube of lipstick. He sits down beside her.
‘Do they have tea?’
‘Of course.’
Looking at his empty hands she smooths the pleats on her skirt and sucks on the ant nestled between her teeth.




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