“For goodness’ sake, Judith,” Malcolm Ashcroft growled, “ you knew right from the start that I wasn't the type to live happily ever after in narrow-minded suburbia and worry about garden-hoses and lawn-mowers.
I want to move on. Get out of this rut.” He ran his fingers through his thick black hair in an agitated manner. 'It seems pointless to reason with her', he thought, then added resolutely: “my days as a miserable little waiter at the Country Club are over, and you might as well come to terms with the fact that I’m going to accept Bellinger’s offer. It will mean that I’ll be able to achieve everything I've always wanted: prestige, travel, a fancy car, nice clothes....”
“You’re just being selfish,” Judith quipped interrupting him as she noisily gathered the cutlery from the table, and dropped it in the sink with a loud clang.
An ugly crease of annoyance knitted his bushy eyebrows as he gulped the last mouthful of whiskey from his glass. And his knuckles turned white with an overwhelming desire to crush the glass in his hand. He thudded it on the table and kicked the chair violently as he rose. With a threatening pose he towered over his wife’s small frame, tightened fists in his pockets. “I want out! Do you understand?” With that, he turned abruptly and stormed towards the bedroom.
Judith’s face had turned pale. Her lips began to tremble and her eyes turned moist with hurt. Unconsciously seeking for something to hold on to, she reached mechanically for the corner of her apron in little-girl fashion and followed him meekly on soft-soled slippers. “Please, Malcolm, won’t you reconsider?” She stood forlornly in the doorway, unable to control her tears any longer.
He spun around glaring at her contemptuously. "I'm sick of your sniveling frumpiness,” he snarled without pity, “your fumbling, exaggerated submissiveness grates on my nerves!”
She watched, both humiliated and helpless, as he snatched a suitcase from the wardrobe and filled it haphazardly with an assortment of clothing. As he banged the lid down, her shoulders drooped with resignation.
“All right Malcolm,” she said at last, “go and chase your selfish dreams. Our daughter and I are happy here. Doris is still young enough to forget a father who has little time for her anyway.” Swallowing hard on the enormous lump that had settled in her throat she went on, suddenly standing tall with defiance: “but it will cost you plenty!” Revenge flashed in her eyes as she tossed her amber curls behind her shoulders with a determined gesture, then turned and to leave the room.
Her outburst had stopped him momentarily. He had never seen her like this before and an uneasy feeling crept up from the pit of his stomach. Convincing himself that she was only bluffing, he chucked a few items of clothing into a suitcase, pulled his sports coat from the hanger an slipped into it. “You'll have to find me first,” he hissed through clenched teeth as he stormed down the passage and slammed the front door behind him.
Unable to control her emotions any longer, Judith’s legs folded from under her and she collapsed with a groan onto the living room couch. How could he be so cruel? She had always been a good wife to him, always loyal and caring, and used to believe that true love was more important than all the wealth and glamour in the world, but he no longer seemed to feel the way he used to when they had first met. Now he called her frumpy and submissive. It was as if he was ashamed of her in her plain clothes. But she had to be frugal with their small income and would sooner cook a nice meal for him than worry about he appearance.
Her slim body throbbed with heart-rendering sobs that burst unchecked from her aching throat. “Mummy, mummy, are you sick?” A child’s urgent voice, high-pitched with fear, returned her to her senses. Her little girl’s features sketched softly through Judith’s blurred vision and brought another stab of insufferable pain. With her black curls and large blue eyes, right down to her dimpled chin, Doris was her father’s mirror reflection. Wordlessly Judith shook her head and with a weary smile gathered the child in her arms.
Malcolm pushed the accelerator hard to the floor as he raced along the dimly-lit road. He had no idea where he was heading and didn't particularly care. His head throbbed feverishly and his whiskey-numbed brain repeated over and over again: ‘Away, away. Got to get away.’ Eventually he wound down the window, allowing the cool night air to soothe his hot forehead. His thoughts returned to the woman he had just left behind. ‘The fool’, he muttered bitterly. ‘I could have made it with her co-operation. But instead of selling the house and moving to Sydney as I’d planned, she clings to that old hut she had inherited with an abnormal obsession. No sense of adventure what-so-ever.’ As his resentment of Judith grew, his chin set in grim determination. ‘Very well then,’ he resolved obstinately, ‘I'll go it alone!’ As Sales Manager of Bellinger's Imports he would soon be on the road to success. And if Judith intended to haunt him with ridiculous alimony claims he would soon find ways to avoid them
He had met Sam Bellinger a few weeks earlier at the Country Club. “I’m sorry we haven’t been able to keep up with your sea food orders, Paul,” he had heard him say to the Club’s owner. “The problem is that I can’t get anyone who will travel to Asia and find us another supplier now that the one we had has gone bankrupt. If you know of anyone willing to take on the job I’d be appreciate it.”
Later on, when Malcolm had served Bellinger his dinner, he mentioned that he had overheard the conversation and would like to know more about the job. “Not much to it, my friend,” Bellinger had said. “All you need is a good head on your shoulders, some people skill, which you obviously seem to have, and a willingness to travel a couple of times a year. The pay would be better to what you’re getting here, I’m sure, and all expenses would be paid for as well.”
‘Sounds great,” Malcolm had smiled. “When can I sign up?” ‘See me tomorrow in my office at 24 Charman Street, in Claremont at 10 am.”
He had gone for the appointment to learn more about the vacant position and had also met Sam Bellinger’s beautiful daughter, Sandra. Right now he recalled her image so vividly that she seemed to be smiling at him from the windscreen. Unlike Judith, with her mop-and-bucket attitude, Sandra seemed to be the type of go-getter that any man could be proud of. With her stylish clothes and graceful gait she had brought an air of elegance into her father’s office. Her short-cropped fair hair contrasted favorably with her sapphire blue eyes, which at first glance had held a cold glitter of disapproval, but had melted into a delicate shade of indigo when she looked at him. “Think about it,” Bellinger had said, “and if you’re interested, come back next Monday to sign the contract.” That was tomorrow. Malcolm decided to make his way back to Claremont, spend a night at a hotel and front up at Sam Bellinger’s office the following morning. If he kept going in the direction he was heading, he could be there in an hour or so.
The narrow road steepened in the darkness ahead as it snaked its way into the mountains. As the car skidded awkwardly around a bend, its wheels still turning at rapid speed, Malcolm's thoughts returned to the beautiful Sandra. Nothing could stop him now from getting to know her better. her. ‘But what if Judith has me followed?’ her threat worried him again.
‘Then I'll simply change my appearance,’ he concluded with a tight grin.
At first the idea amused him, but then he seriously contemplated on the possibility and at last a firm plan unfolded in his mind.
The steady drizzle that had gradually settled over the rocky landscape hung its grey sheets across the windscreen. A mass of black clouds concealed the horizon and enshrouded the skyscraping summits. Gusts of wind attacked him through the open window, gently at first, but growing stronger by the minute. In no time at all nature released her powerful forces and the wind lashed furiously at the trees. Whipped branches snapped with mournful groans and crashed to the rain sodden soil beneath. A deafening thump on the car roof startled Malcolm back to reality. With a loud curse he jumped on the breaks but the slippery track provided little resistance. The car spun around by several degrees, then collided head-on with the solid mountain wall. The windscreen shattered into a thousand pieces and Malcolm's face seared with pain. Splinters of glass stabbed at his eyes and embedded themselves deeply into his skin. His head fell hard against the steering wheel and rendered him unconscious. The forceful impact had hurled the vehicle across the narrow track with the back wheels moving much too far over the muddy edge, then caused it to tilt towards a bottomless decline. For a few seconds it hung in precarious suspension before the rain-washed soil crumbled beneath its weight.
“Where to tonight, my lovely?” Sam Bellinger regarded his daughter with parental pride as he puffed rings from a fat cigar in the comfort of his leather armchair.
“Actually, if you must know,” Sandra nonchalantly sipped her martini, “Thelma Bryant has invited me to a welcome dinner she has organized for her eligible brother-in-law who has just returned from South America. Sounds promising, don’t you think?” she grinned at him over the rim of her glass. Sam shook his head in good-natured disapproval: “You are twenty-six years old, Sandy; it’s about time you settled down. When are you going to stop your running around?” he asked with a note of concern.
“When I meet the right guy, I guess.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“But honey, I thought you were keen on Ashcroft from what I had noticed. You told me you liked him. Why else would I have offered him the job? Certainly not because I thought him particularly suited for it. After all, he is only a little drink-waiter.”
“Oh, Malcolm was quite cute, dad, but he seemed a bit of a bore. Besides, he does have a wife and child attached to him and I don’t need that kind of a hassle.”
“So you want to spend your life with some exciting, adventurous guy, do you?”
“That’s right. How well you understand me,” she grinned and teasingly placed a kiss on his thinning crown. “See you later, dear.” Then she slipped into her fur coat and quickly walked down the hallway.
Early sunlight broke through the last shreds of clouds, promising a crisp but sunny day. The gradual unveiling of a clear blue wintry sky belied the chaotic storm of the previous night, except for the left-over evidence of its furious destruction. A bulldozer slowly nosed its way uphill, clearing debris off the still muddy track. Charlie Mc Gill, the driver, took pride in his responsible job of providing a smooth run for the log trucks. His watchful eyes didn't miss a thing. Suddenly, a shiny red object several feet below and partly concealed by thick underbrush, caught his attention. “What the hell’s that?” he mumbled curiously and brought the heavy object to a stand-still. Reaching for his tobacco pouch in his breast pocket, as he always did when a matter needed his concentration, he jumped off to investigate. Squatting closely to the edge of the track he commenced to roll a cigarette while peering intensely down through the wild undergrowth. A gruesome sight caused him to drop his unlit smoke instantly and he quickly jumped into action. Cautiously slipping and sliding down the steep decline, Charlie kept his eyes glued to the seemingly lifeless arm that protruded from the wreckage of a car. “No-one could survive this scrap heap alive,” he murmured and gingerly touched the hand. Unexpectedly though, it felt warm and Charlie eagerly searched for a pulse. A faint beat throbbed under the pressure of his thumb. Carefully, he lifted the driver’s head which rested face down on the steering column and almost dropped it again in horror. A wide open gash down one side of the face exposed the cheekbone, the rest was covered with a crust of dried blood. “My god, what a mess,” Charlie shuddered and suppressed a wave of nausea. The soft moans, that rasped barely audible from the injured man’s throat, stirred Charlie out of his shocked stupor. “Hang on, mate,” he yelled encouragingly, “I'll get help in no time.” And with the speed of a marathon runner he scrambled back up-hill to get his mobile phone.
A short time later the urgent siren of an ambulance echoed eerily through the mountains.
"How do you feel?" A sympathetic voice penetrated the thick muffling bandages around Malcolm’s head, but he couldn't see anyone. “Why is it so dark?” he asked weakly.
“Shh ...it’s … it’s night time,” came a hesitant reply. And Malcolm fell again into a deep slumber.
“A picnic at the park would be lovely today, darling,” Judith suggested to her seven year old daughter one Sunday morning. She had gotten used to living without Malcolm, although, deep down, she knew that she still loved him. He hadn’t always been so cruel to her. She fondly remembered the times he was very loving and sweet towards her. But then he started to work at the Country Club and suddenly, everything had changed.
Doris quickly gathered up her coloring pencils. “Can I have an ice-cream too?” she begged and skipped with excitement at her mother’s consenting smile. Her pretty little face beamed like the sunshine that peeped through the lacy kitchen curtains. ‘She looks more like her father every day,’ Judith thought sadly. She hadn’t heard from Malcolm since the night he left nearly two months ago and often wondered at his where-about. ‘Maybe he’s overseas?’ she thought. She wished that he had never met this Sam Bellinger who had probably filled Malcolm’s head with all sorts of crazy notions of wealth and whatever else comes with it,’. she concluded bitterly. She had cried countless tears on many a night since he had gone, and still longed for the comfort of his arms. And she had told their daughter that daddy was away working and may not be back for some time. And even though Doris had rarely mentioned him since, she hadn’t stopped kissing his photo, which stood next to her bed, ‘good night’.
It was a glorious spring morning. The luscious green lawns still glistened with morning dew and the white pebbles that covered the footpaths sparkled in the early sunlight. New-born young leaves sprouted from tree branches and the first rosebuds in the round flowerbeds had unfolded overnight, perfuming the air with their sweet scent. An atmosphere of an almost holy tranquility lay over the park, its undisturbed stillness interrupted only occasionally by the faint twittering sound of young starlings in their nests above, as they hungrily awaited their feed.
“Let’s go to the playground,” Doris called happily and started skipping ahead, when she suddenly stopped near a park bench putting her finger to her lips in a silencing motion. “Shhh. Don’t make a noise, Mummy,” she whispered, “someone is asleep over there.” Then she tip-toed curiously towards the sleeping form and instantly froze with fear. With wide-open eyes she stared at the sleeping person. As Judith rushed to her side, she too, stared horrified. “The poor man,” she murmured at last, overwhelmed with pity for the miserable wretch. The man’s face was an ugly mask of badly healed scars with a large patch of bluish tissue grotesquely disfiguring his right cheek. Sheets of newspaper covered his grimy clothes, protecting him against the cool morning breeze.
Judith was about to pull Doris away when the man sat up with a start. “Who’s there?” he wheezed hoarsely, searching his surroundings with unseeing eyes.
“I… I’m sorry ...we’ve disturbed you,” Judith stammered embarrassed.
The man tilted his head to one side as if to listen more intensely. “Say that again,” he croaked.
“I said, I’m sorry that we have...”
Suddenly he was wide awake. “Judith?” he asked with a trembling voice, “is it really you?” Then he slowly pulled himself up with the aid of a walking stick. There was something familiar about his gestures that stirred Judith’s memories. And then, sudden recognition came over her. “My god, Malcolm,” she cried. And as she stepped up close to him on unsteady feet, tears welled up in her eyes. Then she took their daughter’s small hand placed it in his, saying: “this is your daddy darling. and he’s been hurt. We’ll take him home and look after him, won’t we?”
“Mummy and me will make you all better.” little Doris chirped, “and I can make you a nice cup of hot chocolate.”
At this, tears started to roll from Malcolm’s unseeing eyes down his disfigured cheek. Unable to utter a reply, Malcolm squeezed the little hand that rested so trustingly in his own.
Tears were also restricting Judith’s throat, but she took her husband’s other hand, all-forgiving, ever-loving, and managed to whisper: “Come, my darling, let’s go home.”
Malcolm could only nod, but he knew that true love would always conquer. And from here on in, he would love his wife and child with all his heart for all eternity.
Eventually he explained to Judith that when he had been released from hospital, he did not dare to go back home, and so he had spend some weeks sleeping in the park and begging for food from strangers who happened to walk by.
About three months later, after a very complicated operation, he regained his eyesight, although only partially, but became the most loving husband and father anyone could wish for.